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, January 28, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Oh No, Little Dragon!

I have a great fondness for dragons, which is why in part I chose to write Talon Diaries, a serialized story about a dragon. I am always on the lookout for new dragon books, and today's title is quite delightful. In it you will meet a little dragon who finds out that it is not wise to drink too much bath water.

Jim Averbeck
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2012, 978-1-4169-9545-6
Little dragon is lucky because he has a “spark in his heart” that allows him to make fire. He loves being able to send fire swooshing out of his mouth into the air, and his mother happily tells her little son that she loves his flame.
   Of course, if you go around making fire, you have a tendency to become sooty. Little Dragon’s mother tells him to have a bath, and when he says that he hates baths, she tells him that he can play with his wooden boat in the tub.
   In the tub Little Dragon sends a fantastic flame across the water and sets the boat on fire. Then, he decides to be “Little Dragon Fire Department” and he does a cannonball to put out the fire he made. He laughs with delight and, not surprisingly, swallows some water, which puts out Little Dragon’s spark. He is sparkless and therefore flameless. Somehow he has to get his spark back!
   This delightful picture book will make children laugh out loud. Who can resist a little dragon who likes to set fire to things. Children will be especially amused when they see what the little dragon does to try to get his spark back.
   With wonderfully minimal but expressive illustrations and a funny story, Jim Averbeck gives readers a picture book that they will enjoy reading and looking at again and again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Poetry for Young People: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I must confess that I before I moved to the United States, I knew very little about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I am not sure why we never looked at his work when I was in school, but we didn't. Since then I have made a point of reading some of his writings and poems and have greatly enjoyed the experience. Today's poetry title not only introduces readers to some of his poetry, but the editor of the collection also tells us the story of Longfellow's life.

Edited by Frances Schoonmaker
Illustrated by Chad Wallace
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 1998, 978-0-8069-9417-8
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew up in Portland, Maine. Though his family was not wealthy, they were well off enough that Henry and his siblings got a good education and they always had access to books. Henry grew up to love the written word, and the things he saw around him inspired him to write poetry. Often his poems described people and everyday events. In one of his longer poems there is a scene where he describes a potter working at his wheel. To him, the potter’s ability is like magic as “That shapeless, lifeless mass of clay / Rise up to meet the master’s hand.” He also wrote about a village blacksmith who, with “brawny arms” that are as “strong as iron bands,” works all day long working the bellows and beating the metal with a “heavy sledge.”
   After going to college and travelling to Europe to learn foreign languages, Henry became a scholar and a teacher at Harvard. He also wrote poems when he could, including long story poems such as Evangeline, Paul Revere’s Ride, and The Song of Hiawatha.
   Then there were the poems that were more personal. Moved by the plight of slaves, he wrote eight poems that were combined in a little book called Poems on Slavery. Though his views made him unpopular with some people, Henry always felt that slavery was a terrible practice and he tried to show people what it would be like to be a slave. In The Slave’s Dream he tells the story of a slave who is thinking about his homeland in Africa, and in The Witness he gives a voice to all the slaves who drowned when the slave ship they were on sank. On the ocean bed they lie and “cry, from yawning waves / “We are the Witnesses.” They are the ones who know all about the cruelty of man against man.
   In this excellent Poetry for Young People title, the editor’s introduction sets the scene for the poetry selections that she chose to share with readers. Readers get a sense of what kind of man Longfellow was, and how his life experiences influenced his creative process. Knowing the poet’s story will help readers to better appreciate his splendid poems. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of I have a Dream

Today Americans remember the life of one of our greatest citizens: Martin Luther King Jr. He was born on January 15th in 1929, and was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. gave many powerful and moving speeches in his lifetime, but probably the most famous one is the speech he gave in Washington, D.C on August 28, 1963. On that day he told thousands of people about his hopes and dreams, and in today's picture book his beautiful words are paired with Kadir Nelson's artwork to give readers of all ages a memorable book experience. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Nonfiction Picture book and Audio CD
For ages 6 and up
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-85887-1
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. In front of him was a sea of people, people of many races and followers of many faiths.  He had been working as an activist and leader in the African-American struggle for civil rights for many years, and leading “The Great March on Washington” was a big moment for King and his cause.
   King took on the cause of the civil rights movement in 1955 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and in subsequent years King’s family members were threatened and he was thrown in jail. Supported by his faith, his followers, and his belief in his cause, he managed to overcome his fears and concerns to lead his people in peaceful marches, boycotts, demonstrations, and sit ins.
   King began his famous speech on that hot August day by talking about how the Negro in America was still not free, despite Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal.”
   Later in the speech he shifted his focus and said “I have a dream…” and he told his listeners all about this powerful dream, his hopes for all Americans.
   In this beautiful picture book the latter half of King’s memorable speech is shared with young readers. Two minor changes have been made, and one paragraph of the original speech has been left out, but otherwise King’s words have been left untouched.
   Accompanied by Kadir Nelson’s beautiful art, the text is as powerful today as it was all those years ago, and even young children will recognize the beauty in King’s words.
   At the back of the book readers will find a copy of the entire speech, and an audio recording of King giving his speech can be found on the CD that comes with the book.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Side by Side

Sometimes poets and writers are inspired by the strangest things. They hear or see something that creates a little seed of an idea in their heads, and if they are lucky this seed grows into a piece of writing. For centuries writers have been inspired by art, and in today's poetry title we get to explore some modern day examples of poems that were art inspired.

Edited by Jan Greenberg
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 to 14
Abrams, 2008, 978-0-8109-9471-3
For centuries people have been writing poems that were inspired by works of art. They have sat in front of a painting, a piece of pottery, or a sculpture, and words have come to them that describe that work of art or that capture the essence of the piece. Often the poetry is a deeply personal reaction to the artwork, one that is unique to the poet.
   In this very unique collection of poems Jan Greenberg offers us poems written by poets from around the world that were inspired by artworks from around the world. She invited poets to choose “artworks that were representative of their own cultures,” and most of the poems in the collection were written specifically for this book.
   The poems are divided into four categories: Stories, Voices, Expressions and Impressions. The first story poem was written by Pat Mora, and she offers her readers the poem in both Spanish and English. In the poem she describes a collection of ceramic and painted wooden figurines that are part of a scene. The characters in the scene are all musicians who play on drums, guitars, pipes, and other instruments. Seeing the musicians reminds the poet of her “abuelo,” who plays his violin outside at sunset. His playing encourages other musicians to join him and soon the “whole town floats / on the rhythmic river of music.”
   In the Voices section of the book poets gives the characters or scenes in art works a voice. For example, from the Netherlands we hear the voice of woman who appears in a painting that was created by Hans Memling in 1480. Poet Anne Provoost tells the story of the young woman who is making a lace collar for her father when a young man comes to her and “falls on his knees.” He tells her that “the light I have only seen/ in the stained glass of cathedrals” shines out from her face. She is shocked that anyone would consider her attractive and is drawn to him.
   The poems in the Expression section are more contemplative in that they explore “the transaction that takes place between the viewer and the art object.” From Canada there is a painting of a young woman standing on the deck of a ferry that is going to Prince Edward Island. She is looking straight at us through her binoculars. The poet thinks that the girl is not really looking through the binoculars. Instead, she is hiding behind them, the way people in “alien atmospheres / are awkward inside the costumes they wear for safety.”
   In the final section, Impressions, poets describe what they see when they look at their chosen artwork. They use all kinds of patterns of words to show us what they see, and it is interesting to discover that what we see may not be what another person sees. A painting by the Japanese painter Ei-Kyu may look like the birth of a planet to one person, but to the poet, Naoko Nishimoto, the painting shows a dream that blooms behind closed eyelids.
   At the back of the book readers will find biographies of the poets, the translators, and the artists. There is also a map “showing where each poet, translator, and artist included in this book lives or lived.”
   This is remarkable book, one that young readers will find interesting and thought-provoking.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We Give Books

I recently found out about We Give Books and want to introduce you to this splendid literacy program.

Who Is Behind It?
We Give Books was created by the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation. Together, we support literacy through programs that engage entire communities through literacy and awareness programs like Booktime and Jumpstart's Read for the Record. We hope that We Give Books proves to be a way that young children, together with their parents or caregivers, can come to understand the power of reading—and of giving—as much as we do.Penguin Group is one of the world's premier global consumer trade book publishers, with key market positions in the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, Canada, India, China, New Zealand and Ireland. The Penguin Group (http://www.penguin.com) is part of Pearson plc, the international media company.Pearson Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Pearson plc. A 501(c) (3) nonprofit operating foundation, the Pearson Foundation extends Pearson's commitment to education by partnering with leading nonprofit, civic, and business organizations to provide financial, organizational, and publishing assistance across the globe.
The Books
We are dedicated to delivering award-winning books empowering you to read and share beautiful stories with children in your life. With age-appropriate content for young readers, our goal is to create memories that will last a lifetime.Books are right at the heart of this program — books for reading and books for giving!All of the books available for online reading are children's picture books appropriate for children through age ten. There is a mix of fiction and nonfiction, a range of authors, and an equal balance between read-alouds and books for independent readers. We'll be adding news books every month, together with special seasonal offerings.The We Give Books team works upfront with each non-profit literacy partner to identify the kinds of children's books that best fit their program needs. Some of the same great books you can read online will be donated to our charity partners through your reading efforts. We also donate others they request specifically for the young people they serve.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of No Two Alike

Many of us find it all too easy to rush though our days without taking a moment to notice the beauty of nature. Even in a city there are pockets of nature that can be enjoyed if you just take the time to do so. In today's picture book we accompany two little birds as they explore their environment. The birds figure out that every plant and animal is unique, just as they are. Every plant and animal is a gift that we can enjoy looking at and watching.
No Two Alike
Keith Baker
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4424-1742-7
It is a beautiful snowy day and two little red birds are flying around the woods. They notice that no two snowflakes are alike. Some almost seem to be the same, “but not quite.” As they explore their world they discover that snowflakes are not the only things that are not alike.
   When they look at nests they discover that though two nests are both soft and round, they are still different. Tracks in the snow are also similar but different. As they sit and hang from a branch they find that no two branches are alike, and every leaf is unique. As they make snowballs and use a stick to brush snow off a fence, the little birds find more things that are similar and yet not the same.
   With a delightful lyrical rhyming text and gorgeous illustrations showing snowy scenes, this book, with its charming little bird characters, is a joy to read. Children will enjoy seeing what the two little birds get up to, and they will see that we are all different. Celebrating our differences is one of the wonderful things to do in life. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of A foot in the mouth

My father loved to read out loud, and he was very good at it too. Thanks to him, I learned how to read Shakespeare, and I also learned that there is something special about sharing a story or a piece of poetry with someone else. For today's poetry title Paul B. Janeczko chose poems that are perfect for reading out loud. Many of them are also easy to memorize. Not long ago I found myself reciting one of the poems in this book, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. I learned the poem when I was eight years old, and it have been with me ever since. 

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and ShoutSelected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2009, 978-0-7636-6083-3
The amazing thing about the written word is that it can be enjoyed in so many ways. We can read a book to ourselves, enjoying the language and the story in solitude, or we can share what we are reading with others. Reading out loud used to be something that many people did. As a family sat around a fire or on a porch, one of their number would read out loud while the others knitted, sewed, whittled wood, or simply sat and listened. Reading to oneself is a wonderful way to spend some time, but reading to others is special because you get to hear the beauty of the language and you get to share it. There are some pieces of writing that come to life when someone lets the words be heard aloud.
   Many pieces of poetry are like this. It is almost as if they were meant to be read out loud. For this book Paul B. Janeczko has selected thirty-six poems that are perfect for reading out loud. There are short ones, like Gigl, which is only six words long, and then there are others that are longer and more complicated. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, for example, is full of words that most of us have never even heard before. What on earth is a “borogove” or a Tumtum tree?” The great thing about this poem is that is does not matter if we don’t know what all the words mean. They sound delicious.
   Some of the poems have an almost musical feel to them. Certainly Us Two by A.A. Milne is just such a poem. The bouncing rhythm and rhyming elements make this poem perfect for reading out loud.   
   Paul Janeczko has even chosen some poems that two or more readers can read together. Fishes: Poem for Two Voices by Georgia Heard is perfect for a two people to share, and an excerpt from Macbeth has three parts. Good Hot Dogs by Sandra Cisneros comes in two flavors, English and Spanish. What a wonderful way for two people to share the same poem!
   Many of the poems have one more thing to offer. They are perfect for memorizing. Sometimes the story in the poem is so catchy that one cannot help learning the poem quickly. Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat is a good example of this. Then there are the ones that are funny. Short and quirky limericks fit the bill for people who like to smile and laugh. Other poems have such wonderful language that we welcome the opportunity to take those words and tuck them into our memories so that we can pull them out whenever we want. Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing is the kind of poem that you want to keep in your head. It will always be there, so you can take it out at will, dust it off, and stay it loud.
   This is a splendid collection of poems that readers of all ages will enjoy exploring.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin. A book for everyone

Yesterday was not a good day for me. I was struggling with fears, worries, and frustrations, and I was therefore feeling pretty miffed with the world in general. Then I settled down to read and review Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin. For as long as I have been reading her books, I have loved the way Wendy pairs her illustrations with text that has substance. She makes her readers think about and consider what she is saying. Peace certainly did this for me. She reminded me that being angry with my lot in life serves no purpose. Instead I need to think things through quietly and refrain from sending my annoyed feelings out into the world. I need to set aside the small stuff and do my part to create peace.

Wendy Anderson Halperin
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-0-689-82552-1
Sometimes, when we read or watch the news, we feel overwhelmed by the suffering that we see people experiencing all over the world. There is so much violence, and it exists on so many levels. People are robbed and hurt in their homes, and people die by the hundreds or thousands in wars and other conflicts. How can one person do anything about this terrible situation? How can a child promote peace when confronted by so much anger?
   In this beautiful and powerful book Wendy Anderson Halperin explores the idea that every one of us can do things to make our world more peaceful. In the beginning of the book she tells us how we can use our five senses so that we can become better peace makers. For example, we can use our sense of touch to “help, to plant, to comfort, to reach out, and to create peace.” With our ears we can be good listeners, and with our words we can “heal, not hurt.”
   She then goes on to show us using artwork, her words, and quotations, how peace can only come to our world if nations chose the path of peace. In turn nations can only embrace peace if cities are peaceful. Cities cannot be peaceful if neighborhoods are full of anger and violence, and if schools and homes are torn apart by cruel words and actions. Homes cannot find peace if there is no peace in our hearts.
   Packed with words of wisdom from Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, Plato, Mark Twain and others, this is a book that will empower and uplift readers. It is a book to read and savor, and it is a book that will help readers to get through the hard times. Grownups reading this book to their children will realize that the book is for them as well. It serves as a valuable reminder that peacemaking begins with the individual. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Utterly Otterly Night

There is something about snow that makes many of us become downright goofy when we go outside to play in it. We cannot resist falling into the white stuff, throwing it at each other, sliding on it, and building things with it. In today's book you are going to meet a young otter who has a fantastic time playing in the snow on a moonlit night. We met this particular youngster in his first book, Utterly Otterly Day, and he is still full of fun and mischief.

Mary Casanova
Illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-7562-5
It is wintertime and snow is drifting down out of the night sky. In a cozy holt under the riverbank four otters are fast asleep. No, it would appear that only three of the otters are fast asleep. Little Otter is wide awake and he is eager to play, “in an utterly otterly way.”
  Little Otter wakes up his sister and parents and then they all go outside. Mama reminds everyone that at “the first hint of danger – we all head in.” Little Otter is not worried about danger. After all, he is a “big otter now,” and can take care of himself. Little Otter climbs a hill and then goes sliding down on his belly. He encounters Rabbit, and he hides in the snow when Owl flies over. When the big bird flies off, Little Otter gets back to the business of playing and sliding.
   Then, when Little Otter gets to the top of a high hill, he smells something on the air. He smells danger and he raises the alarm, but his family members are too far away to hear his call.
   Packed with wonderful words like “whooshily,” and “friskily,” this delightful picture book brings back the main character that we met in Utter Otterly Day. Once again Little Otter faces dangers, and once again the author and illustrator beautifully convey how delightfully ebullient and fun-loving Little Otter is.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of An Egret's Day

Jane Yolen has put together several poetry collections that focus on birds, including Birds of a Feather. In these collections, she looks at several bird species. In today's book she focuses on one species, the egret, and uses her poems to show us how special and beautiful these birds are.

Jane Yolen
Photographs by Jason Stemple
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2010, 978-1-59078-650-5
Egrets, also called Great White Herons, are exceptionally beautiful and elegant birds, and many people, including poet Jane Yolen and photographer Jason Stemple, are big fans of the large birds. Egrets are found in many parts of the world ,and are wading birds that favor shallow lakes, rice paddies, mudflats, tidal estuaries, and other wet areas. With a beak that is “as sharp and fine / as a fisherman’s gutting knife,” egrets skewer the fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects that they like to eat. They stand motionless, waiting and watching, and when they see a movement they stab their prey, “Almost every strike a winner.”
   Egrets have beautiful large wings that they care for assiduously, preening each feather carefully to remove any dirt. The feathers are so beautiful that for many years they were highly prized by clothes and hat designers. Thankfully, many people, including the author of these poems, think that egret feathers belong “Upon the shoulders of the egret.”
   In this splendid title fourteen poems are paired with photographs and sections of text to give readers an interesting picture of what egrets are like. Jane Yolen uses several very different poetry forms in her poems and readers will enjoy seeing how she crafts, among other things, a haiku and a limerick.
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