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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!!

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

Jon J. Muth is one of favorite author illustrators. He wrote and illustrated The Three Questions and Zen Shorts
The panda bear character in Zen Shorts, Stillwater, is back in this Halloween title. In this book, readers of all ages will once again to be challenged to think about themselves in a new and interesting way. 

Zen Ghosts
Jon J. Muth
Picture Book
Ages 6 and up
Scholastic, 2010, 978-0-439-63430-4
   Karl, Addy, and Michael are getting their Halloween costumes ready. Their friend Stillwater the panda bear comes over and he explains that he is going to be a ghost for Halloween. Karl is going to be a monster, and Michael is going to be either an owl or a pirate. He doesn’t know which he prefers. Stillwater suggests that Michael might like to be an “Owl-Pirate.” After all, on Halloween anything is possible. Stillwater then tells his young friends that this Halloween is special because there is going to be a full moon. He knows someone who can tell the children a ghost story.
   So, after treat-or-treating on Halloween night, the children meet Stillwater at the stone wall and he takes them to his house where they meet a panda bear who looks exactly like Stillwater. He tells them a story about a girl whose soul separated and went into two different directions. One soul stayed with her family, and one ran away with the boy she loved. Which soul was the real girl?
   In this beautiful and thought-provoking picture book, Jon Muth brings readers an old story that has timeless appeal. Yes, it is a ghost story of sorts, but it also a story about duality, which is something all people of all ages encounter. I am my mother’s child, but I am also someone’s best friend. Which self is the real me?
   With gorgeous paintings throughout and a story that will resonate with readers of all ages, this picture book is an enduring treasure. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

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

Halloween is just a day away, so I have a couple of Halloween titles that I would like to share with you. You can find many more titles that have a Halloween theme on the TTLG Halloween Feature

Tom Brenner
Illustrated by Holly Meade
Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-5299-9
   Every year when the days get shorter, when Papa stacks firewood under the eves, and when the geese fly south, the children know that now, at last, it is time. It is time to cut out paper witches, to bring home and carve pumpkins, and to decide about costumes.
   When they see spooky decorations start to “sprout on lawns” and hang from trees, the children know that they need to get their costumes ready. Then, after so much waiting and planning, it is Halloween and the fun can begin.
   This delightful picture book, with its cut paper art, perfectly captures the anticipation that builds in the fall as children wait for, and plan for, Halloween. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

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

Not long ago my daughter was bemoaning the fact that her life is "so complicated." We both agreed that small children have an easier time of it because they have so few responsibilities. Of course little children have a different opinion. They resent the way they are not allowed to do all the "fun stuff" because they are too small. I can sympathize with this, and therefore today I have a review of a book that was written for little children who are forced to hear the words "you are too small" over and over again. 

Louise Yates
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2009, 978-0-375-85698-3
One day a little rabbit, who is out in the world on his own, comes to a circus. He sees a sign that explains that there are jobs available at the circus but “small animals need not apply.” Though he is definitely a small animal, the rabbit goes into the big circus tent anyway.
   Inside he meets a large gorilla, a tall giraffe, a hefty rhino, a big lion, a long snake, and a bear. The rabbit admits that he is small. He admits that he is too small to wipe his own nose, to tie his shoes, to walk far without getting tired, and to eat his food without making a mess. However, there are things that small animals are very good at doing.
   When you are young, and small, grownups are always telling you that you are too little to do practically everything that is really worthwhile doing, and it is very annoying. This book was specifically written for little children who are forced to experience this exasperating adult behavior. With its minimal text and its deliciously funny illustrations, this book is a perfect fit for little children because it reminds them that there are things that are best done by small people. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of Rumble, Roar, Dinosaur!

There a a few topics that seem to have a universal appeal for children. The ones that come to mind are: dragons, wizards, witches, princesses (for girls mostly), dogs, cats, bears, and dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are HUGE, especially for kindergarten and elementary school kids.

Since I happen to find dinosaurs interesting as well, I am happy to review dino-centric books. For this reason, I really enjoyed reviewing today's poetry title, which combines poetry, illustrations, and lift-the-flaps to give little children a dinofabulous bookish experience. 

Tom Mitton
Illustrated by Lynne Chapman
Novelty Poetry book
For ages 5 to 7
Kingfisher, 2010, 978-0-7534-1932-8
   Many children have a passion for dinosaurs. They cannot resist looking at pictures of these strange creatures of long ago, and love learning new facts about hadrosaurs, stegosaurs, and their relatives.
   In this unique book, Tom Mitton’s amusing poems are paired with Lynne Chapman’s colorful and expressive illustrations to give young readers a memorable dinosaurish bookish experience. On the first spread there is an introduction from the dinosaurs in which they tell us that we “can read about us on our very own pages” and that we should “take a look and watch us in our world of long ago.”
   What follows are seven double page spreads, each one of which features one kind of dinosaur. Here, on the first spread, is a herd of hadrosaurs “honking through the trees.” We read that hadrosaurs had special horns on their heads that helped them to communicate with each other. When we open the flap on one of the pages we see two a picture of these dinosaurs making their singular noise.
   Further in the book we get to meet elasmosaurus, a marine creature that had a long neck “like a snake” with a tiny head on the end. Open the flap and we can see how that neck helped the elasmosaurus catch its food.
   The poems throughout the book are cleverly written and amusing, and at the same time they provide young dinosaur fans with lots of dinosaur facts that will engage their interest.
   At the back of the book, the author gives us more facts about the seven dinosaur types that are described in the book.

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

As the mother of a tween girl, I often worry that my daughter will get caught up in what I call the "look at me" crowd. These are tweens and teens who think their appearance defines them. They spend so much of their time creating an image for themselves that they spend no time at all thinking about what they are like as people.

In today's picture book you will meet an elephant who is, like all elephants, rather odd looking. Thankfully, Willy the elephant has the good sense not to worry about how he looks. Instead, he focuses on helping the people around him, which means that he is loved and appreciated. 

Geert De Kockere
WillyIllustrated by Carll Cneut
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Eerdmans, 2011, 978-0-8028-5395-0
  Willy is an elephant, which means that he has four pillar-like legs, an enormous body, huge ears that flap, a trunk attached to his face, and a tail with a “ridiculous brush at the end” attached to his rear. In short, Willy is not exactly beautiful. In fact he is downright odd looking.
   One would think his oddness would be a problem for Willy. But it isn’t. He is “invited everywhere.” Having such big ears, Willy is an excellent listener. He hears about happy things, and he hears about the events that made people sob and sigh. Willy’s tail serves as an excellent paintbrush, and his trunk does an admirable job beating time in the choir. Of course, some people make unkind remarks about Willy’s appearance, but Willy’s friends and admirers “brushed off,” “overruled,” or “swept away” these words.
   Most of us have our own version of Willy’s big ears, his long dangly trunk, or his funny little tail. We wish we were blonder, bigger, smaller, and so many other things. Luckily Willy is here, in this book, to remind us that what we look like doesn’t matter. What matters is how we choose to help others, and how we are loved.
   With a message that is ageless and timeless, and a loveable main character, this is a picture book that will resonate with readers of all ages.   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book three hundred

Many people have written stories that are told from the point of view of a stuffed animal. Through their glass or button eyes we have found out what it is like to have the kinds of adventures that stuffed animals have. In today's picture book you will meet a stuffed animal who does not have a special dramatic adventure. Instead, Bunny shows us what it is like to grow up with a little boy, and how the boy and Bunny teach each other all kinds of important lessons.

Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Barroux
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Blue Apple, 2011, 978-1-60905-028-3
   Bunny and his little boy Charlie are the best of friends. Over the years, Bunny has learned all kinds of things from Charlie. He has learned about loud music, and that meals of butter noodles are messy. He has learned about pretending, time-outs, and what it feels like to be jealous.
   Sometimes Bunny’s times with Charlie are wonderful, like when Charlie reads to him. Other times are really unpleasant, like the time when Charlie paints Bunny blue. Thankfully the bad times can usually be turned into good ones.
   In this delightful picture book we explore a close friendship between a little boy and his toy bunny. Just like all friendships, there are high points and low points, and just like all good friendships, the bonds of love make it all worthwhile.
   With wonderful illustrations and a loveable main character, this is a picture book that little children will love to read again and again, savoring Bunny’s lessons as they snuggle with their own favorite stuffed animal.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-nine

I have days when I just cannot bear to read a book that is sad. I don't want to have to suffer with a character as he or she tries to survive in a dangerous world. I want to experience the book equivalent of being wrapped in a cozy quilt. Today's picture book is just such a cozy quilt title. It is sweet, funny, and is a perfect book to read when the world is looking rather grim and frightening. 

Alice Schertle
Illustrated by Matt Phelan
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Harcourt, 2007, 978-0-15-216568-0
  The very hairy bear is hairy all over. He has a hairy body, and hairy feet, and a hairy head. The only part of him that is not hairy is his “no-hair nose.”
   In spring, the bear does not care that his nose has no hair. He is far too busy catching tasty salmon in the river. During the summer months, the bear has a fine time raiding bee hives. Even when his no-hair nose gets stung and covered with honey, the bear does not mind. His no-hair nose is very useful in the fall when he uses it to find all those acorns that the squirrels hid under the oak trees. There is a time of year though when having a no-hair nose is a problem.
   With gorgeous soft illustrations and a delightful story, this is a picture book that children will find irresistible. They will laugh at the bear’s antics, and smile when they see how he solves his nose problem.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-eight

It is not easy to teach a child how to problem-solve. Often children expect their grownups to fix everything for them, to make bad things go away, and to make things goods easy to acquire. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who takes the initiative, and who figures out how to solve a problem that is very dear to her heart.

Helga Bansch
Picture Book
I Want a Dog!For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2009, 978-0-7358-2255-9
   Lisa loves dogs, all kinds of dogs, and more than anything else in the world she wants a dog of her own. The problem is that her parents feel that their apartment “is too small for a dog.” People give Lisa toys that have a dog theme, trying to satisfy her need for a pet, but these gifts, though well meant, really don’t fill that doggy shaped hole in Lisa’s heart.
   Lisa tries being really really good in the hope that her parents will reward her with a dog, of course. But they don’t. Then she tries to be bad, but that does not work either. Finally Lisa realizes that she is going to have to think outside the box to solve her problem.
   In this delightful and sweetly funny picture book, children will meet a little girl who knows what she wants, and who uses her head to get what she wants. Children will be delighted when they see what Lisa does, and they will appreciate how she figured it out all by herself. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-seven

Most of us, at some point, wish we could do something interesting that is different from our everyday lives. Sometimes those of us who pursue an adventure, end up having some unexpected misadventures instead. Today's picture book is about a little girl whose quest for a little excitement does not quite go as planned. 

Mathilde Stein
Illustrated by Mies van Hout
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lemniscaat, 2008, 978-1-59078-635-2
   It is summertime, and a little girl is bored because there is no one to play with and nothing to do. Luckily a “big, ugly villain” comes along and kidnaps the little girl. Finally she is going to have a little excitement in her life. Of course, the little girl tells her dad that she is being kidnapped. Dad, who is working in his study, tells her to remember to brush her teeth and to “Have fun.”
   The little girl has every intention on having fun. She and the villain have a wild ride on a horse through the forest until they get to the villain’s den. The villain is in a terrible mood and he goes to bed “without saying goodnight.” The little girl decides that she will try to cheer him up, and she gives his den a makeover while he is asleep. Instead of being pleased, the villain behaves very badly and he then explains that he intends on having the little girl for breakfast. The little girl is very peeved. Her adventure has not turned out as she had hoped and she is not going to accept being stuck with “an ordinary old child cruncher.” What a nuisance!
   Children who suffer from bouts of I’m-bored-itis and there-is-nothing-to-do-itis will surely appreciate this clever and unique picture book. The will appreciate the little girl’s keen need to do something interesting (for a change), and will laugh out loud when they see how she deals with the child cruncher.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-six

Most of us have something in our lives that we are passionate about. I have always been a bibliophile, and like the little girl in today's picture book, I used to spend many hours reading at home or at the library. Luckily my love of books was balanced by my fondness for outdoor games, play dates, and other activities. This is not the case with Lily, as you will see. Lily thinks that reading books is the only worthwhile pastime. 
Library Lily

Gillian Shields
Illustrated by Francesca Chessa
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2011, 978-0-8028-5401-8
   Once Lily learns how to read there is no stopping her. She reads all the time and “she couldn’t stop.” Lily reads at night under her bed covers, she reads when she is supposed to be eating her dinner. She reads so much that she does not notice the seasons unfolding outside, and she never plays or does the kinds of things other children do.
  One day Lily’s mother takes her to the park and she encourages Lily to try to “have an adventure.” Lily cannot imagine how one can have an adventure if one is not reading a book. Then Lily meets a little girl called Milly, and Lily is shocked to find out that Milly hates to read! Instead, Milly likes to play, climb, and explore. Milly invites Lily to climb the tree that she is in and Lily discovers that “There’s a whole world out there.” Who knew!
   In this wonderful picture book, we meet two very different little girls who, through their friendship, share their passions with each other. By becoming friends, they find out that the world is an incredibly rich place full of adventures that you can enjoy within the covers of a book, and outside in the real world.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-five

I always enjoy hearing the unique words that toddlers come up for things. Yesterday my friend's grandson told me all about his "gaga" and I had no idea what he was talking about until my friend explained that "gaga" means Grandma. My own daughter loved to pat her "goggies," and read books about "pincessess" and ate "sketti" for dinner.

In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who uses a word that baffles her family members. Try as they might, they cannot figure out what she is saying.

Christine Ditchfield
Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2009, 978-0-375-84181-1
   Babies sometimes have their own words for things, words that we can usually figure out after a while, but this baby has a word that she says all the time and it is a word that no one can translate. What on earth does “Shwatsit” mean?
  Try as they might, the baby’s parents and siblings cannot figure out what “Shwatsit” means. It could be anything. It could mean “bus” or “Joe,” “brush” or “grass.” The baby says it all the time; when she is at home, when she is at the park, when she is following her mother around the house, and when she is saying goodbye to her brothers and sister when they get on the school bus.
   In this charming picture book children will meet a “clever tot” who has developed a very unique word, a word that is very clear once you understand what it means.
   With a rhyming text and a delightful and funny story, this is a perfect picture book to share with young children.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of Cat Poems

When I come home, my three dogs always give me an enthusiastic welcome, even if I have only been gone for ten minutes. My two cats have a different approach. First their feign indifference. Then then come over and give me a look as if to say "and where were you may I ask?" Only after they have made it clear that I really am not worthy of their notice will they condescend to say hello. Such is the way of cats. 

Today's poetry picture book perfectly captures the quirky personalities of cats. 

Dave Crawley
Illustrated by Tamara Petrosino
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2005, 1-59078-287-9
   Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with a cat knows that cats are singular creatures that cannot be forced to do things that they do not want to do. If you think that you have the upper hand, you will soon discover that you have been had, and that the feline is the one who has won the battle. Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at this book, and you will see what I am talking about.
   The author begins by telling us about Malabar. Malabar was a beautiful cat who was chosen to be the new spokescat for Fluffyfood, a brand of cat food. After being groomed, stroked, and combed by a team of people, Malabar was offered two cans of food. One was Fluffyfood, and one was “another brand.” While the cameras rolled and “watchers clapped,” Malabar began to eat the food. The problem was that he chose to eat the rival brand of food instead of the sample of Fluffyfood.
  Then there is the story about the cat who cannot read, “To think he could would be absurd.” Though words on a page are beyond him, this cat does seem to know how to read minds. I say this, because whenever his mistress tries to read a book, the cat “stops and flops on chapter one” making it impossible for the girl to do her homework. The cat clearly knows that the girl “didn’t want to work,” and he makes it easy for her to avoid doing so.
   Unlike dogs, cats are not really interested in pleasing their people. They will not do tricks, and rarely respond to efforts to train them. The truth is that cats are far too intelligent to chase sticks, to sit on command, or to come when they are called. Why should they when they know all too well that we humans will feed them and play with them no matter what they do. It would seem that cats are adept people trainers.
   In this book, Dave Crawley’s delightful poems are paired with Tamara Petrosino’s illustrations to give cat lovers of all ages a special cat-centric bookish experience. Cat owners will nod as they read about the felines in his poems, recognizing attitudes and behaviors. They will laugh at the cat antics described, and will appreciate that Dave Crawley is clearly an unrepentant cat fan.

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninety-four

When you first become a parent, you imagine that your job is - among other things - to teach him or her right from wrong. You are the one who knows what is appropriate, and you are the one who lays down the law and who is always right. Wrong! The truth is that sometimes we parents make mistakes too, and when our children see these mistakes we have to have the courage to admit that we messed up.

In today's picture book you will meet a father who, like everyone on this planet, is not perfect. He has a habit that adversely affects the members of his family, and he has to learn how to say sorry and change his behavior.

Philip Waechter
Illustrated by Moni Port
Translated by Sally-Ann Spencer
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Gecko Press, 2011, 978-1-877467-71-4
   Helena lives in a little house by a stream with her mother, her father, and little brother. She has a wonderful life, playing her trumpet for her encouraging mother and patient brother. There is only one thing that spoils her happy existence, but it is a big thing. Helena’s father is a shouter, and Helena finds his shouting intolerable.
   In fact, she finds it so intolerable that one morning she packs her bag and she leaves home. Helena’s father comes from a long line of shouters, and Helena is determined that she is not going to become one too.
   Helena finds a kind woman to take her in, but back at home her parents are very upset. They go looking for Helen, asking people if anyone has seen their daughter. Helena’s father finally realizes that his shouting drove his daughter away. He starts talking softly and promises never to shout again if “only she’ll come home,” but he has no idea where Helena is.
   In this very special picture book young readers will meet a father who has to learn an important lesson, and a daughter who has to make a very difficult decision. Sometimes we forget that our actions can impact the people around us, but this book reminds up of this very important fact in an elegant and memorable way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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

Bedtime rituals are very important to little children, and they often get very upset if we try to change the way things are done. They need that soothing lullaby, the story time, and the kisses and hugs before the light goes out. Of course, there are those times when the they don't feel like going to sleep, and that is when the bedtime rituals become a way in which to postpone bedtime as long as possible. Countless times I was subjected to the ever popular bedtime ploy of lets-trick-Mama-into-reading-me-five-books-instead-of-two.

In today's picture book you will meet a little hippo who is a master when it comes to avoiding bedtime.

Marcus Pfister
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
NorthSouth, 2008, 978-0-7358-2313-6
   It is time for Bertie, the little hippo, to go to bed. Just like so many other little children, Bertie would much rather play than get ready for bed. His father promises that they will play together after dinner and after Bertie has brushed his teeth, which they do.
   After playing a rousing game of catch, Bertie has his bath and then he and his father play hide-and-seek. Daddy then tells Bertie that it is time for bed, but Bertie reminds his parent that first it is story time. After sharing three stories, Bertie and Daddy have to have a little dance. After this, Bertie has a drink, and then he goes to the potty. Even after all this activity, Bertie is not tired, and he wants Daddy to sing him a song. Poor Daddy, on the other hand, is getting quite worn out.
   Adults who have young children in their lives are sure to recognize many of the scenes in this charming picture book. Children all over the world find creative ways to draw out their bedtime as long as possible, just as Bertie does.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration - Book two hundred and ninety-two

There are many things that I love about being a parent. When my daughter was younger, my husband and I made up all kinds of stories about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Sharing in her belief of these childhood friends was an unexpected gift. Now she is eleven, and though she appreciates the spirit of Christmas magic, she does not believe it comes in the form of an bunny bearing gifts, a fairy who likes teeth, or a gent wearing a fur trimmed red suit. Sigh. However, I have discovered that her new tween maturity does not preclude her from enjoying stories about her childhood companions. She and I both greatly enjoyed reading and looking at today's picture book, a title created by William Joyce.

William Joyce
Picture book
For ages 5 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4424-3041-9
   There are several personalities who are collectively known as the Guardians of Childhood. They include Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Man in the Moon. The Man in the Moon was the very first of the Guardians, and he began his journey during the Golden Age, which was “a glorious time of hope and happiness and dreams that could come true.”
   When he was a baby, the Man in the Moon lived with his parents on a ship called the Moon Clipper, and together they sailed from one planet to another with their Moonbot crew, giant Glowworms, Moonmice, and Nighlight, who was the baby’s “devoted little friend.” Every night the Moon Clipper transformed into a moon, and every night Nighlight watched over the baby, making sure that he never had a nightmare.
   Then a terrible “darkness came to the Gold Age.” A being called Pitch, the King of Nightmares, could not bear the fact that baby Man in the Moon had never had to endure a nightmare, and he decided that he would kidnap the baby. Though the baby’s parents tried to protect their son by taking him to a distant place near a planet called Earth, Pitch found them and there was a terrible battle.
   When the battle was over, the Man in the Moon’s parents had disappeared, the ship had been destroyed, and all that was left was a moon. Nightlight had vanquished Pitch, and they were both gone. Poor little Man in the Moon was all alone except for the Moonbots, the Moonmice, and the Glowworms.
   When he was old enough to read his mother’s Primer of Planets, the Man in the Moon discovered that there were children on Earth, children who had hopes and dreams. As a grown up, the Man in the Moon set about trying to make these children as happy as he could, but there was one problem that he did not know how to solve.
   With stunningly beautiful illustrations and a magical story that will charm children and their grownups, this picture book is a title that children will treasure for years to come. It is the first of what promises to be a memorable series of picture books.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Teen Read Week 2011

It is Teen Read Week and I want to share some information about this celebration of YA literature with you. According to the ALA website...

"Teen Read Week is held each year during the third week of October. In 2011, it will be celebrated Oct. 16-22.

Teen Read Week is an national literacy initiative of the  Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association. It's aimed at teens, their parents, librarians, educators, booksellers and other concerned adults.

Teen Read Week's theme is Read For The Fun Of It. Each year, YALSA offers a new sub-theme to serve as a basis for developing programs in schools, public libraries, and bookstores. The 2011 sub-theme is Picture It @ your library, which encourages teens to read graphic novels and other illustrated materials, seek out creative books, or imagine the world through literature, just for the fun of it. The event offers librarians and educators a chance to encourage teens to read for pleasure and to visit their libraries for free reading materials. If you have a recommendation for a theme for 2012, please send it to yalsa@ala.org.

Teen Read Week 2011 will be celebrated at thousands of public and school libraries, classrooms, and bookstores across the country. Although teens realize the importance of reading, they have a huge menu of activities to choose from when deciding how to spend their free time, and reading gets lost in the shuffle. Reading skills get rusty when they are not used. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that over the last 20 years there have been only modest gains in reading achievement. And although there are many active literacy campaigns, very few efforts focus on teenagers."

The YALSA Teens Top Ten titles for 2011 are:

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster)
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (HarperCollins)
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa (Harlequin)
Matched by Ally Condie (Penguin)
Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson (Little, Brown & Company)
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (HarperCollins)
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins)
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (Penguin)

These "teens choice" titles were chosen by teens who are members of book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the United States. You can see all the 2011 nominated titles here

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

When I was a young girl, all the girls in my class were keen to become the next Margot Fonteyn. There were no soccer teams for girls where we lived and ballet was what little girls did. Not surprisingly, most of us really weren't suited to becoming ballet dancers, but how we tried. I can remember having sore feet, and dreading those hours of barre practice. Thankfully I discovered long distance running and my ballet days ended. 

It is not easy finding the courage to be who you are. Some of us are made to be ballet dancers, but most of us are not. We have some other gift that we need to find, and then embrace. Today's book is about a little girl who takes this very important journey. 

Ann Bonwill
Illustrated by Teresa Murfin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tiger Tales, 2011, 978-1-58925-103-8
   Chloe’s big sister Belinda loves ballet, and now she and Chloe are going to take ballet lessons. At Dana’s Dance Shop Belinda picks pink dancing slippers, a pink leotard, and a white skirt. Belinda wants something that “has style,” so she picks red slippers and a green and purple leotard.
   At her first ballet class, Chloe begins to think that perhaps her choice of clothes was not such a good idea because she is the only one who is not wearing the more traditional pink dance outfit. To make matters worse, when the students are asked to point their toes Chloe’s toes refuse to cooperate, and Madame Mina says that Chloe has “Naughty toes.” Then, when the students practice dancing to the beat of the music, Chloe somehow ends up counting four beats instead of three.
   Unfortunately, for Chloe this is just the beginning. Her hair refuses to form a nice and tidy bun, she cannot flutter like a butterfly, and when she is supposed to “Float like clouds” Chloe spins around the classroom and collides with one of the other students. Chloe cannot help being “a cloud with gusto,” but it is not what Madame Mina is looking for.
   Many children desperately want to fit in, and sometimes this is hard to do because we are all different. How can be all be the same when we don’t all have the same gifts and abilities?
   In this clever and meaningful picture book, Ann Bonwill shows her readers that it is important to march to your own drumbeat and to celebrate the gifts that you have, rather than trying to force yourself into a role that simply doesn’t suit you. It is so much better to be who you are and to let yourself shine!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and ninty

When my daughter was in the fifth grade, she and her classmates had to raise a lot of money for their class field trip. Of course parents got involved, but the kids worked very hard and their labors paid off. For today's picture book I have a title by Eileen Spinelli featuring Miss Fox and her class. In this title, Miss Fox's students discover that raising money for a field trip can be quite challenging. 

Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Anne Kennedy
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Albert Whitman, 2010, 978-0-8075-5169-1
   The kids in Miss Fox’s class very much want to go to Roller Coaster Planet for their next field trip. Miss Fox explains that it is going to coast $135 for the trip, and that the students are going to have to earn the money themselves.
   When she hears about the field trip fund, Ms. Owl gives Miss Fox’s students a job. All they need to do to earn $20 is to clean Ms. Owl’s car so that it is spic and span when she has to drive the visiting author, Percy P. Possum, home.
   Cleaning the car presents no problems for the students, but when the job is finished, the children accidentally get Mr. Possum wet. Twice! After they have paid for Mr. Possum’s cleaning bill the children only have $5 in their field trip fund. How very discouraging.
   Then Young Bear suggests that the children should put on a play. With the help of family members, the children put on a splendid play and they raise $60. At the end of the performance Mr. Possum comes backstage to congratulate the cast. He slips on Raccoon’s costume and one of the lenses in his glasses breaks. That little slip ends up costing Miss Fox’s students $25 to repair Mr. Possum’s glasses. At this rate, the students are going to be all grown up before they have enough money to go on a field trip!
   In this delightful Miss Fox title, Eileen Spinelli gives her readers a meaningful story about the trials and tribulations of fundraising. It takes tenacity and determination to raise money for a good cause, and sometimes it is not at all easy. With a sprinkling of math and loveable characters, this is a story that children are sure to appreciate. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and eighty-nine

Most of us, at one time or another, wish we had superpowers. How much easier life would be if we could do our chores at warp speed, and therefore have time to do all the fun stuff that we want to do. How much easier travel would be if we could fly, and wouldn't it be cool if we could climb the walls like Spiderman?

In today's picture book you will met a duck who likes to pretend that he is a superhero. Though the duck has the heart of a superhero, he does not have the powers that make superheros successful in their endeavors. This singular lack of superhero abilities does not deter the duck though, as you will see. 

Super DuckJez Alborough
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Kane/Miller, 2009, 978-1-933605-89-0
  One day Frog and Sheep come to Goat’s house, but they cannot find him. Then Goat calls out from his shed and he shows his friends the colorful kite he has made. Eagerly the three friends head out to try the kite. Who can throw the kite “really high” Goat wonders.
   Which is when Duck, or rather Super Duck, arrives on the scene. Duck throws the kite as hard as he can, but the kite soon comes back to earth. Next, Duck tries running and pulling the kite to get it up into the air. This does not work either. Even attaching the kite to Duck’s truck does not have the desired effect. What can the three friends do to get Goat’s kite to do what kites are supposed to do?
   Children will find it hard not to laugh out loud when they see what Duck, and his long suffering friends, get up to in this amusing picture book. Pairing clever rhymes with his delightfully expressive and funny illustrations, Jez Alborough gives children a picture book that all superhero fans will appreciate. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and eighty-eight

Trying to convince a child that sharing is a good idea can be challenging. In fact, sometimes a battle ensures, with the child insisting that everything is "MINE!" Today's picture book tells the story of just such a child who claims all the toys are his, until he makes a very important discovery.

Shutta Crum
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
For ages 3 to 5
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-86711-8
   One day a toddler and a baby are set up on the floor with a pile of toys to play with. The little toddler decides that a small stuffed giraffe is “Mine!” and he picks it up. The blue and white star, the red ball, the toy plane, and everything else is also “Mine!” Soon the only thing that is left on the floor is a little yellow toy, which the baby picks up.
   Seeing the baby holding the yellow toy is more than the toddler can stand. “MINE!” he shouts, casting aside all the other toys to get the coveted yellow toy.
   The little dog sees a green and white ball bouncing across the floor and he picks it up. This is not acceptable to the toddler who sets about retrieving the ball saying “Mine!” While the toddler is occupied with the dog, the baby throws the yellow toy into the dog bowl.
   One would think that this would be a catastrophe, but it isn’t. Instead, it is the beginning of a wonderful, wet, and slobbery game that the toddler, baby, and dog all share.
   Trying to show young children that sharing is a good thing can be rather challenging. How can sharing something with another child be better than having that something all to oneself? With no real text (beyond the word “Mine!”) this picture book shows to great effect how sharing some toys with others can be wonderful fun. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of Where I live

Some people embrace change, they like to try new things and see new places. For others, getting used to change is a trial, and it can even be painful. In today's book of poetry, Eileen Spinelli uses a series of short poems to tell the story of a young girl who has to leave the home and best friend she loves. The book is a gem, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Eileen Spinelli

Illustrated by Matt Phelan
Poetry and fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Penguin, 2007, 978-0803731226
Diana loves her home. She loves the fact that a wren is nesting in the wreath on the front door. Diana also loves her best friend Rose. Rose and Diana fit together like vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce. Rose never complains when Diana starts talking about stars, and when Diana works on her poems. Rose is always there when Diana needs someone to talk to.
   Then something happens that turns Diana's world upside down; her father loses his job. Diana's parents are going to have a hard time paying for their home without Dad's wages. After Mom goes to visit her father, she comes home to announce that they are all going to move in with Grandpa. Mom and Dad won't have to pay a mortgage if they move, and Grandpa will have someone to share his large, lonely house. They are going to move away from the yellow house and from Rose.
Diana is heartbroken. She will never have another friend like Rose. She will never have a house like the yellow house that she lives in and loves. She will never be happy again.
Written in the form of a series of poems, this warm, touching, and evocative story will resonate with readers of all ages. Because of her father's bad luck, Diana is forced into a new situation, and in the process, she learns that change is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can even make life richer and more interesting.

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and eighty-seven

Like so many other people in our fast-paced world, I often find myself running around at a furious pace, trying to keep up with all the things that I have to do. Aside from the fact that this way of life is stressful, and therefore unhealthy, it is also a way of life that encourages one to be unaware of what is going on around you. You are going so fast that you don't realize that your actions are impacting others, sometimes in negative ways.

In today's picture book you will meet a beaver who lives his life at such a frenetic pace that he makes his neighbor's lives very difficult. 

Nicholas Oldland
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2011, 978-1-55453-749-5
Beaver is always busy. In fact he is so busy that he does not pay attention to what he is doing. He does not “always think things through.” As a result, his dams leak, he makes a mess wherever he goes, he leaves trees half-chewed, and sometimes he chews down more trees than he needs.
   One day beaver is so careless that he chews a tree that has a bird’s nest in it, and does not notice that the tree is “falling in his direction.” When he comes to, beaver is in hospital with a formidable number of injuries. For the first time in his life beaver has to lie still and take it easy.
   After many days of resting and healing, beaver is able to get up and look out of his hospital window. What he sees makes him realize that he has caused a great deal of destruction and trouble in the forest. He did not mean to cause harm and now he has to do something to make up for his mistakes.
   Sometimes we get on a roll and we plough through life without realizing that we are leaving a wake of destruction in our wake. This picture book addresses this issue with humor and sensitivity. Through beaver’s eyes we see that sometimes it is better to take our time than to rush rush rush.
   With delightful illustrations and a meaningful message, this picture book will resonate with readers of all ages.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and eighty-six

I have noticed that many parents, though they dote on their children, sometimes fail to realize that their children are trying to tell them something. The child says something, and the parent answers with a distracted "yes honey." It is obvious to anyone who is watching, including the child, that the parent did not take in a word.

In today's picture book you will meet a baby who has a lot to say, and the members of his family who don't realize that what he is saying makes sense. A lot of sense.

April Stevens
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-85337-1
   Tomorrow is baby Edwin’s birthday, and his mother needs to go to the grocery store to buy a few things, including the sugar that she needs so that she can bake Edwin’s birthday cake.
   The outing begins with Mrs. Finnemore discovering that she cannot find her keys. “Gloo poop SHOE noogie froo KEY” baby Edwin says in his own brand of baby ferret language. Even though his mother doesn’t listen to him, Mrs. Fennimore does eventually manage to find the car keys, which are inside her son’s shoe.
   When you have five children, loading up the car to go to the grocery store can be rather chaotic, and Mrs. Fennimore is so busy getting Edwin into his car seat, and getting the other children to cooperate, that she ends up driving to the store with her pocketbook on the roof of the car. Edwin did say “Figbutton noo noo POCKY BOOKY froppin ROOF,” but as usual no one listens. If they did, they would know that the “Pocky Booky” is on the roof of the car.
   In this clever and wonderfully funny picture book, children will meet a family of ferrets who youngest member seems to be more aware than anyone else of what is going on around him. For all those people who think that little children have nothing useful to say, take heed. They probably know a lot more than you give them credit for.
   With delightfully quirky illustrations and a memorable tale that has a perfect ending, this picture book is sure to become a family favorite. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration - Book two hundred and eighty-four

For some people making friends is easy. For others it is difficult because they don't know how to go about it, or because they are shy, or because they are unsure of themselves. I know a few people who approach making friends as if it is a quest that must be completed. In today's picture book you will meet someone who is like this. She is determined to make a friend, and she will force the issue if she has to.

You will be my friend
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Little Brown, 2001, 978-0-316-07030-0
   One morning Lucy the bear wakes up and she decides that today she is going to make a new friend. She does not know how she is going to achieve this goal, but she is bursting with confidence that one of the “critters” in the forest will want to be her friend.
   With great enthusiasm Lucy throws herself into the task. Her first attempt to befriend a frog goes horribly wrong when she jumps into the frog pond and all the water splashes out. Next she tries to make friends with a giraffe by climbing a tree. Too late she realizes that she has climbed into the giraffe’s breakfast. She goes on to wash a skunk and to ask an ostrich “So tell me, what’s it like to fly?” Needless to say, neither of these attempts to make a friend work out.
   Lucy tries really hard to “fit in” with her potential friends, and in each case something goes wrong. Then she gets mad. “You will be my friend!” she says, and not surprisingly this tactic falls flat too.
   Making new friends is never easy, no matter how old you are. In this picture book, young readers will meet someone who really tries to make a new friend, and they will appreciate Lucy’s struggles and failures. With Lucy’s help, young readers will come to understand that finding friends is not something that you can control. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith and hope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration - Book two hundred and eighty-four

There is no doubt that many children love picture books that feature a bear as the main character. Some of these bears are big and mean, while others are gentle and friendly. Some behave very much like bears, while others behave like humans, living in houses and sleeping in beds.

In 2002, Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman brought us a delightful picture book about a bear who sleeps so soundly that nothing wakes him up until a fleck of pepper touches his nose. Bear Snores On was an instant hit, and all the subsequent Bear books have also been hugely popular. Here is a review of the latest Bear book.  

Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 6
Simon and Shuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-5855-0
   Bear and his forest friends are eating their lunch when Bear feels that something strange is happening to one of his teeth. The tooth wiggles and wobbles and bear gets very upset. How will he eat if his tooth falls out?
   Thankfully, Bear’s friends know all about loose teeth. Hare takes a look at the tooth and Mouse reassures Bear that “A new tooth will grow / where the old used to be.” The best thing to do is to get the old tooth out so that new one can grow in.
   This sounds pretty straightforward, but when Bear’s friends try to remove the loose tooth, they cannot budge the thing. Who knew that having a loose tooth could cause so much trouble!
   Bear and his friends have delighted readers of all ages ever since the first title in the series, Bear Snores on, came out. Now Bear is back and he has a new problem, a problem that young children will surely appreciate. Having a loose tooth is annoying after all. At first you are afraid that losing it will mean you will have a hole in your mouth forever. Then you are afraid that the loose tooth will never fall out, and that you will be stuck with it.
   With Karma Wilson’s wonderful rhyming text and Jane Chapman’s expressive paintings, this is a picture book that young children will want to read again and again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Roxie Munro's New Children's app - Roxie's Doors

A very dear friend of mine, children's book author and illustrator Roxie Munro has a new app for the iPad on the market. I asked her to tell us about the new app and to describe what it was like to make. Here is a sixty second trailer about the app

And this is what Roxie has to say about the new app:

Our previous app, “Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure,” was a new maze game created from all new original art, which was based upon my 5 published maze books (BTW, an iPhone version will be out by early November). “Roxie’s Doors,” however, was made from a previously published children’s book by Chronicle, the rights of which reverted to me a couple years ago.  When I formally requested the rights back, I had also asked for the scans. Always do that if you can, because it makes it much easier and less expensive to resell, reprint, or reuse the art.  OCG Studios carefully reviewed the book and came up with a creative game plan. It involved making it 3-D, which is quite labor-intensive, but adds greatly to the experience (tilt the iPad to fully appreciate it). So I had to do some more art, primarily working on the backgrounds, which I did directly on the original art, rather than redrawing everything (it did mess up the illustrations somewhat, but keep in mind that this was lift-the-flap paper-engineered book in the first place, so the art was in complicated separate pieces anyway). Here’s a link on how the 3-D part was done by the developers: http://www.ocgstudios.com/roxies-doors/making-of-roxies-doors/

They found all sorts of cool sounds to add - dog barking, phones, sirens, singing, crunching, flushing, tapping hammers, etc. In the refrigerator, for example, the four desserts in parfait glasses (upper left) each have a different note, like a piano - when you touch them, you can play a tune! There are three choices for voice-over: silent (you can read the text yourself); you can have a guy (Dirk) read it; or be read to by the author (me). OCG Studios is in the Netherlands, and we did all the work via e-mail. The VO recordings, however, were done here in the US not far from my studio, and the files sent over. Updates are important (and free to purchasers) so we are now working on a major addition to “Roxie’s Doors,” which will be out within a month or so.

We’ve had great reviews, from SLJ, Kirkus, PW, Moms With Apps, Digital Storytime, Common Sense Media (which gave it the max 5 stars and a valued “Hidden Gem” award), and many more. With children’s apps you must go beyond the usual children’s book review venues, and reach out to web reviewers, many of whom interact directly with moms and dads. The institutional market (schools and libraries) isn’t as important to the app market as printed books are. Web reviews are also available all over the world.  This app is written/spoken in English, which limits the world-wide audience somewhat. It has sold in 40 countries (the maze app, which is wordless, has sold in 63 countries). We are currently making an app from another out-of-print Chronicle book, to be called “Roxie’s Circus,” which we expect to have out early 2012.

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration - Book two hundred and eighty-three

Being rather shy, I am not the kind of person who likes to be on stage front and center. I know a lot of people however, who are not afflicted by my shyness and they enjoy being in the spotlight, and get a kick out of having everyone's attention focused on them. In today's picture book you will be a peacock who takes this need for attention to the extreme. Larry likes the limelight so much that he ends up creating a problem. For himself.

Limelight LarryLeigh Hodgkinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Tiger Tales, 2011, 978-1-58925-102-1
   Meet Limelight Larry. He is a peacock who thinks that he is “amazing” and “fantastic,” and that he therefore should be “famous.” Larry believes that this whole book should be about him, and only about him.
   The problem is that Larry isn’t alone for long. Soon Mouse is standing at the corner of one of the pages looking at Larry. Mouse is thrilled that he is in a “real live book.” Larry isn’t. Larry thinks that Mouse’s presence is making the page “all messy!”
   Then Bird arrives, and Bird is also very pleased to be in a book. He even offers to “do something funny on the next page.” Larry is getting more and more miffed. If anyone is going to do something funny it is going to be him and only him.
   In the pages that follow, more and more animals arrive on the scene. Elephant suggest that the book should have a “BIG surprise at the end.” Wolf brings a scary forest with him, and Bear arrives with a tea party in a basket. Soon the page is “cluttered” with animals, a forest, and a tea party. It is all too much for Larry, who decides that everyone needs to “get lost” so that he can have his book to himself.
   In this unique and deliciously funny book, Leigh Hodgkinson uses a very arrogant and self-centered peacock to demonstrate the fact that being famous is all very well, but it is not much fun if you are all alone. With her distinctive collage style art and her outrageous main character (who tries to hog the pages), Leigh Hodgkinson gives children a very special bookish experience. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and eighty-two

Let's face it. Most of us, not matter how old we are, don't like to admit that we have messed up. We don't like to talk about the mistakes or errors we have made. Some of us even try to cover up our screw ups. Not surprisingly children also have a reluctance to fess up when they have done something they shouldn't, or when they have lost or broken something.

Today's picture book addresses the whole 'it is better to fess up than to cover up' issue with humor and sensitivity.

David Melling
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Tiger Tales, 2011, 978-1-58925-106-9
   Douglas the bear’s father has given him a wonderful red woolly hat. It has three white pompoms on it, and Douglas dashes outside, eager to show his friends his present. Happily Douglas does a series of cartwheels in front of his sheep friends. By the time Douglas has completed his cartwheels, something dreadful has happened to his hat. It has turned from a hat into “one long string of spaghetti.”
   Poor Douglas is terribly upset. What will his father say when he sees what Douglas has done to his brand new hat? Douglas’ friends all have ideas about what Douglas should do with his unraveled hat, but none of these ideas work for Douglas. It looks as if there is only one thing that Douglas can do.
   Fessing up when you have broken or lost something is never easy, especially if you are a young bear who doesn’t want to disappoint his dad. In this delightful Douglas title we see how Douglas deals with a very common problem. With laugh-out-loud funny illustrations throughout, this picture book is a must for young children.
   Readers who like this title are sure to enjoy David Melling’s first Douglas book, Hugless Douglas.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

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

I have reviewed a lot of books about cats. It would seem that many children's book authors are cat lovers  who cannot resist creating stories about felines. For today's title I have a graphic novel featuring a rather plump cat called Binky who has a vivid imagination, and who also believes that he is destined for great things. I am inclined to agree with him. 

Ashley Spires
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 to 10
Kids Can Press, 2009, 978-1-55453-309-1  
   Binky the cat is very excited because he is now a card carrying Certified Space Cat. He is no longer an “average cat” who sleeps, plays with toys, catches mice, and washes itself. Binky “has a purpose,” and his purpose is to go into outer space one day to “explore unknown places,” and “battle alien creatures.”
   Though Binky has big ambitions, he has actually never left his house. He has never been outside because outside is “outer space” and everyone knows that “outer space isn’t safe for an ordinary cat.” To be able to go into outer space Binky is going to need to build a space ship.
   Of course Binky does not let his mission distract him from his duties defeating aliens (bugs) who have managed to infiltrate his house (space station). His whole life Binky has been a vigilant alien catcher. He has figured out that aliens and bugs are one and the same thing, and he has always done his best to protect his humans from these insidious enemies.
   Though he is able to build his rocket ship (in secret) and protect his humans from aliens, Binky forgets one very important thing. It is only when he is about to blast off into outer space that Binky realizes that there is something that he cannot leave behind.
   In this deliciously funny graphic novel, readers will meet a cat who has takes himself very seriously. Readers will find it not to laugh out loud when they see how this…er…well padded feline struggles to do his duty and achieve his ambitions at the same time. Clearly being a cat means that you have to deal with having a very complicated life.

Bookmark and Share