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, July 31, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Dance is for Everyone

A few years ago I joined a hula dance school and I love being a part of this unique community. One of the many wonderful things about this school is that everyone is welcome. We are young and not so young, tall and small, slender and curvy. Some of us have health issues, but we dance anyway. We help each other out, and accept everyone into our ohana, our family.

Today I bring your the story of another dance school where all are welcome. In this particular case the newest student is rather unusual, and she also presents the teacher with some unexpected problems to solve.

Dance Is for EveryoneDance is for Everyone
Andrea Zuill
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Sterling, 2017, 978-1-4549-2114-1
One day a rather unusual new student comes to Mrs. Iraina’s ballet class. The student is a very large and very green 450-pound alligator. Not surprisingly no one makes a fuss when the alligator starts working at the barre with the other students. Although the alligator does not understand human speech, she is very good at following along and so that is what she does.
   The students get used to having the alligator in the class and they even decide to give her a name. They call her Tanya because she looks rather like a famous prima ballerina called Tanya Prefontaine. The problem with Tanya is that she is too strong, and her tail has a habit of getting in the way. She really is too big for Mrs. Iraina’s human-sized dance studio.
     In short, Mrs. Iraina and her students have a problem and they have no idea what to do about it. They don’t want to hurt Tanya’s feelings because this might make her “grumpy or bitey.” And even if they did try to talk to Tanya about her wayward tail and supersized strength, there is no way to convey what they want to say because none of them speak alligator.
   Mrs. Iraina and her students are going to have to come up come up with a solution that will work for everyone.
   Sometimes someone joins a group who is a little different and who perhaps does not quite fit in. All too often this person is made to feel that they don’t belong and cannot be a part of the group. In this delightful picture book a ballet teacher and her students find a creative way to make an alligator feel welcome in their dance class. They choose the path of inclusion rather than exclusion. Of course, they also show very good sense because we are, after all, talking about an alligator, and upsetting an alligator is probably not a good idea!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of When Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons

I love living in a place where there are four seasons. I look forward to the crisp air of the fall, the cozy days by the fire in winter, the first signs of life in spring, and the bright skies and warm sun of summer. Each season is packed with gifts that I can anticipate and then enjoy. Today's poetry title celebrates some of these gifts using beautiful language and charming illustrations.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All SeasonsWhen Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons
Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
For ages 6 to 8
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 978-1-59643-852-1
We live in a world where we are constantly being told that we need this thing or that thing to be happy and to feel fulfilled. The truth of the matter is that often the things that truly make us happy are the simple ones, the ones that are all around us and often free for the taking: seeing the first daffodil in spring, tasting the first bite of summer watermelon, jumping in a pile of leaves in the fall, and watching the snow fall in winter. These are seasonal gifts that are both priceless and precious.
   In this wonderful poetry collection Julie Fogliano brings us delightful little poems that are paired with expressive illustrations to take us through the year a season at a time. We begin in spring when a bird perching on a snow-covered tree branch starts to sing, “each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter.” Another messenger of spring is a little crocus “a tiny, blue hello” that sends its little blossoms up through the snow.
   In summer we have “a day that drips / hot and thick like honey,” and on that day the narrator will find respite from the heat by swimming in the river. Summer is the season of fireflies, ripening tomatoes, and picnics on the beach, where plums and peanut butter sandwiches are “a little bit salty / and warm from the sun.”
   No matter how much we love “sunshine and swimming and sea / and strawberries,” when September arrives many of us are eager to “move on / to something that’s new.” This is the time when we wait for sweater weather, “when notebooks are new” and when leaf jumping is around the corner.
   Then in December, we wake up one morning to see that the first snow has fallen; “just like magic” it has arrived “on tiptoes / overnight.” Under a canopy of snow, pretty trees become stunning and things that we would consider unattractive are “suddenly beautiful / with snow on top.”
   Though minimalist in nature, the poems in this collection are rich with emotion and imagery.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year

When I began to read today's Book of Hope I was appalled by the suffering that the main character, a child, was subjected to. He was living on a farm that was located in the dust bow,l and almost everything that he held dear, the things that made life worth living, were gone. I asked myself how I would have coped if I had been in his shoes. Then, as the story unfolded further I began to see glimmers of hope. The boy who should have been ground down by years of suffering was instead held up by something powerful and unstoppable.

Next YearNext Year
Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrator:  Gary Kelley
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Creative Editions, 2017   ISBN: 978-1568462820
On April 14th, 1935, the sun comes up and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.
   When he walks in the door of his home he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”
   Not that long ago Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year Calvin’s dad said ‘“Next year it’s gonna get better,”’ but it hasn’t got better.
   Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.
   This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the dust bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster.  We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.
   Throughout the book a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Around the World Right Now

When I was little calling up someone who lived on the other side of the world was a big deal. I remember how we carefully kept track of how long we stayed on the line because international calls were so expensive. These days we think nothing of connecting with someone who lives far away because there are new technologies at our disposal that make communication so easy. The world has grown smaller, and yet it is still a big place. A place so big that there are twelve time zones spanning our planet.

Today's picture book takes children on a journey through these time zones, and we see how alike, and also how different the people in distant parts of the world are. We get a sense of how big and varied our world is; and how marvelous and beautiful it is.

Around the World Right NowAround the world right now
Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by Olivia Beckman
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2017, 978-1-58536-976-8
Many of us have family members and friends who live in other states and countries, and we understand that this means that we do not share the same time zone. What we frequently don’t fully understand is that there are twenty-four times zones around the world, and “each and every one of them is happening right now.” What an extraordinary idea!
   In this clever picture book the author takes us on a trip around the world, one time zone at a time, beginning in San Francisco and going west from there. It is six o’clock in the morning when we begin in California. The cable car is going by with a “clickety-clack” as it makes its way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
   When we travel west we come to Santa Fe where it is seven o’clock in the morning. Here the sun is higher in the sky, shining down on an artist who is painting in the Plaza.
   While he is painting his masterpiece, it is eight o’clock in New Orleans, and people are sitting in the CafĂ© Du Monde sipping coffee and eating beignets. Jazz musicians are playing nearby. At exactly the same time, in New York City, people are busily crossing the streets in throngs, heading to work.
   On we go around the world, visiting people in Canada and Brazil. We land on an island in the Atlantic, stop in Greenland, and then go on to London, Rome, and Cape Town. We see people playing, working, eating, and exploring their worlds.
   With every step west that we go, we encounter a new culture in a new time zone, and we get to see how varied these places are. We also get to appreciate that a thread of commonality connects us all, no matter where we live. We may be getting up in the morning while someone in India is going to sleep, but we all have hopes and dreams, and we all love our friends and family members.
   The authors and illustrator of this book have found a creative way to explore time zones, while at the same time celebrating the beauty and diversity of our world.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Out and About: A First book of Poems

There are some children's book authors and illustrators out there who have a gift for capturing golden childhood moments; moments like the joy of playing in puddles, and the happiness that children experience when they spray each other with a garden hose. These are everyday experiences, and yet they are precious all the same. Shirley Hughes is one of these author illustrators, and today I bring a poetry picture book that she created. The title is packed with those glorious moments that make life rich and worthwhile.

Out and About: A First Book of PoemsOut and About: A first book of poems
Shirley Hughes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0763676445
It is spring and a little girl, wearing a pair of shiny, new wellington boots, runs down the front path, a stick in hand, eager to “scamper and shout.” There is so much to do and see at this time of year, and the little girl is delighted when she finds some wonderful mud puddles. There is nothing like playing in mud that is “slippy, sloppy, squelchy.”
   Of course, mud only comes about when there is rain. All too often spring is a rainy time of year. It is a time of “Wet umbrellas” and, alas, the “Running noses, / Damp feet” that often go with wet weather.
   Soon enough, overcast skies fade away and the sun comes out. Summer arrives, the days get warm, and the little girl can indulge her love of water, this time by going to the swimming pool, by sloshing it out of buckets and spraying it out of a hose. A baby pool full of water in a garden offers hours of entertainment for the little girl, her little brother and their friends. Spraying hoses produce lots of “shrieks,” laughter, and wonderful “Squirting rainbows.”
   Fall is a time for “feasts” for people and animals alike. The little girl goes to the farmer’s market with her mother and brother to get “juicy plums and stripy marrows” and pumpkins for Hallowe’en. Mice gather grains of barley, birds eat berries, and squirrels “hoard nuts.”
  Winter brings misty mornings and sometimes sick days, which are hard to bear. All the little girl can think about as she lies in bed, fretting, is “When will I be better? / When can I get up?” Thankfully this is also the time of year when Christmas comes, bringing with it “Decorations / On a tree,” “hot mince pies” and “A Christmas surprise!”
   This lovely collection of little poems beautifully captures the joys and woes of a little child’s life as the seasons unfold. Delightful, heart-warming illustrations take us in to the little girl’s world and they remind us that so many gifts wait for us when we are out and about.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Books of Hope - Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

On Monday of this week, everything seemed to go wrong, and by the time the day started to draw to a close I was feeling stressed, grumpy, and convinced that the world was out to get me. I was, in short, a mess. I could not see all the good things in my life because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. And annoyed.

Luckily an episode of The Big Band Theory saved me. I laughed so much that I was brought to my senses. I saw that my attitude needed an adjustment, and I was able to make that change. Thank goodness for the things in life that make us laugh. They give our mood a lift, give us a break from our woes, and ultimately give us hope that all is not lost.

Today I bring you a book that made we howl with laughter when I first read it. If you are having a hard time and need a pick-me-up, I suggest you give this book a try.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging
Louise Rennison
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060288143
Georgia Nicolson has a pretty normal life. She goes to school, she has a best friend, her parents are an embarrassment, and she thinks her teachers are on the planet to make her life a misery. Pretty normal teenage stuff. Of course, Georgia has her own quirky personal crises going on. She thinks she is ugly and that her nose is too big. Her little sister sometimes pees in Georgia’s bed, and Georgia has humiliated herself by dressing up as a stuffed olive for a costume party. In addition there is Angus, Georgia’s wildcat, who terrorizes the neighbor’s poodle. No one really knows what to do with him.
   Georgia stumbles along worrying about the first day of school, her looks, and other teenage preoccupations. Then everything gets a lot more complicated. It begins when Georgia’s friend Jas falls for Tom, a boy who works at a local shop. Georgia goes to the shop with Jas one day – so that Jas can ‘accidentally’ run into Tom - and she meets Tom’s brother, a “Sex God” who makes Georgia feel weak at the knees. Suddenly Georgia’s deficiencies in the looks department and her lack of experience with boys become a huge problem. Trying to win the Sex God is now one of the most important things in Georgia’s life.
   Georgia starts taking kissing lessons, and she tries to find ways to make herself more alluring. She spies on the girl the Sex God is going out with, and she dreams about what it would be like to be the Sex God’s girlfriend. Will Georgia’s dreams come true, or will she have to settle for being a nun?
   In this hilarious book, we get to meet an English teenager who is, like most teenagers, utterly wrapped up in her own world. To Georgia, her problems with the Sex God are the most important thing ever. The whole world should be aware of the trials and tribulations that she has to deal with.
   Louise Rennison has written Georgia’s story in the form of diary entries, and readers will have a hard time keeping a straight face as they follow Georgia’s triumphs and misadventures. Anyone who wonders what goes on in a teenager's head will get the shock of their life when they read about this irreverent, droll, and utterly lovable girl.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Away

Leaving your family for the first time to have a sleepover, or to go to summer camp, can be a little frightening for a child. Even though you are told what to expect, you still cannot be sure what awaits you. In today's picture book you will meet a mother and child who have a unique, and often amusing, way of coping with an upcoming separation.

Emil Sher
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2017, 978-1-55498-483-1
Summer vacation is just around the corner and soon a little girl will be heading off to summer camp for the first time. She does not want to go. At all. She and her mother are both busy people, and so they leave sticky notes for each other around the house. In her notes the little girl makes it clear that she is not going to camp, “Not EVER!”
   Back and forth the notes between the two go. Mom tells her daughter that she has got her bug spray, which everyone knows is a necessity at camp. Her daughter, in response, tells her mother that she cannot leave Lester, the family cat, because he needs her too much. On the family calendar Mom adds a sticky note indicating that she and Lester will have a “movie night” while the little girl is gone.
   Then Mimsy, Mom’s mother, comes to visit, and the little girl finds out that when Mom left for camp she cried. Mom explains that her tears “didn’t last” and her memories of sleepover camp are still “as warm as biscuits.”
   Going away from home to attend summer camp for the first time can be hard at first. This wonderful story shows us how a mother reassures her little girl about the upcoming adventure. We also see how the two of them have a warm and loving relationship that is full of humor, patience, and good times. Children will enjoy seeing how Lester the cat manages to get himself included in most of the scenes in the story. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of W is for Woof: A dog alphabet

For many people their dogs are much loved and valued members of the family. We humans spend a great deal of time caring for our dogs, and we often take them with us wherever we go. There is a very good reason for all this: dogs are marvelous companions. They freely give us their loyalty and devotion; they forgive us for our failings and love us unconditionally. I have wonderful dogs in my life, so I am delighted to bring you a book today that is a bookish celebration of all things canine.

W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet
Ruth Strother
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Nonfiction and Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008, 978-1585363438
Though dogs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, they all belong to the same species, Canis familiaris. Over the centuries, humans have bred dogs for certain characteristics, which is why there are so many different kinds today.
   These facts are just a few of the things you will learn about dogs when you read this book. Presented in the form of an alphabet book, this title looks at a wide variety of topics that relate to dogs. For each letter of the alphabet, the author has chosen a topic that is explored using a short four line rhyming poem, an illustration, and a section of text.
   For example the letter D is for “domestication.” A short poem explains what domestication is, and the text expands on this concept by explaining that some scientists think that dogs were domesticated by humans 40,000 to 135,000 years ago. Our pet’s ancestors were probably wolves who were drawn to the settlements of humans, and who were tamed and bred to guard and hunt.
   The letter L is for “love.” Anyone who has had a dog in their lives will know that one thing that you can always count on when it comes to dogs is that they will be your companion and they will love you. As the poem on the L page says: “You can count on this love to always be true.” The love and devotion of dogs is one of the biggest reasons why so many humans choose to share their lives with these wonderful animals.
   Packed with fascinating information, this picture book can be enjoyed on several levels. Young readers will enjoy the poems and the artwork, while older readers will find the longer sections of informative text interesting. This is just one of many alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, and like all the other titles, it is a book that children can grow up with.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Seashore Book

For me, summer is synonymous with beach time. I grew up on an island in the Mediterranean, and from June until September I went to the beach most weeks. There is nothing like the smell of the sea, the feel of sand between your toes, the sun-touched tiredness that you experience at the end of a day spent at the beach. Today I bring you a picture book that beautifully captures that beach experience in lyrical prose and evocative artwork.

The Seashore Book
The Seashore BookCharlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017, 978-1-58089-787-7
One day a little boy who lives in the mountains, and who has never seen the sea, asks his mother what the seashore is like. With a smile the little boy’s mother takes her son to the seashore with her words.
   It is early morning at the beach and at this time of day “it’s hard to tell where the sea stops and the sky begins.” At first the sea and the sky are a “smoky gray,” and then the mist starts to change color until the sun breaks through. The little boy runs across the sand, and where the land and the water meets he finds a polished stone and shells, one of which is still occupied by a small animal. Together the mother and son build a sand castle, which the waves then wash away.
   Feeling tired the little boy lies in the warm sun and dozes off. When he wakes up he looks out at the ocean, and watches a little sailboat disappear over the horizon. Then the mother and son have their lunch, and as they eat they watch “small brown sand crabs squiggling at our toes.”
   When the wind starts to cool and clouds start to form in the sky, the mother and son head for home.
   With its emotive text and gorgeous illustrations, this picture book will take readers from their homes and transport them to a beach where seagulls mew, where waves lap at their feet, and where little crabs scuttle into holes in the sand. Just like the little boy who has never been to the seashore, we are taken to a magical place that is peaceful and beautiful.
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