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, March 31, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Busy Bunny Days

I love picture book that have pages full of  detail-rich scenes. Richard Scarry's books, which I looked at over and over again when I was little, are like this. Now many other illustrators are creating wonderful books full of artwork that readers can explore. What is wonderful about these books is that one does not need to be able to read to see and follow the stories in the artwork. Today's picture book is a wonderful example of just such a book.

Busy Bunny Days: In the Town, On the Farm & At the PortBusy Bunny Days: In the town, On the Farm and At the Port
Britta Teckentrup
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-1700-3
The Bunny family members have busy lives and we are going to spend a little time with them, getting to know them and getting to know their world. We are going to begin by visiting them in their hometown.
   Here we are and it is six o’clock in the morning. The day is just beginning, and yet there are a few folks out and about. One gentleman is walking his dog and we see that the garbage collectors are hard at work. Unfortunately, they have dropped a banana peel and someone has stepped on it and slipped. In their house the Bunny family members are beginning their day. Bethany Bunny is eating her breakfast and Baxter Bunny is just getting out of bed. Dr. Bunny is shaving in the bathroom.
   By nine o’clock the streets are full and busy. An ambulance is picking up the animal who slipped on that pesky banana peel, and the children from the neighborhood are walking to school or getting on the school bus.
   At midday rain starts to fall on the town. Dr. Bunny is busy taking care of his patients and Bethany and her kindergarten classmates are getting ready to go for a walk. Grandma Bunny has done some shopping and she is on her way to the Bunny home. She will be there to give Bethany her snack when the little girl gets home from kindergarten.
   Later on in the afternoon there is a little drama when a small fire breaks out in the attic apartment in the Bunny’s building. Benny Badger gets up to his old tricks when everyone is distracted by the fire.
   After visiting the Bunny’s hometown we go to a farm with them and then we visit a port. In each case we share a whole day in their company, seeing the little events that make daily life interesting. We also get to watch the little adventures that the characters in the book have.
   Children are going to love exploring the artwork in this wonderful picture book. They will see days unfold before their eyes, and watch as the small joys and woes of everyday life are played out on the pages. They will have fun looking for Benny Badger, who is always getting into trouble, and will enjoy answering the questions that appear on every spread.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poem Runs: Baseball poems and paintings.

The grass is green and mowed, the sky is blue, there is a softness in the air, and it is time to play ball. Well, perhaps not for me, but on March 30th the American baseball season begins and many people will be pitching balls, swinging bats, running, sliding, and catching. I did not grow up watching or playing baseball, but have grown fond of the game since I moved to the United States. Today's poetry book perfectly captures the joys of the game and the excitement that players experience on that first game of the season.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 2012, 978-0-547-68838-1
Winter is finally over and spring has arrived bringing with it the beginning of baseball season. It is time to celebrate the joys of baseball, and thanks to Douglas Florian we are able to do this vicariously through his poems.
   Our baseball experience begins with some exercises. The eager team members get out on the field and they start warming up. First they “Bend to the right,” and then they stretch out their muscles that are “too tense and too tight.” 
   When the players are all loose and warmed up, the pitcher goes out on the mound. He tells us that he is the “great devastator” who creates curve balls, fastballs, sinkers, risers, and slumps. He is the “strikeout collector” and we better “Beware! Beware!”
   Next we meet the catcher who, like the pitcher, tells us about his skills. He too is full of confidence that he will be able to meet any challenge that he is presented with. No matter what kind of ball comes his way, he will be able to “catch ‘em.”
   We go on to meet other players and the umpire, and since it plays such an important role, we also get to share a moment with a baseball. This ball goes through so much that it ends up splitting. Though this is a little sad, there is a feeling of satisfaction in the poem because the ball has “Been there” and it “Did it.”

   Anyone who has a fondness for baseball is going to enjoy this collection of poetry. Douglas Florian manages to capture the essence of the game, infusing the pages with the joy that baseball brings to those who play it. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Lost for Words

I have a full life, which means that don't always have much free time and my hobbies are neglected. One my favorite things to do is to paint, but I don't get to do it very often. Just the other day I did manage to squirrel away a little time to spend with my paints. I have everything laid out and ready to go and then I realized that I had no idea what I wanted to paint. The blank paper stayed blank for a long time before I finally decided what I wanted to do.

In today's picture book you will meet a character who has a similar problem. He loves to write, he has a book to write in, and yet he has no idea what he wants to write about.

Lost for WordsLost for words
Natalie Russell
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Peachtree Publishers, 2014, 978-1-56145-739-7
Tapir has a brand new notebook and some colored pencils and he wants to write something, but he has no idea what to write. For some reason his head is empty of ideas and inspiration, and what makes his situation more frustrating is that his friends’ heads are full of writing ideas.
   Giraffe has no problem writing down a poem about a tree, and hippo easily crafts a story as he lies in his muddy pool. Flamingo uses her skill with words to compose a song, a song that is “so perfect it brought a tear to Tapir’s eye.”
   Tapir tries humming like flamingo, wallowing like hippo, and munching leaves like giraffe but no words come to him and he gets very grumpy. Surely there must be something he can write about?
   All too often, when we are determined to create something, our creativity abandons us and we are left staring at a blank piece of paper. This is what happens to poor Tapir, who wants so badly to write something in his notebook. What he does not realize is that he is full of creativity, it just isn’t in a form that he is expecting.
   This charming picture book explores the idea that creativity will not be forced and sometimes the creative process can be full of surprises.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Ode to Childhood

When one is a child the years that precede teenagedom seem to last forever. Then, quite suddenly, childhood is over and a new kind of life begins, one filled with new responsibilities, choices that need to be made, and so much more. It is not unusual for a teenager of thirteen or fourteen to look back on childhood with regret. If only it had lasted a little longer.

Today's poetry title explores the joys and woes of the childhood years. Teenagers and adults alike will greatly enjoy taking a little trip into the past as they read the poems.

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the ChildOde to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the child
Edited by Lucy Gray
Poetry Book
For ages 12 and up
Anova Books, 2014, 978-1-84994-133-4
Childhood lasts such a short time and all too often we forget to enjoy the precious years when a child’s imagination is at its strongest, and when life is so full of adventures. In this anthology of poetry, children of all ages are celebrated. The journey begins with poems about babies and wraps up with poems that look at the lives of young people who are about to leave their childhood behind.
   One of the first poems in the book describes a mother’s struggles as she carries her baby “here and there,” and talks “nonsense endlessly” in a fruitless attempt to try to sooth her crying child. She does her best to “gauge what each cry says” and sometimes she succeeds. At other times “All falls flat” when she guesses wrong and does not provide what the child wants.
   Later on we encounter a four-year-old called John who is forever getting into things that he shouldn’t. He spends his time “poking at the roses” or climbing on the furniture. Thankfully, John also likes to play, doing things that are mostly acceptable, such as rolling on the grass, bowling, and losing balls “o’er fences” that the narrator has to replace.
   Then there are the special trips that lodge in the memory, trips to the sea-side when a child digs holes in the sand using a wooden spade. Robert Louis Stevenson tells us about how the holes, which “were empty like a cup,” get filled in with seawater as the tide rises. Or perhaps it is a trip to the zoo where the child sees a wide variety of animals including the monkeys “mercy, how unpleasantly they smelt!”  
   There are also those once frustrating everyday moments that are precious when the child is no longer small. For example there is the child who asks “What is the grass?” How is the adult supposed to answer when he or she doesn’t know “what it is any more than he.”
   As one turns the pages of this book, special moments in the lives of children and their grownups unfold. They wrap up us in beautiful images and memories that seem to leap off the pages. Readers will find poems by William Blake, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden and others in this collection, and they will savor their words over and over again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tweedles Go Electric

It must have been exciting to live in Europe and North America in the early 1900's. So many things were happening and so much was changing. Electric lights, automobiles, and other inventions were changing the lives of millions of people. In today's picture book you will meet a family whose memebers decide to get their first car, and who end up having an unexpected adventure because of that car.

The Tweedles Go ElectricThe Tweedles Go Electric
Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-167-0
It is 1903 and cars, which are powered by steam or gas, are all the rage. The Tweedles don’t care that cars are the in thing. They are content to get around on their cycles or by using their horse and cart.
   Then one day Papa announces that they are going to get a car. Mama is thrilled, as is car-crazy Frankie. Bookish Franny is not particularly excited about having a car. After all, cars at this time are noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Then Papa tells his wife and children that they are not going to have a car powered by steam or gas. They are going to have an electric car.
   Mama is rather concerned that the car might not be safe. After all, electricity is such a new thing and people don’t really understand how it works. In fact, they find it “more frightening than a basket of boas.”
   In spite of this fear, the Tweedles go to the car dealership and they buy a bright green electric car. Papa drives their new purchase home, which is when he discovers that driving requires that one has a fair bit of nerve. There are so many things that one has to watch out for, and when one is zooming along at ten miles an hour, one has to have lightning fast reflexes. He and his family members never imagine that their new purchase is going to lead to an adventure, new friends, and new prospects.
   These days cars are considered a necessity by most people and it is hard to imagine what life would be like if we did not have our cars. It is therefore very interesting to see what it was like to live in America when cars were still a relatively new innovation. It is also amusing to see how the Tweedles cope with their new acquisition.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Noticing the beauty in simple things and in everyday moments is something that many of  us forget to do. We are too busy doing things and rushing from place to place. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is important to stop so that we can look at, listen to, and appreciate the world around us. In today's poetry book the author beautifully captures special moments, season by season, combining lovely art with gem-like haiku poems. The book shows us that the little things can make our lives richer and happier. If we remember to look for them.

Hi, Koo!: A Year of SeasonsHi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
Jon J. Muth
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-16668-3
In the past haiku was a form of poetry that was only used by Japanese poets, but it now used to write poems in many languages. Though the original form often has to be modified a little to allow for linguistic differences, the essence of haiku is always the same. The form captures “a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from nature.” In just three short lines the poet freezes a moment in time and allows us to savor it. Often the poem explores an aspect of nature or it refers to some element in nature.
   In his poems in this book Jon J. Muth takes us through the year, and our guide is a small panda bear called Koo. Koo has a natural curiosity about the world around him and he appreciates the small pleasures in life. In fall he savors a dance in the cold rain, which is followed by a bowl of hot soup at home. This is also a time of year when “Eating warm cookies / on a cold day / is easy.”
   As far as Koo is concerned, winter is for playing outdoors with his friends. Koo does a “powdery stomp” in the snow, and he wonders if the icicles hanging from the eves “will touch the ground.” He watches as the cat “vanishes / Just ears…and twitching tail” when she goes out into the snow.
   Then, when “winter is old now / and closes her doors,” spring arrives with crocuses and “New leaves / new grass new sky.” After too many days spent watching the television Koo and his two friends go out to explore the awakening world.

   This is a book that children and adults alike will enjoy. The artwork is simple yet beautifully expressive, and the haiku perfectly captures those moments during a year that are precious gifts.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I don't know why, but for some reason I did not encounter this classic book when I was a child, and it has taken me a ridiculously long time to get around to reviewing it. I am delighted that did, because reading about poor Alexander's dreadful day makes even the worst of my days seem positively fabulous. This book also happens to be wonderfully funny, which is a huge added bonus.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Judith Viorst
Illustrated by Ray Cruz
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 1987, 978-0689711732
One morning Alexander wakes up and it isn’t long before he realizes that this day is going to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” The night before he went to sleep with gum in his mouth and now he has gum in his hair. When he gets out of bed Alexander trips over his skateboard, and then he accidentally drops his sweater in the sink when the water is running.
   At breakfast his brothers find surprises in their cereal boxes, and all Alexander finds is cereal. On the way to school Alexander is “scrunched” and “smushed” in the car and no one seems to care.
   All of this is bad enough, but for poor Alexander the terrible, horrible, and very bad things keep happening and there doesn’t seem to be anything he can do about it. Except to perhaps move to Australia, which he thinks might be the solution to his problems.

This wonderful book has been delighting and amusing children and their families since it first came out in 1972, and it still has universal appeal. Everyone has days when everything seems to go wrong and therefore everyone will be able to relate to Alexander. Readers will find themselves both commiserating with Alexander, and laughing at the situations he gets himself into. Sometimes, when life gives you bad days, all you can do is to laugh at them.
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