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, July 28, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Boris and the Wrong Shadow

We tend to take shadows for granted, until there is a hot day and we can't find a single shadow where we can get some respite from the heat. Shadows are important, which is what Boris the Siamese cat learns in today's picture book. They should not be taken for granted, and one should never, ever, lose them or let them wander off.

Boris and the Wrong ShadowBoris and the wrong shadow
Leigh Hodgkinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tiger Tales, 2009, 978-1-58925-082-6
One day Boris the Siamese cat wakes up after having a delightful dream. The delicious aftereffects of his dream are soon replaced by a distinct feeling that something is amiss. When Boris gets up he soon sees what is wrong. Instead of having a cat-shaped shadow, he now has a mouse-shaped shadow. Now, some cats would freak out if they saw their shadow acting up, but Boris decides not to let such a “silly thing,” bother him. Instead, he goes outside to enjoy the day.
   Unfortunately, the animals in the garden don’t have such a sanguine attitude to cats with mouse shadows, and Boris is laughed at, squeaked at, and ignored. Try as he might, Boris cannot help feeling rather depressed about his situation, and then he sees something that pulls him out of his unhappy state. Boris sees his shadow going by and he sets off in hot pursuit.
   In this delightful picture book we meet Boris, a cat whose shadow has been shadow-napped. Or so it would seem. Though Boris is understandably upset about his shadow problem, the experience teaches him something about what it is like to be a small, defenseless creature that other animals don’t take seriously. Maybe it was a good thing that this whole shadow conundrum took place.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Pocket Poems

When I was growing up the only short poems I encountered in poetry books were limericks and rhyming riddles. I didn't learn about haiku until I was in high school, and certainly did not encounter the kinds of poems that you will find in today's poetry title. These short "pocket poems" are perfect for children. Many of them are amusing, but some are more serious and offer children images and ideas that they will enjoy thinking and talking about.

Pocket PoemsPocket Poems
Selected by Bobbi Katz
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2013, 978-0147508591
Though we live in a “bigger is better” world, we don’t always have to buy into this way of thinking. There are many instances when smaller is better, or when less is better. There are times when a tiny and perfect little violet has more impact than a big bunch of roses, or when a little basket of perfectly ripe strawberries is better than a whole bowl full of strawberry shortcake.
   In this poetry book we are going to encounter a wonderful selection of pocket poems, poems that are short and sweet and that we can write down on a small piece of paper and tuck in a pocket. Such poems can go “wherever you go” and since nothing can “take it” or “break it,” that poem “becomes / part of… / YOU!”
   There are a wide variety of pocket poems included in this collection. Some are amusing like Toothpaste. In this poem we hear about how toothpaste ends up “on my nose” and how it “sprays north and west and south.” The only place the pesky stuff doesn’t end up is in the one place where it belongs, which is “inside my mouth.”
   Other poems, like the excerpt from William Blake’s Night, are more contemplative, creating an atmosphere and capturing a precious memory or moment in time. In this poem we read about the moon which is “like a flower / In heaven’s high bower.” Another simple get meaningful poem is called Home and in it we read a few short lines that capture the essence of home with its “quiet” and “peace.”
   As we move from page to page we enjoy moments from school days and everyday life, old fashioned Mother Goose rhymes, and more. The poets whose creations appear on these pages include J. Patrick Lewis, Carl Sandburg, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and Nikki Giovanni.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Chickadees at Night

When I moved into my first apartment in Washington D.C. there was a tiny garden in the back. The patch of glass was minuscule, but my roommate and I enjoyed spending time out there, and soon after I moved in I got my first bird feeder. I was soon able to recognize several bird species, birds that I had only seen in books heretofore. My favorite was the little chickadee, a very small bird with a distinct song and a huge personality.

Today's picture book will delight readers who like birds, and they will enjoy finding out what chickadees do at night when we are all asleep in out beds.

Chickadees at Night
Chickadees At NightBill O. Smith
Charles E. Murphy
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleepytime Press, 2013, 978-0-615-56972-7
We all know what chickadees do during the day. They sing their chick-a-dee-dee-dee song, “dip and dart through the tangle of trees,” and visit our birdfeeders. What do they do at night? They disappear and we have no idea what they are up to. Do they perhaps bathe in the rain and rest “on hidden perches?”
   Actually the answer is a simple one. Those cunning little birds spend their nights playing and having fun. They bounce on spider web trampolines, play hide and seek, and take rides on the backs of flying squirrels. They enjoy the simple pleasures that can be found as the moon rises and the stars twinkle overhead.
   In this delightful, lyrical, magical picture book the author answers some delightful questions about the doings of a cunning little bird. Chickadees may be small, but that have oodles of charm, and thanks to Bill O. Smith we now know just a few of their secrets.
   Throughout the book the uplifting and sometimes funny rhyming text is paired with stunning illustrations that capture the beauty and sweetness of one of North America’s most beloved wild birds.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with some “Chickadee Nuggets.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Cat Talk

For almost my whole life, I have shared my home with a cat or two (or three or four), and I cannot image being catless. Every single one of my cats has had a distinct personality. Alex was grumpy and did not know how to be a pet at first. Sophie was sweet and incredibly patient. Mini Katie was brave and she always had something to say. Tinka the Tonkinese was a minx who could not be trusted to stay out of trouble. Now I have Sara, who seems standoffish but who actually loves attention, and her incredibly naughty sister, Suma, who has broken more things than all my other cats put together.

Today's poetry title pairs beautiful paintings with poems about cats, who, like humans, are all one-of-a-kind characters.

Cat TalkCat Talk
Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
HarperCollins, 2013, 978-0-06-027978-3
Some people are under the impression that cats are all alike, that they don’t have distinctive personalities. They could not be more wrong. Cats, like people, come is all shapes and sizes both in their looks and in their inner selves.
   In this beautiful book we are going to meet some cats, each one of which is very different. Tough Tom, with his torn up ears, has been living out in the world on his own. He is independent and knows how to take care of himself, but when someone opens a window and when Tough Tom finds out that the person in the house has food and a blanket, Tough Tom has to make a choice. He is scared because he is used to the outdoor life and “fighting with other cats,” but a life of comfort and ease is attractive to that cat.
   Lily is a barn cat who shares her life with cows, horses, and a gray donkey called Rose. It is a good life and she likes the “sweet-smelling hay, / And the breathing of cows / And horse snorts.” Lily has a secret though. She has a best friend and she asks us not to tell anyone about this friend because…she thinks he is “a mouse.”
   Some of the cats we meet on the pages are house cats who get to share their human’s bed, and who rule those humans with a firm paw. Then there is Eddie, who has a job which he takes very seriously. Eddie is an office cat and he goes to “greet people at the office door.” He uses “many voices” to say hello, to ask for snacks, and to comment on and react to things that happens around him.
   Some cats like Sylvie are aloof and make sure that everyone knows that they are “the boss cat.” Others are more like Romeo, loving everyone, asking for attention, and playing with anyone who happens to be available.
   Throughout this book the wonderful poems are paired with Barry Moser’s beautiful and evocative paintings to give readers a delightful cat-centric poetry experience.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Crayon: A Colorful Tale about Friendship

Crayons play a big role in the lives of little children. They are used to draw pictures of course, but they are also eaten, they are forgotten in cars and handbags where they melt on hot days, and they are often used to make crafts, sometimes in surprising ways. In today's picture book you are going to meet some crayons who are alive and who, like children, don't always know how to be a good friend.

The Crayon: A Colorful Tale about Friendship
The Crayon: A Colorful Tale About FriendshipSimon Rickerty
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4814-0475-4
There are two little creatures, one of which is red and one which is blue. Red gets a blue crayon and he scribbles a blue design and asks Blue to look at what he has done. Blue then gets a red crayon and he scribbles a red design saying, “Look Red!” While Blue is busy creating his red artwork, Red scribbles on Blue’s page, on his “side,” and this infuriates Blue. What does Red think he is doing? Red is not supposed to cross over the page to poach on Blue’s territory.
   A dreadful argument breaks out and then something terrible happens, Red’s blue crayon breaks. Blue, seeing how upset Red is, gives him his red crayon. There are smiles all around, but Red is not quite finished with his mischief making.
   Figuring out how to get along with others is not always easy. Learning how to share and to include others is even harder. In this delightfully clever, minimal picture book the author shows his readers how two colorful creatures struggle to get along, and how they learn what it means to be a real friend.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Another Day as Emily

When I was first presented with a novel written in blank verse, I was rather surprised. I had never encountered a novel with such a format before. When I began to read the book I was immediately hooked. Since then I have read several novels written in blank verse and my favorites are those written by Eileen Spinelli. I was therefore thrilled when I got her latest creation in the mail and I read the entire book one afternoon in one sitting. It is a delightful story, one that I think readers of all ages will enjoy reading.

Another Day as EmilyAnother Day as Emily
Eileen Spinelli
Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2014, 978-0-449-80987-7
The summer vacation has begun and Suzy has so much to look forward to. Among other things there is the Fourth of July, her twelfth birthday (when she is going to go to a ball game), bike rides, and Tween Time at the library. Not to mention time spent with her friends Alison, Mrs. Harden, and Gilbert.
   One morning Suzy’s little brother Parker decides to ride his trike to Mrs. Harden’s house, which he is not allowed to do unless he tells someone first. Which he forgets to do. Normally Parker would get into trouble for doing this, but on this occasion he doesn’t. When he gets to Mrs. Harden’s house he sees that she is lying on the floor and that she is in trouble. Remembering what he learned in safety class, Parker dials 911. Suzy arrives just as Parker is saying “Emergency! Emergency!” into the phone. Suzy holds Mrs. Harden hand until the ambulance arrives and worries about the old lady, who is her “honorary grandmother.”
   Thankfully Mrs. Harden is all right, and Parker becomes a local “little hero.” He is interviewed for the local newspaper, is sent all kinds of gifts, and the mayor invites Parker to be in the mayoral car during the Fourth of July parade. Not surprisingly all this attention goes to Parker’s head. He decides that he is a “big hero” and he becomes rather insufferable.
   Suzy’s summer does not improve after this incident. Instead it gets worse. People, including Suzy’s mother, keep making a fuss over Parker. Gilbert is accused of being a thief even though there is no proof that he stole anything, and when Suzy and Alison audition for parts in a play, Alison gets a part but Suzy doesn’t. On Suzy’s birthday Parker disappears and Suzy’s dad has to cancel their baseball game trip because they have to look for Parker.
   Suzy decides that there is only one thing to do. She is going to stop being Suzy and she is going to start being Emily Dickenson. Suzy has been learning about Emily for her Tween Time people-from-the-1800’s project and she knows enough about the poet that she decides that being a recluse is just what she needs. Suzy gets some white dresses, she refuses to go out or use the phone, and she tries to spend her days doing what Emily Dickenson did. At first the novelty is enjoyable, but then Suzy starts to get lonely.
   Written using a series of blank verse poems, this delightfully sweet, poignant, and gently funny story will give readers a peek into the heart of a twelve-year-old girl. Suzy is starting to grow up and she is struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants. Her quirky personality and kind heart make her easy to identify with, and readers will find themselves hoping that Suzy finds her way.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Hank Finds an Egg

When I came across today's picture book for the first time I was completely captivated by the photos that fill the pages. There are no words in the book at all, and yet the story is rich and delightful. Readers of all ages will enjoy seeing what Hank does when he finds an egg.

Hank Finds an EggHank Finds an Egg
Rebecca Dudley
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Peter Pauper Press, 2013, 978-1-4413-1158-0
One day Hank is walking in the forest when he finds an egg lying on the ground. He picks up the egg and soon figures out that it must have fallen out of a nest that is resting on a branch in a nearby tree. Hank is determined to do what he can to put the egg back in its nest, but there is a problem; Hank is very small and the nest is high up in the tree.
   Hank rolls a log over to the tree to stand on, but he still cannot reach the nest. Next, he builds a little ladder, but the nest is still too high up. The moon starts to rise and so Hank makes himself a little bed out of leaves and lights a fire. When it is time to sleep, he tucks the egg under the leaves next to him so that is stays warm. Maybe, in the morning, he will figure out how to get the egg back into its nest.
   In this remarkable wordless picture book we meet a little woodland creature whose compassion and determination to do the right thing warms the heart. To tell Hank’s story the author made Hank out of fabric and then photographed him in his woodland world. The photographs are beautiful, and Hank’s loving and generous character shines through.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Mammalabilia

Douglas Florian is a master when it comes to writing short, often amusing poems about animals. I have reviewed several of his animal centric poetry books, and so far we have met animals that live in water, dinosaurs, reptiles and amphibians, and in his book Beast Feast we meet a collection of especially bizarre creatures. In today's poetry title he takes us into the lives of mammals.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004, 978-0152050245
Many of us are able to identify with mammals, perhaps because our pets are usually mammals. They are furry, have four legs, and give birth to live babies. Some of them even look a little like us, and we love to read stories about them.
   In this poetry collection poet and artist, Douglas Florian, introduces us to a wide variety of mammals, pairing clever little poems with his unique artwork. The poems come in many forms. There are rhyming poems, blank verse poems, concrete poems, and some of the poems contain word play elements that readers will find amusing.
   Our mammalian visit begins with the aardvark, which is without a doubt, a very odd animal. They are so odd that the poet believes that “Aardvarks look better / By far in the daark.” He is more complimentary about the ibex which “risk their necks / On scary, airy mountain treks,” and he thinks otters are “quite charismatic.”
   As they explore this book readers will enjoy ‘listening in’ when the poet asks a Bactrian camel a very important question, and they will find out what he thinks of gorillas, porcupines, the elephant, lemurs, and other mammals from around the world.
   This is one in a series of poetry books about animals that Douglas Florian has created.
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