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.
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