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, February 28, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Firefly July: A year of very short poems

I have a tendency to write a great deal when just a short sentence or two would suffice. I think many of us struggle with this proclivity for for over verbosity. Thankfully there are many writers and poets who have the gift for beautiful minimal writing, and in today's poetry title you will encounter some truly magical short poems that capture special moments perfectly.

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2014, 978-0-7636-4842-8
We live in a world where many of us value quantity over quality. We want our food supersized, we want two-for-the-price-of-one, and are we are delighted when we get more for our money at sales. The problem with this approach to life is that often more is not necessarily better. Sometimes less is more. Minimalist art and spare and powerful writing can have as much if not more impact than artwork full of detail and reams and reams of writing.
   This is the case with the wonderful poems in this collection, all of which are short and compelling. Paul Janeczko takes us through a year, which is divided up into seasons, sharing a splendid collection of very short poems with us. The poems include the writings of William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Charlotte Zolotow, Joyce Sidman, and Emily Dickinson.
   We begin in spring when “Rain beats down, / roots stretch up.” Where the rain and the roots meet, a flower appears aboveground.
   In the summer the sun plays a big role, floating in the sky like a “roaring dandelion.” At night fireflies like “baby stars” blink “Among the trees like dimes of light.” Charlotte Zolotow paints a picture of a little orange cat, which, “like a small tiger,” stalks through a field of “white daisies / and shining / buttercups.”
   Fall is a time for fog that “blurs the morning,” and leaves drift down telling us that change is coming. The wind is busy searching for who knows what “under each leaf.”
   In winter there is snow and chilly temperatures. Animals sleep away the cold nights, and sometimes the cold days as well. We are given the image of “clear winter’s evening” when the crescent moon in the sky and the “round squirrel’s nest” look alike.
   Throughout this remarkable collection the poems are paired with Melissa Sweet’s beautiful and arresting multimedia art. She captures moments of tranquility, and times full of movement perfectly, gifting readers with images that are a joy to explore.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Dot

I freely confess here that I love using my computer, tablet, and phone to connect with others and to gather information. I do indeed feel lost if I am not able to look something up with just a tap or two on a screen. However, I am not so much of an addict that I need to be plugged into the digital world all the time. I love being out and about in the real world as well.

In this picture book we meet a little girl who loves her gadgets so much that she ends up getting a case of digital overload.

Randi Zuckerberg
Illustrated by Joe Berger
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House UK, 2013, 978-0-857-53396-8
Dot knows how to do a lot of things, especially when it comes to using technology. She knows how to use a computer, tablet, and phone to surf, swipe, share, search, tweet and tag. She knows how to use these devices to do something that she loves to do; to talk. Dot talks and talks so much that eventually Dot gets “talked out.”
   Dot’s mother decides that what Dot needs is to go outside to “Reebot! Recharge! Restart!” It is time for Dot to connect with the world in a different way, but does Dot remember how to be an unplugged little girl?
   In this delightfully clever picture book we meet a little girl who is very skilled when it comes to using electronic devices. The hard part is that she also needs to remember that there is more to life than living in a virtual world. There is a real world to be enjoyed too.
   With a minimal text and expressive artwork, this picture book conveys a message that we all need to hear once in a while.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of If

Usually on Fridays I post reviews of poetry book collections, rather than reviews of books that contain one poem. Today I am going to make an exception because the poem is so timeless and the way it is presented is to powerful and beautiful. The poem is If by Rudyard Kipling and this is a book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Rudyard Kipling
Illustrated by Giovanni Manna
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Creative Editions, 2014, 978-1-56846-259-2
What parent does not want his or her child to be happy in life, and to reach his or her full potential? This is the wish of millions of parents all over the world, and has been the wish of parents long gone for children who are also long gone. Rudyard Kipling was just such a parent. He wanted so much for his only son, John, and he also had many aspirations for him.
   When John was only twelve years old his father wrote a poem called If in which he offers advice and encouragement to his boy, advice which he hopes will help John grow up so that “the Earth and everything in it” would be John’s, and he would be “a Man.”
   The advice offered in the poem is universal in nature and if readers are truly listening, they will find that the poem speaks to them, no matter how old they are. It does not matter if you are a student, a parent, or a grandparent, Kipling’s words will resonate with you and give you cause to reflect.
   Throughout the poem the word “If” appears, a constant reminder that we are in control, that we can choose what we do. “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you” and “if you can wait and not be tired by waiting” then you will come to a place where all things are possible. “If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,” and “watch the things you gave life to, broken, / And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools” then you will prevail. Again and again we are reminded to be true to ourselves and to let the words of naysayers and critics pass us by.
   Throughout the book Kipling’s powerful words are accompanied by beautiful, emotive watercolor illustrations.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Lonely Book

People who don't love books and the written word sometimes find it hard to understand the relationship that we bibliophiles have with our favorite books. These books becomes our friends and we turn to them when life is hard. We cherish them even when they are falling apart and looking rather sad and shabby.

In today's picture book you are going to meet a book that was once loved but is then forgotten. The book becomes lonely and lost.

The Lonely BookThe Lonely Book
Kate Bernheimer
Illustrated by Chris Shelban
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-86226-7
There once was a book that was very popular with the children who came to the library. Even when it was no longer new and was on the shelves instead of being in the new book section, this book was still taken out of the library often.
   Years and years passed and the book wasn’t as popular as it once was. The book’s cover was faded and the last page was missing. One day the book was taken off its shelf and it was dropped in a “dark corner by a daydreaming child.” The librarian failed to see the book and it lay where it had fallen until a little girl called Alice came along. Alice looked at the book and fell in love with it. Even though the book was old, Alice wanted to take it home with her, and that was what she did.
   Alice read the book over and over, and she even shared it with her classmates at school. The book, so long forgotten and lonely, “Had never felt so beloved.” It was happiest when children were reading its story and looking at its pictures. It was happiest when it was with Alice. Then, but sheer mischance, the book got misplaced and it was separated from Alice, which made both the book and the child very unhappy.
   In this splendid picture book we celebrate the love that a child can have for a book. There is no way to predict which book will become a favorite, but once it has been chosen, a book’s child will never forget it. With a wonderful story and delightfully soft and expressive artwork, this is a book that will surely capture the imagination and hearts of many children in the years to come.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poem-Mobiles

I live in a town where there are some lovely vintage cars and also some downright bizarre looking vehicles. None of them, however, are as bizarre as the cars you will read about and see in this picture book. This book of poetry is a must for any young readers who have a fondness for cars.

Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car PoemsPoem-Mobiles: Crazy car poems
J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian
Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Random House, 2014, 978-0-375-86690-6
When somebody talks about a truck or a bus, you pretty much know what they are talking about. Of course a bus might be a yellow school bus or a red double-decker London bus, but it is still a bus. When it comes to cars though, you can never quite know what to expect because cars come in so many sizes, shapes, and colors. A car might be a race car, or an antique car. It might have a huge sign saying “PIZZA” on its roof, or it might be low slung and have wild looking fins and huge headlights. In this book we are going to take a “futuristic sneak preview” at some “wacky” cars from “fender to fin,” so hold onto your hat and let’s take “a spin.”
   If you drive around today there is a good chance that you will see one of those two-person Smart cars that are delightfully small and cunning looking. Imagine what it would be like to drive a car that is even smaller, one that is “itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny.” This is the mini-mini-car and though it is a wonderful car, there is a “snag” to owning such a tiny vehicle: the driver “can’t get out the door.”
   At the other end of the spectrum there is the Giant Bookmobile. Fueled by “imagination power,” this car is driven by the Gingerbread Man and it travels to every block where children get on so that they can dive into books and comics.
   If you think this sounds strange, then you should see the Dragonwagon with his wings, its spiked back, and its sharp claws. The Dragonwagon has toothy jaws under its hood and it is such a “scary, scaly mean machine” that no one dares to “provoke this dragon’s wrath.”
   Readers with imaginations are going to love the deliciously odd, bizarre and sometimes even ridiculous looking cars in this book. Throughout the book the poems has been paired with artwork that is full of clever and creative details.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Yeti and the Bird

When I was younger I was quick to judge others. I have since learned (the hard way) that such judgements serve no purpose and can be unkind. When someone is disagreeable  I remind myself that the person probably has some sadness in his or her life that I know nothing about, a sadness that makes them behave as they do. In today's book you will meet a yeti who is grumpy and who is therefore friendless. No one who sees the yeti imagines that he his kind and gentle on the inside.

Yeti and the Bird Yeti and the bird
Nadia Shireen
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House UK, 2013, 978-1-780-08014-7
Deep in the forest there lives a very large, very white, and very hairy yeti. Since he is so big, so hairy, and so scary, the other animals keep their distance, and Yeti is alone all the time. And lonely.
   Then one day something lands on Yeti’s head. The something is a very confused orange bird who has a great deal to say. She sqwalks and sqwalks until Yeti roars at her, but instead of being afraid of Yeti, the bird is amused. She then tells Yeti all about her journey and explains that she has “landed on a hot, tropical island” where she will spend the winter. The yeti then points out that there are no palms trees in the forest, and no sun for that matter, which is when the bird realizes that she has made a big mistake. She is in the wrong place and is lost.
   The yeti tries to console the bird and then, not knowing what else to do, he picks her up and takes her home. Soon the two animals are the best of friends and everyone in the forest is amazed to see that the yeti is a cheerful fellow and a wonderful friend. In fact he is such a good friend that he decides that he has to find a way to help the little bird continue her journey south.
   In this delightfully sweet picture book we see that friendships can exist between two very dissimilar characters, and such friendships can change one’s life is a deep and meaningful way. Children will be delighted to see how the little bird gives the yeti a gift that is truly priceless

Friday, February 7, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of When your Porcupine Feels Prickly

Keeping ones pets happy should be easy, but actually it can be rather complicated at times. Especially if ones pet is unusual. We had a potbelly pig for a pet for a number of years. At first Gracie was a very easy house pet to care for. She was house trained in just a few days and was very intelligent, which meant that she learned the rules very quickly. Then Gracie's urge to root took over and she became very destructive. We then had to make sure that she had rooting time outdoors every day so that her rooting instinct was satisfied.

In today's book you are going to meet a wide variety of pets and you will learn what these pets need to be be happy.

When Your Porcupine Feels PricklyWhen your Porcupine Feels Prickly
Kathy DeZarn Beynette
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Pomegranate, 2012, 978-0-7649-6318-6
Many of us know all kinds of things about animals. We know that cheetahs are the fastest land animals and that whales are not fish. We like to think that we know a lot about the animals that we keep as pets too.  We know that cats like warm places to sleep, that dogs like companionship, and that pet rats need to be kept busy because they are intelligent. However, there are some things that perhaps we should know about animals that we don’t. Thankfully, the author of this book has kindly written down a few tips and suggestions to help us.
   For example, it is very important to get your dog food as soon as he or she asks for it because “To do any less would be rude.” If you have a cat, always be sure to offer the feline a choice of food and ask “Would you prefer this? Perhaps you’d like that?”
  Pet birds also need to be treated with consideration, and we need to show them that we trust and respect them. The best way to do this is to take off your hat when you are talking to your pet bird to show that “you don’t think you will be pooped on or pecked.”
  If you have a bee for a pet and if she is “feeling down,” the author suggests that you offer her a crown. Wearing a crown helps the author when she is “feeling blue,” so maybe it will help a pet bee too.
   In all there are twenty-two little poems in this book, each one of which is accompanied by a whimsical painting.  As they read the poems young readers will find out how to care for their pet porcupines, baboons, pelicans, ponies, cockroaches, goats, and other animals. The author uses humor and a clever use of language to create poems that will delight readers who have a fondness for animals.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Loula is Leaving for Africa

Most children, at some point, decide that they cannot stand being at home. They get it into their heads that they are not appreciated or understood, and the only thing they can do is to run away. I remember the day I did this. I managed to get about four blocks from my house before I sat on the curb, a picture of misery. In today's picture book you are going to meet a little girl who decides to run away to Africa, and who finds a wonderful companion to take her there.

Loula Is Leaving for AfricaLoula is leaving for Africa
Anne Villeneuve
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Kids Can Press, 2013, 978-1-55453-941-3
Loula is afflicted with three brothers who are “MEAN, HORRIBLE,” and to add insult to injury, they are also “STINKY.” One day she decides that she has endured as much as she can take, and she announces that she is leaving home. She packs a little suitcase and heads down the stairs to begin her journey to a place that is far away from the dreadful triplets.
   Loula tells her mother and father that she is going to Africa, but both of them are far too busy to take what she is saying seriously. Which is very annoying. So annoying in fact, that Loula decides that she will never come back. Why should she.  No one cares about her.
   Loula climbed a tree, which is where Gilbert the chauffer finds her. When Loula tells him that she is in Africa he informs her that she has made a mistake. They look at a map together and then Gilbert tells the little girl that she will need to travel on a ship to get to Africa. Gilbert pretends that the family car is the ship and he takes Loula on a journey that turns out to be wonderfully exciting.

   Most of us experience days when nothing goes well. Machines break down, people are mean, and life has a grey pall hanging over it. This picture book is perfect for days like this, for days when one feels like running away from home. Children will be charmed by Loula’s adventures with Gilbert, and they will appreciate that all Loula really needed was a little love and attention.
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