Twenty-three years is a long time to wait for a poem to become picture book. In the case of Me I Am by Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Christine Davenier, it was worth the wait.

Though the self-esteem movement may have (thankfully) fallen on hard times, this poem, so clearly a product of that movement, is welcome and timely. Prelutsky's gift is for rhyming, rhythmic, easy-to-memorize poems that are unapologetically for children, especially very young children who will be hearing and memorizing the poems before they can actually read. And then, when the reading light bulb is turned on, these books become comfortable old easy-to-read friends.

I am the only ME I AM / who qualifies as me; / no ME I AM has been before / and none will ever be. So opens this sparkling new offering for the youngest readers and lap listeners. Repeating the first stanza three times, we follow the exuberant lives of three youngsters. The first child is a roller-skating, goldfish-loving tomboy. Riding her tricycle, wielding an ŽpŽe, and turning her nose up at a fancy dress, she is all energy. The second, a young naturalist, loves all things living. His tool of choice is a magnifying glass and his imagination. Small unframed pictures unfold within the larger story, comic book style, to tell the story of a lost bird, saved to a shoebox and cared for in its own homemade birdcage. (The reader also has the joy of seeing the cage being built too.) Last is a gentle African-American dancer, en pointe and in charge. Performing in her bedroom with her dog partner, this little ballerina, wearing a delicious green tutu and a fetching tissue box hat, is all joy.

The energetic watercolor illustrations, full of all the movement and happiness of a preschooler embarking on life, are classic Davenier. And once the youngster reads this over a few hundred times, perhaps parents and teachers will find some of her other fine books like Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen and the wonderful beginning reader series, Iris and Walter, by Elissa Haden Guest.

I can imagine a kindergarten teacher reading this book on the first day of school and asking the students to illustrate the poem with pictures of their own talents and passions.

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher in Nashville.

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