Tuesday, December 22, 2009



Borne of a mother's wish for a daughter with skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood, the old chestnut gets new blood in this gorgeous gift-worthy book that makes the traditional feel fresh as fallen snow. Succinct storytelling is less Disney and more Grimm, without too much gore. The evil queen is more impressively tenacious, first trying unsuccessfully to squeeze Snow White to death in a corset and then appealing to her vanity with a deadly comb before resorting to the old poisoned apple trick. Further, Snow White is roused from her sad fate not from true love's kiss but something more along the lines of a Heimlich Maneuver, and the queen is not chased up to a mountain cliff by vengeful dwarfs, but rather implodes from her own frustration (which, considering the college try she gave to being "the fairest of all," somehow seems far more realistic). Overall, the telling never feels belabored; the author appreciates that it is necessary to move along at a fervent clip, accenting rather than distracting from the visual delight in these bindings.

While the story literally unfolds on side flaps, this book centers on layered illustrated scenes of cut paper that allow any reader to fall under Ray's magic spell. This is an unusual pop-up book. Less of a copycat of the modern movable book master Robert Sabuda (his version of L. Frank Baum's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ is still my favorite of his many marvels, with the read-aloud pop-up COOKIE COUNT a close second). Instead, Ray frames each scene in a proscenium, taking the tack of a print version of The Grand Little Theater of Puppets, the lovely likes of which I have not seen since the PETER AND THE WOLF POP-UP illustrated by Barbara Cooney in the 1980's. This illustrator has lent her hand to many beautiful tomes (unfortunately and hair-pullingly, many are out of print, though you can still get LUGALBANDA: THE BOY WHO GOT CAUGHT UP IN A WAR and the paperback of Berlie Doherty's FAIRY TALES. You'll find in this latest the artist's recurrent motifs of trees, vines and birds, beautiful, serene-faced, almond-eyed people framed in patterns and bronze gilding. It's a fairy tale world this artist creates, and only fitting that this world, so clearly imagined and executed, should have it's third dimension. Hope there's more to come. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
One good princess deserves another. And another. And then a prince who becomes king.
BUT WHO WILL BELL THE CATS? by Cynthia Von Buhler (Houghton Mifflin) This original and haunting treatment of Aesop's fable is really two simultaneous stories that converge at rhythmic intervals, like a well-choreographed quadrille. Double-page spreads with upper and lower levels reveal the cats roaming a castle while a mouse lives in squalor. After a series of failed attempts by Mouse and his friend Bat, the resident princess shows them a kindness, inspiring the clever mouse to use the princess's birthday as the perfect diplomatic opportunity to bell the cats once and for all. A unique technique of placing illustrated cut-outs in sets of actual miniatures and then photographing them creates scenes of surprising depth and perspective. Dramatic in story and distinctive in style, this book is a stand-out. (7 and up)

PRINCESS HYACINTH: THE SURPRISING TALE OF A GIRL WHO FLOATED By Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith (Schwartz & Wade) Created by a one-two punch combo of imaginative author (THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN and savvy illustrator (THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES), we have the buoyant tale of a poor princess who is cramped in her castle for purposes of safety ("the only time she could take off her royal stuff was when she is in the palace. Then if she floated--and of course she did--she'd just float up to the ceiling and they could always get her down in the morning"). She manages to finagle a walk in the park, but abandons the crown that has been serving as a paperweight (or princessweight?) so she can go for a float amidst a balloon man's wares. When the string becomes unstrung sending the princess into the stratosphere, it is a long-admiring, red-headed kite-flyer to the rescue, and a long-desired friend is made at last. The muted, pewter-toned illustrations are sophisticated and stylized and seem almost to beg for the return of the animators of Gerald McBoing-Boing, but may take a little coaxing for attention from modern audiences. The illustrator's famous book-designer wife, Molly Leach, leaves her mark here, with signatures like font changes, eclectic placement (and even a floating sentence), very much a matter of taste as to whether it is delightful addition that underscores the text's meaning or distracting as a kind of second illustrator, but undeniably deliberate in every decision. Overall, the visual and verbal wit create a book that will give you a sugar high from one sweet read. (5 and up) It's worth mentioning that Princess Hyacinth is not the only royalty to hover; George MacDonald's melancholy parable in 1864 was later published as THE LIGHT PRINCESS illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), about a girl cursed without gravity, who learns of the unbearable heaviness of being the hard way. (11 and up)

Another oldie but greatie is THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES retold by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft (HarperCollins), the wonderful and mysterious masterpiece about a dozen sisters who are locked in their room each night but emerge each morning with dancing shoes worn down past repair. A resourceful castle gardener manages to solve the mystery by following them into an enchanted netherworld where a grand ball is being held nightly. Craft's oil-over-watercolor interpretations of fairy tales are so especially wondrous that you'll think she paints with a wand instead of a brush. Her illustrations seem to be lit by blazing candelabra, and nobody does princesses so breathtakingly, staring back from the page pale and doelike, beneath cascading mounds of perfect curls and wrapped in billowing gowns; you can almost smell perfume. Her books are as heady and decadent as entering a castle hall; like the twelve princesses and their enamored gardener, it's hard to take leave. (8 and up)

And I can't miss the opportunity to remind you of one of my favorite children's books in the entire world, KING MATT THE FIRST by Janusz Korczak (Algonquin), about a boy king who attempts to run a country of children. Whether Matt is attempting a new reform involving the distribution of chocolate to all of his citizens, running to do battle on a war-torn front under a false name while a lifelike doll reigns in his stead, arranging for his population to attend summer camp or on a diplomatic mission to the land of the cannibals, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. And why wouldn't it? Its author was a renowned pediatrician who ran orphanages in Poland and wrote this adventure with read-aloud in mind. When the Nazis cleared the Warsaw ghetto, Korczak suffered the same tragic fate as his charges, but his masterpiece lives on. (10 and up)

On a personal note:
Season's Greetings from the PlanetEsme Bookroom!

Goodies on the mantel. Replica of Santa's amazing pocket watch at Victorian Trading. We have the real one; Santa left it at the Bookroom, said we could keep it. Ho ho ho! It's every bit as magical as the bell in Chris Van Allsburg's THE POLAR EXPRESS. Find more treasures to display at Bayberry Cove.

Have a chocolate-covered present from the bowl and read a good book; perhaps a resounding tale of neighborly love and aggravation, OKIE DOKIE, ARTICHOKIE by Grace Lin , or the chilly and chivalrous tale, A COLD WINTER'S GOOD KNIGHT by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (Dutton).

Curious George lights the menorah. Who knew?!

Silver Hanukkah bush to the left, covered in bags of chocolate gelt for the taking. A wintry tree is hung sparsely with cinnamon ornaments (cage contains a small frog prince); the snowman garland is draped overhead. Thanks to the beloved Liza Tursky for loan of the magic tree and help in creating the Bookroom's permanent candy mosaic.

Let it snow! Miniatures by Department 56.

A friend in a Saint Lucia candle crown serves goodies (maybe these Swedish Christmas Cookies?) to a roly poly friend. Humpty Dumpty might have fallen from a wall, but here's hoping he's more secure on a pile of books.

Many thanks to everyone who has been so supportive through donations of time, resources, artwork, awesome tchotchkes, support of my books (especially this year's resissue of EDUCATING ESMÉ and continued support of my children's backlist) and speaking opportunities which have all funded the project, and most of all your patience as programming is temporarily slowed while I am back in school concentrating on a Master's in Library Science, preparing to give my all to the upcoming children's literature training program that the PlanetEsme Bookroom will host in 2011. Meanwhile, Chicago area children's booklovers can look forward to a visit from the author Avi at the Bookroom this coming February (details to come!), and check out this inspirational pamphlet on starting your own salon in the New Year!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Here's the thing about Christmastime and children's books. Yes, there are some kids who hop up and down when they see a hefty wrapped rectangle, as recognizable as a gift-wrapped tennis racket, and there are kids who have particular titles on their wish lists. But for the most part, frankly and unfairly, it's hard for Santa to score the kind of screaming, jump-up-and-down reaction using a book as opposed to, say, an Xbox 360 or a Zhu Zhu pet. And for gift-givers not from the North Pole, it's tricky to find a book for a particular reading ability, or for every child in a family. The answer to this conundrum is two-fold. First, play up to the massive amounts of down time surrounding the holidays by making books the special gifts that constitute a countdown: serve a wrapped book every morning for breakfast or under the pillow every night at bedtime as a literary advent, or use a book a day to brighten the post-present doldrums between Christmas and New Year's, or, for prolonged cheer, lead all the way up to Three Kings Day (January 6, 12 days after Christmas ). Second, for those on a budget (and who isn't?), poetry is a way to choose one book that a whole family can enjoy, and it's a choice that naturally encourages the best practice of read-aloud. So sing out, "on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a partridge and some poetry!" Okay, I'm a bit rusty as a poet, and I know it. But here are some authors that are a little more lyrically limber, to get you started.


BUTTON UP! WRINKLED RHYMES by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Harcourt)

We don't fit iguanas
we're not for the gnu,
we won't suit the llamas
(they never wear blue.)
Hippopotamus can't get us over his head.
We're JOSHUA'S jammies. We're going to bed.

Surprise: a book told from the POV of children's apparel is one of the best poetry collections of the year! The cover does not convey the charm of the inside: funny, unpretentious watercolors of child-like animals laid out in a variety of positions on pages, and children will find lots to identify with and recognize in the words and pictures. With impeccable meter and a closet full of joie de vie, we hear from Bob's bicycle helmet (very responsible!) , Jack's sporty soccer jersey ("I show the number, Jack does the kicks./I'm Jack's jersey--/way to go 6!") , Jennifer's shoes that enjoy getting to know her ("We are learning the ways/ of Jennifer's world:/the way that Jennifer's/toes are curled..."), Bertie's mellow shoelaces, Tanya's mournful old t-shirt...who knew the laundry pile could have such personality? (5 and up)

Also of interest:
RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS: A YEAR IN COLORS by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin)

Red beats inside me:
Red hops to treetops,
fluffs its feathers
against the cold.
it begins to sing:
each note drops
like a cherry

Different colors mean different things at different times of the year. Red in winter is different than the red of summer (Red whispers/along my finger/with little/beetle feet"). In spring, Yellow and Purple hold hands./They beam at each other/with bright velvet faces./First flowers,/first friends," while in fall, yellow "grows wheels" (of a school bus), and purple is "the smell of all things mixed together," "old leaves/crushed berries." What a fine book for children beyond the simple naming of colors, and further, a chance to appreciate that words don't have to rhyme to be a poem, they have to contain feeling. We are carried through the year by crown-wearing narrators who feel the colors and helps readers to feel them, too (think a more erudite version of Dr. Seuss' MY MANY COLORED DAYS). Mixed media on wood is folksy and reminiscent of Stefano Vitale, but with a thinner, more tentative line. Sensitive, thoughtful language and artwork brings the color of the year into focus, and the power of poetry as well. (6 and up)

selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by James McMullan (Little, Brown)

Seeds cast by the wind to
land where they may,
they stay
and hold
against most hot, most cold.
They persevere, roots shallow
yet fierce and free.
They epitomize to me
all that I sometimes
yearn to be.
-- from "Wildflowers," by Julie Andrews

Though celebrity books are usually (and deservedly) suspect, Julie Andrews earned her props and then some by demonstrating her aplomb in the 1960's with not one but two truly outstanding and enduring novels for children (9 and up), THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES and MANDY (it's hard to forget the marvelous little girl who mosaics her own secret house with seashells!) and several more successful titles since. It was with great interest and hope, then, that this collection was examined, since the work of an anthologist is yet another specific talent, as is working in collaboration (in this case, with her daughter who is a writer, children's literature specialist, and author of the recent and recommended guide RAISING BOOKWORMS: GETTING KIDS READING FOR PLEASURE AND EMPOWERMENT). This latest endeavor is ambitious, an introduction to the joys of poetry with broad section headings such as "Leisure,""The Wonderful World" and "All Things Bright and Beautiful," and very personal in spots, as is both the peril and appeal of such family poetry projects that assume general appeal (see Caroline Kennedy's collection for an example). It is the ability of these particular women make their tastes a boon to the reader rather than a vanity project; a fine example of this are the two poems on facing pages, one by the daughter ("Our Lady of Perpetual Demand") and one by the mother ("Observation") which read like two eyes looking at each other. The litmus test was that the names of authors are at the bottom of the poems, and while reading I often could not tell the works by the contributing anthologists apart from the quality of the other poets. And what other poets! What this collection does that is extraordinary and necessary and that I have not seen done in any other general collection is the recognition of American Songbook lyricists as great American poets. The words to Frank Loesser's most beautiful "More I Cannot Wish You" appear here, along with Johnny Mercer's "Accentuate the Positive," (amen!), plenty by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II (like the well-known "My Favorite Things," "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'!" and "A Cockeyed Optimist," some authorial favoritism gleaming here to good effect as it was in Rosemary Wells' GETTING TO KNOW YOU!), Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday" and eden ahbez's most evocative "Nature Boy." In the mix are gems from well-known children's poets such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Charlotte Zolotow, Nikki Grimes, Eve Merriam and Mary Ann Hoberman, and a plethora of simply gorgeous classic selections of adult interest that can be enjoyed by children as well, and necessary to any poetry-lover's repertoire: Rachel Lyman Field's "Something Told the Wild Geese" ("Summer sun was on their wings,/Winter in their cry"), Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Whoa! This book has muscle, a powerful introduction that creates a wide and inclusive circle, making a statement not only about what is real poetry, but who is a real poet. Very attractive watercolors decorate the pages and the book comes with a CD of some of the poems being read in the Andrews' great voices. These bonus features are lots of fun and good for getting in the poetry mood but not exactly necessary; in poetry, the words paint a thousand pictures and speak for themselves. Case in point, the anthology that I consider near perfect, Scott Elledge's WIDER THAN THE SKY, followed by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell's TALKING TO THE SUN, which is illustrated with artwork from the Met, so I guess there are exceptions. The Andrews' collection is such a solid compendium it will join these on the shelf, and be comfortable in their company. This anthology succeeds at doing what it set out to do, delivering the joys of poetry from one family to another. Further, this poetry collection screams "must!" for inclusion in mother-daughter book clubs lists, and is sure to inspire scrapbook projects of personal anthologies. (8 and up)

Shop with Esme!
As we approach the eleventh hour, here are a few fun gift ideas for the hard-core children's book lovers in your life, young and old.

Book-Themed Pajamas, including Corduroy, Pinkalicious, Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus themes
(sorry, they don't come in adult sizes, though there are some cute jammie-bottoms for big girls here and here)

Oiseaux has such gorgeous personalized vintage bookplates (also check out the choices at The Little Chickadee and The Paper Princess)

Original artwork by children's book illustrator Johanna Wright!

Limited edition and original children's book artwork from the celebrated R. Michelson Galleries (Tomie dePaola's work pictured above; below, the E.B. Lewis print from the book ACROSS THE ALLEY donated to the PlanetEsme Bookroom this summer from friends of the Association of Jewish Libraries, thank you!)

Curtains or tablecloth made of Eric Carle illustrated fabric (lots more Eric Carle gifts here)

Adopt a fairy for the holidays...invite them in with a door from Red Shoes

A nifty notebook for keeping track of what to read next (retro book cover versions at BookJournals.com)

Super cute storybook barrettes, coasters or picture frames from Glitterworkshop

A read-aloud calendar from Family Reading Partnership, full of hints from HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO LOVE READING (huge discounts for not-for-profit organizations; what a great back-to-school New Year gift from administration or PTO's to teachers!)
Or maybe best of all, allow someone to play Santa Claus (or Hanukkah Harry, or Kwanzaa Kenyatta, or Atheist Alan) by giving a fabulous Donors Choose card, allowing them to help fund a classroom literacy initiative of their choosing! Wow, look at all those great public school projects that need your help!

Please tell 'em PlanetEsme sent you, and please share more links and good ideas for gifts in the comments section. Ho-ho-ho! Isn't shopping for booklovers fun?

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


STICK MAN by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic)
"I'm Stick Man, I'm Stick Man,
I'm STICK MAN, that's me,
And I want to go home to the family tree!"
Good luck, Stick Man, because dude, you've got miles to go before you sleep (or do whatever it is Stick Men do). First abducted by a dog, then chosen as best for a bird's nest, and then at last a sandcastle mast, Stick Man complains: "I'm not a mast for a silly old flag,/ Or a sword for a knight.../Or a hook for a bag./ I'm not a pen! /I'm not a bow!/ I'm not a bat.../or a boomerang--no, I'm..." "Stick man, oh Stick Man, beware of the snow!" Of all the mishaps, being thrown in the woodpile is probably the most harrowing, and it will take a Christmas miracle to save Stick Man's bark. Luckily, such miracles are right up Santa's alley. This story performs the nearly impossible feat of a graceful rhymed narrative, sans corn or clunkiness, and boasting a refrain that children will join with fervor. The oddness of the stick's anthropomorphism is along the lines of Ali Bahrampour's out-of-print OTTO: THE STORY OF A MIRROR, Thomas Disch's BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER or W. Gage's MISS OSBORNE-THE-MOP, all strangely intense and engaging, and sadly with an imaginative appeal that spoke to the intended audience more than the adult consumer who supplies that audience. The device works most effectively here, though, with the storyline reaching a crescendo in a season of magic in which we almost expect toys and other objects to come to life. The narrative arc is an exciting blend of the best of Hans Christian Andersen, combining the harrowing journey of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" and the potential fate of "The Fir Tree," with thankfully a far more cheerful ending than either. At the root of this adventure is a touching love of family and the desire to return to them against all odds. A lively holiday story with a lot of heart and a pleasure to read aloud, Stick Man is one to fetch. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
What Santa is borrowing from the "new book" shelf at the library:
HERE COMES JACK FROST by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook) A boy is glum when the world falls into hibernation, and is grateful when an unusual figure presents himself, his only condition for friendship being that nothing warm be mentioned. Easier said than done, but the melancholy ending has a high note of promise, sure as the cycle of the seasons. This perfectly gorgeous picture book makes best use of icy shades of white and blue (plus silver accents on the cover, and the angular prints accentuate the sharp, cold feeling of winter. Now children can imagine who has been painting patterns on the windows while we sleep! (4 and up)

WHO WOULD LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE?: A TREE FOR ALL SEASONS by Ellen Obed, illustrated by Anne Hunter (Houghton Mifflin) Who says nonfiction can't be jolly? Going through each month of the calendar, readers can experience the useful life of a balsam fir, whether serving as a snack for graceful white-tailed deer in March, a wildflowers' soil bed supplier in July, or the perfect haven for a yellow spider spinning a web in September., culminating in a decorated delight in December. The interconnectedness of living things and the importance of life in the natural world even outside of the human experience are gracefully underscored here in a most readable way and accented with graceful illustration as evocative as a walk in the country. A calendar-based commentary from a fir-tree farmer serves as an afterword. A tree-solid true story that will have you looking at your tannenbaum in a whole new way. (5 and up)

THE LITTLE RED ELF by Barbara Barbieri McGrath, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet (Charlesbridge) Children with requisite knowledge of the folklore standard "The Little Red Hen" will appreciate the efforts of one of Santa's helpers as she tries to prepare for the season while a reindeer, rabbit and penguin stand by. But for all their lack of contribution, Santa doesn't forget them, and delivers just desserts in a surprise ending. (5 and up)

SNOW BUGS by David A. Carter (Little Simon) I must confess, it's hard for me to imagine creating a children's book gift basket without at least one David A. Carter's zany interactive titles, whether it's the textured FEELY BUGS for babies or pop-up SCHOOL BUGS for kindergarteners, and now he has an offering for everyone in between. This latest interactive bug collection includes the likes of a spinning Ice Skating Bug, a dropping Thermometer Bug, fuzzy Boot Bugs and a cheery Busy Bug making angels in the snow. Without Christmas references, this is a seasonal pick appropriate for any denomination, and with all the silliness and surprise that we have come to be so buggy about. (3 and up)

"I'm sorry," said Sam. "I just wanted to see what your workshop looked like. I didn't mean to cause trouble."
Santa chuckled at that, so Sam dared to say something else. "I sure want to thank you, Santa, for all the great presents every year."
"You know," said Santa. "I've never actually heard a child say that before. I get thousands of letters with requests, but never any thanks."
When Sam stows away in Santa's sleigh just as he's about to chill out, he gets to join him on his vacation. When I saw this book's cover, featuring a relaxed Santa in a poinsettia Hawaiian shirt, I was concerned somehow that it would be some sort of Jimmy Buffet children's book nightmare in Margaritaville. Some allusions are a little adult, such as reindeer receiving ocean-side spa treatments and rocking out to a gingerbread concert ("Bread Zeppelin"), but a trip to the elf-sized amusement park, a mid-air dodge ball game and the chance to see Santa in his candy-cane striped bathing suit suggests this book has something for everyone. The real gift hidden in this title, though, is the theme of gratitude and reciprocation; it may even inspire a new tradition of Santa thank-you lists as well as wish lists. Keep the post office in business! Pair with Linas Alsenas' truly charming MRS. CLAUS TAKES A VACATION (Scholastic) and Raymond Briggs' British graphic novella FATHER CHRISTMAS GOES ON HOLIDAY, if you can get your mittened hands on it. (6 and up)

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Putnam) Folks who celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa will especially appreciate this excellent revisiting of Clement Moore's classic verse against an African backdrop. The opening double-page spread of snow falling across a mountain village with a huge round setting sun in the background is stunning; other pictures feature backdrops of generous smatterings of dazzling stars instead of snowflakes. Using an Eric Carle cut-paper collage style in a whole new flavor, Santa is sporting some handsome dreadlocks (and some pretty fabulous giraffe-skin pattern pants), the ornaments have kente patterns and the toys under the tree are from the African tradition. Santa goes all around the world, so naturally he knows what children all over the world will enjoy! Children all over the world will enjoy this, too. Nicely paired with 'TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Brenda Seabrooke, a picture book biography of Clement Moore which offers background knowledge about how the poem came to be. (5 and up)

FANCY NANCY: SPLENDIFEROUS CHRISTMAS by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins)
In the latest installment of the runaway bestselling Fancy Nancy series, Miss Thang is getting her Christmas on in the series' usual high style, with even the snow-woman on the front lawn donning a red feather boa, a baby buggy dressed in garland and ornaments dangling from the canopy bed. Fancy Nancy's style is nothing short of inspiring, whether stapling lace on to her dolly's blanket or showing readers that too many sprinkles on a cookie is never enough ("Mmm, delectable! That's fancy for yummy!"). When the spinning, flashing, color-changing tree topper is destroyed by accident, disaster is averted by that same spirit of creativity and can-do and improvisation ("that's a fancy word for using whatever's around to make something"), which readers can emulate to create their own holiday fabulousness (I know I might have to recreate Nancy's best friend Bree's holiday outfit: green frou-frou skirt, cotton candy pink tights and red shoes, oh yes). The illustrations are nothing short of dazzling; how the illustrator balances such an elaborate palette is a marvel, and never outshining the strong expressiveness and characterization of the story's players. There is a missed opportunity of any Hanukkah reference in the midst of all the holiday extravaganza. Really, could we throw a menorah in a store window, can one of her friends spin a dreidel? Jewish girls like to get their fancy on, too, you know (hello, ever been to Miami?). I'd hazard to suggest most children nowadays experience a mixture of holidays and cultures in December, whether their friends' or their own, and even a book with Christmas in the title can reflect that. Granted, it is the prerogative of a creative team to choose their focus (after all, not every Hanukkah story has a Christmas tree in it, either), but Nancy is such a junior Auntie Mame with such a broad fanship, I expected that would inform the series and was surprised it wasn't there. Pluralism is very fancy, Nancy (that's a fancy word for including everybody). Clearly, though, I was not so offended that I didn't buy the Fancy Nancy limited edition holiday doll for display in the Bookroom (yes, she's adorable), or add her recent tea party how-to book to the collection. Here's hoping Fancy Nancy's 'hood continues to integrate...but meanwhile, this is one Christmas party in a book you won't want to miss.; this girl knows how to entertain, as does her author and artist. (5 and up) Also of interest for graduates of Fancy Nancy is the Klutz Paper Fashion series, especially PAPER FASHIONS: FANCY and PAPER FASHIONS: FANTASY. Along the lines of paper doll dresses without the constraints of other people's fashion sensibilities, these book/kits start young designers off with stencils, patterned paper, glitz and glitter extras and tiny hangers to display the finished fashions. This is a gift that will engage crafty hands and creative imaginations for hours. (8 and up)

Many, many more fabulous holiday children's books to add to your nice list are right here. Two of my of my all-time favorite December read-alouds, ANTONELLA AND HER SANTA CLAUS by Barbara Augustin and PETER CLAUS AND THE NAUGHTY LIST by Lawrence David are out of print (but available used), but three other favorites, THE LITTLE REINDEER by Michael Foreman, HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS by Eric Kimmel and THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER by Barbara Robinson are still hanging in there! I never take that for granted, and I'm sure lots of other teachers and librarians don't, either. If I could have one Christmahanukwanzaakah wish, it would be that children's books wouldn't go out of print quite so quickly, and publishers would back artists instead of titles. As 2010 approaches with all of its technological advances, there is a promise that there will be fresh forums and formats to experience great children's books, old and new. Cheers, and please share your holiday favorites past and present (and presents!) in the comments section.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


WAITING FOR WINTER by Sebastian Meschenmoser (Kane Miller) Squirrel determines not to hunker down in a hole in his tree this year but instead wait for the first snowfall, which he has never seen. He's soon joined by a sleepy hedgehog, who joins him in sea shanties to stay awake, which rouses a lumbering bear who decides to also wait for the snow (and the peace and quiet it will imply). What does snow look like? It's white and soft and wet and cold; this, they know, from a passing deer. But none of them can anticipate the miracle of the real thing.

There are two enormous strengths of this book. One is the art: quick sketches of animals that are so expressive and active, the work of someone who has observed the natural world very carefully, bringing to mind the attentiveness in the sketchbooks of the late Robert McCloskey (right). That said, Meschenmoser is funnier, sketchier, looser. The look of the bear is one we have seen on many a father who can't get some rest on his one day off. The double-page spread of the squirrel making rounds on a tree branch is such that you can practically hear the nails against the bark. And even in the opening pages, where we see a raven lighting on a bough and the squirrel balanced precariously on the extended arm of a tree, the woods are so perfectly evoked. All of this is done with light, mostly brown and black graphite/pencil drawings, each line graceful as the falling of a last leaf. Granted, the soft lines make it visually a little hard to share with a group of children, but worth the effort, especially for city kids who will not experience so fine a representation another way. The second strength of the book is the pacing. Pages with text are interspersed with wordless stretches, as befitting both the setting and the story's arc. No page is left unturned; from the v-shaped formation of birds in migration on the front endpapers to the back endpapers with two humans wondering about an odd snowman, every piece of paper put to good use. The animals' Dada-esque imaginings of what winter will look like will have readers laughing out loud, and the anticipation of celebration builds until the last pages, when the snow finally begins to fall. This book captures a feeling of surprise that I have seen only in the faces of children who have moved from the south to the north and experience snow for the first time. With imagination, humor and beauty, this book is a subtle wonder. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Hunting season...book hunting, that is.

DUCK DUCK MOOSE by Dave Horowitz (Putnam)

"Hey," said Duck. "I see New York City."
"Hey," said Other Duck. "I see Washington D.C.!"
"Hey," said Moose. "I've got to pee!"

When Moose's best laid plans for pancakes are thwarted, he decides to join his mallard mates for a change of pace and a shlep from chilly New Hampshire to sunny Florida. Philosopher Lao Tzu suggested, "A good traveler has no fixed plans," and fittingly, the only thing on these animals' minds is having a good time. Who wouldn't want to join that itinerary? This author continues to put himself on the map as a master of funny books a la James Marshall, with colorful cartoon illustrations, a broad sense of humor (anyone who names a character "Other Duck" is all right with me), and a cast of animals with recognizably child-like qualities. Before you hop in the car to visit relatives, take this, the best road trip since Easy Rider. (5 and up)

ACORNS EVERYWHERE by Kevin Sherry (Dial) If you like the Disney Ice Age squirrels, you'll love the frenetic, goggle-eyed energy of this little guy, making hay (and acorn piles) while the sun shines, navigating through the perils of berry-eating bears and mercenary mice. Now, if he could only remember where he put them...? Short and nutty, this book is a good one-liner in a longer read-aloud routine, hopefully including Adam Rubin's THOSE DARN SQUIRRELS, Brian Wildsmith's beautifully rendered nonfiction tribute to SQUIRRELS, and the tender and ticklish look at hibernation, A LITTLE BIT OF WINTER by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. (5 and up)

On a personal note:
Happy Thanksgiving! Make your own edible cornicopia crudité here. I like sesame seeds on mine.

The genius cartoonist Lynda J. Barry once said, "you know when you're, like, 'that book saved my life!' Well, it probably did." Do you know that feeling? Not just a favorite book, but the book that after you've read it, your life will never be the same, your path was changed, your world view was altered? Or a book that made you laugh when you needed to laugh, helped you to see, helped you to endure? Now's your chance: give thanks to the books or authors, artists or teachers who saved your life. It's good karma! Here's just a few of mine, both adults and children's books from different times of my life that meant the world to me, changed my brain and changed my trajectory:

1. ZEN FLESH, ZEN BONES by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki
3. LITTLE LULU comic books by Marge (shout out to Archie, Richie Rich, Dennis the Menace and Uncle Scrooge, too)
5. GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT by Harville Hendrix
6. WITCHES by Erica Jong
8. SOUP AND ME by Robert Newton Peck
9. SUZUKI BEANE by Sandra Scoppetone

Roald Dahl...Caroline Feller Bauer...Beverly Cleary...Tove Jannson...Nathaniel Hawthorne...Randall Jarrell...Richard Scarry...Janusz Korczak...Eleanor Estes...I could go on and on and on, books and authors and artists and poems and pictures...What odd, chance meetings! Of all the books in the world, this one, or that one! I am so grateful for the serendipity of these connections, grateful that every day holds the chance that I might encounter a book that meets me where I am, that redirects my purpose, that helps me see anew, that refreshes my optimism. So many books...the chances are good, we are bound to encounter the blessing of our own transformations if we just keep turning those pages! I am so grateful that I will never be as bored or lonely as someone who can't read, I am so blessed to be in the position to clue others in to this magic spell of words that manifest worlds and cross space and time. This day and every day, be thankful you have the capacity to read, and teach, and share, and receive, and make, and love, and imagine! What an embarrassment of blessings and riches. Thank you to books!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.


Related Posts with Thumbnails