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, May 30, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles

The last few months have been grim ones, which means that I now savor laughter more than ever. Even the laughter of others helps me feel better. As I read through today's poetry title, I often found myself smiling or chuckling. It is that kind of book, and I therefore prescribe it for anyone who needs a dose of simple fun.

Poem Depot: Aisles of SmilesPoem Depot: Aisles of Smiles
Douglas Florian
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-4042-6
Writers, painters, and other creative people know that the everyday lives of people (and animals) can provide them with a bottomless source of material. People, the things they do, and the things they care about are so interesting, and one does not need to seek out things that are exotic or fantastical to find inspiration for a story or a work of art. Poets also know that the things we consider mundane can provide material for poems.
   For this collection Douglas Florian has written poems that explore commonplace things and situations. We are invited to visit his “Poem Depot” where there are “smiles in the aisles.” His “store” is packed with poems that are “full of cheer,” and lashings of “whimsy” and “wit.”
   Somehow Douglas finds way to add humor to every single one of his poems. Sometimes the humor is overt, while at other times a clever punchline adds that little touch that will bring forth a smile. For example in Scared he tells us about how scared he is of “lions, tigers, and bears,” of climbing mountains and other similarly perilous pursuits. He wraps up by mentioning that what scares him most of all is the science test that he is going to have to do on Thursday.
  Similarly, in Deep Sleep, the ending is the place where the humor in the poem lies. The narrator tells us that he slept so deeply that he was asleep for sixty years. When he wakes up the bed was broken and weeds were growing out of his ears. Readers will expect to hear that he did something exciting after this long sleep, but instead the narrator tell us that he went “back to bed.”
   As they turn the pages, readers can read about a wrinkly elephant, a bad hair day, mammoths, a pet dragon, a pet owl, meat loaf, a genie’s chair and so much more.  They can dip into the book at will, and can be sure that what they will find will make them smile and hanker for more.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Brimsby’s Hats

When I was young I was shy and had a hard time making friends. Maybe this is why I loved today's picture book so much, because it is about a fellow who wants to make some new friends, and who has to overcome some rather large obstacles to do so.

Brimsby's HatsBrimsby’s Hats
Andrew Prahin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8147-3
Brimsby is a hat maker and he lives in a cottage in the country. Every day Brimsby’s friend visits, and while Brimsby works on his splendid hats, his friend makes some delicious tea and they talk about all kinds of fascinating subjects. This special friendship lasts for years and then one morning Brimsby’s friend announces that he is going to leave soon. He wants to become a sea captain.
   Brimsby makes his friend a wonderful hat and then he sees him off, wishing him “the best of luck.” Now Brimsby works on his own and his days a quiet. He finally gets to the point when he realizes that his days are too quiet and that he is “awfully lonely.” So, on a cold snowy day Brimsby sets off to make some new friends. He soon comes to a tree that is filled with little birds. The poor little creatures are have a terrible time “shoveling the snow out of their nests and keeping the cold wind from blowing out their fires.” The birds are far too busy to take the time to make friends with Brimsby. Still friendless, Brimsby walks home.
   Making new friends is not easy at the best of times and poor Brimsby finds that his quest to find some new friends is going to be rather challenging. Readers will be charmed when they see how Brimsby uses his gift for making hats in a very creative way. Brimsby’s delightful story is accompanied by wonderfully expressive artwork. The illustrations take us into Brimsby’s world to such great effect that we rather wish we could jump into the page and visit.    

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of When I am not Myself

When I was little, I played countless games with my friend Raf where we pretended that we were animals. We both loved animals and read a great deal about them, so we tried to make our pretend animal selves as true to life as possible. We also argued about the animal facts that we knew, and often turned to the school library encyclopedia to settle these arguments.

As they read today's poetry title children will get the chance to image what it would be like to be an animal. Would they still have some of the same feelings and thoughts, or would they be quite different?

When I Am Not MyselfWhen I am not myself
Kathy DeZarn Beynette
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Pomegranate Kids, 2014, 978-0-7649-6673-6
What would it be like if you were not you, and if you were an alligator instead? Or a rabbit?  Or a giraffe? Your world would certainly be different, but you might feel or think many of the things that you feel and think in your life now.
    If you were a zebra you might like your stripes but wish that you could try “checks for a day.” If you were a bear you might “patiently wait / For the day my brother / Will go hibernate.” If you were a kitten you might find yourself sitting in a row and waiting for “someone to love / For someplace to go.”
   In this charming collection of poems the author lets us step inside the bodies of a variety of animals and helps us to see the world through their eyes for a moment or two. Sometimes the thoughts we have as animals are not that different from the ones we have as humans, and sometimes the thoughts are familiar and yet comically or cleverly different because of the nature of the animal in question.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Henny

Children are not always very accepting when one of their classmates or schoolmates is different. When Henny the chick comes into the world she is missing something very important. Henny has no wings. At all. Instead, she has arms and hands, which makes her rather unique.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8436-8
In almost every respect, Henny is a “typical chicken” She has a comb on her head, toes with claws, a feather covered body, and a beak. There is one thing though that Henny does not have. Henny has no wings. Instead, she has arms. With hands and fingers.
   Sometimes Henny likes her arms because they allow her to do things that the other chicks cannot do, like climb trees. At other times she does not like the fact that she is different because the other farm animals laugh at her rather strange appearance.
   Being different is hard enough when you are a chick, but when you become a grown up chicken, life becomes even more complicated. Henny’s arms cause her to have a lot of things to worry about. Is she right or left handed? Should she wear gloves or mittens? What kinds of clothes should she wear? 
   While all these worries are rattling around inside her head, Henny does her best to behave like a chicken so that she will fit in. She tries to hide her arms, pecking the ground with her beak instead of using her hands to collect her food. Then something happens and Henny makes a startling discovery.

   Being different from everyone else can make one’s life different and present challenges that sometimes seem insurmountable. Often one is trying so hard to fit in that one does not even consider that being different might actually be a good thing. In this delightfully sweet, gently funny, and powerful picture book, we might a character that we quickly grow fond of. Henny is easy to identify with, and her story, which is accompanied by expressive minimal illustrations, is timeless and meaningful.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Goodnight Songs

When my daughter was little I used to sing her a lullaby at bedtime. She got so used to hearing the song that she refused to go to sleep if someone did not sing it for her. Even her father, who does not like to sing at all, had to give in and sing the song when he put her to bed.

Today's poetry title is full of poems that can be spoken or sung to comfort children who is about to go to sleep.

Goodnight SongsrtistsGoodnight Songs
Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists
Poetry Picture Book with Audio CD
For ages 4 to 6
Sterling Children’s books, 2014, 978-1-4549-0446-5
Many years ago author Margaret Wise Brown noticed that many children hum or sing little songs as they go about their day. She decided to write the words of songs that she hoped would “capture the spirit of a children’s world,” and collaborated with famous musicians of the time to create songs that would best compliment her words. Unfortunately, Margaret’s songs were not published in her lifetime and for many years they lay forgotten in a trunk full of Margaret’s writings. Thankfully, her songs were discovered by an editor and now, many years after they were written, they are presented to the world in this beautiful picture book.
   The poems chosen for this collection are all perfect for bedtime. We read about a little goat on a hill who “drank his supper and drank his fill” before going to sleep. We visit a little wooden town at night when there is “no one around.” The streets in this town “ran up” and “ran down” and everywhere “there wasn’t a sound.” We find out what someone sees “When I close my eyes at night.” The person sees “Blue clouds in a big white sky,” and a place where “bright green birds go flying by.”
   Packed with soothing images, gently rhythmic phrases, and verse that calms and quietens the heart and mind, this book would make a wonderful gift for families with a young child. The accompanying artwork is beautifully rendered to compliment Margaret Wise Brown’s words, and to bring the poems to life so that young children have something special to look at as they explore the book.
   When they are sung the poems in this book serve as lullabies that offer children a soothing close to their day, and the accompanying CD features recordings of these lullabies, giving young children and their grownups a special way to enjoy Margaret Wise Brown’s lovely words.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of At the same moment around the world

I was seven years old when I took my first really long trip in a plane. We flew from Cyprus to India, and when we arrived in Delhi it was early morning. My body felt as if it was the middle of the night, and yet the sun was coming up, turning the sky a golden red color. It seemed so strange that my friends in Cyprus were in their beds fast asleep, while the people around me were drinking their morning tea and thinking about the day ahead

In today's picture book readers will get the opportunity to travel around the world to see what a colorful collection of people in different countries are doing at exactly the same moment in time. The book is fascinating to read and the illustrations are a joy to explore.

At the Same Moment, Around the WorldAt the same moment around the world
Clotilde Perrin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-2208-3
It is six o’clock in the morning in Dakar, in the country of Senegal, and the sun is just starting to rise in the east. As the yacht All Around the World steams along the coastline, Keita and his father are on the beach, counting the fish that were caught in the nets that night.  
   At the same time, in Paris many thousands of miles away, it is seven o’clock and people are starting to move around the streets. In an apartment, Benedict is drinking hot chocolate before he heads to school.
   Far to the west in Hanoi, at the same time that Benedict is drinking his hot chocolate, it is one o’clock in the afternoon. The streets are full of people riding bikes and scooters and celebrating the Lunar New Year. A dragon kite flaps in the sky, and a dragon puppet leaps above the road carried by joyful children. Though so much is going on and it is noisy, Khanh happily naps in his hammock.
   Even further west, and across the Pacific Ocean, it is one o’clock in the morning in Lima, Peru. Rain is falling and stormy clouds scud across the sky. In one household nobody cares about the weather or the time because baby Diego has come into the world.
   In this remarkable book we journey around the world, seeing what is happening in the lives of people living is many countries at the same moment in time. The author completes our journey around the globe by bringing us back to where we started.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with additional information about time zones, and there is also a map to look at that shows readers where the twenty-four countries mentioned in the book are located.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of America at War

America, the nation, rose out of the ashes of a conflict when the American colonists rose up against their English ruler and demanded independence. Since that time young American men and women have gone off to war several times, and each conflict had a profound affect on the nation as a whole.

In today's poetry title we explore America's war experiences through poetry. We see the many faces of war through the eyes of those who experienced it on the battlefield and those who watched it from afar.

America at WarAmerica at War
Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
For ages 8 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2008, 978-1-4169-1832-5
Over the centuries men and women from all walks of life have written poetry about war. Sometimes the poems were written in support of a war, and sometimes they were written to warn people about the horrors of war. Often the poems described what it was like to experience war, either as a civilian or as a combatant.
   For this remarkable collection Lee Bennett Hopkins brings together poems written in the past, and poems especially written for this collection, so that we can explore “America at War.” The poems are divided into eight sections, each one of which focuses on one conflict that America was involved in. These conflicts are the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Iraq War. For each section Lee Bennett Hopkins begins by providing a brief description of the conflict, just to give the reader a little background and context.
   The short introductions are followed by a selection of poems, which vary greatly in form, voice, and subject matter. For example in the Vietnam War section we begin with a poem that was written by John Kent, who was a marine. He describes how he sees a boy who is missing an arm and who has “a lifetime of hate” in his eyes after just “eight short years.”
   In her poem Charms, Georgia describes how soldiers in Vietnam carry good luck charms with them everywhere in the hope that the charms will protect them. Sometimes too the charms help to remind the soldier that somewhere, far away, he has a home of his own. These charms take many forms, from “locks of hair” and Saint Christopher medals, to photos of “wives, kids, dogs.” Often the soldiers fall asleep with their photos “clutched tightly in their fists.”
   In Whispers to the Wall Rebecca Kai Dotlitch takes us to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C, which is a long black stone wall covered with the engraved names of the fallen and missing. She reminds us that the names belong to people who “shrimped on boats, / flew planes, / studied, wrote, / collected, / kissed.” They were people just like you and me, and they are missed.
   Readers can dip into this book at will, exploring the poems and the beautiful paintings that grace its pages. Wherever they begin, and wherever they end up, readers will be rewarded with beautiful word images that are powerful and memorable.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Big Bear Hug

One of the things I like about living on the west coast is that most of the people around here are very huggy. When my mother visited for the first time, my new friends hugged her as if they knew her well. She wasn't quite sure what to do. Why were all these strangers hugging her? I explained the people around her are friendly.

In today's picture book you will a sweet, lovable bear who is VERY huggy and who truly understands how to show others that he likes them.

Big Bear HugBig Bear Hug
Nicholas Oldland
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Kids Can Press, 2009, 978-1-55453-464-7
In a forest there is a bear who is “so filled with love and happiness” that he hugs every living thing he encounters. The bear even hugs animals that bears normally eat, and no animal is too big or too small for the bear’s loving embrace. He even hugs smelly skunks and “scary” snakes.
   Though the bear loves to hug other animals, he loves to hug trees even more. He hugs trees of all kinds and he loves them dearly. One day he sees a man chopping down a tree and the poor bear is appalled. He is horrified. He even starts to get angry, and he thinks that perhaps he should bite the man. After all, the man is harming one of the bear’s beloved trees.
   In this simple yet incredibly powerful book we meet a bear who is goodness personified. Children will immediately fall in love with the big bear who is willing to hug a skunk, and who wraps himself around the trunk of a tree with so much obvious devotion. Most of all, readers will be delighted to see how the bear responds when something negative enters his world. Surely this bear has something to teach us all about how to deal with the negatives things that we encounter in life.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Outside the box: A book of poems

I didn't use to consider myself to be an outside the box kind of person. Actually, I thought I was a little boring. Then, recently I started trying new things, like learning to play the ukulele, things that other people thought were "out there" and "cool." Then I began to think about the work that I have created for myself I came to appreciate that I have always been an outside the box person. I just didn't know it.

Recently I came across a book that was written by a favorite author of mine, Karma Wilson. Karma is definitely an outside the box kind of person, and in today's poetry title you will encounter some of her interesting and quirky poems.

Outside the box: A book of poems
Outside the BoxKarma Wilson
Illustrated by Diane Goode
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4169-8005-6
From the outside, a big box can look quite appealing. One might think that the dark, cozy interior would serve as a splendid “thinking spot.” It is only when one is inside the box that one realizes that the inside of a box - where one does not experience sounds, sights, light, colors, and the beauty of the outdoors - does not provide an environment that encourages thoughts or creativity. It is only when we are outside the box that thoughts, ideas, images, and stories start to flow.
   In this collection of poems author and poet Karma Wilson lets her imagination roam where it will. She truly thinks outside the box, and as a result we are gifted with a colorful, delightful, often funny, and always interesting collection of poems.
   Soon after we begin our journey through the book we meet a child who has been told to write a poem about a tragedy. Not being able to come up “a single line or verse” the child decides to write a tragic poem about how the child “couldn’t write a poem / about a tragedy.”
   Later on in the book we meet the “Boogie Man.” Now everyone knows that the boogie man is a terrifying and dangerous creature or apparition. He is someone who should be avoided at all costs. Or maybe not. He might terrify you and make you dive under the covers, but the little girl in this poem is friends with the boogie man, and they “boogie every night.”
   Then there is the story of the moose that got on a bus, which not surprisingly caused “quite a fuss.” When the animal boarded the bus, the passengers “screamed for police,” but the police were not around. What surprises the narrator of this story is that the moose, who came to sit next to her (or him) was “kind” and made for “polite company.” So all in all the moose was pleasant to be with, except that he was a bit too tall and his antlers were “rather too wide” for an average bus.

   Readers who like poetry are going to love exploring this book. The poems come all shapes and sizes, and one never quite knows what one is going to find on the next page. The poems are paired with Diane Goode’s expressive pen and ink drawings, and together they give readers a memorable book experience.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

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