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, April 29, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Baby Penguins Everywhere!

I work from home, which means that I spend a lot of time alone. At least alone in the sense that there are no other humans around. I usually have three dogs and at least one of my two cats in my office when I am working. I love working at home, but there are times when I crave human company. I can therefore relate to the penguin in this story, who, like me, enjoys her time alone. Most of the time.

Melissa Guion
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2012, 978-0-399-25535-9
Floating on an ice floe, a penguin enjoys the “peace and quiet of the sea and ice.” However, there are times when she feels rather lonely. Then one day she finds a hat floating in the water, and in the hat there is a little penguin. One little penguin is a big surprise, but then another penguin chick pops out of the hat, which is followed by another.
   Soon there are baby penguins all over the place, and the penguin who was once lonely is lonely no longer. Instead, she is extremely busy playing with and taking care of the baby penguins. In fact, she is so busy that she gets rather tired and worn out.
   Though we love our family and friends, and though we want to spend time with them and do things for them, all of us have moments when we start to feel a little overwhelmed, when we need a little time to ourselves to sit and be quiet.
   In this sweet and beautifully minimal book, Melissa Guion explores the idea that everyone needs a little break once in a while, and she manages to do so with sensitivity and humor.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of Forest has a song

I love reading poetry collections where the poems look at the seasons, and have reviewed several titles of this kind over the years. Today's title takes readers on a journey through the seasons in a forest, and we have a little girl for company who shows us some of the wonderful places, plants, animals, and trees that can be found in forest.

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater
Illustrated by Robbin Gourley
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Clarion, 2013, 978-0-618-84349-7
Not far from a girl’s little red house there is a forest. One morning, while she is outside, the girl hears a “pinecone fall” and she smells the “spicy” tang of the pine trees on the wind. She is drawn to the forest that seems to be asking her to “Come visit. / Please?”
   In the forest she meets a chickadee, whom she invites to come and eat some of seeds that she is holding. She tells the little bird that it is “safe to land” on her hand and that she is not a threat. The bird is afraid of the child, but at the same time it cannot help seeing the seeds that rest in the hand that is still. Perhaps such a small child is not something to fear after all.
   In the spring the child finds fiddleheads in the forest. These are ferns that are uncurling as the weather warms,  and their presence indicates that winter is finally over. High in a tree she hears a tree fog calling. It is trying to convince a potential wife that it is “one great frog.”
  Summer is the perfect time to have adventures in the forest. Barefoot, the girl walks on a bed of moss, her feet sinking into the “velvet green.” She wishes her socks felt as good as the moss does. Summer is also the time when poison ivy grows everywhere. One must look for those three leaves and avoid them because “One green / touch can itch / so much.”
  In fall the maple trees begin to change their “leaves to red,” and one hears the call of geese overhead. Then the first snow arrives and the girl stands outside in the woods with her eyes closed listening to “snowy voices / crystal clear.”
   This lovely book takes readers through a forest year. We celebrate special moments with the girl, and explore the lovely world that is her refuge and her playground. We discover treasures from nature, and meet animals who share their lives with us.
   Throughout the book beautiful poems in a variety of forms are paired with emotive watercolor paintings that readers will enjoy reading and looking at again and again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Picture Book Monday - A review of Nibbles: A Green Tale

Happy Earth Day! I hope you have a wonderful day exploring and enjoying this beautiful planet we live on. I have a picture book for you today that explores a very important environmental issue.

We have two guinea pigs, Caramel and Fudge Ripple. I am sorry to say that they really don't have much to say other than "Wheeeeeee!" when they want their breakfast and dinner. The guinea pigs in today's picture book are much more interesting. In fact, they are intelligent animals who make a very important decision  regarding their natural resources.

Charlotte Middleton
Picture Book
Ages 5 to 7
Marshall Cavendish, 2010, 978-0-7614-5791-6
   Nibbles, like all the guinea pigs in Dandeville, loves to eat dandelion leaves. As far as Nibbles and the other guinea pigs are concerned, dandelions are the crème de la crème of guinea pigs foods. They eat dandelion leaves at every meal, and in-between as well.
   Then the most terrible thing happens, the dandelions in Dandeville start to run out. The guinea pigs are forced to buy dandelion leaves at exorbitant prices on the Internet. They are even forced to eat cabbage leaves instead. What is to be done?
   When Nibbles finds the last dandelion plant growing outside his bedroom window, he is tempted to eat it, but instead he does a little research and he sets about doing what he can to take care of and nurture the dandelion plant. Nibbles has a long term plan that could make life better for all the guinea pigs in Dandeville.
   In this delightfully picture book, Charlotte Middleton shows her young readers how important it is to think of the future. If we preserve our natural resources now, then we will have natural resources in the future. Using an engaging story and wonderful multimedia illustrations, the concept of sustainability is beautifully presented from the point of view of guinea pigs.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Something Fishy

When I was growing up we went camping at the seaside every summer. We pitched tents on the beach and for days I had a wonderful time building things out of rocks, swimming, exploring the beach, and snorkeling. I would snorkel for so long my skin got wrinkly and my face mask left a red line on my forehead. I loved to watch the little fish, eels, and other underwater creatures. I would have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book of poetry, which explores the lives of animals that live in water.

Barry Louis Polisar
Illustrations by David Clark
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Rainbow Morning Music, 2013, 978-0-938663-53-9
Watching, photographing, and learning about animals is something many people enjoy doing. Men, women, and children watch nature shows, visit zoos, go on safaris and find other opportunities to see animals in their natural environment. There are many people who are particularly taken with animals who live in oceans, seas, and lakes, and they put on masks, carry tanks of oxygen on their backs, and put up with freezing cold water so that they can see fish, whales, and other animals going about their business.
For those of us who are not really interested in getting wet to see aquatic animals, there are movies and television shows to watch, and books to read. Some books have made up stories about underwater explorations, while others are nonfiction. Then there are authors who choose to describe animals who live in water using poetry.
In this book Barry Louis Polisar’s clever poems are paired with often amusing illustrations to give readers a little trip underwater. We meet the oddly named sweetlips fish, and find out that horseshoe crabs come on land to mate. Unfortunately, many of them “get stranded” when the tide goes out because they are “followed nature’s calling.”
Some of the animals we meet on the pages are creatures we would rather avoid in the real world. These include the jellyfish, “a nettlesome bunch of bad luck,” and crocodiles and alligators. Others, such as seahorses and barnacles are harmless, and if we were to encounter then we could watch them without fear.
The last poem wraps up this collection perfectly. In it the author celebrates all the creatures that live in water ending with the words “Praise all that swims and floats.”
Well-crafted poems and wonderful artwork make this book a must for anyone who likes poetry or who has a fondness for seas, oceans, lakes, and rivers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Red Hat

As every parent and pet owner knows, young children and animals often get a great deal of pleasure playing with things that are not toys. For example, instead of playing with the toy barn they were given, children play with the box that the barn came in. Instead of playing with the catnip mouse that cost far too much, the cat plays with a cork that fell on the floor.

In today's book you will meet some young animals who play with a red hat and who have a wonderful time doing so.

Lita Judge
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4424-4232-0
It is a pleasant sunshiny day a little girl sets up her washtub on the grass in front of her home and washes her red knitted hat. When it is clean, she carefully pins it to the clothes line by its white tassel, and the she goes back into her little house. Some rabbits and a pair of bears see the hat on the line and they decide that it would make a grand toy. As soon as the bear cub gets its paws on the hat, it runs off, with the rabbits in hot pursuit. Then a raccoon snags the hat from its tasseled end and gallops off with the hat on its head.
As the raccoon runs, the hat sprouts a long red piece of yarn from its pointy top with the tassel hanging on the end. A little rabbit manages to snag the yarn, and a tiny mouse is thrilled when it manages to grab hold of the yarn near the tassel. How rewarding little triumphs of this kind can be! The adventure is not over though. The hat and the young playful animals have more to do.
Lita Judge, who brought us the picture book Red Sled, is a gifted storyteller who manages to tell her tale without using any real words at all. The only sounds this book offers readers are the noises that the young animals make as they steal, play with, and then return the hat. Children are going to love the surprise ending, which brings the tale to a wonderful close.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Follow Follow

In 2010, in her book Mirror Mirror, Marilyn Singer presented the world with a new poetry form that she created. When I read the reverso poems in that first book I was gobsmacked. What an amazing idea she had come up with. The poems in the book can be read from top to bottom and then from bottom to top. They explore an idea or a story in two different ways. Today's poetry title is her new collection of reverso poems and I can promise you that they are quite extraordinary.

Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Penguin, 2013, 978-0-8037-3769-3
Most of us know that every story has got at least two sides. At least two! We know that it is wise to make sure that we know both sides to a story before we decide which side we will support. Do fairy tales also have two sides that we should be aware of?
   They most certainly do, and in this delightful book Marilyn Singer looks at some very popular fairy tales and she give us two points of view. She uses a very interesting poetical device to do this. For each fairy tale she presents one side of the story in a poem, and then she reverses the text in the poem to give another point of view.  Thus in the story of the little mermaid we begin with the idea that she should “For love / give up your voice. / Don’t / think twice.” In the reverso poem we end with “Think twice! / Don’t / give up your voice / for love.”
   The poem Follow Follow is about the Pied Piper of Hamelin who led rats away from the town of Hamelin and who, when he was not paid for his work, had his revenge. The author’s account begins when we hear from a man who says “there will be / no pay,” for the piper who should “go away.” In the reverso poem we hear from the piper who, having been betrayed, announces that he will make sure that the children of Hamelin “shall never return.”
   In some of the pairs of poems the narrator is the same, while in others there are two narrators. Reverso poems were invented by Marilyn Singer and they show to perfection how a skilled poet can play with words to create something interesting and unique. Each of the twelve pairs of fairy tale poems in this book offers readers something to think about and enjoy. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Extra Yarn

Making things and then giving them to people I care about is something I enjoy doing. This winter I knitted hats and scarves for many of my friends and I love seeing them walking around town wearing their colorful gifts. In this award winning book you are going to meet a girl who also enjoys knitting and who also likes to give away what she makes, thus making her world a more colorful place.

Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0-06-195338-5
It is a cold day in winter and the ground is covered with snow. Everything around Annabelle is snowy white or is black with soot. Then the little girl finds a box that is filled with colorful yarn. Annabelle knits a sweater for herself, and she knits a sweater for her dog Mars. Even after she has knitted these two garments there is some yarn left over.
Annabelle takes Mars for a walk and meets Nate, who is sitting on a wood pile. Nate makes fun of the sweaters Annabelle and Mars are wearing, and Annabelle tells him that he is “just jealous.” Though Nate insists that he is not jealous, it turns out that he is, and when Annabelle knits him and his dog sweaters, Nate is surprisingly happy.
Annabelle’s box of yarn still isn’t empty. When she goes to school wearing her new sweater her teacher, Mr. Norman, says that her sweater is distracting the students in class. Annabelle announces that she will make a sweater for everyone so that they will not have to “turn around” to look at the one colorful sweater in the room. Mr. Norman says that such a thing is “Impossible,” but it turns out that he is wrong. Annabelle is able to knit sweaters for all the children in the class and for Mr. Norman. The strange thing is that the box is still isn’t empty.
In this enchanting award winning book children will encounter a box of yarn that is clearly magical. They will marvel, and laugh, at all the things Annabelle knits, and they will also appreciate that part of the box’s magic is within Annabelle herself.
Children will enjoy seeing how Annabelle’s knitted creations bring color to a world that is mostly white, black, and shades of brown. What would it be like to live in a world where there was no color, a world where there was no one around to create beautiful, colorful things. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of A Stick is an Excellent Thing

When I was a kid my parents had a hard time getting me to come indoors. As long as it wasn't blistering hot or pouring with rain, I preferred to be outside. These days many kids have to be pushed to go outside. Too many of them prefer to be entertained than to entertain themselves. Today's book celebrates the many ways in which children can and do spend their time when they are outdoors. The author shows to great effect that outdoor play is magical and wonderful.

Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Clarion Books, 2012, 978-0-547-12493-3
Many children associate the word “playing” with TV screens, computer monitors, and hand held gaming devices. They no longer equate playing with being outdoors. Thankfully, many people, including parents and teachers, are eager to get children outside again so that they can have a more active lifestyle that encourages them to interact with other children.
   In this splendid collection of poems Marilyn Singer celebrates a wide variety of outdoor activities. Some of the poems describe are games such as hopscotch and monkey in the middl;e. In the poem Hide-And-Seek we hear from the hider, who stands “here oh so still” pretending that he is in Brazil “where lots of birds fly free.” Then we hear from the little girl seeker who is convinced that the hider hasn’t “got a prayer” because she’s “just too good at seeking.”
   Other poems look at doings that are less ordered and more free-flowing. Playing in the sprinkler is just such an activity. We see how children use their imaginations so that a stick can be a scepter or a magic wand. Even a bucket can be the center of interest when becomes a pot for making soup. Children toss grass, stones, mud, cheese, a celery stalk, an old cigar, and a piece of chalk into the pot, give it a stir, and “then throw it out and start again.”
   With wonderful poems that are paired with vibrant illustrations, this book perfectly captures the joy that children experience when they spend time outdoors playing in the sun or under the stars.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Red Kite, Blue Kite

Telling the story of a terrible time or experience is not easy, especially when you want to tell the story to young children. In today's picture book the author gives children a sense of what it was like to be a little child during China's Cultural Revolution. Often moments in the account are sad, but hope is always there and that hope makes this a powerful, memorable, and beautiful book.

Ji-li Jiang
Illustrated by Greg Ruth
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Hyperion, 2013, 978-142312753-6
One of Tai Shan’s favorite things to do is to go to the “tippy-top” of the roof of his house with his Baba to fly kites. Tai Shan’s kite is a small red one, and his father’s is a big blue one. As they fly their kites together Baba tells his son stories, stories that make their time together on the roof particularly special. Up there flying his kite Tai Shan feels as free as the kite that is flying above his head.
   Then “a bad time” comes and Tai Shan’s life is turned upside down. Schools are closed and Baba is sent to work at a labor camp. Since Tai Shan’s mother died when Tai Shan was born, the little boy is sent to stay in a village with a farmer called Granny Wang. Though Granny Wang is kind to Tai Shan, the little boy misses his father whom he sees only one day a week, on Sunday. Every Sunday Baba walks for miles from his camp to the village where Tai Shan is living, and on this one day the father and son fly their kites as they used to do.
   Then one day Tai Shan’s father tells his son that he will not be able to visit for a while. To stay connected to his son Tai Shan’s father comes up with a plan. Tai Shan should fly his red kite every morning, and his father will fly his blue kite every sunset. Their kites will be their own private “secret signal.”
   Day after day the two kites send their messages of love to Tai Shan and his Baba even though they are miles apart. Then one day Baba’s blue kite does not appear.
   Based on a true story about a boy and his father during China’s Cultural Revolution, this evocative picture book beautifully captures the power that hope can have on people during hard times. At such times, small things, like red and blue kites, come to represent something precious.
   With a memorable story and lovely illustrations, this picture book gives readers an experience that they will remember long after the last page is read. 
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