Friday, January 18, 2008


Baby, it's COLD outside! Chicago is only fit for penguins this time of year, so button up your overcoat, here we go!

AUGUSTINE by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can Press)

It's hard to be the new kid at school...or the new penguin! Augustine, named for the artist Renoir, struggles under the strain of moving from the South Pole to the North Pole. With the help of her stuffed penguin, Picasso, and some colored pencils, the best of Augustine's personality is eventually drawn out. Illustrations and text on the right side of the book tell the story, but the left side of each page is separated into nine frames, eight surrounding squares capturing the nuances of what Augustine is thinking or feeling with Augustine's own art in the middle: eight different types of houses for sale, with the one the family chose in the middle, nine staring animal classmate faces with a portrait of the teacher in the middle, and especially poignant is the picture of a ball in the middle with eight empty frames around it, when Augustine is not invited to play. The grand finale is an art exhibition, with Augustine's masterpeice very much included. With unusual tenderness and subtlety (and more than a few arctic puns), this smart and sensitive book captures the challenges of fitting into a new place. Artists who have influenced Augustine throughout the book are named on the back page. But take note, Augustine is not the only artist with a rising star worth watching; Melanie Watt, with her charming SCAREDY SQUIRREL and CHESTER, she is emerging as an illustrator with a uniquely droll sense of humor and special gift for bringing children's book characters to life. Read an interview with Mélanie Watts and MotherReader at the Cybils Blog. (4 and up)

PENGUIN by Polly Dunbar (Candlewick) Toddler Ben is up for fun and games, but his toy penguin remains stoic. "'What shall we play?' said Ben. Penguin said nothing. 'Can't you talk?' said Ben. Penguin said nothing. Ben tickled penguin.Penguin didn't laugh...'Will you talk to me if I stand on my head?' said Ben. Penguin didn't say a word." Ben's frustration increases, as does the hostility of the attempts towards making the penguin talk...but when a big blue lion eats Ben for being to noisy, Penguin has plenty to say about that. This tale of two very different friends finding the power of story together manages with a perfect economy of words. As someone who enjoys quiet time with friends as much as I enjoy time spent talking, this book was especially delightful to me, but toddlers tune in to the stylistic art against the sparse white background, and the temperature rise that occurs when it's hard to find the right words. (3 and up)
P.S. Please excuse the following blogger-to-author billet doux. Dear Polly Dunbar. I love you and everything you do! You draw the cutest children in the world, and your penguins aren't bad, either. Please come over, we can make dolls together and I will serve you cookies. XOXOXO from your fan, Esme. P.S. Your home page is adorable, too.

Also of interest:
Some oldies but goodies (things stay fresh in the deep-freeze, you know)!

WHITEBLACK THE PENGUIN SEES THE WORLD by Margret and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin)
Yes, it's the creators of Curious George, and this time the hero is a the Chief Storyteller on station W-O-N-S, the radio station for all of Penguinland. When he ran out of stories, he did what any good journalist would do; he traveled the world in search of more! Join Whiteblack as a traverses desert and sea, then break out the old tape recorder and produce your own "radio show" with the family! After all, as this entertaining book goes to show, adventure is where you make it. (4 and up)

365 PENGUINS by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joelle Jolivet (Abrams) A mysterious package arrives on New Year's Day, containing one penguin. The next day, a second penguin is delivered. The third day brings yet another black-and-white buddy, but this trend can't continue, can it? With the accumulation of Antarctic animals comes a series of problems to be solved, some mathematical (three digit addition, the budgeting of fish and the determination of proper amounts...if each penguin eats 2.5 pounds of fish a day, how many pounds will we need after the first three months of the year?) some logistical (how shall the penguins be organized? How shall they be cared for in the summer months? What to do about that penguin smell?) and some emotional (how does one share a shower with hundreds of penguins? "Once you reach the point of no return, one penguin more or more penguin less each day doesn't make much of a difference anymore. You live penguin. You think penguin. You dream penguin. You become penguin.") By the time we are truly and wholly feeling this family's penguin pain, though, the sender is revealed, along with his surprising and provocative plan to help wildlife through global warming. All's well, it seems, until the next New Year's Day when another package is left at the family doorstep. What could be inside this time? A PlanetEsme pick from last January...defrost it now! (6 and up)

AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Simon and Schuster) Roy and Silo walked together. And sang to each other. And built a nest together. And wound their necks around each other. But there was one thing Roy and Silo couldn't do together. With the help of a sympathetic zookeeper, these penguin partners were able to become a family, hatching Tango (because, after all, it takes two to tango!). Based on the true story of the first penguin in the Central Park Zoo to have two daddies, this refreshing celebration of the diversity of families in nature is a perfect blend of storytelling, science and sentimentality. Expressive, understated illustrations clearly done from real-life sketches capture the penguins' frustrations and joys. An outstanding read-aloud which every teacher can feel comfortable in sharing to cultivate tolerance, and through which alternative families will feel affirmed. Nice in combination with Todd Parr's THE FAMILY BOOK.(5 and up)

On a personal note
I want to thank everyone for the warm welcome back to the blogosphere! I very much appreciated all of your kind notes, and I am so gratified that the recommendations you find here might be helping to get these great books into the hands of great kids (and book lovers of all ages).

I have received several queries if I will be posting a list of the PlanetEsme best books of 2007 here, and the answer is yes, as soon as I am done reviewing them! I will continue to review the brand new stuff, but since I still have a big leaning tower of 2007 reading power to share with you, I'd rather not rush. The complete list will be posted by early March, before the next publishing season is fully under way. In fact, if I may put on my author hat for a moment, this makes me happy, since after the big ALA awards are announced in January, publicity for books published the prior year can get a bit sleepy. In children's books, there should be no "flavor of the month." A truly good book stays delicious! So please keep checking in, as all books posted here will be included in that round-up.

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Esme!
So great to hear you loved Penguin - my first graders loved it as well!!!

So great to see you back amongst the words and texts of the blogging world! I have missed your regular recommendations and humour!

Post often! I've missed you!
Tessa from Melbourne Australia (hope the books I sent are loving their new home)


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