Friday, November 21, 2008


THE BILL MARTIN JR. BIG BOOK OF POETRY with Foreword by Eric Carle (Simon and Schuster)All through elementary school and part of high school, the celebrated author of BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? could not read. He was taught through rhythm, "dum-da-da, dum-da-da-dum," and that quality of musicality has ever since permeated all of his early childhood classics. Here, we discover the poetry that tuned the author's ear for language and meter, shared in a special volume that is bound to get kids' hearts in rhythm with that same poetry-loving beat. Collected before the author's passing in 2004 with the help of his artistic collaborator for the alphabetical favorite CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM, poems are sectioned off under familiar, child-centric themes such as "Me and My Feelings," "Food for Me," "Around the Year," "World of Nature," and the ever-popular "Nonsense." A lengthy A-list of children's illustrators pay visual tribute to each selection. It can debated whether this volume ever achieves the kind of visual flow that comes from the vision of a single illustrator; the wonderful and sadly out-of-print anthology SING A SONG OF POPCORN edited by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers attempted a similar showcase of diverse talent, with slightly better results by assigning single illustrators to each section. That said, some illustrators really shine even among the stars (Ashley Bryant's bold collage technique jumps off the double-page spreads and seems well-suited to the age level, and it was exciting to see veteran Robert Quackenbush's illustrations stand out with an undeniably revitalized energy). There's little doubt that the child who picks up the volume is bound to find a favorite picture within these pages...and a favorite poem. A lovely homage to a beloved author, and a lively book. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Poems always help me look at the world in a new way! But here are a couple books that help readers look at poems in a new way.
TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF: SIJO (POEMS) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai (Clarion) A sijo is a type of poem that originated in Korea, with a fixed number of stressed syllables, usually divided into three or six haiku, but with a surprise, unexpected twist or joke at the end. Now, ask your favorite child if they like a surprise, unexpected joke or twist at the end. Why not ask if they like pizza and ice cream? The author of the Newbery winner A SINGLE SHARD flexes her genre muscles and shows she is in good form. The thin ink lines, grey sky palette and general adult sensibilities of the New Yorker illustrator may prove a bit demure for the broad, chummy tone of the book's content, but is lovely nonetheless and invites us, as the poems do, to look more closely at the small. (6 and up)

A KICK IN THE HEAD: AN EVERYDAY GUIDE TO POETIC FORMS by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick) Using straightforward explanations of twenty-nine poetic forms and succulent examples of each, readers are introduced to the variety and diversity of the genre. Yes, there are forms like sonnets and haikus, but have you ever heard of a senryu? An aubade? This is an eye-opening, mind-altering guide that belongs on the bookshelf of absolutely every educator and every lover of words. Pair with the work of Kenneth Koch ROSE, WHERE DID YOU GET THAT RED? TEACHING GREAT POETRY TO CHILDREN and WISHES, LIES AND DREAMS: TEACHING CHILDREN TO WRITE POETRY), and hey, teachers, you've got yourselves a unit!

On a personal note:

Thanks for being patient between posts. During spring and fall, sometimes I tour, and every now and then I discover a real gem of a place. This week I spent some time in the middle schools of Galesburg, Illinois for an exemplary and inspiring "Reading at the Crossroads" initiative, which involved the adoption of my book SAHARA SPECIAL throughout the curriculum, culminating in school visits, a community presentation, lunch with students and an evening with educators. I was so very, very impressed at how Juanita Scott and her energetic team checked every single box possible on the to-do list that would ensure a great author visit.

First of all, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to falling in love with the town just a little bit. Railroad hub and birthplace of poet Carl Sandburg (with a very nice little museum that includes an original illustration by Paul Zelinksy from ROOTABAGA STORIES), my tour of the incredible houses down Broad Street really made my eyes pop out of my sockets! Hey, if anyone needs a write-off, how about setting up the new PlanetEsme Bookroom in this cozy little joint? (I'm only half kidding, you know.)

Home is where the heart is, and I felt the love from the minute I walked through the doors of Churchill and Lombard, where I received welcomes both big

and small

Isn't this a fetching artist rendition of Ms. Pointy? May I use it as my new author photo?

I was amazed at how much thoughtful and beautiful work the children had done before my arrival. Creative responses at every turn! Journals...

Collages, cityscapes, relief artwork, bookmarks, audio playlists and dioramas galore...from the scene where Sahara discovers the cactus in her locker to a classroom set with casting la Polly Pocket dolls...and hey, did somebody scalp Miss Pointy up there?! One ambitious group made board games, including a whole Monopoly game with properties inspired by Sahara's Chicago, and another child even made a very nice movie poster for Fandango, suggesting my novel be made into an IMAX 3-D movie. I hope my agent in charge of sub-rights is taking note.

There was an interactive bulletin board that played on the fable from my book, "Why Teachers Get Apples," which afforded everyone in the school to say nice things about one another (that's the spirit!)...

...and an evening event for the whole community, which featured a reader's theater program starring some very talented and expressive Galesburg students! The kid at the end who looks grown-up enough to have been held back a few times is in fact not a student, but Churchill's beloved principal, Mr. Arthur. I got to hang with him a bit, and, wow, what a privilege to spend time with an administrator who exudes gentleness, leadership and the spirit of "yes!"

During my visit, my kind hosts remembered the cardinal rule of a successful author visit: feed the author! I was treated like a queen, with a cake that had the book cover on it, and a pot-luck spread full of goodies provided by teachers, staff and local providers (knowing how busy everyone is, I marveled at this generous gesture). We even ate off of place mats the kids had designed, depicting scenes and covers from my books! The food was delicious...

...but the company, even more so!

I got to meet and dine with kids at every grade level. They were very friendly, and very smart. Some even shared their own writing, art and reading recommendations with me, as well as candid insights into the middle-grade life. I think I may have found my new critique group!

It was so cool, how each school offered sewing, cooking and industrial arts (that's not true in Chicago). It seemed to make a lot of sense, as well as a big difference in the confidence and abilities of the children (plus, it looked like a lot of fun). These were some well-rounded kids! My favorite part was meeting with every single middle-school class via assembly. We talked about the value of their own writing, and the importance of daily journaling from an early age to develop a writer's "voice." Sometimes I used readings from SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH to underscore the stories hiding in our real life (if you want to get ink flowing, scroll down here for 150 story starters or visit here to springboard into a "Let Me Tell You Something" story!). I liked playing Phil Donahue, running around the audience with the mike. There was a lot of laughter and participation!

The Crossroads team made sure that each and every child had an autographed copy of my book weeks before my arrival. Some kids even went an extra mile, forming book clubs to explore the companion novel about bullying, VIVE LA PARIS. The result was a true connection with the books and author, evident through incredibly thoughtful questions and conversation. I was also very proud of this community for choosing Sahara Special, which took a certain bravery, given that the urban setting was somewhat removed from Galesburg, and because there are aspects of the book that are controversial. The team completely understood that reading is about expanding horizons and reaching out towards empathy, not only reaffirming what you already know. The enthusiasm and understanding from the children was palpable. This is a community of real readers.

Here are a few of the quotes I received on the evening program's playbill:

"It is sometimes nice to meet an author and see their face."
"Sahara is like a desert and special like an angel."
"Heart warming and emotional; it touched me deeply. I will never say boring again."

And possibly, the highest compliment I have ever been paid in my professional life:

"Sahara Special is the most spectacular book anybody has ever read."

Well. Flattery notwithstanding, I have to say: if you are an author or illustrator and have the good fortune to be invited to Galesburg, please GO! If you are a granting foundation and have the chance to fund this program that actually makes a difference in the literary lives of children, please DO! You will be glad to be a part of Reading at the Crossroads. I sure was! Even after such busy days, when my train pulled out, I was very sorry to leave...but my heart was full, knowing the initiative is on-going and that more lucky authors and illustrators will be getting on that reading train to Galesburg.

And in the spirit of poetry, book-loving and today's reviews, I offer you:

Reading (by Emma G.)

Reading by a tree on a sunny spring day.
My eyes dancing across the page.

The words floating around in my head.
Sentences coming together

Suddenly, I am taken from the ordinary world.
Soaring to a different place through the pages.

Becoming one with the characters.
Feeling what they feel,
seeing what they see,
hearing what they hear.

I could be flying with a bird, riding on a horse,
Feeling something magical or mythological.

Then once my book is done,
being taken back to the normal world.
A boring, regular, ordinary world...

I can't wait to find another book to read...

Thank you, Blue Streaks and Zephyrs, and to all who made this week possible! I loved meeting all of you. Cindy, Teresa, Mrs. Pointy-Jones, and of course Nita, thank you for letting me join your pedagogical ya-ya sisterhood, if only for a few days. There are more names and special touches than I can list here, but please know I appreciated every bit of it. Thank you again, Galesburg, and great job!

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Jenny Schwartzberg said...

Wow! That sounds like a fabulous experience both for you and for the kids in those schools! Thank you for sharing this with all of your readers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for coming to our scholl Ms. Codell it was very enjoyable to hear you speak (twice =]).
F.Y.I. I am in the picture with all of the Reader's Theatre group.
Well thank you again for visiting the "cozy little town" of Gakesburg.

Anonymous said...

Galesburg, Illinois knows how to host an author visit. I bet some kids' lives were changed that day.

Unknown said...

How absolutely splendid! I wish you could post this in newspapers around the country or TIME magazine or something so that every school could copy Galesburg!
Thanks for sharing.

Maggie Sumner said...

Emma G. is my god-daughter and I'm so proud of her! Thanks for printing her poem. Thanks to you also, Esme, for taking time to inspire the kids of Galesburg, my hometown, and Lombard, my school when I was a kid. Having moved away from Galesburg many years ago and lived far and wide, it's exciting to see people like you who inspire children to learn about and, hopefully, one day explore the world beyond their own city limits.


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