Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Let's Celebrate Chocolate!

 

This year a lot of people gave us chocolate as gifts. Sampling these sweet treats gives me a great deal of enjoyment, and I happily confess that I am having chocolate at least twice a day. Today is National Chocolate Candy Day here in the United States, so it seems fitting that we should take a look at this delicious confection. I should note here that the Americans use the word candy the way other English speakers use the word sweet. I have reviewed several books that feature chocolate  over the years. Please take a look at them. 
   The word “chocolate” comes from the word “xocoatl” or “chocolatl.” Mayan “school” means hot or bitter, and the Aztec “atl” means water. Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia and grows in Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America. The earliest known documentation of using cacao seeds is from around 1100 BC. Long before it was ever made into a sweet confection, the seeds were ground into a beverage. In the ruling classes the beverage was used for medical purposes. 
   In 1828, a Dutch inventor and chemist, Coenraad Van Houten, developed a way to produce chocolate in a solid form. His hydraulic press made it possible to remove the cocoa butter from the cacao. His invention lead to the production of a powder and drinking hot chocolate was very popular. This development paved the way for the first chocolate confections.

A few Chocolate Facts
*Whitman’s produced their first box of chocolate in 1842.
*In 1847, British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons combined cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar-producing the first edible chocolate bar.
*The invention of the conching machine by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879 ushered in the mass production of the creamy treat.
*The first chocolate Easter egg was made sometime in the early 19th century. In 1875 John Cadbury introduced his first chocolate egg.
*When Allied troops stormed the beach of Normandy on D-Day, part of emergency rations and in soldiers’ packs included the D ration bar designed by Hershey Chocolate company for the U.S. Army.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Eloise - One of my favorite book characters

 


When I was around five I was given a copy of Eloise, a book written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight. The book was originally called  Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups, and it was  published in 1955. In 1969, the adult-oriented book was re-released as a children's book, and no changes were made to the text or the artwork. I can truly say that I still love this book, and I think that many adults would full in love with Eloise if they took the time to meet her. I naturally reviewed this first book for Through the Looking Glass Book Reviews, how could I not, and you can take a look at this review on the website

In 1958 Eloise in Christmastime was published and once again we see how Eloise manages to drive everyone around her to distraction, and leave chaos in her wake. At the same time, she is oh so loveable and this festive book is a treat. 


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A time for giving and wishing - And a review of Wish


On Friday, Saturday, and last night, we had small groups of people over to celebrate the festive season. For all of us, these gatherings were particularly special because we have not been able to see much of each other in the last two years. The gift of each other's company is always marvelous, but right now it feels especially splendid. 

My biggest wish for the coming year is that soon we will all be able to gather with our friends and families as we used to. I think we now appreciate that our times together truly are a gift that we should never take for granted. Wishes are powerful things, my friends, so keep on wishing and hoping. 

Wish
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Quarto, 2019, 978-1-78603-346-8
Every year there is a day when wishes rise from the earth. They fill the air with sparkle and hope, dancing here and there, and if you are lucky a wish chooses you. On one of these wish days Rabbit was chosen by not one wish, but by three. Rabbit had never had a wish before, and he did not quite know what to with the three that he now had. So he decided that he would go and ask his friends for their advice. Off Rabbit went, running across the flower speckled meadow and then punting, atop a log, on a river. 
   The first friend Rabbit talked to was Mouse. His diminutive companion said that if he had a wish he would wish that he could fly so that he could see the world that “is so big.” Thinking about this wish, Rabbit set off again. His friend Fox said that he would wish that he could write stories that people would love, and books full of  “knowledge and hope,” books that had the “power to inspire.” What a wonderful wish this was, but was it the right wish for Rabbit? Bear told Rabbit that he would wish for a boat so that he could explore. Bear had walked great distances and climbed great heights, but he had not been able to set off across the sea as yet, and this was something that he was eager to do.
   Rabbit still does not know what he wanted to wish for, but he did know that he wanted the world to be a better place, and so he made three glorious wishes that gave his friends what they yearned for. 
   Rabbit’s wishes were beautiful and generous, but he had not wished for anything for himself, and he felt rather forlorn. What Rabbit did not know was that kindness begets kindness, and wishes have a habit of growing. 
   This sweet picture book beautifully shows how rewarding it is to think beyond oneself. Generosity and selflessness are gifts in their own right, but these qualities also have a tendency to reflect back on the giver.
   Throughout this book the delightful and emotive rhyming text is paired with soft illustrations that are truly charming. It is hard not to fall in love with sweet, expressive Rabbit as he hops along on his journey.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Happy Winter Solstice - And a review of Almost a Full Moon




Dear Friends:
A very happy Winter Solstice to you all. As I sit at my desk looking out of the window I can see feathery wisps of a pink dawn trying to peak through thick layer of cloud that fills the sky. As the sun rises higher, splashes of gold take the place of the little delicate wisps. The splashes grow and glow brighter and brighter until it looks as if the sky has been gilded. What a way to start this auspicious day. 
   This evening some dear friends will be coming over to celebrate the Solstice with us. A fire will be blazing in the fireplace, candles will be flickering on the tables and shelves, the dachshunds and cats will be waiting at the door, and the smells of delicious food will fill the house. 
   Today I bring you a review of a book where you will find another house that is filled with candlelight, warmth, and good smells. 


Almost a full Moon
Hawksley Workman
Illustrated by Jensine Eckwall
Picture book
For ages 5 and up
Tundra Books, 2016, 978-1-77049-871-6
The moon is almost full, and outside a little house in the snowy woods a boy collects wood. Back at the house his grandmother stirs a huge round-bellied pot that is full of hot, savory soup. Her grandson adds some herbs to the steaming pot that contains “Pumpkin and parsnip, carrot and turkey bones. Bay leaf and pepper, potato and garlic cloves.” The gifts of the harvest create a meal that will be perfect to eat on this cold winter night.
   Soon friends arrive at the little house, drawn there by an invitation to have some soup in the candlelit room. They come bearing gifts, smiles, and rosy cheeks. In addition to the expected guests, there are a few unexpected ones. A girl with flaming hair traveling on the back of a giant wolf arrives with her animal friends. There is always room for more and they join the party, for the boy and his grandmother have made enough soup to “feed everyone we know” and  “everyone we don’t.” 
    Based on the lyrics from Hawksley Workman’s song Almost a Full Moon, this picture book gives readers a glimpse of a cold, moonlit winter’s night. The white of the snow, leafless trees, and blue shadows are juxtaposed by the golden welcoming warmth of the little house, where friends, both old and new, gather to sip soup, share news, and dance. 
   In this book unassuming and evocative illustrations provide a perfect backdrop for the text, giving readers of all ages a thoughtful and memorable story experience. 



Monday, December 20, 2021

Friends are the best gifts - And a review of Bear Gives Thanks

On Saturday afternoon a few much loved friends came over for high tea. Everybody brought delicious things to eat, and we sat in front of the fire with full plates and glasses of bubbly, celebrating being together again after a long hiatus. As always there was much laughter, and I cannot tell you how incredibly happy it made me to see those smiling faces. I was reminded, yet again, that my friends are so dear to me and their presence in my life is a gift. 
   Today I bring you a story about another group of friends who gather, who bring treats to share, and who give thanks for the ties of friendship that connect them. 

Bear Says Thanks 

Illustrated by Jane Chapman 
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2012, 978-1416958567
It is a cold and windy day, and Bear is bored and missing his friends. Then Bear comes up with an idea; he will put together a feast that he can share with his friends. This is a splendid plan, but there is a rather big problem; Bear’s food cupboard is empty. How can Bear host a feast if he has no food?
   Thankfully for Bear, his friends are generous creatures and they come to Bear’s lair in ones, twos, and threes bringing all kinds of delicious things to eat. Bear thanks Mouse for his pie, Hare for his muffins, and Badger for the fish that he has brought. He also thanks Gopher, Mole, Owl, Raven, and Wren for their contributions. Poor Bear is grateful for the things his friends have brought to his home, and he feels terrible because he has nothing to share with them.
   The story in this wonderful picture book explores the idea that friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Children will see that true friends, and the times we share with them, are precious.
   This is one of the titles in a collection of books featuring Bear and his friends.
   


Thursday, December 16, 2021

A time to reflect, and a review of Thankful by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill

 

This morning we got our first real snow of the season, and just by chance this book found its way onto my desk. How appropriate it is that a title about thankfulness should appear at a this particular moment, for these are the days when many of us take the time to rest, and to consider the old year that is fading and the new year that is coming. I bring the people I love into my home and together we celebrate, and give thanks, for the things that truly matter, just as the little girl in this book does. 

Thankful 
Illustrated by Samantha Cotterill
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2021, 978-1-5344-7734-6
Every year a little girl and her family start making “thankful chains” on the day when the first snow starts to fall. On strips of colored paper they write down what they are thankful for, and then they create a paper chain using the pieces of paper. 
   The little girl starts with the things that she is thankful for that are found in her home. She has parents who love her, and who show their love with every story that they read to her; with every gentle stroke as they brush her hair; and with the poem, full of good wishes, that they share with her every night at bedtime. One of those wishes has come true and now the little girl can be thankful for the little dog who “jumps when I am happy and comforts when I am scared.”
   The little girl goes on to give thanks for big things like “a heart that beats” and “every breath,” and the colors that makes her world so beautiful and exciting. Then we hear about the wonderful things that are warm and give comfort, for things that are cold, for things that are soft, and for things that are hard. 
   Onto the little strips of paper all these words of thanks go, with one sentence of thanks leading to a memory that brings forth another. 
   Many of us forget that we have a great deal to be thankful for. We are in so much of a hurry to move on to what comes next, that we don’t take the time to stop and look at, and to remember, all the gifts that we already have. It is only when we take this time to reflect that we realize that we have so many beautiful, special, and enriching things in our lives. 
   On the pages of this picture book, readers will find a lyrical text that summons up memories as it is read; as the little girl remembers her thankful things, we remember ours. These lines are paired with photos that combine dioramas and drawings in a unique and emotive way. 
   This is book that will encourage children and their grownups to pause and find gratitude, and readers might even decide to bring chains of thankfulness into their homes. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Contest for the 2022 Key Colors Illustrator Awards

 


The 2022 Key Colors Illustrators Awards Award for the Best Picture book concept, has launched! Are you an illustrator or do you know an illustrator based in the United States or Canada? Enter in the competition for a chance to win 8,000 dollars and be published by Clavis Publishing.









Monday, December 13, 2021

News about Through The Looking Glass and a review of Hush Hush, Forest.

A block print from Hush Hush, Forest


 Dear Friends,

A big change is coming to Through the Looking Glass Book Reviews. For twenty years I've been posting first twelve, and then six, issues of the journal every year. Then I got Covid in March of 2021 and was laid very low indeed. As I lay on my sofa, under a pile of dachshunds,  I often though about TTLG and how I might like to change it so that I can have more flexibility in my work life. Publishing the journal was a lot of work and I was feeling a little weary of the process. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do things differently. From now on I will no longer be publishing issues of the journal. Instead, the website is now the library of all the reviews I have written, all nine thousand nine hundred and nineteen of them, and it is also where all the book topic features, author and illustrator bios, resource lists, and more will be housed.
   This blog is where new reviews, features, articles, interviews, giveaways, biographies, and contest information will be found. All the reviews, biographies, and features that are posted here will be put in the library of the TTLG website as well. 
    I am really looking forward to this new chapter in my life. It will be exciting to spend more time reading and writing and less time filling in backstage data forms! 
   We had a rather warm and dry October and November, and though the leaves on the trees changed color, autumn seemed to be decidedly uninterested in performing as it should. In the last few days
we have had blessed rain, and the mountains are dusted with snow. I love seeing one season shift into another, and I can now feel that winter is just around the corner. 

   Today's book describes this change beautifully. This is a picture book for young children but, as is the case with so many of the picture books that I review, adults will also enjoy exploring the luscious artwork and the lyrical text. 
   Nick Wroblewski created the stunning artwork in this book. He is an artist and printmaker specializing in handmade woodcut blockprints; his art is in private collections and galleries throughout the country. He has also illustrated Mary Casanova's book Wake Up, Island and lives in Duluth, Minnesota, with his wife and two children.  
   Mary Casanova is the author of more than thirty books for young readers, ranging from picture books such as One-Dog Canoe and Wake Up, Island to the novels Moose Tracks and Frozen . Her books have earned the American Library Association Notable Award, Aesop Accolades from the American Folklore Society, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, and Booklist Editors’ Choice, as well as two Minnesota Book Awards. She and her husband live in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. 

 

Hush Hush, Forest
Mary Casanova
Illustrated by Nick Wroblewski
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
University of Minnesota Press, 2018, 978-0-8166-9425-9
As two children snuggle under blankets to read a book, golden leaves drift down from the trees that stand outside, fluttering past their windows. The days shorten and soon we see the wild animals of the woods preparing for the cold that is coming.
   The loons sing their last song and then take to the sky. The beavers gnaw through tree trunks until aspens fall down; they will be used to build a lodge. Raccoons get busy eating as much as they grow fat and their “pelt grows thick.”
   Like “wisps of fire” the northern lights flicker across the sky. Dancing ribbons in blue, green, yellow, and pink dazzle those who see them.
   With evocative and lyrical word pictures, and beautiful woodcuts, the creators of this book bring readers a spectacular picture of the changing seasons as they are unfold in the north woods in North America. We hear voices and the swish and hum of wings. We can almost smell the snow falling. This book is a treat for all the senses.

You can view my review of Wake Up, Island on the TTLG website. 

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