Through a pastiche of poems and pictures, Williams (A Chair for My Mother) presents an affecting portrait of two young sisters in a struggling family. In the opening entry, readers learn why older Essie is smart (she "could read hard library books/ .../ thread a needle,/ cook toasted cheese sandwiches/ make cocoa") and why Amber is brave ("She could get the grocery man/ to trust them for a container of milk/ though their mother/ couldn't pay him till payday/ Amber wasn't afraid of the rat/ in the wall under the sink"). Gradually, readers learn about the challenges they face: their mother works long hours, their father is in jail for check forgery, the radiator grows cold in the evenings and there is little food. Yet there are lighthearted moments, as when the sisters make a "best sandwich" (with Amber on one side, Essie on the other, and Wilson The Bear in the middle), shriek with laughter as they jump on the bed and share a weekly ritual of playing beauty parlor with their mother. In perhaps the most poignant passage, Amber cuts off her braids "to send to Daddy/ so he'll be sure to remember me." The tale closes on an upbeat note when Daddy appears at the door. Williams opens with full-color portraits of the girls and closes with pastel drawings of the more dramatic moments; she punctuates the poems with black-and-white pencil drawings that convey the deep affection between these sympathetic sisters. Though the author taps into difficult themes, by relaying the events through the eyes of the two girls, she maintains a ray of hope throughout the volume. Ages 7-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Amber and Essie, Essie and Amber. These delightful sisters go together like milk and cookies. In poems and pictures the author tells their story, which ranges from poignant to funny to sad and back again. Alone much of the time while their mother works, Amber and Essie are as close as sisters can beand as different. The author's skillful use of poetic form and language paints a vivid picture of the family's life while they wait for their father to be released from jail on a forgery conviction. It's a life of not enough to eat, bouncing on the bed, having the telephone disconnected, and making the Best Sandwich by snuggling together with Wilson the Bear. There are sad times when their mother sighs alone at night, glad times when they set up the Saturday Beauty Parlor, funny times when they have a tickle fest. The author's portrait gallery of the girl's activities is as eloquent as the poetry. Joyfully rendered, colored pencil drawings and pencil sketches record details from the poemsEssie cutting Amber's hair, the attic room of their friend, Nata-lee. If you have not yet made the acquaintance of Amber and Essie, read this book immediately. 2001, Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 7 up. Reviewer:Stephanie Farrow
Gr 1-4-Williams's heartwarming story takes readers on the emotional roller-coaster ride that is Amber and Essie's life. Times are hard for their family-their mother works long hours, leaving them with sitters or cousins or often on their own. Worse yet, their father is in jail. While the girls share their heartache, they also share their special talents-Essie teaches Amber to write her name in script, and Amber convinces the grocer to trust them for milk until payday. The good times are good, but the bad times are really bad. The shadow of their father's mistake is always there. Williams's spare and touching verses capture every detail with clarity, humor, and heart. While the text is accessible to children just venturing beyond easy-readers, the story has a great deal of substance for older readers as well. Black-pencil sketches are full of action and as lively as Williams's poems, and fully capture the joys and sorrows of the girls' life. Finally, when the story has ended (or perhaps just begun), readers are treated to a full-color album of most of the high points and some of the low points the youngsters experience. A poignant testament to what it means to have a sister.-Jeanne Clancy Watkins, Chester County Library, Exton, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Amber and Essie are two loving sisters living in a city apartment with their hardworking but poor mother. In a series of unpunctuated poems, Williams (Lucky Song, 1997, etc.) creates lively vignettes that capture their relationship and their everyday lives. The girls are defined clearly in the opening lines: "Amber could write her name in script / Essie taught her / But Essie could read hard library books." Essie takes care of Amber and comforts her when she is hungry or lonely. Amber takes the lead when they have to ask for credit at the local store. The only question Essie hates is "Where is Daddy?" The unexpected answer is that Daddy is in jail, taken from the apartment by the police for forging a check after he lost his job. The poems, illustrated by black pencil sketches, describe afternoons with babysitters; the new girl upstairs; catching sight of mother's unhappiness when she thinks they are asleep; the occasional fights; the time Essie cut off Amber's braids; and finally, the happy day that Daddy comes home. Two sections of full-color pencil illustrations add surprise and detail to the text. The opener, "Introducing Amber and Essie 4 Portraits," shows the girls from front and back, giving the reader a delightfully well-rounded portrait of each. The closing section, "Amber and Essie: An Album," adds additional action and color to some of the incidents. Poems and illustrations provide a portrait of close sisterly relationship that intimately and lovingly draws the reader into the joys and sadness of their lives. A wonderful story, brilliantly told. (Fiction. 8-11)