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, December 30, 2013

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Rainbow Orchid

I have been reading graphic novels for as long as I have been reading. One of the first graphic novel series that I read were The Adventures of Tintin by Herge. I loved the stories, the characters, and Captain Haddock's colorful language! Not long ago I came across a new graphic novel series that has artwork that is reminiscent of Herge's style. I was delighted to discover that the books in this series not only look fantastic, but the stories they contain are exciting, unpredictable, and interesting.

The Rainbow Orchid: Volume one
The Rainbow Orchid: Volume OneGaren Ewing
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 and up
Egmont, 2009, 978-1-405248532
Julius Chancer works as an assistant for Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, a man who specializes in researching ancient and historical manuscripts and artifacts. One day an unscrupulous reporter comes to interview Sir Alfred and when he sees an orchid in Sir Alfred’s house he asks Sir Alfred if he plans on participating in the Wembley Exhibition, the world famous orchid exhibition. The reporter is very annoying, and in a fit of pique Julius mentions the rainbow orchid. He claims that the rainbow orchid is finer than the black orchid that is favored to win the competition. The black orchid is owned by a wealthy American businessman called Urkaz Grope.
   Unfortunately, the reporter mentions the rainbow orchid in an article that he writes and the next morning Lord Reginald Lawrence comes to call. He usually wins the Wembley Exhibition with one of his orchids, but this year he has nothing exotic enough to beat Mr. Grope’s black orchid. Lord Reginald was playing cards (and drinking too much) with Mr. Grope a few weeks ago and made a terrible wager that he lost. Now, unless Lord Reginald wins the Wembley Exhibition with one of his orchids, he will have to give Mr. Grope a family heirloom that is tied to the family title and lands. In short, Lord Reginald will lose everything that he holds dear.
   Lord Reginald had some to see Sir Alfred to ask him to find the rainbow orchid. It is said to be the most beautiful orchid in the world and therefore it will surely win the competition. The problem is that no one really knows if the orchid is a real thing, and where it might be found. Sir Alfred is convinced that it does exist not just because it is mentioned and depicted in a manuscript and on an ancient tablet, but because he actually met a missionary in Lahore who saw the orchid with his own eyes. The missionary believed that the plant grew somewhere in the mountains in the Hindu Kush.
   Lord Alfred has no inclination to help Sir Reginald to find the orchid, but Julius does, and he and Sir Reginald’s daughter decide to go to the Hindu Kush to see if they can find the orchid. Their search is going to be a difficult one and they don’t have much time. What they don’t realize at first is that their mission is going to be even harder than they imagine because Mr. Grope is determined to prevent them from finding the rainbow orchid.
   Set in the 1920’s, this marvelous graphic novel not only tells a fascinating story, but it provides readers with a picture of what it was like to live in the 1920’s. Complete with a movie star, a ruthless businessman, a nosy newspaper man, a young hero, and an irritating publicist, the narrative and artwork will delight readers who enjoy the Tintin adventures and other graphic novels that are set in the past.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of In the Swim

The Earth's watery places are full of fascinating creatures. When I was a child I spent many hours lying face down in the Mediterranean Sea looking at fish and other creatures going about their business, and I remember those hours with great fondness. In today's poetry title you will meet some of the creatures who live in seas, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

In the Swim
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Harcourt, 1997, 0-15-202437-9
For some people large bodies of water are fascinating places. Though we have mapped most of them, we don’t really know everything there is to know about these environments. We certainly don’t know about all the creatures that live in them, but we do know about some of them, and we are going to meet just a few of these creatures in the poems in this book.
   Douglas Florian is a poet who has a gift for injecting humor into his poems. Often this humor is quirky. For example, in the very first poem we meet a catfish whose tone sounds rather annoyed. The reason for its annoyance is that it wants to make it perfectly clear that it is a fish, not a cat. Nor, for that matter, does have any wish to be a cat.
   Next we meet a salmon and the poem is cleverly presented so that we have to read up the page, just as salmon have to swim upstream to spawn. The poem about the sawfish is also presented in a unique way. It is jagged, just like a saw, and we learn that a sawfish cannot cut “A two-by-four,” or “build a bed.” It has its “splendid” saw so that it can get its fish dinner and it eats the fish raw, which means that is doesn’t have to “do dishes.”
   The catfish is not the only aquatic creature that was given a name that really does not do it justice. The sea horse is another such animal. Seahorses have no hooves, they cannot race, and “have no legs / With which to chase.” In fact they are so unlike a real horse that their name is just plain “silly.”

   Douglas Florian has created so many wonderful poetry collections and this one is sure to entertain and delight readers, just as the others have done. Throughout the book the twenty-one poems are accompanied by wonderful paintings that have the same quirkiness that you find in the poems.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Norbert: What can little me do?

I am thrilled to bring you today's picture book because I had the privilege of editing it. I can remember seeing the manuscript for the first time when it was a PDF. I fell in love with the artwork, and was delighted to work on the book. This picture book will not only charm anyone who looks at it, but it also conveys a message that is relevant to just about everyone on this planet.

Norbert: What can little me do?
Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?Julia Freyermuth
Illustrated by Virginia K. Freyermuth
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Polly Parker Press, 2013, 978-0-9848682-0-9
Norbert is a very small, fluffy, white dog and he and his person have moved to the big city. Norbert and Momma now live in an apartment way above the city streets, and on his first night Norbert lies in his little bed and wonders what he, being such a little dog, can do in the big city.
   The next day Norbert and Momma go for a walk and not surprisingly many of the children they meet want to pet Norbert. In the park Norbert sees big dogs that can bark loudly, and he meets a big horse that can pull a carriage. Norbert wishes that he too had a big voice or that he could do what a horse can do.
   The following day Norbert and Momma go back to the park. Norbert sees birds who can fly in the sky, ducks who can swim in the pond, and a squirrel, who can climb trees. Poor little Norbert cannot fly, float, or climb a tree. He cannot even climb the stairs from the subway to the street above because his legs are too short.
   It is not much fun feeling as if you can’t do anything or contribute anything. This is how Norbert, a three-pound dog, feels. He is too small to do any of the things that he thinks he would like to be able to do. What Norbert does not realize is that he, like everyone else, has something to offer, and in his case what he is looking for is right under his own sweet little nose.
   This charming, heartwarming, and inspirational book is based on the true story of Norbert, the author’s dog. Children will immediately fall in love with the pint sized dog, whose story is presented using a journal format. Wonderful artwork, a handwritten text, and a memorable story make this a book that children and their grownups will greatly enjoy reading and looking at.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of: Poetry Speaks Who I am

Though I enjoyed reading and listening to poetry when I was a child, I did not really appreciate the language, the meaning, and the form of poetry until I was a teen. Back then, in the dark ages, there were no collections of poems for teenagers, and I often read poems that did not resonate with me at all. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and today I have a review of book of poetry that will delight teenagers who enjoy reading and listening to poetry.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and EveryPoetry Speaks Who I am: Poems of discovery, inspiration,independence and everything else
Edited by Elise Paschen
Poetry with Audio CD
For ages 12 and up
Sourcebooks, 2010, 978-1-4022-1074-7
There are some wonderful collections of poetry for young children, some of which have been around for a long time, and there are excellent collections of poetry for adults. Unfortunately, the needs of teenage readers are often overlooked when it comes to poetry. In this poetry book there is a “highly unusual collection – coming-of-age-moments caught next to classics next to grieving, kitchen tables, Cinderella, dragons, and school periods.” The editors of this book asked poets from around the United States to share the poems that touched them when they were teenagers. They also asked poets to submit poems that they have written that they think will resonate with teenage readers.
   Growing up is all too often a painful process full of high moments, and an awful lot of low ones. What is interesting is that these same years are often the ones when young people are most drawn to poetry, which is why it is odd that no one has created a collection like this before. The poems in the collection beautifully capture those moments in the life of a teenager that are so bright with emotion, newness, and confusion.
   Some of the poems are modern, capturing moments and images that can only be found in the modern world and yet have a timeless feel to them. One of these poems is Mascara by Elizabeth Spires. In this poem we see two sisters who are ten years apart in age. One is applying mascara and she belongs to a world the younger sister knows so little about. They are separated by their ages and by “old injuries, forgotten but not entirely / forgiven,” and yet they are also close.
   Then there are poems that are from another time. If I can stop one heart from breaking by Emily Dickinson is just such a poem. It is short but addresses an issue that most teens think about at some point. What are they going to do with their life? Are they going to serve themselves and “live in vain,”or are they going to be the kind of person who will “stop one heart from breaking” or “ease one life the aching.”

   This book has an added dimension because there is an accompanying audio CD with forty-seven tracks. Most of the poems on the CD are read by the poets who created them,  and many are original poems that the reader can only read (and hear) in this collection. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Picture Book Monday with a review of Jolly Snow

I have reviewed thousands of picture books over the years and have have got to the point that I recognize a number of illustrative styles. Some styles are so unique that it only takes one look before I remember the illustrator's name. Not long ago I saw a portion of the cover of today's book and knew that I had to review the book because I recognized Jane Hissey's extraordinary artwork. I admire this creative lady's work because the stories are so warm and the characters are so lovable.

Jolly Snow Jolly Snow
Jane Hissey
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scribblers, 2013, 978-1-908973-02-3
It is a cold and wet day outside, and Jolly Tall, the toy giraffe, wishes that it would snow. He’s never seen real snow before. Little Bear shows his friends the snow that drifts down inside a snow globe. Jolly thinks the snow is very pretty, but alas there is not enough of it inside the globe to slide and jump in, nor is there enough to turn into snowballs.
   Zebra says that she knows where there is some snow and she leads her friends to the kitchen where Bramwell Brown the teddy bear is making cookies. The flour he is using looks a lot like snow and one can turn the cookie dough into balls which the animals throw at each other.  
   The problem with dough balls, unlike snowballs, is that they make a sticky mess and Zebra needs to have a bath. Her friends help her to get clean, and as they scrub her they realize that soap bubbles are perfect for playing with. Unfortunately soap bubbles, unlike snowballs, last for a very short while.
   Zebra, Jolly, Duck, and Little Bear decide to go and ask their friend Old Bear if he knows how they can make snow. Old Bear often has the answers to their problems.
   In this delightful Old Bear story, gorgeous illustrations are paired with a story that shows little children how a little creativity can go a long way sometimes. Jolly has a wish that is not easy to grant, but he and his loving friends have a great time trying to give him what he wants. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Poetry Friday with a review of: The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems

I have reviewed several books that contain a collection of "classic" poems. One would think that I would get tired of reading such books, but I don't because they are all different. Today's poetry title is a collection of poems that will appeal to readers of all ages.

The Barefoot Book of Classic PoemsThe Barefoot Book of Classic poems
Illustrated by Jackie Morris
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Barefoot Books, 2006, 1-905236-56-5
There are certain poems that people today consider to be “classic.” What makes a poem a classic anyway? Carol Ann Duffy, who wrote the introduction to this book, feels that the classic poems chosen for this collection are ones that “continue to shine brightly in the English language.” Such is the nature of something that is a classic. It is timeless and still resonates with people today, even though it was written in a different time and place.
   Though this collection was put together for children, adults will also enjoy being able to “rediscover” poems that they knew when they were young, and perhaps meet poems that are new to them as well. The poems will provide and adults and children with connecting point that they can share.
   What makes this collection truly special is that Jackie Morris has chosen poems that explore a wide variety of emotions and experiences. Lilian Moore’s poem, Until I saw the sea tells the story of what it was like when she saw the sea for the first time. She is amazed to discover that the wind can “wrinkle” water, and that the sea “breathes in and out / upon the shore.” Though the poem is short and spare, the poet captures the awe and wonder she felt on seeing the sea.
   Some of the poems describe animals, both real and imagined, while others tell the stories of amonster, a brave knight, a cowardly dragon, a pair of unusual lovers, and more.
   The poems also capture special moments, freezing them for all time so that they can be enjoyed again and again. In Daffodils we read about how the writer “wandered lonely as a cloud” until he saw a “host, of golden daffodils,” and the memory of this sight later warms him again and again when he is in a “vacant or pensive mood.”
   Throughout the book the poems are paired with Jackie Morris’ gorgeous illustrations that give the poems another layer of emotion and meaning.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Who Goes there?

There have been times, when I was alone at home at night, when strange noises from outside made me more than a little nervous. For some reason my imagination went wild and I found myself gathering my pet dogs around me. Not that they would be much help in a crisis. They are a bunch of cowards.
    In today's picture book you will meet a mouse who is frightened by noises outside and who, thanks to the noises, finds out what is missing in his life.

Who Goes There?Who goes there?
Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Anna Curry
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4169-8002-5
Winter is on its way and Lewis Mouse gets ready by filling his nest with leaves, twigs, and grass. The wind howls outside his snug little home. It pushes against his little door, but it cannot come in. Lewis has plenty to eat and he is warm and snug, but he cannot help feeling that something is missing.
   Lewis is nibbling on a nut where he hears a scratching and tapping noise on his door. Not surprisingly, Lewis feels a little nervous, but he doesn’t want whoever is at the door to know this so he roars out, “Who goes there? Who could it be? Who scritches and scratches and taps at my tree.” Lewis thinks that perhaps there is an owl out there, but when he opens his door and peaks out there is nothing outside at all except the night and the wind.
   Later Lewis is fast asleep when something starts scritching, scratching, and tapping on his door again. Feeling very annoyed Lewis bellows out again, and once again, when he looks outside nothing is there. Now that Lewis is awake he knows he is never going to be able to go back to sleep. He makes some raspberry tea with honey and sits down to drink when…that’s right….the noise starts up again. Now Lewis is really fed up, and scared. What if the animal outside is a bear?
   In this delightful picture book we meet a mouse whose roar is bigger than his courage. Readers will start feeling very sorry for this poor little creature who just wants a little peace and quiet. Thankfully, when the adventure is all over, Lewis finds out just what his little home is missing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Poetry Friday's review of Poetry for Young People: Lewis Carroll

Though I learned the poem many many years ago I can still narrate the Jabberwocky, and I still laugh when I read the poem about the Walrus and the Carpenter. These and other wonderful poems can be found in today's poetry title, which looks at the life and works of Lewis Carroll.

Poetry for Young People: Lewis CarrollPoetry for Young People: Lewis Carroll
Edited by Edward Mendelson
Illustrated by Eric Copeland
Poetry Picture book
For ages 8 and up
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5474-6
Charles Ludwidge Dodson was a mathematician who taught and studied at Oxford University.  He was greatly respected, and was a serious scholar who lived a quiet life. However, this tall thin young man had a silly and playful side, a side that chose to write fantastical stories and poems under a pen name. As Lewis Carroll, he was able to break free of his college teacher life and indulge in creating colorful characters, ridiculous situations, and amusing poems.
   Though Charles wrote little stories and poems when he was living with his family and later, his writing adventures really began on July 4th, 1862, when he was thirty years old. On this day he went for a picnic and went rowing on the River Thames with friends. One of the picnickers was a ten year old girl called Alice, and he made up a story for her and the other children about a girl called Alice who jumped down a rabbit hole. This story would, sometime later, get turned into a book called Alice in Wonderland. A sequel followed called Through the Looking-Glass.
   In this splendid book the editor takes many of the poems from these two books, plus excerpts from his poem The Hunting of the Snark, poems from his novel Sylvie and Bruno, and other poems that he wrote during his life.
   In many of his poems Carroll finds ways to make fun of conventions that were popular in his time. For example, many poets liked to write poems that encouraged children to work hard, to be good, and to do as they are told. In How Doth the Little Crocodile, Carroll parodies a poem someone else wrote about “the little busy bee” that works hard to collect nectar “from every opening flower.” In his version we meet a crocodile who, with a big and wide grin, “welcomes little fishes” to swim into his tooth-filled jaws.
   In A Sea Dirge Carroll makes fun of all those popular poems that waxed eloquent about the sea. As far as Carroll is concerned, the sea is a place where you get wet feet, a case of seasickness, and ruined food because sand gets in your tea. It is a place where one might fall down a cliff, slip on some rocks, and where one has to put up with having to watch nannies and their charges and other similar unpleasant sights.
   Throughout this excellent collection, each of the poems are introduced by a note from the editor and are accompanied by wonderful paintings, all of which beautifully capture the essence of the poems.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Picture Book Monday's review of Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift

The season of giving is almost here and for today's picture book I have a title that I think beautifully captures the true spirit of the season, no matter who you are. In this story you will meet a pair of bears who love one another and who willingly give up things they care for so that they can purchase the perfect gift.

Boris and Stella and the Perfect GiftBoris and Stella and the Perfect Gift
Dara Goldman
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013, 978-1-58536-859-4
Boris and Stella are a pair of bears who, despite their very different backgrounds and occupations, love many of the same things. Boris plays the piano in a restaurant, and Stella is a baker, and they both like hats and scary movies.
   Stella wants to give Boris something special for Hanukkah, but she only has a few coins in her piggy bank. She has nothing worth selling except the pine tree that came from the family farm in Italy. Even though the tree is special to her, Stella decides to sell the tree so that she can buy Boris a dreidel to add to his dreidel collection.
   Boris is also thinking about gift giving. Christmas is coming up and he wants to get Stella a gift that she will treasure. He doesn’t have much money saved up either, but he does have a dreidel collection that his parents gave him when he was growing up in Russia. Boris decides that he will sell his dreidel collection so that he can buy a lovely star for Stella’s special pine tree.
   This heart-warming version of The Gift of the Magi will delight children and their grownups. It is wonderful to see that these two bears in this tale have no trouble giving up things they treasure. Children will see how giving a gift to someone you love is a gift in and of itself.
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