Sunday, August 19, 2007


WHERE I LIVE by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Dial)
The good news: Diana won a contest with her poem about the sun and is going to get to go to a workshop with a real, live author; her best friend Diana lets her borrow her fetching purple flopple (sometimes); and mom is coming home soon after taking care of Grandpa Joe, who broke his arm. The bad news: all the whispering Diana has overheard has been about the job Dad has lost, and now the family is going to have to move in with Grandpa Joe. How can Diana ever leave her beloved yellow house, or find a friend as fun and loyal as Rose? Will she still get to meet the author? A middle-class American child's common dilemmas get a sympathetic treatment here, and are given gravity and immediacy. With no shortage of issues, the author manages to bring it around believably and naturally, lest we forget that from a child's POV ups and downs really do seem to happen at a rapid-fire pace. First person prose is given a line-by-line poetic format and adds to its readability. I appreciated the illustrator's depiction of Diana's best friend Rose as an African-American, a refreshing inclusion in the suburban setting. This book is an excellent choice for kids who are looking for a book about "a kid like me." (7 and up)

And "moving" right along...
HALF A WORLD AWAY by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Scholastic) Exceptionally beautiful watercolors grace of this story of two great friends separated half a world away by a move. "If I call Amy really loudly, she'll hear me, won't she?" "Maybe," says grandma. "You can only try." The boy's call covers wordless double-page spreads across the country and into the distant city in the form of clouds, a dream that is felt and recognized by his dear friend so far away. This book so gracefully acknowledges both the real pain children experience when a friend moves away as well as affirms the power children have to continue to love. Moving and beautiful, when I read it to a group of early childhood teachers, there was a lot of damp eyes and a choke in my own throat. As far as books that deal with childhood issues, this sensitive, hopeful and powerful title deserves to be a classic about moving the way Judith Viorst's THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY marks the passing of a pet. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Putting down prose in a lineated form is also employed by the popular young adult author Sonya Sones in many of her titles, including ONE OF THOSE HIDEOUS BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES (that is the actual title, not an editorial comment). But this stylistic choice is not the sole property of the teenage set. WHERE I LIVE immediately brought to mind my yellowing copy of Vivan L. Thompson and Lilian Obligado's SAD DAY GLAD DAY, also about a girl who has to move (in 1970, I'd say Thompson was way ahead of her time). The increasingly popular form also begs mentioning a couple of other poignant picks for point-of-view:
LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech (Harper Trophy) Jack's opinion of poetry changes after connecting with author Walter Dean Myers. Is poetry just for girls, or does it spill out with the depth of Jack's feelings? Love that book. (8 and up)
AMBER WAS BRAVE, ESSIE WAS SMART by Vera Williams (HarperTrophy) Two savvy sisters navigate their urban setting and find fun under trying circumstances in this honest but hopeful portrait that every city kid will recognize and every suburban kid should know about. (7 and up).
SKETCHES FROM A SPY TREE by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion) This very rich collection allows the reader to spend a season looking out from the boughs of a tree with a reflective friend. This volume will inspire journaling as well as poetry writing! (7 and up) This author is also a name to know when looking for fresh lineated prose; she used it in her latest novel, REACHING FOR SUN, which has already received many accolades for its masterful meshing of poetry and prose to get inside the head of the likable narrator Josie, who has cerebral palsy connects her own experience to her love of plants and things that grow. (12 and up).

On a personal note:

We are involved in a big move and change here...will you indulge me in a little goodbye (and maybe a hello, too?)

The PlanetEsme Bookroom started in 2004 as a physical manifestation of my website. It was a private, non-circulating library and literary salon geared toward parents and elementary school teachers, dedicated to the principles found in my book,HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO LOVE READING: FOR RAVENOUS AND RELUCTANT READERS ALIKE. Among them: Reading is more than a skill; it's a lifestyle. You can be your child's best teacher using children's literature. And no child is a lost cause when it comes to books any more than someone is a lost cause when it comes to falling in love; it's all about making the right connections. I was inspired by a visit to a Christian Science Reading Room that was at a bus stop where I often waited, but I had never ventured inside because it was not my faith. One day it occured to me that reading children's books and making sure people knew about the literature were a huge part of my faith, at least in humanity and the future of my country, so I went in and asked the very obliging librarian about the model and framework of the place, which was very simple, straightforward and welcoming. My husband, son and I then moved my collection of 12,000 children's books garnered over 18 years into a vacant appliance reconditioning shop, and transformed the place into Chicago's literary living room.

My husband built shelves as fast as I could fill them, and friends came bearing gifts: a hand-painted chair, a garbage can, light bulbs, a new lock for the door, a poem, a painting of a mermaid, golden promises by authors and illustrators to star in events. My uncle christened the joint with a noisy but handsome pipe organ, our famous "glonkenshponkel" which doubled as a burglar alarm. Besides special family events open to the community (like the Johnny Appleseed Anniversary party, magical convention, spring cleaning storytime, Hans Christian Andersen unbirthday party, Anansi shadow puppet show, Curious George camp, presidential picks complete with stump speeches by kids, literary love-in celebrating the best authors/illustrators you never heard of, Hannukah hoedown, holiday cookie swap), the space was used by many groups, including homeschoolers, college professors who brought their classes and my local chapter of SCBWI. I loved our monthly public "Wish List Wednesdays" in which I threw down the best of the best to consumers hungry for quality; I was so happy to talk to teachers-in-training about how children's trade literature can free them up to be the educators they wanted to be, and veterans who were invigorated by the possibilities that the titles brought to the planbook. I was excited to see parents write down recommendations for new books, and to read aloud to children every day.

A great reader makes her audience laugh!

We had an embarassment of riches when it came to visiting authors and illustrators. The events were free, with the expectation that everyone who attended bought a book in support of our guest artists. Some guests drew crowds that filled the room from wall-to-wall, though one of my very favorites was the cozy and mesmerizing show given by W. Nikola Lisa, telling his stories and the stories of others one rainy afternoon, making an hour pass like a few minutes. Or maybe it was watching a room full of folks illustrate on their own drawing boards while Matthew Cordell and Julie Halpern led the way. Or Caroline Crimi leading a monster mash in a green witchy wig, or Tom Lichtenheld in pirate regalia teaching children to say "aaaargh." Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer sharing childhood sketchbooks, Michael Buckley fielding hard questions from the audience about the difference between wonder tales and fairy tales. Mordicai Gerstein crumpling paper and imagining what the first drawing might look like. Bobbi Katz sharing poetry over melted brie and strawberry jam. Mem Fox down on the floor reading aloud to preschoolers, Cheryl Coon at the podium, talking about bibliotherapy with a room full of rapt parents and educators. Brian Selznick cracking up a standing-room only crowd, and Laura Ruby, Carmela Martino, and Brenda Ferber on a panel representing some of the Great Women of Fiction. All of these folks did wonders to empower the people who visited the Bookroom with the sense of possibility that comes with literacy, and the amazing revelation that there are real, vibrant people behind the books that we love.

Sugar gliders welcome at the Bookroom

The Bookroom did not recieve federal funding and I did not apply for not-for-profit status. I charged no membership fees and all of our events were free. I think people often stop themselves from doing things because they are daunted by a percieved lack of resources and preponderance of paperwork...I know this sometimes feels like a roadblock to me, too. I wanted to practice what I preached, "potato pedagogy," in How to Get Your Child to Love Reading and see what could be done with what I had. I used the advance I got for that book to start the space, and I did regular keynotes and speaking engagements every month to keep it afloat. People close (and not so close) suggested I might be a little bit crazy, and that I should save the money I was making for my own family or charge a fee, but I did not want to charge a fee because when people pay money they often feel entitled, and because of my speaking and writing schedule I could not acommodate those feelings. Besides, Albert Camus said:
"Insane generosity is the generosity of rebellion, which unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and without a moment's delay refutes injustice. Its merit lies in making no calculations, distributing everything it possesses to life and to living men. It is thus that it is prodigal in its gifts to men to come. Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."

Thanks to Andy Laties for introducing me to this quote. I think this is a very important value and a necessary paradigm shift for our country (if I may say so).

In the freezing Chicago February of this year, a pipe burst and flooded into the Bookroom. Thanks to a conscientious neighbor who noticed through a window that the floor looked "shiny," the water was stopped before serious damage to the collection could be done. It was a miracle! But the carpet and basement was badly damaged, and there was concern about mold. With the building going up for sale and my lease about to end, coupled with difficulties I had juggling my new full-time responsibilities as a school librarian, it was clear that the time had come to think about closing that location. I looked into buying the property, but the investment would have taken half a million dollars. I really didn't know if I had the heart to start again, but then as I was packing I came across a pamphlet I had written, "How to Start a Bookroom": "if you want a Bookroom, the equation is books + room + people + enthusiasm. You don’t need a lot to begin...the more you do with what you have, the more you will make people feel like they can do it, too, and that what they have to contribute is enough." (Incidentally, if you want a copy of the pamphlet, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to, P.O. Box 6225, Evanston, IL 60204).

I am glad about the Bookroom because it really did exist in the real world exactly, exactly as I imagined it inside my mind, and every time I walked into it, it was like walking into the best and most cheerful part of my brain. It was so wonderful to imagine building something and then working hard to have it manifest itself in the real world that I can only recommend you do the same, whatever it is that you dream. I am so happy that my son could see it happen, so he knows it can be done; that knowledge, to me, is beyond anything he could have been promised in college (though I still hope he goes someday). I guess Camus was right, even if he was a little crazy. I learned a lot about how to grow the concept in the next round, and indeed, it is a concept that can blossom into something much bigger. I am glad for the social experiment aspect of it and for beginning that way, it was incredibly valuable. I am also very proud because a wonderful person named Julia Martin came to the Bookroom and reinvented the concept for her own not-for-profit, Bread for the Head, which has set up numerous Bookrooms in projects and economically challenged areas in and around Chicago, and I am delighted to serve on her board.

I write this like an obituary, but in fact there is plenty of reason to celebrate, as The PlanetEsme Gingerbread Apartment will be the new manifestation of PlanetEsme outside of cyberspace. The first gathering there will be a breakfast for the first annual Kidlitosphere blogger's convention, and then I look forward to having more people bring the best of themselves into the space as we create fresh and happy magic. Though the new space will dictate some new purpose, I am as excited as anyone else to discover what that will be, and meanwhile I continue to plan based on what I have learned. It was, as they say, a dream come true, and the only terrible side effect was that it has lured me into dreaming bigger, and feeling impatient about it.

Here is a poorly compressed video tour of the old Bookroom!
What do you think the new one should be like?

I am so grateful to so many, but here are just a few special thanks from the Bookroom:
THANK YOU to the rockin' reading people at the Patterson Pageturner Awards for their amazing prize! What an honor!
THANK YOU to Thomas Cray for his help with logos and wepage design!
THANK YOU to Liza Tursky for our garden, our candy mosaic, and your always outstretched helping hand!
THANK YOU to Karen Tipp for her very fairy-godmother-like donation of a copy machine to the PlanetEsme Bookroom!
THANK YOU to the Evanston Homeschooling Network for their continuing support through napkins, utensils and home-baked goodies!
THANK YOU to Alice Revelski for the various garden delights that continually decorated the room!
THANK YOU to Liz Moore at The Bookstall for the invaluable business partnership!
THANK YOU to Betty Sitbon and Maureen Breen for paintings and poetry!
THANK YOU to Sandra Soss for volunteering as my assistant!
THANK YOU to Veronica DiCapria for her loyalty and dedication to publicity!
THANK YOU to Pamela Dell, Diane Wood, Jesse Semeyn and The Foos for their special help and moral support during the move!
THANK YOU to Uncle Dave Newman for always being the fix-it-go-to-guy and for the loan of the glonkenshponkel, and all-around amazingness!
THANK YOU to my husband Jim for building the shelves and my dreams!
THANK YOU to my son for not wrestling in the space!
THANK YOU to Illinois SCBWI for continual cheerleading and participation in my programming!
THANK YOU to everyone who has offered their kind and generous support in so many ways!
THANK YOU to everyone who came and read and shared and taught and laughed and ate and gave the place an energy that will be hard to recreate or outdo...but it'll be fun to try!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Lisa Yee said...

Oh, how I wish I could have wandered around the Bookroom.

eluper said...

Esme, thanks for your great posts. You make me wish I lived closer to Chicago (you ARE in Chicago, right?)

Eric Luper

Brenda said...

Your video of the Bookroom is great! Now everyone can see the wonderful, cheerful place you invented. I was so honored to have visited as a guest and as a speaker. I know the Gingerbread Apartment will be every bit as magnificent as the Bookroom! You are a treasure!
Love, Brenda


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