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, January 31, 2014

Poetry Friday presenting a review of Words with Wings

I have now read several books where tale is told using a series of poems. They poems are often written in blank verse and I have come to appreciate how powerful such books can be. Today's title is just such a book and I have placed it on my to-read-often shelf because it is so meaningful and so beautifully written.

Words with WingsWords with wings
Nikki Grimes
For ages 9 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2013, 978-1-59078-985-8
After her parents get a divorce, Gabby and her mother move to a new home across town. Hating having to say goodbye to friends and worried that she won’t find new ones, Gabby does what she so often does. She takes a break from the world and dives into her imagination and daydreams. Gabby’s old friend Cheri never minded Gabby’s daydreaming and Gabby fervently hopes that her new school will have “a Cheri who’ll think daydreamers are cool.”
   Gabby’s daydreaming began when her parents started fighting. Trying to lock out the sounds of raised voices, Gabby wished that she could “fly away” and the word fly seemed to transport her into a daydream where she was flying to her grandmother’s house where there are no shouting parents.
   Since that moment certain words seem to send Gabby off to another place, into a daydream where happy things are happening. She drifts into daydreaming moments all the time, exasperating her mother and her teacher.
   Gabby realizes that she is a “dreamer” like her father and she is not much like her mother, who is a “maker.” Would it be possible to combine being a maker and a dreamer? Gabby wishes she could please her mother and knows that her mother wishes Gabby where more like her, more practical and down to earth. Eventually, Gabby’s daydreaming costs too much and she decides to set it aside. No more “word-journeys for me,” she thinks. The problem is that being a “Girl robot” does not suit Gabby, and not having her daydreams makes her very unhappy.
   In this extraordinary book Gabby’s story is told using a series of poems. The first person narrative poems are interspersed with poems that describe the daydreams that Gabby has. It is interesting to see how her daydreams fill her life, until she forces them to cease, and how this deprivation makes her whole life sad, bland, and boring.
   Readers who have a love of the written word will greatly enjoy reading this remarkable book.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of: A New Year’s Reunion

New Year's celebrations mean different things to different people. Sometimes it is a time for new beginnings, and sometimes it is a time for looking back. In this picture book readers will meet a little girl whose New Year's celebration has an added significance because it is the only time of year when she gets to see her father.

A New Year's ReunionA New Year’s Reunion
Yu Li-Qiong
Illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-5881-6
Chinese New year is a wonderful celebration for children all over China, but for one Maomao it is an extra special time of year because her father, who “builds houses in faraway places,” comes home.
   One cold morning Maomao and her mother wake up early because Papa is arriving that day. Soon enough he has his big arms around Maomao. Maomao is a little alarmed because Papa has a prickly beard on his face and he seems different, but after he visits the barber, the little girl feels better. Papa is starting to look “the way he used to be.” Back at home Maomao and her family make sticky balls to eat and Papa hides a coin inside one of them. They hear fireworks going off outside as they fall asleep.
   In the morning Maomao is the one who finds the coin inside one of her sticky balls. How excited the little girl is that she is the one who got the “fortune coin.” She is so excited that she shows her friend the coin when the family goes out visiting.
   Day after day unfolds with new and exciting things to do with Papa, Mama, and with Maomao’s friends. There is a dragon dance to watch and snow to play in. Then, on the third day of New Years, when Maomao goes home after playing in the snow, she discovers something terrible; she has lost her fortune coin.

   In this sweet and heartwarming picture book, the author and illustrator combine their talents to share Chinese New Year traditions with their readers and to tell the story of a little girl whose New Year celebration is a particularly special time of year. The joy and excitement that the little girl feels comes through clearly in the narrative, and readers will feel warmed by the love that is strong in Maomao’s family.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear and other favorite nursery rhymes

Sharing nursery rhyme books with little children can be a lot of fun but usually the books have to be carefully guarded so that little fingers don't tear the pages or color on them. Today's nursery rhyme book is perfect for little children because it has strong coated board pages that cannot be easily torn.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear and Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear and other favorite nursery rhymes
Illustrated by Steve Lenton
Board Book
For ages 2 to 5
Tiger Tales, 2013, 978-1-58925-601-9
For generations parents have been sharing nursery rhymes with their children. They have sung or said the rhymes so many times that the words often lie in their child’s memory, where they wait until the moment when the child is grown up and wants to share the rhymes with another child.
   Saying or singing the rhymes gives so many moments of shared enjoyment to both grownups and children. These moments can be made even more special when one uses this book because there are pictures to look at.
   Children will love seeing the picture that accompanies the Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe rhyme because it shows a little boy tickling a tiger’s foot, and they will be charmed by the illustration that accompanies the Rain on the Green Grass rhyme, which shows a little owl taking shelter from the rain in a little house that is perched on a tree branch.
   The pages of this book are made out of sturdy boards that can withstand even the most enthusiastic page turning activities, and children will enjoy looking through it on their own.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Land of Neverbelieve

The world is full of people who wish they could visit a place that is populated by weird and wonderful plants, animals, and people. Why else do so many of us like to travel to Narnia, Middle Earth, down a rabbit hole, and other places that exist on the pages of books. Today's book is a title that book travelers will find most intriguing. It is full of lovely annotated artwork that is breathlessly odd and beautiful.

The Land of NeverbelieveThe Land of Neverbelieve
Norman Messenger
Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-6021-5
One day the author is “quietly puttering about at sea in my boat,” when he sees an island that looks so amazing he cannot resist going over to investigate. From the moment he sets foot on the sandy beach the author is “spellbound,” because the island is populated by plants, animals and people the like of which the world has never seen. The people on the island explain that this island, unlike most islands that stay in one place, likes to move on a regular basis. It has legs that allow it to stand up and walk off “to a fresh location.”  Working quickly the author sets about recording what he sees and learns using words and pictures. He knows that time is short and that the island could move on at any time. Thankfully for us, before the island can set off for pastures new, the author is able to create some extraordinary annotated drawings that show us what he saw when he was on the island.
   The author begins by showing us a map of the Land of Neverbelieve. Among other things we are able to see where the mountains are, where the Hamlet is, and where the crop garden is located. Next we see the little houses that the islanders live in that are “delightfully colorful, fanciful, and quirky.” A fold out page reveals that the houses perfectly complement the islanders. They all have features that are decidedly animal-like and tend to favor clothes that are very colorful and creative.
   We next go on to look at some very odd trees, and then on to the plants and animals that are found in the “mysterious marsh” and “rushing stream.” Here you will find a frog with legs that are incredibly long and an enormous snake that has three heads.
   If you think that these creatures are odd then you should see the creatures in the “Happy Forest Clearing.” They can change their appearances in dramatic ways, transforming, and linking, and they can “stand upside down or even downside up.”

   With careful attention to detail the author takes us to all the places shown on his map, giving us a complete picture of the Land of Neverbelieve and delighting us with his lovely artwork and interesting notes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Poetry Friday and a review of Dinothesaurus

I, like so many people, went through a dinosaur period. I read about dinosaurs for months, and dinosaur facts tripped off my tongue at every opportunity. I was not a child when this event took place and I can therefore relate to dinosaur-mad children with great ease. This book of poetry is full of wonderful dinosaurs and it is a must-read title for anyone who has an interest in these sadly extinct animals.

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and PaintingsDinothesaurus
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2009, 978-1-4169-7978-4
Many children, at some point, develop a passion for dinosaurs. They want pictures of dinosaurs on their lunch boxes, on their pajamas, and on their backpacks. They want dinosaur books and plastic dinosaur figurines.  They sleep with stuffed dinosaurs, and eat off dinosaur dishes. It is easy to understand why dinosaurs are so addictive. They are interesting, and bizarre looking. Many of them were enormous, and they are no longer here, which makes them seem mysterious.
   In this splendid picture book Douglas Florian, who has created many wonderful poetry collections for young readers, celebrates dinosaurs of all kinds. He begins by talking about the “age of Dinosaurs,” where he tells us about how they “First lived outdoors / During the time Triassic.” Most of them then died out, but a few survived to enjoy the Jurassic, and to flourish in the Cretaceous. Now, alas, the poor creatures can only be found indoors where they live in “museum halls.”
   The poet then goes on to introduce us to a wide variety of dinosaur species. Some, like Iguanodon and Triceratops, will be familiar to many young readers, while others, like Minmi and Troodon, will become new friends.
   In almost every poem Douglas Florian combines humor with information to give young readers a delightful mix that beautifully complements his multimedia art. Sometimes the poems are in the third person, and sometimes they are in the first person and we feel as if the dinosaur in question is talking to us. For example, in the Plesiosaurus poem the aquatic creatures tell is that that they aren’t vicious and are “very polite,” they always “say PLEASE before we might bite.”
   There are also many places where the poet uses language in clever ways, as he does in the poem about the Triceratops, which we are told to “Beware-and-please-take-care-a-tops.”

   This collection would make a wonderful gift for a child who is a dinosaur fan.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Picture Book Monday's review of The Boat

For the most part we live in a 'more is better' world. We convince ourselves that we need to have more things to be happy or to be 'successful.' We therefore tend to think that a book with  more content is better. This is not always the case. Sometimes less is better and this book serves as an excellent example of this rule. There are no words, there are not many pages, and yet this is a story that children and adults will love.

The BoatThe Boat
Monique Felix
Wordless picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Creative Editions, 2014, 978-1-56846-252-3
A little mouse has run across the blank page. It appears to be in a frightful hurry and collapses, clearly exhausted from its exertions. After it has rested, paw to brow, for a while, it starts to chew the corner of the page. It peeks through the chewed edges at the scene that lies on the other side and then it pauses to deliberate. Something it has seen on the next page is worrying the mouse.
   The mouse then makes a decision and it chews and chews until it has chewed a neat large square out of the middle of the page. As water pours out of the scene on the next page onto our page we can see why the mouse was worried. The sea is coming out of the page beyond into our page, and the water level is rising. What is the mouse going to do?

   From the moment readers start looking at this book they are going to be captivated by the story. They will feel as if they are looking down at a real mouse who is really chewing a hole in the page. The mouse is not only realistic, but it also has a very expressive face (and feet and tail), and readers will be eager to see what the mouse does next.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Stardines Swim high across the sky and other poems

Some writers have a gift for creating bizarre and fascinating characters in their books. Often, in a state of awe, I ask myself "how do they come up with these ideas?" Jack Prelutsky is one of these people, and in this book you will meet a colorful collection of made up creatures that you will surely find interesting and intriguing.

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other PoemsStardines Swim high across the sky and other poems
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Carin Berger
Poetry Picture book
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0-06-201464-1
When we look up at the stars at night we are frequently tempted to imagine what those stars look like. Children often imagine that they are golden star-shaped objects that hang in the darkness, sending their twinkling light across the universe. In this book the author gives us a very different description of stars, one that is delightfully unique and imaginative. The poet tells us about stardines, which “still twinkle” overhead when other creatures are asleep. These stellar “nocturnal fish” not only “illuminate the darkest skies,” but they also “grant the slightest wish.”
   You may have heard of cormorants, but have you ever heard of a chormorant? Prepare yourself because these birds are well worth knowing about. Unlike cormorants, who occupy their time doing normal bird things, chormorants work hard doing “senseless” chores all day long. Theirs is not a happy existence filled as it is with “endless drudgery.” Not surprisingly, the birds, who never do anything that could be considered fun, are dreadfully boring.
   Unlike the busy chormorants, plandas never really get anything done because they spend all their time planning and never doing. They plan all kinds of things, like running a marathon, learning how to juggle, and forming their own brass bands. Alas for plandas because they never do any of these wonderful things. Instead, they “just keep making plans.”
   Braindeer have something in common with plandas. These creatures are great thinkers and their brains are packed with knowledge and “lots of sense.” They think deep and meaningful thoughts, “Reflecting on the universe.” There is a problem though, for braindeers cannot share their ideas as they cannot speak or write, and thus “Their thinking is for naught.”
   Readers who have active imaginations are going to find this collection of poems intriguing. In each case something inanimate is blended with something inanimate to give us a creature that is bizarre, often amusing, and always interesting. In all there are twenty-four species, and each one is quite unique.
   Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by delightful collage artwork that combines drawn pictures with photos of objects to give readers beautiful and creative three-dimensional artwork to look at.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Oliver

As an only child I spent a lot of my time playing alone. I was content to play make believe with my dolls and stuffed animals, and to have adventures with them outdoors. I was lucky though because there were many children to play with in the village where I lived. I could walk to their houses, which I often did. In today's book you will meet a boy who is similarly self-sufficient, but who does not have any friends.

Birgitta Sif
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6247-9
Oliver felt that he was different, but he did not mind because we had his books and his toy friends to keep him company. Oliver’s active imagination, fed by things he read about in books, meant that he could ride camels across the desert, fight sharks, and travel to the other side of the world. He was content in his solitude.
   There were times though when Oliver’s toy friends were not really able to participate in what he wanted to do. They could not swim at the pool for example. Then there were those times when Oliver’s imagination was a little tired and at such times he felt particularly alone because he was. At such times his toys were just toys.
   One day Oliver went outside to play tennis against the wall of his house and his ball bounced away. He never imagined, as he ran after it, that his greatest adventure of all was just about to begin.
   There are times when being alone is just what one needs, but then there are also times when solitude loses its attraction and one longs for companionship. This book beautifully captures one little’s boy’s adventures as he realizes that something is missing in his life.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Josephine: The Dazzling life of Josephine Baker

I have always been intrigued by the story of Josephine Baker, a performer who was denied many basic rights in her country, the USA, but who was treated like the star she was in France, her adopted country. In today's poetry title the story of this remarkable woman is told using blank verse, and it is a book that both children and adults will appreciate.

Josephine: The Dazzling life of Josephine Baker
Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine BakerPoetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-0314-3
Being born to a poor, single, African American mother, Josephine had the cards stacked against her from the moment that she came into the world. She and her mother lived in a shack in a slum in Saint Louis, Missouri, and her mother scrubbed floors when she would rather have been dancing in a vaudeville act. At least, when you were dancing, your worries left you for a while and you could “let your body LAUGH, / Or CRY.”
   Like her mama, Josephine loved to dance. She also loved to tell stories, to be the center of attention, and “to entertain.” She danced because dancing can make a person happy “when nothin’ else will.” When she got older she worked alongside her mother and grandmother and saved her earnings so that she could go to the Booker T. Washington Theatre. This was a “negro” theatre where African Americans performed.
   Josephine joined a street act, and when the group was invited to perform at the Booker T. Washington Theatre as an extra act for the Dixie Steppers she was there. She “danced like she was / ON FIRE,” and so impressed the Dixie Steppers that she was invited to join them.
   Though she was a born performer and delighted audiences, Josephine found it hard to survive as an entertainer in the United States. The color of her skin was so often held against her and when she was invited to perform in a club in Paris, France, Josephine jumped at the chance. When they arrived in France, Josephine was amazed when she and her fellow performers “were welcomed,” on the train, and when she performed Josephine said, “For the first time in my life, I felt beautiful.”
   In this remarkable book blank verse is paired with colorful artwork and quotes from Josephine Baker’s own writings, and other sources, to give readers an extraordinary poetry journey into the life of one of the world’s great women performers. The book is divided into sections, each one of which explores a different part of Josephine’s life.

   At the back of the book readers will find notes from the author and illustrator. In one we find out more about Josephine Baker, and in the other we read about what inspired the illustrator to create the artwork for this book.
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