Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Knit Together

My daughter and I have lots of things in common. For example, we both enjoy making music, but we have our own tastes and styles. Therefore, when we make music together, we have to find a way to do so, as a duo, in a way that works for both of us. Today's picture book is about a mother and daughter who are both creative and who similarly have to find a way to allow their respective gifts to blend in a way that makes them both happy.

Knit Together
Knit TogetherAngela Dominguez
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-4099-0
A little girl loves to draw. It is her way of being creative and expressing herself. Her mother is not an artist, but she is a knitter. The little girl cannot help thinking that knitting is better than drawing because you can wear what you knit. She would love to learn how to knit so that she can make “the most amazing things,” things like finger puppets and gloves.
   Mom shows her daughter how to knit, but it turns out that knitting is “not as easy as it looks.” Soon the little girl has nothing to show for her efforts, other than a snarl of yarn and a grumpy face. Mom, who knows how hard it can be to learn a new skill, reassures her daughter, telling her that there is no need to be discouraged. Mom explains that the little girl’s artwork inspires her, and sure enough, when you look at the little girl’s drawings and her mother’s knitted projects, you can see how the artwork is indeed reflected in the knitted hats and other yarn creations. Then the mother and daughter come up with a plan, one that will combine both of their gifts.
   This wonderful picture book celebrates creativity in all its forms. Being able to draw and being able to knit are both gifts, and both gifts are precious.  Children will be delighted to see how the mother and daughter in this book find that there is a way to share and combine their skills to create something special and unique.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School Time

When I was in elementary school I can remember feeling that time seemed to slow down during the last lesson of the day. That last bell seemed to take forever to ring. When it rang I knew I was free, until the next school day began.

Today's poetry title explores those almost-out-of-school and free-of-school times.

After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School Time
After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School TimeCarol Diggory Shields
Illustrations by Paul Meisel
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3805-8
For children, the moment when the last bell rings at the end of a school day is a special time. After that bell rings they will be free at last, and all kinds of activities await them. Before the bell rings they are “Like horses at the starting gate,” watching the minute hand tick, ticks around the clock face. It feels as if “the clock on the wall has stopped.” They are not the only ones who are happy when the bell rings. Their teacher is also glad that her work day is coming to a close, and for her too the last two minutes before the bell rings “are the slowest of all.”
   Once they are free, children head off for home to play video games, practice their musical instruments, and battle with homework assignments. They have a snack, read a book, send text messages and hang out with friends.
   There are so many things to do, but kids can become bored all the same. If this happens, children must never, ever mention that they are bored because if they do they will end up mowing the law for Dad or sweeping for Mom.  If children do get bored the trick is to “look busy and don’t show it” and make sure that they “Don’t let your parents know it!”
   This amusing poetry picture book takes readers into the lives of children after they are released from school. The poems come in many forms, including one that is made up of a series of text messages that fly between two children. We hear from a boy whose sister’s violin playing is making his life a misery, and another whose mother catches him playing a video game when he should be doing his homework. Then there is the girl whose afternoons and Saturdays are so booked up that all she wants to do on Sunday is to “just take a nap.”
   Children and their grownups will surely enjoy this clever trip into those wonderful after-school hours when children, if they are lucky, get to do at least some of the things that they dreamed of doing when they were sitting in class.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Boy on the Page

Most people, at some time or another, wonder why they are here and what they should do with their lives. When we are children we ask each other "What are you going to be when you grow up?" and when we are grown up we ask ourselves, "Am I doing what I should be doing with my life?"

In this exceptional picture book we meet a young boy who wonders why he is where he is, and what he discovers will resonate with readers of all ages.

The Boy on the PageThe Boy on the Page
Peter Carnavas
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Kane Miller, 2014, 978-1-61067-245-0
One day a small boy landed on an empty page. It was a rather abrupt arrival, and for a while he just stood there as there was nothing else around him. Then, slowly, a world began to appear on the white page. Green hills, trees, flowers and then animals of all kinds joined the. Soon other people were there too, and buildings. As he grew up in the every changing world, there was a question that the boy wondered about. Why was he there?
   The boy went on to have all kinds of wonderful experiences. He rolled down a hill, rode a horse, planted a tree, paddled a canoe, and made music with friends. He grow up and fell in love, he became a father, and built a house. He did so many things and yet he still had no idea why he was where he was. What was this all for?
   In this beautiful and sweetly simple picture book we watch a boy, and then a man, experience all the wonderful things that life has to offer. We see how the boy (and man) gives of himself to others, and receives so much in return. When we come to the end of the tale we realize that the answer to the boy’s question is a simple but powerful one.
   Throughout the book wonderful illustrations are paired with a spare text, and together they offer readers of all ages a message that is timeless.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Changes: A child’s first Poetry Collection

Young children are often wonderfully receptive to poetry. There is something about the rhythm of verse that appeals to their ears. In today's poetry title readers will find a collection of beautifully rhythmic poems that perfectly capture the adventures, images, and sensations that children experience as the seasons go by.

Changes: A child’s first Poetry CollectionChanges: A child’s first Poetry Collection
Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 3 to 6
Sourcebooks, 2015, 978-1-4926-0168-5
Charlotte Zolotow was a prolific writer who wrote more than ninety published books for young readers, two of which won Caldecott Honor awards. For four decades, in her capacity as an editor-publisher at HarperCollins, she worked with wonderful writers such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel. In this wonderful collection, twenty-eight of her poems are brought together to offer young children a beautiful journey through the seasons. They are being published in what would have been Charlotte’s centenary year, and therefore they serve as a fitting tribute both to her and to her “ability to frame the largest, boldest truths for the smallest, newest readers.”
   The collection begins with a poem called Change, which explores the joys of “Celebrating the Seasons.” We see how one season flows into another, a process that is full of change and wonder, and yet in the end, when the year comes full circle, the only thing that has really changed is us. We have grown up and grown older.
   Next we begin our journey with poems about spring. We see a river winding through a meadow and experience the spring wind which “comes gently after the rain / smelling of spring and growing things.” We lie in the grass and see a small bird flying over the trees. We meet some violet sellers and celebrate the simple beauty of crocuses and pansies.
   In summer we share a moment with a child who is watching a honey bee. That “shimmering clear / making the sky seem very near” moment is his to relish and enjoy. We see how blue is a true summer color, the color of “the sea at noon,” bluejays, blueberries, larkspurs and “the sky itself.” We experience the essence of time spent by the sea, and meet two denizens of summer; a fly and a beetle.
   Autumn is a time when “the light long summer / is grown old.” It is a time of falling colorful leaves, of school days, and Halloween costumes. Following close on its heels comes winter with its snow and frozen rivers. “Black and still” trees are stark and beautiful, and now when toes feel the cold, we remember the summer sun.
   Paired with sweet illustrations that capture the magic of the seasons, these wonderful poems will delight readers, young and old alike.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of The baseball player and the Walrus

Many people think that they know what a person needs to have to be happy. Happiness = having lots of money and being famous. However, judging from the stories we see in the media. the rich and famous often are not very happy people. Something is missing from their lives.

Today's picture book explores the way in which one rich and famous person stumbles across something that makes him happy, and we see how he tries to figure out how to change his life so that happiness can be his.

The baseball player and the Walrus
Ben Loory
The baseball player and the WalrusIllustrated by Alex Latimer
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3951-2
There once was a baseball player who had it all; fame, fortune, and fans. The surprising thing is that the baseball player was not happy. He knew that something was missing in his life but he had no idea what that something was.
   Then one day the baseball player went to the zoo and he saw all the animals. He saw the lions, tigers, giraffes, and elephants, and then he came to the walrus pool. The baseball player was very taken with the walrus and he stayed and watched it all day long. Something about the animal lifted the baseball player’s spirits and made him feel happy inside.
   That evening the baseball player decided that he was going to buy the walrus. He created a splendid walrus habitat in his back yard, and stocked up on fish and walrus vitamins. He showed the zoo people that he was going to be a responsible walrus owner, and they finally agreed to let him take the walrus home.
   The walrus and the baseball player became fast friends and had many grand times together, but when the baseball season began the player had to be away from home a lot and both he and the walrus were very unhappy. Eventually the baseball player decided that he had had enough, and he quit his job and went home as fast as he could to be with his walrus. Everything was perfect for a while, until the baseball player realized that without a job he could no longer afford to keep his dear friend.
   Many people think that happiness should be a secondary consideration in life. We have to make money, buy things, and be ‘successful’ first and foremost. In this delightful picture book we meet a man whose money, fame, and success don’t make him happy. Luckily, he finds out that having a walrus for a friend is just what he needs, and he does everything in his power to make the walrus part of his life.
   With humor and sensitivity, the author of this book gives readers a tale that is amusing, memorable, and that conveys a message that everyone should take heed of: Follow your heart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Poems From Homeroom: A writers place to start

Happy poetry Friday! Today I have a book that is full of wonderful poems. It is also is a sort of guide book to help young people start exploring the world of poetry for themselves. Knowing how to start, and what to write about is often hard, but Kathi Appelt shows young poets where to begin by offering them prompts and exercises. She shows them how accessible this writing form is, and how freeing it can be.

Poems From Homeroom: A writers place to startPoems From Homeroom: A writers place to start
Kathi Appelt
For ages 13 to 18
Owlet Paperbacks, 2010, 978-0805075960
Early humans spent most of their time doing what they could to survive. They had to find food, build shelter, and keep themselves and their young safe from predators. Then there came a time when existence was easier, and humans began to look for ways to express themselves. They told stories around the fires at night, made up songs, created beautiful paintings on cave walls, and eventually figured out how to write so that stories could be kept and treasured.
   Writing is a wonderful form of self-expression because it is so easy to do, and it comes in many forms. “One of the most flexible is poetry,” because you can write poems about anything at all. They don’t need to have a story or characters unless you want them to, and they can be in verse or not. Poems can be about mundane things, or they can explore big picture subjects. The sky is the limit.
   In this thoughtful book, Kathi Applet takes us into the lives of several teenagers through a series of poems, building their personalities using wonderful imagery and stories. We get to know Jimmy Haliburton, who has a real guitar at home, but who plays the air guitar at school. With this instrument he accompanies the morning announcements. Then he plays the blues, after which he moves on to be Jimi Hendrix. On this instrument of air he “can’t mess up or play out of key.”
   We meet a girl who has a dragon tattoo “Curled around her ankle / like a cat.” The tattoo somehow makes her more than just “plain ‘ol Patty Lopez.” It turns her into the “Dragon Girl of Dogwood High.” Then there is another girl who has a pick-up truck sized crush on her teacher. She is “smushed by love,” and loves the fact that he thinks that she asks intelligent questions. What should she ask next?
   In the second half of the book, the “study hall,” the author goes back and looks at the poems she wrote again. She talks about what inspired her to write them, and then offers her readers a collection of prompts that they can use as a jumping off place to write their own poems. For example, she tells us why she wrote the poem about the girl with the dragon tattoo. Then she presents readers with ideas and questions. She invites them to write about people who are somehow unique and different. She talks about people who are a part of a group, and those who hate being classified into a group. She asks readers to think about how clothing and other embellishments make people feel. The dragon tattoo makes Patty feel powerful. How would a black trenchcoat make a person feel? Finally she talks about people who have some distinguishing mark or characteristic forced on them. This is not something they chose. Rather, it is something that they would like to be rid of. She asks her readers to “Write about someone like that.”
   Finding a starting place is often so hard to do when you are beginning to explore the world of writing. In this excellent book Kathi Applet helps young people to explore the world of poetry in a way that makes sense to them. She gets into their world in poetry form, and then invites them to share their experiences through writing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Breaking News: Bear Alert

Spring is a time when many animals become active again, after the cold months of winter are over. Birds and squirrels start building nests, and bears come out of hibernation, Typically bears immediately set about looking for food when they wake up. In today's picture book you will see what happens when a pair of just-woken-up bears are accidentally brought to a town.

Breaking News: Bear Alert Breaking News: Bear Alert
David Biedrzycki
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2014, 978-1580896634
An episode of Our Furry Planet is being broadcasted live. The host of the show, Jean Louis, is in a bear cave with his cameraman, filming a pair of bears who are hibernating. Jean Louis says that soon the bears will wake up and they will be hungry for food. As he is talking he pokes one of the bears with a stick. What he does not realize is that his actions wake up the bear, and not surprisingly is gets mighty miffed that it has been disturbed.
   The screen goes blank for a moment and then we are brought a “Breaking News” alert. A skycam shows viewers that the bears, who are now fully awake, are riding on the roof of the Our Furry Planet van. Jean Louis and the cameraman have no idea that they are taking two large, furry passengers to the city with them. They think that they escaped the bears that they so rudely woke up.
   When they get to the city, the cameraman tells the media that he and Jean Louis scared the bears away, but it soon becomes clear how wrong he is. Security video from Teddy’s Diner shows the bears entering the establishment where they start eating whatever they can get their paws on. The bears then make their way down Main Street, and their progress is picked up by various cameras. Animal Control officers arrive on the scene but the bears are now in the Misses and Petites section in Paddington’s Department Store, and they in disguise
   Young readers are going to love this clever picture book. The story is presented in such a way that we feel that we are watching the whole crazy bear alert situation on a screen. Young readers will see that in addition to the chaos created by the arrival of the bears in town, something else is going on. Eventually the two stories collide to bring the tale to a wonderful denouement.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold

Spring has officially arrived in Southern Oregon, but the last few days have been quite wintery. A chilly wind has blown through our valley bringing rain with it, and snow has fallen on the mountains. I therefore feel quite justified reading and reviewing today's poetry title, which explores how wild animals and plants survive the cold months of winter.

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold    Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold  
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Rick Allen
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 978-0-547-90650-8
In the past, winter was often a time of hardship for humans. Food was scarce, it was cold even indoors, sickness was common, and the days were short. Without the comforts of heated homes, electric lights, decent healthcare, and grocery stores, winter was grim. For wild animals winter is still a time of hardship. They have to adapt to the changes in their environment so that they can survive until spring.
   In this award winning picture book Joyce Sidman shows us how animals that live in cold places survive, how they find ways to get through the long winter months. On every spread we find a richly textured and colored illustration that is with paired with a poem. There is also a section of nonfiction text, which provides us with further information about the animal species featured on the pages.
   The first spread takes us into the cold world of the tundra swan. We see how they “tucked beaks / into feathers and settled for sleep.” As they slept, the swans dreamed of the journey that was coming when they would see “the sun’s pale wafer / the crisp drink of clouds. “ When the swans woke up to a land covered with snow, they began that journey that would take them thousands of miles from Alaska to warmer climes on the east or west coasts of the United States.
   Later in the book we meet a young moose, a creature that is “built for the cold.” The largest deer species in the world, the moose’s size makes it possible for their core to stay warm and their “tough, shaggy hide” keeps their extremities from getting too cold. Moose use their excellent sense of smell to find food and they can reach the high branches of “willow and yew” that other animals cannot get to.
   Beavers find the perfect way to get through winter. They build a dam and a lodge and even when their pond or lake freezes over, the beavers can swim under the ice to get to the twigs that they stashed in the water not far from their home. Like “strong brown bullets” they dive and then return to their warm home where they groom, eat, and then sleep cuddled up together.
   Even the trees and plants have adapted to survive the cold darkness of winter. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and “essentially shut down” in winter, bending “when all the wild winds blow,” standing firm thanks to their deep root systems. Unlike the tender leaves of these trees, conifers have tough needles that are not damaged by freezing temperatures.
   This is a book that children and adults will greatly enjoy exploring. The sections of text that appear on every spread are packed with fascinating facts and information, and the poems, with their layers of rich imagery and language, are a joy to read.

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