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, October 28, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Me and my Dragon: Scared of Halloween

Halloween is coming up in a few days and I have the perfect Halloween picture book to share with you. In 2011, David Biedrzycki released a book about a boy and his pet dragon. Me and my dragon became one of my favorite dragon picture books. Now the same little boy and his dragon are back, and this time the little boy is trying to celebrate Halloween, but he is finding it rather challenging.

David Biedrzycki
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2013, 978-1-58089-658-0
There is a boy out there, somewhere, who has a very unusual pet. His pet is a dragon, and the boy and dragon “like all the same things.” They love birthday parties, parades, and fireworks. There is one thing that the dragon does not like. At all. The dragon does not like Halloween. Actually, to be quite honest, the dragon is scared of Halloween. This is a big shame because the boy loves Halloween with its costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, and candy eating.
   The boy does his best to convince the dragon that mummies, zombies, werewolves and other creepy creatures are not real, but the dragon is still scared. Perhaps if the dragon has his own costume he will realize that Halloween is fun.
   It turns out that finding the right costume for a dragon is not easy. A mummy costume uses up too much toilet paper, a zombie costume is too scary, and a tutu is too flammable. Who knew that celebrating Halloween could be so complicated.

   In this second Me and My Dragon book, David Biedrzycki brings back his wonderful boy and dragon duo with deliciously funny results. It is a joy to see how the boy and his pet solve their problem and how their Halloween celebration turns out. What makes this story so wonderful is that the dragon is very much like a child in many ways; expect that he can fly and set things on fire with one puff!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars

I have reviewed many of Douglas Florian's splendid  poetry picture books and have enjoyed them all, but I think today's book is one of his best. The artwork is perfectly paired with a wide variety of poetry forms and you never quite know what is coming next.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Harcourt, 2007, 978-0-15-205372-7
For centuries humans have looked up into the night sky and they have wondered about the stars, the moon, the Milky Way and the other celestial marvels that they could see with their eyes. Then telescopes were invented and people began to appreciate how immense the universe is. Stars and planets have helped guide people across lands and seas, and they have inspired artists, musicians and writers to describe them in paint, notes, and words. In this beautiful poetry picture book Douglas Florian takes us up into the heavens to explore.
   We begin our journey with a poem that looks at the big picture. It invites and encourages us to “Skywatch.” As we look up we may see “a planet or / A flash of light from a meteor.” We can use a constellation chart so that we can “tell the stars apart.”
  In the next poem the poet (and illustrator) ruminates on the hugeness and everythingness of the universe. It is “every place” and includes all the “empty space.” We are all a part of the universe, every “cat and dog and bumblebee.”
   A galaxy is a large collection of stars. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are spirals, some are egg-shaped, and some are flat. The one thing that they have in common is that they all have “stars, and stars, and stars.”
   After looking at the spiraling words of the galaxy poem we move on to the solar system, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and other planets. We go to the moon, find out about asteroids and “planetoids,” a comet, the constellations, and a black hole. Finally we think about “the great beyond.” The author tells us how he could tell us so much more, but he has “run out of space.”
   With unique artwork, die cut features on the pages, and wonderful poems, this celebration of the heavens will delight children who are interested in space.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blog Tour - Danny's Doodles by David A. Adler

Most of us, at one time or another, acquire a friend who is different, who is perhaps a little odd. They don't seem to fit in anywhere and they can even be rather embarrassing at times. This splendid title by David A. Adler tells the story of one boy's strange new friend who ends up giving Danny a lot more than he expected.

Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean ExperimentDanny’s Doodles: The Jellybean Experiment
David A. Adler
For ages 7 to 9
Sourcebooks, 2013, 978-1-4022-8721-3
Danny Cohen’s new classmate and friend, Calvin Waffle, is a rather odd boy. Last week he followed Danny everywhere, noting down who Danny spoke to and how long they talked. Calvin has explained that he needs the information he is gathering for an experiment that he is putting together. According to him, statistics are “the backbone of science.” Danny is not convinced, and he is keen to know what the experiment is, but Danny is not telling. Yet.
   On Monday of this week Calvin puts jelly beans in Danny’s pockets and Danny is going to have to put up with being followed around again. Apparently last week was the “control” week  for the experiment, and this week the experiment begins in earnest. Calvin still isn’t willing to explain what he is doing because he does not want to “skew” his results.
   Calvin insists that he keep his distance from Danny, which presents a problem. Calvin’s mother has baked a cake and Calvin is supposed to bring some friends over to eat it. So far Danny is Calvin’s only friend and his odd behavior (shadowing Danny) is making it impossible for Calvin to make more friends.
   Then Danny’s teacher announces that the students are going to do reports in pairs. Danny is paired with Annie, and Calvin is paired with Douglas. Douglas is worried that Calvin won’t do his share of the work and Danny tells him that he is sure Calvin would not do such a thing. In an effort to help Calvin out, Danny suggests that they all go to Calvin’s house on the weekend. The experiment will be over and they can eat all the jellybeans.
   When the four children get together on Sunday at Calvin’s house they finally find out what Calvin’s experiment was all about, and Danny begins to understand that though Calvin Waffle certainly is a “weird” person, he also is a pretty interesting one. He is also a friend, and sometimes you put up with friends even when they are being strange.

   In this wonderful story we see how friendships can grow between rather unlikely people. The author beautifully develops his characters, making them both colorful and credible. The problems children have as they try to ‘fit in’ are explored with both humor and sensitivity.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Whimsy's Heavy Things

Most of us have days when we are weighed down by problems and by life's challenges. At such times we tend to feel worn out, frustrated, and at a loss. The little girl in this picture book is in just such a pickle and she has no idea what to do about it. At first.

Though this is a picture book for children, the ideas it conveys will resonate with anyone who is feeling weighed down and confused. 

Julie Kraulis
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Tundra Books, 2013, 978-1-77049-403-9
Whimsy has four heavy things that are “weighing her down,” and she has got to the point where she realizes that she has to do something. She cannot go on like this. Whimsy’s first impulse is to try to hide her heavy things, so she sweeps them under the rug in the hallway. She soon finds out that this solution is not going to work because the heavy things trip her up.
   Whimsy then tries placing her heavy things in a bucket and she hangs the bucket from a tree branch. The heavy things are so heavy that they break the branch they are hanging from and land on her. They are too heavy to be carried away by a flying kite, and they are so heavy they sink in the sea and Whimsy stubs her toe on them when she goes swimming. In desperation, Whimsy tries to pretend that her heavy things are not there, but that does not work either. She feels heavier and sadder than ever.
    Many of us, at some point, are weighed down by problems, fears, or worries. These “heavy things” prevent us from enjoying life, and like Whimsy we often try to find ways to rid ourselves of our burdens. In this unique picture book the author explores the idea that there is a very simple solution to just such a problem, a solution that requires only one thing: creativity.
  With wonderful artwork and a universal message that readers of all ages can appreciate, this is a picture book that readers will enjoy reading again and again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of Zoo's Who

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created many books of poetry for children. Many of his poems are clever, unique, and funny, and they show children that creating poetry does not require that you follow 'the rules.' If you love words, you can find your own way to create poems that a joy to read and to listen to, which is what he has done in this animal centric poetry collection.

zoo's whoZoo’s Who
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Harcourt, 2005, 0-15-204639-9
Children love drawing animals, learning about them, and pretending to be creatures of all kinds Many of their favorite book characters are animals, and it is hard to imagine what the world would be like if Maisy the mouse, Babar the elephant, and Paddington the bear were not with us.
   In this picture book artist and poet, Douglas Florian, introduces us to twenty-one kinds of animals. We get to attend a zoological meet-and-greet that is highly entertaining and amusing.
   We begin with The Lizards, the creatures who like to “bask” and whose favorite food sounds so unsavory that one is better off not asking any questions about it. The next animal we meet is an altogether different kind of creature. It is the eagle, and it has a very high opinion of itself. It seems to think that it is “royal” and “regal” and that its existence proves that “All birds are not / Created eagle.”
   The penguin, which is also a bird, is a lot less bothered about keeping up appearances. This funny looking animal happily slides down snowy hills on its belly, and when it is really cold it is not too proud to “huddle with its friends.”
   Children are going to laugh out loud as they read these poems. They will come across many animals that they already know about, and they will also meet some animals that are new to them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of Read me a story, Stella

Soon after I launched Through the Looking Glass I started reading some books about a little girl called Stella and her little brother Sam. The books were written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, and they are such a joy to read that I am delighted that there is a new Stella book out to enjoy.

Read Me a Story, Stella
Marie-Louise Gay
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2013, 978-1-55498-216-5
One day Stella is picking apples when her little brother Sam turns up. He is pulling a wagon full of branches and old boards, which, he says, he is going to use to build a doghouse for Fred the dog. Sam gets to work and he soon finds out that building a doghouse is not an easy thing to do. While he is struggling with his boards and sticks, Stella is lying in a hammock reading a book and laughing. Apparently the story she is reading is funny. Sam asks if the book contains doghouse building tips, and since it doesn’t, Stella helps her brother with his project.
   Later on the children go down to the pond. While Sam explores, Stella reads about “a big old toad wearing a velvet jacket.” When Sam finds a caterpillar, Stella finds him a picture of one in her insect book and tells him that caterpillars turn into butterflies.
   Next Sam teaches Fred how to fly a kite, and when Fred accidentally lets go of the kite string and the kite floats off, Stella reassures Sam that his kite will not “get burned by the sun” because kites “Know their way around the sky.”
   In this charming Stella adventure we share a perfect day with Stella, Sam, and Fred. The skies are blue, the sun is shining, and Stella always has something new and interesting to tell her little brother. She finds some of her information in her beloved books, and the rest comes from her own well of little girl wisdom.

   In this wonderful picture book the author shows to great effect that sometimes the best adventures are simple everyday ones.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of The Silver Moon: Lullabies and Cradle Songs

When my daughter was little I used to sing a lullaby to her every night, and when she got older she used to sing along with me. Our lullaby time was a special moment that we shared at the end of the day. In today's poetry title poet Jack Prelutsky presents some wonderful lullabies that can be spoken or sung.

Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Jui Ishida
Poetry Picture Book
For infants to children age 5
HarperCollins, 2013, 978-0-06-201467-2
For centuries adults have been singing songs to their young children to relax them and lull them to sleep. Often the words in such songs are soft, and they mention comforting things and convey dreamy images. For this book poet Jack Prelutsky created twenty lullaby poems that can be sung or spoken. With their gently rocking rhythms and soft words, the poems create an environment that is soothing and calming.
   We begin with a poem about a train that visits dreamland. The train goes “chugging down the track” and it will not return until morning, when its young passengers are ready to emerge from their “dreams of wonder” and wake up.
   Later in the book we meet three animal families. We hear about a fox mother and her cub resting in their den, and see a squirrel mother checking on her baby who is fast asleep in a hole in a tree. We also see a mother pig and her seven little piglets snoozing on hay in their pen. These are scenes of tranquility and we are told that “soon my baby / will slumber by me.”

   With wonderful little poems and soft illustrations that seem to glow on the page, this is a book that would make a wonderful gift for adults who have a new baby in the family.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Dylan's Day

One of the reasons I love picture books is that they can make me think about something in a new way, they can touch my heart, and they can make me laugh. Today's picture book title made me laugh several times. The dog character in the story is so wonderfully doggy, and he reminds of of my own dogs, all three of which are easily frightened. 

Tim Hutchinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Pinwheel Books, 2013, 978-0-9854248-1-7
It is morning, and Dylan the dog is ready for another day to begin. After a stretch and a yawn, and after checking the bed “to see if the sleep has gone,” Dylan sets off to find the cat that lives next door.
   Of course, being a naturally curious and interested dog, Dylan has to sniff things that he considers are important. Things like “bread and windows and where a bluebird sits.” He also has to find things like some old rope and a watering can, and he has to follow things like bees, balls, and butterflies. He has to chase things too, naturally, but most importantly of all he has to find that big fat cat that lives next door.
   Readers are going to laugh out loud as they follow the adventures of Dylan, a dog on a mission. He is such a comical character and the author beautifully captures his personality and his dedication to his search. One can tell at once that the author had a deep fondness for dogs, and he understands and appreciates the way the world looks through the eyes of a dog.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Poetry Friday: A review of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Except for a brief time when I was in college, I have always had cats in my life. When I was a child we had a Siamese who adored my mother and the dog, and who tolerated the rest of us. He was opinionated and when he did not get his way he stole things. He also yelled at us when we went away. Now I have two Siamese cats and they steal anything that is not nailed down, they get very huffy when we go away, and I love them to bits.

Today's poetry title celebrates cats in a unique and wonderful way. The characters on the pages are so colorful that Andrew Lloyd Weber was inspired by the poems to write a musical called Cats.

Old Possum's Book of Practical CatsOld Possum's Book of Practical Cats
T.S. Eliot
Illustrated by  Axel Scheffler
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Harcourt Children's Books, 2009 , 978-0547248271
   Every person who is privileged enough to share their life and home with a cat knows that cats are very singular animals. Unlike dogs, they do not ‘belong’ to humans. Instead, humans belong to their cats. Many humans do not fully appreciate the remarkable nature of cats. Luckily for us, the poet T.S. Eliot was privy to some of their secret ways. In the 1930’s he wrote a collection of poems about cats, which he included in letters to his godchildren. The poems were then collected and published in 1939, and they are still entertaining and enlightening readers of all ages today.
   Eliot begins his exploration into the world of cats by telling us that cats have three names. There is the one that the family uses daily. Then there is the name “that’s peculiar, and more dignified.” It is a name that “never belongs to more than one cat.” Jellylorum, Mankustrap, and Coricopat are good examples of this second kind of name. Finally, there is the name that only the cat knows. I cannot give you any examples of these names because they are a closely guarded secret.
   Eliot then goes on to tell us the stories of various cats, all of whom are very extraordinary creatures. There is Jennyanydots, who is a Gumbie Cat, and who is “deeply concerned with the ways of the mice.” In fact, she is so concerned that she has secretly taken on the job of improving their behavior and manners, and feeding them a good diet. This extraordinary cat even goes so far as to provide cockroaches with “employment” to keep them from being lazy and destructive.
   Rum Tum Tugger is nothing like Jennyanydots. He is a contrary kind of cat who always wants the opposite of what he has. If he is outside, all he wants to do is to come in, and if he is in, all he wants to do is to go out. He refuses to be cuddled when it suits you, but if you are sitting and sewing, he insists on jumping on your lap, which of course makes a “horrible muddle.”
   Just to make sure that you are suitably equipped to deal with a cat, Eliot explains, in great detail, how to “ad-dress a Cat.” You must NEVER treat a cat the way you would a dog. For the most part a dog is a “simple soul,” whereas a cat is a much more complex creature who must be treated with respect.
   In this wonderful edition of T.S. Eliot’s famous cat poems, the poems are paired with Axel Scheffler’s wonderful illustrations. Children and adults alike will enjoy dipping into the pages for poems that are entertaining, amusing, and enlightening.
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