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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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

There is nothing like starting the day with a smile on your face, and if you are feeling a little grumbly of a morning, then this is the book for you. The illustrations are unique, the story is funny, and the ending is just right.

ErrollHannah Shaw
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2010, 978-0-375-86105-5
   One day Bob is preparing to dip into his package of Nutti Nutts when a squirrel pokes his head out of the package. Bob is very surprised to the see the squirrel, and he is even more surprised when he discovers that the squirrel, who is called Erroll, can talk.
   Being a hospitable boy, Bob makes Erroll a peanut butter sandwich, which the squirrel enjoys enormously. In fact he enjoys it so much that he gets covered with peanut butter “from head to tail.” Bob does his best to clean Erroll up, but it is not easy to wash or wipe off a squirrel if he is not interested in getting clean. In fact, it is pretty much impossible. Doggedly Bob chases Erroll around the house, and soon the place is a mess. Little does Bob know that this is just the beginning of his adventure with Erroll.
   Children who enjoy watching squirrels in their garden are sure to be amused by the story in this picture book. With wonderfully quirky illustrations and engaging characters, this is a perfect story to read out loud.

Monday, May 30, 2011

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

I live in a small quiet town where the pace of life is slow, and where many people are happy to enjoy simple pleasures. When I visit big cities I usually tire of the pace, the noise, and the hubbub very quickly, and I am glad to come home again.

In today's picture book, you will meet a young boy who discovers that change and 'progress' is not always a good thing.

M.T. Anderson
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Picture Book
Ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2005, 076361586-2
   A boy lives alone at the End of the World, and though he is by himself (except for the mule) and though he has to eat gristle and hardtack, he is content with his life, putting together fossils, whistling, and playing with a ball. Then everything changes; a strange looking man called Constantine Shimmer arrives and he starts up a touring business. Soon the boy’s world is full of activity, people, and machines. Many come to see The End of the World, guided by Mr. Shimmer, and they also come to see the boy who lives there.
   Before he quite knows what he is doing the boy begins to work as a guide, seduced by the charm of meeting other children. The boy shows the newcomers all his favorite places and pastimes and they love it all. They love it so much that when Mr. Shimmer’s Inn at the End of the World is built and ready, they come back to The End of the World again and again.
   The boy has so much fun with his new friends and they do many wonderful things together including hang gliding, skating, and riding a roller-coaster. Naturally enough the boy has the time of his life, but he begins to notice that all of Mr. Shimmer’s buildings and businesses are changing the End of the World. Now is it a place of “More fun! More Fun!” where solitude is impossible, where one cannot think, and where peace is gone.
   The boy discovers something that many readers will find interesting and surprising – that one does not need a great deal of ‘stuff,’ nor does one need a lot of company, to be happy. There is a lot to be said for solitude, quiet, and simplicity.
   Beautifully illustrated and written with clarity and perception, this is a very special picture book that has a message for readers of all ages.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

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

Taking care of a baby, when you are new to babies and their needs, can be quite a challenge. Somehow, one always seems to be trying to figure out what needs to be done next. In this picture book, a family faces the challenge of having to take care of a HUGE baby, and as bystanders, we can enjoy a good laugh at the problems they face. For a family who have a new baby, this book is a must. 

The Wicked Big ToddlahKevin Hawkes
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2007, 978-0-375-82427-2
   When the new baby arrives, it is soon very clear that he is not like most babies. He is enormous, and after Uncle Bert says, “That’s a wicked big toddlah ya got theyah,” everyone starts to call the baby Toddie. Toddie is so big that his family members need to tie him to the flat bed of a truck so that they can take him home from the hospital.
  Not surprisingly, taking care of such an enormous baby is a huge task. Changing his diaper is excruciating. When he is able to sit up, the family are at least able to bathe him in the ocean, though they are not happy when he lifts fishing boats out of the water.
   The older Toddie gets, the more challenging it is to care for him. When the family goes camping, he plays with a live moose and a bear. During blueberry picking season, he eats blueberries by the bucketful. He is so big that his greeting terrifies the family members who come over for Thanksgiving.
   In this delightfully funny picture book, we meet a family who are blessed with a baby who is bigger than a house. Readers can sense how much Toddie is loved, and how much of a challenge he is at the same time. Though Toddie is so huge, his needs are much like those of any small child. Child will laugh out loud when they see the tricky situations Toddie and his family get into.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration - Book one hundred and forty-eight

I love journals and journaling, and recently I started working on a journal with my own artwork in it. It is interesting to notice have differently one looks at the world if one is considering things in terms of how one might go about drawing them.

In today's picture book you will meet a little boy who carries a drawing book around with him, and who captures a story on paper during a visit to the zoo. I think this book is inspired. It is also inspirational for artists of all ages. 

Sue Heap
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2007, 978-0-7636-3654-8
   It is a snowy day, and Danny and his friend Ettie are at the zoo. The children see a mother elephant with her baby, and there is a red scarf hanging on a tree nearby. Inspired by what he sees, Danny opens up his yellow drawing book and he draws a picture of a baby elephant wearing a red scarf. Feeling chilly, the children go into the warm nocturnal house where they see an aardvark. Danny puts a drawing of an aardvark next to the one that he created of the elephant. Ettie thinks that the two animals like each other, and sure enough, as Danny’s picture story unfolds, the elephant and the aardvark become good friends.
   In Danny’s picture story, the aardvark and the elephant decide that they want to go to Africa, but they cannot figure out how to get there. The aardvark does not want to go by boat, by car, or by train. Wanting to help the two animals, Danny draws himself and Ettie into the story and he draws a picture of the four of them flying to Africa in a wonderful little plane. When they arrive, the two animals and the two children have a wonderful time together. Who knew that being in a story could be so much fun.
   In this picture book, Sue Heap gives us a story within a story, taking us on a journey that is unique and memorable. With Danny’s childlike paintings and illustrations on every page, children will feel as if they are actually looking at Danny’s drawing book and they might – it is to be hoped – be inspired to take their own drawing book adventure. After all, all you need is a drawing book, a pencil, and maybe some colors to take a trip into the unknown.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal

Today's book is very special indeed because it not only contains poems, but it also contains wonderful illustrations, field notes about birds, and journal entries. The author beautifully combines many different elements to give readers a unique bookish experience.

Sallie Wolf
Poetry and Nonfiction
For ages 6 to 9
Charlesbridge, 2010, 978-1-58089-318-3
   When Sallie Wolf was in the seventh grade, her teacher taught the children in her class how to identify birds, study their behavior, and write down their observations. Ever since then Sallie has been bird watching, and in this book she invites us to share her interest in birds by taking a journey through the seasons, telling us about some of the birds that she sees.
   She begins with spring, giving us lists of some of the birds that she sees at this time of year. There is a painting of a crocus and a delightful poem about early crocuses and brown creepers who “circle up tree trunks.” We get to meet a robin who “makes a laughing sound” as it goes about making a nest. There are also notes about the birds she sees, as well as sketches and little watercolor paintings of birds, flowers, and a tree.
   In the summer there are seagulls who “hang out at the mall” and spend their time “fighting over French fries / and scraps of burgers.” Robins take a bath, cleaning their feathers vigorously until they are “Freshly groomed and tidy.”
   In this very personal and beautifully presented book, we take a journey through the year reading notes about birds, lists of birds, journal entries, and poems. There are delightful illustrations throughout, some of which are simple ink sketches, and others that are delicate watercolor paintings.
   At the beginning of the book, the author explains how she came to be interested in birds, and at the back of the book she tells us about her journaling journey, which she began when she was a child.

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

Sometimes it isn't easy to teach children right from wrong, especially when one is struggling. The accepted rules of behavior are often ignored at such times. In this book, award winning author Karen Hesse tells the story of three children who learn an important lesson.

Karen Hesse
Illustrated by Wendy Watson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2008, 978-0-439-87993-4
   Jack, Maybelle, and Eddie live with their mother, who is working the night shift tonight. Lately she has been working so hard that “she got nothin’ left over” for herself or her children. Maybelle, who is the eldest, decides that they should go to Mr. Kenney’s potato field to glean the potatoes that the harvester left behind. After all, not to take them would be “just plain wasteful.”
   As they walk to Mr. Kenney’s field, Maybelle rhapsodizes about all the wonderful things Ma will be able to make using the potatoes that they are going to get. When they get to the field, the children set about collecting as many potatoes as they can with only the light of the moon to guide them.
   Tired but happy, they make their way home through the frost covered countryside. When they get home, Jack spills the contents of their bags on the floor, which is when he discovers the horrible truth. Most of what they collected are rocks!
   In this beautifully written picture book, Newbery Award winning author Karen Hesse takes us into the home of poor family whose members are having a hard time making ends meet. Readers will be moved as they see how the three children try to help out, and they will understand the lesson the children learn as a result of their actions.
   Accompanied by Wendy Watson’s lovely illustrations, this is a story that will give young readers something meaningful to think about. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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

I used to think that the main purpose of picture books is to entertain children. I now know better. They also help children to see how beautiful the written word can be. They convey important messages that children need to hear. They tell stories about people, times, and places.

Since I started this picture book celebration, I have reviewed all kinds of picture books, many of which make the reader stop and think. Today's picture book is more light hearted. It explores the way a witch tries to solve a puzzling problem, and it is funny!

Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas
Picture Book
Ages 4 to 8
HarperCollins, 2007, 978-0061173127
   Winnie is a witch with a fondness for the color black. In fact she likes it so much that her entire house is black inside and out. In addition, Winnie’s cat Wilbur is also black, which is not surprising when one considers that he is a witch’s cat. Winnie can see Wilbur in her house when he has his lovely green eyes open, but when he dozes off, which is something cats do a lot, then Winnie can’t see him at all because he blends in perfectly with her very black house. Winnie ends up sitting on Wilbur, and tripping over him again and again, until she finally gets fed up. With a wave of her wand Winnie turns Wilbur from a black cat into a bright green cat.
   This new state of affairs works very well until Wilbur goes outside for a breath of fresh air. On the grass, Wilbur becomes invisible, and once again he trips up his mistress who ends up in a very prickly rose bush. Clearly Winnie is going to have to come up with another solution.
   A delightful tale with very amusing and highly detailed multimedia illustrations, this story is sure to entertain the young and the not-so-young with its simple story and droll characters.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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

When people are lonely, they often try to build a family for themselves to fill the void. Sometimes they find people who become their family, and sometimes they have animals who fulfill that role. In today's picture book you will meet a lady who adopts a wild bird, who grows to love it, and who makes an important discovery.

Quentin Blake
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
Peachtree, 2002, 1-56145-282-3
One morning, just after a fierce wind storm, Angela Bowling sets off for the village. In addition to the usual fallen branches and leaves, Angela finds out that the wind has brought down a baby bird. Being a kind and softhearted woman, Angela decides that the little bird needs someone to look after it and she takes on the job.
   Soon little “Augustus” is wrapped up in a shawl and a sweater and is being fed all sorts of food. One cannot help wondering whether the food Angela gives Augustus is suitable for a baby bird, but nevertheless, the bird seems to thrive on it. Angela gets a stroller to move her precious cargo about the village, and she buys him the best food available.
    All this “best things to eat” business soon makes Augustus a very large bird indeed, and Angela has to build him a shed to live in. Moving him around in a stroller becomes a thing of the past. Then there is another big storm and something happens to Augustus that makes poor Angela Bowling realize that her precious “Loveykins” has changed a great deal.
   In this funny and delightful book, Quentin Blake gives us a wonderful look at the simple and giving nature of a woman who is probably lonely and who needs someone to look after. He also shows us that we cannot keep a wild animal locked up forever, how it has to be free. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Travel Guides for young readers, a great series from Arcadia Publishing

With summer vacation on the horizon and many families preparing to hit the road, kids can amuse themselves with Arcadia’s Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know series – now featuring books about 22 U.S. cities. Grownups appreciate that the books are fun and educational. Kids know what really matters is having the inside scoop. In these books, young readers will discover the sights, sounds, and spirit that define the cities and states that make up our great nation. Families can collect multiple volumes, giving kids a head start on getting to know the U.S.

Each book includes sixteen pages of entertaining facts about the city, plus 32 pages about the state. Sections like “Strange But True,” “Marvelous Monikers,” and “Dramatic Days” spotlight each city’s unique landmarks, geography, special events, and more. The handy paperbacks are perfect for popping into a backpack or tossing into the back seat, where kids can quiz each other—and their parents—on fun trivia such as:
• Which city drops a 1,250 pound acorn on New Year’s Eve? (Raleigh)
• Where can you see a 45-foot tall sculpture of a clothespin? (Philadelphia)
• In which city’s zoo are the baboons named after different types of olives? (Rochester)

Kids learn best when learning is fun, and the easy-to-read books in the Cool Stuff series by Kate Boehm Jerome are full of fun facts that kids will want to share with parents, grandparents, and caregivers. Cities profiled in the new books include Columbus, OH; Austin, San Antonio, Columbia, SC; Savannah, Jacksonville, Rochester, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Charlotte, Richmond, Boston, and Chicago. Also available are books on Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas, and Charleston, SC.

Kids “will find tons to celebrate about their hometowns or travel destinations, since Jerome's to-go titles are exciting and educational,” writes Creators News Service. “The literacy-promoting author makes sure to hook kids with appealing artwork that combines vivid and glossy photography with maps and bold text.”
The publisher is offering a special 20% discount for consumers who purchase the Arcadia Kids books at the Arcadia site, http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/arcadiakids. Visit the site and enter the code, "COOL" at checkout to receive the discount. Additionally, Arcadia Kids books purchased from the Arcadia site come with a money-back guarantee! 

Established in 1993, Arcadia is a leading publisher of local and regional historical books. Arcadia Publishing has more than 6,500 titles in print. Visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know
Written by Kate Boehm Jerome • Published by Arcadia Publishing
Ages 7-11 • Pages 48 • $9.95 paperback
Chicago and the State of Illinois:: Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know (Arcadia Kids)
Columbus, OH ISBN: 9781439600870          
Austin ISBN: 9781439600993
San Antonio ISBN: 9781439600894             
Columbia, SC ISBN: 9781439600900
Savannah ISBN: 9781439600917                
Jacksonville ISBN: 9781439600887
Rochester ISBN: 9781439600931                 
Philadelphia ISBN: 9781439600948
Pittsburgh ISBN: 9781439600955                 
Raleigh ISBN: 9781439600962
Charlotte ISBN: 9781439600979                    
Richmond ISBN: 9781439600986
Boston ISBN: 9781439600993                      
Chicago ISBN: ISBN: 9781439601006

And here is a letter from Kate Boehm Jerome, the author of this series.

Setting the Stage
One summer more than 40 years ago, my parents braved a 200-mile road trip to Columbus, Ohio. Four kids in a station wagon. No air conditioning. Game on.

I sat in the back seat strategically positioned between two brothers. The conversation was predictable (“Mom! He’s touching me” punctuated by “I’m bored” and “Are we there yet?”). It did not bode well for the memorable trip my parents were hoping to create.

However, my savvy mother had a secret weapon.

Ignoring the backseat bickering, she calmly began to read from brochures she had collected about our destination. Dad played along.  So Columbus really is named after the famous explorer, eh?

Despite our best efforts to remain aloof, we soon just had to join in. (Are you kidding? I can’t believe you think the Olentangy is a type of citrus fruit!) The next few hours of temporary captivity flew by with yuks and giggles instead of tears and tantrums. My mother’s preparation had saved the day.

Exploring new places with your kids is a terrific way to jumpstart conversations! Kids love trivia and their perspectives are often hilarious and insightful. However, sometimes it’s helpful to set the stage. So it’s my hope that each book in the Cool Stuff series will help you sweep away the conversational cobwebs—and inspire new discussions. And who knows? That trip to your state capital might turn out to be the memory of a lifetime!  

Award-winning author Kate Boehm Jerome is a thirty-year veteran of educational book publishing, and her series have received multiple teachers’ choice awards. She is also an active campaigner for child and adult literacy. Learn more at www.katejerome.com.

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

I must confess that I wouldn't mind being one of the dogs in my house. They have a pretty comfortable life with premium food, brushings, walks, beds to sleep on, and lots of attention. They don't even have to deal with being alone during the day because my office is in my home. The dogs who you will meet in today's book all have problems that are upsetting them very much indeed. They have humans who just don't understand what it means to be a dog.

Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Harcourt, 2008, 978-0-15-204628-6
   If you are dog who is having problems with your humans (and the family cat) don’t panic. Help is at hand. All you have to do is to write to Mr. Mutt, who is a canine counselor. Mr. Mutt will answer your questions with care, and help you to reach your deserved “TOP DOG!” status.
  Mr. Mutts has helped countless dogs deal with all kinds of problems. For example, Overdressed from Oklahoma wrote to Mr. Mutts to complain about the way in which his humans are always dressing him up in humiliating outfits. They put bunny ears on him at Easter, and dress him in a halo and wings at Christmas time. The poor dog is “the laughingstock of the block” and he desperately needs Mr. Mutt to tell him what to do. Thankfully, Mr. Mutt has some stellar advice for Overdressed. In fact, he has great advice for all the dogs who write to him, but his less than complimentary comments about cats are upsetting The Queen, the cat who lives with him. He had better watch out, because The Queen is getting very annoyed indeed.
   Children (and older readers) are sure to enjoy reading and looking at the illustrations in this hilarious picture book. Many of the commonplace problems experienced by dogs are explored, and readers are sure to find the building confrontation between Mr. Mutt and The Queen very amusing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

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

Isn't it odd how sometimes bad things that happen end up being good things in the long run. In my case I got sick around fifteen years ago and I could no longer manage a nine to five job, so I set about trying to create some kind of job that I could do from home. This is how TTLG and CBWS came into being.

In today's picture book you will meet three animals who are galvanized into having a disagreement that could shatter their friendship. The funny thing is that somehow this turns out to be a good thing.

Mini Grey
Picture book
For ages 6 to 9
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-86784-2
  In a beach hut by the sea, a cat, a dog, and a mouse live together peacefully. The dog tends the garden (planting bones), the cat cleans the hut, and the mouse does all the cooking (cheese fondue is his specialty). Then one night a Stranger from the Winds of Change Trading Company arrives at their doorstep. The Stranger tells the cat, dog, and mouse that they are the “Lucky Winners” of a free visit from his company.
   The next day the Stranger points out to Mouse that Dog only plants bones. Why doesn’t he plant anything else? Then the stranger gives Mouse a selection of cookbooks as a gift. Later, the Stranger shows Dog that Cat is sleeping instead of cleaning, and he gives Dog a new collar. Before dinner is served, the Stranger seeks out Cat and he asks Cat if he minds eating cheese fondue at every meal, and he gives Cat some cans of fish to eat.
   At dinner, Cat, Mouse, and Dog have a terrible argument. Cat complains about the food, Dog complains that Cat is lazy, Cat complains about the gardening, and so it goes. Poor Mouse is so upset that he packs up his things and he leaves. Without any warning, the three animals find themselves facing a terrible test.
   This thought-provoking book delves into the nature of true friendship, and it explores the idea that sometimes things have to go wrong so that everyone can see that something needs to be fixed. Children will be drawn back to this book again and again. Is the mysterious Stranger who causes so much trouble a troublemaker, or is he actually doing something good?
   With a wonderful story and unique multimedia illustrations, this memorable picture book is sure to become a favorite with young and older readers alike.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book one hundred and forty-two

When you are young (and not so young) it can be hard to find a group of people who will accept you as you are. All too often people try to change who they are so that they can  fit in. In today's picture book you will meet a little monster who does not always behave in a monsterish way, and who has to find her place in her world without giving up part of herself in the process. 

Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2010, 978-1-4169-6110-9
On the outside, Bernadette the monster is suitably monstrous, having a tail, two toes on each foot, fangs, and the other features that monsters are supposed to have. She usually behaves in an appropriately monstrous manner, lurching around, growling, and causing “mayhem of all kinds.” What no one knows is that Bernadette has a closely guarded secret. Sometimes, when no one else is around, Bernadette does things that are that cannot, under any circumstances, be considered monstrous. She picks flowers, pets kittens, and bakes. In short, Bernadette is “just a little too sweet.”
   When Bernadette starts to go to school it soon becomes clear that all is not well. During Creepy Noises Class Bernadette sings a love song. In Monster Mayhem Class Bernadette builds something when she should be busy destroying things. Poor Bernadette is desperate to find a way to fit in with her classmates, but what should she do?
   This clever picture book explores the idea that one can be true to oneself and fit in with others at the same time. With a humorous text and wonderful illustrations throughout, this is a picture book that will resonate with children of all kinds.
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