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, February 25, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Miss Annie: Freedom!

Young children and animals often believe that they are ready to do many, if not all, of the things that the "big kids" or grownups do. Children try to cook something and set food on fire They take clocks and other machines apart thinking that they will be able to put them back together. Kittens climb trees that they cannot figure out how to come down, and puppies pick fights with animals much bigger and tougher than they are.
   In today's graphic novel title you will meet a kitten who is determined to go out into the big world because she is convinced that she knows how to manage out there as well as she manages in her house.

Frank Le Gall
Illustrated by Flore Balthazar and Robin Doo
Graphic Novel
For ages 7 to 10
Lerner, 2012, 978-0-7613-7884-6
Miss Annie is a five month old kitten and she is convinced that she is old enough to do just about anything, and yet her people will not let her go outside. While her master walks in the park looking for inspiration, and her mistress works in an office, and her young mistress goes to school, Annie walks around the house looking for something to do. She plays with a pen, shreds a leaf from a flower arrangement, and finds a mouse. A live mouse.
   For some reason, though the mouse knows that mice are eaten by cats, and though Miss Annie knows that cats are supposed to eat mice, the mouse and Miss Annie become friends. When everyone is asleep that night Miss Annie gives the mouse a name and she tells the mouse all about her ambitions to go outside. Keisha the mouse cannot understand why Miss Annie would want to do such a thing. After all, “Outside is BIG and DANGEROUS.” Miss Annie is positive that she will be fine outside, but when she actually goes outside, she learns that she still has a lot to learn.
   All too often young creatures, including cats and humans, think they know everything there is to know. If they are lucky someone kind comes along who helps them realize that we never stop having to learn about the world we live in.
   With wonderful comic illustrations and a sensitive, sweet, and gently funny story, this graphic novel will appeal to readers of all ages.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of African American Poetry

February is Black History Month in the United States, and in honor of this celebration, I have reviewed a poetry title that brings together poetry written by some of America's greatest African American poets.

Edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount
Illustrated by Karen Barbour
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2012, 978-1-4027-1689-8
   The first book of poetry written by an African American was Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. The poet was Phillis Wheatley, who as a child was brought to America in a slave ship in 1761, and who became the property of a Boston gentleman. Phillis was lucky to end up in this household because her owners were kind and they encouraged Phillis to educate herself. Phillis made excellent progress with her studies and she began writing poetry in English when she was still very young.
   After Phillis’s death in 1784, very few African-Americans were given the opportunity to write poetry, and then a slave from North Carolin, George Moses Horton, began to write poetry and two of his collections were published in 1829 and 1845. Like Phillis, he used his poetry to “defend the humanity of African Americans,” and poets who came after him did the same.
   Then, during what came to be called the Harlem Renaissance, many young African Americans began to write poetry, and the words of Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and others delighted both African American and Caucasian readers. After the wounds caused by the Great Depression began to heal, more African American poets began to share their work with the world, using their words to ask for justice for their people, and to also tell their stories.
   In this extraordinary collection of poetry the editor presents the poems of African American poets in chronological order, which gives readers a real sense of how such poetry evolved and changed with time. Each poem is prefaced with a note from the editor, and the notes give readers biographical information about the poet and commentary on the poet’s subject and style of writing. The poems included in the collection vary greatly. There are those written in rhyming forms such as one written by George Moses Horton, there are a pair of haiku written by Richard Wright, and there are poems written in blank verse. Irrespective of the form used in their creation, these memorable poems all have strong voices that are rich with imagery and history.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Splash into Spring-Fling Blog Book Tour

I have always loved water and spent many summers when I was a child and a teenager at the local pool or at the seaside. Jade Baxter does not like to swim. In fact, she does not like getting wet, and since she is a largish girl, she hates putting on a bathing suit. You can only imagine how she feels when she finds out, by accident, that she is part mermaid and that her legs turn into a tail when she is immersed in water and inhales some. While some people might like being half mermaid, Jade does not. It makes her life very complicated indeed. Imagine what it would be like to go to the pool and sprout a tail when you accidentally breath in some water?

Today I am participating in a blog tour that is featuring the latest book about Jade and her mermaid adventures. The first book, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, is funny and highly entertaining. Jade's story is continued in Real Mermaids Don't hold their Breathand it too is a great read that combines fantasy with a coming-of-age tale.

The latest book in the series, Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels, carries on Jade's story. In it she has more problems to solve and she learns a little more about her mermaid heritage.

For ages 12 and up
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013, 978-1-4022-6458-0
Jade is thrilled. She is finally in high school where she will have more freedom and more choices. Jade will have a locker rather than a cubby, and she is hopeful that she will be able to have a normal life again. Many people might find a normal life boring but Jade craves an ordinary and predictable life.
   For the last few months her world has been confusing, sometimes frightening, and full of surprises. She now knows that her mother is a mermaid, and she, Jade, grows a tail when she enters water and if she inhales some. Jade has found out that mers (this is the correct name for mermaids) live in the nearby lake and in the ocean that lies beyond the canal and lock, and that the Mermish Council has strict rules. One of these is that the Council members do not want their own kind to know that mers can transform into a human with legs, and that they can become what the mers called Webbed Ones
   Jade is all ready to enjoy her first day of school when her grandmother arrives bringing Serena with her. The last time Jade saw Serena the girl was a mermaid. Apparently Serena’s father wants his daughter to live her life as a human most of the time. If Gran and her family help Serena life a life on land, Serena’s father will behave himself. If they don’t, he will start vandalizing and stealing boats, and who knows what else he will do. At the best of times he is temperamental.
   So now Jade has to babysit a mer teen who does now know how to speak English, who cannot write, and who cannot bear to wear shoes. The good news is that Serena is a sweet and loveable girl and most people quickly become fond of her. The bad news is that the mer girl is prone to doing things that create problems for Jade.
   Watching over Serena seems like a huge issue until Jade goes to Bridget’s Diner with her friend Cori and their boyfriends Trey and Luke. There she finds out they have a much bigger problem to worry about. The Mermish Council members, especially the leader, are facing a possible revolution. The mers are getting sick and tired of the Council’s often cruel actions. To put a stop to a potential uprising, the Council is imprisoning troublesome mers in the lake, and they are going to enforce Tidal Law. At the next full moon, just nine days away, they are going summon all the mers, including the Webbed Ones, to the mer village in the ocean. Since Jade was born a human and only recently acquired the ability to transform, she will not feel the pull of Tide Law, but her mother, boyfriend, Serena, Bridget, and the school swimming coach who were mers from birth will all be unable to avoid the summons. Jade cannot believe that once again she has to deal with a problem involving mermaids.
   In this third Real Mermaids title the author takes poor confused Jade on another adventure and this time Jade has to use her head and her heart to save the ones she loves. New information about the characters is revealed as the story unfolds, and readers will be delighted with the thoroughly satisfying ending.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A flower in the Snow

Today's title is a perfect example of a picture book where the text and the art is perfectly married to give readers a memorable experience. I think this book has a beautiful and meaningful story about friendship and art that is truly magical.

Tracey Coderoy
Illustrated by Sophie Allsopp
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sourcebooks, 2012, 978-1-4022-7740-5
Luna is a little girl who lives in a distant cold land where there is a great deal of ice and snow. Luna loves to “dance through the snowflakes” in her wintery world, but more than anything else Luna loves to spend time with Bear, who is big and white. Bear is her best friend and they do everything together.
   One day a bright yellow flower pokes its head through the snow and Bear picks it and give it to Luna. Luna loves the gift and plans on keeping it forever, but the flower dies and Luna is bereft. Nothing Bear does cheers up the little girl, so Bear decides that there is only one thing that he can do. Bear leaves Luna a note telling her that he has gone “to find a sunshine flower.”
   Luna waits and waits for Bear to come home, but many days go by and there is no sign of her dear friend.
   True friendship is a precious thing, and this picture book celebrates friendships with a delightful story and beautiful illustrations. Children will enjoy seeing where Bear goes as he tries to find another sunshine flower, and they will be delighted when they see how the story ends.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Flamingos on the roof

When I try to remember which poem first showed me the joys of reading poetry, I think of The Owl and the Pussycat, which was written by Edward Lear. It is a story poem, and it is also a delightfully peculiar and sometimes funny poem. When it comes to children, funny poems are wonderful ambassadors for poetry. Amusing and nonsense poems tickle children's funny bones and they show children that poetry can be a lot of fun. Today's poetry title is packed with poems that will make children smile and laugh.

Calef Brown
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Houghton Mifflin, 2006, 978-0618-56298-5
For centuries people have been writing poetry to share ideas and feelings with others, to tell stories, and to describe people and places. Often poems of this kind are serious, thought provoking, and meditative, but every so often someone comes along who likes to use poetry to make people laugh. Calef Brown is just such a person.
   In this splendid poetry collection Calef Brown gives us poems that are deliciously odd and funny. He begins with a poem called Alphabet Sherbet in which he asks us “Have you ever heard of it?” He then goes on to tells us about the “beautifully blue” B’s and the “fair” F’s that one finds in this cold, sweet, word-filled dessert.
   Many of the other poems in this book introduce us to very interesting characters, like Angus, a dog who used to wear very boring and dull clothes. Now he wears a plaid suit that he made himself and he “never takes it off.” Then there is Bob who built a chopper in a bottle, and Sally who is Medusa’s sister. As you probably know, Medusa has snakes instead of hair and if you look at her, her gaze will turn you to stone. Sally has a variation of this reptilian coiffure. She has “a single lazy snake” on her head, but instead of turning you to stone, her curse is “much worse.” Sally “makes you stop and talk.”  
   Then there are the poems that describe things such as worms, orchids, and an Allicatter Gatorpillar. An Allicatter Gatorpiller is a truly remarkable creatures. It can change its appearance and become an Allibutter Gatorfly!
   If you want to know about the TV Taxi you need go no further because a poem in this book will tell you all about it. Have you thought about replacing your birthday candles with light bulbs? If you have, you are not alone. Someone else has come up with the same idea and you can read about her in the poem Birthday Lights
   There are poems in this title that suit all kinds of personalities and moods, and throughout the book the poems are complimented by wonderfully colorful illustrations.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of A Giant Crush

Having your first real crush can be a wonderful, and sometimes painful, emotional roller coaster journey. Since Valentine's Day is only a few days away, it is fitting to share this story with you. In the story you will meet a large bunny boy who has a big crush on one of his classmates. More than anything he wants to tell his crush how he feels about her, but how is he supposed to do this? Will a Valentine's Day card solve his problem?

Gennifer Choldenko
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2012, 978-0-399-24352-3
Cooper and his friend Jackson are making Valentine’s Day cards when Cooper notices that Jackson has created a giant card, a card that is full of chocolate Kisses. Cooper asks Jackson about the card, but Jackson chooses not to respond to his friend’s question.
   On Monday Cooper notices that Jackson has a big yellow flower in his backpack in the morning and that the flower disappears before show-and-tell time. On Tuesday Jackson has some chocolate hearts in his lunch bag, but by the time they get to the cafeteria, the hearts are gone and when Cooper asks about the missing candy Jackson blushes until his cheeks are as “red as a wrong-answer pencil.”
   After school that day Cooper finally figures out that his friend Jackson likes a cute little girl called Cami. The problem is that Carter Corey also likes Cami, and he is not shy to show her how he feels. Poor Jackson is afraid to openly tell Cami that he likes her and is convinced that a cute girl like Cami could never like him, a boy who is rather large for his age.
   In this sweet Valentine’s story the talents of Gennifer Choldenko and Melissa Sweet are combined to give readers a delightful tale. As the story unfolds, we see how hard it can be to show someone how you feel about them, and how precious good friends are.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of We Go Together

Love and affection makes our lives richer and happier, and armed with these emotions we are stronger when times are hard. In today's poetry title Calef Brown gives us a delightful selection of poems that are about the joys of being close to someone.

Calef Brown
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, 978-0-547-72128-6
Finding a true close friend who is happy to share good times (and bad times) is a not easy, and if you have such a person in your life you are truly lucky. In this collection of eighteen poems, Calef Brown pairs his unique paintings with little poems that explore friendships of all kinds. He looks at the special affection that can grow between friends and family members.
   Early on in the book we hear from two boys who feel that they “go together / like fingers and thumbs.” They are “Genuine chums” who feel that they have won “the buddy lottery” because they have each other. Then there is the dog who, when his friend rings him up on the phone, runs over to his friend’s house down busy streets “through the hurried masses.” The dog gets “more / and more pep” in his step the closer he gets to his friend’s home.
   Friends can, with just a smile, make you feel better, which is what happens to the person talking to us in the poem Scrootin’ Eyes. We read about how the narrator’s friend’s smile makes the narrator experience “heart twinkles.”
   Friends are also the perfect people to have around when something goes wrong. In the poem Thank you we read about how a person tries not to fall to pieces when he gets a splinter in his hand. He knows that his dearest person will take care of the problem with tweezers and some soothing balm.
   With touches of humor and warmth and wonderful imagery, Calef Brown gives us a collection of poems that can be shared with anyone special who makes the world a better place. Readers can dip into the book and will emerge feeling better about life. They will be reminded that there are dear people in their lives who care about them; people who share giggles, who heal hurts, and who know us so well that they know how to make us happy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Picture Book Monday: A review of A Splash of Red

Usually on Picture Book Monday I review fiction picture books, but A Splash of Red, a nonfiction picture book, is so special that I decided to make it today's review title. The story tells the story of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who overcame many challenges to become a much admired member of the artistic community in the United States.

Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Random House, 2013, 978-0-375-86712-5
On February 22, 1888, Horace Pippin came into the world. The grandson of a slave, Horace did his part to help out by doing chores and taking care of his siblings. At the end of the day, once all the work was done, Horace used to draw pictures, capturing on paper the things that he had experienced and seen during the day. He also drew pictures at school, delighting his classmates and infuriating his teacher.
   One day Horace entered a drawing contest and to his delight he won. The prize he received was a package of art supplies, and he was thrilled to own his very own colored pencils, brushes, and paints. Even when Horace had to leave school to work, he kept on creating pictures for himself and for his coworkers. Then, when World War I broke out, Horace left his home, joined the army, and went to serve his country in Europe. For days, sitting in a trench, Horace did not see the sun. When there was a lull in the fighting Horace drew pictures for himself and for his soldier friends who asked him to “Make a picture for us, Horace!”
   Then Horace was shot in the shoulder. His right hand could not move normally, nor could he use it to lift things. For the first time since he was a little boy, Horace could not paint or draw. It was as if a door to a special world had been closed in his face.
   In this remarkable picture book biography, Jen Bryant’s emotive text is paired with Melissa Sweet’s splendid mixed media artwork. On several of the pages the artist incorporates hand lettered quotes into the artwork, giving us a very personal connection with the thoughts and feelings of one of America’s great artists.
   Notes at the back of the book written by the author and illustrator give us some insight into the journey that they took, together, to find out about Horace Pippin, his work, and his legacy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of I Haiku You

When today's poetry title arrived at my house I was thrilled. It was the perfect book to review in February because February is a month when many people think about and give thanks for the people they love. This book celebrates the people who make our days better, and the things that make our life sweeter. It would be a perfect book to give to that special someone.

Betsy Snyder
Poetry Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-86750-7
Every day we have encounters that make our day just a little better. We meet people and animals whose love and affection makes life sweeter, who make the good times richer and the painful times more bearable. There are also things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.
   For this sweet little poetry picture book Betsy Snyder has created some wonderful haikus that capture special moments and freeze them in time so that we might enjoy them.
   She begins by showing us a little girl who is wishing a little red bird a good morning. For her, the birds “everyday song” is her “favorite alarm clock.”
   Later in the book we meet another girl hugging her teddy bear. She thinks that her precious friend is the “best teddy ever” because it hugs “away tears” and makes all her “boo-boos” better. A teddy is only one of many things that give children pleasure. There is the child who delights in watching sunflowers grow, and for three children on a hot day there is nothing so wonderful as a glass of cold lemonade that makes their taste buds start “cheering.”
   This book gives us the opportunity to journey through a day sharing important moments with children and animals. Throughout the book the artwork beautifully compliments the image-rich haikus.
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