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, August 29, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Super Silly School Poems

For many children school will be starting up in a few days time. Hopefully they are looking forward to school, but if they are feeling anxious about what is to come, they might want to take a look at today's poetry title. The poems in this book are funny and they will certainly chase away their worried feelings.

Super Silly School PoemsSuper Silly School Poems
David Greenberg
Illustrated by Liza Woodruff
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-47981-3
For many years children’s lives revolve around their school and the people they meet there. They have wonderful experiences that they treasure, and then there are those incidents that they would like to forget as soon as possible. For this picture book David Greenberg has written seventeen poems that explore school life in creative and amusing ways.
   Every child has days when they realize that they have forgotten something, something that they know they need to take to school that day. In the poem Something you Forgot we meet a boy who has remembered his art project, his new markers and his backpack. He has his video game and his lunch money. He remembers to brush his teeth and yet there is still that something that he has forgotten. He gets “terribly distressed” because he just cannot remember what the something is, and then he looks in the mirror and realizes that he has “forgotten to get dressed.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a poem that will surely resonate with young readers. The poem describes what it is like when you go to the grocery store and see something truly shocking. There is your teacher. Shopping. For food. How can this be? After all, “Teachers live at school,” and that is where they belong. Who is responsible for letting the teacher out?
   Other topics in this book include school lunches, homework issues, show-and-tell, the school bathroom, and the way in which teachers seem to be adept mind readers.

   Throughout the book the humorous poems are paired with illustrations that perfectly capture images that appear in the poems.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Flamingo

They say that imitation in the sincerest form of flattery. This may be true sometimes, but being imitated can also be really, really annoying. In today's picture book you are going to meet a little girl who decides to imitate an elegant flamingo and who soon learns that her actions are not appreciated. At all.

Flora and the FlamingoFlora and the Flamingo
Molly Idle
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-1006-6
Flora is a girl who is wearing a pink bathing suit, a yellow swimming cap, and black flippers. In the shallows of a pond there is a flamingo and Flora decides to copy it. When the flamingo stands on one leg so does Flora. When it makes several elegant ballet-like poses, Flora does her best to copy the bird’s moves. Though Flora tries not to be seen copying the flamingo, the wily bird soon sees what she is doing and with a firm squawk it puts a stop to Flora’s shenanigans. The startled girl ends up doing a forward roll and finds herself sitting on her bottom in the water with a flower on her head.
   This could very easily be the end of the story of Flora and the elegant flamingo, but the kind-hearted bird reaches out to the child and teaches her a little about dance and a lot about friendship.
   In this remarkable picture book the illustrator tells a riveting story without using any words or word sounds at all. The expression on the faces, and the body language, of the two characters is so expressive that no words are needed. Children will love seeing how Flora and the flamingo come to terms, and how something special grows out of their interaction.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of On the Wing by Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1996, 978-0152023669
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
   Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
   Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
   The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
   With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird species.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Maple

In my family we like to plant trees on special occasions. Sometimes the trees serve as a memorial to someone we love. These trees almost become members of the family, but not quite. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who has a tree for a friend who really is a member of her family.

Lori Nichols
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-16085-1
Before she was born, when Maple was “still a whisper,” her parents planted a little maple tree in their garden for her and when she came into the world they named her Maple. As she grew, the little maple tree grew, and when she needed to be noisy, or sing, or pretend to be a tree, Maple went to be with her tree.
   One fall Maple saw that her tree was losing its leaves, so she gave it her jacket so that it would “stay warm.” No matter what else was happening, Maple always knew that she had her tree, and the tree had her.
   Then one spring something changed. A new little tree appeared in the garden and Maple’s mother had another little whisper growing inside her. Not long after, Maple became a big sister and she learned that life rarely stays the same. Change is inevitable and Maple had to figure out how to be a good big sister, which isn’t easy.
   In this heartwarming picture book we meet a little girl who develops a special connection with a tree. This may seem strange, but the tree and the little girl grew up together and shared many grand times. Young readers are sure to enjoy seeing how Maple deals with a very big change in her life. Thankfully, she has a friend who helps her sort out her problems.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Knock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry

Over the years I have looked at a lot of poetry collections. Some focus on one kind of poetry, or one topic, while others are collections of all kinds of poetry. Today's title belongs to the latter category, and I have to say that it is one of the best collections of this type that I have ever looked through. Poetry as a form of writing is explored in an interesting way, and readers of all ages will enjoy reading the poems and the sections of text that accompany many of them.

Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to PoetryKnock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry
X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy
Illustrated by Karen Lee Baker
Ages 7 and up
Little Brown, 1999, 978-0316488006
Many people have created poetry anthologies for children, and such collections give children the opportunity to experience and explore a wide variety of poems. Readers can open such books on any page and start reading.
   This poetry collection is a little different in that the poems are categorized into chapters. The authors use poems to show readers what poems do, what is inside a poem, the special kinds of poems there are, and they wrap up by showing us how to write our own poems. Throughout the book readers will find notes that help them better understand the poems and the people who wrote them.
   The purpose of poems may seem obvious, but in fact poems, like stories, can serve a variety of purposes. They can make readers smile either because they describe something funny, or because the poet uses words in a funny way, or both of these things. In Spring is Sprung, a poet deliberately used words incorrectly to give us a poem that is short and amusing. Ogden Nash’s The Termite tells us a short tale about how a termite tasted wood “and found it good.” We learn that the termite’s fondness for wood explains why “Cousin May / Fell through the parlor floor today.”
   Telling stories using poetry is something many poets enjoy doing. These stories can be humorous or serious, and they help readers see that story poems can be just as colorful and exciting as stories that are told in prose.
   Some poets like to use their poems to convey a message to their readers, presenting an idea or point of view that matters to them. Then there are the poems that allow their writers to share their feelings with the reader. Often these poems are very powerful because they are personal and heart felt. In Janet S. Wong’s poem Losing Face we read about a guilt-ridden girl who won an art contest using a picture that she traced. She so much wants to tell everyone what she did, but she doesn’t “want to lose / Mother’s glowing / proud face.”
   People can often be confusing. We don’t understand why they say and do the things they do. Some poets use their writings to help us understand people and their ways. Through them we learn that people come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. For example, in her poem My Mother we learn about a mother who is not “like / Some others.” Instead of being the kind of mother who bakes and cooks, this mother stays up late into the night “Reading poetry.”
   This is the kind of poetry collection that readers of all ages will enjoy exploring. Even adults who know a great deal about poetry will soon appreciate that this collection is truly a gift.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Mister Bud wears a cone

Not long ago one of my dogs had surgery and he had to wear a "cone of shame" for a while to make sure that he did not try to pull out his stitches. Poor Pippin hated the cone, and I had to work very hard not to laugh as he went around the house bumping into walls and furniture. It was funny, and it also was pitiful.

In today's picture book you will meet Mister Bud, who has to wear a cone and whose doggy housemate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of his friend's situation.

Mister Bud Wears the ConeMister Bud wears the cone
Carter Goodrich
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8088-9
One night Mr. Bud’s itchy hotspot starts itching like crazy. Poor Mister Bud chews and licks it, and in the morning his person sees that the hotspot is much worse. She puts some medicine on it which she hopes will make the hotspot go away. She is comforting and tells Mister Bud that she knows that “It’s no fun,” having such a nasty hotspot. Zorro resents the fact that Mister Bud is getting all the attention. Even worse the dogs’ schedule is “all messed up” because of Mister Bud’s hotspot.
   Before she leaves the house for the day Mister Bud’s person puts a cone on his head so that he won’t lick or itch his hotspot. Not surprisingly, Mister Bud hates the cone. He cannot see properly when he wears it, he walks into furniture, he cannot eat or drink properly, and he cannot stop Zorro from stealing his favorite toy. Wearing the cone is the worst thing ever and when Mister Bud accidentally breaks a lamp, he is convinced that he is going to be in big trouble. Zorro is thrilled and he is eager to see what their person says when she sees what Mister Bud has done.
   In this deliciously funny and sweet book we meet a dog who has to wear a cone and whose life is severely disrupted by the horrible thing. It does not help that his house mate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of the situation. Readers of all ages are going to laugh out loud when they see what happens in this memorable picture book story.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of It's Raining Pigs and Noodles

Jack Prelutsky loves finding ways to hook children on poetry, and he has been creating poems that serve this purpose for years now. In today's poetry title you will see how he helps children to see for themselves that poetry can be great fun.

It's Raining Pigs & NoodlesIt’s Raining Pigs and Noodles
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by James Stevenson
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060291945
Life is too short for us to spend our days doing serious things and having serious thoughts all the time. A dose of silliness and goofiness is required every day at least once. Some of us find it hard to make the switch from being sensible to silly, which can be very trying. Where is that funny bone hiding and how do we get it to do what it is supposed to do?
   Thankfully for everyone who needs help finding their inner silly self, Jack Prelutsky has put together a collection of poems that are guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, thus bringing the silliness that lies within us all to the surface. Every single poem in this book is one hundred percent amusing, and readers can be sure that after a few pages they will be feeling a lot less serious.
   The poems begin with poem called It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles. If you like the idea of it raining pigs and noodles you should read the rest of the poem where the poet describes how “Assorted prunes and parrots / are dropping from the sky,” and these are followed by “a bunch of carrots, / some hippopotami.” The poem wraps up with the words, “I like this so much better / than when it’s raining rain.”
   A couple of pages later in The Chicken Club, we meet some people who are afraid of everything and anything, which is why they are members of this special club. The club members are afraid of thunder and shadows, creepy crawlies, and even their own reflections. In fact they are afraid of so many things that “we’ve even started clucking / and we’re sprouting chicken wings.”
   Children and their grownups are going to have a grand time dipping into this book and sampling a helping of poetry that will make them smile or chuckle.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Imagine a Day

The great thing about having an imagination is that it allows us to make things up, and sometimes the things we make up are weird, magical, wonderful, or some combination of all of these elements. In today's picture book the author takes us on a fanciful journey into the imagination, and the places she takes us really are special.

Imagine a DayImagine a Day
Sarah L. Thomson
Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2005, 0-689-85219-3
   The imagination can take anything from the everyday world and turn it in to something wonderful, something exciting. On a cloudy grey day the imagination can imagine a way to bring back a blue sky by filling the heavens with thousands of blue balloons. With the imagination a walk on the fence can turn into a daring walk between high rise buildings. Our imagination can make it possible for us to lay water down in slabs, much in the same way that one would tile a floor; and the coppery leaves of fall can be turned into a road that can be ridden on, high above the ground.
   In this wonderful book Sarah Thomson takes our imaginations on a journey. As we explore the pages we celebrate the imagination and all the wonderful things that it can do. It can make the dreary interesting, the commonplace remarkable, it can add spice to one’s life, and it can give one peace.  Rob Gonsalves has taken the simple text and has created paintings which make the mind stretch and wonder. The art is beautiful and intriguing, and it challenges one to look at the world though eyes that can see not just what is really there but what could be there. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Give me Wings

When I was a child I dreamed about flying all the time. I never needed wings and the dreams were so wonderful that I was sorry when I woke up. Today's poetry picture book celebrates those dreams (or daydreams), allowing us to take to the air once more.

Give Me WingsGive me Wings
Poems Selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Illustrated by Ponder Goembel
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Holiday House, 2010, 978-0-8234-2023-0
For many people their favorite dreams are the ones in which they are flying. In these dreams they can soar in the air without needing any kind of mechanical aid to help them do so. With arms held wide, or with wings attached to their arms, they are able to fly high above the ground and feel the freedom of not being tied to the earth.
   In this delightful book, poet Lee Bennett Hopkins brings us a selection of poems that take us, at least for a little time, up into the air. He encourages us to imagine what it would be like if we were to wake up one morning to find that we had wings attached to our arms. He tells us the story of a boy who, at one time, was able to fly. Every night the boy lay on his bed and “willed myself to fly.” It was hard work, and sometimes an hour would go by before he finally felt himself float up above his bed. By using a “swimming motion” the boy would make his way over to the window and then he would go out into the night sky.
   Humans are not the only ones who dream of flying. In one of the poems we meet a cat who is just a “scruffy house cat,” but she “dreams all day / of wings and sky.” At night the cat climbs a ladder and swings back and forth on a trapeze until it is time to finish with “somersaults / to wild applause.”
   The wonderful collection wraps us with a poem by Lee Bennett Hopkins that describe how we should put our wings away into a wing box where they will lie, safe and sound, until we need them “for / tomorrow’s / flight.”
   This is a book for anyone who has dreamed (or daydreamed) about flying. Readers will enjoy a brief time when they can take flight through these poems and explore hopes and dreams that float as soft as downy feathers on the wind.
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