Book Review: Educating Esme

Educating Esme New Cover Recently, I had the opportunity to read an interesting (and might I add – hilarious) book called Educating Esmé written by Esmé Raji Codell. Ms. Codell is a nationally renowned advocate for literacy and literature-based instruction and is “one of the nation’s most sought-after voices for empowering teachers" (People Magazine) and a “Superstar of Education” (Scholastic Instructor).

Educating Esmé is the exuberant diary of Esmé Raji Codell’s first year teaching in a Chicago public school. Fresh-mouthed and free-spirited, the irrepressible Madame Esmé—as she prefers to be called—does the cha-cha during multiplication tables, roller-skates down the hallways, and puts on rousing performances with at-risk students in the library. Her diary opens a window into a real-life classroom from a teacher’s perspective. While battling bureaucrats, gang members, abusive parents, and her own insecurities, this gifted young woman reveals what it takes to be an exceptional teacher.

The diary itself is exactly the same as it was when it was first released , but there’s a new foreword by Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Teribithia", and a meaty guide that’s been added called “Hit the Ground Running,” which I created to help new teachers do just that. The most common question I’m asked is, “Do you have any advice for new teachers?” Now readers will find over twenty-five really specific and hopefully pragmatic pieces of advice and also a comprehensive shopping list for the first-year teacher.

I am not a teacher and have never had any desire in this world to be one – but I am a parent and I know that children are curious, crazy and sometimes obnoxious little beings. This book shows kids in every one of those lights and shows how one teacher took it all in stride, made learning fun and taught her students valuable life lessons. I would’ve LOVED to have “Madame Esmé” as a teacher when I was young! Esmé is young, hip, inventive, sassy and an amazing writer. I was hysterical reading some of the comments that came out of her fifth graders’ mouths!

Educating Esmé is a wonderful book and I would recommend it to anyone who comes in any contact with children. Parents, teachers and care providers alike will benefit from the lessons and humor in this book. I know a few teachers and I know that they give 110% of their hearts to their students. They spend their own money to try and make their classrooms fun and engaging and often do not get any help (or credit … or assistance …) from the schools they teach in.

Teachers are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT and should be treated as such. It was eye opening to me to see just how many brick walls they run into trying to teach our children – and I’m not even talking about over-crowded classrooms. It’s high time we let our teachers teach and stop making them teach the answers to standardized tests. Our children need to learn – not determine how much money a school earns based on how high they score on a boring, hours long test. *steps off soapbox*

Esmé has been interviewed on CBS This Morning, CNN, CSPAN’s Book Talk, and NPR. The author of "How to Get Your Child to Love Reading" as well as numerous award-winning books for children, Esmé lives with her husband and son in Chicago, where she spent many years as an educator in Chicago public schools and now runs the popular children’s literature web site PlanetEsme, and the unique literary salon, The PlanetEsme Bookroom.

You can purchase Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year from Amazon!

Big Thanks to JBH Marketing & PR for the chance to read this book!

Sikulu and Harambe by the Zambezi River

I love to read to my son; and I especially love different takes on stories that I heard growing up. One such story I had the opportunity to share with my son is an African take on the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. This new remix is called “Sikulu and Harambe by the Zambezi River” written by Kunle Oguneye and starring Sikulu the Spider and Harambe the Hippo. I don’t want to go over the entire plot with you here because honestly, you can check the book out online by clicking here. But – I do want to say that this was a wonderful take on an old “classic” – I liked it as much as my son did. In fact, we read it three times in one day! My son is three – but a younger child would enjoy this story also for the simpleness of it (and the beautiful illustrations by Bruce McCorkindale). The older kids will appreciate the story – which is basically “be kind to others.” It’s a wonderful moral and a wonderful and cultural retelling. The book goes even a step (or two) further by even having a glossary of words used in the book. This is a great way for your children to learn more about life and the language of Zambia.

I had the awesome opportunity to ask Kunle some questions – so I would like to share a little about him, and also share his answers.

Kunle Oguneye was born and raised in Nigeria and began his career as a professional engineer and software developer. In the last few years he re-discovered his love for storytelling and decided to leave his job with technology and focus on writing and storytelling. Kunle and his family live in Washington State. “Sikulu & Harambe” is his first book.

Atomic-Mama: Why did you choose the “Good Samaritan” story as your first book? What are some other folktales that you might plan on writing?
Kunle: I didn’t choose the “Good Samaritan” story. I just wanted to write an engaging story from my childhood. It just happened that the story was very similar to the Good Samaritan story. I haven’t developed the new stories yet, but you can be rest assured that they will all have positive morals to them.

Atomic-Mama: What was your favorite book growing up?
Kunle: I had several favorite books. I also had a lot of favorite oral stories growing up. My favorite is why the tortoise has a cracked shell.

Atomic-Mama: What made you choose to switch to writing children’s books? Were your friends and family supportive of your leaving your tech career to move to writing?
Kunle: I just felt that African stories were no where to be found. Our history and culture is dying as the older generation passes on. It is my intent to preserve the stories and culture of African for future generations. Yes, my family and friends have been very supportive.

Atomic-Mama: What is the very best thing about writing for children?
Kunle: I get to meet different people and I interact with children. They are so excited when they meet an author and they are so energetic and excited about the future.

Atomic-Mama: How does the author and illustrator relationship work?
Kunle: We collaborated over the Internet. There was a lot of back and forth.

Atomic-Mama: What are you working on now?
Kunle: I’m promoting the book right now. I’ll be in Atlanta tomorrow, then Sacramento mid-week. I have a number of events in the Seattle area as well.

Atomic-Mama: Are you interested in speaking to teacher/librarian groups or to kids via school visits? If so, how can interested parties contact you?
Kunle: Definitely very interested in school/library visits. Interested Parties can contact me via our website at

I want to thank Kunle for his time!! I look forward to reading more of his great stories!

You can purchase the book here.

OH – and I’ve got some awesome news too: YOU can win an autographed copy of this book!! Here is the information you will need:

Contest runs between October 26, 2008 and November 26, 2008.

Winner will be notified by blog post and will need to claim their prize by emailing me (Christine) with your name and address and the name you want the book made out to.

  • Leave a comment here on this blog post for 1 entry.
  • More ways to enter: Stumble the contest (1 entry), Twitter the contest (1 entry), Add to Kirtsy, Digg, Etc. (1 entry each). Let me know in the aforementioned blog post what you did.
  • Blogging about the contest on your blog will get you 5 entries.
  • Please also visit the Sikulu and Harabe website. Why? Because I said so and this is my contest!

Ready? Get set? GO! You have until 9pm est on November 26th to enter! Tell your friends!