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, January 28, 2010

The 2009 Newbery and Caldecott award winners

This week I was lucky enough to be able to read and review two new award winning books. One is the 2009 Caldecott winner, The lion and the mouse by Jerry Pinkney. The other is the 2009 Newbery winner, When you reach me by Rebecca Stead. Pinkey's artwork delighted me so much that I looked through the book four times before I wrote my review. As for When you reach me, well it just blew me away. I usually find books that talk about time travel confusing. This one was so magical that I starting telling everyone I know that they should read it as soon as possible.

When you reach me

Rebecca Stead
Ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 2009, 0385737424
Miranda’s problems seem to begin after one of the neighborhood boys punches her best friend Sal in the stomach. Sal retreats from Miranda’s company, and suddenly she finds that she is all alone. She has to walk past the “crazy guy” on the corner by herself, and she has no one to spend her time with. Quite by chance, soon after she loses Sal, Annemarie’s friendship with Julia goes south, so Miranda and Annemarie start spending time together. Then Colin joins their little duo, and the three children begin to spend their school lunch break working at a local sandwich shop.
   After her first day of “work” Miranda comes home to discover that her apartment door is not locked. Nothing has been stolen, but Miranda finds out that something was left behind – a note. The writer of the note tells Miranda that he or she is “coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” He or she also asks Miranda to write a letter and to “mention the location of your house key.” The writer talks about a trip and how he or she “will not be myself when I reach you.” What on earth is going on?
    This is only the first of several letters that Miranda finds. They all appear under the most mysterious of circumstances, and what they say makes no sense at all. What does become apparent is that the writer seems to know what is going to happen before it happens. How is this even possible?
   In this extraordinary book, Rebecca Stead takes her readers on an incredible journey into the fantastic. She explores time travel and friendships, and she gives her readers a mystery that is tantalizing, intriguing, thought-provoking, and even magical. Without a superfluity of words, Rebecca Stead’s novel is a powerful tour de force that will leave readers spellbound and perhaps slightly dazed.
   The title won the 2009 Newbery Award.   

The lion and the mouse
Jerry Pinkney
Picture Book
For all ages
Little Brown, 2009, 9780316-01356-7

One morning a mouse, who is very distracted, accidentally runs up the back of a sleeping lion. Needless to say, the lion is not pleased. He could easily eat the little mouse that sits quivering in his paw. Instead, the lion, in an act of compassion, lets the little mouse go.
   Then one day, some hunters set out a trap, which the lion walks right into. Though he is the king of the savannah, the lion cannot free himself from the hunter’s rope net. He is well and truly caught. The little mouse hears the lion’s roar, and she quickly runs to where the lion hangs from a tree, trussed up in the rope net. Though she is just a very little mouse, there is something that she can do to help the great lion, and she gets to work.
   This beautiful retelling of one of Aesop’s most beloved tales will delight readers of all ages. The only words in the book are sound words; squeaks and roars, the hoots of an owl, and the “Putt-Putt-Putt,” of a car engine. Jerry Pinkney perfectly captures the essence of the fable with his gorgeous paintings, which are rich with the golden colors of an African grassland. Readers will have no trouble seeing that this story not only looks at the gift of compassion, but it also highlights the fact that even the smallest and weakest individuals have something valuable to give. The “meek” can truly have something to offer the “mighty.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On this day: Nellie Bly ends her trip around the world

On this day in 1890 a young reporter ended an amazing journey around the world. Her name was Nellie Bly (her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran) and she was determined to prove that she could travel around the world in less than eighty days. People all over the world watched to see if this pretty young woman could break the record of Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne's ficticious character who traveled around the world in eighty days by boat and train in Verne's famous book Around the World in Eighty Days.
Nellie's journey began on November 14th, 1889, and it ended "seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her Hoboken departure."

I have read several books about Nellie and her incredible journey, and you can read my reviews here on Through the Looking Glass Book Review. 

You can find more information about Nellie Bly and her remarkable career here on Wikipedia. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Snowflake Bentley Books

As promised I am posting two reviews about Wilson Bentley, the man who first photographed snowflakes. These titles are, of course, for children, but adults will also greatly enjoy them.

Snowflake Bentley
Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Illustrated by Mary Azarian
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Ages 6 to 8
Houghton Mifflin, 1998, 0-395-86162-4
   Little Willie Bentley loved the snow. He loved to play in it and he loved to look at it, comparing the snow to “apple blossoms.” Unlike apple blossoms however, snowflakes could not be looked at for long because they quickly melted. It was hard to enjoy and study the snow when it disappeared so fast. Then, using a microscope that his mother gave him, Willie began to look at snowflakes up close and he would quickly draw the ice crystals that he saw through the eyepiece. Even working as quickly as he could Willie was never able to finish his drawings before the beautiful crystal formations melted.
   Then, at last, Willie’s parents bought him a microscope that had a camera attached to it. Now Willie could photograph the snowflakes before they had a chance to melt, and he would have their images on glass plates to study at his leisure. After many months of failure Willie finally figured out how to take the photographs. He learned how snowflakes form, and that each and every snowflake is unique.
   In time people began to recognize how beautiful and useful Willie’s photographs were, and he sold many copies of his pictures to people all over the country. When he was sixty-six Willie’s book “Snow Crystals” was published, and it is still read and enjoyed by scientists, artists and others who live all over the world.
   With Mary Azarian’s superb woodcuts to illustrate it, this fascinating book captures the essence of a man who did what he loved even though he was made fun of, and even though he did not make any money from his passion. Bentley took his photographs because the beauty of snow fascinated him and because he wanted to share the beauty that he saw with others. We are able to see that though he was a scientist who studied the weather and snow formation, he was also an artist at heart who was happiest when he was capturing the images of snowflakes on plates of glass.
   This book was the 1999 Caldecott Medal winner.

You can purchase this book through this blog here.

My brother Loved snowflakes: The Story of Wilson A. Bentley, the Snowflake Man
Mary Bahr
Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen
Non-Fiction and fiction Picture book
Ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2002, 1-56397-689-7
  Charlie and Willie Bentley live with their parents on a farm in Vermont. The boys are educated at home and their mother, who is delighted by Willie’s abilities, gets her son a microscope. Willie loves the microscope, spending a good part of his spare time looking at all kinds of things under the lens. More than anything Willie looks at drops of water, marveling at what he sees. When it begins to snow in the winter time, Willie looks at a snowflake under the lens and what he sees changes Willie’s life.
  Willie is entranced by the beautiful snowflakes, and he was to capture their likeness on paper. Unfortunately, his subjects refuse to accommodate him; they keep melting. Eventually Willie finds a solution to the problem. He buys a microscope that works with a camera, and after many hours of trying, Willie finds a way to get the images that he is looking for.
  Many people wonder why Willie persists in taking pictures of snowflakes, writing a book about them, and showing his photographs to people, but Charlie just delights in his brother’s creativity, his determination, his appreciation of the natural world, and his kindness.
  Told from the point of view of Willie’s brother, this is an excellent account of Wilson A. Bentley’s extraordinary life. Richly colored artwork in vivid reds, oranges and other warm colors perfectly compliment the text.
  At the back of the book the author provides her readers with further information about Snowflake Bentley.

You can purchase this book through this blog here.

You might also like to read a copy of Bentley's own book. Copies of this title are available here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A wonderful book about snow

In the last week or so Oregon, where I live, has been hammered by storm after storm. Loud winds have woken me up in the middle of the night, and the mountains around my town are all dusted with snow. Looking at the frost dusted trees as I drink my first cup of coffee in the morning gives me a great deal of pleasure.

Yesterday I read and reviewed a wonderful nonfiction picture book about snow. I was in my local bookshop sipping a latte and reading the book, when a lady came up to me and asked if she could look at the pictures because "they look so beautiful," which they are.

Here is my review:

The story of Snow: The science of Winter’s wonder
Mark Cassino with John Nelson, Ph.D.
Nonfiction picture book
Ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2009, 0811868664
   This story begins in the clouds, which are mostly made up of air and water (invisible things), and “specks,” which we can see. These specks can be particles of soil, ash, or soot, pollen grains, or even living bacteria. Under the right conditions, water vapor sticks to a “speck” and sticks, forming an icy shell. As more and more layers of vapor stick to the speck, it grows in size until it forms a small ball of ice. This ball of ice eventually turns into a “hexagon-shaped ice crystal,” which grows until is becomes a beautiful, unique snow crystal.
   The snow Crystal can be star-shaped, plate-shaped, or column-shaped, and like humans, leaves, and flowers, no two are alike. When several crystals stick together, they form a snowflake.
   Full of gorgeous pictures of real snowflakes, this wonderful nonfiction picture book will delight children who love the snow. It will also appeal to readers who have an interest in the weather and science. At the back of the book there is a section that will teach readers “How to catch you own snow crystals.”

You can find more books about Snowy Days on the TTLG website.

If you don't feel like going out to borrow or buy this book, you can buy it here on Amazon. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bad news for outlaws wins the Coretta Scott King Award

Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: Book Cover'Tis the season for award announcements, and I am happy to tell you that Bad News for Outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal won the 2010 Coretta Scott King award. The book would make a great title for children studying the real Wild West and Black History Month. Here is my review:

Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Nonfiction Picture Book
Ages 8 to 10
Lerner, 2009, 0822567644
Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1838, and he grew up on a plantation in Texas where he took care of the animals, fetched water, and learned how to become a crack shot. Bass was such a favorite with his master, Colonel George Reeves, that his master took Bass with him into battle when the Civil War broke out. During an argument, Bass struck his master, and knowing that this was a death sentence for a slave, Bass ran away to live with Native Americans in Indian Territory.
   When the Civil War was over and he was free, Bass settled down, got married, and he and his wife had children. Bass was happy living in Indian Territory but then the area “became a haven for the West’s most notorious outlaws.” Judge Isaac C. Parker was sent to the territory, and he hired two hundred deputy marshals to help bring law and order back to the land. Bass was one of these deputy marshals, and he took his job very seriously, bringing in the outlaws he was sent to catch without resorting to undue violence. He was incorruptible, determined, and “as honest as the day was long.”
   In this fascinating picture book, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson beautifully tells the story of one of the West’s unsung heroes. Unlike many Wild West legends, this story is true. With gripping accounts of Bass Reeves’ exploits, the author keeps the reader engaged right to the last page.

Here is some information about the author and the illustrator:

About the Author:

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books for children, including Almost to Freedom, which received 2004 Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor Award. In addition to writing books, she has also been a teacher, newspaper reporter, bookseller, and school librarian. She lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

About the Artist:
R. Gregory Christie is an award-winning illustrator of many picture books, including Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth and The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children, for both of which he won Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor Award. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker and on music CD covers. He lives in New York City.

You might also like to visit the website that Lerner Publishing created for the book. Here you will find an author's note, background information, a discussion guide, a podcast with the illustrator, and much more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

When I was around twelve or thirteen, my English literature teacher, Mr. Lovesy, decided that he would show us that beautiful language could be found in many places. He introduced us to Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream speech." It blew us away. Most of knew very little about Martin Luther King Jr. We were in an English school on the island of Cyprus and the English (as in from England) curriculum in the school did not include much American history. Many years later I moved to the United States and I began the process of learning about my new country. Reviewing children's books has given me the opportunity to learn a great deal about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Some of the books I have reviewed focus on one aspect of his life, while others look at the complete story of this extraordinary man. Here is my review of my favorite of these general books. 

Genius: Martin Luther King Jr.
Jennifer Fandel
For ages 10 to 14
The Creative Company, 2005   
ISBN: 978-1583413296
The son of a teacher and a pastor, Martin Luther King Jr. did not have to suffer many of the hardships that his father had had to endure. He had a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and he was able to get an education. But there was something that he did not have, something which no black person in the south had at that time. Martin did not have the same rights as white people. He lived in a society that was segregated and he had to accept that he was a lesser citizen who could not play where he wanted, who could not eat in the restaurant of his choice, and who could not sit at the front of the bus. He, like the millions of other black people living in the south, was a victim of segregation.
As he grew up Martin came to understand how cruel and unjust segregation was and he wanted to do what he could to bring it to an end. He worked hard to get a good education and he, like his father before him, became a pastor. Like his father too Martin knew in his heart that his people would never be able to give of their best if they were forced down by laws which kept them separate and decidedly unequal. So Martin set about working to get the laws repealed and in the end he gave his life for the struggle.
With wonderful period photographs, quotes, and a timeline at the bottom of the pages, this biography of Martin Luther King Jr. captures the essence of who Martin was and what he fought to do in his lifetime. Superbly written with poignancy and an obvious appreciation for the history of the times, this is a book which will help readers understand what made Martin Luther King Jr. such a world icon.
At the back of the book there is a “In His Words” section. Here readers will find the texts for two of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speeches: the one he gave in a high school in 1967, and the one he gave when he was presented with the Nobel Peach Prize in 1964.

You can see my other Martin Luther King Jr. children's book review here. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

The 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award

I know I just put up a post about the Cybil Awards, but I just have to mention the winner of the 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award. Here are excerpts from a press release that I found online on the CCBC website about the award.

What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla is the thirteenth annual winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. The award is given by the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A delectable story of a young Mexican-American child’s delight with an ice pop on a hot summer day is at once culturally specific and universal. Author Carmen Tafolla playfully appeals to all of our senses with rich imagery and crisp language. She invites us to think of all the creative things that can be done with a paleta, from painting your tongue purple or giving yourself a blue mustache to making a new friend or learning to make tough decisions. A sprinkling of Spanish words and Magaly Morales’ sun-warmed acrylic illustrations add details of
life in a vibrant barrio where the daily arrival of the paleta wagon is met with anticipation and celebration. What Can You Do with a Paleta? was edited by Abigail Samoun and published in the United States in 2009 by Tricycle Press.

The 2010 Zolotow Award committee named three Honor Books: 
  • Birds, written by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek, edited by Virginia Duncan, and published by Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins
  • Pouch! written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, edited by Nancy Paulsen, and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Group
  • Princess Hyacinth: (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated), written by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith, edited Anne Schwartz, and published by Schwartz & Wade Books / Random House Children’s Books.
The 2010 Zolotow Award committee also cited four titles as Highly Commended: 
  • Hello Baby! written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane / Simon & Schuster)
  •  Ready for Anything! written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza (G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin Group)
  •  Under the Snow, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R. Bergum (Peachtree)
  • Who Will I Be, Lord? written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Sean Qualls (Random House Children’s Books).
Established in 1998, the Charlotte Zolotow Award honors the work of Charlotte Zolotow, a distinguished children's book editor for 38 years with Harper Junior Books, and author of more than 70 picture books, including such classic works as Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (Harper, 1962) and William's Doll (Harper, 1972). Ms. Zolotow attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison on a writing scholarship from 1933 to 1936, where she studied with Professor Helen C. White. The award is given annually for outstanding writing in a picture book
for children in the birth through seven age range published in the United States in the preceding
I found an interesting article about awards chatter on the blogosphere yesterday. You can view it here on the Publisher's Weekly website, and I am beginning to wonder if I too should jump on this mock award bandwagon. It might be fun!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Finalists for the 2009 Cybils

The finalists for the 2009 Cybil awards are now online on the Cybils blog. Don't know what the Cybils are? Here is a brief description from the Cybils blog:

About The Cybils Awards

Our purpose is two-fold:
  • Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.
  • Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.
We wouldn’t be a real awards if we didn’t have a whole bunch of complicated rules in tortured lawyerese. So maybe we’re not a real awards, because there aren’t any lawyers and only two rules:
  1. You (and you can be anybody, even you) may nominate any book published in the contest year in English;
  2. Only one book per category. We have ways of checking this, so play nice. Nominations open Oct. 1 and close Oct. 15.
After that, here’s what happens:
  • We place all the authors names into a hat and pass our magic wand over it. After the rabbit pops out, we eat him and announce the winner, whom we have selected at random;
  • Not really! Just testing you. We have panelists in each category who eat the rabbit. No, er, they read the books. They have until January 1 for that, which we hope and pray will be enough time. On Jan. 1 we’ll post the finalists;
  • From Jan. 1 to mid-February, a second group of judges will read all the finalists and pick the winners, which we’ll announce on Valentine’s Day.
See? Easy. And no actual rabbits will be harmed in the process.

Take a look at the lists of finalists. There are some wonderful books here. I have not read all of them - as yet - but of the ones I have read these are the ones I would vote for:

Fantasy/Science Fiction: The Carbon Diaries
Fiction Picture Books: All the world
Graphic Novels: The storm in the barn
Nonfiction Picture Books: Keep on! The story of Matthew Henson
Nonfiction Middle Grade and Young Adult: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The School Children's Blizzard - January 12th, 1888

On this day in 1888 a terrible storm hit the plain states in America. People were caught unawares because the weather had been so warm, and when the storm hit many children were stranded in their school houses. Some children tried to make their way home and were lost in the storm. Numerous lives were lost, but there were also those lucky ones who found a haystack to shelter in, or who stumbled across a barn and who were thus saved.
Take a look at the books I have reviewed about this historic event in the School Children's Blizzard Feature.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blog Book Tour - Calamity Jack

Not long ago I reviewed a superb graphic novel called Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale. Shannon has written many splendid books including Enna Burning, The Princess Academy and The Goose Girl. Now some of the characters whom we met in Rapunzel's Revenge are back in a new graphic novel adventure called Calamity Jack. Here is my review of this new title.

Calamity Jack
Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Graphic Novel
Ages 10 and up
Bloomsbury, 2010, 978-1-59990-076-6
Jack is the kind of fellow who fancies himself to be a bit of a “criminal mastermind.” He tries not to think to much about the wrongness of the things that he does, until they miscarry, which they often do. Then one day Jack decides to take on Blunderboar, a local businessman who just happens to be mean, powerful, and a giant. Blunderboar is a bully, and Jack decides to make him pay for his cruel behavior – by using some magical beans. Jack doesn’t think for a moment that tackling Blunderboar might not be such a good idea.
   Unfortunately, Jack’s plan backfires in a big way and Jack has to leave town. He goes out west and he has a fantastic adventure with a girl called Rapunzel. When the adventure is over and Jack is flush with success – and gold eggs – he decides to head back to his home town to redeem himself and help his mother. When he arrives in Shyport, he discovers that the city has changed dramatically, and for the worse.
   By combining fairytale, fantasy, and much more, Shannon and Dean Hale have once again created a memorable graphic novel that fans of this genre will greatly enjoy. Nathan Hale’s wonderful illustrations beautifully compliment the gripping and often amusing tale. You can read about Jack’s adventures with Rapunzel in Rapunzel’s Revenge. 

Please visit the other bloggers who are participating in the book tour:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Story time for me: A new interactive book experience on the Web

Story Time For Me has launched a new interactive children’s reading website that promotes literacy worldwide while providing a place for children to read and listen to enjoyable and interactive online picture books.  The site is suitable for both toddlers and children in early elementary school.  The original episodic content will foster a love of reading and improve a child’s cognitive development and reading skills at the same time.  As the company itself is donating its product to many city schools, a significant goal of Story Time For Me is to raise funds for foundations through specially designed gifting programs that the company has designed.

Unique to Story Time For Me, all of the stories include tracking technology that highlights the narration as it’s being read.  This technology gives even the youngest child the tools to follow the words as they are read. Additional technology balances entertainment with proven learning techniques to provide children with hours of educational reading enjoyment. The Story Time For Me e-library offers compelling storytelling with inspiring and memorable characters that will stimulate any child’s imagination.

Story Time For Me was developed in order to give kids who want to be on the internet, a wholesome and educational place to go,” says Andrew Gitt, owner and founder.  “As I am a father to four young children, I was concerned about the violent video games and inappropriate material that is on the internet today. I knew that there was a huge market for an educational internet product that would give parents a proper comfort level …We have created this inStory Time For Me.”

There are many enjoyable activities at Story Time For Me that both parents and their children can do together, as well as things that young readers can do by themselves. Present and future marketing includes hand painted personalized books as well as a series for infants up to age three.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Issue of Through The Looking Glass Book Review

The new issue of the Through The Looking Glass Book Reviews is now online, and when I say new I mean really new. After months and months of work, the new site for TTLG is now ready. I hope you will find the site easier to use and navigate. One thing to keep in mind is that not all the content of the old site has been moved over to the new one. Manually tinkering with almost 5,000 (I kid you not) reviews is taking me a long time to do.   I hope everything will be moved over by the summer. The good news is that you can still get to the old content without any difficulty.

This month I chose to special feature books about pigs. I have a fondness for these animals (having had a pet pig for many years) and thought that it was high time that I focused on some piggy books. I hope you enjoy my selection. As always I have a Bookish Calendar full of interesting material, a list of author and illustrator birthdays and much more.

Happy New Year everyone.
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