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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Books of Hope - The Year the Swallows Came Early

There are many things that, when they take over our lives, take away our ability to hope. One of these things is anger. Anger is an ugly, burning emotion that destroys hope, and it can truly warp a person until he or she has completely forgotten how amazing life can be. Today's Book of Hope celebrates the way in which forgiveness can triumph over hate, and as the story unfolds we are able to see how this shift makes it possible for hope to grow and blossom.

The Year the Swallows Came EarlyThe Year the Swallows Came Early
Kathryn Fitzmaurice
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2004, 978-0061624971
Groovy Robinson's father has been arrested and taken to jail. This is terrible and devastating thing to happen, but what makes it even worse is the fact that Groovy's mother was the one who had him arrested. Feeling shocked and betrayed, Groovy cannot understand why her mother would do such a thing, and she feels as if her whole life has been turned upside down.
   Groovy loves cook and to think about food. In her opinion one can match food to situations and to people. Groovy loves cooking so much in fact, that she hopes to go to culinary school when she gets older. Groovy's great-grandmother Eleanor left Groovy some money, which Groovy hopes to use to pay for her schooling. She is therefore devastated when she learns that the reason why her father is in jail is because he took her inheritance out of the bank and gambled it away
   Some years ago the mother of  Frankie, Groovy's friend, abandoned him. Frankie refuses to forgive his mother and has become very bitter as a result. Not wanting to become like Frankie, because she can see how damaging his anger is, Groovy tries very hard to stay positive, even though she does not understand why her father stole from her. She starts working on raising money by making chocolate covered strawberries, which she sells. However, despite her good intentions, when the depth of Groovy's father's betrayal is revealed, Groovy's anger takes over. Now she is in real danger of turning into a bitter person, just like Frankie.
   This powerful and meaningful book explores the nature of forgiveness, the meaning of true friendship, and the love of family. The author beautifully weaves her message into the rich and warming story. Sprinkled with vivid and incredibly genuine characters, this story will delight readers with its unique style and its compelling narrative.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading with the Gecko Press Curiously Good Book Club

Kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading

Gecko Press, the pint-sized Wellington-based independent publisher of curiously good children’s books, is starting a new club with the aim that every child discovers the love of reading.

“We want reading to be seen as fun, accessible, visible and important – and so we are starting the Curiously Good Book Club,” says Publisher Julia Marshall. 

“The club will be a place where people can talk about the books they love to share with kids, find out about books, access real and online events, share knowledge and experience – all designed to get kids' noses into books,” she says.  

“We’re not worried about the rise of digital books – but we are worried about the effect of digital distraction on reading,” says Marshall. “At Gecko Press we think it’s time to encourage people who love books to get loud about reading. We want to take reading out of the bedrooms and onto the streets!”

The Curiously Good Book Club will include activities for kids, physical events and an online platform. It aims to be a digital and real life community for people who love children’s books, where they can share knowledge about great books (not just Gecko Press books) and find creative ways to encourage children to love to read. 

It will cost at least $50,000 to get the club off the ground. Gecko Press is investing $15,000 for the next phase and crowdfunding the remaining $35,000 by offering tangible rewards. 

“Most of this money will go to improving the digital experience and backbone of the club, so we can offer fun things like events, reading incentives – such as tiny reading journals and stickers – and ways to share knowledge of great books,” says Marshall. 

“The digital side is too expensive for us to do on our own. The idea of the club really changed for me when I realised that we don’t just want people reading Gecko Press books – we want them reading all good books. We want our booksellers to thrive, and libraries and schools, and we want children to really rate reading.”

Gecko Press is offering surprise packs of books and regular book parcels that can be sent directly to a favourite school, library or child.

There are some big-ticket options for enthusiastic supporters, who can choose a mix of books, discounts, signed books and book donations to a school or library of choice.

“The aim of the Curiously Good Book Club is to kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading,” says Marshall. “Sometimes all it takes is one good book, or the right book for the right child at the right time. It doesn’t matter what that book is or where you find it – but it does matter that children love to read.”

Gecko Press is an independent, international publisher, based in Wellington. Gecko Press publishes a small number of edgy yet proven – curiously good – children’s books from the best writers and illustrators in the world, translated into English. We want to make reading accessible and visible. Our aim is that every child discovers the love of reading.

For more information about the Curiously Good Book Club or the Gecko Press PledgeMe campaign, visit pldg.me/gecko or contact Faustine Tillard faustine@geckopress.com – 04 801 9333.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea

For many people a cup of tea offers comfort in times of stress and tribulation, and the making of a pot of tea gives others something to do at such times. People all over the world begin or end their day with a cup of tea, and in some places the making of tea is a ritual that is treasured.

Today's picture book introduces us to a queen who decides that she needs to find someone who can make her the perfect cup of tea. In the process, she discovers something that brings about a big change in her life.

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea How the Queen found the perfect Cup of tea
Kate Hosford
Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Carolrhoda, 2017, 978-1-4677-3904-7
Every morning the queen gets up and her maids dress her and do her hair. Her butler makes her tea, which she drinks alone. Over time the queen’s morning tea ceases to give her any joy or pleasure. In fact, with every passing day it tastes worse and worse until she decides that she simply cannot drink the tea any longer. She “must find the perfect cup of tea,” and soon enough the queen and her long-suffering butler, James, are floating across lands and seas in a hot-air balloon.
   The queen decides when they have gone far enough and James brings the hot-air balloon down. The queen then meets a little girl called Noriko who announces that the queen is just in time because her cats would like to be snuggled. The queen instructs James to tell Noriko that she does not snuggle anything. Most people would back down at this point, but Noriko does not. She feels that this is the perfect time for the queen to try snuggling.
   Before the queen quite knows what is what she is snuggling, and being snuggled, by Noriko’s cat. The queen finds the whole experience “rather strenuous,” and she asks Noriko if she might have some tea. Noriko is happy to make some tea, though she expects the queen to help, which the monarch, who has never even made the effort to help in the tea making process, manages to do.
   Noriko makes the tea, using the methods favored in her native land of Japan, and then the little girl and the queen partake of their refreshment, talking all the while.
   The queen then says her goodbyes and she and James sail off in their balloon. Though Noriko’s tea was delicious, it was not the perfect cup of tea and so the quest must continue.
   All too often, when something is not quite right we blame something or someone else for the problem. We never consider that maybe, just maybe, the problem lies with us. In this delightful picture book we meet a cold, rather stuck up queen who takes a journey and discovers that sometimes what we are looking for is right under our noses.
   What is charming about this book is that in addition to the engaging story we also get to learn about the tea traditions in three countries. At the back of the book the author also offers us an author’s note in which she tells us about tea, and about the journey that she took as she wrote this book.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Fresh-Picked Poetry: A day at the farmer’s market

Here is southern Oregon it finally feels as if summer is on its way. One of the things many of us look forward to during the warmer months are our local farmer's markets. Our weekly market reopened recently, and it was wonderful to see the familiar faces again, and to get big hugs from the mushroom man and from the pie lady. Today's poetry title gives us the opportunity to visit a farmer's market and to experience the many treats that such markets offer visitors.

Fresh-Picked PoetryFresh-Picked Poetry: A day at the farmer’s market
Michelle Schaub
Illustrated by Amy Huntington
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017, 978-1-58089-547-7
It is market day, which means that while you are asleep “snuggled tight,” farmers are up and about harvesting, sorting, washing, and loading their crops. Then they “Hit the road / Just as dawn / pinks the sky.” By the time we arrive, with baskets and bags at the ready, their tents are up, and their tables are loaded with their wares.
   Some of the farmers, like Farmer Rick, like to arrange their produce so that it looks beautiful. He creates “cauliflower towers” and “pyramids of peppers,” and everything is always laid out in “perfect symmetry.”
   Fruits and veggies are not the only things you can buy in a farmer’s market. Take a deep sniff and it is likely that you are going to pick up the aroma of mouth-watering baked goods. Floating over the market comes “a whiff of vanilla, a whisper of spice.” We follow our nose to find tables laden with cupcakes, pies, bread, croissants, and muffins, all of which are still warm from the oven.
   Often musicians play at the market, entertaining the shoppers with their songs and melodies. Children can get their faces painted, and they can choose a dress-up costume from a big chest to wear. While they play, their grownups wait in lines to shop and to have their knives and scissors sharpened by the knife sharpener.
   When the market closes the musician’s “notes are hushed,” and the produce crates are empty. In their homes people unload their fruits and veggies, their eggs and baked goods, and their jars of honey.
   This wonderful book of poetry takes readers out into the fresh air and sunshine where they get to experience the smells, sights, and sounds of a farmer’s market. Poems written in many forms allow us to enjoy the market vicariously; from dawn to the moment when the market closes down and the farmers head home.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Books of Hope - Sidewalk Flowers

Some people think that the only way to really make other people happy, the only way to make a difference and give them hope, is to do something for them that is big, grand, and splashy. The truth is that sometimes small acts of kindness can have a huge impact on others. Making eye contact with a stranger and sharing a smile can make their day feel brighter. Calling or writing to a friend who is feeling blue can make them feel that they are not alone. Checking in on someone who is ill can make them feel that they are not forgotten. These are not big acts of kindness in terms of time, money, or effort, and yet their impact can be very big indeed.

Today's Book of Hope is a wordless picture book that shows, to great effect, just how powerful little act of kindness can be.

Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
JonArno Lawson
Illustrator:  Sydney Smith
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1554984312
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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Reach for the Moon, Little Lion

Sometimes being different from everyone else is just plain miserable. For some reason other people like to make fun of those of us who are smaller, bigger, and smarter. They like to pick on people who they feel are more imaginative, more emotional, and more original than is 'normal.' In today's picture book you will meet a lion who is really small and who is teased because of his diminutive size. We also meet an animal who finds a way to give the lion just what he needs to feel better about himself.

Reach for the Moon, Little LionReach for the moon, Little Lion
Hildegard Muller
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Holiday House, 2016, 978-0-8234-3777-1
There once was a lion who was smaller than all the other lions. In fact he was so much smaller that the other animals teased him, calling out “Are you a lion or a mouse?” when we was nearby. The crocodile went so far as to say that the little lion was too small to be a lion at all. Lions are “very big,” so big in fact that they can “touch the moon with a paw.”
   That night the little lion sat on a hill and looked up at the moon, which was so far above his head. What would it be like to touch the moon, he wondered? One thing that he was sure of was that touching the moon was not something he would ever be able to do.
   A raven saw how sad the little lion was and asked him what was the matter. The little lion explain that he was sad because he wanted to be big, big enough to touch the moon. If he could do such a thing the other animals wouldn’t laugh at him anymore. Was there a way to make the lion’s wish come true?
   This charming little story introduces young children to the idea that anything is impossible, if you believe in yourself and use your creativity to find a solution to your problem. Children will be delighted when they see how the raven helps the lion. Perhaps they too can touch the moon if they want to.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Books of Hope - Creekfinding: A True Story

Creekfinding: A True Story
I am often inspired when I read or hear true stories about people who have done things to make the world a better place. They don't have to be world famous people, and the things they do don't have to have a huge international impact either. The fact that they have taken the step to do something that is bigger than themselves is enough to make me feel hopeful.

Today's picture book tells the story of a man who chose to bring back a creek that had been lost, and in so doing he brought back a rich ecosystem as well.

Creekfinding: A True Story
Jaqueline Briggs Martin
Illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Nonfiction Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 978-0-8166-9802-8
Many years ago a spring “burbled out of the ground and tumbled itself across a prairie valley” and it became a creek. The water was home to fish, insects, frogs, birds, and many other creatures. Then the creek was lost because a farmer used a bulldozer to fill it in with earth so that he could plant big fields of corn. Instead of running through a creek bed, the water from the spring flowed through a ditch and it no longer offered animals and plants a habitat where they can thrive.
   Many years after the creek was lost, a man named Mike bought the field. He wanted to replace the cornfield with a prairie once more. A neighbor told him that many years ago he had caught a brook trout that was swimming in a creek that ran right through the cornfield. Mike wanted to bring the creek and the brook trout back, but when he told people about his plan they thought it was “foolishness.”
   Using an old photograph, Mike figured out the creek’s path and then he called some friends who had excavating machines. For days the machines “carved holes, dug curves and runs, tamped rocks for the creek bottom.” It was a beginning, but there was still a lot of work to be done and no one knew if the water from the spring would find its old path. A lot of things had to happen before brook trout would be able to swim in the creek again.
   All too often when a habitat is lost due to farming or development it stays lost. Thankfully for Brook Creek, Mike Osterholm cared enough about it to restore it to its former glory. The restoration process took years to complete, and Mike had no way of knowing if his plan would succeed. However, he did not let this stop him from trying, and he worked hard to make his dream come true.
   We all need to hear stories like this one; true stories about people who have brought about change and made the world a better place through their actions. Hearing such stories lifts us up, and we are encouraged to do what we can to make our part of the world more beautiful.
   Throughout the book the author’s narrative is supplemented by little snippets of information that help us to better understand creek ecology and Mike’s restoration process.  The story is brought to life by the gorgeous, colorful and textured art created by Claudia McGehee. To help her create her art she visited Brook Creek in person so that she could see its vitality and richness for herself before she put pencil to paper.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Love is

Many of us have a very one dimensional idea of what love is. We take cues from films we see and from songs we listen to. In actual fact love is quite a complicated emotion, and when it is real it is incredibly powerful. In today's picture book readers will meet a little girl who grows to love a little duck that she cares for. We get to see how her love for the little duck comes in many forms and how, ultimately, this love gives her the strength to do something wonderful for someone else.

Love IsLove is
Diane Adams
Illustrated by Claire Keane
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle, 2017, 978-1-4521-3997-5
One spring day a little duckling in a park pursues a butterfly and ends up wandering away from its family and its home to chase the enticing insect. Luckily the duckling is found by a little girl who falls in love with the fragile baby, with its “tiny wings and downy head.” She takes the duckling home and becomes its mother, which turns out to be quite challenging.
   In spite of interrupted nights, splashy bath times, messes, and the general upheavals that taking care of a baby involves, the girl loves the duckling. Somehow even when it is being annoying love prevails.
   Then fall comes around and there is a change in the air. The little girl and the duck look out of the window and she knows that the time has come. She is going to love her duckling harder than ever so that she can do what it right.
   This wonderful picture book explores how love comes in many forms. It gives birth to patience, flexibility, and a willingness to accept a painful loss. It also gives us hope.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Books of Hope - Last Stop on Market Street

Many of us are prone to seeing our world through grey-tinted spectacles. I know that I have a tendency to do this. I see only the problems and deficiencies in my life and not the many gifts and wonders around me. In today's picture book you will meet a little boy who is feeling thoroughly discontented with his life. He has a terrible case of the my-life-sucks grumps. Thankfully, his grandmother has quite a different attitude. She shows him that hope and wonderful things are everywhere, if you just know how to see them.

Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Pena
Illustrator:  Christian Robinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 2015   ISBN: 978-0399257742
Every Sunday, after church, CJ and his nana get on a bus and travel across town to Market Street. One Sunday CJ comes out of the church building and it is raining. He does not feel like going across town in the bus today. He resents the rain, he resents the fact that he and Nana cannot travel in a car, he resents the fact that they have to go to the same place after church every Sunday. In short, CJ is not happy with much of anything at the moment.
   One would think that Nana would get annoyed by all of CJ’s complaining questions, but she doesn’t because that is not what Nana is like. Instead, she finds something good to appreciate in everything that CJ finds annoying. What would happen to the trees if they did not have rain to water them? If they had a car they would not get to meet Mr. Dennis the bus driver every Sunday, nor would they see the interesting characters on the bus. If they did not go to the same place every Sunday they would get to spend time with “Bobo or the Sunglass Man.”
   Then a musician starts to play on the bus and CJ begins to experience the joy that Nana understands so well. He begins to understand that sometimes you need to look at what you do have instead of what you don’t.
   This remarkable, award-winning title explores a simple idea through the eyes of a young child. Alongside CJ, on that battered bus, and in the dirty streets, we come to understand that there is beauty everywhere if you know how to look for it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Toot and Puddle: You are my Sunshine

Good friends help one another out in good times and bad. They are there for us not matter what happens, ready to cheer us up when we feel down, and ready to encourage us when we need a little support. In today's charming picture book you will meet a little pig called Puddle whose best friend has a terrible case of the blues.

Toot and Puddle: You Are My Sunshine
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book  Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010, 978-0316167031
It is a beautiful day and yet Toot is very blue indeed, bluer than ever before in fact. Puddle and Tulip the parrot are worried about their friend, and yet they cannot undo Toot's glum mood and his case of the mopes. The try everything that they can think of to cheer up Toot. They arrange adventures, throw him a party, and bake a berry cobbler, and yet nothing seems to work. Then something very simple comes along and solves the problem for them.
   What is especially touching about this Toot and Puddle tale is that we can see very clearly how good friends can help one another in times of trouble. We can also appreciate that sometimes it takes something outside the friendship to fix things.
   You are my Sunshine is a thoughtful story which, like the earlier Toot and Puddle Books, shows us how enriching and precious a good friendship can be.
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