Wednesday, September 17, 2008


THE WAY WE WORK by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin)
After showing us THE WAY THINGS WORK, a lifetime achievement by any standard, Macaulay outdoes himself by turning his attention to the most complex machine of them all: the human body! Scaffolding from the smallest cells, readers move from system to system within the body and ultimately, to the creation of another life. The book took years to create, during which time Macaulay attended dissections, surgeries, studied anatomy at length and had the pleasure to handling a spleen. His hands-on and all-eyes approach paid off in a book that makes the intricate workings human body at once familiar and beautiful; he depicts the respiratory system as a roller coaster , describes DNA as "old family recipes" or a virus as a "population explosion," and draws microvilli like mountains rising out of the mist. His conversational writing style, matched with clear, well-labeled illustrations make this book not only remarkably informative, but remarkably accessible. You don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand this book, but it may very well inspire a few young people to become one someday. (9 and up)

Also of interest:
Macaulay isn't the only uber-talent with a fresh book on the fall list; here at PlanetEsme we are scoping out an influx of both new and retooled titles by popular authors and illustrators that you may be happy to know about, and even a newbie or two destined to be face-out on the bookstore shelves:

DELTORA QUEST by Emily Rodda (Scholastic) An epic fantasy quest adventure played out against a richly rendered fantasy landscape is waiting to be discovered within the bindings of this international sensation. The missing gems from the powerful Belt of Deltora are all that stand between the Shadow Lord and his plan to enslave the population. While the city spirals into despair, hopefulness and action are wielded like swords by Leif, Barda and Jasmine, who bravely traverse some of the most fearsome corners in the kingdom and show a myriad of monsters who's boss, determined to restore the belt before their dreadful enemy gets the chance. For the first time, all eight of the books in the series are collected in one handsome and affordable volume, so there will be no need for the reader to stop and catch his or her breath. Even better, this is a fantasy series that is appropriate for the early intermediate reader, so a younger audience can enjoy the status of finishing a book as thick as Harry Potter without sacrificing comprehension or author intention. Ten million readers around the world have found their way to this series and Japanese anime has embraced it, with good reason; themes like the need to know history, the necessity of leaders to stay connected with the common people and the power of optimism will resonate after the last pages are turned. Give it to your favorite dragonslayer with some ceremony. (8 and up)

And then we have another exciting quest, against a more realistic backdrop:
THE 39 CLUES: THE MAZE OF BONES (BOOK ONE) by Rick Riordan (Scholastic, ages 9 and up). Imagine the choice: to find out your family was among the most powerful in human history, or get a million dollars? After the reading of their grandmother's will, Dan and Amy forgo the cash and start on the first of thirty-nine clues that will reveal the source of their power. Readers follow the story, use the "clue cards" included and join the on-line search, which offers readers over a hundred grand in prizes. Nothing shivers my timbers quite so much as a volume that says "book one" on the cover, let alone a book that requires a Happy Meal toy collector's mentality, but hey, it has Wonka-Golden-Ticket-like potential that I'm sure I'd be all over like a cheap suit if I were ten, and moreover, it's Rick Riordan, whom I trust intrinsically to create something kid-tastic after composing the compulsively readable novel THE LIGHTNING THIEF. This book is no exception; he has the gift of making you want to know what happens next. This type of book delivers quality with a gimmick, and brings to mind talents like Ann Martin, who spent years creating the fun but pulpy BABYSITTER'S CLUB, and then went on to create what might be considered "serious" (and certainly wonderful) literature for children like THE DOLL PEOPLE and A CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE. Both styles of books contribute to creating readers in their own ways, and the fact that these authors can create both kinds should be commended. I'm just seems "back in the day," an author wrote more commercially in order to earn enough trust from the publisher to invest in the more artful attempts, and nowadays, it seems to be the other way around? Who knows, just a thought. Moving on...

INTO THE VOLCANO by Don Wood (Scholastic) Illustrator of beloved preschool picks like THE NAPPING HOUSE and KING BIDGOOD'S IN THE BATHTUB tries a very different tack with this imaginative survival story aimed at preteen reluctant readers. Every lava-hot comic-book style frame delves us deeper into the volcano's boiling innards, where we find two brothers lost and pursued by evildoers. And you thought you had a bad vacation! (8 and up)

Speaking of sulfur, we have HECK: WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO by Dale E. Basye (Random House) about two siblings who perish in a marshmallow bear-related accident. Kleptomaniac sister Marlo may belong in the underworld's reform school known as "Heck," but bystanding brother Milton (get it?) sets out to prove they don't belong there. It's a tough task convincing the instructors, though, with the likes of Lizzie Borden teaching home ec and Nixon teaching ethics. The allusions are often adult, but are balanced with a Bullwinkle-like sensibility that suggests the story may be enjoyed on many levels...or at the very least, is balanced out by a heavy preponderance of poopy-doody jokes. Oh, dear, I can hear the scritchy-scratch of pencils on "request for reconsideration" forms in libraries across the country as we speak! Enjoy this subversive little devil while you can. (9 and up)

BAD KITTY GETS A BATH by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook) The author/illustrator of BAD KITTY and POOR PUPPY proves he never runs out of funny in this redux that feels like a picture book but reads like a chapter book, a hairball-in-cheek how-to for cleaning the cat that will leave readers howling. Fans of Dav Pilkey, rejoice! This new series is as fun and even easier to read than good ol' CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. (7 and up)

When not waving Captain Underpants's Fruit-of-the-Loom flag, all reluctant readers bow down before the mighty John Sciezska who writes books like THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS and THE STINKY CHEESE MAN which make readers snort and giggle like victims of a ruthless armpit-tickling. He now delves into the primordial brew from whence his quirky humor first took legs via an autobiography for kids, KNUCKLEHEAD: TALL TALES AND ALMOST TRUE STORIES OF GROWING UP SCIESZKA. In short, succinct, and (of course) hilarious chapters, Scieszka offers words of wisdom ("There is something about boys and fire that is like fish and water, birds and air, cats and hairballs. They just go together.") and speaks eloquently of his secret love affair with MAD Magazine, the despair in receiving socks for your birthday or being in the backseat with five carsick brothers, the joy of receiving your first boy scout knife, the peril of swearing in front of nuns, and most of all, the importance of family through all the ups and downs. Full of photos and funky paper ephemera, good luck even getting into the book because you will have to spend some significant time on the back cover, which reads like one of those comic book ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys. This Gen-X'er and memoir-writer personally salutes the author for bridging the generation gap in such a readable way.

LAZY LITTLE LOAFERS by Susan Orlean, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Abrams) A rivalrous big sister tries to explain the drawbacks of the new baby from a purely anthropological perspective. I didn't personally cotton to the narrator's contemptuous tone which seems more aimed at entertaining the adult than the person in the adult's lap, but that's what comes of being a bestselling author for grown-ups. That said, Karas's illustrations of babies were so utterly scrumptious that I could practically feel the thump baby kicking in a stroller, the warmth of baby's hand, tread alongside his slow, waddling gait, and breathe in the powdery smell of baby belly. It made me want to get pregnant again (for a few minutes). Oh, the power of art. (5 and up)

A better-matched sibling pair may be found in ADELE & SIMON IN AMERICA by Barbara McClintock (Farrar Straus Giroux). Fans of Adele and Simon's French foray will be glad to have them return to port, with little Simon misplacing things from sea to shining sea. While ambitious, I don't know if sporting around an entire continent is ultimately as effective as their prior picture book tour of Paris, but ultimately, who cares? Who could possibly get enough of McClintock's Edwardian-flavored, etching-inspired genius? Booklovers will go wherever she leads. (6 and up)

A trippier kind of getaway is booked in WHAT A TRIP by Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski (Scholastic), the same zany team to bring us the Caldecott classic HEY AL, and this latest title is no less surreal. When Mel, an ordinary boy, klutzes his way into another dimension where everything is pointy, his attempts to convince others of the way he has seen the world makes his sanity suspect. This book about accepting differences without labeling definitely has a point. (6 and up)

Another author/illustrator that many folks will be happy to see has a new offering is David Shannon, of NO, DAVID! fame, tapping into some more testosterone with TOO MANY TOYS (Scholastic). Spencer has a lot of toys. A LOT. "There was an entire zoo of stuffed animals and a gigantic army of little action figures. He had a fleet of planes, trains, and toy boats, and a convoy of miniature trucks and cars. He also had lots and lots of musical instruments, art supplies, and alien spaceman weapons." Shannon perfectly captures the hysteria of consumerism on both ends, whether depicting the motley crew of relatives burying Spencer in birthday gifts, his barefoot dad howling over stepping on a Lego, or his mother desperately trying to negotiate some downsizing (met with huge doleful puppy-dog eyeballs from Spencer, a la Margaret Keane). What toy will Spencer be left with in the end? Shannon obviously had a lot of fun with this, and so will readers, as page after page explodes with jubilant, colorful, messy piles to pore over. Anyone who has ever had to clean a child's room will relate. Follow a group storytime with a big toy swap, or better yet, use the book as an impetus gather up all those extra toys and give them to charity. (5 and up)

GINGERBREAD FRIENDS by Jan Brett (Putnam) In this stands-fine-on-its-own sequel to THE GINGERBREAD BABY, our cinnamon-sprinkled buddy sets out to find some companionship, only to be disappointed by the cool response he receives by his inanimate brethren at the bakery. As is always the case with the inimitable Brett, set your eyeballs on stun, as the Gingerbread Baby is carried across snowy double-paged spreads on a chariot pulled by an exquisite black hen, details in the borders cumulate to offer a recipe for gingerbread, and the last page folds open to reveal an over-sized panorama of frosting, sprinkles, and hooray, plenty of smiling friends! The scene in the mouse hole in which very realistically rendered rodents are nibbling on the Gingerbread Baby's marshmallow pom-pom might be intense for the very young, but older picture book readers will thrill to the drama of it all, and will understand the yearning to find someone to play with. So much to look at and savor again and again, it really is as delicious as choosing treats from a display case. Read with THE GINGERBREAD GIRL by Lisa Campbell Ernst (Dutton) for more fresh flavor added to an old folkloric favorite. (6 and up)

MADELINE AND THE CATS OF ROME by John Bemelmans Marciano (Viking) In this exciting new addition to the Madeline family of books, the youngest girl in Miss Clavel's famous lineup is is hoodwinked by the Protector of the Colonia Felina, a conniver posing as a street urchin. While our heroine contends with a female Bad Hat, readers are taken on the most pleasant Italian tour since Roman Holiday. A nice cameo by hound Genevieve and the tender placement into good homes of several stray cats will make this a repeat read for animal lovers. Though I am a Bemelmans purist and was initially skeptical of his grandson's efforts, I found myself flipping around to double-check whether the book wasn't a reissue or done under a nom de plume, so authentic did it seem in both the meter of the writing and the flow of the brush. Obviously, wit and a flair for Fauvism is in the gene pool. (5 and up)

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Burgin Streetman said...

man, i haven't head the term face-out since my old doubleday days.... wow. that takes me back!

Shelf Elf said...

I just gave you a little prize Esme!

Thanks for offering so much to all of us!


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