Thursday, February 22, 2007

In The Coop with Esme Codell!

We have a little saying here in Illinois, and it goes something like this: WE LOVE ESME. Okay, so it's not exactly the best catchphrase, but it's heartfelt. This smart and sassy writer is the author of many wonderful books, including Vive La Paris, Sahara Special, and Diary of a Fairy Godmother. If you haven't visited her website (for gosh sakes, what is wrong with you? Is your hand broken or something?), please go to right away. You'll thank us later.

(Fun Fact: Esme has an impressive wig collection.)

How do you know when what you write is funny?

I pee a little.

There are other clues. I get the wonderful sinking feeling I used to get in about the seventh grade, when I knew I was doing something wrong but did it anyway. It's a delicious indigestion reserved especially for class clowns. When I get that feeling while I write, I have to stop and read it aloud to somebody to check.

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

Thanks for suggesting that my books are funny. I write about things like being mislabeled as a special education student or finding out about the Holocaust for the first time or living on welfare. Badda-bing-badda-boom!

I guess my advice would be to tell the truth. The truth is funnier than fiction. The more you can make people speak and act like they do in real life, the more the humor feels natural and believable. There really is humor even in terrible situations. Humor is our signal that there is still hope and warmth, still some neurons firing, still some humanity to pull is through.

Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?

Both in and out. All the time. Daily. Hourly. But my big problem is sometimes people think I'm trying to be funny when that's not necessarily my objective. There was a notorious incident in which I did an interpretive dance of Madonna's THE ENGLISH ROSES in my skivvies, at a very nice conference luncheon, as a little experiment in public speaking. One of the waiters said I was very funny and asked me for a date. But I wasn't trying to be funny. I was probably just a little jealous of Madonna. If rock stars can be children's book authors, why can't the reverse also be true?

A lot of people thought my first book talking about my classroom experiences, EDUCATING ESME, was very funny. But then I couldn't seem to land a teaching job in the Chicago Public Schools for a few years after. Ha-ha! How's that for a punch line?

What are some of your favorite funny books?

THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK starring Grover from Sesame Street, that was my favorite funny book when I was a kid. I liked Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, Robert Krauss, Russell Hoban and Richard Scarry a lot, too. They had a kind of an edge. I liked their books because characters didn't always do the right thing. People got in trouble. People who weren't me. That was very entertaining...and reassuring, too.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

I do live in my books. All of my books come from very real places in both my geography and my emotional life. I can't seem to unload the real estate.

Who do you like more, The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges?

Marx brothers, no contest. The Three Stooges make me nauseous. All that poking and hitting.

What was your best Halloween costume?

I was a Halloween costume repeater, generally alternating between Tinkerbell and Raggedy Ann. I used to wear those plastic masks from Woolworth's, the kind that assumed your face was flat and that your eyes were the size of pistachios; I think they must have been manufactured by space aliens. I always wanted to be the kind of kid who would be something cool and original and Marcel DuChamp-ish, like a ham sandwich or a washing machine, those cool things I see in parenting magazines now. But the lure of Tinkerbell's chartreuse zig-zig hemmed skirt and Raggedy Ann's sweet little calico was waaay too strong. My son is better at making up original Halloween costumes. One year he was Zombie John Stossel. Another year, he wanted to be Ninja Harry Caray. He's an inspiration.

What is your Dream Job for a day?

I would like to be a waitress at Hamburger King, that little joint near Wrigley Field. I don't know why. I just always wanted to be that. They serve some kind of Egg Foo Young, I imagine it would be very satisfying to put a big plate of that in front of somebody. I'd also like to be Justin Timberlake. But, is that really a job? I practice a lot, in case.

Clown Vs. Mime Deathmatch. Pick your winner.

Clown. Mime can't yell for help.

Funniest dead person you'd like to meet?

Ernie Kovacs. Zero Mostel. Ring Lardner. Ann Miller. Rosalind Russell. Just one? The dead are funnier than the living these days.

If you had a theme song, what would it be?

For sure, "It's a Most Unusual Day" sung by the lovely Jane Powell. My husband always says "that's your theme song!" when he hears "Make Up" by Lou Reed. But I'm pretty sure that song is about a transvestite. Oh, well. As long as he thinks I'm pretty.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Princess Justina Albertina

Princess Justina Albertina
written by Ellen Dee Davidson
illustrated by Michael Chesworth
Charlesbridge Publishing
ISBN 978-1-57091-652-6

The title character of this cautionary tale, Princess Justina Albertina, is one of those horrid little girls you love to hate. She's nasty and bratty, spoiled and mean; a despicable twit who could easily give Veruca Salt a run for her money. You know the type.

Her nanny, on the other hand, rocks the casbah. When Justina demands a pet, nanny comes through. When Justina demands a BETTER pet, nanny comes through again. When Justina demands an EVEN BETTER pet, her unflappable, invincible nanny comes through yet again...until Princess Justina Albertina finally gets the pet she deserves.

Heh, heh, heh.

We won't tell you what happens next, but let's just say the princess suffers a fate worse than Veruca's. But lest you wonder whether the finale's a bit too grim for youngsters, rest assured that our unofficial focus group (a spry group of kinders from Ottawa, Illinois) found the ending so delightfully delicious, they immediately asked for seconds...and so will you!

Michael Chesworth's illustrations are a winsome hoot, the perfect accompaniment to Ellen Dee Davidson's wry, clever text. Don't miss this one!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Say cheese-y!

The three silly chicks had an egg-cellent time at the Fifth Annual Children's Literature Breakfast last Saturday, thanks to Becky Anderson, Jan Dundon, and Jill Brooks of Anderson's Bookshop, not to mention the several hundred fabulous teachers and librarians in attendance from the mighty Land-o-Lincoln!

While there, the tall chick proudly debuted our new line of
fowl fashion from CafePress. Although we haven't had an occasion to sport the chick bib yet, we think it's to die for. Go on, take a peek!

The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds

The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds
Written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN 0375938036

Max and Pinky are best friends. Max is a boy. Pinky is a pig. (An odd pair, you say? Frankly, we can't figure out why there aren't more stories about boy/pig friendships.) One day, on Adventure Saturday, Max can't find Pinky anywhere. Max worries that Pinky might have been taken away by a gang of crazed bunnies. (We often have this same fear when we can't find something.) Fortunately, the rear end of a polar bear reminds Max of the snack food Pinky loves so dearly. Max hurries to Pinky's not-so-secret stash and finds his pal happily pigging out on marshmallows. Phew! All is well in their world (and ours!) once again.

We love the quirkiness of this story. (Pigs, polar bears and marshmallows? Hey, it works for us!) The simple illustrations and straightforward text will appeal to three and four year-olds. We hear there will be more adventures with Max and Pinky, and we couldn't be happier!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Note on a Blog...

Sometimes, the interwebs can be so silly. And don't even get us started about blogging software.

This week, one of our favorite bloggers is having trouble. Seems someone tried to send Cynthia Leitich-Smith a basket of fruit and some snack crackers down those tubes and now her blog is having some trouble. She has asked us to help spread the word that her blog is down for the moment. So here goes.

Bwock! Bwock!!! (That means, "Hear ye! Hear ye!")

Cynthia Leitich-Smith's blog is down, but she is guest blogging on her husband's page, at (which is syndicated for LJ at:

And remember folks, if you send fruit or crackers into the interwebs, you have to squish them up, first!

This has been a public service announcement.

"Bwock! Bwock!!! (That means, "We now return to our regulary scheduled blog.")

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

365 Penguins

365 Penguins
Jean-Luc Fromental &
ëlle Jolivet
Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN 978-0-8109-4460-2

It’s hard not to love penguins. They are such spiffy dressers and great tap dancers. (This was actually documented in a recent motion picture!) Imagine how exciting it would be to receive a penguin in a box on New Year’s Day with only a simple note to explain, “I’m number 1. Feed me when I’m hungry.” Now imagine the surprise and joy of receiving another penguin the next morning. And the next and the next and the next . . .

For a full year, the family in this funny picture book receives a penguin a day and problems multiply as their flock grows. Dad becomes obsessed with organizing the penguins. Mom gets more than a little crazed and the kids just go with the flow. Or is that floe?

Simple graphic-arts style illustrations in a limited palette and a large trim size for this book make it great for young kids who will get a kick out of counting the very silly penguins and finding the one with blue feet who shows up on day 144. (Visualize a penguin-Waldo who eats fish.) Older kids and parents will enjoy the family’s reaction to the penguins as the year progresses and they are so horribly outnumbered. A bit of math and ecology play into the tale, but never overload the story in this delightful book. Makes you want to put on a tux and dance like a penguin!