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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty-five

Well friends, this is the last day of the TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration. For 365 days I have posted a picture book review, and it has been a wonderful journey. I wanted to wrap up the celebration with something special. I looked and looked and looked until I found Varmints, a picture book whose story moved me, and whose art charmed me. The illustrator has created a little film of the tale that you might like to watch.

Helen Ward
Illustrated by Marc Craste
Picture book
For ages 8 and up
Candlewick Press, 2008, 0763637963
   There once was a time when the world was full of beauty and light. The only sounds were “the bees, the whispering wind in the wiry grass…and the song of birds in the high blue sky.” A few beings enjoyed this world, listening to the gentle sounds and appreciating what they had.
   Then others came, and they build huge ugly buildings that blotted out the sky. This new world was so noisy that the sounds of birdsong and grass rustling were drowned out. More and more others came until everything was so noisy that “no one could hear themselves think!”
   Somewhere, high above the streets there was one of the few who carefully took care of “a little piece of wilderness.” He waited until he knew that the time had come, and then he took his precious pot of plants to a special place and left it there hoping that somehow his precious gift would bring about change, and that one day the noise would end and he would be able to hear the birds and the wind.
  This extraordinary picture book will remind readers of all ages that we cannot take our world for granted. We cannot assume that our natural heritage will last forever if we do not protect it from creatures like the others in this story. With a loveable main character who looks a bit like a rabbit, a storyboard that has the feel of a film or movie, and gorgeous atmospheric illustrations throughout, this is a book that everyone should read. And remember. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty-four

Many people spend years and years trying to find the right someone who will be their best friend and their partner. Sometimes the search is a painful one, and sometimes it seems as if that somebody to love will never turn up.

In today's picture book you will meet a little doll who is trying to find her somebody. The story has a message of hope that will appeal to readers of all ages.

The Somebody for MeThe Somebody for me
Minako Chiba
Translated by Hana Christen
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2010, 978-0-7358-2323-5
   Miss Mika is a happy doll maker, and as she sews her dolls, she hopes that all of her creations will be happy too. When one of her dolls, Sumiko, asks Miss Mika what “happy” is, Miss Mika explains that happiness is a feeling that you get “when somebody loves you.”
   Sumiko and the other dolls are arranged in the shop window, and one by one they are sold until the only one left is Sumiko. New toys come into the shop and they go off with happy children. Poor Sumiko is ignored, and she cannot wondering, “Where is the somebody for me?”
   Then, after a long wait, a little girl comes into the shop who wants Sumiko, but her father says that Sumiko is “old and dirty,” and he leads his daughter away to find something “new and clean.” Sumiko begins to think that she will never have a somebody of her own.
   We all have moments when we feel very alone, and when we wish that we had a somebody to love who will love us back. In this sweet and touching picture book, Minako Chiba beautifully shows how important it is not to give up hope. Someone will  come along who will be that right somebody.

Poetry Friday - A review of A Kick in the head: An everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

When I was a child, I thought that poetry came in two forms: poems that rhyme, and those that don't. I never knew that there are lots of poetic forms, and I certainly did not explore these forms. Today's poetry book would have delighted me because it shows, with examples, that poems come in a wide variety of flavors, just like ice-cream!

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms
Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Candlewick, 2005, 978-0763606626
Have you even wondered what makes a haiku a haiku, or what a riddle poem is? Have you ever wondered why poets let themselves be governed by rules at all, and when they decide to break the rules for the sake of their art? If you the kind of person who has asked these kinds of questions, then this is the book for you. With delightful touches of humor and an obvious love of poetry, Paul Janeczko explores twenty-nine poetic forms. For each one, he gives the reader an example poem or two, and a brief description of the form. More detailed descriptions for each form can be found in the back of the book.
   Some of the poems may be familiar, including “The Tyger” by William Blake, a selection from “The shooting of Dan McGrew,” and “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes” by Gary Soto. Some of the other poems may be new to the reader, and they will offer the reader the opportunity to see that the world of poetry is full of variety and creativity. Many of the poems that were chosen for this volume are amusing, and a few are also very visual.
   For each poem, Chris Raschka has created a unique multimedia illustration, which not only compliments the poem, but which also often reflects on the poetry form that was used to create that poem.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty-three

Many of us are conditioned to think that certain people simply aren't friend material. Some people are just too strange, too poor, too rich, too smart, too tall, too short, too different, to be a friend. In reality, one can make friends with just about anyone.

In today's book, you will meet Tom, a cat, who is convinced that birds are good for only one thing. Eating. Cats and birds cannot, in his opinion, be friends. Could it be that Tom is wrong?

Tom's TweetTom’s Tweet
Jill Esbaum
Illustrated by Dan Santat
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-85171-1
   Tom is a large tomcat who is delighted when he sees a baby bird “flip-flapping” on the grass beneath a tree. Here is a nice tasty “treat” he thinks, as he prepares to eat the little bird. Then Tom observes that the baby bird is far too small and skinny to eat. He is about to walk away, when he also observes that the baby bird is all alone and that it is clearly terrified.
   Despite the fact that he does not want to given in to his softie instincts, Tom tries to put the baby bird back in its nest, but the mother bird attacks him. Tom is forced to retreat with the “tweet” dangling by a tail feather from his mouth.
  Desperate to quiet the baby, who is yelling its head off, Tom makes it a nest (of sorts) and he even feeds it. This latter chore is especially horrific because Tom has to masticate worms for the tweet.
   Eventually, the mama bird flies off and Tom is able to return the tweet to its nest. Tom never imagines that his tweet adventure is not quite over; indeed it is not!
   This is a thoroughly delightful picture book. With its expressive cartoon-style artwork, its rhyming text, and its deliciously funny story, this is a book that children and their grownups will enjoy sharing. The story serves as a celebration of friendship, and it reminds us that even the most unlikely of individuals can become friends. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty-two

Finding the perfect gift for someone you love can be very challenging sometimes. We look in shops and catalogs for that perfect something, never considering that the best gift of all might be right under our noses.

In today's picture book, the author shows to great effect that gifts that have a personal touch are the ones that mean the most.

The Perfect GiftThe perfect gift
Mary Newell DePalma
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Scholastic, 2010, 978-0-545-15402-4
One day Lori the lorikeet finds a strawberry, and she decides to take it to her grandma. The problem is that the lorikeet is very little, and the strawberry is very big. When Lori stops to rest and puts the strawberry on the ground, the berry rolls, hops, and falls into the river, where is sinks to the bottom. Poor Lori is heartbroken.
   A chipmunk hears Lori crying, and when Lori tells her what has happened, the chipmunk offers to help the little bird retrieve the strawberry. Unfortunately, chipmunks aren’t very good at diving deep. Goose comes along and she tries to get the berry too, but just like chipmunk, she cannot reach the berry. Then frog comes along, and being a superb swimmer, he is able to get the strawberry. The frog and his new friends are celebrating when a big toothy crocodile decides that the lorikeet, goose, chipmunk, and frog would make a nice tasty snack.
   In this clever picture book, children will see how some friends are able to turn a loss into a success. Children will enjoy all those “Oh no!” moments, and they will be delighted when they see how this story ends.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty-one

Many children spend most of their lives disconnected from nature. They live in concrete jungles where there are very few trees to climb, or patches of grass to roll in. I am convinced that it is very important for children to be able to spend time in a natural setting where there is earth to dig in and insects to watch. Being able to connect with nature lifts children's spirits and helps them to feel grounded.

Today's picture book looks at the adventures that one little girl has as she explores a meadow. These are not big and grand adventures. Instead, they are little adventures that are nevertheless very precious.

In the Meadow In the meadow
Yukiko Kato
Illustrated by Kamako Sakai
Translated by Yuki Kaneko
Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Enchanted Lion, 2011, 978-1-59270-108-7
   Yu-chan and her parents are playing on the beach by the river. The little girl’s father invites her to join him and Yu-chan’s brother as they paddle in the water, but Yu-chan is distracted by a butterfly that is sitting on a stone nearby. Charmed by the butterfly’s “beautiful orange wings with teeny black dots,” Yu-chan follows the butterfly when is flies into a meadow.
   Yu-chan follows the butterfly, pushing through fragrant plants and through grass that tickles her legs. Surrounded by the tall grass, Yu-chan feels as if she is in the middle of a  “green sea.” Even when she can no longer see the butterfly, Yu-chan finds other things to marvel at, until she realizes that she does not know where she is.
   This is the first title in a new Being in the World series, a collection of books from Japan that explore the ways in which children interact with nature. The narrative is simple and magical, and children and grownups alike will be charmed by Yu-chan’s little adventure. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and sixty

When people are big and tough looking, and when they give the impression that they are a law unto themselves, most of us give them a wide berth. We never imagine that they, just like everyone else, can feel lonely. We never imagine that they might need a friend.

Today's picture book explores the idea that everyone needs a friend, even if they look scary and seem grumpy or mean.

The Dearest Little Mouse in the WorldThe dearest Little Mouse in the world
Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
Translated by J. Alison James
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
NorthSouth, 2004, 978-0735818910
   Every day, Fay the little mouse girl walks to and from school with her friends, and every day she ignores the big black dog who barks “Hello!” to her. Fay is so busy chatting with her friends, that she simply doesn’t notice the dog.
   Then one day Fay walks home on her own, and the big, black dog growls and snarls are her, demanding that she “SAY HELLO!” Not surprisingly, little Fay is frightened by this, and she runs home. Fay is in such a state that she refuses to eat any bacon, cheese, chocolate pudding, or grapes. Fay’s behavior greatly worries her mother and father, who ask their daughter to tell them what is wrong.
   Fay tells her parents about how the big, black dog growled and snarled at her, and she is amazed when they explain that the dog is not a bad dog. In fact, he is trying to be friends.
   In this delightfully sweet picture book, readers will meet a little mouse who learns that friends come in all shapes and sizes. Even individuals who are big and scary looking need someone to notice them, someone to be their friend. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-nine

Merry Christmas everyone! For many of us, decorating the family Christmas tree is one of our favorite seasonal traditions. I have had a Christmas tree every year of my life, even during the years when my family and I were living in a war zone and when we were refugees from that war. One year we even had a eucalyptus branch to decorate because there was nothing else!

In today's picture book you will read about a man who risked everything to bring Christmas trees to the children of Chicago.

The Christmas Tree ShipThe Christmas Tree Ship
Carol Crane
Illustrated by Chris Ellison
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011, 978-1-58536-285-1
   Tim and his brother live with their Grandpa Axel and Grandma Hannah in a Lake Michigan lighthouse. Grandpa knows the lakes moods very well, and one stormy night just before Christmas he gathers the children together in front of the fire to tell them a story.
   One of Grandpa’s favourite stories is the true story of Captain Santa and his ship, Rouse Simmons. Every year Captain Santa transported Christmas trees from northern Michigan to Chicago, so that the city children could have beautiful trees to decorate for Christmas. One year the Captain decided that this would be his last trip. He was getting old and it was time to take it easy. On that last journey, the Rouse Simmons sailed into a terrible storm, and though the captain did everything he could, he and his crew were lost when the Rouse Simmons sank.
   After the storm was over, Grandpa found driftwood and Christmas trees from the Rouse Simmons on the beach near where he lived. At this point in his story, Grandpa shows the children a copper tag that he found on the beach all those years ago. It was one of the straps that they used to tie the Christmas trees together, and it came from the Rouse Simmons.
   Now that Captain Santa was gone, everyone thought that Chicago would have to do without the wonderful Christmas trees from Michigan, but the very next year something amazing happened.
   This tale is based on the true story of Captain Schuenemann and his ship, the Rouse Simmons. The author’s grandfather, Axel Anderson, told her the story of the ship that brought Christmas trees to Chicago, and how he really did find trees bound with copper tags on the beach.
   Beautifully told and illustrated, this is a very special book that will take young readers on a journey into the past. 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-eight

Happy Christmas Eve! I am spending this festive day in a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin with family. We will be making sugar cookies, wrapping gifts, and eating all kinds of delicious treats. I will also be reading today's picture book out loud to everyone, and I know that the book is going to delight my listeners just as it delighted me when I first read it.

The Carpenter's GiftThe Carpenter’s Gift
David Rubel
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-86922-8
   Many years ago, Henry was a boy waking up on winter mornings in an old shack that was cold. There was no point complaining because the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, and Henry’s parents, like so many other parents, were doing the best they could to care for their family.
   On Christmas Eve in 1931, Henry and his father went into the woods to cut some spruce trees. The plan was to take the trees into New York City to sell, which is just what they did. That whole afternoon Henry and his father sold the trees that they had cut, and at the end of the day they gave the remaining trees to some construction workers who had helped them unload the trees from Henry’s father’s truck.
   The construction workers decorated the largest of the trees that they were given with whatever they could find, including tin cans. Though the tree was not covered with pretty baubles and ornaments, to Henry it looked beautiful, and he decided to make a wish. He wished that one day he and his family would have a “nice, warm house” to live in.
  This heartwarming and delightful picture book is based on the true story of the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that was bought and decorated by a crew of construction workers in 1931. The workers were digging the foundation for the Rockefeller Center, and the tree was their thank you for the precious jobs they had been given at a time when there were so few jobs available.
   In this picture book the wonderful text and Jim LaMarche’s beautiful illustrations come together to give readers a tale that will remind them that wishes can come true, and that the real spirit of Christmas is found in the joy of giving.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with further information about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of In the Wild

Most young children love animals, especially the exotic ones, so it is not surprising that so many books for young children feature animal characters, or describe animals. Today's poetry title is just such a book. It looks at fourteen different animals, giving children a picture of what each one is like. The poet has cleverly chosen the kinds of animals children are especially interested in, which includes lions, elephants, and kangaroos. 

In the WildDavid Elliott
Illustrated by Holly Meade
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick, 2010, 978-0-7636-4497-0
   The world is full of animals that are beautiful or strange, regal or funny, and children of all ages are fascinated by lions, elephants, bears, and other creatures. They like to know where the animals live, what they eat, and how they spend their days.
   In this memorable poetry picture book, Holly Meade’s stunning woodcut illustrations are paired with David Elliott’s delightful poems. The poet takes us around the world to meet animals that live in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas, He even goes far north to the top of the world where a polar bear swims “from / floe / to / floe.”
   Each poem captures the essence of the animal it is describing. With powerful simplicity the poem about a lion describes how this mighty animal “stands alone / on the grassy plain.”
   When we meet the elephant, we discover that this enormous land animal belies its huge size by being “delicate / as lace.” There is something about this creature that reminds one of “a cloud.”
   The sloth is altogether different, not being as grand as the lion or the elephant. No, the sloth is an unassuming creature in her brown fur, and yet the author has a lot of fondness for her because “she only moves / when necessary.” What a clever thing to do!
   This beautifully presented poetry picture book is a must for children who like animals. They will be both moved and amused by the poems, and they will surely wish that they too could see a wolf howl, a zebra run, and “bamboo bandit” panda bear chomping on its dinner.

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-seven

Christmas is only two days away, and children all over the world are doing their best to stay in Father Christmas' good graces. For ten years now, my daughter and I have shared a tradition. We read a Christmas/seasonal title every day from the 1st to the 24th of December. One of Elise's favorite holiday books is the one I have reviewed below.

Carl's ChristmasCarl’s Christmas
Alexandra Day
Picture Book (Series)
For ages 4 to 7
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990, 978-0374311148
   It is Christmas Eve, and Carl’s owners are going out for the evening. Before they leave the house, they tell Carl the dog to “Take good care of the baby, Carl.” Carl is a very honorable dog, so he goes upstairs to get the baby, and then the two friends set about celebrating the season together.
   First Carl and the baby decorate a potted plant with wrapping paper, ribbons, and other items that they find. Carl helps the baby put on a warm little suit and hat, and then they go outside to explore.
   In town, they win a beautiful Christmas basket when they are the 1,000th customer at the toy store. Knowing that this is the season to give, the baby and Carl give the basket to a street corner Santa who is collecting for “the Needy.”
   The friends listen to some carolers sing, and then they head home. After all, soon they are going to have a very special visitor.
   Though there are very few words in this book, Alexandra Day manages to capture the essence of Christmas with her wonderful Carl the dog title. Young children will be delighted to see that Carl and the baby’s late night visitor has gifts for everyone, including a duo of mice who come to warm themselves in front of the crackling fire.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-six

Happy winter everyone! In celebration of the beginning of the official winter season, I have a picture book for you that I think you will enjoy. The stars of the book are seven little mice who are eager to try ice fishing, a winter pastime that I must confess I have yet to try.

Haruo Yamashita
Illustrated by Kazuo Iwamura
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
NorthSouth, 2011, 978-0-7358-4048-5
   It is wintertime, and the seven little mice are going down to the lake to skate. With their skate blades gliding, slipping, and sliding, they race out into the middle of the lake, where they find Little Weasel and his father cutting a hole in the ice. The seven little mice watch as Little Weasel drops his fishing line into the water and as he catches several fish.
   That evening the little mice try to persuade their parents to take them ice fishing the next day. Unfortunately, their father has to work and their mother is “afraid of slipping on the ice.” How frustrating!
   The seven little mice are not willing to give up quite yet, and with their father’s help, they begin to hatch a plan. Somehow, they have to get their mother out onto the ice the following day so that they can all go ice fishing.
   In this charming seasonal picture book, Haruo Yamashita’s story is perfectly paired with Kazuo Iwamura’s appealing illustrations to give young children a warming winter adventure. Readers who enjoy this book might also like to read Seven Little Mice go to School.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-five

Happy Hannukah! Today I have a review of charming holiday title that I greatly enjoyed reading. In the book Eric Silverman and Steven D'Amico gives us a picture of a family Hanukkah celebration that is full of light, warmth, music, and dance. 

Erica Silverman
Illustrated by Steven D’Amico
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4424-0604-9
   It is Hanukkah, and Rachel and her family are getting ready for their celebration. Daddy is blowing up balloons, Mommy is cooking latkes, and Rachel is twirling streamers. Soon everything is perfect and the guests start to arrive. The menorah candles are lit and Daddy plays the piano, starting the festivities.
  Mommy then tells the story of the Macabees, and afterwards everyone eats latkes and other delicious treats. Next the guests play with dreidels, and the winners of the game are given chocolate gelt.
   The fun is just beginning though, because now the special guests arrive. The klezmer band are in the house and the dancing can begin!
   In this delightfully festive book, Erica Silverman’s bouncy rhyming text is paired with Steven D’Amico’s vintage style art to give readers a delightful reading experience that is full of holiday traditions, music, dance, and warmth.

Happy Hanukkah!

Best wishes for Hanukkah from TTLG

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-four

For the past sixteen years I have been living with a chronic illness, and at times figuring out how to cope with it is tiresome in the extreme. I cannot live my life the way I used to, and have to make many adjustments and concessions that I find annoying.

Today's picture book is about a little princess who also has a troublesome physical challenge. In her case, she floats, and this means that she cannot do what other children take for granted. I found this story delightfully amusing, and it reminded me that one can overcome almost anything, if one is creative. Having a sense of humor also helps.

Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)Princess Hyacinth (the surprising tale of a girl who floated)
Florence Parry Heide
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2009, 978-0-375-84501-7
   In most ways, Princess Hyacinth is a very ordinary little girl. She has brown hair and “the usual arrangement” of features on her face. In short, if you looked at her, you would have no idea that Princess Hyacinth has a problem, a problem that has to resolution.
   Princess Hyacinth floats. The only way to keep her on the ground is to weigh her down with a heavy crown, golden weights in the hems of her dresses, and “little diamond pebbles sewn into the tops of her socks.” As soon as she takes the special garments and her crown off, Princess Hyacinth floats “up, up, up.”
   In the palace, Princess Hyacinth can “take off her royal stuff” and float around freely, but if she wants to go outside, she has to wear the full paraphernalia and it is very galling. More than anything, Princess Hyacinth wants to float around outside. She also wishes she could run around outside like the children who come to play in the grounds of her home.
   One day Princess Hyacinth gets an idea. There is a way for her to be outdoors after all. It never occurs to her that her plan might not work, and that she might end up floating “up, up, up” into the open sky where there is nothing to stop her.
   With a deliciously funny story and Lane Smith’s amusing illustrations, this picture book will charm children with its quirkiness. Young readers will enjoy imagining what it would be like to be Hyacinth. How would they try to live a ‘normal’ life if they too floated above the ground?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-three

Life is full of challenges, some of which are scary. Children often don't quite know how to deal with these challenges. They don't realize that they have sources of courage deep inside that they can call upon at such times. Today's book will help children (and adults too) to realize that the tools they need to cope with life's challenges are always with them.

Teaspoon of Courage for Kids: A Little Book of EncouragementA teaspoon of courage for kids: A Little Book of Encouragement for Whenever You Need It
Bradley Trevor Greive
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Andrews McMeel, 2007, 978-0-7407-6949-8
   For much of the time, most children are content with their lives. They share happy moments with their families and friends, and life is enjoyable. Inevitably though, there are those times when “everyone runs smack up against a brick wall.” These times are hard, and often we don’t know what to do, or how to cope. This book was written especially for children to help them deal with these moments when they get “stuck,” confused, scared, or at a loss.
   The author does not offer children pages and pages of advice. Instead, he combines small sections of text with photos of animals. The pairings are perfect in every instance. For example, when he talks about how there are times when “you can’t figure out what is going on” he gives us a picture of a grasshopper scratching its head. When he talks to us about having courage to deal with life’s trials and tribulations, he says that “courage makes it possible for little guys to stand up to big guys” and we look at a picture of a mouse looking up at a cat. The mouse is not cowed at all. Instead, it is standing up on its hind legs showing to the world that it is small in stature only. It is big in heart.
   Throughout the book, poignancy, wisdom, and humor combine to give children a title that will show them that they have the courage to face life’s challenges, even if they think that they don’t.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-two

Today's picture book is out of print, but I was so charmed by it that I decided to review it anyway. You can still purchase it on Amazon and I am sure there are copies floating about in other bookstores and at your local library.

The reason why I wanted to share this book with you is that it really is a charmer. It celebrates the connection between siblings and shows us how precious our happy memories can be, especially if we can share them with others.

The Lemon Sisters
The lemon sisters
Andrea Cheng
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2006, 0-399-24023-3
   One morning, an old lady wakes up and she knows immediately that it has snowed during the night. She looks outside, and sees three girls playing in the snow. Seeing them playing and interacting, the old lady remembers the times when she and her two sisters, Rita and Mae, used to play in the snow. She watches as the three girls pretend to make oatmeal on a pretend snow stove in a pretend snow pot. The old lady then remembers how she and her sisters made “real lemon ices” when they were girls by mixing snow with lemon juice and sugar.
   The old lady gives the three girls some lemons and sugar and watches as they make their own lemon ices. Sadly she thinks about her sisters, both of whom live so far away. What makes her loneliness even harder to bear is that today is her birthday, and she has no one to celebrate with. Or at least that’s what she thinks.
   In this heart-warming picture book, Andrea Cheng celebrates the close bond that connects siblings. She shows her readers how three elderly sisters never stop loving one another, and how three little girls are able to enrich the lives of the three sisters in a wonderful way.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty-one

Making friends, and then losing them, can be a painful business. We wish that our friends could be with us always, but often something out of our control happens, and a precious friendship ends. Today's picture book looks at the nature of friendship, and in it the author puts forward the idea that our friends are with us, even when they are no longer around.

Making a FriendMaking a friend
Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-8998-1
   In the fall, a little boy watches the golden leaves drift down and he dreams “of winter.” Then one morning, he wakes up to discover that it has snowed in the night. Wearing his cold weather clothes, the boy goes outside to play in the beautiful snow. He catches snowflakes on his tongue, and makes snow angels. Then he gets down to the serious business of making a snowman. When the snowman is complete (wearing the little boy’s hat), the little boy realizes that he has created something special. He has created a friend.
   The snowman is there every day for the little boy until the weather starts to warm up. Sadly, the little boy watches his snowman melt until all that is left are his stick arms, his carrot nose, his stone eyes and mouth, and the hat that he wore. The little boy wonders where is friend has gone. Is he gone forever?
   In this special book, the author explores the idea that “what you love will always be with you,” even when that much loved friend is not there in person. Children will see how the little boy’s snowman is there in his heart and in his memories, and they will rejoice when they see how the story ends. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and fifty

These days many grownups are feeling very disillusioned by life. We don't have many heroes to look up to, and therefore we don't have many heroes to share with our children, except those that lived in the past, and those that live in books. In today's picture book title (it's actually a graphic novel), readers will meet a child hero who makes a terrible mistake, and who is willing to risk everything to correct that mistake. Zita is someone we can admire. She is someone who, for a change, does the right thing.

Zita the Spacegirl - Book One: Far from homeZita the Spacegirl - Book One: Far from home
Ben Hatke
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 to 12
First Second, 2011, 978-1-59643-446-2
   One day Zita and her friend Joseph are out playing, when they find a small crater in the ground and there is a steaming meteoritic rock lying at the bottom of it. When Zita goes down into the crater to investigate, she finds that there is a strange looking device inside the rock, a square panel with a red button in the middle of it.
   Though Joseph tells her to put the device back, Zita refuses to. Instead, she pushes the red button to see what the device does. At first nothing happens, but then a bright portal opens up in front of the children, and Joseph is grabbed by three tentacles and he is dragged back through the portal, which then closes and disappears.
   At first, Zita is terrified by what has happened, but then she decides that she has to follow Joseph through the portal. After all, it is her fault that he was kidnapped in the first place. Zita pushes the red button and jumps…into a world inhabited by all kinds of weird looking aliens. Zita sees a many-armed alien putting Joseph into a strange flying vessel, and she is unable to do anything as the vessel flies away. Then her portal opening device is stepped on and broken. As if this is not bad enough, she then learns that the planet she is on is about to be hit by an asteroid and destroyed. Somehow Zita has to find Joseph, save him, and get them both off the planet before it is blown to bits.
   This is the first title in what is clearly going to be a thrilling new graphic novel series. With fabulous illustrations and with characters that are delightfully likeable or dreadfully villainous, this is a book that explores how one very ordinary girl becomes a very extraordinary girl. Challenged by the situation she finds herself in, Zita has to do all kinds of things to help the people (and aliens and robots) that she cares about.

Poetry Friday - A review of Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys

For the most part, I try to review books that will appeal to both boys and girls, but I won't pass up a book because it is super girly or especially boycentric. I would miss out on a lot of fantastic books if I did this.

Today's poetry book was written for boys, and I am so glad that I read it and reviewed it. It is a collection of haikus that explore the outdoor lives of boys, and the poems are amusing, touching, and memorable.

Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Houghton Mifflin, 2010, 978-0-547-24003-9
   For boys, the great outdoors is place that is full of possibilities. Trees are there to be climbed, streams are for damming, and fall leaf piles are for playing in. The season to come is anticipated because of the opportunities it has to offer for games and adventures.
   For this delightful poetry collection, poet Bob Raczka has written twenty-four haikus specifically for boys. Boys love the outdoors and “a haiku is an observation of nature.” For him, the pairing of boyish adventures and the haiku form is a natural one.
   The haiku are divided into four sections. Bob Raczka begins with haikus that explore what boys like to do in spring. We hear about how a boy goes outside to play with his kite on a windy day, and how he and the wind play tug-of-war. Not surprisingly, it looks as if “The wind is winning.”
   In the section of haikus that have a summer flavor, we read about a boy who skips a stone on a body of water five times. He is thrilled because this is his “best throw ever.”
  In the fall, a boy lies across a swing wondering “Who turned off all / the crickets?” He is not ready for the summer, and all its freedoms, to come to an end.
   Readers will find it hard to resist this celebration of boyhood. Bob Raczka’s delightful haikus are perfectly complimented by Peter Reynolds’ expressive minimalist illustrations. For each season, the illustrations have an accent of color that best suits that season. There is green for spring, a soft golden yellow for summer, sepia for fall, and a pale cool blue for winter.
   This title would make a wonderful gift for a boy who loves to be outside with the sun and the wind.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-nine

For many people, moving to a new home or a new place is stressful. For pets is can be a very upsetting experience because they have no idea what is going on. Why are they no longer in the home where they were comfortable and felt secure? Why is this new place so very different? 

In this picture book you will meet a cat who is moved to a new home, and who does not like it at all. 

Karen Ritz
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2010, 978-1-59078-656-7
   The cat loves its home. It loves the windows “with birds,” the stairs, the hiding places, and the “foolish mouse in the basement.” He also loves the boy who gives it food, water, and affection.
   One day the boy takes the cat to a strange place, and the cat is not happy. It hides in a laundry basket, refusing to come out when it is called. It hides behind boxes, inside a box spring, and in a closet, and it ignores the water and treats that it is offered. A “mouse with a feather tail” is chewed up and deposited in a shoe.
   When the boy stops looking and goes to sleep, the cat comes out and snuggles up against the sleeping child, and in the morning, the cat discovers some wonderful things about its new home.
   Moving is not easy for anyone, especially if you happen to be furry and don’t understand what is going on. In this charming picture book, Karen Ritz describes a move from the point of view of a cat, and readers will enjoy sharing the cat’s thoughts and feelings. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-eight

All of us have things that we do when we are nervous or anxious. We try to think of happy thoughts, we whisper a calming mantra under our breath, or we hold onto some kind of talisman or good luck charm that makes us feel safe. Children will often rely on an imaginary friend in times of trouble. They have an invisible child or animal who is always there when life is frightening.

In today's picture book you will meet a little boy who has just such a friend, an invisible little boy who knows just how he feels, and who comforts him.

Leon and BobLeon and Bob
Simon James
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2006, 978-0763626860
   Leon and his mother have moved to a new home in town. Though no one knows it except Leon, Bob has also moved into the home. Leon is the only person who can see Bob, and having Bob around helps Leon feel less alone. Bob is with him when Leon walks to school, and he is there when Leon reads the letters his father (who is in the army) sends him.
   One day, Leon notices that a new family is moving in next door. Leon sees that the family includes a boy who seems friendly. Leon decides that he will go and visit the new boy in the morning. He will have Bob with him to support him if he feels nervous. Or maybe not.
   Many children have imaginary friends to help them get through hard times. This warm and sensitive picture book is a tribute to all those invisible friends who have helped countless children find their way. Young readers will be delighted to discover that the new boy next door has a little surprise of his own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-seven

I am of the opinion that we live in a society that focuses too much on things and not enough on relationships and experiences. I know one person who goes on foreign trips just to acquire more stuff. He does not see that the trip itself is the real gift because of all the amazing things he sees and experiences he has.

In today's picture book you will meet a goose and bear who go on a treasure hunt. Only one of them really appreciates that the real treasure is right in front of their noses.

Suzanne Bloom
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2007, 978-1-59078-457-0
   One day, Goose finds Bear writing on a piece of paper. There is a big X in the middle of the paper, and Goose quickly assumes that Bear must be “looking for treasure.” Exuberant Goose wants to hunt for treasure too, so she dashes off to get all the “gear” she thinks they will need.
   Soon Bear and Goose are whizzing along on Goose’s scooter, looking for the treasure. The dig for the treasure, and they dive for it, but they don’t find anything that even faintly looks like treasure. In a fit of pique, Goose rips the so-called treasure map in half. “We didn’t find any treasure at all,” she says, but Bear thinks otherwise. Bear knows that the two friends have found the best treasure of all.
   As they read this funny and sweet picture book, children will discover that treasures come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Sometimes there is a treasure right under our noses, and we don’t even realize it.
   With a minimal text, delightful characters, and a meaningful message, this picture book is a joy to share with young readers. Children and their grownups will laugh out loud when they see, at the end of the story, what the treasure map really is. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-six

We humans like to think that we can tame any animal that we encounter, that we can understand any animal's behavior. It is a risky attitude to have, because it makes us cocky.

In today's picture book you will meet three little pigs who think they know what they are doing when the capture a wolf and then use it in their circus show. They think they have the wolf all figure out but....

Wolf Won’t Bite!
Wolf Won't Bite!Emily Gravett
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4424-2763-1
The three pigs have caught an honest to goodness wild wolf, and they are eager to show off how well they have trained the wolf to do what it is told. They hang up posters announcing their forthcoming show, and use a loud hailer to tell everyone to “Roll up!” to see their “Wild Wolf!”
   The three pigs, with much fanfare, demonstrate how they can “stand him on a stool” and “dress him in a bow.” They can ride on his back and make him jump through hoops. They can even lift him off the ground and make him “dance a jig.” Whatever they do, the wolf never shows any inclination to bite them. They are perfectly safe with the large hairy creature. Or so they think.
   Children will laugh out loud as they look through this unique picture book. With its minimal text and delightfully expressive artwork, the story serves as a warning to anyone who thinks they can tame a wolf. It is never wise to push a wild animal too far. You never know what might happen!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-five

Saying no comes naturally to little children. In fact, many of them take great pride in saying "NO!" as often as possible. When they are older, children try to get away with saying no to adults, usually with limited success, but saying no to their peers can be a problem. There are times when they need to say no to a classmate or a friend, but the word simply won't come out. What if they hurt their friend's feelings? What if the classmate gets angry?

In today's picture book, you will meet a little girl who cannot say no to her friend, even when she wants to, and it is a very frustrating situation.

Noni Says NoNoni says No
Heather Hartt-Sussman
Illustrated by Genevieve Cote
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra, 2011, 978-1-77049-233-2
   When Noni was a baby, and then a toddler, she had no problem saying no. In fact, she made a point of saying no as often as she could. Now that she is older, Noni can do all kinds of wonderful and marvelous things like tie her own shoes, feed her baby brother, and say the alphabet backwards. The one thing that Noni cannot do, is to say no. Even when she wants to say no, Noni ends up saying yes instead.
   Noni’s friend Susie has no problem saying no when she wants to. She says no when Noni asks to sleep over, and when Noni wants to play with Susie’s teddy bear. Poor Noni is never able to say no to Susie, even when Susie asks to cut off all of Noni’s hair “except for a tuft at the front.” Poor Noni always finds herself saying yes.
   Some people have a terrible time finding the courage to stand up for themselves. They don’t want to rock the boat or upset anyone, so they don’t speak their mind. All too often, this means that they end up doing things that they don’t want to do.
   In this book, Heather Hartt-Sussman speaks up for all those people who cannot say no, but who long for the courage to do so. Though this title is for younger children, its message is universal, and it will resonate with readers of all ages. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-four

My father was one of those people who thought that reading comics was bad for children. Perhaps he thought that if I read comics, I would not read other books. Well, he was wrong. I read comics on the sly, and read other books with great enthusiasm.

A few years ago, Toon Books started publishing some wonderful beginner reader titles that are in graphic novel (comic book) form. The stories are charming, and they are perfect for children who are just beginning to read books on their own. Today's book is one of these Toon Book titles. It won the 2010 Theodor Geisel (who most people know as Dr. Seuss) Award. This award is given "annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

Geoffrey Hayes
Graphic Novel
For ages 5 to 7
Toon Books, 2009, 978-0-9799238-9-0
   Benny has heard that there is a “new kid” living next door. He tries to get a glimpse of the kid through a hole in the fence, but he sees nothing. Then Benny notices that his pail is missing and he quickly jumps to the conclusion that the new neighbor is responsible. Even though he knows it is a “no-no” to go into the next door yard without an invitation, Benny does it anyway.
   Benny and Penny are investigating some suspicious looking footprints in the neighbors yard when they hear someone coming. They soon see that their new neighbor is a little girl mole who is wearing a bathing suit and flippers (hence the strange footprints.) Benny, Penny, and the little mole get into a mud pie fight, and then Benny finds his bucket. The girl mole stole it!
   Sometimes it is easy to get carried away and to do things that we later regret. In the heat of the moment we make assumptions that are incorrect, and we even hurt other people’s feelings. In this delightful graphic novel (or comic book) style title, Geoffrey Hayes explores how such misunderstandings can happen. In addition to telling a meaningful, and often gently amusing story, the author gives readers a tale that is perfectly suited to children who are just beginning to learn how to read on their own.
   This is one of a series of books about the adventures of Benny and Penny.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of Lemonade and other poems squeezed from a single word

I am always delighted when I encounter poets who are finding new ways to explore their craft. Bob Raczka is just such a person, and in today's poetry title you will see how he is able to create a poem using the letters that are found in just one word. Really. He does, and he does it so well too!

Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Nancy Doniger
For ages 8 to 12
Roaring Brook Press, 2011, 978-1-59643-541-4
   Our lives as so full of words that we tend to take them for granted. We read the word “moonlight” and never imagine that the letters in this word can be mixed up in many different words to create not just new words, but also poetry. For this very clever and creative collection of poems, Bob Raczka has selected twenty-two words, and for each one he jumbles up the letters to create a poem. He pulls meaning and images out of each word, telling a story, or creating a picture that is funny or meaningful.
   Some of the words, like “snowflakes,” “flowers,” and “spring,” conjure up images that are beautiful, While others, like “chocolate,” “television” and “bicycles,” are more mundane and everyday
   In “Moonlight,” the jumbled up words flutter down the page to tell us about a “hot night” where the “thin light” illuminates a “moth in motion.” The images are silvery and soft. By contrast, in “Earthworms,” the words seem to wiggle around, telling us about what happens when worms come out of the ground after a storm. The poem ends abruptly after we are told to “wear shoes.” It is hard not to smile as one reads these words.
   Young readers who explore how these unique poems work will be intrigued to see how one word can say so much if one is creative enough. They might even be tempted to try their own poems that are “squeezed from a single word.”

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred and forty-three

When you are a young child, it is hard not to feel rather small at times. You cannot see over counters, you cannot reach items that are on tall shelves, and you cannot open a car door by yourself. On the whole, the world is a place that is full of hugeness and huge things. It is easy to believe that you are too small to make a difference.

In today's picture book you will meet a character who is very small, but who discovers that being small does not preclude one from doing big things. 

Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2003, 0-14-240580-9
   There once was a sea snail who lived on a rock near the sea. More than anything, the sea snail, who had “an itchy foot,” wanted to see the world. The other snails on the rock told the little sea snail to “Sit still! Stay put!” but the snail couldn’t bear to spend her entire life on that rock.
   Being a clever creature, the snail wrote a message on her rock asking someone to give her a ride “around the world,” and not long after, a whale came along who was happy to take the snail to “far-off lands.” Off went the whale, with the snail on his tail, and together they saw icebergs, tropical islands, huge waves, and underwater caves. Seeing such wonders made the snail feel very small.
   Then one day the whale accidentally got beached. If he didn’t get some help soon he would die, and the only living creature who knew of his plight was the snail. What could a tiny sea snail do to help a whale?
   With its wonderful rhyming text and its delightful story about an unusual friendship, this picture book will surely resonate with young children who think that they, like the snail, are too small to make a difference. Children who long to have grand adventures in distant lands will enjoy swimming in the world’s oceans with the whale who carries a snail on his tail. 
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