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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Take Two!

When I was growing up, two pairs of twins came to my school. One was a pair of identical boys, and since we had to wear school uniforms and they had identical hair styles, we had no idea which boy was which. They had a splendid time confusing their classmates and teachers. The other pair were non-identical girls, and they had nothing in common. One was a lot taller than the other, so we always thought that she was older. 

In today's picture book two of American's most celebrated poets for young readers take us into the world of twins, and what an interesting visit it is.

J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-3702-6
   People are often fascinated by twins. Can twins really read each other’s minds? Do they really have their own language, and are they especially close because they are twins? In this clever collection of poems, J. Patrick Lewis (who is a twin) and Jane Yolen (who comes from a family that has several pairs of twins) explore what it is like to be a twin.
   The journey twin babies make begins in the womb, of course, so this is where we begin our journey in this book. Not literally, but figuratively. We read about how parents see “a dot” on an ultrasound screen, and then below that dot they see another one. Without any warning, a mother finds out that she is going to be a “Double mother.”  For months the little babies grow in their “room” that is a constant nighty-eight degrees. There the tangle of “arms and legs, / elbows and knees” stays, until at last the time is right and out they come, a “Double package deal.”
  Now the babies are here and they start to get to know their world together. From the very beginning they have a special connection, using a language that they alone share. As far as they are concerned “All the best things / Come in two,” like socks, shoes, eyes, and ears. And babies. They learn how to walk, have their baths together, learn how to tie their shoes, and have messy meals.
   Of course not all twins look alike, and sometimes they have fights or argue, just like other siblings. Twins who are identical do not necessarily have the same tastes and interest. Though they have the same DNA (and can secretly change places to confuse people) they are individuals with distinct personalities.
   With clever poems Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis explore the worlds of twins, concluding their journey by looking at some of the world’s most famous twins, including Chang and Eng and Tweedlee and Tweedledum.  Many of the pages have a “Twin Fact” at the bottom that provides readers with additional information about twins.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Steve Light's Storyboxes - Toys for young storytellers

If you spend any time watching young children playing with their toys, you will soon see that many of them make up stories, acting out their tales and using different voices for their characters. Steve Light is a born storyteller, and he has created some beautiful Story boxes that children and their grownups can use to explore classic fairy tales. So far he has created Story boxes for Hansel and Gretel (a German fairy tale), Rapunzel (another German fairy tale), The girl who Loved Danger (an African story), and Little one Inch (a Japanese story.)

I am lucky enough to have received one of the Story boxes to take a look at and I am charmed by it. My Rapunzel box is a nice wooden box that has a top that slides open. When I opened the box, I discovered that the box has a scene painted into the bottom, which serves as a backdrop for the story. There are three  characters, three turnips, a pair of scissors, a ladder, and a tower, all of which are made of hand painted wood. There is also a long yellow yarn braid that serves as Rapunzel's long hair.

I had a lot of fun trying out the box and plan on taking it to the elementary school where I volunteer as a reading helper. The booklet that comes with the book contains the story of Rapunzel, which adults and children can use and embellish as they wish.

Wanting to know how he came up with the idea of his Storyboxes, I asked Steve to tell me about them. This is what he told me:

I have always loved to draw and make things. I love writing and illustrating stories in my children’s books, whether it is the sounds a truck or train makes, or how a giant makes all the wrapping paper for Santa. Even when making a piece of fine art, the picture has to have a story or it will not work for me as an artist. I also have the great fortune to be a Pre-K teacher for a class of 4 and 5 year olds. I tell stories to the class almost everyday. At one point I was just a storyteller for a school and visited 10 classrooms sharing different stories with each of them. One class loved the story of Hansel and Gretel and would ask me to tell it over and over again.
As an illustrator and “maker of things,” I one day saw two pieces of wood in my workshop that were the same size and so I decided to carve Hansel and Gretel. I brought the two tiny figures to the class and told the story acting it out with the small wooden characters I had carved and painted. After I finished the story, the children asked, “Where is the witch, and the cottage, and the father?” I went home that night and carved all the other characters and props I needed for the story. I found a wooden box to put them in and painted a “title” on the box like a cover to a story book and storyboxes were born!
I went on to making a total of 13 boxes, telling them to children in schools, libraries and museums everywhere. Guidcraft approached me and asked to recreate the storyboxes so other teachers, parents and kids could use them to tell stories. I was excited to work with them because I had used their products in my classroom for years and was aware of the quality that they put into everything they make. Guidecraft made casts from each of my hand carved figures so they look exactly like the figures and props that I use.
Storytelling is such a great thing to share with a child. For my storyboxes to be in other classrooms where other teachers can make them their own and add their own ideas to them is what the oral tradition of storytelling is all about. When I tell a storybox in my classroom, I see my pupils adding narratives to their block play and making their own storyboxes out of paper. Telling a story to a child shares that love that leads to them wanting to read and write. I am so thrilled to be able to share my passion for storytelling with even more children now that my storyboxes will be available. There is an old proverb that says: People need stories more than bread, stories show them how to live and why.

Here is a video showing Steve Light using his Rapunzel Story box to tell the story to a classroom of young children.

Perfect for home and classroom, each Story box features characters, props, and settings cast from Light’s hand-carved originals, along with a booklet containing his original retelling of the story. In addition to the main characters, each Story box contains unique elements:
  - Hansel and Gretel includes a bag of “breadcrumbs,” witch’s house, cauldron, and recipe book
  - Kids can build the tower and thread Rapunzel’s long, braided hair out the window
  - Little One Inch features a beautifully-detailed Big Fish and colorful Oni Monster
  - The Girl Who Loved Danger features a brilliantly-patterned Ancestor Bird and fabric, hand-puppet Lake Monster
Light’s appealing art and vivid imagination also grace his board book, Trains Go (Chronicle), which follows the popular Trucks Go. “Each of Light’s trains has a distinct personality,” writes Publishers Weekly, “and locomotive lovers will clang, chug, and puff along with them as they make their way along the tracks.”
Steve Light is the author and illustrator of many children’s books. His design work can be found in the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Museum, and his corporate clients have included AT&T, Sony Films, Absolut Vodka, United Airlines, and the New York Times Book Review. Light lives in New York City.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Sixty-Eight Rooms

When I was a little girl, I got a doll's house for Christmas that I loved. I spent countless hours making up stories for the people who lived in the house, moving the furniture around, and making little accessories for the rooms. Ever since then I had been fascinated by miniatures, and even made a miniature greenhouse once with plants, a paved patio, little tools, and even a little cat sunning itself in the sun. 

I suppose it should not surprise anyone that I loved today's book. It is, after all, about sixty-eight rooms of miniatures that are on display in the Chicago Institute of Art. These Thorne Miniature Rooms are now on my things-I-have-to-do-one-day list. The splendid story is touched with history, magic and so much more. Enjoy.

Marianne Malone
Illustrated by Greg Call
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2010, 978-0-375-85710-2
Ruthie’s life is very ordinary, and sometimes she wishes something “cool” would happen to her. Her best friend Jack is the kind of boy who has adventures; he has the kind of personality that can make “interesting and unusual things happen.” One would think that these two very different kids would have nothing in common, but Ruthie’s cautious and careful ways compliment Jack’s more unconventional thoughts, ideas, and actions.
   When Ruthie’s class goes to the Chicago Art Institute for a school trip on a cold winter’s day, she and her classmates look at some of the African art, and then, after lunch, they go to visit the Thorne Rooms. The Thorne Rooms are sixty-eight little rooms faced with glass that contain miniature house interiors. Ruthie looks into rooms from medieval castles, French chateaus, and American colonial homes. Every piece of furniture and every object in the rooms is perfectly to scale and beautifully made, and Ruthie immediately develops a fascination for the rooms.
   Jack’s mother, who is an artist and who is helping to chaperone the group, introduces Jack and Ruthie to Mr. Bell, who works at the museum. He lets the two kids look into an access corridor that runs behind the rooms. While Jack is looking around, he finds a little ornate key on the floor and he picks it up and puts it into his pocket. Of course, being curious kids, Jack and Ruthie want to know what the key is for.
   The next day, the kids go back to the Art Institute on their own and they are able to sneak into the access corridor behind the little rooms because the door was not closed properly. As they explore the corridor, Jack gives Ruthie the key to hold and then the strangest thing happens. Ruthie starts to shrink. The children discover that the key only shrinks Ruthie, and that when she lets go of the key, the shrinking stops and reverses. Ruthie shrinks herself and has Jack lift her up so that she can enter one of the rooms, and she is thrilled to be able to do this. The rooms are so perfect and Ruthie even finds a tiny violin, which she plays.  
   Now that they have discovered the secret of the little key, Ruthie and Jack cannot help wanting to find out more about the magic and the Thorne Rooms. They copy Mr. Bell’s key to the access corridor, and then put together a plan so that they can spend a night in the museum and explore the rooms. Ruthie tells her family that she is going to have a sleepover at Jack’s house, and Jack tells his mother that he will be at Ruthie’s house. The children are able to get into the corridor without being seen, and there they hide there until the museum closes for the day. Ruthie holds the key, shrinks, and starts to explore room E24, which is a French room from 1780. Ruthie is sitting at a desk when she feels a breeze blowing on her, and hears the sound of birds singing. When she steps out onto the balcony, she finds out that the painted backdrop that visitors can see through the doors and windows is now real. She is looking at a real private garden and there are real birds singing and real clouds in the sky.
   Ruthie dashes to tell Jack about her extraordinary discovery, and then Jack makes a suggestion. When Ruthie shrinks, her clothes shrink with her. What would happen if she holds Jack’s hand and then shrinks herself? The children try this ,and to Jack’s delight, he shrinks along with Ruthie. Now they can both explore the Thorne Rooms and try to find out their secrets. The children never suspect that what they are going to find out will change their lives forever.
   After visiting the real Thorne Rooms in the Chicago Institute of Art many times, the author was inspired to create this story, which takes readers on a fascinating and exciting journey. The story will appeal to readers of all kinds because there is magic, history, a mystery or two, and time travel. And, of course, there are the descriptions of the gorgeous miniatures; perfect little replicas that tell a story about a time long ago.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of A storm called Katrina

On Monday August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana cost. Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It is the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. Among recorded Atlantic hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall

In today's book will will find out what it was like to be in New Orleans when the hurricane hit as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
A Storm Called Katrina
A storm called Katrina
Myron Uhlberg
Illustrated by Colin Bootman
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2011, 978-1-56145-591-1
   One night, Louis Daniel’s mother tells him that a hurricane is coming, and when Louis Daniel wakes up in the morning, he sees how much damage has been done during the night. The big tree in the yard has been knocked down, and Mama’s plants have been flattened. Louis Daniel’s mother tells him not to worry, but this is very hard to do when the wind is making your house shake, and when raindrops “bigger than quarters” are falling against the windows.
   Soon after the rain stops, the water starts to rise. When Louis Daniel and his parents go outside they hear that the levee has broken and they and their neighbors have to move to higher ground as fast as they can. Louis Daniel’s’ father put his son and his wife on a piece of porch and he pushes and paddles them all to safety. Along the way, Louis Daniel sees how devastated the city is, and he sees a black and white dog standing on some boards. It breaks Louis Daniel’s heart that they cannot do anything to help the poor dog.
   The little family finally ends up seeking shelter at the Superdome, but they are not there long before it becomes clear that the situation there is pretty terrible. There is little to eat and drink, the heat is oppressive, and no one knows when help will come. The only thing Louis Daniel has with him is his cornet, which he refused to leave behind.
   Based on true stories as told by people who experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand, this title will give young readers a picture of what it was like to be in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. Children will appreciate how helpless Louis Daniel feels, and understand how much he lost.
   An author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further information about what happened during and after Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in New Orleans.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Dog Poems

When I was a child I often heard people say "I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my dog." I knew that what they were saying was that their dog were important to them, but I didn't fully appreciate the meaning behind the words until I was an adult with dogs of my own.

I spend many hours working at home alone, or at least without other humans around. My cats, being the independent beings that they are, go off to do their own thing, but my dogs lie on beds under my desk, preferring to keep me company. Their companionship is priceless, as are their smiles, their silly games, and their demands for affection.

Today's poetry title takes a look at the world of dogs, and it is a title that dog lovers of all ages will appreciate. The author, Dave Crawley, has also created another collection of poems called Cat Poems, which I greatly enjoyed reading.

Dave Crawley
Illustrated by Tamara Petrosino
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2007, 978-1-59078-454-9
Dogs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. There are poodles with their pompoms who “strut in the park” looking very chic, and then there are “saggy baggy” Basset hounds with their “mournful eyes and wrinkled skin.” Some dogs, like the “shaggy” sheepdog work for a living, while others are pets who have their owners wrapped around their paws.
   It does not matter if a dog is a tiny feisty Chihuahua, an enormous gentle Great Dane, or some other breed; it can be depended on to be a good friend, a companion to take on walks, and someone to “snuggle wuggle” with.
   Some dogs are active, like the Labrador who loves to play in bodies of water. Others, like “Lazy old Mazy” are active only in their dreams. In real life lazy Mazy dozes and snoozes for hours on end. Many dogs are smart hounds who know how to stay out of trouble. They know, for example, that porcupines and skunks are best left alone. Others are not so savvy, and they end up with quills in their noses or, thinking that a skunk is a “kitty,” end up paying dearly for their mistake.
   In this wonderful collection of poems, Dave Crawley celebrates dogs and their doings in a unique way. He introduces us to some popular breeds, and he also tells us the stories of certain dogs. Then there are more general poems that look at certain aspects of dog behavior. For example in “In Telling a Tail,” we learn how to ‘read’ dog tails, and in “Slobberkiss” we see why dogs are so fond of giving the human they love a big wet lick.
   With humor and an obvious love for dogs, Dave Crawley celebrates dogs in all their furry, barky, smelly, and slobbery glory.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Interview with Dee Shulman and Polly Price

Yesterday I reviewed Polly Price's Totally Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare, the second Polly Price title. Today I have an interview for you that I did with the author of the book, Dee Shulman, and with Polly Price. I thought it was only fair to make sure that Polly herself got to say a few words. After all, she is the person whose story is being told.

TTLG: Dee, where did the idea for this series come from? 
Dee: You could say I have been both Polly and Arabella... As a kid, I used to find my own (adorable) mother acutely embarrassing whenever she laughed ... she was just too loud and way too enthusiastic for a mother! And then – weirdly - I turned into Arabella myself. My daughter used to hide on the floor of the car if she spotted one of her friends out of the window. I was guilty of dressing wrong, talking wrong, running in public ... my list of crimes was endless! 

So it was a great theme to play with – I just needed to tweak it a teeny bit – convert embarrassing to excruciating -  and Arabella was born!

TTLG: Dee, how did you get inside Polly's head to understand how she might feel or react? 
Dee: I think it would be more accurate to say that Polly got inside my head. Once her handwriting appeared on the page she really took over. 

TTLG: Polly, it is clear that having an actress for a mother can be very trying at times. What are the things that you like the least about your mother's work and lifestyle?
Polly: I have made a list and given them marks out of 10. 10 is the worst!

Mum’s work
·         A normal parent goes to work during the day which means she DOESN’T come and pick you up from school. Unfortunately an actress is often bored during the day. A bored actress is not something anybody wants turning up at school at 3.45. You can hear my mother approach  approximately 4 minutes before the classroom door gets flung open. The only plus side is that 4 minutes gives you just enough time to hide behind the boxes in the stationary cupboard. (10)
·         Unfortunately, Mum doesn’t have anyone she can dump an 11 year old daughter on.  Believe me – she would if she could. So if I’m not in school, wherever she goes I go. I CANNOT WAIT until I am legally allowed to leave home. (10)
·         Tragically the places my mum goes to work are FILLED with other actors. Need I say more?* (10)

Mum’s Lifestyle 
Actors along the lines of my mother are always getting STRANGE CRUSHES on things. My mother has had many...
·         She chants*  (very annoying) (8)     
·         She gets food fads. Life was garstly when she turned vegan  (We had slimy black mushroom stew nearly every day) (10) *
·         Vanilla was a PARTICULARLY dangerous crush. By the way - Vanilla is a human being (almost) not a kind of ice-cream (unfortunately) (10+) **
·         Men. Especially younger ones. Especially younger French ones. Especially one younger French one in particular. See the new book, Mum in Love, for further details
*See On Stage in America for further information
**See Reality TV Nightmare for further details

TTLG: Polly, there must be some things that you like about having an actress for a parent. Tell me about some of the good stuff.
Polly: Yes – SOMETIMES (occasionally) I get to meet the good  kind of actor... 
NB: These are rare. They talk to you as though you are a member of the human race. Very occasionally they are VERY nice. Naming no names  I do encounter some good kinds in my diaries.  W.G in On Stage in America  and C.D in Reality TV Nightmare.

If your mother goes on tour you do sometimes get to go to exciting places – like America. See On Stage in America for further details.
If your mother gets a crush on a younger French boyfriend – you may get to go to France. *See Mum in Love for further details

I can’t think of many other good points – but I will let you know.

TTLG: Polly and Dee, what is it like to work together? Do you argue about the stories and how the artwork is going to look?
Dee: Hmm Polly would you say we work well together?
Polly: Put it like this... I write a TOTALLY secret diary that NOBODY is supposed to be looking at and then Dee Shulman comes along and the next thing I know it’s on the shelves in Waterstones and my mother is taking out lawsuits.

TTLG: Polly, do you think Dee understands your problems.

Polly: NO. (see above)  

TTLG: Is it hard working with a grownup? 
Polly: YES. Not to be recommended at all. 

TTLG: Is there a project that you two really want to work on together in the future? Tell us about it...please!
Dee: Between you and me (Polly doesn’t know this yet) there is talk of a trip to Australia...to meet someone VERY important. 
Polly: No there is definitely not a project that we want to work on together.

TTLG: Thank you both so much for agreeing to being interviewed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Polly Price's Total Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare

Every so often I come across a book that really captures my fancy in a special way. My Totally Secret Diary: On Stage in America by Dee Schulman is just such a book. In the diary, we meet Polly Price, a tween whose mother is an actress. One would think having an actress for a mother would be great, but in Polly's case, her mother is a trial. Truly, she is a trial.

Not long ago I was sent the second book in the series and I was delighted to read and review it. I thought Polly's mother was difficult in the first book, but it would appear that the woman is able to take being insufferable to new heights. My review of this book is below, and tomorrow I have a special treat for you, an interview with the author, Dee Shulman, and with Polly Price, the girl whose life becomes a nightmare.

Dee Shulman
For ages 9 to 12
Red Fox, 2010, 9781862304246
Polly Price is afflicted with a mother who is a high maintenance individual. More than anything, Polly wishes she could have a normal mother who provides edible dinners, lets Polly have friends over, and is only mildly irritating and embarrassing. Instead, Polly’s mother is a highly-strung actress who isn’t happy unless she is the center of attention.
   Life in Polly’s home is never easy, but now it worse than ever because her mother, Arabella Diamonte, has been invited to be a guest on Celebrity Home Watch, a reality TV program. Everyone watches Celebrity Home Watch, which means that everyone will get to peek into the nightmare that is Polly’s home life. So far Polly has managed to keep her mother’s identity a secret, but now the whole world will know the dreadful truth.
   One would think that this dreadful development would be more than enough for one eager-not-to-be-noticed girl, but alas Polly’s life gets worse when her mother hires a life coach to help her get ready for her reality TV debut. The life coach, Vanilla, is a large overbearing woman who turns the house upside down, and who uses runes and tarot cards to make decisions, including determining which days are auspicious for Polly to go to school.
   One would think that with Vanilla to help her, Arabella would be able to manage to make a good impression when the reality TV people come over to shoot their show. Unfortunately, the whole thing turns into a ginormous nightmare for everyone concerned, especially Polly.
   Readers will be hard put not to laugh out loud as they read this second Polly Price diary. They will see that having a celebrity in the family can make life very complicated. Could it be that having a boring ordinary life might not be so bad after all?
   Presented in a diary format, complete with doddles, spelling mistakes, taped in photos and other items, this is a book that truly gets inside a young girl’s mind and heart. Readers will feel Polly’s pain, and celebrate when she somehow manages to come out of the ordeal in one piece. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Larf

I have always had a soft spot for those reclusive creatures who are called either yeti, abominable snowmen, Sasquatch, or Big Foot, depending on where they come from. I can't blame them for being reclusive, and enjoy reading stories about them. The first one I read about was in Tintin in Tibet. In this Tintin story, the yeti is a rather pitiful fellow who is gentle and lonely. Today's book in about a sasquatch who likes his life of solitude. 

Ashley Spires
Picture book
For ages 5 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2012, 978-1-55453-701-3
Larf is a tall hairy sasquatch who lives in a wood cabin the woods with his bunny, Eric. Larf likes living on his own, and is happy that people have no idea that he exists. Luckily for him people “rarely believe in anything new and strange,” so even when he is accidently seen, no one really believes that they are looking at an honest to goodness sasquatch.
   Larf is convinced that he is the only one of his kind left until the day when he reads an article in the newspaper that announces that a sasquatch is going to “make an appearance” in a nearby town that day. Larf does not like change, but he cannot help thinking that maybe, just maybe, it might be nice to have another sasquatch around. So, Larf puts on what he thinks is a great disguise and he goes to town. Larf is both disappointed and pleased when he finds out that the so-called sasquatch is a fake. He is ready to go back to his solitary life in the woods when he has a most unusual encounter.
   For some people change is frightening, and they are happiest when nothing out of the ordinary happens. In this charming and sweetly funny picture book, we meet a character who dares to do something that makes him uncomfortable and who discovers that some changes are rather nice.
   With a delightful main character, wonderful illustrations, and a heartwarming ending, this is a picture book that will appeal to readers both young and not so young. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Pigmares

I could never watch scary movies when I was a child, because they always gave me nightmares. Many of my friends loved them though, and would talk at length about seeing movies where vampires sucked people's blood, and monsters lurked in nasty dark places.

In today's poetry title, Doug Cushman pays tribute to some of the most famous scary movies of all time, and he does so in a unique and very humorous way.

Doug Cushman
For ages 7 to 9
Charlesbridge, 2012, 978-1-58089-401-2
It is nighttime, and a young pig is sitting up in bed watching monster movies on his little TV. After seeing “Dead zombies crawl out from foul-smelling places,” and “Vampire pigs fly from castles at night,” the young pig begins to realize that he should “never watch monsters on film before bed.”
   The monsters he is talking about include Frankenswine, a creature that is made up of “pieces and parts.” Feared by others because of his horrific appearance, Frankenswine runs away until he ends up alone and friendless on an Arctic ice floe.
   Then there is The Porker from the Black Lagoon, a terrible creature “with scaly claws and slimy snout.” This monster has disgusting habits, and it is terribly crabby to boot. Of course, one does have to consider that “it is hard to grin when every day / there’s water in your shorts.” Perhaps this monster is entitled to spells of bad temper.
   The Porker from the Black Lagoon is not the only monster that has to deal with dreadful living conditions. The Abominable Snow Pig lives in a place of perpetual cold, a frozen mountain in Tibet. His food is always cold, as are his hands and feet. Even the logs in his fireplace “are giant ice blocks.”
   In this deliciously clever collection of poems, Doug Cushman pays tribute to some of the most famous horror movies of all time, and he does so in a very humorous way. All the monsters in these poems are porcine in nature, and their stories, and the situations they get into, are deliciously funny and silly.
   At the back of the book the author gives his readers a little information about the real horror movies that inspired the poems.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Little Rat Makes Music

My daughter came into this world with a natural affinity for music. Learning how to play the piano when she was five was easy for her, but practicing was something she avoided as much as possible. I cannot tell you how many times we had the "you need to practice or you will never move forward" conversation. 

Today's book will resonate with every young artist, musician, and athlete who hates to practice, and with every adult who has tried to find ways to encourage their child to practice regularly.  

Monika Bang-Campbell
Illustrated by Molly Bang
For ages 6 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007, 978-0-15-205305-5

Little Rat comes from a music-loving family. Her father is a gifted musician who can play four instruments, and her mother loves to sing. Her mother takes Little Rat to folk-music concerts, and her father takes her to listen to orchestral performances. Little Rat particularly enjoys watching the violinists, who “played all sorts of notes” and thus create a variety of musical moods.
   One day Little Rat and her mama are walking past the Community Hall when they heard the sound of music. When they go inside, they see a group of young animals playing violins. Little Rat is charmed by the sounds she hears, and so her mother arranges for her to have violin lessons.
   At her first lesson, Little Rat and the other beginner students learn how to hold their bows and violins. They don’t learn how to play a single note, let alone a little tune. How boring it all is. At the next lesson, Little Rat is finally asked to play a note, and what a note it is too. Little Rat’s note sounds like “an angry seagull.”
   Over time, Little Rat’s playing gets better, but one thing Little Rat hates to do is to practice. It is boring and frustrating. Why does learning how to play the violin have to be so hard?
   Acquiring a new skill is rarely easy, and often the early learning phases are very hard to deal with. The only way to get better is to practice, but practicing is dull because you do the same thing over and over again, and what you produce is often not that good. In this wonderful chapter book, we see how a young rat comes to accept that practicing is necessary, and that it takes work to become good at doing something. With touches of humor and great sensitivity, Monika Bang tells a story that will resonate with young people who are experiencing their own practicing issues. Artists, musicians, and athletes all have to make the same journey that Little Rat makes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Billy Twitters and his blue whale problem

Children all over the world are used to being threatened with dire consequences if they don't do their chores, eat their dinner, brush their teeth, or go to bed on time. They are told that they will be grounded, will not get any dessert, or will not get their allowance that week. The boy in today's picture book story is threatened with something so outrageous that he does not take the threat seriously, which is a BIG mistake.

Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Hyperion, 2009, 978-078684958-1
When Billy Twitters’ mom gets fed up with his behavior, she threatens that she will buy him a blue whale. When he doesn’t clean his room, eat his dinner, or brush his teeth she always makes the same threat. Billy is not worried though because he knows that blue whales are enormous, and that his parents can’t just pick up the phone and order a blue whale.
   Then one morning Billy wakes up and finds out that a blue whale is blocking the front door. Apparently blue whales can be ordered and delivered after all. Bill’s mother tells him that the whale is his responsibility and that he, Billy, has to take the whale wherever he goes, including to school.
   Billy very quickly figures out that having a pet whale is a nuisance, a really really big nuisance. Billy’s classmates don’t appreciate the whale’s presence, he gets uninvited from a birthday party, and taking care of the whale is not at all easy. In fact, it is back breaking work. It would seem that Billy has got himself into a real situation.
   Readers will laugh out loud when they see Billy struggling to take care of his huge pet. Clearly having a pet blue whale is not a good idea. Nothing good comes of it. Just when we think that the story is over, we are given an ending that is a huge surprise. What a clever way to end a cautionary tale!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Last Laughs

I wasn't at all sure that I was going to like today's poetry title. It sounded a little odd, but interesting at the same time. Since the book was also written by two of my favorite poets, I took the plunge, and I am so glad that I did. I had a grand time reading animal epitaphs, laughing (and groaning) at the clever word play, and at the images that the poems brought to mind.

J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Charlesbridge, 2012, 978-1-58089-260-5
Here we are at Amen Creature Corners, a cemetery where animals, not humans, are buried. It is true that “beasties” come here to cry over the graves of their friends and loved ones, but they are also here to have “one last laugh” courtesy of the dearly department. In this cemetery “it’s not / all gloom and doom / that’s written / once upon a tomb.”
   Actually, many of the words on the gravestones are funny, in a rather irreverent way. We read about how Rowdy Rooster made the mistake of being so “cocky” that he dared to head-butt a car. He is one of many animals who seemed to have lacked a sense of self preservation. There is the moth who “lived by the fire / and died by the flame,” and the woodpecker who pecked a tree limb one to many times with disastrous results.
   Then were those who were just too sure of themselves. There was a swordfish who fought a shark, and lost the battle, and a piranha who found out too late that it had the “second-sharpest / teeth in the river.”
   Full of clever word play and often decidedly macabre humor, these poetical animal epitaphs will tickle the fancy of readers who like their poetry served up dark. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Deadlies

There are many people out there who are mortally afraid of spiders. I luckily am not one of them, but I must confess that I am not exactly thrilled when I find a black widow or a brown recluse around my house or in the yard/garden/garage/barn. Let's face it, these little animals are dangerous. There is nothing wrong with being wary of them. I must confess though, that I am never going to feel the same way about a brown recluse spider now that I have read the first Deadlies title, which is today's fiction title. Read on to find out why.

The Deadlies: Felix Takes the Stage
Kathryn Lasky
Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
For ages 7 to 9
Scholastic, 2010, 978-0-545-11681-7
Felix the brown recluse spider lives in a philharmonic hall with his mother Edith and his two sisters. Felix is a devotee of music and greatly admires the Maestro who always stays in the theatre after a performance is over to practice his conducting. Felix and his sisters have always been told that the most important rule to remember is to “never, ever reveal yourself to human beings,” and they always do their best to follow this rule. They know all too well that humans hate spiders, especially species that are venomous, which Felix and his kind are.
   Then one evening Felix makes the mistake of letting the Maestro see him. The Maestro hits Felix with his baton, and then he passes out. Though the Maestro is not dead, he has seen Felix, and everyone knows what is going to happen next. Exterminators will be hired to rid the music hall of spiders. Felix and his family are going to have to move.
   Poor Felix feels very bad about what has happened, because he never meant to cause so much trouble. At the same time, he is rather annoyed at the unfairness of his situation. It is not his fault that he was born a brown recluse spider. It is not his fault that he has highly poisonous venom that can kill people. It is not fair that he has to hide himself because of who he is. He isn’t just a venomous spider, he is also a kind fellow who loves music.
   Felix and his family are lucky enough to have a cat friend, Fatty, who carries them to a dusty antique shop specializing in maritime “treasures.” The shop is a perfect temporary stopping place for all of them, including Fatty, who will be able to hunt for mice. There are other spiders in residence who are unkind to Felix and his family, but the recluses are used to this sort of thing. They are not only feared by humans, they are also despised by other spiders as well. It is such an unfortunate situation, but it is one that they just have to put up with.
   Then pirate spiders attack, and Felix and his family are presented with a new set of problems. Will they ever be able to have a safe, happy, and quiet life?
   Many people are unfairly judged in this world because they are different in some way. In this book, young readers will see how this feels through the eyes of recluse spiders. Rather than hiding away, artistic Felix wants others to see him for who he is and not for what he is. Surely, this is what everyone wants.
   With humor and sensitivity, Kathryn Lasky tells a story that explores big and meaningful themes from the point of view of very small animals. Her tale is a joy to read, and readers will be glad to know that this is the first book in a new series. Felix and his family will be back.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of The Giant Jam Sandwich

Today's book is a title that I read over and over and over when I was a little girl. My father used to read it out loud, and since he had such a delicious way of speaking and a gift for reading to others, he made the story come alive. As he read, I would sit on his lap and look at the pictures, which are full of cunning details. I hope you enjoy this book as much I did.

John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway
Illustrated by John Vernon Lord
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin, 1987, 978-0395442371
It is a hot summer’s day when the town of Itching Down is invaded by no less than four million wasps. In very short order, life becomes unbearable and the villagers call a meeting to decide what should be done about the wasps. After much talk, Baker Bap comes up with a wild idea: to make a giant jam sandwich to lure the pests into a trap.
   Soon the village of Itching Down is humming and buzzing with more than just wasps. A huge loaf of bread is baked and two slices are cut. Spread with butter and strawberry jam the villagers create a trap like none other, one which they hope the wasps will find irresistible.
  This highly entertaining story about an ingenious, if somewhat unorthodox, plan is a classic that will never lose its charm. Perfectly paced rhymes capture the drama of the tale, and original illustrations are full of details that will bring forth more than a few smiles. This is a title that children will want to read over and over again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Little Dog and Duncan

Not long ago my daughter had a friend come to stay for a while, and the girls discovered that even though they are the best of friends, living with someone new can be challenging. Feathers got ruffled on occasions, which meant that feelings got hurt and compromises had to be made.

Today's poetry title is about a little dog who has a friend come to stay, and who discovers that it is not always easy to get used to having a house guest.

Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by June Otani
Poetry Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Clarion, 2002, 0-618-11758-X
   Little Dog is excited because a very big dog, Duncan, has come to visit. In fact, Duncan will be spending the night at Little Dog’s house. When Duncan starts to feel homesick, Little Dog “sits close / helping Duncan mope,” which is what friends do for friends.
   Having such a big guest around presents some challenges, and Little Dog and her little girl have to work hard to make sure that Duncan doesn’t get into trouble. Sometimes Little Dog feels a little overwhelmed and does not want to share her toys or her little girl with the guest. She makes it clear that some things are “Mine!” Though the two dogs are very different in many ways, in others they are just the same. They both love mud, they both beg for treats, and they both want to share the little girl’s bed, which they do!
   Told using a collection of poems, this delightful story about Little Dog, her person, and her friend Duncan is a treat for people who love dogs. Readers will laugh when they see how the two dogs interact, and when they see how problems are overcome. Sharing your space with a houseguest isn’t always easy, but if you have a big heart and some patience you can make it work.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A book about the early Olympic Games

Just a few days ago I recieved a box of books that contained a book about the Olympics. Since the Olympics are going on right now, I got reading and have my review of the book below. The book is beautifully written, and I learned a great deal about the ancient Olympics and the early years of the modern Olympics. You can find more books about the Olympics and Olympic athletes in the Olympic Games feature.

Benson Bobrick
For ages 12 and up
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-86869-6
These days, the Olympic Games are watched by millions of people all over the world. The host countries spends enormous amounts of money building venues for the events, and preparing for opening ceremonies that they hope will thrill and delight spectators. The games are “global extravaganzas” that people remember for years to come.
   The ancient Olympics were nothing like the modern day games. The first recorded Olympic event took place in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece. There was a two-hundred-yard footrace in a meadow, and the race was won by a cook who came from the town of Elis. Over time, other races were added, along with events such as the discus throw, the long jump, the javelin throw, and boxing.
   The games were held every four years on the second full moon after the summer solstice. As more events were added, and as more athletes participated who came from all over the Greek world, more buildings and facilities were added. The athletes now had proper tracks to run on, gymnasiums where they could make use of steam baths, and various other buildings that were used for training. Just like today, athletes were accompanied by coaches, trainers, and doctors. Just like today they were expected to “do nothing to disgrace the Games.” The one big thing these earlier Olympiads did not have was an Olympic Village. Their accommodations were rudimentary at best. To ensure that both the athletes and spectators could safely come to the games, an Olympic Truce was put into effect that lasted for four months, and it was upheld in all the countries and territories in the Hellenic world.
   When the Romans took over the Greek Empire, they also took over the Olympic Games. Their versions of the event lost many of the elements that made the Greek Games so special. In 394 AD pagan festivals were banned and to all intent and purposes the Games were no longer celebrated.
  A few Olympic Games type events became popular in England in the 16 and 1700’s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that men interested in reviving the games who came from England and France began to work towards a common goal to create an international event. The first Olympic Congress gathered in France in 1894 to create the International Olympic Committee, and two years later the first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens, Greece. There were only forty-one athletes from fourteen countries present, but it was a beginning. In time more countries would participate, and in 2012 over fourteen thousand athletes in two hundred and five teams arrived in London for the Thirtieth Olympiad.
   Readers who enjoy history and who look forward to watching the Olympic Games will greatly enjoy this unique book. They will not only see how the Games changed and evolved over time, but they will also get to meet some of the great athletes who attended the Games. With period photos and illustrations throughout the book, this is a title that is easy to read and full of fascinating stories.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Invisible Order

As we grow up, many of us lose the ability to believe in things that cannot be seen, in things that cannot be captured in a picture or on film. We stop looking for fairy rings, and think that pixies, boggarts, elves and their kin do not exist. This is a very dangerous assumption to make, as you will find out when you read today's book.

Paul Crilley
For ages 10 and up
Egmont, 2010, 978-1-60684-031-3
   When she wakes up on a cold winter’s morning, Emily Snow has no idea that the day ahead of her is going to be a very unusual one. As usual she gets up and sets off for the market to buy her supply of watercress, bunches of which she will sell to make a little money. Though she is only twelve years old, Emily has to take care of her little brother William, making sure that she earns enough to keep him fed, clothed, and with a roof over his head.
   Three years ago Emily and Will’s father left home and never came back. Then, not long after, their mother vanished as well. Since then, Emily has had to shoulder the burden of caring for her little brother alone. Sometimes the responsibility weighs on Emily, but she presses on, doing the best she can.
   When she is halfway to the market, Emily witnesses a fight between two groups of people. Fights are reasonably common on London’s streets, but fights between two sets of beings who are less than half the height of a twelve year old girl are not. Emily can hardly believe her eyes, but before she can investigate, the creatures suddenly disappear.
   Soon after sighting the fight, a tall and rather terrifying man called Mr. Ravenhill questions Emily about what she has seen. She denies seeing anything and gets away from the man as soon as she can. Then Emily discovers that she has lost the penny that she was going to use to buy her day’s supply of cress. She must have dropped it in the alley where she witnessed the strange fight. Though she does not want to go back to the alley, Emily returns there. If she does not buy some cress to sell, she and William will not be able to eat that evening.
   Back in the alley, Emily finds one of the creatures who was involved in the fight that she witnessed. The creature explains that he is piskie from Cornwall, and his name is Corrigan. Then Corrigan and Emily are attacked by the Black Sidhe, pixies who hate Corrigan and his kind. Not knowing what else to do, Emily picks up Corrigan, who is injured, and runs away.
   Corrigan then explains that the Black Sidhe arrow sticking out of his leg is poisoned and that he needs Emily to carry him to a place where his wound can be tended by someone who knows how to deal with such things.
   At a bookshop owned by Merrian, a half giant, Corrigan’s wounds are treated, and Emily finds out that London is not only home to humans, it is also home to countless creatures of Faerie. Most humans cannot see the piskies, faeries, gnomes and other magical beings, but some, like Emily, can. Apparently the creatures of faerie used to be united in their dislike of humans, but then a split occurred between the Seelie and the Unseelie. The Seelie are led by the Faerie Queen, and the Unseelie are led by King Dagda. Urged on by their rulers, the two sides have been fighting off and on ever since the split.
   As if this isn’t confusing enough, Emily learns that there is an organization called the Invisible Order, a group of humans who are bent on ridding the world of all the creatures of Faerie. The sinister Mr. Ravenhill is one of their number.
   Once she is sure that Corrigan is going to be fine, Emily sets off for home, eager to forget all about piskies and other magical creatures. She soon discovers that this is not going to be easy to do. For some reason, the Seelie, the Unseelie and the Invisible Order all want something from Emily. She is caught in the middle of a battle for power and she doesn’t even know why.
   Readers who like stories about magical creatures are going to be thrilled with this book, which is the first title in a new series. It is fascinating to see how the story unfolds, and how Emily deals with the problems that she if forced to face. 
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