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, December 28, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Grant and Tillie Go Walking

I must confess that other than being able to recognize American Gothic, until recently I did not know much about Grant Wood's art. I did not know his story either. I was therefore very keen to read and review today's picture book title, which provides readers with a very unique, partially true, tale about Grant Wood's life. The story is touching and sweet, and it piqued my interest so much that I then went online and read about Grant Wood some more.

Grant and Tillie Go Walking
Grant and Tillie Go WalkingMonica Kulling
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-446-6
Grant Wood lives on a farm, and many days he goes walking with Tillie the cow. Tillie is happy with her lot in her life. She has a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and she has Grant. Unfortunately, her human friend is not happy. Grant is an artist at heart and he feels that he belongs somewhere where he will find “more excitement,” a place like Paris where French artists create their works of art.
   And so Grant leaves his farm life and travels to Paris with his friend Marvin. One evening the two artists climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower and see the city lying below them, “lit up like fireworks.” Grant no longer wears his farm overalls. Instead, he dons city clothes and a beret. He grows a beard and spends many hours talking to other artists in cafes.
   Grant and Marvin paint outdoors, creating paintings in a style that is new and exciting. Marvin’s creations sell quickly, but Grant’s do not. For some reason he is not able to connect with Paris in a meaningful way, and when he tries to paint a cow – something that is familiar to him - that does not work either.
   Back at home, on the farm, Tillie is missing Grant terribly. She loses interest in her food, and she does not go for walks anymore because she does not have Grant to show her the way. Tillie grows sad and thin, and Grant’s family members do not know what to do to help her.
   In this delightful picture book Monica Kulling weaves together fact and fiction to give readers a heartwarming story about an artist who has to leave home to find out what kind of an artist he is. Children will be delighted to see how Grant and Tillie both get something priceless from their relationship.
   In an author’s note at the back of the book readers will find further information about Grant Wood and his art.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

A Very Merry Christmas!

Poetry Friday with a review of Little poems for tiny ears

It is so wonderful to share poetry with little children. The rhyme and rhythm feels natural to them, and they are happy to enjoy poems without needing to understand the exact meaning of every word. Theirs is an organic appreciation which anyone who loves the written word can appreciate.

Today's poetry title was written just for little children and it is delight to share.

Little Poems for Tiny EarsLittle poems for tiny ears
Lin Oliver
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Poetry Picture Book
For babies and toddlers
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-16605-1
Sharing poetry with babies, crawlers and toddlers can be so much fun as children who are this young have a natural affinity for the sing-song cadences of verse. Even if they are too young to fully understand the words, there is something about the sounds in poetry - which are similar to the ebb and flow found in music - that little children love.
   In this book Lin Oliver gives his readers a delightful collection of poems that were written with very young children in mind. On these pages we will meet a little girl who sees a baby in the mirror and who marvels at the way in which the mirror baby copies everything she does. Another little one tries walking and he is not discouraged when he falls down. After all, if he does fall down all that happens is that he lands “on my behind.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a little baby who is going out for a walk in his stroller. From his vantage position, being pushed by a grownup, the baby sees two cats and a dog. He sees a girl jogging and waves to her.
   Other poems talk about noses, toes and tongues. We hear about dogs, who “give me love that never ends,” and cats, who are “silky, soft and furry.” There are poems about bath time and diaper time, a poem about a blankie and a poem about “daddy’s beard.” In short, on these pages readers will find poems that perfectly capture a little child’s world.
   Throughout the book Tomie dePaola’s warm and cozy illustrations perfectly complement Lin Oliver’s poems.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of When it Snows

When I first looked at today's book I had no idea that the story within was remarkable. I was naturally drawn to the art, which is gorgeous, and I certainly expected the story to be a beautiful winter tale. In actual fact it is a lot more than that. The minimal story is also very powerful, and it reminded me of why I do what I do.

When it snows 
Richard Collingridge
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House UK, 2012, 978-1-849-92140-4
It has snowed and now the cars are stuck and the train has “disappeared” under a mantel of soft whiteness. A little boy is outdoors and with his teddy bear in hand he follows the footprints in the snow. Then he gets a ride on the back of a white bear for a while. Eventually he comes to the place “where the snowmen live.” There are dozens of snowmen standing under the snow-filled clouds, many of which are being built by other children.
   When the sun sinks the little boy leaves the snowmen behind as he follows a bright light that leads him to a forest. There the Queen of Poles takes the boy to a secret place where he sees all kinds of wondrous things.
   Throughout this book a spare text is paired with luminous illustrations to take children on a remarkable journey. The journey itself is magical, but the way in which it ends is, if possible, is even better because we discover that the boy can go to the places we saw in the story “every day” if he wishes because he has something that makes this possible.
   Though this book certainly has a wintry, festive feel to it, readers will be drawn to it again and again, even when the days are long and warm.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Winter Eyes.

In just a few days it will be the winter solstice, the longest day of the year. I love celebrating the solstice as I feel the day connects me to my ancestors, for whom the solstice was a time of reflection and celebration. It was also the beginning of a season that was often hard and taxing.

Today I bring you a review of a winter poems book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope you will enjoy the book too.

Winter Eyes 
Douglas Florian
Poetry Collection
Ages 5 to 8
HarperCollins, 1999, 0-688-16458-7
   There are so many wonderful things to look forward to in the winter time. There are frozen lakes to skate on, holidays to celebrate, hot cocoa to sip, and nights to spend sitting in front of the fireplace. There are also certain things about winter which we are less keen on like having frozen toes, getting colds, shoveling snow for hours, and having less time to play outdoors because of the shorter days.
   In this collection of twenty-eight poems the author perfectly captures the atmosphere, the joys, the woes, and the celebrations of this season. He describes time spent toasting toes in front of a fire; he ‘paints’ pictures in words of animal tracks in the snow and icicles hanging from the eves. He has created poems that rhyme and poems that do not. He has also created poems which tell a story not only through the words themselves but also by the way those words are arranged on the page. The poems are funny, poignant, descriptive, and expressive and together they present the reader with a charming portrait of wintertime.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Mother Bruce

Motherhood is full of surprises. I know that there were many experience that I was not expecting when I became a mother, some of which were hard, and some of which were delightful. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience these things if one is not expecting to be a mother at all. In this picture book you will meet a very grumpy male bear who ends up becoming a mother. A reluctant mother it is true, but a mother nonetheless.

Mother BruceMother Bruce
Ryan T. Higgins
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Hyperion, 2015, 978-148473088-1
Bruce is a grumpy bear who lives by himself.  He does not like sunny days, or rainy days, or cute little animals because he is such a big grump about just about everything. The only think Bruce does like is eggs. He goes out and collects them and then cooks them, using “fancy” recipes that he finds on the Internet.
   One day Bruce decides to make boiled goose eggs drizzled with honey-salmon sauce. He gets some salmon and honey and then steals four of Mrs. Goose’s eggs. Bruce starts to prepare his boiled eggs when the fire in his stove goes out. By the time he gets wood to stoke up the stove the four eggs have hatched and the little goslings think that Bruce is their “MAMA!”
   Bruce is very disgruntled by this unexpected turn of events. He prepares goslings on toast but for some reason cannot seem to eat the goslings, who look at him questioningly. Bruce then tries to take the goslings back to their mother, but she has headed south early and her nest is empty. Bruce leaves the goslings in the nest and heads for home, and the goslings follow him. Bruce tells them that he is not their mother. He runs away. He climbs a tree. Nothing he does makes the slightest bit of difference. As far as the goslings are concerned, Bruce is their mother, even if he “is a HE and HE is a bear.”
   This hilarious picture book explores how one very grumpy bear ends up becoming the mother of four very demanding goslings. Bruce dearly regrets the day when his meal hatched, but there is nothing that he can do except to make the best of things. Which is what he does, bless his grumpy bearish heart.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Quest by Aaron Becker

In 2013 a wordless book called Journey was published, and it has brightened the lives of readers all over the world ever since. Journey is a timeless, ageless book that excites the imagination. The creator of Journey then went on to write a sequel, which carries on where the tale in Journey leaves off. I am thrilled to be able to bring you a review of that sequel today.

Aaron Becker
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2014, 978-0-7636-6595-1
Two children are out riding a tandem bike together when it starts to rain. They, and their purple pet bird, take refuge under a bridge and they are standing there looking out when the girl notices that there is a door under the bridge. The door opens and an elderly king comes out. He gives the children a map, and a yellow crayon. Then some soldiers come out of the door and they drag the king away and slam the door behind them.
   Wanting to follow the old king, the children draw a set of keys using their own red and purple crayons. They open the door and enter the world that lies beyond. They arrive just in time to see the king being taken away on a boat that is traveling away from a walled and fortified city. Parts of the city are on fire and there are soldiers everywhere. Clearly some kind of conflict has occurred and the king has been taken prisoner.
  The children are spotted by soldiers, so they quickly draw pictures of a purple octopus and some diving gear. The children put on their helmet, air tanks, and swimming fins and then the octopus takes them deep under water to an ancient city, where they find another crayon, a yellow one this time. The children then swim away as quickly as they can and head for land once more.
   Using the map, the children travel long distances to collect all the crayons that are shown on the old king’s map. All the while the king’s enemies pursue them relentlessly.
   This magical wordless tale carries on where Aaron Becker’s first book, Journey, left of. The story can be enjoyed as a stand-alone tale or as part of a bigger narrative. Readers of all ages will delight in sharing the adventure that the two children have. Children who cannot yet read can follow the story without needing any help; and readers who are already excellent readers will love the way this book gives them the freedom to craft their own story for a change.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet

Since I started reviewing books I have noticed that publishers, authors and illustrators have been finding ways to create interesting alphabet books that can appeal to readers of various ages. We still see simple "A is for Apple" type alphabet books, but we also find more sophisticated books in this genre on the shelves as well. Today's poetry book is actually a combination of poems and nonfiction text, and it looks at many aspects of African American history and culture.

D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American AlphabetD Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet
Nancy I. Sanders
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Poetry and nonfiction picture book
For ages 6 to 9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2007,978-1585362936
Often it is hard to get a real feel for the story of the African American people. We get bits and pieces of stories from biographies and histories, but the picture is a fragmented one. Now, thanks to this book, readers can start to fill in some of the gaps. They will read about the Buffalo Soldiers and African American cowboys. They will read about the African Americans who fought in the American Revolutionary War. They will discover that America's music, literary, and art scene was greatly influenced by the Harlem Renaissance – a time in the 1920s when African American poets, writers, musicians, and artists came together in New York City to create music, art, and books.
   For each letter of the alphabet the author of this special alphabet book describes some aspect of African American culture or history. Some of the entries cover topics that will be familiar, such as "A is for abolitionists" and "L is for Little Rock Nine." Other entries will allow readers to see that there is so much more to the African American story. There are scientists, musicians, artists, leaders, athletes, and so many other people who have left their mark on our world. African Americans have been an important part of our society and we need to remember and be thankful for all that they have done and achieved.
   For each entry in this celebratory book, readers will find an illustration, a short poem, and a longer piece of descriptive prose. The book can therefore be enjoyed on several levels ; the poems and artwork suiting younger readers, and the longer more involved sections of text being suitable for older readers.
  This is one in a growing collection of alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press. Other subjects covered include space, China, cats, dogs, Canada, and Ireland.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys who I played with decided to form a boy's only 'club.' I was told very firmly that I could not be a member and that I should "buzz off!" Needless to say, my feelings were very hurt by this rejection.

When I read today's picture book I was reminded of that time when being excluded made me feel so alone. This book explores what it is like to be left out, and we see how some children deal with the problem.

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants
Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4814-1647-4
Having a little pet elephant in your life is wonderful, but an elephant is such an unusual pet that sometimes it can cause a problem because you “never quite fit in.” The truth of the matter is that no one else has a pet elephant. All the neighbors have dogs, cats, fish and birds. In other words, they have traditional pets.
   Not fitting in exactly what happens to one little boy and his pet elephant. Every day the little boy takes his pet for a walk, and when the elephant refuses to cross the cracks in the pavement because he is afraid of them, the little boy picks up the elephant and carries him across the cracks because that is what friends do for each other; they help each other out.
   One day the little boy dresses himself and his elephant in red scarves and they head out for Number 17 because it is Pet Club Day. When they get to the little green house they see that there is a notice on the door and it reads: “Strictly no elephants.” The boy and his pet are truly upset by this and they walk off in the rain, sadness resting on their shoulders. Then they see a girl who is sitting on a bench. The girl has a skunk in her lap and the boy learns that the other children don’t want her to join their games either. The boy then suggests that they should start their own pet club, one that will be all inclusive.
   With sweetness and gentle humor this picture shows children how painful it is to be left out when you are different in some way. Thankfully, the little boy in this story is not as alone as he thinks he is, and he and his new friend find a solution to their problem.
   Children will love the charming illustrations and cunning animal characters in this book, and grownups may find that odd questions start popping up around the dinner table. Questions like, “Can I get a pet elephant?” and “Where can you buy a pet skunk?”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Over the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and in my household preparations have already begun for the big day. Shopping lists have been made, a menu has been planned, and firewood has been chopped. We plan on doing our shopping tomorrow and then all we have to do is wait for our  out of town guest to arrive and cook the meal.

Being able to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family is what makes the day special for me, which is why I chose to share today's poetry title with you. The poem is more than a hundred years old and yet it still resonates with readers of all ages. It is a wonderful celebration of the times that we spend with the people we love, and the little life adventures that we share with them.

Over the River and Through the WoodOver the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem
Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Christopher Manson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841918
A little boy and his parents are setting out for his grandparent’s house on a cold snowy day riding in a sleigh pulled by a "dapple-grey" horse. Bells jingle and as they drive on the well-known road, and the boy sees children playing on the ice, a boy fishing on the ice, a man pulling a load of firewood up a hill, and the blacksmith working in his forge.
   Best of all, the boy soon sees "Grandmother’s cap" and it isn’t long before the family is sitting down together for a delicious Thanksgiving feast.
   Lydia Maria Child wrote this poem in the mid 1800’s and it has remained a firm Thanksgiving favorite since that time. This beautifully illustrated version of the first six verses of the poem brings to life the special celebratory feel that we all enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. The illustrator also gives the reader an intimate look at what life was like in the country on a cold winter’s day in nineteenth century America. The richly colored and textured woodcuts beautifully complement the lyrical rhyming text.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Moletown

Every so often I come across a picture book that will appeal to both children and adults. Today's picture book is just such a title. It is mostly wordless, and the artwork is incredibly rich and detailed. Adults will see that the story is similar to our own human story, and they will appreciate how the moles in the tale come to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own environment. There is a cautionary note to the tale that children and adults will recognize and hopefully learn from.

Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4208-3
One day a mole set up house, underground of course, in the middle of a beautiful green meadow. At first he was alone but soon other moles arrived and they began digging homes for themselves as well. As the mole community grew, so did the mole’s technological advances. They invented machines that could convey loads of earth to the surface, and they built a digging device that could dig tunnels for the moles so that they did not have to do the hard manual labor themselves any longer. Soon several little mounds of earth were scattered across the meadow.
   It wasn’t long before the moles had created a whole world for themselves underground, complete with trains to convey moles around the town (that moved horizontally and vertically) and huge digging machines. The moles now had TVs, sound and gaming systems, telephones, and all kinds of other devices. The also had congested streets and overcrowding. Above ground the meadow was gone. In its place was a wasteland dotted with mounds, derricks, and clouds of filthy smoke. Only one small patch of grass remained.
   In this mostly wordless book Torben Kuhlmann explores how a society changes as it becomes more and more industrialized. For a while the quality of life in the town improves, but over time it degrades until the moles come to a point when something needs to be done.
   Children will love the cunning details in the artwork, and older readers will appreciate the meaningful environmental message that is conveyed in such a fresh way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Amazing Places

Most of the poems I read when I was young were story poems of some kind, or they described animals. Not many of the poems I encountered described places. Thankfully, these days poets for young people are exploring all kinds of topics in their writings, and today I bring you a collection of poems that take us to some of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States.

Amazing PlacesAmazing Places
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-60060-653-3
The United States is a huge country, a country where there are enormous mountain ranges, deep lakes, hot and dry deserts, muggy swamps, bustling cities, and huge forests. It is a place where people can visit museums full of works of art, and where stories from the past are told. It is a land where children and adults alike can visit places where they can play together and watch spectacles that dazzle them. It is a place where the beauty of nature is magnificent and awe inspiring.
   In this wonderful poetry picture book, readers will encounter an array of poems, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, that give us a picture of just a few of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States. Some of the places are man-made while others a gift from nature.
   We begin in Denali National Park in Alaska, where a mother and daughter are sitting by a campfire next to a lake. The reflection of mountains lies across the water as the mother, who when she was little “could build a fire / with sparks from rocks,” tells her daughter to bring her a stick. Then the mother reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a treat. It is time to toast some marshmallows.
   Later on in the book we visit the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas, and see a display that tells visitors about a man called Langston Hughes. Langston once was just a boy delivering newspapers in a small town, but he grew up to become a poet whose poems about “rainy sidewalks and “his dust of dreams,” would one day touch the minds and hearts of thousands of readers.
   Still further in the book we find ourselves sitting in seats at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. This is one of the most famous baseball parks in the world and the oldest in the Major League. Here a child and her grandfather “sip clam chowder / on a crisp fall night,” and then “cheer as a ball / takes off in flight.”
   In all, children who look at this book will visit fourteen places in the United States, all of which are unique and interesting in their own way. Poems written in a variety of styles by Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Linda Sue Park and others are accompanied by marvelous illustrations, and in the back of the book readers will find further information about the Amazing Places featured in the book.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sidewalk Flowers

Many of us are so busy, so wrapped up our lives, that we don't see the little gifts that life has to offer. We are so focused on ourselves and what we are doing that we don't take the time to connect with people we don't know. Why should we bother?

In today's picture book, which has won several awards over the last few weeks, we see how precious the little gifts are, and how vital it is to be aware of the people, and the animals, around us. The connections that we make with these individuals is important. This book is beautiful to look at, and its message will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-431-2
One day a father and his little daughter are walking home after doing the shopping. As they walk down the busy sidewalks in the city, the little girl sees a small flowering plant that is growing at the base of a pole. She picks one of the plant’s yellow flowers and then on she and her father walk.
   Further along she sees another flower, a purple one this time, growing out of a wall and she picks that. Near a bus stop there is a second yellow flower, which the little girl gathers up as her father talks on his cell phone. A little later the girl sees a flower that is growing near a stone lion and another pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk.
   The father and his daughter, who is now holding a bouquet of flowers, then walk into the park. The girl sees the body of a little bird lying in the path and she carefully places some of her precious flowers on the bird, her tribute to the life that was lost. She tucks flowers into the shoes of a homeless man who is sleeping on a bench, and places some under the collar of a dog who wants to be friends. With care the little girl leaves little gifts of flowers in her wake as she and her father make their way home.
  This incredibly special wordless picture book explores the way in which accidental flowers, flowers some people even consider weeds, can bring color and brightness to a city world. What is perhaps even more powerful is the way in which the little girl gives the flowers she picks to others. Some of the recipients of these gifts may not even notice the flowers, but their lives are brightened by them all the same. The world we see in the story is made better because the kind little girl choses to give things she loves to others.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe

Creating inventions that solve problems or meet a need is something we humans are good at doing. We have invented machines that transport us over long distances, that allow us to communicate over long distances, that heal our bodies when they are sick or damaged, and so much more. But what about those small problems that drive us crazy almost on a daily basis? Often we do not address these issues, and year after tear people still spend time trying to find missing shoes, and still spend hours trying to keep their gardens free of leaves.

In today's poetry title you will see how some people have chosen to take on these challenging problems, with excellent results.

Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe
Andrea Perry
Illustrated by Alan Snow
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2003, 978-0689830679
Every day we are confronted with problems that are infuriating and that take time to resolve. For example, many people lose one of their shoes when they are in a rush to get out of the house, which just happens to be the most inconvenient time to lose a shoe. They spend ages searching the house for that one, irritating, maddening shoe. Then there is the problem that afflicts children all over the world: Their parents insist on buying vegetables at the grocery store. Can nothing be done to stop this horrible behavior?
   Other people have problems that are associated with the work that they do. For example, zoo keepers have a unique problem. They love the animals in their care but no matter what they do the animals tend to create a stink. People won’t come and visit the zoo if “the caribou cage has a stench.”
   Luckily for people with lost shoes, too many veggies, and smelly zoo enclosures there are inventors out there who create devices (or provide services) that take care of these and many other problems. If you are afflicted with lostshoeitis, then all you need is a Sure-footed Shoe Finder and all your problems go away. All you have to do it to place “the shoe that is missing its mate” in the device and it will set off “on its shoe-finding search” on your behalf. Using its Foot-Odor-Sensitive Vent it seeks out the missing shoe.
   To get rid of unwanted veggies in your family grocery cart all you need to do is to spray it with Veggie Be Gone, a “produce repellent you simply spray on.” What could be easier! Once a cart is sprayed with this ingenious stuff any vegetable that is dropped into the cart will “bounce right back out.”
   Zookeepers need not despair about the niff, pong, or stench that comes from their animal’s enclosures. All they need to do is to ring the Stink Stoppers, a tireless team of specialists who will fight all bad smells “until all are ex-stinked.” Armed with cleaning equipment galore they get to work. They “wipe down each walrus again and again,” and will “brush tiger teeth” and “trim hippo nails.” These fearless cleaners will have any zoo smelling sweet and clean in no time at all.
   Children and adults alike are going to laugh out loud as they read the poems in this delightful book. Comical inventions solve twelve problems that readers will immediately identify with. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Crumbunny to eat the crumbs that we leave in, around, and under our beds. And yes, of course we would love to have a machine that could really suck up all the fallen leaves in our yard every autumn.
   With wonderfully funny rhyming verse and amusing illustrations, this is a book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Poetry Friday with M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet

Happy almost Halloween everyone. In honor of tomorrow I decided to review a poetry picture book that celebrates monsters of all kinds. Halloween and monsters seem to go together!What is interesting about this title, and the others in this book series, is that all the poems in the book are accompanied by sections of text which gives readers further information about the topics explored in the book. If you have fondness for monsters then this is definitely a book for you.

M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures AlphabetM is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Gerald Kelly
Picture Book and Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 12
Sleeping Bear Press, 2014, 978-1-58536-818-1
All around the world there are stories about creatures that are beautiful, magical, monstrous, terrifying, or that are some combination of all of these things. Russia’s Baba Yaga is a horrific witch who flies around in a mortar using the pestle as a “steering wheel.” She seeks out children when she eats, and she lives in a horrible house that sits on chicken legs. In Scotland, a plesiosaur-type creature is said to inhabit Loch Ness, and though many people think that Nessie is a not real, many others love to believe that she really lives in the cold, dark depths of the lake.
    These are just two of the “Fantastic Creatures” who live on the pages of this splendid alphabet book. The author takes us through the alphabet, pairing a monster, creature or being with every letter of the alphabet. For each topic, readers are given an illustration, a poem, and a section of text describing the creature featured on that page.
   Some of the creatures we meet are found only in one place. Nessie is only found in Scotland, though sea serpents are said to live in other places as well. The Inuit people tell of Amarok, which is a fearsome wolf that will prey on any animal that is foolish enough to venture into the forest at night. The state of New Jersey even has its own monster, known as the Jersey Devil. The creature is said to have “batlike wings, a forked tail, and a piercing scream.”
   Other creatures are found all over the world, creatures like vampires, dragons, zombies and werewolves.
   Most of the beings and monsters that we meet in this book are, without a doubt, quite terrifying and are often dangerous to humans, but there are a few that are peaceable and maybe even friendly. Unicorns are usually portrayed as being beautiful ethereal animals that have “magical powers to cleanse poisoned water and heal sickness.” Elves can be friendly, but in some cultures they are often mischievous and when roused to anger they can be unpleasant. The phoenix is also a benign creature that lives out its bizarre life cycle quietly. It is often considered to be a “sign of renewal, / symbol courageous.”
   This splendid book, one in a series of alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, can be enjoyed on many levels. Little children will enjoy looking at the beautiful artwork as the poems are read to them, while older children will be intrigued by the sections of text that are full of lore and stories about the creatures that are featured in the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with an Idea?

A few months ago a friend of mine and I came up with an idea. It is a wonderful, scary, not-sure-of-we-can-do-it kind of an idea, but we have decided to pursue it anyway. Today's picture book explores how ideas grow from nothing, and how we sometimes don't really know what to do with the new ideas that we have. We see, by watching the little boy character in the story, how one can grow to love an idea, even when we are intimidated by it.

This is a book for everyone, on that is full of wisdom, humor, and truth.

What Do You Do With an Idea?What do you do with an Idea?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For all ages
Compendium Inc, 2014, 978-1-938298-07-3
One day a child has an idea, and out of nowhere there the idea is. The child does not know where the idea came from, why it is here, and what he is supposed to do with it, so he walks away from the idea, and acts like the idea has nothing to do with him.
   The idea, which looks like an egg on legs wearing a crown, is a determined little thing. It may be “strange and fragile,” but it does not give up on the child. The idea follows the little boy who, worried about people might say about the idea, tries to hide it away. The boy tries to pretend that the idea never came into his life in the first place.
   The thing is that the idea has come into his life, and soon he realizes that his life is “better and happier” because the idea is there. In spite of himself, the boy begins to care about his idea and he starts to protect and nurture it. All this attention makes the idea grow and thrive, and the little boy’s life grows richer as well.
   In this remarkable book a powerful text is paired with gorgeous illustrations to give readers of all ages a picture of what happens after an idea comes into the world. You cannot undo an idea once it is there so you have to learn how to live with it, love it and embrace it, even if it is strange and even if it scares you a little.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of 28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world

When I was growing up my parents bought me a book that was called something like "On this day in history." I loved the book because I could open it on any day of the year and find out what interesting event happened on that day through history. Today's poetry title reminded me a little of that book, though I think this title is more meaningful in many ways. I say this because it carefully explores events that took place on only twenty-eight days, and the information that we are given about those days is, in effect, focused. The narrative also describes events in history that many people might know about, and it gives voice to the accomplishments of African Americans, accomplishments that are still not getting their due in many history books.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world
Charles R. Smith Jr
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
Roaring Brook Press, 2015, 978-1-59643-820-0
Throughout history there have been moments that have had an enormous impact on what came after.  Often the moments we learn about feature white people, the stories of black people all too often being forgotten or removed from the record. In this very special title the author tells us about twenty-eight days when black people did things that left a lasting impression on the world long after that moment was over.
   The first day described in the book is the day when a free African-American man called Crispus Attucks was shot by British soldiers on March 5, 1770.  Crispus was a patriot who “struck / the first blow for liberty” on that day, standing up to the redcoats and getting shot for his audacity. He was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War.
   By day nine we have moved forward in time to the First World War. Here a poem tells the story of Henry Johnson, who fought off a platoon of Germans single-handedly to protect a friend. Henry was one of the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment that served with courage with the French military. Though he was shot and injured, Henry kept on fighting until the enemy finally withdrew.
   For day ten we are presented with a eulogy which tells the story of Madame C.J. Walker. Madame Walker was the first free child to be born in her family, but for many years her life was incredibly difficult and full of hardship. Due to the stress of her life, Madame Walker started to lose her hair when she was only in her mid-twenties. Wanting to look her best, Madame Walker looked for a beauty product that would help her, and she then went on to found a company that made and sold beauty products that were created just for African-American women. Madame Walker worked very hard and her company became so successful that she became the richest black woman in America.
   Day 16 brings us to December 1, 1955, the day when Rosa Park decided enough was enough. When ordered to “move to the back” of a bus, Rosa refused, and her act of defiance inspired others to peacefully demonstrate against the Jim Crow laws that made life so hard for African- Americans.
   Poems, quotations, and sections of nonfiction text are brought together in this book to give readers of all ages a sense of how black people, even though they have been marginalized, have had a big impact on world history. To supplement the poems and quotations, additional material has been added to the pages for every day, providing readers with background information about the event or person being featured.  Some of the people mentioned in the book will be known to readers, people such as Martha Luther King Jr., Barak Obama, and Malcom X. Others will be new to readers and they will get to “meet” all kinds of people from history who were athletes, astronauts, scientists, politicians and more.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bug in a Vacuum

Most of us, once in a while, experience a change in our life that has a profound effect on us. We lose someone we love, are forced to leave a job or a home, or get sick. For a time everything that once felt safe and familiar does not feel safe at all and we are temporarily adrift.

In today's picture book we meet a bug who gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner. To say that this is a terrible experience for the bug is an understatement. It is a life changing disaster, and the bug goes through a series of emotional upheavals as it tries to come to terms with what has happened to it. As they read this book readers will come to appreciate that any drastic change can tip anyone, even a bug, over the edge into a very scary place.

Bug in a VacuumBug in a Vacuum
Melanie Watt
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Books, 2015, 978-1-77049-645-3
One day a bug decides to explore a house and it flies in a door. It buzzes through the bathroom, past the kitchen, across the bedroom and then finally alights on a globe that is sitting on a desk in the sitting room. What the bug does not know is that someone in the house is wielding a vacuum cleaner, and this person creeps up to where the bug is resting, and sucks the bug up using the vacuum cleaner’s wand.
   Now the bug is inside the canister of the vacuum cleaner and it has no idea where it is. At first the bug thinks that it is in a wonderful place. Then is starts to get suspicious when it realizes that the place it is in is dark and very quiet. The bug then decides that it is in a dream and it pinches itself so that it will wake up. The pinch hurts and convinces the bug that, in fact, it is not dreaming. It really is in a dark, creepy place all on its own.
   Next the bug determines that its current situation is all a big mistake. It calls out that “you’ve vacuumed the wrong bug!” It even promises (in writing) that it will “avoid my favorite handouts” if the vacuum will let it go.
   After trying to bargain its way out if its dire predicament the bug loses its temper. Now it is angry and it starts to shout very loudly. When all its shouting gets it nowhere, the bug sinks into the depths of despair. “I’m a prisoner forever” it says. Its situation is “hopeless.”
   The bug then decides that all it can do is to accept what has happened and “make the best of things.” What the bug doesn’t know is that the vacuum cleaner itself is about to experience a big change, and the bug will be going along for the ride.
   This unique, often amusing book take a look at the stages a bug goes through after experiencing an unexpected change in its life. It has lost its freedom and is trapped in a lonely dark place, and it experiences a range of emotions, which are collectively known as the five stages of grief.
   Readers are going to thoroughly enjoy seeing how the bug copes (and sometimes doesn’t cope) with what has happened to it, and they will enjoy seeing how the bug’s story ends

Friday, October 16, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Pieces: a Year in poems and quilts

Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts
I used to make quilts and loved taking dozens of small pieces of fabric and turning them into a beautiful piece of art that people could snuggle under on a cold day. I was therefore naturally drawn to this poetry book, and was amazed to see how the author created picture quilts that so perfectly complemented her image-rich poems.

Pieces: a Year in poems and quilts
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2003, 978-0060559601
Writers and illustrators have, over the centuries, found many ways to describe and celebrate the seasons. Poetry is often a format that writers are drawn to using, as the lyrical nature of poems seems to so beautifully ‘fit’ what they are trying to say about the seasons. Often these poems are paired with artwork or photographs that help encapsulate the image or feeling that the poet is trying to capture.  Anna Grossnickle Hines has done something a little different. She pairs the poems she has written with photos of quilts that she has created, and the effect is quite astonishing.
   The poet begins in spring with a poem called Ballet. In the blank verse poem she describes how a crow lands on a cedar branch and how the weight of the bird causes the branch to bounce and the bird to dance. A beautiful quilt shows the crow about to land on the branch, rectangles and triangles of sewn fabric in tones of green forming the fronds at the ends of the branches.
   Green plays a big role in another poem, Do you know Green? Here we see a scene that perfectly captures the colors and textures of spring. The poem describes how “Green sleeps in the winter,” until, with the warming of the sun it, “comes… / tickling the tips / of twiggy tree fingers.”
   In summer we see cows in a field. With a “Scrunch, / crunch, / munch,” they eat their lunch, their tails twitching. Summer is also a time when there is “a mass of wild confusion” of flowers blooming. The “rousing-raucous” celebration of colors and scents stirs us “to jubilation.” During the warms days, hummingbirds “zip zip” and “sip sip” amongst the flowers of the honeysuckle vine.
   Then the tone of the poems and the colors of the quilts shift for fall. Now the green has been replaced with reds, golds, and rusts. We see leaves drifting down singly or in groups, “swirling / and whirling / twisting / and twirling.” Other leaves “skip-a-dip” and others “just drop / flop.”
   Winter brings the greys and blacks of tree branch silhouettes, the pale yellow of a winter sun, and the whites and blues of snowfall. We read about how sometimes, when the author is sleeping at night, “outside / the world is turning / white.”
   At the back of the book the author explains how she created the remarkable quilts that illustrate her poems. We learn how much time and careful effort goes into creating the quilts, and how the author designs them. We learn too that often seams have to be taken out and redone to get the effect the author is looking for.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sloth Slept On

All too often, when we don't know what something is, we simply walk away. We can't be bothered to find out. We are too busy doing more 'important' things. In today's picture book readers meet some children who encounter an animal that they cannot identify. They could walk away from, it but they don't. Instead they try to find out what it is and then they do their best to help the animal.

Sloth Slept OnSloth Slept On
Frann Preston-Gannon
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sterling, 2015, 978-1-4549-1611-6
One day a group of children discover that there is a strange looking animal in a tree in the backyard. The children ask the animal its name, and they ask it what it is doing in their tree, but the animal does not respond at all because it is fast asleep on its branch.
   Wanting to know what the animal is, the children put in in their little red wagon and they “set off to find some answers.” They ask Dad about the animal but he is too busy to answer their questions. They look in books to try to find out what their new friend is, but find nothing. They know what is isn’t, but what it is remains a mystery. The children even imagine that he might be an astronaut, a pirate or a knight. Then one of the children makes a discovery, and they learn that that their new animal friend is very special indeed.
   With touches of pictorial humor throughout her story, the author of this book gives her readers a mystery that they will enjoy sharing. In the artwork we are given clues to the animal’s identity, so that, if we are looking hard enough, we know what the animal is before the children do. This memorable book comes to a close with an ending that is sure to delight readers young and old.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
When I was six my parents and I moved to an island where families were big. When our neighbors had a family gathering so many people turned up that the party would spill out of the house and into the garden. My immediate family was small, but it was not long before we were 'adopted' by other families, and we too started having big gatherings that were wonderful affairs.

Today's poetry title celebrates families, and it is full of poems that are tender and amusing.

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Poetry Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2001, 978-0316362511
Families come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as “One and another,” and they can be big enough to include dear friends who are so close that they too are family. Humans are not the only ones who have families either. “A pair like a kanga and roo is a family,” as are “A calf and a cow that go moo.”
   In this heartwarming picture poetry book Mary Ann Hoberman celebrates families, bringing readers a collection of poems that explore relationships and connections. She begins with a little boy who tells us about his baby brother. We can hear the love in this child’s voice as he tells us that his brother is “beautiful” and how “when he laughs, his dimple shows.” Another child tells us about the walks that he takes with his father. Often his father talks about “how it was when he was small” when he used to take walks with his dad, and how his dad took walks with his dad. Four generations of children in this family have gone down to the beach to watch the ships go by.
   In another poem a little boy introduces us to all his grandparents. We hear how one grandma bakes him birthday cakes and “rubs my tummy when it aches.” His other grandma knits clothes for him, and when he got the chicken pox “She let me have her button box.” One of his grandfathers, the stout one, is teaching him how to yodel; and his tall and thin grandfather is good at basketball.
   In a wonderful poem called Relatives we get to meet one little boy’s colorful family when they are all gathered together in his home. Each one has a comment to make about the boy, and they all talk “as if I couldn’t hear.” He hears about how he has got “Uncle Perry’s nose,” “He looks a tiny bit too thin,” and “has his mother’s knobbly knees.” By the end of the discussion the poor little boy wonders “who I really am.”
  As the pages are turned we hear about special moments in children’s lives that are touched by the actions of their relatives. There is the little girl whose mother cares for her lovingly when the little girl is sick, and then there is the child whose father now lives in a different house and has “another family.” Every time the child and the father get together they have a visit full of happiness, but when the father drives away the child always feels the loss.
   Throughout this book wonderful verse is paired with artwork to give us a taste of moments in children’s lives that are sometimes sweet and sometimes funny.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Lizard from the park

When one is something of a loner, making a friend can be a very big deal indeed. That friend can become the center of one's life, and a much needed presence. In today's picture you will meet a little boy who makes a very special friend indeed, and who then discovers that this friend creates some rather challenging problems.

Lizard from the ParkLizard from the park
Mark Pett
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4424-8321-7
Every week day Leonard walks home from school by himself, so it is not surprising that on that particular spring afternoon Leonard is walking home through the park on his own. In the deepest and darkest part of the park Leonard finds a very large egg, which he puts into his backpack and takes to his apartment home.
   For the rest of the afternoon Leonard plays with the egg and that night he even sleeps with it. The following morning the egg starts to “jiggle” and “crack” and then a little green lizard emerges. Leonard decides to call the lizard Buster and from that day on the two are inseparable. Leonard shows Buster all his favorite places in the city and they have a wonderful time together.
   Not surprisingly little Buster grows, but what Leonard does not expect that Buster keeps on growing until he is so huge that even a disguise doesn’t cover up the fact that he is very large and very green. Buster is going to have to stay in Leonard’s bedroom and this makes the lizard unhappy.  When Buster outgrows Leonard’s bedroom, Leonard has to reassess. Something has to be done about Buster.
    In this clever and charming picture book we see how a little boy develops a very special relationship with an animal, but in the end he realizes that his new friend cannot go on living with him. What makes this book especially clever is that we are given clues throughout the book that Leonard is not alone and that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who knows exactly how he is feeling.
   In this book beautifully atmospheric illustrations and a powerfully simple story are brought together to give readers a memorable story experience.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

It isn't often that I come across biographies that are written using poems. I am sure such books present the writer with a unique set of challenges. The author of today's poetry title rose to the challenge beautifully and created a book that is powerful and memorable.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6531-9
Fannie was born in 1917, the daughter of sharecroppers who lived and labored in Sunflower Country in Mississippi. Though the sharecroppers were technically free, their lives were terribly hard, for “Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name.” Fannie was only six when she started working in the cotton fields with her family members. Though they picked fifteen tons of cotton each season, they could never “get ahead” because “the scale was always tipped / in the owner’s favor.”
   Even as a young child, Fannie could see that there was no equality in her world. Whites had food, clothes and everything they needed, while blacks worked hard every day and still went hungry. Fannie’s mother taught her daughter that even if they had less than the whites, they were not lesser people. She wanted her youngest child to “respect yourself as a Black child.”
   Worn out by hard work, Fannie’s father died before she twenty-two and many of her brothers and sisters moved north where they hoped to find better paying work. Fannie would have joined them but her mother needed to be taken care of, so she stayed in the land of Jim Crow. Fannie got married and she and her husband did their best to get by, picking cotton in the fields, and selling homemade bootleg liquor.
   In 1962 one of Fannie’s friends told her that some young men were coming to their local church to talk to the congregation about voter registration. Not a single person in the congregation had ever cast a ballot but that did not stop eighteen of them, including Fannie, from volunteering to go to sign up and register. Fannie never imagined that the simple act of going to register to vote would have a huge impact on her life, but it did. The white establishment would not tolerate such behavior, and blacks who tried to sign up were punished over and over again. Fannie lost her job and her home; she was shot at; she had to move from place to place, and then, finally, she decided that enough was enough. Fannie was going to speak out and do her part to bring about change.

   In this memorable picture book biography, powerful poems bring Fannie Lou Hamer’s story to life. We see how she struggled, and how she stood up for what she believed in, even when it was dangerous to do so. The poems contain direct quotes from Fannie Lou Hamer, and at the back of the book an author’s note contains more information about this incredible woman’s life. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Lucky Author has a Dog

I am very lucky to have not one but two dogs in my life, and since I work at home they are my constant companions. They don't mind when I read reviews and stories out loud. In fact they are wonderful listeners! They don't mind when I mutter and fuss when things are not going well, and will press their noses into my hand when they feel that I need a little attention. They are wonderful work mates, which is why I was immediately drawn to today's picture book. Anyone who has a dog in their life is lucky, but I think we authors really need our dogs.

A Lucky Author Has a DogA Lucky Author has a dog
Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Steven Henry
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-51876-5
Every morning a dog up wakes its person with a kiss. The dog’s person is a little different from other people because she is an author, and authors tend to stay at home to work, which means that the dog has a companion all day long. The dog is therefore very lucky indeed.
   The interesting thing is that the dog is not the only one who is lucky. The author is lucky too because she has the dog. Dogs are wonderful partners who understand that what the author is doing is important even if the dog really “isn’t exactly sure what an author does.” The dog is an “encouraging friend” who is always there, and the dog knows when it is time for the author to take a break. Walks are good for the dog, but they are also good for the author as well because new sights, smells and sounds help feed a mind that is stuck and frustrated. In fact, a dog can really show an author “how to look and listen the way a dog does,” which can make all the difference in the world when you are a wordsmith and storyteller.
   In this unique picture book we find out what the life of an author is like, and we also come to appreciate that being an author’s dog is not a job to be taken lightly. As the narrative carries us through the day we see that the relationship between the author and her friend is special because both partners know that they are lucky to have each other.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Double Happiness

Moving to a new home can be hard for children. They often have to leave friends and family members behind and it can be scary not knowing what your new life is going to be like.

In this delightful poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell the story of two children who are moving away from their home in San Francisco and going to a new house many miles away in a different state.

Double Happiness
Nancy Tupper Ling
Illustrated by Alina Chau
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2015, 978-1-4521-2918-1
Gracie and her brother Jake are leaving their home in San Francisco and they are going to live in a new place far away from family members, and far from their “city house / by the trolley tracks.” Gracie is not happy about this change but her brother is excited about the prospect of having a new room with all kinds of ‘cool’ things in it.
   Before they leave, the children’s grandmother, Nai Nai, gives each of the children a box in which to put four items, treasures that will lead them “from this home / to your new.” The first item to go into Gracie’s box is her Nai Nai’s panda toy, which Nai Nai gives her. On the bus to the airport Jake finds a lucky penny, which goes into his box. As Gracie gets off the bus at the airport a eucalyptus leaf drifts down in front of her. The leaf is “the perfect treasure to remind me of home” so it is placed carefully into her box.
   As the journey to their new home unfolds, we join Gracie and Jake in their adventures as they visit the plane’s cockpit, try not to fall asleep, and then see their new home “from the sky.”  With their happiness boxes by their sides, the children experience change that is both painful and exciting.
   In this unique book the journey two children take is told in a series of poems. Some of the poems are from Gracie’s point of view, and some are from her exuberant brother’s. Some of them are told using both ‘voices,’ which beautifully capture how different the children are.
   Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by beautiful and emotive illustrations that capture the connection that the children have with their former home, and that also explore the hopes and fears that they have about their new one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Welcome Autumn!

Autumn is finally here and I am really looking forward to cooler temperatures, colorful trees, sitting by the fire on Sundays, and getting out my knitting needles and yarn. Mind you, yesterday it was eighty degrees here in southern Oregon, which made the day feel more like summer than autumn, but one can hope that this situation will change soon.

Over the years I have reviewed many books about autumn. Some are stories, while others are nonfiction titles about this wonderful season. Do visit the Through the Looking Glass Autumn Days Book Collection page to find books that have a delightful autumn flavor.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Rufus the Writer

The amazing thing about writing stories is that the writing process ends up being a gift to the person who creates the story, and the story itself is a gift to those who read it. In today's picture book you will meet a boy who loves to write stories, and who happily gives his stories away to the people he cares about.

Rufus the WriterRufus the Writer
Elizabeth Bram
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-37853-6
One day Rufus is lying in the grass looking up at the summer sky when he gets an idea. Instead of having the usual summer lemonade stand he will have a story stand. Rufus runs indoors to gather up what he needs, and he sets up a table outdoors, which he covers with a cloth. He makes a sign for his story stand and lays out paper, pencils, and colors. Rufus then goes and changes his clothes. After all, a writer has to look the part!
   Millie and Walter come by and they invite Rufus to go swimming with them. He explains that he has to take care of his story stand. Walter asks to buy a story and when he asks what the fee will be Rufus tells the little boy to bring him “a special shell from the beach.” After his friends leave, Rufus writes his fist story stand tale, one that will be perfect just for Walter.
   Rufus is working on illustrating his first story when his friend Sandy comes up with some wonderful news. His cat Rainbow has had kittens. Rufus offers to write a story for Sandy so that he can buy one of the kittens. Sandy says that Rufus can have the kitten for free, but Rufus still insists on writing a story in payment, and this is what he does. He writes a story all about a man who discovers that cats are far more important that things.
   The next story Rufus works on is for his sister Annie, who is going to be having her birthday the next day. A story will be a perfect gift; a personal gift unlike any other.
   In this charming picture book we meet a boy who understands how precious stories are. We watch as he carefully crafts tales that will suit the people he is writing them for. Children will enjoy seeing how Rufus’ stories are unique, and how each one has its own flavor, voice and illustrative style.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Getting used to a new school can be very unnerving. I remember how I felt when I moved from my familiar elementary school to the big high school. I was suddenly in school with much older youngsters (the seventeen and eighteen year olds were huge). I had to figure out how to get to many different classrooms, I had more homework, and I had to get used to being with children I did not know at all.

Today's poetry title explores what just such a transition is like for a girl who is going to middle school for the first time. The poems take us through her first middle school year and we share the may low and high points that she experiences.

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
Swimming Upstream: Middle School PoemsKristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Debbie Tilley
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion, 2002, 978-0618152506
It is September again and a new school year at a new school has begun. For some it is time full of dread, and for others it is a time that they have been looking forward to. Before the first bell rings, a girl sees friends whom she knew when she was in elementary school. Some look the same, and some have changed over the summer. Then the bell rings and “everyone scatters, / each of us going / our separate ways.”
    Now the confusion begins. A locker won’t open, she gets lost, she is late because she is lost, and by the time she finds her homeroom all she wants to do is to hide in “the last row.” Then, when the bell rings again, the confusion starts all over as she swims “upstream” against the flow of students to get to her next class. As the crazy day unfolds, even the inside of the girl’s locker start to look comfortingly cozy. At least the locker is “a space all my own.”
   At lunchtime she has no idea where to sit. Her friends from last year have changed and now there all these new people that she has to deal with, people she doesn’t know at all. She sees Margo, but Margo doesn’t see her and soon is gone. Then she sees Kori, the friend from second grade who moved away but who is now back. A familiar face at last!
   Middle school is different from elementary school on so many levels. Not only is it bigger, louder, and very confusing, but she is soon loaded down with homework, textbooks, and a musical instrument.
   As the days go by, some things, like math, friends, and books from the library, make her days brighter and better. Other things, like the flute that refuses to play properly, the gossips, and the snobs, make the days worse. Middle school is a very yes and no, good and bad, sort of place.

   Using a series of wonderful, relatively short, poems, the author of this book takes us into the world of a new middle school student. We follow as she falls for a boy, takes and aces tests, learns phrases in French and Spanish from her friends, and learns how to find her way around what, at first, is a very alien environment. With humor, candor and sensitivity, the author gives us slices of a year in the girl’s life, and we are left knowing that though there were hard times, she comes out of it stronger and happier than she went in. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way

When a group of friends get together to plan an outing of some kind it can, sometimes, be very hard to get those friends to agree on what they are going to do. One person wants to go shopping, another wants to go to a museum, yet another thinks that they should go for a hike. Today's picture book shows us what happens when two friends cannot agree about how to spend their day. Readers will be delighted when they see how this story works out.

Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way
Boom Snot Twitty This Way That WayDoreen Cronin
Illustrated by Renata Liwska
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin Random House, 2015, 978-0-670-78577-3
Boom the bear, Twitty the robin, and Snot the snail are all ready “to find the perfect spot to spend the day.” Boom is ready to set off “this way,” Twitty wants to go “that way,” and Snot, well Snot doesn’t say anything other than “Hmmm.”
   Boom says that he has got everything he needs to spend the day playing on the sand and in the water at the beach. Twitty has brought her hiking boots, binoculars, camera and rope so that she can go hiking in the mountains. Snot has brought snacks.
   Snot asks her friends what they want to do when they get to their perfect places and Boom and Twitty tell her. Then Boom and Twitty start to argue until Boom is hungry and Twitty is tired. It is only then that the friends, for friends they are even when they are not agreeing with each other, realize that Snot is missing.
   This sweetly funny book reminds children that even if your friends are not exactly like you, you can, if you make the effort, find common ground so that everyone is happy. After all, what you do when you are together does not really matter that much. What matters is that you are together, in each other’s company. Children will love the way in which Snot, the quiet one, is the friend who makes the right choice about where the perfect place is.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Poems in the Attic

When I was a child my Aunt D used to tell me stories about the childhood that she and my father shared in India. I love those stories because they helped me better understand who my father was and why he grew up to become such a thoughtful, bookish man who was fascinated by people.

In today's poetry title you will meet a little girl who gets to know her mother better by reading a collection of poems that her mother wrote when she was a child. The litter girl finds out about the adventures that her mother, had and about the challenges that she faced. The free verse and Japanese tanka poems that cover the pages in this book give readers the opportunity to shift between the child of the present and the child of the past.

Poems in the AtticPoems in the Attic
Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
Poetry Picture Book
For ages
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-62014-027-7
One day a seven-year-old girl goes into the attic in her grandmother’s house to explore. She finds a cedar box full of poems that her mother wrote when she was seven years old. As the daughter of a military man, Mama moved around a lot, and she had many memorable experiences. Now her daughter can read about these experiences in her mother’s poems.
   She reads about how her mama, when she lived in California, went to the beach with her father to see the Grunion Run. Together Mama and her father saw “slim fish, silver as new dimes” wriggling onto the beach where they laid their eggs.
   She reads about how Mama and Grandma made paper bag luminaries when they lived in Mexico, and how they used the bags, with their “scalloped” tops and happy painted faces, to decorate the path leading up to their adobe home. Grandma even teaches the little girl the “kind of magic she and Mama used to make / every December, in New Mexico.” Through their craft activity they have a wonderful time together connecting with the past.
   Looking through a photo album the little girl see a picture of her mother with a snowman “that stands taller than she.” The child also reads her mother’s poem, in which Mama describes how she used the skies her father gave her to shuffle around her back yard in the snow. In her dreams she was “flying downhill.”
   Often Mama’s father was away from the family for months, and when they lived in Colorado Mama had to bring a photo of her father to school for Bring Your Dad Day because he was away. The little girl is sure that Mama must have missed her father very much during those long separations.
   When she reads her mother’s poem describing how she and her family members went canoeing when they lived in Virginia, the little girl understands why her mother has so many pictures of kayaks and canoes on their walls at home.  
   In this remarkable book every spread gives readers a free verse poem that captures the little girl’s feelings as she gets to know her mother through her poems. On the facing page readers will find her mother’s poems. The mother’s poems are written in the Japanese tanka format, which use five lines. There are five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven syllables in the second, fourth, and fifth lines.
   It is fascinating to see how Nikki Grimes uses poems to tell a story that is powerful and poignant, and that celebrates the connection that a child shares with her mother; a connection that reaches back into the past.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

Many children are eager to meet Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. They are curious to see what these marvelous characters are like, and perhaps to even petition them for more presents, chocolate eggs, and money. In today's picture book you will meet Cat, a feline who is not content with getting things from these characters. Cat wants more; he wants to do their job for them and become the hero of the moment.

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-525-42774-2
Cat has lost a tooth and like all self-respecting people (and cats), he puts his tooth under his pillow so that the tooth fairy will come. In the morning Cat finds a coin under his pillow, but he is not happy because he was hoping that he would get to meet the tooth fairy. Cat, who is a very determined fellow and who likes scheming, decides that he is going to find a way to get the tooth fairy to come back. He does not have another tooth to leave under his pillow, so he puts the tooth of comb there instead.
   Not surprisingly, the tooth fairy does not come. Shame on cat for thinking he could trick her! Cat is scowling at the tooth from the comb when the doorbell rings. When he opens the door, Cat finds that there are two packages and an envelope on the doorstep. The envelope contains a letter from the tooth fairy. She commends Cat for trying the comb tooth trick, and then says that if he helps her “with a few deliveries” it might be possible for them to meet face to face.
   In the larger box Cat finds a tooth fairy costume, and in the smaller box he finds someone, Mouse, who is going to help him. It would appear that Cat is not the only one to try the comb tooth trick on the tooth fairy. Mouse did the same thing.
   Cat and Mouse are given the job of retrieving three teeth for the tooth fairy, but the jobs turn out to be a lot trickier than they imagined it would be. Not only are the retrievals difficult, but Cat and Mouse have to figure out how to work together!
   Once again Cat, who is naughty sometimes but who is also very lovable, is given the chance to take on a new role. Cat likes to think that he is pretty sneaky, but it turns out that this time there is someone around who is even sneakier than he is.

   Throughout the book the narrative is told in the form of a conversation between Cat and a hidden reader. This interesting format, and the wonderfully expressive illustrations, makes this a picture book that is sure to delight readers of all ages. In addition to exploring the nature of cooperation, it offers up a reminder that one should never try to pull a fast on a fairy.
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