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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Pie

PieI have a confession to make. I am not really that fond of pies. I don't dislike them, but if I have a choice between pie and cake, I will choose cake. I know that some of you will be appalled when they hear this, but I am being honest. 

When I found out about today's book, I was not that keen to read it. How could a book called Pie be interesting? I began to read it, and in about two pages I was hooked. Yes, the book is about pie, but it is also about the people who make pies. It is about doing something that you love, and then sharing that love with others. I loved this book and I don't think I will ever look at a pie the same way. In fact, I may even try some of the recipes that are included in the book. 

Sarah Weeks
For ages 9 to 12
Scholastic, 2011, 978-0545270113
   The town of Ipswitch, Pennsylvania is very lucky because one of its residents, Polly Portman, is a Pie Queen. Ever since she was a little girl, Polly has loved to make pies, and everybody who has tasted them agrees that she makes the best pies. Her cream pies are silky, her fruit pies are full of fresh juicy fruit, and she even has created a pie recipe for people who are watching their waistlines.
   For Polly, making pies is gift that she loves to share with others. Though she could have made millions by selling her recipes, she has always refused to do this. Instead, she opened a pie shop in Ipswitch and she gives away the pies she makes. She sincerely believes that the reason why her pies are special is because they are made with love.
   Polly also gives her love to her niece Alice, who loves her aunt Polly with all her heart. Alice spends many hours in Aunt Polly’s pie shop, talking to her and helping her to make her pies. And then there is Lardo, Polly’s bad-tempered cat. Lardo adores Aunt Polly, and dislikes everyone else.
   One day, quite suddenly Aunt Polly dies. Alice is heart-broken, and everyone is town is pained by Aunt Polly’s unexpected demise. It is true that they will miss her as a person because she was kind and warm, but they will also miss her pies, and the revenue that her pie shop attracted to their town.
   Alice’s mother, who has always envied her sister Polly, is hopeful that Polly’s secret pie recipe will finally be hers. She will sell it to the highest bidder and will become rich. Except that Polly does not leave the recipe to her sister. Instead she leaves it to Lardo, and she leaves Lardo to Alice. Alice’s mother is furious. How could her sister leave the precious recipe to a cat? How could she be so “selfish.”
   Now that Polly is not around to keep winning the Blueberry pie contest, everyone in town goes pie mad. Unfortunately, no one, especially Alice’s mother, can make a pie that is contest worthy. Alice doesn’t really care about this though because she is missing her aunt terribly. Then someone breaks into the pie shop and ransacks it. Soon after someone catnaps Lardo. Clearly a very unscrupulous person is trying to find Aunt Polly’s secret pie crust recipe, and they will stop at nothing.
   Alice and her friend Charlie decide that they have to find out who is behind these strange occurrences, and when they finally find out the truth, they discover much more than they ever imagined they would.
   This marvelous book not only tells a delightful story, but it also shows readers that the road to happiness is not paved with fame and fortune. Instead it is paved with love and kindness and you are blessed if you are able to spend your days doing something that you love.
   This story is written with warmth, humor, and sensitivity, and the descriptions of Aunt Polly’s pies are almost more than a normal person can bear. Luckily, the author includes fourteen pie recipes that will surely delight readers who fancy tasting Aunt Polly’s creations for themselves. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Picture book Monday - A review of Bambino and Mr. Twain

Most of us have authors whom we greatly admire. One of my favorites is Samuel Clemens, whose nom de plume was Mark Twain. I like his books, but I think I like his story and the articles he wrote even more. Samuel Clemens was greatly admired in his own lifetime, which is wonderful for people like me because it means that many of his stories, speeches, and articles have been saved.

One of these stories is told in today's picture book. As I read the narrative, I found out that Samuel had a very dark period in his life, and that it took the loss of a cat to help him come out into the sunshine once more.

Bambino and Mr. TwainBambino and Mr. Twain
P.I. Maltbie
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Charlesbridge, 2012, 978-1-58089-272-8
   Mr. Sam Clements (who is also Mark Twain) is grieving. His much-loved wife Livy has died, and poor Sam cannot seem to bring himself to engage in life the way he used to. His oldest daughter, Clara, is staying at a hospital, trying to recover from the stress and grief of losing her mother, and in her absence her cat Bambino is staying with Sam in his New York City house.
   These days, Sam does not go out and attend dinner parties. He does not want to meet any of his fans, and he never wears the white suits that Livy liked so much. Instead, he spends his days indoors, brooding on his loss and refusing to be comforted. The only person who seems to understand how he is feeling is Bambino. The cat plays with Sam and keeps him company as he lies in bed “reading, writing, and grumbling.”
   Then one day Bambino escapes from the house, and Sam is so upset that he posts an announcement in the newspaper offering a reward of five dollars to anyone who finds Bambino and brings him home. People from all walks of life bring cats to Sam, offering to loan or give their pet to the famous author in the hope that having their cat in his home will stop him “from being sad.” Sam is greatly moved by the obvious affection his visitors have for him. Who knew that the loss of a cat could cause such a sensation.
   Based on a true story about Sam Clemens and his cat Bambino, this delightful picture book well charm readers who have an interest in Mark Twain’s colorful life story. Readers will be interested to see that the great man learns something very valuable from his encounter with Bambino. It would seem that there are times when animals can have a profound effect on our lives.
   An author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further information about Sam Clemens and Bambino.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Free Animated Short Film by William Joyce

For a short time the animated short film that is based on William Joyce's book The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore is available for you to watch for free. The film has been nominated for an Oscar. Enjoy!

Poetry Friday: A review of Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by nature. When I was growing up I wasn't much good at remembering mathematical formula or Greek grammar, but I could recite, ad nauseam, facts about animals and plants. I knew that male and not female sea horses take care of their babies, and that lemurs are only found in Madagascar. I knew that orchids are epiphytes and that some plants use moths and bats as pollinators. It is therefore not surprising that I was drawn to today's poetry title. As soon as saw the cover I knew that this was a book for me, and I was right.

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails: Patterns & Shapes . . . NaturallyBees, snails, and peacock tails
Betsy Franco
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 2008, 978-1-4169-0386-4
   Nature is full of patterns and geometric shapes. Some of them, like the hexagons that you find in a honeycomb, are quite fascinating because we still have no real idea how the “math” of the pattern is passed on “from worker bee / to worker bee.”
   Other patterns are more subtle. Have you, for example, ever noticed that moths are perfectly symmetrical? If, on a summer evening, a moth is drawn to your porch light, take a close look and you might see how the features on one wings are “perfectly matched” with those on the other.
   In the fall, in many places in the northern hemisphere, you can look up into the sky and see another pattern literally flying by. Somehow geese and other migratory birds know that flying in a v-shaped “wedge” makes it easier for them “slice through the air.”
   If you go snorkeling in a place where puffer fish live, it is likely that you will one day meet one of these usual fish. When they sense that danger is near, puffer fish fill their bodies with air until they are “almost a sphere.” Looking like a strange spiny floating ball, they are now in a form that makes them unattractive to a creature that is looking for its next meal.
   With wonderful rhymes and gorgeous collage illustrations, the author and illustrator of this book give readers a picture of some of nature’s miraculous patterns and shapes.
   At the back of the book the reader will find further information about the eleven topics that are explored in the title.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - The Borrowers

On the weekend, a new animated film called The Secret World of Arrietty came out. The film is based on the book The Borrowers, which was written by Mary Norton and published in 1952. Mary Norton went on to write four other books about the Borrowers.

I loved this series when I was younger, and when I reread the first book recently I was charmed all over again.The main character, Arrietty, is a brave little person who refuses to let her mother's fears prevent her from living her life fully. Instead, she pursues her dreams, accepting that doing so may be dangerous.

Mary Norton
Ages 8 to 12
Harcourt, 2003, 0-15-204732-8
   Pod, Homily and their daughter Arrietty are the last borrower family left living in the old house. Being only a few inches high and very secretive little people, theirs is an odd and solitary little life spent for the most part under the floor boards of the kitchen. Homily and Pod are quite happy with their lot, but young Arrietty wants so much more. She hankers to be able to go outdoors, to be free, to see the sky and to breathe the fresh air.
  It seems that this dream is very unlikely until life begins to change for the borrowers. First Pod is seen by a boy who is visiting the house. This is a very traumatic event for a borrower, because being seen can lead to all kinds of disasters. Who knows what will come of it after all? Then, on her very first borrowing expedition, Arrietty is not only seen by the boy but she actually talks to him.
   It isn’t long before the boy and the borrowers develop a relationship. Lonely and fascinated by the little people, the boy brings the borrowers all sorts of treasures for their little home under the floor boards. Some of the things won’t be missed by the grown-ups in the house, but others soon are. It isn’t long before the housekeeper, Mrs. Driver, is on the warpath and the borrowers are in grave danger.
   Mary Norton is a master of characterization. Pod, Homily and Arrietty are warm, vibrant little people with very real fears and loves. Arrietty is especially sympathetic, and we easily understand why she would want to leave the old house in search of a new life in the sunshine. At the same time we can see why the very idea of “emigrating” makes poor Homily hysterical. With beautiful descriptive passages and a gripping story, this timeless tale is a classic. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Interview with Tim Warnes, Chalk, and Cheese

Not long ago I reviewed Chalk and Cheese, a book about a little English mouse who makes friends with a dog who lives in New York City. I loved the book, and was delighted when I heard that the author, Tim Warnes, has started an online comic strip featuring Chalk and Cheese. I decided that it would be interesting to find out how the online comic strip came into being, and Tim Warnes (and Chalk and Cheese) were gracious enough to agree to an interview.

TTLG: Tim, how did Chalk and Cheese come into your life?
Tim: It all started back in art college in the early ‘90s. I’d been to  New York for a few days, and came back with lots of reportage drawings of the city which I used as the backgrounds for a series of illustrations based on dog phrases; for example ‘doggone’ and ‘doggy bag’. That’s when the first version of Chalk appeared. I developed the visuals further into the idea of an English rat visiting the dog in New York dog. The idea sat in a drawer for over 10 years until my editor at Simon & Schuster spotted it and asked me to develop it further. That’s when I hit upon the idea of basing the characters on me (Chalk) and my son, Noah (Cheese), who was aged about 5 at the time.

Chalk & CheeseTTLG: Tim, I am a huge fan of your online comic strip. Tell me why you started it and what it is like to work using a blog format.
Tim: I started the comic strip for a number of reasons, the main one being because I needed to let it out! I desperately wanted to do the original picture book as a graphic novel for kids (I love the work of Posy Simmonds) but my editor wouldn’t let me take it that far. After Chalk and Cheese was published, I continued to jot down conversations with Noah, only now I’d sketch them being said by Chalk and Cheese. It’s just sort of grown from there.

I’ve always loved reading comic strips, and my mind seems to naturally write in that way. I also thought it’d be a fun way to promote the book, but was reluctant to commit to doing a regular strip. But seeing how people used the blog format encouraged me to take the plunge, making it possible to publish it with no financial cost to me. It’s a great creative outlet as it’s my chance to produce something exactly as I’d like to, without having to run it by designers and editors (I do show it to Noah and my wife, children’s illustrator Jane Chapman, though. Noah’s quite a comic book aficionado himself, so I really respect his thoughts).

TTLG: Cheese, you’re a country mouse in a foreign city. What’s that like for you?
Cheese: TOTALLY AWESOME! I like living in the countryside, but I like New York more. America’s a bit like England, cos you speak English except with Australian accents. But it’s different too cos everything’s so big. And you’ve got King Kong.

TTLG: Is there anything you miss about the countryside?
Cheese: No, not really.
Chalk: Nothing at all?!
Cheese: Well, the only thing that’s sort of different about the countryside is the walks, and I don’t really like them anyway. At least in New York I’ve got someone to carry me.

TTLG: Chalk, you’re best friends with Cheese, but you’re quite different. How’s that work?
Chalk: I try not to do anything Cheese doesn’t want to.
Cheese: Otherwise I might sulk. Wait a minute - sometimes we do do stuff I don’t want to, it’s just I don’t want to say... like I never really want to go for a walk, and I’m never too keen on not going to a toy shop.

TTLG: What’s the best thing you’ve done so far in New York, Cheese?
Cheese: I liked skating at Rocky Fella’s!
Chalk: No you didn’t - you hated it!
Cheese: Did I?... I can’t remember.... oh yeah! I like meeting cockroaches - Cutey Pops was my favourite. I wonder how that lil fella’s doing? I ‘spect he’s still in the subway. I’m not a big fan of the subway. It’s dark and it smells. Why d’you call it the sub anyway?  In England we call it the Underground. You speak funny in America.

TTLG: Is there anything you’d like to do in New York that you’ve not tried yet?
Cheese: Why are you asking me all these questions anyway? Is it an interrogation? Am I under arrest...?!
Chalk: I’d like to take Cheese to a museum or maybe...
Cheese: What I’d really, really love to see is Kong. Or a hillbilly. And I’d like to go to Gimbel’s. You know, the giant toy shop from Elf ?h
Chalk: Gimbel’s closed down years ago, Cheese.
Cheese: WHAT?! Well that sucks. Anyway, can we stop now? I’m bored.

TTLG: One last question. I see from your strip that you both enjoy books. What are you reading at the moment?
Chalk: The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960 and Understanding A.D.H.D.
Cheese: What was the question again...?

Thank you so much Tim, Chalk and Cheese. I would like to mention that Chalk and Cheese are being included in the Team Cul de Sac project to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson's research. Team Cul de Sac was formed as a project by Chris Sparks and cartoonist Richard Thompson, the creator of the awesome 'Cul de Sac' comic strip, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The idea was to have an open invitation to artists to submit their takes on Richard's characters in whatever way they wanted (unsurprisingly the majority took the opportunity to place the 'Cul de Sac' characters in their own comic universes!) The book is going to be released in June 2012.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Picture book Monday - A review of A Jazz Age Josephine

February is Black History month, and in honor of this celebration (which is what it is by the way), I have reviewed a book about a remarkable African-American woman who dared to defy convention, and who dared to thumb her nose at racism. She was a beautiful and talented woman who wanted the world to see that she was a beautiful and talented woman. 

Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Simon and Shuster, 2012, 978-1-4169-6123-9
   Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906 and she, like so many other African Americans at that time, had a very hard life. She lived in a shack, had very little to eat, and her prospects for the future were quite grim. There was one person though who felt that little Josephine would one day be “a princess.”
Jazz Age Josephine   Josephine’s life was so full of misery that the only way she felt that she could get through it was by acting the fool. She made funny faces and crossed her eyes, and then she started to dance. It did not take long before people began to realize that Josephine was a gifted dancer.
   After the African American part of town was set alight by “white folks,” Josephine left St. Louis and she traveled around the country with an outdoor traveling show. She finally ended up in New York City where she auditioned for a show. At first, she was told to “Beat it,” but then the director agreed to let her dance in the chorus line. She also performed wearing a clown costume and black makeup on her face. The role was so insulting that Josephine decided to leave the United States, and she sailed for France hoping to find a place where people would accept and appreciate her.
   Based on the real story of the extraordinary Josephine Baker, this picture book combines bright colors and a rhyming bouncing text to give readers a real feel for what the performer’s life was like. Readers will be amazed to see how the poor little girl grew up to become one of the most famous performers of her time, and how she did so in spite of the racism that was commonplace.
   At the back of the book the author provides his readers with further information about Josephine Baker’s life and career.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of The Pop-Up Dinosaurs Galore!

When my daughter was little, she decided one day that she loved dinosaurs. Most of the little boys at her school were dinosaur mad, and they ran around holding their plastic dinos and roaring loudly. It annoyed my daughter that they thought that girls had no business being interested in dinosaurs. She and I decided that something needed to be done. We read some books about dinosaurs together, and the next day she went to school armed with all kinds of 'cool' dinosaur facts. After that day, the boys never dared to tell my daughter that she could not play dinosaurs, and she ran around with them roaring her head off.

For today's poetry title, I have a book that will excite little children who have a fascination for T. Rex, Brontosaurs, Pteradons, and other dinosaurs. It in, funny poems are combined with amusing artwork and novelty features such as pop-ups. What more could a young dino fan ask for.

The Pop-Up Dinosaurs Galore!
Giles Andreae
David Wojtowycz
Novelty Poetry Book
For ages 3 to 6
Tiger Tales, 2008, 1589258371
We are going to visit a swampland where dinosaurs of all kinds live. So get ready for a wonderful adventure.
   First of all let me introduce you to Tyrannosaurus Rex. This large meat-eating dinosaur will be "very pleased to meet you," but beware, because his main interest probably is "to EAT YOU!"
   Next we are going to soar up into the skies where the Pteranodons fly. These large flying creatures have large crests on their head that help them glide. Take a look too at the dinosaur that is swimming in the ocean beneath them.
   This charming pop-up book is sure to delight young dinosaur lovers. Most of the double page spreads look at one particular kind of dinosaur. On each one, young readers get to read a bouncy and often funny poem, pull the tabs, admire the pop-ups, and look at the illustrations. They might notice that one little pink dinosaur has a habit of turning up on all the pages.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Dodsworth in New York

Most of us, at some time or another, get a sudden hankering to visit someplace new. We want to have fresh adventures, and meet interesting people. We want to eat exotic food, and gaze upon natural and man made wonders. Of course, going on a trip can be fraught with difficulties, which is what Dodsworth discovers when he decides to go on a trip. 

Tim Egan
For ages 7 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007, 978-0-618-77708-2
   Dodsworth has decided that he needs to travel; he needs to have an adventure of some kind. After breakfast. So, he goes to Hodge’s Café to have something to eat before he starts his trip. Hodge has a pet duck who is, in Dodworth’s opinion, “crazy.” Certainly on this occasion the duck behaves in a very bizarre way; it throws pancakes at Dodsworth. Thankfully, Hodge comes out of the kitchen and he quickly puts a stop to the pancake throwing, and Dodsworth gets that excellent breakfast he was looking forward to.
   Eager to begin his adventure, Dodsworth gets on a train that is going to New York City. After the train leaves the station, Dodsworth opens up his suitcase and he discovers, to his annoyance, that Hodge’s duck has stowed away inside it. The duck is apparently “looking for excitement,” and he is looking forward to the trip ahead. Dodsworth is not happy at all, and he is determined to send the duck home as soon as possible.
   The problem is, the duck has no interest in going home. He manages to avoid capture, and soon poor Dodsworth is trotting all over the big city looking for Hodge’s wayward duck.
   Children will laugh out loud when they see how poor Dodsworth is outwitted, again and again, by Hodge’s wily duck. Just when the reader thinks that Dodsworth has the upper hand, the duck pulls a fast one.
   Divided into chapters and full of delightful touches of humor, both verbal and in the art, this is the first in what promises to be a very amusing series. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Lorax has a Giveaway for you!

Enter for a chance to win Lorax-themed prizes! Click here for the link!

Random House Children’s Books is hosting a daily giveaway through Friday, March 9th
on its “Dr. Seuss Books” Facebook page in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday and NEA’s Read Across America.

Thank you for celebrating with us!

For more Seuss fun and games, visit http://www.seussville.com/.

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Monday, February 13, 2012

Books for Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day is... Valentine's Day is tomorrow, and I have reviewed some wonderful titles for younger readers that explain what this special day is all about and how it came into being. There are also some stories that have a Valentine's Day theme. You can view my reviews of these books on the Valentine's Day Feature Page.

Picture Book Monday - A review of Marching with Aunt Susan

On February 15th, 1820 Susan Brownell Anthony came into the world. She grew up in a home that was strongly anti-slavery, and as a teenager became active in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. A few years later, Susan read about a speech that Lucy Stone gave at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. From this moment Susan devoted her life to the cause of women's rights.

In honor of this great lady's birthday, I have a picture book for you that is about how one little girl in California was affected by Susan's words and deeds. 

Claire Rudolf Murphy
Illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Peachtree, 2011, 978-1-56145-593-5
   Bessie is very annoyed because her father and brothers won’t take her hiking with them. They think that girls belong at home, and that “strenuous exercise is not for girls,” which is nonsense of course.  After all, she can ride her bicycle faster than everyone who lives on her block, including her brothers. It is very irritating to be thus excluded because of her sex, and Bessie complains to her mother.
   Bessie’s mother invites Bessie to help her get the house ready for Susan B. Anthony’s visit that afternoon. Bessie looks at Susan B. Anthony’s photo in the newspaper and thinks that she looks like a “crabby old lady.” Bessie soon finds out that the old lady in question is a force to be reckoned with, but she is also a willing to listen to Bessie’s problems
   The next day, Bessie goes to hear Susan B. Anthony speak at the Golden Gate Auditorium, and she begins to understand that getting votes for women is important for many reasons. Bessie and her friend Rita decide to help with the cause. They learn that there are children all over the country who have to work instead of being able to go to school. Perhaps, if women could vote, laws would be put in place that would help “adults and children.”
   This book is based on the real story about Bessie Keith Pond and the 1896 suffrage campaign in California. Just like the Bessie described in the story, the real Bessie’s family members were strong supporters of the suffrage movement, and Bessie was close friends with Susan B. Anthony.
   As they read this book, young readers will come to realize why gaining the vote mattered so much to so many. Through Bessie’s eyes they will see how women and girls were discriminated against, and what they had to put up with as they fought for the right to vote.
   At the back of the book, the author provides her readers with further information about Bessie Keith Pond, the California suffrage campaign, Susan B. Anthony, and the history of the American suffrage movement with a timeline.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Twosomes: Love poems from the animal kingdom

In a few days time it will be Valentine's Day. Though I know some people consider this to be a 'holiday' that was manufactured by card companies, I happen to enjoy Valentine's Day. I like to do something special for my family members, and it is always fun to see how excited by daughter gets, and to look over all the Valentines she comes home with.

In honor of this festive day, I have a selection of love poems that are fabulously silly and amusing. If you have ever wondered what a love lorn porcupine would say to his sweetie, then you need to read this book. The answer lies within.

Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Lee Wildish
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-86710-1
   We humans celebrate Valentines Day by telling, and showing, the people we love how special they are. We give people cards, boxes of candy, flowers, balloons, teddy bears, and jewelry. Some of us even write poems to declare our love, admiration, and devotion. Of course, such declarations are not limited to Valentine’s Day. Love poems are sent via email, and in envelopes, every day of the year.
   Imagine if you can what a love poem written by a dog would be like. What would a dog say to his beloved? Perhaps he would tell her how “delish” she smells and invite her to “share my water dish.” A porcupine might write to his love telling her about how he hugged a cactus to get “some practice.”
   With clever punnish word play, Marilyn Singer gives her readers a wonderfully silly and funny collection of poems to share on Valentine’s Day, or on any other day for that matter.
   To compliment the fifteen two-liner rhymes, Lee Wildish has created comical pictures that will tickle funny bones, and give readers something to chuckle over.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A letter from Lynelle Woolley, the creator of Flower Girl World

The season for weddings is not far off, and for many girls the next few months will be spent being fitted for dresses and helping brides to get ready for the big day. Being a flower girl is such a special experience that Lynelle Woolley decided to create a series that would allow all girls to take part in a wedding. Here is a letter from Lynelle. 

Hello Marya and Friends,

Welcome to my world – Flower Girl World! I have to say that it’s such a happy place to be.

Like many mothers who are writers, my inspiration for the Flower Girl World book series was my daughter. During her pre-school years, she was asked to be in three different weddings. By the third marriage, we both were pros! Each experience was so different (beach wedding in Hawaii, garden wedding in Napa Valley, non-denominational church wedding in Salt Lake City), yet one thing remained constant: the exuberance and pride my daughter felt before, during, and after the events.

So that got this flower girl mom thinking…wouldn’t it be great to spread that joy to all girls in the flower girl age range, whether they are in a wedding or not?

I started by telling my daughter some flower girl stories set at different types of weddings… and now it’s grown into a picture book, chapter book and plans for more! For me, it was important that the stories feature positive themes like acceptance and friendship, and characters of diverse backgrounds and talents.

Let me introduce you to my flower girl friends:
Willow – the fashion model flower girl from New York, NY
Poppy – the cowgirl flower girl from Big Sky, MT
Camellia – the ballerina flower girl from Chicago, IL
Rosie – the detective flower girl from Washington D.C.
Iris – the arts and crafts flower girl from Philadelphia, PA
Starr – the performer flower girl from San Antonio, TX

All the girls make an appearance in the first two books.  

In the picture book, Camellia the Fabulous Flower Girl, Cami believes she’s an expert flower girl. But when she meets fellow attendants Willow and Poppy (who have cool moves of their own), Cami discovers how much fun sharing the aisle – and the spotlight – can be.

In the chapter book, Rosie and the Wedding Day Rescue, Rosie, Iris, and Starr must use their special talents to save a wedding from total disaster!

Presently, I am working on the next two books in the chapter series, Iris and the Aloha Adventure and Starr and the High Seas Wedding Drama and have 16 more stories on the way (a few more characters too)! Beyond the books, our website, www.FlowerGirlWorld.com, is the destination for everything flower girl, including fun activities for girls.

Writing about flower girls is such a joyous way to spend my day. Thank you for letting me share my experience with you.

Lynelle Woolley

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Mercy Watson: Something Wonky this way come

I know that I have talked about the fact that I have a deep fondness for pigs before. I make no apologies for this strange proclivity. One cannot have a pet pig (which I did) and not fall in love with the entire species, perhaps with the exception of those bad tempered animals that like to bite. Being fond of pigs as I am, it should come as no surprise that I love the Mercy Watson books. Like so many of her relatives, Mercy Watson is a single-minded creature who will NOT be put off when she makes up her mind to do something. As you will see when (not if) you read this book.

Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2009, 978-0-7636-3644-9
   One afternoon, Mr. Watson is sitting on the porch reading the paper when he sees that there is a movie showing at the Bijou Drive-In called When Pigs Fly. Not only does the movie sound interesting, but the Bijou prides itself on serving “real butter” on their bottomless “all-you-can-eat” buckets of popcorn. Now, the Watson’s have a pet pig called Mercy, and when she hears her people talk about butter and all-you-can-eat, she becomes very excited. Butter is one of Mercy’s favorite things in the world.
   On their way to the Bijou Drive-In, Mr. and Mrs. Watson meet some of their friends, and by the time they get to the outdoor movie theatre, Baby and Eugenia Lincoln, and Stella and Frank are in the pink convertible sitting in the back seat next to Mercy.
   The movie is popular that evening, or maybe it is the bottomless popcorn bucket with real butter that is popular. Whichever it is, there are plenty of other cars parked in front of the big screen. Police Office Tomilello is there with his wife, and Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet is there with her date. Both couples are looking forward to watching the movie, little realizing that their evening is not going to go as planned.
   The reason for this is quite simple. As soon as the pink convertible is parked, Mercy Watson notices that there is a delectable aroma in the air. Mr. Watson and Frank go to get some popcorn, but Mercy decides that she needs to find out where that delicious smelling buttery smell is coming from, and she needs to do so now.
   Readers who have encountered Mercy Watson in her other books are going to love this deliciously funny story. Once again Mercy creates chaos as she steadfastly pursues food. Though she is, without a doubt, a very troublesome animal, Mercy is ridiculously loveable, and one cannot help laughing as one reads about her misadventures.
   What makes this book - and the other titles in this series - so special is that they have something to offer children and adult readers. “Wonky” characters and clever tongue-in-cheek humor makes this a series that will keep on giving for years to come. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Picture book Monday - A review of A boy called Dickens

Two hundred years ago, on February 7th, Charles Dickens came into the world. In honor of his birthday, I have a new book that I would like to share with you that describes what a part of Charles Dickens' childhood was like. Some readers may be surprised to find that some of the events described in his books were based on things Dickens himself witnessed or experienced.

Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by John Hendrix
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-86732-3
   We are in a London that existed many years ago, and it is a foggy winter’s morning. There, standing in a doorway, is a thin twelve-year-old boy called Charles Dickens. We can tell that he is poor and hungry from his threadbare clothes and “hungry eyes.” What we might not realize at first is that this boy is special because he is not only hungry for food; he is also hungry for books and an education.
   Charles cannot go to school though. Instead, he has to work in a boot polish factory. To pass the time as he does his monotonous work, Charles entertains himself and his friends by telling stories. The characters in these stories accompany him as he walks home in the evening, and he escapes into his stories as he lies under his threadbare blanket.
   On Sundays, Charles goes to visit his parents and siblings who are locked up in the debtor’s prison. Charles’ father could not pay one of his debts, and so he and his wife and their three young children must spend their days in the horrible prison, and Charles has to work.
   Finally one May morning Mr. Dickens is set free. Unfortunately, he insists that Charles should keep on working at the factory. Will Charles ever be free of his miserable existence? Will he ever be allowed to go to school?
   Based on the true story of Charles Dickens’ childhood, this captivating picture book shines a light on a part of the writer’s life that he kept very private. Young readers familiar with Charles Dickens’ stories will discover that many of the characters and events described in his books were based on people he saw and experiences that he had when he was a child.
   Throughout this book, the author weaves fact and fiction together to give readers a memorable story about one of the world’s most famous authors. An author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further information about Charles Dickens’ life. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Winterberries and Apple Blossoms

I have to tell you that today's poetry title delighted me. I think part of its charm is that it tells a story. Each poem can stand alone, but when the twelve poems in the book are put together, they give readers a strong overall picture of a place and a people that is very compelling.

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections of a Mennonite year
Nan Forler
Illustrated by Peter Etril Snyder
Poetry Picture Book
For ages
Tundra, 2011, 978-1-77049-254-7
Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year   Naomi is a child who is being raised in an Old Order Mennonite community. Her life is a lot simpler than yours or mine. She does not have access to a television or computer, a cell phone or a car. She lives on a farm with her family, connected to the rhythms of the seasons, and working alongside her family members. This is the story, in poetry form, of one year of her life, and there is one poem for each of the twelve months.
   It is cold and snowy outside on a January day when Naomi attends her first proper quilting bee. She works side by side with the women, listening to the talk and laughter “while hungry needles scoop up fabric” as the little even stitches make their way across the quilt top. One day the quilt they are working on will keep someone warm on a cold winter night, just like the one that lies on Naomi’s bed at home.
   In May, Naomi takes a huge risk. While the boys are busy elsewhere, Naomi decides to try riding one of their bikes. The rule is “Boys on bikes, girls on foot,” but Naomi wants to know what it feels like to ride a bicycle. Even though she knows her mother would be appalled to know that Naomi tried to do such an unseemly thing, the girl mounts the bicycle anyway, and for a moment or two she revels in the joy riding a bicycle gives her.
   In August, the family is invited to attend a barn raising. Lucinda has a fever so Mam will stay home to tend to her. After the cart has left for the barn raising, Mam remembers the pies. Someone is going to have to take the pies to the barn raising, and that someone is going to have to be Naomi. She is going to have to drive the buggy all by herself for the first time. Though she has “longed for this day,” Naomi is scared. She knows what to do though, and soon enough she, Jonah, and Esther are travelling down the road, the clopping sounds of Pepper’s hooves soothing them.
   This wonderful book will give readers a sense of what it is like to be a member of a Old Order Mennonite community. They will see how Naomi and the other children have to help the adults to do many of the chores around the farm. Though it is hard at times, there is much satisfaction to be gained in the doing of a job well, especially when one can see the fruits of ones labor. There are simple pleasures to be enjoyed, and we can see how Naomi has a close connection with the land and nature.
   In addition to the twelve poems, the author has included twelve recipes, all of which “are inspired by Mennonite tradition and call for fresh, seasonal ingredients.” Young people will enjoy trying the recipes, perhaps sampling the treats they make as they read the poems and find out about Naomi’s life. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Mr Putter and Tabby spill the beans

There are some series that I have a particular fondness for, and the collection about Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby is one of them. Written by Cynthia Rylant, an award winning author, these stories describe the everyday kind of adventures that a retired gent, Mr. Putter, has. Often the cat he adopted, Tabby, is his companion. In this particular title, Mr. Putter agrees to attend a cooking class with his friend, even though he would prefer not to. He discovers that taking pets to such a class might not be such a good idea.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the BeansMr. Putter and Tabby Spill the beans
Cynthia Ryland
Illustrated by Arthur Howard
For ages 6 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, 978-0-15-205070-2
  Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby live next door to Mrs. Teaberry and her dog Zeke. They are all the best of friends, and they enjoy trying new things together. One day Mrs. Teaberry calls Mr. Putter, and she says that she has a “new and fun” activity that she wants them to try; she wants to go to a cooking class. Mr. Putter is not at all sure that a cooking class is going to be fun, but he agrees to go with her anyway.
   In the class, they are going to learn “one hundred ways to cook beans.” Mr. Putter does not like the sound of this at all. To be honest, all he really wants to do is to have an ice cream soda, but he is willing to learn about cooking beans because he is fond of Mrs. Teaberry. Who knows, maybe the class will be one of those new things that is enjoyable.
   At first, all goes well in the class. Zeke and Tabby sit under the table and behave themselves, Mrs. Teaberry takes notes about bean recipes, and Mr. Putter listens to what the teacher is saying. By the time they get to the fourteenth recipe, Mr. Putter and Tabby are asleep, and Zeke has discovered that one of the students has a granola bar in her purse. Which is when things start to go wrong.
   Young readers will find it very hard not to laugh out loud when they see what happens at Mr. Putter’s first cooking class. With great skill Cynthia Rylant builds up the tension, showing her readers what is literally going on under the table while the cooking class is taking place. They will see how Mr. Putter goes along with Mrs. Teaberry’s idea because he is her friend, and they will also appreciate that perhaps it is not such a good idea to take a dog to a cooking class.
   This is just one in a delightful series of books that were written for young readers who are ready for stories with chapters. 
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