A Very Happy Easter To You All
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.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
Women's History Month, which is celebrated in the United States every March, is wrapping up in just a few days, so I thought that I would offer you a poetry book today that commemorates the lives and achievements of fourteen extraordinary women. Any reader over the age of eight will gain something from reading this title.
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Mark Summers
Poetry Picture Bok
For ages 8 and up
Creative Editions, 2005, 1-56846-185-2
For hundreds of years women lived restricted lives. A male dominated society dictated what women could or could not do, and the could nots greatly outweighed the coulds. Of course, some women chose to challenge the system, and in the eighteen hundreds more and more women dared to do things that were considered unsuitable for the gentler sex.
In this splendid collection of poems J. Patrick Lewis celebrates the lives of fourteen women who chose to do something meaningful and sometimes controversial with their lives. The first poem is about Emily Dickinson, a woman who wrote poetry that was unusual and unconventional, who had the courage to be true to herself. Emily had her own voice and style, choosing “to weave a word,” and living a quiet life that was full of solitude and reflection.
Georgia O’Keefe and Martha Graham also chose to find their own ways to express the creativity that lay in their souls. Georgia created paintings whose unique colors and themes startled people. Martha Graham dared to dance in a different way, focusing on “excitement and surge,” rather than beauty and elegance.
Then there are the women who had a different sort of courage. Eleanor Roosevelt “the great first lady” who “Looked fear in the face,” championed the poor, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden. Fannie Lou Hamer also chose to speak out. In her case she fought for the rights of America’s African American citizens, defending their right to vote and their right to freedom.
In a similar way, Rachel Carson chose to speak for Nature, whose voice was being ignored. Her “little book,” which was called Silent Spring, helped people to understand that humans cannot take nature for granted, and that they need to care for and conserve our beautiful and wild places and our natural resources.
J. Patrick Lewis also celebrates the lives of women who pushed their courage and bodies to new heights. Amelia Earhart dared to be the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic and pushed on even when her altimeter failed and when her plane’s wings “were icing over.” Gertrude Ederle also had to overcome appalling conditions when she swam the English Channel and made the fastest crossing made “By woman or by man.”
Throughout this book, beautiful poetry and lovely art is paired with short descriptions of the lives of the fourteen women mentioned. The collection will touch, inspire, and appeal to readers of all ages.
Monday, March 25, 2013
I don't want to tell you have many times I have said "If only..." to myself or to others. Regret is hard to dodge or avoid. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Most of the time it is a useless feeling to have. In today's picture book Micheal Foreman tells the story of one boy's "If only..." moment, and in this case at least it is a funny moment, a moment that will put a smile on every reader's face.
For ages 5 to 7
Andersen Press USA, 2013, 978-1-4677-1213-2
Sometimes bad things happen, and when we look back on the events that led to the bad thing happening we wish “If only…” If only we’d remembered to water the plant so that it hadn’t wilted and died. If only we had taken our medicine when the doctor told us to so that we hadn’t got sick again. Life is full of if onlys, but for most people not many them end up being that dramatic.
In this story you are going to meet a boy whose If Only experience ends up getting him in terrible trouble. One day he goes out and meets a dog who is carrying a little red ball. The dog clearly wants the boy to play with him, and so the boy starts kicking the ball up in the air. Unfortunately, the boy is not very good at soccer and so the ball bounces down the hill, it frightens an old lady’s cats, which frighten some birds, which spook some horses that are walking in a parade. The spooked horses cause such as kerfuffle that the big parade is “wrecked.” What a mess! The problem is that this is not the end of the story. More chaos ensues and the boy’s situation gets worse and worse. And worse.
Children are going to enjoy this very unusual picture book. They are going to laugh at the scenes that unfold, and they will wonder what is going to happen next. They will surely be surprised when they come to the last page and find out that the ending is, well, rather surprising.
Friday, March 22, 2013
On March 26, 1874, Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California. Since the 26th is only a few days away, I thought I would share a wonderful collection of his poems with you today.
Edited by Gary D. Schmidt
Illustrated by Henri Sorensen
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5475-3
Robert Frost and his poems are often associated with New England, snow, stone walls, and white birches. What many people don’t know is that he did not start life living in this part of the United States. Robert was born in San Francisco and lived in California until his father died in 1885. Not having any money, Robert’s mother moved her family to Massachusetts, where she lived with her father-in-law for a while. Then she managed to get a teaching job in Salem, New Hampshire. A teacher’s pay was not enough to provide for three people, so Robert worked at a cobbler’s shop where he nailed heels onto boots.
Robert did well in school, and was delighted when his grandfather made it possible for him to attend Laurence High School. Robert did very well there and was able to get into Dartmouth College, which was something his grandfather wanted. However, Robert was not interested in attending college and he dropped out. What Robert did want to do was to write poetry, and this is what he did when he wasn’t working. Though he dreamed of being a recognized poet, he never imagined, back in those early days, that one day he would win awards and would read one of his poems at a presidential inauguration ceremony. What was it about Robert’s poems that made them so popular during his lifetime and beyond?
In this superb collection some of Robert Frost’s most beloved poems are brought together so that young (and not so young) readers can see for themselves why his poems are liked by so many people around the world. The poems are divided up into four sections, one section for each of the seasons, and we begin with summer. Many of the poems celebrate country life and nature. In The Pasture, the narrator invites us to “come too” when he goes to clean the pasture spring, and when he fetches a little calf. In another poem he takes us out into a hayfield where he is turning the drying grass that has been cut for hay. The job is a tedious one until the worker’s eye catches the movement of a butterfly. The little insect shows the worker something special and they are united in that moment.
On the section of Autumn poems, we hear from a little bluebird who leaves a message for a girl called Lesley. The bluebird has felt the cold touch of the north wind and he must fly south. Perhaps, “in the spring” he will come “back and sing.” We read about falling leaves that “fit the earth like a leather glove,” and join someone who has been picking apples and is ready for the rest that winter offers.
Every poem in this collection is accompanied by lovely and evocative paintings, and each one has a note from the editor that provides readers with background information about Robert Forest, his poems, and his style of writing. The combination of the poems, the art, and the notes gives readers an excellent portrait of Robert Frost and his work.
At the beginning of the book there is a short introduction written by the editor where readers will find an excellent description of Robert Frost’s life and legacy.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
March is Women's History Month and I have just reviewed a wonderful title about an exceptional woman who did something special with her life.
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4169-5819-2
When Henrietta was a young girl, she spent many hours staring up into the night sky, looking at the stars and getting familiar with their patterns. She was fascinated by “the wonderful bigness of all she saw,” and longed to find out more about space.
When she was a young woman, she attended astronomy class and was one of the few women who did so. After graduation, Henrietta was able to get a job working in an observatory. Though the observatory had a wonderful big telescope, Henrietta rarely got to use it. Instead, she worked with a group of women measuring and calculating, doing the job that calculators and computers do today. Henrietta and the other women were told to “work, not think,” but Henrietta wasn’t going to accept such an existence. She had an enquiring mind and intended to use it, which she did, studying astronomy in her space time.
Day after day Henrietta looked at photographs of stars, measuring and counting, and then she began to notice that there was a pattern. Some of the stars seemed to get dimmer and then brighter. Some blinked slower than others. Henrietta studied the pattern and she mapped it out. The chart that she created helped astronomers to figure out how far away the stars were. Thanks to her work, they also came to realize that our Milky Way was a lot bigger than they thought and that it was only one of many galaxies. Her discovery would have a profound effect on our understanding of our universe.
This wonderfully written book tells the story of a woman who lived at a time when women had very few opportunities to work as scientists. Indeed, most of the time they were prevented from doing research. Henrietta never gave up, and in the end her determination and hard work paid off.
Throughout the book Robert Burleigh’s lyrical prose is paired with Paul Colon’s wonderful artwork to give readers a memorable picture book biography.
Further information about Henrietta, other women astrologers, and more can be found at the back of the book.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Helping others, even when it is inconvenient, is something we all should do on a regular basis. I seriously believe that doing things for others and not expecting anything in return makes us better people. It also makes the world a better place. Today's picture explores how a bear and a toy bunny both choose to help someone else, even though doing so causes them problems.
Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
For ages 5 to 7
Clarion, 2004, 978-0-618-63994-6
One autumn afternoon Bitsy the toy bunny fell out of her little girl’s pocket and though Bitsy cried for help, her little girl did not hear her. Bitsy was all alone and lost in the woods and she felt frightened, but she boldly set off “singing a brave song.”
Bitsy did not go far before she came face to face with a big bear. Though the bear had a frightening growl, he was a gentle fellow and though he was on his way to his cave to begin his winter sleep, he offered to take Bitsy home.
The bear started to get sleepy and he warned Bitsy not let him fall asleep or he wouldn’t “wake up until spring.” Bitsy did her best to keep her companion awake and finally Bear, carrying Bitsy on his back, arrived at the house where the bunny lived with her little girl.
That night Bitsy began to worry about her friend Bear. What if he did not make it back to his cave? If he fell asleep in the woods he would soon be covered with snow and he would freeze. In the morning Bitsy decided that she had to do something. She had to make sure that the kind bear was not in danger.
Every so often someone comes along who is willing to go out of his or her way to do something kind for us. In this book readers will meet a bear who is just such a person, who is willing to do something that inconveniences him because he wants to help someone in need.
With a heartwarming story and delightful illustrations, this is a picture book that will charm readers of all ages.
Friday, March 15, 2013
I am constantly being surprised by the creativity of artists and writers. So many of them find interesting, beautiful, and novel ways to present their art and their words. In today's poetry title the words in the poems go up and down the page instead of across it. I can hear you asking: Why would anyone do this? Trust me, the author of this book has a very good reason for presenting her work in this way.
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 978-0-547-39007-9
Reading from left to right is the norm in most English language books, but sometimes poets like to do something different. In The Mouse’s Tale, Lewis Carroll presents his poem in such a way that the text looks like a mouse’s tail that wiggles its way down the page. Other poets have also found creative ways to present their poems to their readers by creating pictures with their words. In this book, poet Dana Jensen gives her readers poems that have something to do with looking or going up or down, and the poems are presented to readers so that they have to read up or down the page.
In the first poem we read single words up the page to find out that a little child thinks that perhaps a giraffe has such a long neck that it might be able to “make / a / meal / of / stars.” Further along in the book there is another poem that begins at the bottom of the page. We meet a child who has a string in its hand that goes “up / to / a / big / bright / blue” balloon. And then, at the top of the page, up there in the sky at the end of the string, something happens.
Then there are the poems that go down the page, one word at a time. In one of the poems we are sitting at the top of a Ferris wheel “at / its / highest / point.” From that vantage point we look down at the “carnival / world” below that is scene full of “moving / sounds / and / colors.” In another poem we experience the sound of church bells “that / float / down” to children and touch them “with / their / songs.”
Throughout this book, beautifully lyrical and minimal poems that go up or down the pages are paired with Tricia Tusa’s whimsical illustrations to give readers a poetry experience that is altogether fresh and exciting.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Every so often a book comes along that is so splendid/marvelous/fabulous that I want to go to the top of the highest building and shout out how splendid/marvelous/fabulous it is. Since the tallest building around here is not tall at all and I would not reach many people shouting from the top, I am going to tell you about my latest Great Find.
The book is called Destiny Revealed and it was written by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. The story explores how one eleven-old girl tries to understand what destiny is. She has been told that she will be a poet when she grows up, but what if she doesn't want to be a poet? What then? Can she write her own destiny?
For ages 9 and up
HarperCollins, 2013, 978-0-06-162501-5
The day before her baby daughter is to born, Isabella goes to a second hand bookshop where she hopes she will be able find a name for her child. She is looking for a name that will set her daughter’s “life direction.” After discarding Juliet as too tragic a name, Isabella finds a copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, and she knows in her heart that she has found what she is looking for. Her baby will be called Emily, and she will grow up to be a poet.
Emily is now eleven years old and she really does not care for poetry, though she does try to. She has the copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson that her mother bought and it is Emily’s most treasured possession because her mother has made notes in the book to commemorate important days in Emily’s life. The book tells Emily’s story. Or at least most of it. Emily still has no idea who her father is. Isabella firmly believes that when the time is right Emily will know who her father is. The problem is that Emily does not feel like waiting for that moment, and what if it doesn’t even exist? Emily wants to know who her father is now and she is stunned when her mother finally tells her that her father’s name is written in Emily’s precious copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.
Emily runs to get her book only to find out that it got mixed up in a donation for Goodwill. The book is gone. Emily can hardly believe that her book, with all those wonderful notes from her mother, is gone forever. Emily’s mother believes that the book got lost because Emily wasn’t ready to find her father’s name. Isabella insists that things cannot be forced; they should be allowed to happen when they are supposed to happen, when they are destined to happen. Emily finds it hard to accept her mother’s take on destiny, and she wants to find that book no matter what it takes.
It ends up taking a lot. Emily and her mother go to the Goodwill store, but the book isn’t there. The person working at Goodwill tells them that the books are often picked over early by people buying books for bookstores. Now Emily is going to have search who knows how many book stores to find her book.
Desperate to find the book with her father’s name in it, Emily even goes so far as to set aside her rigidly organized and predictable way of doing things. She forces herself to be unpredictable, even when doing so pains her. She will do whatever it takes if there is a chance that she will find the book with its precious notes. She never expects that her journey will be full of surprises. As she tries to understand what is happening around her she will question who controls her destiny, and she will end up opening doors that she didn’t even know were there.
In this extraordinary book Kathryn Fitzmaurice explores the inner world of a young girl whose mother made a decision about her child’s future when that child was just an infant. It is quite remarkable to be able to see how Emily struggles to come to terms with the path her mother chose for her; a path that Emily does not feel is right for her. Emily’s voice, and the voices of the other characters in the book, are delightfully honest, genuine, and often sweetly funny, and readers will grow to love the quirky people who live in Emily’s world.
Though this book was written for younger readers, adults will get a lot out of reading it. They may even question the path they are on. It is a path that they are supposed to be following?
Monday, March 11, 2013
Cheering up someone who is down in the dumps can be very difficult sometimes. After all, we don't always know why the person is sad, and we often don't have any idea what will make them feel happy again. Would they like some flowers? Perhaps a dinner out will help. Maybe chocolate is the answer. In today's book you will see how some charming animals who try to cheer up their friend Mouse.
For ages 4 to 6
Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 978-0-547-68107-8
Mouse and his animal friends are outdoors having a grand time. Frog and Mole are dancing around, Squirrel is playing his nut fiddle, and Badger is juggling some fruit. The only animal who is not enjoying himself is Mouse, who is looking awfully sad and dejected. When they see their little friend’s glum face, the animals try to come up with a plan. Surely there must be something that they can do to make Mouse smile.
One of the birds tries to cheer up mouse by swinging him through the air, and then Frog tries to cheer up the little fellow by taking him to the pond for a “Splash and paddle, wash and wade.” Perhaps Mouse needs to “Leap and lope, hop and jump,” or “Dig and shovel, root and tunnel.” Maybe Mouse just need a meal!
The animals try so hard to cheer up their friend, but nothing works. Nothing they do brings forth even a glimmer or a twitch of a smile.
Most of us have days when we feel glum and when nothing we do seems to cheer us up. On days like these a little support from friends can make all the difference, as it does for the mouse in this story.
With a minimal story and gorgeous and expressive art, Jed Henry explores a problem that will be familiar to many readers, and he gives us a perfect ending that will make readers feel happy through and through.
Friday, March 8, 2013
I love books. Big surprise! I also love books that celebrate books. When I saw the cover of today's book, I just knew that I had to review it. I didn't even know what kind of book it was. The title grabbed me and it refused to let me go. It turns out that Please Bury Me in the Library is a fantastic collection of poems that celebrate books, reading, and the written word. Enjoy!
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Kyle M. Stone
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Harcourt, 2005, 0-15-216387-5
Some poor people think that books serve only one purpose. You read them to be entertained or educated. They do not know that a good book “is a homing device / For navigating paradise” and that such a book has “a spine, / A heart, a soul,” and its goal is “To light a fire / (You’re the fuse).” A good book will be there whenever you need it and it will even be a kind of friend.
For this collection of poems J. Patrick Lewis finds a variety of ways to explore (and celebrate) books. There are so many different kinds of writing to enjoy. There are picture books, the best of which appeal to readers of all ages. Then there are poetry books, pop-up books, mysteries, myths, adventures, and legends. All of these kinds of writing give readers an experience that cannot be found by looking at a TV screen or a computer monitor.
Some of the poems in the collection are about characters, such as Otto the Flea who wrote his “Ottobiography” and Elaine who loves words so much that even an exciting movie does not capture her interest. She would much rather read Webster’s Dictionary than follow the antics of Godzilla on the big screen.
If you think this is rather over the top then you need to read about the person who wants to be buried in the library “With a dozen long-stemmed proses.” This person thinks that the “clean, well-lighted stacks” are the best place to spend eternity.
Though this book is for young readers, the poems will appeal to readers of all ages. Some of the poems will make readers laugh, while others are thought-provoking and more cerebral. Though the poems are all very different in form and flavor, they do have one thing in common: the all celebrate the written word.
Monday, March 4, 2013
True friends are a very rare and precious gift. They are people who will sacrifice a great deal for their friend's happiness, and who are always there in happy times and in times of trouble.
In today's picture book you will meet a cat who is a superlative friend and who gives his best friend something more valuable than gold or diamonds.
In today's picture book you will meet a cat who is a superlative friend and who gives his best friend something more valuable than gold or diamonds.
Andersen Press USA, 2012, 978-1-4677-0317-8
Cat considers himself lucky because he is able to “wander wild and free, far and wide.” Cat’s friend Bubble is not so lucky. Bubble is a goldfish and he lives in a tank. Poor Bubble spends his days swimming around and around his aquarium. He never goes anywhere or sees anything, and Cat feels very sorry for him.
One day, Cat is in the park when he sees a bucket in the sand box and he gets an idea. Cat fills the bucket with water and he carries it home. Then he encourages Bubble to jump into the bucket, which the little fish happily does.
Cat takes Bubble to see the pond in the park, and to the river, and finally Bubble gets his first glimpse of the “wide, wide sea.” Bubble had no idea that there was so much to see out in the world. Then Cat invites Bubble to dive into the sea so that he too can be “wild and free.”
True friends are a rare commodity. All too often a friend thinks of him or herself first, but this is not the case with Cat, who is willing to do whatever it takes to give his goldfish friend the opportunity to be free and at liberty.
With wonderfully expressive watercolor illustrations and a powerful story with memorable characters, this is a picture book that readers of all ages will enjoy.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Over the centuries the seasons have inspired countless musicians, artists, and writers to create moving pieces of music, beautiful art, and wonderful stories and poems. Today's poetry title explores a few of the season-inspired poems that men and women have written over the years.
Edited by John N. Serio
Illustrated by Robert Crockett
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2005, 978-1-4027-1254-8
For hundreds of years poets have been inspired by the ambiences and scenes that we experience as the seasons shift from spring to summer, summer into fall, fall into winter, and thence back to spring again. Thinking of the seasons summons up memories in us that are touched by colors, sounds, tastes, and smells. When we think of fall we think of yellow and red leaves, we smell cold smoky air, and hear feet crunching through fallen leaves. Our mouths water as we remember the taste of a crunchy apple or the sweet spiciness of pumpkin pie.
For this wonderful collection John N. Serio has selected poems that beautifully capture the flavor of each of the four seasons. For each season there are three haiku, a poetry form that is “traditionally built around the seasons.” The haiku are followed by a variety of poems that were written by contemporary poets and poets that lived long ago.
We begin with summer, reading about an old dog that is “Much too lazy to rise and run” and who prefers to spends the hot summer days lying in the sun. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gives us a picture of what it is like when there is a summer rain which gives us much needed relief from “the dust and heat.” His descriptions remind us that rain can indeed be a beautiful thing. Later in the book we meet Maggie, Milly, Molly, and May, four little girls who go to the beach to play. e. e. cummings describes how the girls find all kinds of little treasures on the beach, some which are wonderful and one which is not.
In the section dedicated to autumn, we find a poem by Thomas Hood which is, in a manner of speaking, an ode to November. It is clear straight away that the poet has no great fondness for this month when there is “No sun – no moon!” and when there is “No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees” and nothing else that is cheerful and cheering. Emily Dickinson gives us are far more positive picture of autumn, telling us about a maple tree with its “gayer scarf” and the field with its “scarlet gown.”
Like e. e. cummings, who does not care for November, T.S. Eliot does not seem to like winter much. He describes a grim, cold, grimy winter in a city where the rain beats down “On broken blinds and chimney-pots,” and where “grimy scraps” of “withered leaves” blow about. William Carlos Williams paints a much more attractive picture of trees, now bare of their leaves, that “stand sleeping in the cold” as “A liquid moon / moves gently among / the long branches.”
The poems for spring are all positive, celebrating the beauty of flowers and tree blossoms, and capturing the lifting feelings of hope and joy that people get in their hearts when the sun starts to shine and the sky is blue. Emily Dickinson in particular shows us how happy she is to see March in her poem ‘Dear March, come in!” It is delightful to see how to talks to March as if the month was a person who needs to be invited in and to whom she has “so much to tell.”
This is wonderful collection that readers of all ages will enjoy. The editor has written introductions for each of the poems, which tell us about the poet and his or her work. Sometimes the form of the poem is explained or discussed as well.