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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The 2008 "Cuffies" Awards

We have seen the announcements for the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King awards. Now it is time to take a look at the Cuffies. Every year Publisher's Weekly puts together this "Off the Cuff" list where retailers are asked "for their picks in a variety of categories." The categories chosen are interesting, and entertaining, and I for one agree with several of the choices that were made. Take a look at the listing on the Publishers Weekely website. I think you will find several books in the listing that are a joy to read including Masterpiece by Elise Broach, Bats in the Library by Brian Lies, and the Diary of A Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. You can find listings for past Cuffie awards here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Children's Book Award Winners are Announced

This week the winners of several children's book awards were announced at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. I was surprised to hear about some of the titles that were chosen and delighted by others. Here are some of the award announcements:
The John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children's literature: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean
Newbery Honors: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by David Small; The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle; Savvy by Ingrid Law; and After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: The House in the night by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes

Caldecott Honors: A couple of boys have the best week ever by Marla Frazee; How I learn Geography by Uri Shulevitz; A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams" by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Michael L. Prinz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Michael L. Printz Honors: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson; The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart; Nation by Terry Pratchett; and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.

Coretta Scott King Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults (Author): We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Coretta Scott King Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults(Illustrator): The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thoma and illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Coretta Scott King Honors (Authors): The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas amd illustrated by Floyd Cooper; Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith and illustrated by E.B. Lewis; and Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Coretta Scott King Honors (Illustrators): We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sean Qualls, ; and The Moon Over Star by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers: Are You Ready to Play Outside? written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Geisel Honor Books: Chicken said, 'Cluck!' by Judyann Ackerman Grant and illustrated by Sue Truesdell; One Boy written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; Stinky written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis ; and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell, with photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

The Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults: Laurie Halse Anderson is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens for Catalyst, Fever, and Speak.

The Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by author and illustrator Kadir Nelson,

Sibert Honor Books: Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of The Past written by James M. Deem; and What to Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

The First William C. Morris Award: A Curse Dark as Gold.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The National Book Foundation Innovations in Reading Prize

If you know someone who has worked hard to encourage people to read you might want to nominate them for this prize. Awarded by the National Book Foundation, the Innovations in Reading Prize will be given "to individuals and institutions and collaborative programs" that are "using innovative approaches to successfully inspire Americans to be become lifelong readers."

Several awards of up to be $2500 will be given, and the cut off date to nominate a person or organization is February 15th, 2009.

You can find out more about this prize on the prize National Book Foundation Innovations in Reading Prize page.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Watching for Signs of Spring

Though spring is some way off for many of us in the United States, if we look carefully we might see signs that it is coming. I recently came across a website that I think children, their families, and their school communities would love. It is called Journey North and it is "a free, Internet-based program that explores the interrelated aspects of seasonal change. Through interrelated investigations, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them." On the site children can learn about about seasonal changes in nature. They can even go to the website and make a notation online to tell visitors to the site that they have seen the first robin of spring. Or the first migrating whale, or the first signs of spring leaf out.

This site is a fantastic tool for teachers, parents, and homeschoolers. There are maps to look at, projects to try, and much more.

Thank you Annenberg Media for bringing us this terrific website

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Listen up President Obama - the kids have something to say

Like many millions of people I watched Barack Obama getting sworn in today. It was a very moving hour or so. and I am sure that I will treasure my memories of this time in the years to come. Throughout the event I kept thinking about what this poor man faces when the hoopla is over and he has to get to work. There are so many problems that need to be addressed. Where should he start? Of course President Obama has bushels of advisors who will do their best to help him, but he might also want to hear what some of America's children have to say. A non-profit writing workshop in San Francisco called 826 Valencia gave their students a very timely assignment - to send the new president their thoughts about what they think he should do in his new job.

You can see some of these letters on the School Library Journal website and be prepared to laugh. Also be prepared for a suprise or two. These children have some pretty meaningful things to say. A collection of these letters have been put together and are available in book form. If you need a little laugh and an injection of grounded common sense of the kid variety, make sure that you get a copy of Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids' letters to President Obama.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness - Part Two

Welcome everyone to the second Chat with Cheryl Harness, author and illustrator extraordinaire.

Marya: Good morning Cheryl. It is good to be talking to you again

Cheryl: Hey there, Ms. M. J-G. Greetings from the bitter cold Midwest. 'Tis the season to be freezin'!

Marya: What have you been working on lately?

Marya: I've got a picture book idea for which I'm doing some preliminary drawings and test-driving some final art approaches. More than that I shan't say for fear of jinxing! And my dining room table is covered with family photographs needing to be labeled and pasted into books.

Marya: Is sounds like you have a lot going on. I would like my readers to get to know you a little. Can you tell me a little about your childhood? Did you like to read?

Cheryl: We moved a lot when I was growing up here in western Missouri. Like
Carmen's dad in my novel, Just For You to Know, my dad, like his own dad, was "the restless kind." So I was the new kid at school more than once - a shy, dorky, insecure, crabby, artistic new kid who comforted herself with books. Things, dialogue, outcomes all remain unchanged in books. That's very comforting. I read and reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books - 10 times! - and Maud Hart Lovelace's series of Betsy- Tacy books, set in Deep Valley [Mankato actually], Minnesota, in the years 1897-1917. I called up Mrs. Lovelace years later to ask her if her fictionalized childhood was truly so happy. "Yes," she said,
"it really was." My best friend M. and I agreed that, for us, the Laura & Mary and the Betsy-Tacy books WERE our happy childhoods. It wasn't a question of liking reading, we needed it. Real life can be pretty trying. I avoided it. Still do! On the other hand, I loved reading the encyclopedia - still do. Go figure.

Marya: Do you have any funny childhood stories that you would be willing to
share with my readers?

Cheryl: My nicest memory of my family - I'm the oldest of seven kids, did I tell you that? Well, I was, and I was none too gracious about it, but it was rather nice when, on Sunday afternoons, Dad and Mom would bundle their brood into the back of the car for a drive into the country. Coming home of an evening, Mom's red hair was so pretty in the setting sun. Once, when I was ten, we went on a trip to Mansfield, MO, to visit the home of Laura & Almanzo Wilder. They'd passed away, but they left the door unlocked on their house, Rocky Ridge. I saw the desk upon which Mrs. Wilder wrote her books, a page or two of her first drafts. Pencil on tablet paper. I saw pictures of what Laura & her sisters & Ma & Pa really looked like.

Marya: I too grew up reading Laura's books and I hope one day to go an a pilgrimage to all the places where she lived. I was wondering something. Have you always liked to draw?

Cheryl: Yup. An obsessive doodler I was.

Marya: What did you draw when you were young?

Cheryl: Beautiful ladies with long flowing hair. You have my permission to smile & roll your eyes.

Marya: I am a pretty mediocre artist, but I liked to draw when I was growing up. For a long time all I drew where mountains with waterfalls, trees, and the dove of peace. No idea why! Did you get formal training in art?

Cheryl: I went to college at what is now known as the University of Central Missouri. I graduated with an art education degree so yes, I had quite a few art classes. Knowing what I don't know now, I wish I'd taken more, but I got a good grounding in drawing and watercolor.

Marya: On a more personal note, I know that you have pets. What are they like and have you ever thought of creating a book about them?

Cheryl: Some of my pets, Ruby the Basset Hound and Maude the Scottie, have appeared in my picture books. They passed on to the Blue Beyond some years ago. Nowadays I have Mimi the black & white Shih Tsu and two cats who avoid one another entirely: Lily and Scary Merrie.

Marya: When I am not working I like to knit, cook, ski, ride my bike, and do
yoga. When you are not working what do you like to do with yourself?

Cheryl: I READ. Only yesterday I devoured a delightful book, Buried
Alive, the words as snappy as the day they were written 100 years ago by Arnold Bennett. And I've just begun reading H.W. Brands' bio of Andy Jackson, in genuine expectation of doing a book on him soon. Andy, not H.W. :-)

Marya: Yes indeed! I forgot to mention that I too love to read. In fact I am hoping to convert an old barn on my land into a library so that I can have a place to store all my books. Thanks again Cheryl for joining me.

Cheryl: Thank YOU, absolutely, Ms. Marya.

Cheryl will be back with us for part three of this Chat next week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The William C. Morris Award

In 2009 a new award is going to be given for "a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature." This is what the American Library Association has to say about the award:

" The award's namesake is William C. Morris, an influential innovator in the publishing world and an advocate for marketing books for children and young adults. Bill Morris left an impressive mark on the field of children’s and young adult literature. He was beloved in the publishing field and the library profession for his generosity and marvelous enthusiasm for promoting literature for children and teens.
The William C. Morris YA Debut Award celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by:
  • Compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration
  • The integrity of the work as a whole
  • Its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers

The Morris Award will be awarded annually at ALA’s Midwinter Youth Media Awards." This year that will on January 26th 2009

The shortlist for the award was annouced at the end of December and the books on this list are:

A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin)
Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne (HarperCollins)
Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Random House)
Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

I am really looking forward to reading and reviewing these exciting new books.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A new Winnie the Pooh book?

The news in the children's book publishing world is rather grim these days. People are losing their jobs, small houses are being bought up, and a lot of restructuring is taking place in many of the bigger houses. In an effort to put a little energy back into the business, some publishers are coming up with what they hope will be "big deal" releases. One of these is the new Winnie-the-Pooh book that Penguin will be releasing on October 5th 2009. David Benedictus is the author of this title and Mark Burgess is the illustrator.

Some Winnie-the-Pooh fans are unhappy about this development. They feel that Pooh should be sacrosanct and that it would be shame to tamper with A.A. Milne's beloved character. Others believe that there is nothing wrong with a new sequel for the series.
I find myself feeling torn between both points of view. On the one hand I love Pooh too much to see him changed in any dramatic way, and on the other I love him so much that I would like to read more Pooh adventures - if they are written in a style that is in keeping with the original Pooh books.
To all you Pooh fans out there - what do you think? Should there be another Pooh book?

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness

For some months now I have been talking to author and illustrator Cheryl Harness via email. She a wonderfully warm, funny, and clever lady. To try to give you sense of what she is like I am going to be having several 'conversations' with her over the next few weeks.

Cheryl have illustrated numerous books that were written by other people, and she has both written and illustrated many titles as well. Her National Geographic biographies are both fascinating to read and a joy to look at. Her books include such titles as The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, Franklin and and Eleanor, and The Remarkable, Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America

Here is my first talk with Cheryl:

Marya: Good morning Cheryl. It is a pleasure to have you here on the TTLG
blog with me. I hope you are having a terrific 2009 so far.

Cheryl: I am indeed; so far so good. The December snow & ice has melted, so for today, at least, there's sure footing and the sky is blue.

Marya: We had a sort of white Christmas, but snow has been almost non-existent since then. This is a little disappointing for me because I love to ski.
Recently you told me that you got to look at the cover of the new book
that you are working on. This book is about Harry Truman. I was
wondering what got you interested in writing about this particular

Cheryl: Well, as you and your readers may or may not know, Independence,
Missouri, is my home town. This is true, too, of our 33rd President. Neither of us were born here - he was born south a ways from here in Lamar, MO, 125 years ago; I in Maywood, CA, when he was the president, in 1951.
I actually saw him only once, in person even though we lived in the same neighborhood. I wasn't curious enough, youth being wasted on the young. I was more interested in drawing pictures and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Anyway, I've been asked more than once, "When are you going to do a book about Harry?" Turned out that the answer was "these past few months."

Marya: When will this book be in bookstores?

Cheryl: The book will be available mid-February, in time for Presidents' Day, but I wouldn't expect to see The Harry Book (The Life of President Truman in Words & Pictures) in bookstores any time soon. I'm self- publishing this. It's something I've never done before and I confess that I am a much better writer and illustrator than I am a businesswoman. I imagine that one who goes to my website will find how he or she can get a copy. Or lots of copies! And I reckon that I'll have a bundle of Harry Books with me when I travel about, school visiting. It's comic book - did I tell you that? NO, I didn't! It's 48 pages' worth of pen & ink detailed pictures & lettering about this truly remarkable fellow. I learned so much about my long-gone neighbor. I wish I hadn't been such a doofus and had met him when I was young and had the chance... ah well.

Marya: You have written about several presidents so far including Teddy
Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Which president interested you the most and why?

Cheryl: Indeed, I should say Mr. Lincoln, this year being the 200th anniversary of the year in which he entered the world - same day, by the way, as Charles Darwin, the naturalist. And truly, I loved learning, writing, and illustrating his inspiring life, but of all the presidents - of all the Americans I've studied Teddy Roosevelt is the most interesting. Not saying I agree with all of his politics, but that TR was a fabulous individual. I love stories of overcoming and considering Abe's poverty- stricken background, FDR's polio, Geo. Washington's steadfastness in the face of truly aweful obstacles, TR's early illness - golly, I could go on and on. These individuals overcame so much. And too, each president represents to me a different chapter in the history of our nation.

Marya: I am also fascinated by Teddy Roosevelt's story. He was smart, funny, very active, and full of energy. And, like FDR, he had to overcome a severe illness. In TR's case it was asthma. In general I love reading biographies and books about history. What is it about history that excites you so much?

Cheryl: It's EVERYTHING! All we've done and hoped and dared. All humankind's accomplishments, our cruel, ridiculous, short-sighted mistakes; our explorations and our digging out of the holes we've dug.
And it's positively thick with role models. Me being such a sissypants, I'm ever drawn to courageous examples down the years. Harriet Quimby totally interests me these days. the first woman to fly across the English Channel, in 1912. Hugely brave & skillful PLUS she was totally beautiful, not that it matters, and she died far too young. a real pioneer. Plus, historical, real-life stories go well with my sort of illustration.

Marya: For those of you who don't know, Cheryl's artwork is full of detail and action, and she is a wizz when it comes to maps. Do you have any plans to branch out into fiction?

Cheryl: I did do that a few years ago in my novel for young readers, Just For You to Know [HarperCollins, 2006] It was set here in Independence, MO, 1963. Harry Truman had a brief, cameo appearance in it. That book was my heart's darling. I've got another book in the works - several really - and one of them might well involve another President. Stay tuned!

Marya: That's right! I remember the book because I reviewed - and loved - it. Here is my review. I look forward to seeing more works of both fiction and non-fiction with your name on them. Thank you for the chat Cheryl.

Cheryl: You are welcome.

I will be talking to Cheryl some more about her life and her work in the weeks to come. In the meantime do please visit Cheryl's website to find out more about this wonderful lady.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The New Issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review

Hello everyone. The new issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is now online. I hope you enjoy looking through it. It was a challenge to put out because I was trying to juggle moving house, preparing for the holidays, and one hundred and one other things. Still, I managed. Here is a sample of what is in this new issue:

This month's special feature: Penguins - If you like black and white birds that waddle then this is the book collection for you.

This month's seasonal features: Winter Days and Snowy Days. The latter includes an large collection of books that will allow you to enjoy some of the pleasures of snow without leaving your home.

This month's Editor's Choice: How to get rich in the California Gold Rush by Todd Olson. This excellent title will help young readers get a sense of what it was like to go to California seeking gold there during the gold rush. The book is packed with period illustrations and it's narrative brings this historic event to life.
In the Bookish Calender we look at, among other things, the birthdays of Benedict Arnold and Alexander Hamilton; Appreciate a Dragon Day, and Chinese (lunar) New Year.
Some of you will enjoy reading my review of Brian Jacques' book Doomwhyte on the 12+ Fiction Page. Give a Goat is a very meaningful title that is reviewed on the Picture Book Page. For little children there is How big is a pig and several other board books on the Board Book and Novelty Books Page.
I hope you enjoy this new issue. If you have any questions or comments please drop me a line.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Judy Blundell wins the 2008 National Book Award

A week before Thanksgiving it was announced that Judy Blundell's book What I saw and how I lied won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Presented by the National Book Foundation this prestigious award has been given to such books as The Penderwicks (2005), The Canning Season (2003), The House of the Scorpion (2002) and Holes (1998).

Though she has written many books under other names, this is the first book that Judy Blundell has written using her own name on the book cover. Judy Blundell has written books for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers under several pseudonyms. Her novel, Premonitions, was an ALA Reluctant Readers Best Picks and was chosen by the New York Public Library as a 2004 Best Books for the Teen Age. Judy Blundell is well known to Star Wars fans by her pseudonym, Jude Watson. Among her forthcoming projects is Book #4 in the New York Times bestselling series, The 39 Clues. Judy Blundell lives in Katonah, New York, with her husband and daughter.

Here is a synopsis of the book from the publisher:

When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.
As she begins to realize that almost everything she believed to be a truth was really a lie, Evie must get to the heart of the deceptions and choose between her loyalty to her parents and her feelings for the man she loves. Someone will have to be betrayed. The question is . . . who?

If any of you have read this book please let me know what you think of it. I hope to review it myself very soon.
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