Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year Everyone!! Best wishes from TTLG

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

To see this greeting card more clearly please click on it.

One more Christmas Book

Christmas is only a few days away, and I just I would throw one more book idea at you before it is too late. The book below is just a delight to look at, and I am sure readers of all ages and their families will enjoy it.

The Twelve days of Christmas
Gennady Spirin
Picture Book
Ages 4 to 8
Marshall Cavendish, 2009, 0761455515
   For many people Christmas would not be Christmas without Christmas carols. They love the beauty of “Silent Night,” the joy of “Jingle Bells,” and the exuberance of “We wish you a merry Christmas.” Then there is “The twelve days of Christmas,” a song that is packed with images, and that has been sung during the holiday season for several hundred years.
   For this picture book Gennedy Spirin has created stunningly rich and beautifully detailed illustrations showing “a partridge in a pear tree,” “seven swans-a-swimming,” and all the other gifts that someone gives their true love for the twelve days of Christmas – which last from Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6th. This is a title that families will be able to share during the holidays for years to come.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two wonderful gift idea titles.

At this time of year I am always looking for titles that would make great gifts. Here are two that I just looked at and reviewed.

Oceanology: The True account of the voyage of the Nautilus

A.J. Wood, Emily Hawkins Illustrator: Wayne Anderson , Gary Blythe , Ian Andrew , David Wyatt
Novelty Book
For ages 7 and up
Candlewick Press, 2009 ISBN: 0763642908

It is 1863, and Professor Pierre Arronax is going on a very special expedition of “adventure” traveling on a
vessel called the Nautilus. The professor invites his nephew, Zoticus de Lesseps, to join him in what he hopes will be a journey that is “not only beneficial to ourselves,” “but to the scientific community at large.”
The journey begins on April 3rd, 1863, and two days later the professor and Zoticus see the Nautilus for the first time. They discover, to their amazement, that they are going to be travelling under the water instead of on top of it. Never having been in a submarine before, the travelers are slightly nervous, but they soon forget about their concerns when they are given a warm welcome by the captain of the Nautilus, Captain Nemo. The captain is delighted to have “like-minded adventurers” on his ship.
The Nautilus is an extraordinary vessel, and very soon Zoticus and the professor are able to see and hear all kinds of remarkable things. Whales swim around the submarine, and Zoticus gets to go out in a bathysphere. This allows him to see stingrays, seals, penguins, and sharks up close. He is able to get even closer to the undersea world when he and the professor don diving suits to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Captain Nemo
explains that “the ocean is like a mirror of the land, with the coral reefs being the rain forests of the seas.”
In this fascinating book, the authors and illustrators combine fact and fiction seamlessly. Readers will not only be entertained by the gripping story, but they will also learn a lot about oceans and the creatures that live in them. With a gripping ending and many novelty features to explore, this book would make a great gift for anyone who likes to read about adventures.

Peek-a-boo What?

Novelty Board Book

For infants to age 3

Begin Smart, 2009 ISBN: 1934618500
Little children have, for the most part, very little control over their lives. Of course, they can cry when they need something, but they don’t get much of a say in what they do. This book gives little children something special because it allows them to stick fingers through holes, turn pages by themselves, and when they open a fold-out page they make something magically appear. When they close the page, they make something magically disappear.
Each double page spread presents little readers with a peek-a-boo situation. For example, the second spread shows us a little blue fish swimming across the page. We can see something behind the fold-out page through the peek-a-boo peep holes. What’s there? When the page is opened, children will see an array of blue fishes and the word “blue” written across the fold-out area.
With interesting associations to discover, words to learn, delightful collage pictures to look at, and novelty features to explore, this is a book that will give little children hours of fun.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Solstice Books

In just a few days it will be the winter solstice, the longest day of the night. This year I reviewed two delightful books about this special time of year, The longest night and Snow Party. My reviews are below.

The longest night

Marion Bauer

Illustrator: Ted Lewin

Picture Book

For ages 4 to 8

Holiday House, 2009 ISBN: 082342054X

It is the longest night of the year. Snow lies thick on the ground and “the world is still” and cold. The mice and the bears sleep, but there are some animals that are still out and about, despite the “bitter wind.”

The crow, the moose, and the fox are all sure that one of them will be able to bring back the sun so that light and warmth will come to the land once more. The wind knows better though. The wind knows that someone else, someone small and unassuming, will be the one to call the sun back.

With a lyrical text and Ted Lewin’s beautiful paintings, this picture book about the longest night of the year is a joy to read.

Snow Party

Harriet Ziefert

Illustrator: Mark Jones

Picture Book

For ages 4 to 8

Blue Apple Books, 2008 ISBN: 1934706280

It snowed all night long, and in the morning, everything is covered with “beautiful snow.” Out of the snowy landscape come snow men, snow women, and snow children. Each one of them carries a bag or a box. Happily they set up tables, string lights, and prepare for a “special party.” The little snow children look at a large wrapped gift, wondering what might be inside the colorful wrapped package.

At long last all is ready. The tables are set, the food is ready, the musicians have arrived, and on this shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, the snow people begin their wonderful snow party.

In this special seasonal title, Harriet Ziefert’s simple text is beautifully complimented by Mark Jones’ lovely illustrations. After reading this book young readers will be keen to have a snow party of their own, complete with icy treats, glowing lamps, and festive cheer.

A few years ago I reviewed a nonfiction title about the winter solstice. Here it is:

The Winter Solstice

Ellen Jackson

Illustrated by Jan Dacey Ellis


Ages 7 to 9

Lerner, 1994, 0-7613-0297-2

Long ago people did not know what made some months colder than others. They did not know why the sun would hang so low in the sky in the winter and why the days grew so short. They would grow afraid that the sun would disappear all together and that they would all die of cold and starvation. And so, in an effort to protect themselves from the evil spirits that they were sure lurked in the darkness and to make sure that the sun would return, they held special ceremonies and rituals. In some cultures sacrifices would be made to appease the gods.

Over the centuries people have held all kinds of celebrations on or around the winter solstice. Gifts were exchanged, special foods were eaten, bonfires were lit, and unique ceremonies arose.

Today we know why winter is a colder season and are not frightened by it. We don’t usually have special ceremonies on the winter solstice any more but many of the traditions that used to be held on the solstice are now ones that we enjoy on Christmas or Hanukkah. Just like the Romans during their solstice celebrations we light candles, exchange gifts, and eat special foods. Like the people of Northern Europe we decorate our homes with evergreen and mistletoe.

As they read this book children will be interested to discover that so many of the traditions of their holiday season come from very ancient winter solstice traditions. The author looks at winter solstice ceremonies and rituals from around the world and she ends her narrative with a Cherokee solstice story.

Carefully researched and beautifully illustrated, this is a picture book which provides its readers with a wealth of information.

You can find more winter books on the Winter Days feature on the TTLG website. Happy winter solstice everyone!

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins at sundown today and I wish all of you who celebrate this beautiful holiday a very happy Hanukkah. Over the years I have reviewed some wonderful Hanukkah books. You can look at the reviews here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ducks on ice

Every morning I take my dog Pinot for a walk. On our way down the hill back into the center of town we walk past the duck pond in the park. Most days we stop to look at the ducks and I smile when I see the solitary large white Pekin duck swimming among all the wild ducks. I don't know where he came from, but he appears to be happy and holding his own.

This morning the pond was almost completely frozen over, and the ducks were sitting on the ice looking cold and confused. There isn't much water for them to swim in any more, and to say that the look ridiculous sitting on the ice is an understatement. I was reminded of a little picture book that I reviewed a few years ago. Here is my review:

Duck Skates
Lynne Berry
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
Picture book
Ages 2 to 4
Henry Holt, 2005, 0-8050-7219-5
Five ducks wake up one winter day to discover that it is snowing outside. There is no time to waste and soon all five are outside in their “bright new boots” and their snowsuits. Down to the pond they go and, after putting on their skates, the little ducks go out onto the ice. They “wiggle,” “topple” and “giggle” as they all fall down and get up again.
Then two of the little ducks see a sign and they get a wonderful idea. They lead the way across the ice and straight into an enormous snow bank. Then a snowball fight ensues. What a wonderful time they all have on this snow filled day.
With charming, delicate and often amusing watercolor paintings and a simple rhyming text, this picture book celebration of a day spent playing in the snow will give young readers lots of pleasure. Surely there is nothing quite like spending a day outdoors on a snowy day with lots of companions to play with.

It's a pity the pond ducks here in Ashland aren't able to bundle up in snow clothes so that they can enjoy a good skate.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Censoring Children's Books - A letter from David Michael Slater

Yesterday I got an email from David Michael Slater, a writer based in Portland, Oregon. He has written two books that have caused quite a brouhaha. Apparently some people do not like the books because the main characters in the stories "uncover historical facts at odds with traditional Biblical stories." The books are fictional and do not pretend to discuss the bible in any historical or theological sense. Unfortunately David and his books have been verbally attacked in the press and on the web. I have invited David to present his side of the story here on the TTLG blog.

Dear Fellow Book Lovers,

I've been asked numerous times in the last few days how I feel about the exponentially increasing attention being paid to the “The Sacred Books Controversy." Volume I of the series, THE BOOK OF NONSENSE, came out in October of 2008 from a wonderful, but very small, publisher in Texas, Blooming Tree Press/CBAY. Like most small presses, it had a hard time attracting national reviews. Thanks to bloggers though, word did get out. (See the nearly three- dozen Amazon reviews, for example). It was nominated for a Cybil and was a finalist for the Publisher's for Children's Best Books 2008 list. Nonetheless, it made nary a blip on the national radar.

Volume II was just released, and it seems to have brought out the worst in some folks. I'm happy to say it's also bringing out the best. It's difficult to describe the controversy without divulging critical plot points, but the gist of the issue here is that the series turns in a "Da Vinci Code"-like direction as the teen protagonists uncover historical facts at odds with traditional Biblical stories. The book, mind you, is fiction and has no aspirations to be taken as anything else. This, as you might not be surprised to know, isn't good enough for some. Here are some recent headlines. This from a suburban Portland paper: "Beaverton teacher’s latest tome tinkers with sacred texts” and “Sacred Books’ series may be banned by Christian Groups for fictional recounting of Bible stories"; This from Ron Charles of the Washington Post: "High school teacher in Oregon sees condemnation by conservative Christians spurring sales of his YA SACRED BOOKS series"; and this from Margie Boule in The Oregonian: "Beaverton teacher's teen adventure series is stirring up a storm.” Perhaps you can predict the reactions, but feel free to go here to read them, and please feel free to join the conversation (and see what I mean about the best and worst coming out): http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/margie_boule/index.ssf/2009/12/beaverton_teachers_teen_advent.html. It seems someone has been trying to hack into my website since this all began, which is to say the least, very concerning.

I'm not sure how to give an honest response about my feelings. I certainly never dreamed of getting my books noticed because people want to burn them. They were supposed to be celebrated for their unique combination of wit and wisdom and clever, thought-provoking plots. (Stop smirking!) But now, after publishing nearly 20 small press books (picture books, teen and adult novels) in the last nine years—not one of which garnered any attention remotely close to this—what I can say? I'm thrilled. I'm handing out cans of lighter fluid and asking only that folks buy them before they burn them. This is the real measure of how far I've fallen. But hark: in the span of two weeks they've gone from Beaverton to BoulĂ©, and now requests have come in for copies from The Jim Lehrer Show, The Progressive, Publishers Weekly, and the AP. Soon the chains might even notice them (gasp!). Taking umbrage at this point would be disingenuous. So, I'm not taking it. 'Tis the season anyway to remember that it's better to give than to receive.

I can’t say how much I appreciate the help beginning to pour in, help in the form of e-mail, blogs and a general message that people care when censorship rears its ugly head. If folks want to spread word about my books to express their righteous anger, I can only say…thank you.


David Michael Slater


I plan on making sure that I read and review these books for myself in the near future.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On this day...Rosa Parks takes a stand.

It has been one of those days. I discovered that what I thought was going to be a small - ish - job is going to be a big one. I took a deep breath and dived in. Only to encounter numerous computer related technical difficulties. Things snowballed and snowballed and now the job looks like a mountain in front of me. Not only is it enormous but it is also covered with a glacier and snow. It looks insurmountable.

I was beginning to truly wallow in my anxiety and self pity when I looked at the TTLG Bookish Calendar and saw that on this day in 1955 Rosa Parks took her famous stand. Suddenly trying to get my new website ready for January 1st does not seem that important. After all, I can go where I wish, say what I wish, vote freely, and I can go about my life without having to worry that someone is going to make my life miserable because I am different in some way. You can find some great books about Rosa Parks here, and I do hope you get a chance to look at the first one, Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni. This book greatly moved me and it helped me better understand the American Civil Rights movement.

Today is also the birthday of author/illustrator Jan Brett. Jan's picture books are a joy to look at, and readers of all ages love her delightful pictures.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A gift of a book for the holidays

In just a few days it will be December, and many of us will begin to think seriously about the business of getting ready for Christmas and Hanukkah. Homes need to be decorated, cakes and other treats need to be baked, parcels need to be packed up and mailed. And, of course, presents need to be bought. I am a firm believer that books make wonderful gifts - big surprise! If you are looking for some good books to give the child or children in your life take a look at the Special Feature that I put together for the November/December issue of TTLG. Here you will find great gift ideas for children of all ages. There is Rita and Whatsit and Pingo, Panorama and A birthday for Bear. For older readers there is a A season of gifts and Thirteenth Child. If you don't know what kind of book to get, consider getting the child or children a gift certificate from your local bookshop. Getting a gift certificate for my favorite bookshop here in Ashland is always a great treat, and I always make an outing of it.

Happy book buying everyone!

Congratulations to my three winners who won the Winter's Tail giveaway and the Christmas book giveaway. Many thanks to Scholastic for offering TTLG these great prizes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Books

I grew up on the Island of Cyprus, where they do not traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving. However, because my mother is American, we used to celebrate the holiday every year when I was growing up, often inviting over other Americans to share the day with us. Cranberries were not easy to find, and a few times we had to have pheasant because turkey was not available, but I always enjoyed our family Thanksgiving. One thing I never did during those years was to think much about the history of the holiday. It was only after I moved to the United States that I began to read stories about the first Thanksgiving.

I know it is a little late - Thanksgiving being only a few days away - but you may still have time to go to a bookshop to get a Thanksgiving themed book for the child or children in your life. Perhaps you are taking tomorrow off and would like to share the day buying and reading books. If so, then do take a look at the Through the Looking Glass Thanksgiving feature. In this collection of books there are several titles that really capture the true spirit of what the first Thanksgiving might have been like. Myths are debunked, and readers will discover that the true story is even more meaningful than the stories they might have grown up with. Of course there are also some silly, funny, and entertaining titles as well.

Whatever you do over the next few days, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Scholastic Giveaway ends in just a few days

The Scholastic Christmas book giveaway (see below) ends on Friday November 27th. Don't forget to send me an email so that you can be included. These are wonderful books and I am sure you and your child or children will greatly enjoy reading them this holiday season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 2009 National Book Award Finalist is...

This week the 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Children's Literature was announced. The title is Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. The book was written by Phillip Hoose and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

From the publisher:
This book reveals the true story of Ms. Colvin, who, as a fifteen-year old in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white woman, nine months before Rosa Parks took a similar stand. Ms. Colvin then went on to challenge segregation a second time, as a key plaintiff in the landmark case ofBrowder v. Gayle, which struck down the bus segregation laws in Montgomery.

Here is an except from the book:
Rebellion was on my mind that day. All during February we’d been talking about people who had taken stands. We had been studying the Constitution in Miss Nesbitt’s class. I knew I had rights. I had paid my fare the same as white passengers. I knew the rule—that you didn’t have to get up for a white person if there were no were no empty seats left on the bus—and there weren’t. But it wasn’t about that. I was thinking, Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I’m black? Right then, I decided I wasn’t gonna take it anymore. I hadn’t planned it out, but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences.

After the other students got up, there were three empty seats in my row, but that white woman still wouldn’t sit down—not even across the aisle from me. That was the whole point of segregation rules—it was all symbolic—blacks had to be behind whites. If she sat down in the same row as me, it meant I was as good as her. So she had to keep standing until I moved back. The motorman yelled again, louder: “Why are you still sittin’ there?” I didn’t get up, and I didn’t answer him. It got real quiet on the bus. A white rider yelled from the front, “You got to get up!” A girl named Margaret Johnson answered from the back, “She ain’t got to do nothin’ but stay black and die.”

The white woman kept standing over my seat. The driver shouted, “Gimme that seat!” then “Get up, gal!” I stayed in my seat, and I didn’t say a word.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Offer From David Godine Books -

A Children's Gift Pack from Godine
A limited-time holiday offer

In Anna Rosen's The Merchant of Noises, an industrious entrepreneur sells ingenious devices that make wonderful sounds; in Ned Kelly and the City of the Bees, a sick boy is swept away on a magical (and educational) journey through the buzzing hive; in All Around the Block, Judy Plume's visual puzzles will entertain child and parent alike; in Catherine Certitude, a little girl and her father share a special bond, as well as a secret. No gift is more rewarding than a good book: as a companion, as a playmate, and as life-long inspiration. Godine is pleased to offer these four fine titles together for only $30.00, now until December 20. Happy holidays!

List Price $65.80 · Special Offer $30.00 · a $35.80 Discount!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Two new Christmas books - reviews and giveaways

I recently reviewed two delightful Christmas books for the latest issue of TTLG. They are The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Christmas Magic. Here are my reviews:

The nutcracker and the mouse king

Wren Maysen

Illustrated by Gail de Marcken

Picture Book

Ages 5 to 8

Scholastic, 2009, 0545037735

Every Christmas Eve, Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum get a special treat, their Godfather Dosselmeier gives them wonderful toys that he has made for them. This year Godfather gives the children a beautiful dollhouse and a wooden soldier nutcracker. Often reckless and in a hurry, Fritz breaks the nutcracker by accident. Compassionate Marie takes pity on the broken soldier and she cares for him tenderly.

The evening Marie stays up a little later than everyone else, and to her amazement some incredible things start to happen. The room fills with mice and then a huge Mouse King arrives. The Mouse King leads his mice soldiers in an attack, which is then repulsed by the Nutcracker and his toy allies. Toy soldiers, dolls, puppets, and animals join the battle, and then…Marie wakes up.

The next morning Marie wakes up and she is in bed. She has a cut on her elbow and she has to stay in bed. One evening, Godfather Dosselmeier comes to visit Marie and he tells her the sad story of the Nutcracker.

Many children are familiar with the Nutcracker story in some form. In this book, Wren Maysen presents her readers with a wonderful adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s original tale. This version of the Nutcracker is more involved than the one used in the Nutcracker ballet, and Gail de Marcken’s rich and detailed illustrations beautifully compliment the magic filled story.

The Christmas Magic

Lauren Thompson

Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Picture Book

Ages 4 to 7

Scholastic, 2009, 0439774977

Far to the north of here, there is a little house with a red door. This is where Santa Claus lives. Now that the days are getting shorter, Santa gets that special feeling that tells him that the magic will soon be arriving. He has a lot to do to get ready.

Santa calls the reindeer in and he feeds them well. He polishes the sleigh and oils his boots. Santa looks in his big book and decides what each child should get for Christmas. And, of course, Santa waits for the magic.

This beautiful picture book perfectly captures that special Christmas magic that we all eagerly wait for. As we read, anticipation builds up until that special moment in the story when everything is ready.

Jon J. Muth’s illustrations beautifully compliment Lauren Thompson’s lyrical text. Together they give young readers that perfect taste of the Christmas magic that is on its way.

Scholastic is offering two lucky readers a copy of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and two more a copy of The Christmas Magic. Please drop me a line to be entered in this giveaway.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Interviews with the National Book Award Finalists

On November 18th, judges will be choosing the winner of the Young People's Literature National Book Award for 2009. Here are the finalists for the award and interviews with the authors. This information was provided by the National Book Foundation.

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt) - Interview
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - Interview
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.) - Interview
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) - Interview
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Carolyn Coman, Nancy Werlin, Gene Luen Yang

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