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, April 28, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sparky!

Many children dream of having a pet of their own, and often their parents (who know who is going to end up taking care of said pet) are not in favor of the idea. In today's picture book, readers will meet a little girl who manages to find a pet that her mother will accept, but she soon finds out that the pet does not quite meet her expectations.

Jenny Offill
Illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2014, 978-0-375-87023-1
A girl wants a pet but her mother does not want a bird, or a bunny or a seal in the house. In fact the only kind of pet she will let her daughter have is one that “doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” Now, most people would give up on the idea of getting a pet after hearing this, but the girl doesn’t. She goes to see the librarian, “who knows everything in the world,” and the librarian gives her a book to look at. In the book the girl finds out about sloths, animals which barely move, eat leaves, and drink dew.
   The girl orders a sloth and though her mother is not happy when the animal arrives in the mail, there is nothing she can do because the sloth meets all her requirements; it  does not need to be walked, bathed or fed. What the girl soon realizes is that the sleepy, slow moving animal does not do much of anything. Sparky does not play games and when his owner tries to teach him tricks…well…things don’t quite work out as planned.
   Many of us are told, as children, that we can’t force a person to change so that they become what we want them to become. We have to accept them as they are. Many of us don’t listen to this advice. In this story the girl really wants a cute, playful, trainable pet, and what she gets is a sloth called Sparky. Her journey with her new friend does not turn out as expected, but she gets something priceless all the same.
   With its wonderful characters and deliciously expressive illustrations, this book will charm readers of all ages, many of whom will become firm sloth fans.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou

I grew up in the Middle East and Europe, and the work of many of America's wonderful authors and poets was not part of my life until I moved to the States. Maya Angelou's poetry was one of the things that I discovered as an adult, and I have had a wonderful time getting to know her writing.

Poetry for Young People: Maya AngelouPoetry for Young People: Maya Angelou 
Edited by Edwin Graves Wilson
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2013, 978-1-4549-0329-1
When Marguerite Johnson was three years old her parents divorced and she and her brother went to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The year was 1931 and segregation was “harsh and unyielding.” It was so absolute that little Marguerite, who came to called Maya, did not know what white people really looked like  and she thought that they “were like ghosts,” insubstantial and frightening.
   Maya’s grandmother raised  Maya and her brother with love, and a firm hand. There were rules that had to be followed and the children were expected to respect their elders and their faith. At the same time Maya was encouraged to explore her love of the written word and she read widely. She absorbed “the words, the sounds, the emotions” that she read, and soon she wanted to write her own material. Maya was only eight when she started writing her own poems, and when she was fourteen, living in California, she began to write songs as well. Maya studied drama and dance, and when she grew up she became a singer and dancer. She became involved in the American Civil Rights cause and then in 1970 she had her first book published.  She went on to write other books, and she also wrote many poems, some of which appear on the pages of this book.
   Some of the poems seem to be telling us about Maya’s own story, while others capture moments in the lives of African American men, women and children whom she might have she encountered in her life. We read about a shoeshine boy who creates a phrase, “pow pow,” which reflects the sound his brushes make as he cleans a client’s shoes.  The sound of those brushes punctuates the boy’s words as he reassures the person he is speaking to that he is “the best,” inviting a potential client to “Come and put me to the test.”
   Then there is a woman who has a long list of things that she must do. She has to take care of the children, clean, shop, cook, weed the garden, and pick the cotton. On and on her list goes. Even though she has so much on her mind, she can still enjoy the beauty of nature and she considers what nature gives her is “all that I can call my own.”
   Maya Angelou also uses her poetry to honor people and remind us of their courage and their sacrifice. In Song for the Old Ones she offers the older generation of African Americans a tribute. On their “pleated faces” she sees “the auction block / the chains and slavery’s coffles / the whip and lash and stock.” Using their “cunning,” their “wits and wiles” they survived and they “kept my race alive.”
   Throughout this book the poems are paired with beautiful paintings which perfectly compliment Maya Angelou’s marvelous words.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Hermelin the detective mouse

I love detective stories and began reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers novels are an early age. It is therefore not surprising that I was thrilled when today's picture book arrived in the mail. The cover alone got me hooked because there was a picture of a typewriter on it (love these machines), a mouse (love mouse-centric stories) and the mouse is a detective. What could be better!

Hermelin: The Detective MouseHermelin the detective mouse
Mini Grey
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House UK, 2014, 987-0-857-55023-1
Hermelin is a mouse who can read, and he lives in the attic of a house on Offley Street. Like many attics, this attic is full of stuff that people don’t want any more. There are stacks of boxes and books, and there is also a typewriter, which Hermelin has learned how to use.
   One morning Hermelin walks past the Offley Street notice board and he sees that is covered with notices. Seven of the eight notices were written by people who have lost something. Imogen Splotts has lost her tedd bear, Captain Potts has lost his cat, and Emily, who lives in Hermelin’s house at No.33, has lost her notebook. Other residents have lost a bag, reading glasses, a goldfish, and a diamond bracelet.
   Hermelin, who is a compassionate mouse, feels sorry for all these people who have lost something that is dear to them. They need help and he decides that he is the perfect person for the job.
   Hermelin begins by looking for Mrs. Mattison’s lost handbag. Being a mouse who is very observant and who remembers what he sees, he soon finds the handbag in her fridge behind the lettuce. He then finds Dr. Parker’s glasses. Hermelin saw Dr. Parker wearing those same glasses just that morning and at the time she was reading a book, Medical Monthly. It turns out that the glasses are inside the book.
   Every time he finds one of the missing objects Hermelin leaves the owner of the missing object a type-written note telling him or her where it is. Soon, Hermelin is a neighborhood hero and the people he has helped invite him to a party. They never imagine that their secretive little helper is a rodent.

   After spending just a few seconds with Hermelin, readers will find that they have developed a sudden fondness for typing mice. He is such a funny, intelligent fellow that one cannot help oneself. His story is engrossing and beautifully illustrated, and readers will be delighted when they see how Hermelin gets a wonderful surprise.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Count me a Rhyme: Animal Poems by the numbers

Jane Yolen, who is a master author and poet, finds wonderful ways to teach young children about their world. For example she uses young dinosaur characters to explore how to have good manners and how to interact with others in a kind and compassionate way. In today's poetry book she uses verse, photos, and prose to look at numbers in an interesting and engaging way.

Count me a Rhyme: Animal Poems by the numbersCount me a Rhyme: Animal Poems by the numbers
Jane Yolen
Photographs by Jason Stemple
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2006, 978-1590783450
We often see numbers in nature without realizing that we are doing so. In this book we will count from one to ten – and beyond a little – in the animal world, and we will learn a little about the animals we see as well. From “One Lone Elk” to “Five Geese, Five” we get to explore beautiful natural environments through photographs and poetry. The author has also chosen to add words and symbols on every page which children might find interesting. For example on the page for the number eight we see eight bighorn sheep going up a hill and we read a poem about them climbing “in a long long line." We also encounter the number eight, the words “octave,” “eighth,” and “octagon,” and we can look at the roman numerals “VIII.”
   Each poem is unique and the author cleverly ties her words to the photograph in the background and to the characteristics of the animal in question. Children will discover that poetry can come in all shapes and sizes and that there are many ways in which words can be used to have special effects. Who would have thought that the shape of a poem on the page can tell a story, and yet in this book readers will discover that this is indeed what can be done and to great effect as well.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes the Easter Cat

I love picture books that feature strong, sassy, and determined characters. Cat, who appears in today's picture book, is just such a character. He knows what he wants, and he sets out to get it, in his own funny and distinctive way.

Here Comes the Easter CatHere comes the Easter Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-3939-0
Cat is in a bad mood. When he has asked why, he holds up a sign and on it there is a picture of the Easter Bunny. Cat is not pleased at all that everyone loves the Easter Bunny and does not understand why a rabbit is so beloved. Cat is told that the Easter Bunny is “nice” and he “delivers chocolate eggs to millions of kids.”
   Unfortunately, Cat starts to feel jealous. It is suggested that he should set aside his negative feelings. Instead, he should become the Easter Cat. Why not? A cat can be nice to children too, surely.
   Cat suggests bringing children hairballs, but that idea is shot down pretty swiftly. Cat then has to consider how he is going to get around. He cannot hop like the Easter Bunny. Being a hip feline, Cat decides that he will ride a motorcycle. He also chooses a rather snazzy outfit to wear. Then Cat learns something that horrifies him. The Easter Bunny doesn’t get to have naps! How can anyone survive if they don’t have several naps every day? Perhaps Cat isn’t cut out to be the Easter Cat after all.
   With wonderfully expressive artwork and amusing interactions between Cat and an unseen person who is talking to Cat, this picture book gives readers a book experience that will make them laugh and that will also charm them with its understated sweetness.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Blackbeard: The Pirate King

I went through a period when I was pirate mad. I read dozens of books about pirates and their doings, and would have loved to look through the book reviewed below. Blackbeard is probably the most famous pirate of them all, and in this book poetry and prose is paired with artwork to give readers a wonderful picture of Blackbeard's life.

Blackbeard: The Pirate KingBlackbeard: The Pirate King
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Michael Ed. Lewis
For ages 7 to 10
National Geographic, 2006, 978-0792255857
Blackbeard was a man whostruck terror into the hearts of those who encountered him. Though we cannot be sure what his real name was, and though there are few descriptions of him, there can be no doubt that he was one of the most feared pirates of all time, and his adventures have been the subject of tales and stories for hundreds of years.
   In this wonderfully written collection of poems, J. Patrick Lewis tells a series of  "yarns detailing the legends, myths, and real-life adventures of history's most notorious seaman." Among other things, we hear about why Teach - one of the names that Blackbeard was given - may have become a pirate, and how he captured a French ship and made it his own. Accompanying the poems is collection of illustrations which portray Blackbeard and which were created by such people as N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. In addition to the poems, the author has written notes to annotate the artwork and to provide background information on Blackbeard and piracy in the 1700's. At the back of the book there is an author's note which includes a map showing the areas where Blackbeard sailed his ships. There is also an excellent "Blackbeard's Time Line," which will give the reader a real sense of what the man's life was like.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of If I were a book

I love books (obviously), so I was thrilled when today's picture book arrived in the mail. It is a book everyone should read. It will confirm what book lovers already know, and it might encourage people who don't care for books to reconsider their opinion.

If I Were a BookIf I were a book
Jose Jorge Letria
Illustrated by Andre Letria
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-2144-4
A lot of people like to imagine what it would be like to be someone or something else. What would it be like to be a much loved pet cat who gets to sleep all day long? What would it be like to be a celebrity who has thousands of fans? Imagine now what it might be like to a book, a book that has been left on a park bench all alone. Perhaps you would “ask someone in the street to take me home,” and then you would be that person’s best friend.
   What would you were like if were a book? You could be “full of useful knowledge,” or capture your reader’s attention with your “captivating tales.” You would not want to know how your story ends and not be in a hurry to get to those very final of words: “The End.” You could “help someone soar” or “sweep away ignorance.” There would be so much you could do if you were a book, and so many wonderful things you could share with your readers.
   This powerfully simple picture book will help readers to see that books are so much more than paper pages and a cover. They are tools for learning, they make our world bigger, and they offer us hours of entertainment with grand adventures, poetry, and more.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Song of the Water Boatman and other Poems

Watching the changes that take place in an pond ecosystem during a year can be fascinating. Plants leaf and bloom at different times, birds build their nests and have chicks, and migratory birds come to visit during the winter months. Muskrats dig their burrows, tadpoles appear and change into frogs or toads, and when it gets colder, turtles find a place where they can nap in piece.

In today's picture book you can experience these seasonal events through a series of poems.

Song of the Water Boatman and Other PoemsSong of the Water Boatman and Other Poems
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beckie Prange
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Houghton Mifflin, 2005, 978-0618135479
We are going to visit a pond, to spend time with the creatures that live there, and to see this very special place in the spring, summer, fall and winter. In the spring the song of the peeper frogs is an indication that spring is finally here and you can listen in the night as the little frogs "sing you to sleep." This is also the time of year when the mother wood duck takes her little ducklings for their first swim after hatching.
   In the summer little creatures fill the pond swimming to and fro, eating and being eaten. This food chain begins with the algae "green and small" and ends with the heron "queen of the pond." This is also the time of year when the caddis fly larvae build themselves a portable camouflaged home, each one of which is unique and carefully decorated.
   In the fall. the painted turtle digs itself a burrow into the mud, and in a snug little cave it goes to sleep, slowing down "to its winter rhythm."
   Exquisitely illustrated, this picture book beautifully captures the rhythms of pond life. Each of the eleven poems in the book is accompanied by a hand-colored woodblock print and an interesting section of text which further explores the themes of the poem. The poems take many forms, each one giving readers a colorful and lively picture of life in a pond.

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