Illustrated by Suzanne Beaky
Children's Fiction (Ages 4-8)
The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is the delightful story of a young girl whose working parents have booked her solid with daily after-school activities. She takes lessons in knitting, tuba, yodeling, sculpture, water ballet and karate. Her parents mean well, although they don't realize Ernestine yearns to just play like her next-door neighbor, Hugo. When her father leaves for work, he says, "Live life to the fullest, Ern!" Her mother says, "Make every moment count, E!" as she heads out to catch the bus.
One day, Ernestine gets a scathingly brilliant idea. She hides her calendar and her nanny's phone, then zips across the street to the park, where she and Nanny happily play. Meanwhile, Ernestine's yodeling instructor informs Mrs. Buckmeister that her daughter has not shown up for her lesson. Mr. & Mrs. Buckmeister go from one class to another, asking if anyone has seen Ernestine and becoming increasingly frazzled. They arrive home exhausted, with a fresh understanding of why Ernestine looks so pale. Then they hear laughter across the street and find their daughter in the park. Ernestine explains what she and her nanny have been up to and asks if she can drop a few of her extra-curricular classes.
"But how will you live life to the fullest without sculpting and swimming?" asked Mr. Buckmeister.
"Right," Mrs. Buckmeister agreed. "And how will you make every moment count without yoga and yodeling?"
"Like this," Ernestine said.
Here, you see an illustration of Ernestine with her arms spread wide, her eyes closed, breathing in the fresh air.
Everyone inhaled. Then they exhaled.
"My, the view is heavenly," said Mrs. Buckmeister.
Ernestine gets her way. Her mother takes up gardening. Her father builds a treehouse. Ernestine still practices karate and plays the tuba, but with her friend Hugo.
And sometimes she just plays.
The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister almost seems geared more to the parents who will read the book to their children than to a small child, at least thematically. It's a meaningful but nicely silly story with cheerful, goofy, colorful illustrations. The author was particularly clever at naming Ernestine's teachers. She takes sculpting from Mr. Lumpkin. Mrs. Goldfisher teaches water ballet. Mrs. Stichem is her knitting instructor. Karate is taught by Grand Master Hi Ya. Nanny O'Dear says "Oh, Dear," quite a bit as she finds Ernestine's calendar of activities complex enough to make the occasional error.
Illustration-wise, I particularly love the fact that the "cast" -- teachers, friends and classmates -- is ethnically mixed. And, Ernestine's two cats add a bit of adorable fun to the depictions of Ernestine's home interior.
The bottom line:
A bright and playfully illustrated, immensely clever story about how living life to the fullest can be accomplished without exhausting oneself by cramming in as many activities as possible. The only thing I did not like about The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister was the occasional sequence within an illustration, showing the characters progressing, say, down a hill. For some reason, I thought that might be a little confusing. I could be wrong. I'm going to ask one of my teacher friends what she thinks, and I'll try to remember to report back on that after my blogging break.