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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Cousins of Clouds: Elephant poems

These days, much of the news that we hear about elephants is not good. In fact it is downright depressing, and I confess that I have a hard time listening to the stories on the radio about the poaching problems in Africa and the habitat loss issues in Asia. When today's book arrived in the mail, I felt a little conflicted. Do I want to read this book, I asked myself. Thankfully I did read it. It is a lovely book and it reminded me that we need to keep on doing everything we can to save elephants, no matter how bad the situation looks. 

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Clarion Books, 2011, 978-0-618-90349-8
Since ancient times, humans have been fascinated by elephants. There is something about elephants that captures the imagination, and people cannot help being drawn to these large animals with their tiny eyes, large plodding feet, long trunk, and gently swaying walk.
   In this remarkable poetry title, poems, artwork, and sections of informative text are combined to give readers a book that looks elephants in a number of ways. We read about how people in many different cultures have elephants in their mythology. In the poem “Cousins of Clouds” we hear of how, long ago, elephants “were great kings of the sky.” One day the elephants angered a prophet by arguing in his presence. To punish the elephants the prophet cursed them so that their wings shriveled to become “pitiful ears,” and thus elephants became earth bound. Now these “cousins of clouds” can only dream of flying as they flap their ears.
   We hear about two working elephants; one walks down a street in Bangkok surrounded by cars, and another works in Africa, carrying tourists who want to see Africa’s wildlife up close.
   We hear how much an elephant enjoys a mud bath, and how an elephant’s trunk, with its more than forty thousand muscles, allows the animal to use this curious-looking appendage as a finger, a fork, an arm, a nose, and a piece of rope.
   We also learn that elephant females work together to protect their precious babies, caring for them for several years. As one would expect in such intelligent and social animals, elephants have several ways to communicate with one another. In addition to making trumpeting noises with their trunks, elephants can communicate over long distances using low sounds that are “near silent.”
   Using a wide variety of poetic forms the author of this book beautifully shares her affection for elephants with the reader. Each poem focuses on an elephant related topic, and it is accompanied by an illustration and a section of text. The text offers readers further information about the topic that is featured on that page. By the time readers get to the end of the book they are able to see how truly wondrous elephants are and how vital it is to protect and cherish them.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of If you spent a day with Thoreau at Walden Pond

Years ago, when my husband was doing his graduate degree at Harvard, I visited him and he took me to Walden Pond. It was a clear day in early fall and I fell in love with the place at once, taking dozens of photographs of the trees, the pond, and the little treasures that I saw about me. Today's picture book captures the magic of Walden Pond, taking readers back in time so that they can explore the special place with Henry David Thoreau, who lived near the pond for two years.

Robert Burleigh
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Henry Holt, 2012, 978-0-8050-9137-3
More than one hundred and fifty years ago, a man called Henry David Thoreau left his town life and went to live in the woods next to Walden Pond, which is near the town of Concord in Massachusetts.  He lived in a tiny cabin that he built himself, and explored the woods around his home, getting to know the plants and animals intimately. He wrote down notes in his journal, and later Thoreau wrote a book about his life in the little cabin. It was called Walden, or Life in the Woods, and it is now considered to be one of America’s greatest books.
   In this book readers are invited to imagine what it would be like to spend a day with Thoreau at Walden Pond. As readers explore Thoreau’s world, they will see how simple and yet how rich his life was.
   If you could go back in time to visit Thoreau you would have to get to his cabin early because Thoreau “wakes with the sun.” Perhaps you and Thoreau would go out onto the pond in a little row boat. You could help him weed his bean patch and walk with him in the woods. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost because Henry knows his way around the woods. You might even go to Fair Haven Hill to pick huckleberries.
   Moving quietly through the woods and across the meadows you would see all kinds of animals. There in the sky is a hawk “soaring and tumbling, over and over.” You might chase after a fox, or watch two species of ants waging a war. With Thoreau for company you will learn how to see the natural world around you in a new way.
   In this unique picture book, Robert Burleigh’s beautifully spare prose is paired with Wendell Minor’s atmospheric illustrations to give readers a picture of what Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond was like. Readers will get a sense of how peaceful the time was, and how the simple life that Thoreau had allowed him to connect with his environment in a meaningful way.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with further information about Thoreau and his time at Walden Pond. There is also a collection of quotations from Thoreau’s writings, all of which have relevance in the modern day. Since some of the quotations are written in language that is difficult to understand, the author provides readers with “modern interpretations,” to help us appreciate the sayings more fully.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs

I know that there are some people who think that frogs, lizards, snakes and other reptiles and amphibians are  "creepy" and "nasty." I am not one of these people. I was the kind of kid who collected tadpoles and watched them turn into frogs. I loved to watch geckos walk across the ceiling of my room, and even kept a grass snake in a tank for a while. I was therefore delighted to discover today's poetry book because it is full of amphibians and reptiles. What is special about this book is that even people who don't typically like these animals will find these poems enjoyable.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 2001, 978-0-152-05248-5
Even though many of us might be repelled or frightened by reptiles and amphibians, we often cannot help finding these creatures rather interesting. They come in so many shapes and sizes, and live in so many different kinds of habitats. We love to shiver when we read about how long their teeth are, how venomous they are, or how slimy they feel.
   In this delightful collection of poetry, poet and artist, Douglas Florian, introduces us to some of the world’s reptiles and amphibians. We begins with the skink, which slinks along the ground and through the grass and which can drop off its tail if something provokes it. The tortoise is next, and it too has a novel way to protect itself from predators. It wears “a helmet / on my back” which guards the animal “from attack.” Unlike a helmet, the tortoises shell will not fall off if the animal coughs or sneezes.
  Later on we meet a gecko, which can walk up walls with ease, crocodiles and alligators, the iguana, the midwife toad, and many other interesting creatures. With clever rhymes, touches of humor, and interesting facts, Douglas Florian gives his readers a unique poetry experience.
   Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by the poet’s own artwork.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Lumpito and the painter from Spain

Many of us have cats and dogs who share our lives and whom we adore. How many of us try to imagine what it would be like to be the family cat or dog? How many of us try to see the world from a cat or dog's point of view? In today's picture book we get to meet a dog who really existed and whose life, at first, wasn't  terribly enjoyable. Thankfully, the dog was introduced to a man who understood him and appreciated him, and the man, who was called Pablo Picasso, changed the dog's life in the best possible way.

Lumpito and the Painter from SpainMonica Kulling
Illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Picture Books
For ages 5 to 8
Pajama Press, 2013, 978-1-927485-00-2
Lump was a dachshund who lived in Rome with a photographer called David and a dog called Big Dog. Unfortunately, Big Dog and Lump were not friends. Big Dog liked to steal Lump’s food and every night poor Lump slept “with one eye open because he was afraid of what Big Dog might do.”
   One day David announced that he and Lump were going to meet a famous painter. David had a small car and after it was loaded with all his cameras and other equipment, there was only room for one small dog. Together David and Lump drove to a beautiful villa in the south of France where Lump met a famous painter called Pablo Picasso.
   Just a few minutes after arriving at the villa, another dog turned up. Another dog that was bigger than Lump. It was going to be Big Dog situation all over again and Lump was determined that he was not going to let this larger dog “push him around.” Lump needn’t have worried. The dog, Yan, wanted to be friends and had no interest in bullying Lump.
   The painter decided to called Lump Lumpito, and he shared his fish lunch with the little dog. Picasso  also lay in the grass with Lumpito and rubbed his tummy. In the evening he held Lumpito in his arms, and together they looked up at the stars. The painter and the dog were delightfully content when they were together.
   Every so often a human and a dog meet and they are friends from that moment on. This was what happened when Picasso met a little dachshund called Lump. A special connection developed between them, and for Lump, and probably for the famous painter as well, it was a friendship full of joy.
   With a wonderful story and lovely illustrations, this book serves as a tribute to friendship and it will charm readers of all ages.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Verses

Finding the perfect pet can take some time and some people spend many hours researching the potential pets that they are considering getting. In today's poetry title you will meet a little girl who takes takes her researching efforts very seriously indeed, with very humorous results.

Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Zachariah OHara
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4169-7595-3
A little girl wants a pet, but her parents say “Not quite yet,” and they advise their daughter to do “research” and “Devise a scientific plan” to determine which pet would be right for her. Not deterred by this unusual demand, the little girl gets a notebook and “prepped to study in the field,” she goes to a farm to see potential pets for herself.
   Carefully the little girl makes field observations of a cow, a chicken, a pony, a dove, and a sheep. Though some of the animals seem promising at first, she soon realizes that a farm animal will not work for her. The sheep is too smelly, the pony too troublesome, and the chicken is downright aggressive. No, farm animals are out of the question. Perhaps a zoo animal would be a better fit.
   The little girl is not at the zoo long before it becomes clear that a monkey, penguin, tiger, polar bear, or hippo will not make a good pet. One might eat her, the other is very odiferous, and could one ever get used to having a pet that eats raw fish? And what about a pet that has fur that is “full of bugs and lice?” No, zoo animals will not do at all.
   Woodland animals are not much better, so the little girl decides that she needs to try animals that are perhaps a little less exotic. This time she will “bring some beasties in” so that she can properly test out each potential pet in her home. Surely one of the animals will end up being the right one.
   Children who are eager to have a pet of their own are going to enjoy this wonderful picture book with its unique collection of poems. With plenty of humor and a clever use of language, the author gives her readers a special poetry picture book experience.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A review of a perfect title for Father's Day

This coming Sunday, on June 16th, we celebrate Father's Day. It is a day when we spoil fathers and show them how much we love and appreciate them. In honor of this day, I have reviewed a book that celebrates the many ways in which fathers show their children, through their actions, how much they are loved.

Douglas Wood
Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-0-689-87532-8
We all know what the words “I love you” mean, but did you know that many people say “I love you” without saying these words at all? Dads are particularly good at doing this. Instead of saying the words, they show you how much you are loved. They make pancakes for you, admire your muscles, play games with you, and call you silly names like Flap-doodle or Scatterwhomp. When they help you ride your bike or read you your favorite story for the three hundredth time they are saying “I love you.”  When they answer your countless “Why?” questions without complaining they are also saying “I love you.”
            In this heartwarming, sometimes sweetly funny, book, Douglas Wood, who brought us the books A Quiet Place and Old Turtle, shows children that there are so many ways to say “I love you,” and often these expressions of love are incredibly precious. Throughout the book the simple text is paired with softly expressive illustrations of animal children sharing wonderful moments with their fathers.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Fold me a Poem

I never really knew much about origami until my daughter began to make paper cranes in school when she was seven years old. Since then she has made dozens and dozens of cranes and has also created beautiful boxes, stars, and other shapes. She loves collecting the colorful origami papers, and spends hours looking through her stash, searching for just the right paper for her next project.
In today's poetry title you will meet another child who loves origami and who builds a little world with the little paper creations he makes.

Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Lauren Stringer
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Harcourt, 2005, 978-0-152-02501-4
Origami is the traditional Japanese art of folding paper to create little paper animals and flowers. Often people who enjoy creating Origami use special paper that can be one solid color or that is printed with many intricate and colorful designs. Though the paper creations look simple, some of them take a lot of skill to make.
   In this book the author explores the world of origami in a unique way, taking us into through the day of a little boy who enjoys making the often beautiful paper sculptures. We begin in the morning, when the little boy greets the day with an origami rooster. A buffalo with a “shaggy head” gallops across the tablecloth during breakfast. There is a camel on the table too, but something went wrong with the folding process and the poor animal is not standing up properly. The boy leans the camel against a salt shaker “sand dune” so that he can “double-check the directions.”
   In his room, the little boy’s green origami dog has three new dogs friends made with printed paper. On the book shelf a black crow origami is hiding in the shadows, and a lion and cheetah are racing across the floor to see who is fastest.
   The little boy spreads out his origami paper on a table and examines his treasure trove of colors. What will he make next?
   In this lovely book clever illustrations are paired with beautifully spare yet evocative poems to show us how simple paper animals can brighten a boy’s day, providing him with hours full of creativity and play. After reading this book young readers might be tempted to try making some origami animals and flowers themselves.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Ribbit!

When we are presented with something that is out of the ordinary many of us overreact, often in a negative way. We are suspicious and prone to consider the unfamiliar something to be potentially dangerous. In today's picture book the author shows to great effect how such suspicious and distrustful behavior can create an environment that lacks open mindedness and a willingness to listen and observe. What is remarkable about this book is that the author manages to convey his powerful message with humor and sensitivity.

Ribbit!Rodrigo Folgueira
Illustrated by Poly Bernatene
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Random House, 2013, 978-0-307-98146-2
One morning the frogs who lived in a pond woke up to find that they were no longer alone. There was a pink pig sitting on a rock in their pond, and when the chief frog asked “What can we do for you?” the pig answered “Ribbit!” Not surprisingly, the frogs were astonished when they heard this. Did the pig think it was a frog? Was it making fun of them?
The other animals soon heard about the pig at the frog pond and they came to see what was going on. “Why would a pig want to be a frog?” a parrot wondered aloud. Naturall, the frogs found this comment offensive and soon all the animals were shouting at one another.  The animals laughed at the situation, except for the frogs, who were getting more and more annoyed. Finally the frog chief decided that they needed to consult the wise old beetle. Surely he would be able to explain the pig’s strange behavior.
Often, when a strange situation presents itself, people get into a tizzy. They argue, they hurt each other’s feelings, and they analyze everything more than is necessary. This book shows readers that sometimes the reason for a person’s behavior is very simple. Sometimes the answer we are looking for is right there, and all we have to do is to think less and feel more and we will find the answer.
With lovely expressive illustrations and a story that is timeless and ageless, this picture book explores an important topic with sensitivity and gentle humor.
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