Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Rainbow Orchid

I have been reading graphic novels for as long as I have been reading. One of the first graphic novel series that I read were The Adventures of Tintin by Herge. I loved the stories, the characters, and Captain Haddock's colorful language! Not long ago I came across a new graphic novel series that has artwork that is reminiscent of Herge's style. I was delighted to discover that the books in this series not only look fantastic, but the stories they contain are exciting, unpredictable, and interesting.

The Rainbow Orchid: Volume one
The Rainbow Orchid: Volume OneGaren Ewing
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 and up
Egmont, 2009, 978-1-405248532
Julius Chancer works as an assistant for Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, a man who specializes in researching ancient and historical manuscripts and artifacts. One day an unscrupulous reporter comes to interview Sir Alfred and when he sees an orchid in Sir Alfred’s house he asks Sir Alfred if he plans on participating in the Wembley Exhibition, the world famous orchid exhibition. The reporter is very annoying, and in a fit of pique Julius mentions the rainbow orchid. He claims that the rainbow orchid is finer than the black orchid that is favored to win the competition. The black orchid is owned by a wealthy American businessman called Urkaz Grope.
   Unfortunately, the reporter mentions the rainbow orchid in an article that he writes and the next morning Lord Reginald Lawrence comes to call. He usually wins the Wembley Exhibition with one of his orchids, but this year he has nothing exotic enough to beat Mr. Grope’s black orchid. Lord Reginald was playing cards (and drinking too much) with Mr. Grope a few weeks ago and made a terrible wager that he lost. Now, unless Lord Reginald wins the Wembley Exhibition with one of his orchids, he will have to give Mr. Grope a family heirloom that is tied to the family title and lands. In short, Lord Reginald will lose everything that he holds dear.
   Lord Reginald had some to see Sir Alfred to ask him to find the rainbow orchid. It is said to be the most beautiful orchid in the world and therefore it will surely win the competition. The problem is that no one really knows if the orchid is a real thing, and where it might be found. Sir Alfred is convinced that it does exist not just because it is mentioned and depicted in a manuscript and on an ancient tablet, but because he actually met a missionary in Lahore who saw the orchid with his own eyes. The missionary believed that the plant grew somewhere in the mountains in the Hindu Kush.
   Lord Alfred has no inclination to help Sir Reginald to find the orchid, but Julius does, and he and Sir Reginald’s daughter decide to go to the Hindu Kush to see if they can find the orchid. Their search is going to be a difficult one and they don’t have much time. What they don’t realize at first is that their mission is going to be even harder than they imagine because Mr. Grope is determined to prevent them from finding the rainbow orchid.
   Set in the 1920’s, this marvelous graphic novel not only tells a fascinating story, but it provides readers with a picture of what it was like to live in the 1920’s. Complete with a movie star, a ruthless businessman, a nosy newspaper man, a young hero, and an irritating publicist, the narrative and artwork will delight readers who enjoy the Tintin adventures and other graphic novels that are set in the past.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of In the Swim

The Earth's watery places are full of fascinating creatures. When I was a child I spent many hours lying face down in the Mediterranean Sea looking at fish and other creatures going about their business, and I remember those hours with great fondness. In today's poetry title you will meet some of the creatures who live in seas, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

In the Swim
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Harcourt, 1997, 0-15-202437-9
For some people large bodies of water are fascinating places. Though we have mapped most of them, we don’t really know everything there is to know about these environments. We certainly don’t know about all the creatures that live in them, but we do know about some of them, and we are going to meet just a few of these creatures in the poems in this book.
   Douglas Florian is a poet who has a gift for injecting humor into his poems. Often this humor is quirky. For example, in the very first poem we meet a catfish whose tone sounds rather annoyed. The reason for its annoyance is that it wants to make it perfectly clear that it is a fish, not a cat. Nor, for that matter, does have any wish to be a cat.
   Next we meet a salmon and the poem is cleverly presented so that we have to read up the page, just as salmon have to swim upstream to spawn. The poem about the sawfish is also presented in a unique way. It is jagged, just like a saw, and we learn that a sawfish cannot cut “A two-by-four,” or “build a bed.” It has its “splendid” saw so that it can get its fish dinner and it eats the fish raw, which means that is doesn’t have to “do dishes.”
   The catfish is not the only aquatic creature that was given a name that really does not do it justice. The sea horse is another such animal. Seahorses have no hooves, they cannot race, and “have no legs / With which to chase.” In fact they are so unlike a real horse that their name is just plain “silly.”

   Douglas Florian has created so many wonderful poetry collections and this one is sure to entertain and delight readers, just as the others have done. Throughout the book the twenty-one poems are accompanied by wonderful paintings that have the same quirkiness that you find in the poems.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Norbert: What can little me do?

I am thrilled to bring you today's picture book because I had the privilege of editing it. I can remember seeing the manuscript for the first time when it was a PDF. I fell in love with the artwork, and was delighted to work on the book. This picture book will not only charm anyone who looks at it, but it also conveys a message that is relevant to just about everyone on this planet.

Norbert: What can little me do?
Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?Julia Freyermuth
Illustrated by Virginia K. Freyermuth
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Polly Parker Press, 2013, 978-0-9848682-0-9
Norbert is a very small, fluffy, white dog and he and his person have moved to the big city. Norbert and Momma now live in an apartment way above the city streets, and on his first night Norbert lies in his little bed and wonders what he, being such a little dog, can do in the big city.
   The next day Norbert and Momma go for a walk and not surprisingly many of the children they meet want to pet Norbert. In the park Norbert sees big dogs that can bark loudly, and he meets a big horse that can pull a carriage. Norbert wishes that he too had a big voice or that he could do what a horse can do.
   The following day Norbert and Momma go back to the park. Norbert sees birds who can fly in the sky, ducks who can swim in the pond, and a squirrel, who can climb trees. Poor little Norbert cannot fly, float, or climb a tree. He cannot even climb the stairs from the subway to the street above because his legs are too short.
   It is not much fun feeling as if you can’t do anything or contribute anything. This is how Norbert, a three-pound dog, feels. He is too small to do any of the things that he thinks he would like to be able to do. What Norbert does not realize is that he, like everyone else, has something to offer, and in his case what he is looking for is right under his own sweet little nose.
   This charming, heartwarming, and inspirational book is based on the true story of Norbert, the author’s dog. Children will immediately fall in love with the pint sized dog, whose story is presented using a journal format. Wonderful artwork, a handwritten text, and a memorable story make this a book that children and their grownups will greatly enjoy reading and looking at.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of: Poetry Speaks Who I am

Though I enjoyed reading and listening to poetry when I was a child, I did not really appreciate the language, the meaning, and the form of poetry until I was a teen. Back then, in the dark ages, there were no collections of poems for teenagers, and I often read poems that did not resonate with me at all. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and today I have a review of book of poetry that will delight teenagers who enjoy reading and listening to poetry.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and EveryPoetry Speaks Who I am: Poems of discovery, inspiration,independence and everything else
Edited by Elise Paschen
Poetry with Audio CD
For ages 12 and up
Sourcebooks, 2010, 978-1-4022-1074-7
There are some wonderful collections of poetry for young children, some of which have been around for a long time, and there are excellent collections of poetry for adults. Unfortunately, the needs of teenage readers are often overlooked when it comes to poetry. In this poetry book there is a “highly unusual collection – coming-of-age-moments caught next to classics next to grieving, kitchen tables, Cinderella, dragons, and school periods.” The editors of this book asked poets from around the United States to share the poems that touched them when they were teenagers. They also asked poets to submit poems that they have written that they think will resonate with teenage readers.
   Growing up is all too often a painful process full of high moments, and an awful lot of low ones. What is interesting is that these same years are often the ones when young people are most drawn to poetry, which is why it is odd that no one has created a collection like this before. The poems in the collection beautifully capture those moments in the life of a teenager that are so bright with emotion, newness, and confusion.
   Some of the poems are modern, capturing moments and images that can only be found in the modern world and yet have a timeless feel to them. One of these poems is Mascara by Elizabeth Spires. In this poem we see two sisters who are ten years apart in age. One is applying mascara and she belongs to a world the younger sister knows so little about. They are separated by their ages and by “old injuries, forgotten but not entirely / forgiven,” and yet they are also close.
   Then there are poems that are from another time. If I can stop one heart from breaking by Emily Dickinson is just such a poem. It is short but addresses an issue that most teens think about at some point. What are they going to do with their life? Are they going to serve themselves and “live in vain,”or are they going to be the kind of person who will “stop one heart from breaking” or “ease one life the aching.”

   This book has an added dimension because there is an accompanying audio CD with forty-seven tracks. Most of the poems on the CD are read by the poets who created them,  and many are original poems that the reader can only read (and hear) in this collection. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Picture Book Monday with a review of Jolly Snow

I have reviewed thousands of picture books over the years and have have got to the point that I recognize a number of illustrative styles. Some styles are so unique that it only takes one look before I remember the illustrator's name. Not long ago I saw a portion of the cover of today's book and knew that I had to review the book because I recognized Jane Hissey's extraordinary artwork. I admire this creative lady's work because the stories are so warm and the characters are so lovable.

Jolly Snow Jolly Snow
Jane Hissey
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scribblers, 2013, 978-1-908973-02-3
It is a cold and wet day outside, and Jolly Tall, the toy giraffe, wishes that it would snow. He’s never seen real snow before. Little Bear shows his friends the snow that drifts down inside a snow globe. Jolly thinks the snow is very pretty, but alas there is not enough of it inside the globe to slide and jump in, nor is there enough to turn into snowballs.
   Zebra says that she knows where there is some snow and she leads her friends to the kitchen where Bramwell Brown the teddy bear is making cookies. The flour he is using looks a lot like snow and one can turn the cookie dough into balls which the animals throw at each other.  
   The problem with dough balls, unlike snowballs, is that they make a sticky mess and Zebra needs to have a bath. Her friends help her to get clean, and as they scrub her they realize that soap bubbles are perfect for playing with. Unfortunately soap bubbles, unlike snowballs, last for a very short while.
   Zebra, Jolly, Duck, and Little Bear decide to go and ask their friend Old Bear if he knows how they can make snow. Old Bear often has the answers to their problems.
   In this delightful Old Bear story, gorgeous illustrations are paired with a story that shows little children how a little creativity can go a long way sometimes. Jolly has a wish that is not easy to grant, but he and his loving friends have a great time trying to give him what he wants. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of: The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems

I have reviewed several books that contain a collection of "classic" poems. One would think that I would get tired of reading such books, but I don't because they are all different. Today's poetry title is a collection of poems that will appeal to readers of all ages.

The Barefoot Book of Classic PoemsThe Barefoot Book of Classic poems
Illustrated by Jackie Morris
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Barefoot Books, 2006, 1-905236-56-5
There are certain poems that people today consider to be “classic.” What makes a poem a classic anyway? Carol Ann Duffy, who wrote the introduction to this book, feels that the classic poems chosen for this collection are ones that “continue to shine brightly in the English language.” Such is the nature of something that is a classic. It is timeless and still resonates with people today, even though it was written in a different time and place.
   Though this collection was put together for children, adults will also enjoy being able to “rediscover” poems that they knew when they were young, and perhaps meet poems that are new to them as well. The poems will provide and adults and children with connecting point that they can share.
   What makes this collection truly special is that Jackie Morris has chosen poems that explore a wide variety of emotions and experiences. Lilian Moore’s poem, Until I saw the sea tells the story of what it was like when she saw the sea for the first time. She is amazed to discover that the wind can “wrinkle” water, and that the sea “breathes in and out / upon the shore.” Though the poem is short and spare, the poet captures the awe and wonder she felt on seeing the sea.
   Some of the poems describe animals, both real and imagined, while others tell the stories of amonster, a brave knight, a cowardly dragon, a pair of unusual lovers, and more.
   The poems also capture special moments, freezing them for all time so that they can be enjoyed again and again. In Daffodils we read about how the writer “wandered lonely as a cloud” until he saw a “host, of golden daffodils,” and the memory of this sight later warms him again and again when he is in a “vacant or pensive mood.”
   Throughout the book the poems are paired with Jackie Morris’ gorgeous illustrations that give the poems another layer of emotion and meaning.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Who Goes there?

There have been times, when I was alone at home at night, when strange noises from outside made me more than a little nervous. For some reason my imagination went wild and I found myself gathering my pet dogs around me. Not that they would be much help in a crisis. They are a bunch of cowards.
    In today's picture book you will meet a mouse who is frightened by noises outside and who, thanks to the noises, finds out what is missing in his life.

Who Goes There?Who goes there?
Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Anna Curry
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4169-8002-5
Winter is on its way and Lewis Mouse gets ready by filling his nest with leaves, twigs, and grass. The wind howls outside his snug little home. It pushes against his little door, but it cannot come in. Lewis has plenty to eat and he is warm and snug, but he cannot help feeling that something is missing.
   Lewis is nibbling on a nut where he hears a scratching and tapping noise on his door. Not surprisingly, Lewis feels a little nervous, but he doesn’t want whoever is at the door to know this so he roars out, “Who goes there? Who could it be? Who scritches and scratches and taps at my tree.” Lewis thinks that perhaps there is an owl out there, but when he opens his door and peaks out there is nothing outside at all except the night and the wind.
   Later Lewis is fast asleep when something starts scritching, scratching, and tapping on his door again. Feeling very annoyed Lewis bellows out again, and once again, when he looks outside nothing is there. Now that Lewis is awake he knows he is never going to be able to go back to sleep. He makes some raspberry tea with honey and sits down to drink when…that’s right….the noise starts up again. Now Lewis is really fed up, and scared. What if the animal outside is a bear?
   In this delightful picture book we meet a mouse whose roar is bigger than his courage. Readers will start feeling very sorry for this poor little creature who just wants a little peace and quiet. Thankfully, when the adventure is all over, Lewis finds out just what his little home is missing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Poetry Friday's review of Poetry for Young People: Lewis Carroll

Though I learned the poem many many years ago I can still narrate the Jabberwocky, and I still laugh when I read the poem about the Walrus and the Carpenter. These and other wonderful poems can be found in today's poetry title, which looks at the life and works of Lewis Carroll.

Poetry for Young People: Lewis CarrollPoetry for Young People: Lewis Carroll
Edited by Edward Mendelson
Illustrated by Eric Copeland
Poetry Picture book
For ages 8 and up
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5474-6
Charles Ludwidge Dodson was a mathematician who taught and studied at Oxford University.  He was greatly respected, and was a serious scholar who lived a quiet life. However, this tall thin young man had a silly and playful side, a side that chose to write fantastical stories and poems under a pen name. As Lewis Carroll, he was able to break free of his college teacher life and indulge in creating colorful characters, ridiculous situations, and amusing poems.
   Though Charles wrote little stories and poems when he was living with his family and later, his writing adventures really began on July 4th, 1862, when he was thirty years old. On this day he went for a picnic and went rowing on the River Thames with friends. One of the picnickers was a ten year old girl called Alice, and he made up a story for her and the other children about a girl called Alice who jumped down a rabbit hole. This story would, sometime later, get turned into a book called Alice in Wonderland. A sequel followed called Through the Looking-Glass.
   In this splendid book the editor takes many of the poems from these two books, plus excerpts from his poem The Hunting of the Snark, poems from his novel Sylvie and Bruno, and other poems that he wrote during his life.
   In many of his poems Carroll finds ways to make fun of conventions that were popular in his time. For example, many poets liked to write poems that encouraged children to work hard, to be good, and to do as they are told. In How Doth the Little Crocodile, Carroll parodies a poem someone else wrote about “the little busy bee” that works hard to collect nectar “from every opening flower.” In his version we meet a crocodile who, with a big and wide grin, “welcomes little fishes” to swim into his tooth-filled jaws.
   In A Sea Dirge Carroll makes fun of all those popular poems that waxed eloquent about the sea. As far as Carroll is concerned, the sea is a place where you get wet feet, a case of seasickness, and ruined food because sand gets in your tea. It is a place where one might fall down a cliff, slip on some rocks, and where one has to put up with having to watch nannies and their charges and other similar unpleasant sights.
   Throughout this excellent collection, each of the poems are introduced by a note from the editor and are accompanied by wonderful paintings, all of which beautifully capture the essence of the poems.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift

The season of giving is almost here and for today's picture book I have a title that I think beautifully captures the true spirit of the season, no matter who you are. In this story you will meet a pair of bears who love one another and who willingly give up things they care for so that they can purchase the perfect gift.

Boris and Stella and the Perfect GiftBoris and Stella and the Perfect Gift
Dara Goldman
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013, 978-1-58536-859-4
Boris and Stella are a pair of bears who, despite their very different backgrounds and occupations, love many of the same things. Boris plays the piano in a restaurant, and Stella is a baker, and they both like hats and scary movies.
   Stella wants to give Boris something special for Hanukkah, but she only has a few coins in her piggy bank. She has nothing worth selling except the pine tree that came from the family farm in Italy. Even though the tree is special to her, Stella decides to sell the tree so that she can buy Boris a dreidel to add to his dreidel collection.
   Boris is also thinking about gift giving. Christmas is coming up and he wants to get Stella a gift that she will treasure. He doesn’t have much money saved up either, but he does have a dreidel collection that his parents gave him when he was growing up in Russia. Boris decides that he will sell his dreidel collection so that he can buy a lovely star for Stella’s special pine tree.
   This heart-warming version of The Gift of the Magi will delight children and their grownups. It is wonderful to see that these two bears in this tale have no trouble giving up things they treasure. Children will see how giving a gift to someone you love is a gift in and of itself.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of: Beast Feast

I used to be a very wordy writer. I could not for the life of me be concise, and sometimes I took ages to get to the point. I am less verbose now, but I still admire people who can say a lot without having to use reams of words. In this book Douglas Florian beautifully describes a collection of animals using very few words and I am in awe of his skill.

Beast Feast : PoemsBeast Feast
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Harcourt, 1994, 978-0-152-01737-8
Most of us tend to take a long time to say what we want to say. We don’t try to describe things in a concise way, and sometimes what we want to say or describe gets lost in the throng of words. In this collection, poet and illustrator, Douglas Florian, beautifully captures the nature or habits of twenty-one animals using very few words.
   Often the poems are amusing. For example in The Anteater we are told that this animal has a “long and tacky tongue,” which goes “snaking from its snout.” The anteater uses this tongue to snag termites, a thousand of which go “riding in” to the anteater’s mouth, but none come “riding out.”
   In the shortest of the poems Douglas Florian often tweaks the words he uses, and the result is clever and amusing. In The Rhea he tells us that this large bird is “rheally” strange. It is just like an ostrich that has been “rhearranged.”
   Sometimes the poem is told from the animal’s point of view, and sometimes the poet himself expresses an opinion. In The Pigeon, he admits that he does not “Love the pigeon” but he does “like it” because the bird has its own way of doing things. It bobs its head when it walks, and pigeons are brave creatures, who may even we willing to sit on one’s shoulder.
   There are some poems that tell us exactly what the animal in question is like. For example we learn that toads, the “squat and plump” relative of the frog, does not jump very often. It is a nocturnal creature that hunts during the night and that “hops into an earthy borrow” to nap until it is time to hunt again.

   With poems that amuse, intrigue, and inform, this is a collection that young readers will enjoy sharing with friends and family members.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Hello, Mr. Hulot

It is not easy to tell a story using art when you only have a few pages to work with, and yet in this book the illustrator does this twenty-two times, giving readers little stories that are sweet, funny, and delightfully odd. It is a book that comic book fans will enjoy, and it is also a book that art lovers of all ages will find intriguing.

Hello Mr. HulotHello, Mr. Hulot
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
NorthSouth, 2013, 978-0-7358-4135-2
In France a character called Mr. Hulot was created and played by a comic actor called Jacques Tati. Mr. Hulot featured in four films in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and he became hugely popular. Being a big fan of Mr. Hulot, David Merveille has created illustrations capturing twenty-two vignettes from the films. Comic book style artwork brings these almost wordless scenarios to life, giving readers a truly unique picture book experience.
   We begin with Mr. Hulot going into a souvenir shop in Paris. He buys a snow globe with a miniature Eiffel Tower inside. When he takes the globe outside and shakes it, it starts to snow, in real life! Snow also plays a big part in another vignette in the book. Mr. Hulot is walking down a snowy sidewalk when a boy throws a snowball at him. Mr. Hulot throws a snowball back, and he hits a man walking behind the boy. In no time the snowball fight escalates and soon the whole street is full of people happily throwing snowballs at one another.
   In The Umbrella Corner we see that Mr. Hulot is a kind man. Mr. Hulot is standing at a bus stop and it starts to rain. He puts up his umbrella and one by one birds fly in and land by his feet. They want to shelter from the rain too. When the bus arrives Mr. Hulot makes a decision and he leaves his umbrella lodged in a nearby tree so that his bird acquaintances have shelter from the rain.
   Each little pictorial story or vignette in this book is beautifully paced so that the dénouement always appears after a page is turned, thus keeping tension going until the end. There is a cinematographic flavor throughout the book that makes each story memorable and a good to look at.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review Of I’ve lost my hippopotamus

When I saw the title of today's poetry title I just had to smile. After all, can you imagine how it would be possible to lose a pet hippo? The title sets the tone for the whole book, which is full of poems that children will find irresistible.

I’ve lost my hippopotamus
I've Lost My HippopotamusJack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0-06-201457-3
You only have to look online to see that many people find animal stories, pictures, and videos entertaining. People share these things using social media, and in just days everyone knows about the panda who got her head stuck in a box or the cat who stole the dog’s bed and refused to give it up. Animals doing funny things appeals to people, which is why this book will delight children and adults alike. It is full of funny animals, and funny people interacting with animals. Oh, and then there are the poems that are just about funny people who somehow manage to be funny even though there are no animals around.
   The first poem is about a girl who has lost her hippopotamus. It is hard to imagine how one could lose such an enormous animal, but this girl has managed it. The situation is so bizarre that she thinks that something is “fishy” and that some “unsavory subterfuge” is at play. What we know, thanks to the accompanying illustration, is that the girl’s hippo is not very far away at all.
   If you thought having a pet hippo was odd, then you should read the next poem. In this one you will meet someone who is wishing that the day would get more interesting. It has been a rather humdrum day so far, what with “fish in the treetops,” “owls underwater” and cows and elephants who are flying around. If this is a normal, boring sort of day, what would an interesting day in this world look like?
   Obviously, Jack Prelutsky has the gift for coming up with the most extraordinary ideas. Pet hippos and fish in trees are just a few of them. He has many more. For example, have you ever wondered what it would be like if pigeons weighed as much as pigs? No, neither have I, but Jack Prelutsky has. What should a person do if  pigeons weighed as much as pigs and “dragonflies were dragons,” and if caterpillars were as big as wagons and alley cats were as big as lions.
   Pig-sized pigeons are interesting, but going to a store to buy a dragon is surely even more so. In “Shopping at a dragon store,” the poet tells us all about a visit to a dragon store and how he tries to find a “very special kind of dragon,” the kind that he can take home.
   Some people have a gift for being amusing, for taking just a few lines of words and creating something that tickles people’s giggle spots. Jack Prelutsky is just such a person, and in this collection of more than one hundred poems, he gives readers more than one hundred reasons to smile. His poems are accompanied by line drawings that perfectly capture the essence of the poems, and that often contain a little joke of their own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Bluebird

It is always wonderful when you make a meaningful connection with someone new. When you are alone and sad such a connection is particularly powerful and perhaps even life-changing. In today's picture book, which is wordless, we see how a friendship between a friendly bird and a lonely little boy grows, and we also see how senseless cruelty can end something precious and beautiful.

Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Random House, 2013, 978-0-375-87037-8
In a grey city world there is a little boy who is friendless and lonely. At school many of the other children laugh at the little boy, which naturally hurts his feelings and makes him feel even lonelier. One day a little bluebird sits on the little boy’s classroom window sill. It watches the little boy and when he walks home at three o’clock it follows him. Then the bluebird tries to make friends with the little boy, and it even manages to make him smile.
   The little boy finds himself interacting with the bird, playing hide-and-seek with it, and then sharing his cookie with his charming little companion. When the other children ignore the little boy, the bird comes and sits on his shoulder, making the little boy feel special.
   In the park the little boy buys a toy boat and he and his new friend play with it, and the other children playing with their boats notice the little boy and the bird and respond to them in a friendly and welcoming way. Then the little boy goes into a wooded part of the park where he encounters a trio of bullies and his special afternoon with his new friend is spoiled.
   All too often in this world we are too busy or too indifferent to notice when people around us are unhappy. In this extraordinary worldless picture book Bob Staake explores a special relationship that a little bird offers a lonely child. We see how compassion and an offer of friendship can brighten someone’s life, and how cruel bullying and aggression is. Though the tale is touched with pain and loss, it also gives readers a bright message of hope.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of Wolf and Dog

We have coyotes in the hills around my house, and many evenings we hear them yipping and yowling. Not long ago I wondered what they must think of the domesticated dogs that they encounter. Do they know that they are related to the dogs? Today's poetry title looks at the relationship that exists between a dog and his wild cousin, the wolf.

Wolf and DogWolf and Dog
Sylvia Vaden Heede
Illustrated by Marije Tolman
Translated by Bill Nagelkerke
For ages 7 to 10
Gecko Press, 2013, 978-1-877579-47-9
Wolf lives in the forest at the top of the hill and his cousin, Dog, lives in a house and sleeps in a basket every night. Wolf is a rather uncouth fellow who bites when he is hungry. He is hungry when he visits Dog, but Dog reminds him that they are cousins and that cousins don’t bite one another.
   Being a hospitable fellow, Dog cooks Wolf some bacon. Dog might be willing to eat lettuce, but Wolf wants meat, and lots of it. Wolf, being the kind of creature he is, snatches the bacon right out of the pan, leaving nothing for Dog.
   Wolf comes to call on another day, when the boss is gone again, and Dog tells him that he has a flea bothering him. He accuses Wolf of being the animal responsible for giving him the flea. Wolf, being a sly and sometimes unpleasant creature, turns the tables on Dog and demands that Dog return his flea. Dog gets scared when he sees his cousin’s teeth and hears his growl.  Wolf may be his cousin, but Wolf is wild and “can’t be tamed.” Dog has no choice but to threaten Wolf. If Wolf harms him, Dog will bark for his boss and Wolf would not like that to happen. At all. To avert what could turn into a nasty situation Wolf decides that he is going to give Dog his flea. Wolf was given the bacon to eat, and in return he has given Dog one of his fleas, of which he has many.
   In this delightful, often funny collection of story poems, the author tells nine stories about the interactions between Dog and Wolf. Sometimes the two animals are competing or trying to get the better of each other, and at other times they realize that they have more in common than they thought. There are even times when they get along and help one another out.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of The Invisible Boy

Most of us have experienced times when we feel as if we are invisible, when the people around us don't seem to realize that we are even there. The alone and cut-off-from-the-world feeling is horrible. In this picture book the author looks at one little boy who is made to feel invisible, and who still manages to be generous to someone else.

The Invisible BoyThe invisible Boy
Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2013, 978-1-582-46450-3
Brian is not really an invisible boy but he is so quiet and makes so little fuss in class, that it is almost as if he really is invisible. Mrs. Carlotti has her hands full dealing with Nathan, who shouts all the time, and Sophie, “who whines and complains” whenever she doesn’t get what she wants. Somehow Brian never gets picked when the children play kickball, and when one of the children has a birthday party, Brian isn’t invited.
   Then one day a new boy called Justin joins Brian’s class. At lunch Justin eats something called bulgogi with chopsticks and when he offers some to the other children they make fun of him and his strange Korean food. Brian wonders which is worse; being laughed at or feeling invisible.
  The next morning Justin finds a note waiting for him in his cubby. The note is from Brian and in it Brian says that he thinks Justin’s bulgogi “looked good.” One the note Brian even drew a little picture of himself eating bulgogi with chopsticks.
   In this wonderful picture book Trudy Ludwig shows young readers how painful it is to be the child who is always left out of everything. Her story is thoughtfully sensitive and she explores the idea that being kind to one another is simple to do, taking little effort, and yet it makes such a difference to someone who feels alone and lonely.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of: Nicola Bayley’s Book of Rhymes

I have looked at a lot of nursery rhyme books over the years. There have been pop-up versions, magic window versions, and even some board book editions. Today's poetry title has some of the richest and most beautiful illustrations that I have ever seen in a nursery rhyme book. The illustrations are so detailed that it is easy to lose track of time as you look through the book.

Nicola Bayley's Book of Nursery RhymesNicola Bayley’s Book of Rhymes
Illustrated by Nicola Bayley
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House UK, 2013, 978-1-780-08038-3
 Nursery rhymes are wonderful because they bring poetry, and often little songs, into the lives of very young children. They also introduce children to little stories, such as the tale of poor Dumpty Dumpty, and they allow us to meet interesting characters such as Little Miss Muffet and Little Jack Horner.
   In this collection of nursery rhymes Nicola Bayley pairs her extraordinary artwork with twenty- two popular nursery rhymes. For every nursery poem she creates either a full page illustration or a series of small jewel-like vignettes. Every illustration is rich with color and extraordinary detail.  Some of the illustrations have lovely frames that give the artwork an added layer of richness. Children will have a wonderful time exploring the world of the Queen of Hearts, Simple Simon, and other nursery rhyme characters.
   This book first came out in 1992 and launched Nicola Bayley’s career as a children’s book illustrator.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of How to Train a Train

I have a confession to make. I am very fond of my car. She has a name, Lucy, and I am proud of her because she protected me when a semi truck winged us, and she bravely brought us all the way across the country when we moved to the west coast. She never wavered even though there was a cat in her cargo area who howled for the entire journey. Lucy is a valued member of the family.

In today's picture book you will meet a boy who tells us what we need to know if we want to add a train to our family. A pet train. It may sound strange, but don't knock it until you have tried it.

How to Train a TrainHow to train a train
Jason Carter Eaton
Illustrated by John Rocco
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6307-0
If you go to a bookshop you will probably find dozens of books about how to train dogs. There may even be a few titles about how you might train a cat. What you won’t find is a book that will help you to train you pet train. Why would a person want a pet train? The answer is simple: because “Trains make awesome pets – they’re fun, playful, and extremely useful.”
   The good news is that anyone who wants to have a pet train can now get a little help thanks to this book. Everything that you need to know to “choose, track, and train” your new pet train can be found on these pages.
   The first thing you need to do is to decide what kind of train you want. Are you interested in a freight train, or perhaps a monorail train is more suitable. Once you have made your choice, you have to catch the train you want. You could try cornering it or trapping it using a big net. The train expert featured in this book has his own tried-and-true method that may seem complicated, but he swears by it.
   When you get your train home you have to give it a name. Any name will do. Then you have to do what you can to make your train feel at home. It is only natural that the train will be a little anxious at first. A hot bath can calm your train down. Some trains like to be read to, while others respond well to “soft locomotion sounds.”
   It is not easy to find helpful how-to books, but thankfully the author and the illustrator of this book know a great deal about trains and their ways. With their help just about anyone can become a successful pet train owner. The wonderful illustrations beautifully show readers the joys of train ownership, and anyone who reads this book carefully will find themselves wishing that they had a pet train of their own.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Poetry Friday: A Review of If: A treasury of poems for almost every possibility

There are, alas, many people who don't realize that poems are wonderful things. They don't know that poems can be funny, thought-provoking and relevant to us, no matter who we are. Two women set out to prove to such people that poems are treasures to be enjoyed and savored, and this is the collection of poems that they put together.

Edited by Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly
Illustrated by Natasha Law
For ages 6 and up
Cannongate Books, 2012, 978-0-85786-5571
Many people are under the impression that poetry has a limited appeal and a limited use in real life in the modern world. They believe that poems are for the classroom or occasionally one might read one aloud at a special event. In an effort to encourage children to “love, learn and even write poems,” the editors of this anthology created an app. The If Poems app gives children “poems to read or hear being read by well-known actors.” The IF Poems app was so successful that the editors ended up producing this remarkable anthology to compliment it.  Over the years people have written poems about all kinds of things and therefore there is a poem out there that is relevant to just about any situation. With this anthology in hand readers can dip into a selection of poems that will suit every mood and offer insights that are powerful or amusing.
   Growing up can be a painful process, one that is full of pitfalls, and many poets have written about this issue. This anthology begins by looking at poems about growing up. Some of them are amusing, such as Roger McGough’s The Leader. In this poem we meet someone who is eager to be a leader. When at last the coveted status is achieved the person wonders “OK what shall we do?” In Love Between Brothers and Sisters Isaac Watts encourages his readers to “let their anger cool” when they are upset with a sibling so that “Our hearts may all be love” when they “grow to riper age.”
   For those days when the world is looking dark and grim there are poems that focus upon Humor And Nonsense. Here you will find poems by Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, and others. Here you will encounter the words of Frog from Wind in the Willows, you will hear about Macavity the criminal cat, and you will learn all about the Jabberwocky, a creature with “eyes of flame,” sharp teeth and claws.
  If you are in the mood to hear a story, then the Tell Me a Tale poems will suit you to perfectly. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the description of that famous visit Saint Nicholas makes on Christmas Eve, and many others story poems can be found in this section. Some of the tales are humorous, while others have a dark tone that might even give readers the shivers.
   Other sections in this anthology include Magic, Friendship and Love, and Lessons for Life. Readers of all ages will enjoy dipping into this book to savor poetry treasures.

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