Tuesday, April 22, 2008


WINGS by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Robin Brickman (Charlesbridge)
The diversity of our fine feathered (and furry and insect) friends is celebrated in this excellent exploration of these mysterious and dreamlike appendages. Excellent informational prose from points of inquiry take us on a first-class non-fiction flight. How fast can wings fly? How slow? How far, and how many? Why? To catch, to flee, to chase, to find mates, to travel, each answer is explained in the context of a particular winged creature. Helpful resources at the back of the book will lead children to continue to take flight on-line, and a glossary of all boldfaced vocabulary throughout the book is provided; this book is never dumbed down. I am so excited to just be learning about this prolific author, with a contagious passion for nature along the lines of children's literature's naturalist legends Jim Arnosky and Steve Jenkins, but I must confess that for all of this book's fine content, I was at first drawn by the stunning papercut illustrations. Readers will be sent into a veritable state of slack-jawed shock at the otherworldly textures this illustrator is able to accomplish with cut paper, from a blowing feather to the curve of a flower petal. This book is a delight for any booklover with an interest in animals, nature or science, and is a solid non-fiction read-aloud for primary grades, always a rare bird. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
In honor of the first robin of spring, which I saw yesterday, here are a few other fine feathered titles to add to your flock:
UNITED TWEETS OF AMERICA: 50 STATE BIRDS, THEIR STORIES, THEIR GLORIES by Hudson Talbott (Putnam) Fans of Laurie Keller's zany SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA will enjoy this collection of true tales of every state bird, beak firmly planted in cheek. Lovely artwork and lots of laughs combined with solid research material make this a perfect spring pick for classroom libraries. (7 and up)
TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin (McElderberry) "Blue Jay Blues," "Mockingbird Warning," "Mrs. Crow Gets Dressed," "There's a Robin in My Bathroom," don't you just want to read them all? Well, you can! Hooray hooray hooray, this beautiful and engaging verse is matched with creamy pastel watercolors, making it a perfect collection to celebrate both the return of spring and National Poetry Month! (5 and up)
BIRDSONGS by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (McElderberry) Why should finches have all the fun? Join in the cacophony with this onomatopoetic counting book, with bold cut-paper illustration. (4 and up)
And there are two tributes to the red-tailed hawk of Fifth Avenue:
CITY HAWK: THE STORY OF PALE MALE by Megan McCarthy (Simon & Schuster), straightforwardly told for primary audiences, and who can resist those big googly-eyes that are a signature of McCarthy's illustration? (4 and up) And then there is the more detailed PALE MALE: CITIZEN HAWK OF NEW YORK CITY by Janet Schulman, illustrated in how-does-she-do-it gorgeous watercolor and colored pencil by the inimitable Meilo So. (6 and up) Teachers, Read them both and compare the treatment of the same subject by different authors and illustrators!

Shop with Esmé:

Hmmm, I don't know if I could afford to spend more on a bird's house than I spend on my own, but doesn't this prime real estate (above) from Uncommon Goods inspire the crafter in you? As does the "Fairy Tale Dreamcatcher" from OneGoodBumblebee (this would make a fun classroom activity, or Mother's Day gift for kids to make!) and the obscenely priced Songbird Chandelier from Anthropologie? They sell those little felt birdies and flowers at Michael's, people. Sorry to derail the consumer love train, there, but after all, DIY is the new Nordstrom's, dahhhling!

On that note, I love my soaring bird bracelet I got at Erm Originals on Etsy, it goes with everything. She's always got lots of lovely wing-themed jewelry, and in the spirit of the birds, her pieces are are cheep, cheep!

Also on the subject of crafting and birds, take cyber-wing to The Crafty Crow, an egg-ceptional blog featuring kid-friendly art-and-craft inspirations and plenty of pix! I know you will want to bookmark this fabulous resource to visit again and again!

Happy Earth Day, and happy robin-sightings, everyone!

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


When Queen Isabella wasn't impressed by the gift of a sweet potato, Columbus told a teeny weeny little white lie about the new world being littered with gold and gems. This caused a rebellion and landed big C. in leg irons. But perhaps Isabella shouldn't have been so quick to judge the shortcomings of others, seeing that she boasted only two baths a year. Grace O'Malley marauded English ships for sixty years...who would suspect such a sweet little old grandma of being a pirate? Bad, bad Babe Ruth hung his baseball manager out of the window of a moving train. Bach hit a bassoonist with a stick after names could never hurt him, and Daumier painted the king of France as a pear, a leap of comedic faith that went highly unappreciated by the noblesse oblige. From Cleopatra to Rosa Parks, over a dozen famous figures who crossed the line in their time are given tongue-in-cheek due, accented by extra-pouty double-page cartoon portraits. This very light bite of history and will appeal to the irreverent tastes of those who enjoy Lane Smith (JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE AND BEN) and Jon Sciezka (TIME WARP TRIO). For older children, this is a great springboard into deeper exploration, and older kids can make reports of troublemakers of the 21st Century (there have been a few). Teachers, read it in combination with books like Mordicai Gerstein's THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS and Don Brown's KID BLINK BEATS THE WORLD to discuss the difference between civil disobedience and good ol' fashioned bad behavior.
Almost everyone thought they didn't deserve a time-out. A few were right.

It's possible that one or two of our time-outers looked deep into their hearts and thought, "Maybe, just maybe, I did need to cool down a bit." We can't know for sure.

The one thing we can know for sure is that someday, somewhere, someone will once again be badly behaved, out of order,ill-mannered, inappropriate, or just plain unwilling to follow the rules. And they'll need a time out.

Let's just hope that someone isn't you or me.
I have long said there is a book for every occasion, and I thank this author for providing a perfect pick for the chill-out chair. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
THE DOGGY DUNG DISASTER & OTHER TRUE STORIES: REGULAR KIDS DOING HEROIC THINGS AROUND THE WORLD by Garth Sundem (Free Spirit) Several teachers have asked me if I know of a good group reading book for the end of the school year. Wow, is this one a gem for reluctant readers, read-aloud or read-alone! Thirty articles about kids who have made a difference are ordered under headings such as "Kids Saving the Environment," Kids Standing Up for Themselves," "Kids Helping Others," "Kids Overcoming Challenges," and "Kids Using Talents and Creativity". The author gathered truly amazing achievements from around the world that will inspire any reader: from Santosh Yadav, in India, who had been told "girls can't climb mountains" but decided to climb Mount Everest twice, to the brave Farliz Calle in Columbia, a Nobel Prize nominee who used organizing skills garnered in student council to create the Columbian Children For Peace, or Alexandra Scott, who raised over a million dollars for cancer research by selling lemonade. The writing throughout the book is surprisingly solid and in tune with its intended audience, giving unusually clear explanations of circumstances and cultural differences. In fact, the author created this book after visiting a sixth-grade classroom and seeing that the kids needed heroes with whom they could really connect. This book is an achievement in itself, with can-do content that every child in grades 5-8 deserves to know. I'm saving up for a classroom set. (10 and up)

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

Monday, April 07, 2008


THUMBELINA OF TOULABA by Daniel Picouly, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Press)

At these words, whoever was lucky enough to be wearing scales jumped, gulped, and carried off Thumbelina, saving her from the lovesick animals, a true peril. For if one love is worth a hundred dangers, the worst of dangers is to accumulate one thousand loves.
This re-invention inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale set against the backdrop of Martinique is startling in beauty and mystery. Little Thumbelina is carried through a wild and tangled backdrop awash with gruesome animal suitors, to whom she learns to say "no," sticking with her more flyaway lifestyle. The writing of the story is, in fact, a little all-over-the-place, but no great matter, because so is Thumbelina, floating from scene to harrowing scene like a pollinating seed. A "glossary of the exotic" is included, though it would have been helpful for children to know upon which page each item appears; it's rather tricky to search for an "ocelot" or "calabash" without knowing quite where to look. For all of the shortcomings, this book is fun to compare with the original during this month of Andersen's birth. It also speaks to adventurous children who want a truly unpredictable and dramatic reading experience, and who are prepared to lose themselves in the oversized illustrations. There is a fierce bravery in every brushstroke, and an explosive, expressive abandon of the conventions of the color wheel. The garden has taken over, and all we can say is: wow. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Just in time for National Poetry Month we have this new offering by the same illustrator, who is one to watch; at this rate, I think he is worthy of Hans Christian Andersen Award consideration down the pike.

THIS IS A POEM THAT HEALS FISH by Jeanne-Pierre Siméon, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books)

"Mommy, my fish is going to die!
Come quickly! Leon is going to die of boredom!"

Arthur's mommy looks at him.
She closes her eyes,
she opens her eyes...
Then she smiles:
"Hurry, give him a poem!"
And she leaves for her tuba lesson.

But what is a poem? Is it the heartbeat in a stone, or when words beat their wings against the bars of a cage, or words turned, like an old sweater, backwards and inside out? Arthur rummages under the bed and in cupboards, interviews neighbors and grandparents, and by and by connects the cryptic quips and voices to create (what else?) a lovely poem out of the small and merry and honest things in his world. With illustrated flights of the imagination such as cresent moons hanging like fruit from the sky and palm trees growing upside-down, oh-la-la, that fish won't be bored for long. Funny and provocative, every teacher (and author!) needs to share this book to springboard into the conversation of what makes a poem...and where do we find our own?

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In honor of the trippy horticulture in Thumbelina of Toulaba, plant something besides the seed to read! Every season I plant these Renee's Garden "Magic Beanstalk" beans (scarlet runner beans) in my city-girl community garden. Their winding vines grow long and have pretty red blooms, but best of all, the seed pods contain beans that are the craziest un-bean-like fuchsia color. Open them up in front of children to hear them go "ooooo!" and believe that there just must still just possibly be some magic left in the world. I understand you can cook and eat them, but I never have; I just dry them until they turn their curious purple, and then they are just right for sharing with other storybook gardeners. Who says a seed is sleepy (besides author Dianna Aston)?

Also hope to meet up with these Velveteen Rabbits from the Victorian Trading Company, finally on sale aprés Easter but still spring-y. I'm afraid these will be the only bunnies welcome in my garden!

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

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


MY LITTLE GRANDMOTHER OFTEN FORGETS by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Candlewick)
My little grandmother
often forgets
about glasses and teacups
and clothing and pets.
She doesn't know why,
and she doesn't know how;
when she thinks about THEN,
she forgets about NOW.

...My little grandmother
says, "Hello, Roy!"
But Roy was my dad's name
when he was a boy.
So I say, "I'm not Roy,"
and she answers, "You're not?"
Then I tell her, "I'm Tom.
That's okay. You forgot."
It is sometimes worrisome for children and their families when grandparents call them by the wrong name, but here is a book that deals with issues of impending senility and Alzheimer's in a way that readers will recognize. Rather than heavy-handed bibliotherapy, My Little Grandmother reads like a friendship story between a patient little boy and and older family member. Behaviors like repetitions in conversation, periods of quiet, and issues of safety all receive a blessedly light and age-appropriate touch through well-paced verse and cheerful watercolor and ink illustrations. The dearness of the aging person is never undermined, nor is the helpful role of the child.

Reeve Lindbergh (yes, the youngest daughter of aviator Charles Lindbergh) is a consistently excellent author for children, and this is her second original foray into the world of aging and grandparents (baby boomer's delight, MY HIPPIE GRANDMOTHER with illustrations by Abby Carter, being the first). This latest title crosses generations to acknowledge that even when the memory goes, the heart remains, and may be an even more direct and loving treatment for kids than Mem Fox's similarly-themed and popular WILFRED GORDON McDONALD PATRIDGE. The relationship of a child and a grandparent is something so precious, so don't forget to add these and other intergenerational gems celebrating that rare connection to your collection. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE OLD? by Norma Farber, illustrated by the inimitable Trina Schart Hyman (Puffin) A grandma gives the straight dope, in free verse. High spirited, honest and graced with beautifully evocative drawings, the reader can appreciate how the spirit of the grandparent is carried on in the grandchild. Absolutely the best book on the subject of aging for kids, it is scandalously out-of-print (but available used at Amazon Z-shops and at your public library). This book answers a lot of questions young children may have, and serves as a great classroom discussion springboard for middle-school students as well. (7 and up)

MAKEOVERS BY MARCIA by Claudia Mills (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Marcia is less than thrilled when she discovers her eighth grade community service project will entail visits to the local nursing home. Distracted by pre-teen concerns like her perceived weight gain, difficulties in art class and the upcoming dance, working with a bunch of old people is last on her list. When her savvy sister suggests she combine her talent and interest in makeup with her requisite visits, it sets off a series of connections that, in the end, help Marcia get her priorities straight. Marcia's magazine-inspired machinations backfire hilariously, and her relationships with the elderly blossom in a way that is both believable and uncontrived. Emotional depth, laugh-out-loud humor and a rhythm that matches the heartbeat of its intended audience mark this well-written story that will inspire community service, self-esteem and an appetite for more books by this author. (10 and up)

On a personal note:
Congratulations to SHEILA, who posted her favorite picks of 2007, for winning the drawing for a copy of the VIVE LA PARIS audiobook! Sheila, your post didn't include your address or contact 4-1-1, so shoot me a comment with that info (won't be posted publicly) and I'll get it in the mail to you this weekend! Thanks to all who participated and shared.
Happy Poetry Month! Check out the PlanetEsme Poetry Power page, and check back through the month for the latest picks.
This post is dedicated with love to Rosalie Codell, my sparkly and glamorous grandmother who sometimes forgot, but who won't be soon forgotten. August 6, 1921 - March 27, 2008.

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


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