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 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

Monday, November 16, 2009


NED'S NEW HOME by Kevin Tseng (Tricycle) When a worm's real estate value plummets (i.e. his apple starts to rot), it's time to go house hunting. A pear? Too wobbly. A watermelon? Sometimes bigger isn't better. And life is anything but a bowl of cherries when he finds himself riding fruit that has been plucked by a bird. They say you'll know your true home as soon as you enter it, and so it goes for Ned; he finds the perfect place to lay his welcome mat, and a clever surprise ending suggests even a feathered foe has been added to Ned's friend list. This book does everything right for early literacy: a charming, good-humored narrative that stands up to repeated re-reads, with pictures that allow for naming fruits and colors, and the best literary invertebrate since Richard Scarry's Lowly. Not overproduced or flashy, just one good apple in the book bushel that will be right at home in preschool collections. (3 and up)

Also of interest:
A fruitful bounty of children's books.

RASPBERRIES! by Jay O'Callahan, illustrated by Will Moses (Philomel) Fans of down-home storytelling will enjoy this tale of Simon, a roaming red-headed baker down on his luck who ultimately finds a sweet tart and a sweetheart, and a home in a happy town. Children will enjoy joining in the refrain of "rassspberrrrieeeees," listening to the accompanying CD read by the author, and the folksy art done by Grandma Moses's talented great- grandson. (5 and up)

STREGA NONA'S HARVEST by Tomie DePaola (Putnam) Big Anthony is up to his old mischief in this latest story about the witch who cures warts, headaches and creates love potions, and has assistants that sometimes need assistance. In one of the most winning episodes, Anthony's attempts to do something perfectly (and what young child hasn't been eager to show that s/he can do something well?) leads to an overly bountiful yield in the garden. What to do with all the spare squash? Lots of small frames underscore the homey kitchen and garden scenes and a very seasonal mood. While Anthony blows three kisses to the moon, I'm blowing a few smoochies to the author for such a fine autumnal addition to the Strega Nona series. (4 and up)

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CORN by Charles Micucci (Houghton Mifflin) This author offers consistently wonderful and in-depth explorations of the natural world for primary readers (as well as knockout text for teachers seeking background knowledge), and this book is no exception. This latest title sports really eye-catching displays of the rainbow of corn, speckled and spotted, ears of blue and "painted mountain" and pod corn, the oldest corn in the world in which each kernel has its own woody husk. How corn pops (it turns inside out!), how it pollinates (those tassels in the breeze aren't just saying hello), how the Native Americans cultivated the crop using the brilliant "three sisters" technique (corn, beans and squash), the mystery of its existence, its role in America and its many, many uses and places on the menu are just a few kernels of interest and appreciation explored in these pages. Bright pictures, contagious enthusiasm for the subject and as many fun facts as seeds on an ear of jala, this is nonfiction gold. (6 and up)

Check out more books to be thankful for here and here. Also, teachers, don't miss the chance to share the moving and classic read-aloud MOLLY'S PILGRIM by Barbara Cohen, about the Russian immigrant girl who uses her doll to show teasing classmates that the pilgrims are still coming and have a place in our great country (7 and up), and one of my favorites, THANK YOU, SARAH: THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THANKSGIVING by Laurie Halse Anderson (the great novelist behind the young adult classic SPEAKwho also knows how to throw down a picture book), about how the woman who wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb" also wrote the letters that inspired the holiday (7 and up).

And what a great time of year to say "thanks!" to your child's favorite teacher, with a nominal gift certificate to a bookstore or a sweet treat or an encouraging handmade surprise. Every day, I am so thankful I can read! What teacher gave you that gift? What teacher is helping your child to shine? Send a shout out in the comments...this week, one contributor will be chosen to receive a free copy of HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO LOVE READING, to assist as you pay it forward, using great children's books to become someone else's best teacher.

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


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