Monday, May 19, 2008


THE SEA SERPENT AND ME by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Catia Chien (Houghton Mifflin)
Every now and then there comes a book so delightful, so lyrical, that we are reminded why children's books are art and not just product. This is one of those books. When a little girl takes a bath, a friendly little sea serpent emerges from a drop of water from the faucet. He tells her exciting and beautiful stories of the deep blue sea, "where manta rays swim like dancing blankets and there are crabs with antlers and fish shaped like guitars." She promises to return him to the sea when it stops raining, but meanwhile, he is growing at a rate a la Helen Palmer's A FISH OUT OF WATER. Still, the girl frets over the day she will have to release him, but when they reach the shore, it is the sea serpent who is reticent. Can she find the words encouraging enough to help him become brave enough to enjoy his own freedom?

Oh my goodness, this book is a bit of a miracle, awash in lovely watercolor scenes with the jubilance of Jean Jacques Sempé but with broader strokes and the abandon that more closely mirrors the imaginative world of children. Every single page is different and interesting, bravely traversing double-page spreads of the deepest fathoms and intimate frames that make both the girl (wearing a ducky buoy as she leans over a fish tank) and the serpent the reader's friends. Though the serpent is a monster of sorts, he is always wide-eyed, smiling and never fearsome. Best of all, the visual beauty of this book is matched by its subtle and meaningful content about growing pains, packing an emotional punch along the lines of Munsch's LOVE YOU FOREVER but without the ambiguous adult skeeviness. This would be a brilliant book to share with a child starting school or any other great adventure, and will fortify the adult reader as well to be brave as the ones we love embark on something new. Darling, deep and dear, this is the sort of book that children will remember for years, with images that wend their way into the landscape of dreams. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
While we have our wet suits on, how about another underwater book that's bound to make a splash:
MANFISH: A STORY OF JACQUES COUSTEAU by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Éric Puybaret (Chronicle) As a boy, Jacques Cousteau fantasized what it would be like to breathe beneath water. Later in life, all things converge as he combined his love of film and his amazing invention of the aqualung to show the world
the undersea worth exploring...and worth saving. Smooth, flat art style against glossy paper goes far to capture the silky quiet of the sea, and the brilliant vertical fold-out that allows the reader to virtually and visually dive down into the depths of the ocean is a surprise. An inspiring life story clearly told for young readers across the grade levels, this beautiful book is a real catch. It appears that picture book biography remains the big fish in the sea of children's literature!

Also all new, tried-and-true and all wet:
ALISTAIR AND KIP'S GREAT ADVENTURE! by John Segal (McElderberry Books), a very simple story of two buddies who brave the waves and get a whale of a ride (nicely paired with William Steig's classic AMOS AND BORIS, and THE CASTAWAY PIRATES: A POP-UP TALE OF BAD LUCK, SHARP TEETH AND STINKY TOES by Ray Marshall and Wilson Swain (Chronicle), a wild, whirling rhyme for kids who just can't get enough of that pirate stuff. And also, don't forget the older, undersung little read-aloud treasure, SEA-CAT AND DRAGON KING by Angela Carter, illustrated by Eva Tatcheva (Bloomsbury), the whimsical tale of a cat who has to create a sweater for a kind but homely ruler beneath the waves; beautiful language, cunning line drawings and a creative conflict make this story sparkle. There, now you have plenty of material for a beach-blanket read-aloud in your library...or in your lap!

Shop with Esme
Oooo boy, this is dangerous shopping news, an auction of children's literature treasures from one of my favorite independent booksellers in the whole world. Visit the Debt Depletion Store within the next few days to bid on treasures like an original Max-the-bunny painting by Rosemary Wells, a Lily drawing from Kevin Henkes, a signed assemblage and art piece by Brian Selznick (who won the Caldecott for THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET), Arthur Geisert's complete hand-printed dummy for OINK OINK (heart be still! Out of my league, but my favorite of the bunch!), and a myriad of autographed and original collectibles from folks like Chris Raschka, Daniel Pinkwater, Jules Feiffer, Molly Bang, Jon Scieszka, David Small, Ed Emberley, Jack Gantos, and best of all, yours truly! ;-) Please check out my fairy godmother set which includes an audio and autographed print version of DIARY OF A FAIRY GODMOTHER, a magic wand and three bona fide wishes plus an autographed book and an unabridged CD; also available is the complete autographed set oof SAHARA SPECIAL and companion novel VIVE LA PARIS, ahem, a perfect end-of-year gift for a middle-grade teacher, if I do say so myself.

Friends! Librarians! SCBWI members! Booklovers all! Please spread the word about this unique auction being hosted by my friends at Reading Reptile in honor of their efforts to stay in business and continue serving children and families for coming up on twenty years! I have a bit of a girl-crush on owner Deb, who is one of the best artists in the universe in her own rite...check out my visit to see what I'm talking about! Truly this is an extraordinary and exceptional place in the universe, and Deb and Pete are truly good people who are beautiful parents and generous spirits. They support all of us through their good work and now they deserve our support, so bid early and bid often!

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

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


It's May, it's May, hooray, hooray! To tell you the truth, though I'm not one to wish away time, I'm happy to see April in the rear-view mirror. I was plagued with some sort of respiratory/allergy/asthma nonsense that had me canceling dates and moving deadlines, kvetching like a 98-year-old, and so high on Codine that one friend accused me of sounding like "Towelie" from South Park. But they say that laughter is the best medicine, so in the interest of spring fever I offer you this healthy dose of the funniest new picture books I could find:

JUMPY JACK & GOOGILY by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall (Holt)
In the spirit of Monsters, Inc. without the corporate touch, we have a snail with a deep-seated fear of monsters, without realizing that his best friend is of that ilk. Googily, with sharp teeth but a disarming smile and eyes that are, indeed, googly, very endearingly checks wading pools, closets, under tables and beds for any culprits, and children will enjoy the inside joke of a monster inserting himself into every place that Jumpy Jacks fears one might be. After Googily has done a thorough job of easing Jumpy Jack's fears, can Jumpy Jack return the favor? Smooth, stylized illustrations in an unusually attractive palette are permeated with silliness, and besides being genuinely funny, it's a solid and sensitive little storytime stroll through themes of patience, empathy and cooperation. This author and illustrator duo has already has earned many fans with their naughty friends rooting around in MEET WILD BOARS; this story is kindler and gentler, but every bit as comical. I'm scared of how monstrously popular this book could become. (5 and up)

Also recommended:

STARRING MISS DARLENE written, produced and directed by Amy Schwartz (Roaring Brook) Darlene tries very hard to take direction in her acting class, but manages to botch things up most dramatically. She takes a little snooze during her big scene in Sleeping Beauty, find herself all wet in the flood of Noah's Ark, and does a little ad-libbing when she can't remember the lines. Thankfully, the theater reviewer who comes to three performances tends to appreciate the avant-garde. This book will go far to alleviate any stage fright, proving that there are no small parts, only small actors...and this hippopotamus is definitely not one of them. This book is full of inspired, unexpected twists and face-hurting laugh-out-loud moments. The treatment has murmurings of James Marshall's FOX ON STAGE, though clearly, Schwartz enjoys a genius all her own. Applause, applause! (5 and up)

DEAR MISS PERFECT: A BEAST'S GUIDE TO PROPER BEHAVIOR by Sandra Dutton (Houghton Mifflin) Perhaps you are a porcupine looking for a dance partner. An elephant unsure of where to lay your trunk during meals. A raccoon questioning the proper protocol when rooting through a garbage can. Or a shy turtle with an oral book report looming. When I first picked up this book, I was anticipating something more along the lines of Sesyle Johnson and Maurice Sendak's WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR? assuming that the beasts to whom the author was referring were actually (ahem) children, but she did, in fact, mean other members of the animal kingdom. Even though the characters are wild things, the eloquent letters and lessons of compromise and consideration easily transfer to other genus. Loose cartoon illustrations are from the school of James Stevenson and Betsy Lewin, and the hilarity of this book exceeded all expectations and bears repeated readings. Perhaps if we say please very nicely, there will be more Miss Perfect books to look forward to, hopefully a quest for the perfect companion as alluded to on the last page. For now, we'll just have to frequent Miss Perfect's lovely website, and make our best efforts to make good behavioral choices. A spoof on the advice columns that the author enjoyed as a child, I must say thank you for a truly outstanding and original book that I personally consider a "must-have." (5 and up)

BIG BAD BUNNY by Franny Billingsley, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum) Baby Boo-Boo is clearly misunderstood. This is not a little mousie baby. Oh nooooo. She is a scratchity-clawed, pointy-toothed, growling, stomping, chomping roaring bunny! GRRRR! STOMP! ROAR! But when this Big Bad Bunny takes a wrong turn and gets lost, will she appreciate the coddling efforts of a well-meaning mommy? With the culminating intensity of Jez Alborough's WATCH OUT! BIG BRO'S COMING!, this book mounts to a satisfying conclusion. Children will certainly identify with Big Bad Bunny's desire to get her "props," and having a little girl be so loud and grouchy was refreshing (in a book, anyway). Super cute illustrations are perfect for spring storytimes; share by alternating your little sweetie squeaky voice with your growly-howly monster voice for best effect, and you'll find that your meekest mice will hop right on the bunny bandwagon. (4 and up)

DOCTOR TED by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre (McElderberry Books) When Ted Bear skins his knee and can't find a doctor, he becomes the change he wishes to see in the world. Unfortunately, his diagnosis generously offered at home and school might put him at risk for malpractice. ("His mother was in the kitchen. "You have measles," said Doctor Ted. "We should operate." "Those are my freckles," said his mother. "Eat your breakfast.") When he manages to do more harm than good with his teacher and principal, it looks like Ted is going to have to hang up his stethoscope, until a real emergency on the playground gives him the chance to exercise his skill as a caretaker. Bold, black-line and color illustrations against hospital white background are particularly pleasing to the early childhood eye. Andrea Beaty recently penned everyone's favorite book about the inventive builder, IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT, and it seems the craft of this talented storyteller just gets better and better; she is definitely an author to watch. With a daring and hilarious wit that aligns your funny bone page after page, this book is truly a perfect storytime prescription, and it was so nice to get it while still on an HMO. A must in every pediatrician's office, and every children's library; read one and call me in the morning. (5 and up)

DUCKS DON'T WEAR SOCKS by John Nedwidek, illustrated by Lee White (Viking) One day, while Emily was "in a serious mood, taking a serious walk, she met Duck." Duck is definitely not serious, riding a unicycle. In socks. Why is he wearing socks? Or a tie? Or a hat, for that matter? And certainly, there can be no excuse for a duck in...underwear...or can there?! Children who area bit more tightly sewn will find their stitches coming loose after some time well spent with this unconventional friend. Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu's NO! THAT'S WRONG! (Kane/Miller) is also a story about some animal wardrobe malfunctions, in which a little rabbit is insistent that a frilly pair of red underpants makes for a fetching hat; the endpaper with various animals creatively sporting articles of clothing is worth the cost of the book alone, and should provide endless inspiration for anyone considering trying out for Project Runway. Both of these books provide the young reader with the delicious opportunity to correct someone else, and both these books allow you to use the word "underwear," and, as we learned from Jonathan London's classic FROGGY GETS DRESSED, that's always a good investment. (both 4 and up)

Too many titles, you say? I'm afraid it's tough noogies...if you have ticklish 4 to7 year-olds on your hands, you kind of need every single one. And to add insult to your funny bone injury, if you visit a couple of my favorite kidlit blogs, Three Silly Chicks and Bottom Shelf Books, you'll find more good humor than an ice cream truck. Go ahead! She who laughs, lasts!

Feel free to share your faves...what books get your young reader chuckling?

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

Thursday, May 01, 2008


KEEPERS: TREASURE HUNT POEMS by John Frank, illustrated by Ken Robbins (Roaring Brook)
Prizes abound in these pages that celebrate the thrill of the hunt: The joys of flea market finds, flotsam and jetsam, rainy-day attic discoveries, and the rare treasures hiding in camouflage in woods, deserts, and under the ground. Beauty and discovery are the rewards reaped by readers who meet the challenge of keeping their eyes wide, experiencing everyday objects in new and thoughtful ways through a contemplative combination of words and pictures. Fans of the increasingly popular SPOT 7 series and the work of Walter Wick will appreciate the brilliantly saturated close-up photographs that feature most of the subjects of the verse (Abalone Shell: "Rocking/in the current's swirl.../a melted rainbow/cupped in pearl"). The reader feels like they are also discovering a new treasure with every turn of the page. The best find of all is the concept; children will be inspired to use a digital camera and thoughtful words to transform everyday bric-a-brac into something special. Literary garage sale, anyone? (7 and up)

Also of interest:
More fun for hoarders!
CORK AND FUZZ: THE COLLECTORS by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Lisa McCue (Viking) "Cork was a short muskrat. He collected shiny stones. Fuzz was a tall possum. He collected shiny stones, empty lunch bags, bottle caps, pinecones, long sticks, gum wrappers, food, and more food. Two collectors. Two best friends." When Fuzz adds a feather to his horde, a Mama duck decides to add him to to her bevy of babies. It will take some pretty savvy problem solving to get Fuzz out of this fix! This droll and cozy story is separated into short "chapters" to build confidence. A solid pick for early readers that feature friends we can visit again and again is always worth adding to a collection. (5 and up)

And speaking of treasured finds, I came across this 70's throwback featuring Rita Moreno trying to keep up with Morgan Freeman's unadulterated grooviness on PBS's Electric Company (one of my favorite show as a kid, big surprise!). "Easy reader, that's my name, unh, unh, unh!" Heavens to Betsy, that's catchy! See if you can listen in and not find yourself humming it later. "Gus got gas and the guy got gum. We saw a big gymnasium." Outasight!

On a personal note:
A big thank you to Kari and friends at North Central College for arranging an exceptionally lovely evening with future teachers. I was truly impressed by the spirit and excellence of the school and the program! Apples all around!

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


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