I Saw Esau is an extensive collection of children's playground rhymes, organized by the editors into categories. Although it's listed as edited by Iona and Peter Opie, the book is also remarkable in that it contains a great deal of artwork by Maurice Sendak of Where The Wild Things Are fame. Collectors may want the book because of the illustrations and others may read the book in order to find forgotten pieces of childhood, but I Saw Esau can be of particular use to teachers because of its uniquely authentic content.
The poetry in I Saw Esau is ideal for a balanced literacy program because it has all been composed and recited by schoolchildren. Because the poems directly address the small and large concerns that almost all young students have, this collection is more likely than most to interest children. I Saw Esau can also be used to encourage students to write their own poetry by proving that verse is something they already use in their everyday lives.
When I was a 5th grade teacher, I kept a copy of I Saw Esau on my classroom shelves for my students to read whenever they wanted. I eventually had to remove it from my shelves, however, because of a ruckus caused by one particular illustration. In this small watercolor, a harried mother is seen trying to take care of troublesome children. One of these children is a toddler who is standing, crying, wearing only a shirt. His little penis can be seen between his legs.
Sure, my students giggled about this picture, but most of them had already seen the thing in real life, so it didn't really cause a problem. However, when a teacher's aide saw the illustration, I was told that the book would have to be removed. Because of one innocent picture that revealed something that my students already knew about, this fantastic book was made unavailable to children eager for anything new to read.
If you're a teacher, chances are that someone working in your school is a self-appointed judge of moral worthiness. For the sake of your students, go ahead and include I Saw Esau in your classroom library, but be prepared to discuss the issue of censorship with your class when the book is taken away.