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 25, 2022

An (accidental) Book Expotition in Kansas City - Part Two

Dear Friends:

On Saturday we went to the farmer's market in the city, which takes place in the center of a plaza. Specialty food groceries, restaurants, and other shops enclose the plaza in a frame of delicious smells, bright colors, and interesting sights. In the open space in the plaza there were rows of vendors selling flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables, baked goods, soap bars, and other handmade items. What a treat it was so see many beautiful and delicious looking items. If I could have I would have bought a large selection of succulent plants; a vendor there had varieties I had never seen before. Alas, traveling on a plane with a flat of plants is more of a challenge than I am willing to take on. 
   We began by buying the ingredients that we would need to make our pasta primavera dinner: baby carrots, thin asparagus, blue oyster mushrooms, and baby peas. Then we walked around the shops where we bought artisanal pasta and pecorino romano cheese. I also got a selection of sweet delicacies from a Middle Eastern grocery. I had to be firmly removed from a spice shop before I bought a container of every spice and herb in the place.
   We then came to a shop called Dutch Flowers which did indeed sell plants and garden related items, but it also sold a wide variety of other things including bags, scented candles, tea towels, toys, clothes, and an eclectic selection of other goods. And books. Such wonderful books. 
   I managed to restrain myself and only bought two books for young readers. One is a nonfiction book about trees; you will soon learn that I have a deep fondness for trees and so I have a lot of books about them. The other is a picture book called Florette, which was written and illustrated by Anna Walker
   This book reminds me of how lucky I am to live and work in a place where I am surrounded by natural spaces. We live on a ten acre farm that is surrounded by other farms, and just a short drive away there are hiking trails that twist and turn up into the mountains. My town has a beautiful park in its heart, complete with a creek, beautiful trees, and hundreds of flowering shrubs and plants. I could never trade what I have here for a life in a city, though I enjoy visiting cities to go to museums, restaurants, and theatre shows. 

Anna Walker
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Clarion Books, 2018, 978-0-544-87683-5
Mae and her family are moving to the city, and Mae is deeply disappointed that she cannot bring her garden with her. Her mother tells her that Mae can create a new garden when she gets to the city, but it turns out that there is “no room among the crowded buildings for apple trees and daffodils.” 
   Outside, instead of green grass to lie on and trees to climb, there are cement paths, and in the apartment all there is is a forest of cardboard moving boxes. Mae misses her garden so much that she uses her colored chalks to draw a garden on the cement in the countyard below her apartment. Large, colorful drawings of grass, plants, flowers, caterpillars, beetles, and butterflies fill the space, but the rain soon washes them all away.
   Next Mae draws a garden on the sides of the boxes in the apartment, and she sets up a picnic next to boxes that have an apple tree drawn on them. Unfortunately the apple tree boxes fall over and the picnic is ruined. 
  Needing a break from boxes, Mae and her mother go to visit a park; instead of grass and plants, the ground is covered with gravel. Mae sits on a swing, which is when she sees a bird, a bird that is just like the ones that used to sit the apple tree in her garden at her old home. Mae follows the flying bird and it leads her to a ….forest! 
   The forest is inside a garden shop that is called Florette. The bird is able to fly through an open window, but Mae cannot get into the wonderful shop with its huge tropical plants, its succulents, and its trailing vines because the shop is closed. Mae waits and waits for the shop to open but no one appears to flip the closed sign. 
   For many of us, having access to green spaces is essential for our well-being. This is certainly the case for Mae, the main character in this indelible picture book. A spare text is paired with artwork that beautifully captures how empty Mae’s life is when she leaves her home to move to the city. Green is singularly absent in the illustrations until the moment when Mae discovers Florette with its precious ‘forest’ of growing things. 
   Through her story in this provocative book, Anna Walker reminds us that having growing things around us enriches our lives in many ways. We all need plants, trees, flowers, and birds and butterflies to ground us and connect us with the natural world. Such things calm our mind and give us a reprieve from the noise and bustle of our school, work, and domestic lives. 

An author called Carter Higgins, whose books I have reviewed in the past, interviewed the author of Florette to ask her about her creative process. You can 'view' this interview online on Carter's blog, which is called Design of a Picture Book 

What I love about this story is the way in which Florette figures out how to bring growing things into her life despite the fact that she is living in a place that grows more cement than grass and trees. A little creativity can go a long way. 
   After we got married, my husband and I lived in a small second floor apartment in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. We had no veranda, and so we grew our 'garden' in window boxes, and the apartment was full of houseplants. Little pots of geraniums and herbs sprouted on the windowsills in the summer, and I used miniature evergreens potted out in blue glazed pots to brighten up our home in the winter. 


Monday, May 23, 2022

A Book Expotition in Kansas City - Part One

Artwork from Little Men created by Ruth Ives

Dear Friends:

This week I was in Kansas City for four days to see my daughter and to celebrate her twenty-second birthday with her. My husband and I had never visited her in her space before, so this was something of a milestone for us; being our daughter's 'guest!' 
   On Wednesday morning we set of on out first expotition, (1) and the first thing that I noticed as we drove into the city was that the topography was flat. Really flat. I live in a narrow valley that is surrounded by mountains, so this was a little bit of a shock to the system. One thing that I did like very much is that is wonderfully green. Here in the Pacific Northwest the summer "toasted" season is already starting, so seeing green trees and grass is a treat for us.
   After stopping at Ibis, a marvelous bakery, for a pastry and some coffee, we headed to Prospero's, a three storey building packed with used books and other media. It has been a quite a while since I set foot in a large bookshop of this kind, and the moment I stepped in the aroma of used books wafted over me like a well-loved old quilt; I gave a sigh of deep pleasure and started exploring the shelves. 
   I found some wonderful copies of Little Men and Jo's Boys written by Louisa May Alcott and illustrated by Ruth Ives. They were published in 1955 and are in excellent condition. These books continue the story of the characters that readers got to meet in the classic books Little Women and Good Wives 
 I also got 75 Years of Children's Book Week Posters: Celebrating Great Illustrations of American Children's Books. In 1915 Franklin K. Mathiews (who founded Boy's Life Magazine) decided that he would bring together parents, teachers, librarians and others so that they could, together, create an annual week-long celebration of books and reading. Mathiews teamed up with two very powerful allies, Frederic G. Melcher and Anne Carrol.
   Frederic G. Melcher was the editor of Publisher's Weekly for many years and a huge supporter of children's books. In fact he was the one who proposed the Newbery Medal in 1922, an annual award for "the most distinguished book for children." In 1937 Melcher proposed the Caldecott Medal to honor children's picture books. 
   Anne Carrol was an American educator, writer and advocate for children's libraries. In 1896 Carrol accepted an offer to organize a children's room at the Pratt Institute Library in Brooklyn. Up to this point children had usually been considered a nuisance in library settings, and were often excluded from libraries until they were at least 14 years of age. Carrol set about changing this. She created a welcoming space for children with child-sized furniture, open stacks, cozy reading nooks, story times, puppet shows, summer programming, quality juvenile literature, and perhaps most importantly, librarians committed to working with children. In 1906 she became the the superintendent of children's work at the New York Public Library. 
   Together, with the help of the publishers' and bookseller's associations,' Mathiews, Melcher, and 
Carrol formed a Book Week Committee, and in 1919 the illustrator Jessie Wilcox created the first Children's Book Week poster. The poster was reused for the next four years. Over the years recommended book lists, school and public library events, parades, and other grassroots events have popular around the country, and every year an illustrator is asked to create a poster for the occasion. 
   In 1944 the Association of Children's Book Editors created the Children's Book Council (CBC) to take over the running of Children's Book Week. Then in 2008 the administration of Children’s Book Week, including planning official events and creating original materials, was transferred to Every Child a Reader, CBC’s charitable arm. 
   Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, young people across the country participate by attending events at schools, libraries, bookstores, celebrating at home, and engaging with book creators both online and in person. The 2022 Children’s Book Week will take place during two dedicated weeks of celebration, May 2-8 and November 7-13.

A Sample of Children's Book Week Posters
From left to right - Jessie Wilcox 1924, Kate Seredy 1962, Lane Smith 1995
From Left to Right - Jan Brett 1996, Kevin Henkes 2002, Jon J. Muth 2010

(1) The word expotition refers to “voyages of discovery in which, it is hoped by all concerned, nothing Fierce is discovered.” A.R. Melrose, The Pooh Dictionary: The Complete Guide to the Words of Pooh and All the Animals in the Forest, 1995. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Collector of Books

What if people we consider collectors today were actually just dragons in disguise, building their hoards?

“I am a dragon. And this is my hoard.”

“You… don’t look like a dragon.”

“Well, hardly anyone does, these days. Times have changed, we have too. The scales and tails thing worked with the dinosaurs, but we learned quite quickly that… that wasn’t going to fly with you people.”

“You were around all the way back to the dinosaurs?”

“Well, not like… me personally. How old do you think I am?”

“… There’s no safe answer to that.”


“So… when you say this is your hoard…?”

“All dragons have them. Some stick to the old gold and jewels thing, but that’s so cliché these days. Most of us like our hoards to be a little bit more sophisticated than ‘shiny.’“

“Like what?”

“I have known dragons to collect snowflakes from the first fall of the year over dozens of centuries. I know dragons that collect petals of flowers left on the graves of loved ones. Dragons that keep and care for soft toys and comfort items, left behind as children grow up. Dragons that guard happy memories and shards of sunlight, kept safe for rainy days. And me, I keep a sanctuary of words. A bastion of language, of poetry. Of written music and achingly beautiful prose. I am the Guardian of this monument to linguistic majesty. I collect stories of love and life and death and mourning and joy. There is nothing more beautiful in all the world, no coin or gem or sliver of starlight more fantastic than a well-told tale. A story is this world’s truest treasure, and what better chest for it than a book?”

I grew up in a house full of books, most of which had been collected over the years by my father. He loved the written word, and he shared that love with me. Most of the books that I read came from the British Council library, but I also had quite a good little library of my own. When I was older I read a lot of my father's Penguin classics. which is how I discovered books written by Hemingway, Colette, Austen, Fitzgerald, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Steinbeck, Orwell, and others.
   When I moved to the United States in 1991 I came with two suitcases that contained very few books, but it wasn't long before books started to fill the little basement flat that I shared with a co-worker. Then I married by husband and the book collecting started in earnest. We lived in Virginia where there are many wonderful book and antique shops, many of which we explored. We even took a long weekend to go to a town in Pennsylvania where they have a huge antique market every year. I still remember that we bought a whole set of books about the American Civil War there, which I read with great interest. We had visited many of the battlefields in Virginia and it was grand to read about the war, and thus to better understand what had happened. 
   In 1993 my interest in children's literature started to bloom and I began collecting books that I had once owned, books that I had loved when I was growing up. Then I discovered authors and illustrators that were new to me and I started to collect their books. Of course, when I started reviewing books written for young readers the trickle of books coming into our house turned into a flood. 
   Like many children and adults I have collected things - stamps, decorative boxes, and the like - over the years, but my book collection is my real pride and joy. I have enough non-fiction books to keep my brain busy and engaged for many lifetimes, and access to thousands of novels that will take me on wonderful adventures to places real and imagined. Knowing this makes my heart happy. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Rediscovering treasured books


Dear Bookish Friends,

Oh how I have missed you all. It has been a very a very trying few weeks health wise, and I am daring to hope that I might be on the upslope at long last. I had to spend quite a few days in bed and the only things that made it bearable were audiobooks, books, my three dogs, and my honorary dog (who is a cat). I had a nerve block procedure done to see if that would help with my Long Covid symptoms, but alas it has not worked and I am back to square one. To say that this is tedious is an understatement.
   One of the few enjoyable things I have been able to do a few times is to unbox some book boxes. From 1998 until 2007 we lived on a farm in the countryside near Richmond, Virginia. The house was quite large and it had very tall ceilings. My dear husband built floor to ceiling bookshelves in every single room except the bathrooms, including the top hallway landing. Both of us love books and somehow we never seem to be able to go anywhere without buying books, so we have a lot of them; and I do mean lot. The nonfiction titles lived in the library and sitting room, fiction novels were in our bedroom,  classics were in the dining room, and cookbooks were in the kitchen. All the shelves in the guestroom, halls, and my office were full of children's books that I had either purchased or had been sent to review. 
   Long before I became a full-time reviewer I started collecting children's books, some of which I had had as a child and wanted to own again, and some of which were new. Obviously, I cannot keep all the books I review and most have been donated to public or school libraries along the way. So, the collection I had in the house were the books that I particularly treasured. When we left Virginia to come to Oregon these books were put into one hundred and seventy-five or so file boxes, and we drove them across the country in a big truck. 
 Up until now we have not had a place to put these books, and so they have lived in the garage, and of course more books have been added to their number; now there are two hundred and fifty boxes! On the days when I could get up for a little while my husband brought some boxes into the house for me to open up. I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to see my old friends again. I don't know what is in the boxes and so every time I lift a lid it feels like a big unveiling moment. All that is needed is a musical fanfare of some kind. I will not be keeping them all (as I cannot afford to build a second house) and so the local school library system is going to get a lot of them. 
   As I go through the boxes I'm going to introduce you to some of my treasures. Today I bring you Adele and Simon, a book written and illustrated by my friend Barbara McClintock. Though I really like the sweet story, what I particularly love about this book is the artwork. Barbara's illustrations are always, always magnificent. She uses a color pallet that has an old-world feel to it, and they are gorgeously detailed. It is hard to convey how remarkable her artwork is. I happily spend many minutes looking at all the details in her illustrations, finding little stories in the artwork that tease my imagination. To create her artwork Barbara "did all the artwork by hand, using a dip pen with a flexible steel nib and waterproof ink, and watercolor. It took at least three weeks to a month to complete each full color double page spread (not counting the time spent with all the research and creating the sketch)." I'm thinking that I might like to get a few prints of the artwork to put in my office. 

Adele and Simon
Barbara McClintock
For ages 4 to 8
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006, 978-0374380441
Today, as is usual on every school day, Adele is picking up her little brother Simon from his school. One of the first things Adele does is to ask her brother to "please try not to lose anything today." From her words it sounds as if Simon is in the habit of losing things. Unfortunately, today is no exception. The children are not far from the school when Simon realizes that he has lost the cat drawing that he did in class that day. The children are in the middle of a street market and they look and look everywhere for the picture but they cannot find it. On they walk through the Jardin de Plantes. Here Simon climbs a tree, much to Adele's annoyance. Somehow he manages to lose his books.
   The children go from place to place through the colorful and vibrant city of Paris. They visit Pont-Neuf, the Louvre art museum, a patisserie where they have a snack, and many other places, and in each one Simon loses something. Why, by the time they get home Simon has lost his coat, hat, gloves, scarf, sweater, knapsack, books, and crayons. Luckily the items he has lost find their way back to him.
   Children will love this simple and amusing story, sympathizing with Simon, and understanding how hard it is not to lose things every so often. Better still, young readers will have a wonderful time trying to find Simon's lost possessions in the detailed, meticulously executed drawings that fill the double page spreads. The soft colors in the beautiful artwork give the pictures a delicious vintage feel.
   At the back of the book the author includes information about each of the places that the two children visit, and inside the covers readers will find a map of Paris which shows them where each of the places are.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy (Dachshund) Easter!


Typically Easter cards have images of bunnies and chicks and flowers on them. I could have chosen a typical card for my Easter greetings, but I'm proud to say that I tend to lean towards the quirky. Therefore, Happy (Dachshund) Easter!
   The reason I chose this card is that I am a dachshund fan. I have three of them and they are such wonderful little dogs. 
   I grew up with a medium sized dog, and we tended to have medium to big dogs until I rescued a little white Westie cross from a puppy mill. He was small and I came to appreciate that having a dog that likes to sit on ones lap, and does not squash you in the process, is rather a wonderful thing. 
   When he died I decided to get a dachshund. It turned out that the puppy, Hugo, was deaf, but he was clever and a quick learner, so he had no trouble at all learning sign language. Then I rescued a second deaf dachshund, Toby. Finally I got Milo from a breeder and he serves as Hugo and Toby's Hearing Ear dog. 
   These three little dogs have been a lifesaver for me during these last few years. I don't know how I would have managed with their companionship as I battled covid. 

Left to right: Hugo (Love Muffin), Toby (Woobie), Milo (Monkey, Pest, Little Devil....)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Egg decorating in different cultures, with a review of Beautiful Eggs.

I used to think that egg decorating was a tradition that was only found in countries where Easter is celebrated. It turns out that I am wrong! For example, in Mexico they decorate eggs for Cinco de Mayo and other celebrations, in addition to Easter. 
   I mostly grew up on the island of Cyprus, which is a Greek Orthodox country. Easter is the biggest
religious holiday of the year on the island, and they have many wonderful traditions that you only get to experience at that time. Special foods are prepared, including a sweet and savory bread called Falounes, which I am particularly partial to. The bread contains halloumi cheese (which is only made in Cyprus but is exported to other countries), raisins, mint, sesame seeds and other interesting ingredients. Here is a recipe for this delicious festive bread. 
   Decorating eggs is part of the celebration, and in Cyprus (and other
countries) traditionalists dye the eggs in boiled onion peel water. This gives the eggs a beautiful reddish brown color. People often use leaves and flowers in the dying process. Here is a how-to for those of you who would like try this decorating form. I used to do this with the yiayia (grandmother) who lived in the apartment below ours, and she and I had a wonderful time together. 
  People in Cyprus also dye their eggs a bright red, a tradition that is common in Eastern Orthodox countries including Greece. Of course these days people often buy colored dyes to create multicolored masterpieces. 

Beautiful Eggs: A journey through decorative traditions from around the world 
Illustrated by Alice Lindstrom 
Board Book
For ages 4 to 6
Scribble, 2021, 978-1950354436
When we think of egg decorating, we usually think of Easter festivities. Many people in countries around the world decorate boiled or blown eggs for this spring celebration. However, in some cultures they decorate eggs for other celebrations. In Mexico pretty eggs also appear on Cinco de Mayo and other festive days.
   People have been decorating eggs for centuries, and they have developed all kinds of ways of making eggs beautiful. A great deal of time and effort can be spent on decorating eggs, and some of these creations are so prized that they are put in museums or art galleries.
   In the Ukraine they have been creating extremely colorful eggs that are covered with fine and delicate designs for a long time. Red and green dyes are commonly used, and the designs are drawn on using beeswax.
   In the Czech Republic Easter eggs are decorated using many dye colors, and straw. When the eggs are complete, there are “Shiny kaleidoscope patterns” all over them.
   In Japan they use washi paper to decorate their eggs. The colorful printed papers, that are also use to make origami, are used to cover the eggs.
   With gorgeous collage illustrations and informative pieces of text, the illustrator of this board book introduces children and their grownups to seven different eggs decorating traditions. At the back of the book young readers will find a fold out page that children can use as a stencil to make their own drawing of a decorated egg.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

An omage to Patricia MacLachlan and her book, Sarah Plain and Tall

Sarah Plain and Tall by P.J. Lynch

"I shook my head, turning the white stone over and over in my hand. I wished everything was as perfect as the stone. I wished that Papa and Caleb and I were perfect for Sarah. I wished we had a sea of our own."

In 2009 I set out to read and review as many American award winning books as I could. A few of these titles had made it across 'the pond,' and all the way to the island of Cyprus, which is where I grew up. However, there were so many books that I had never even heard of. One of these books was a slender little volume, a chapter book with an unassuming cover, which had won the Newbery Award. I confess that I didn't have high expectations as I started to read Sarah Plain and Tall on December 9th, 2009. After reading only a few pages I realized that I had found an extraordinary story, a story that I would never forget. That day I learned that books with around a hundred pages can be just as powerful as ones with three hundred pages. I discovered that in the hands of a master, even the simplest of phrases and sentences can have the power to deeply move a reader. 

The author of this story, Patricia MacLachlan, went on to write four more books about Sarah and her family, and I read them all with great pleasure and no small amount of awe. Sarah Plain and Tall was  adapted into a television film starring Glenn Close, and one-act children's musical.

Patricia MacLachlan left us on March 31st. She will be greatly missed by the people who knew and loved her, and by the many authors whom she encouraged and supported. She gifted us dozens of books, many of which I have read and reviewed over the years. On the Through the Looking Glass Patricia MacLachlan Page you will find a biography of this amazing women, and a links to those of her books that I have reviewed. 

Patricia MacLachlan
For ages 7 and up
HarperCollins, 1985, 0064402053
Anna and Caleb’s Mama died the day after Caleb was born. It has been hard being without a Mama for so long, but now Papa has advertised in the paper for a wife and Sarah from Maine has answered.
Letters go between the family on the prairie and the young woman living by the sea. The children worry that Sarah won’t like them, won’t like their simple little house, won’t like Papa, won’t like the prairie where there is no sea and little water – just grass and sky. 
   Sarah agrees to come and visit the family for a month “to see” and she arrives in the spring. Anna hopes desperately that they can all be “perfect” for Sarah so that she will stay. She wishes that they had “a sea of our own,” which would make Sarah miss Maine less.
   Sarah MacLachlan superbly captures the anxiety and tension that the children experience - the fear that they will loose their chance to have a mother at long last. With just the right words she brings the spirit of the prairie and the personalities of the characters to life so that we can see the grass, smell the dust, and experience the worry that flows through Anna and Caleb’s hearts. Full of poignancy, hope and love, this is a story that is timeless, and it will resonate with both children and adults. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Celebrating Library Week, and Poetry Month, with a book that gave me hope

I discovered that one could write one's own story, 
which is something that very few people even consider."

In 1998 I built the first rendition of Through the Looking Glass Book Reviews, and I did it myself, so you can imagine what it looked like! Back then I had no idea what TTLG would become in the years ahead. By 1999 I had got to know quite a few publicists in the publishing houses, and was getting review copies on a regular basis. One of the books I received was The Library, which was created by a husband and wife team. I fell in love with David Small's art and I sought out every book he had worked on. 

This Caldecott Honor book had a profound effect on me; I discovered that I was not the only book-mad person in the world. Here was a story about a real person who filled her house with books. I was not alone in my madness! I also saw how someone turned their passion into something that gave them, and so many other people, joy. I discovered that one could write one's own story, which is something that very few people even consider. If the lady in the story could do what she did with her life, why, I could do something that was untraditional too. 

The story is written in verse, so it is perfect title for Poetry Month.   

The Library
Sarah Stewart
Illustrated David Small 
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, 978-0374443948
From the time when she was a very little girl indeed Elizabeth Brown loved books. She had no interest in dolls or in playing games. All she wanted to do was to read, and read, and read. This state of affairs did not change as she grew up. As more and more books came into her home, her collection of books got bigger and bigger and bigger until it was so enormous that the front door of her house was blocked by piles of books. Even worse was the fact that Elizabeth no longer had room for "one more" book.
   Then Elizabeth Brown found a solution to her problem, a solution that would make it possible for her to go on buying books, a solution that would also benefit the entire community.
   This wonderful story with its spare rhyming text and its emotive watercolor washed paintings, is a joy to read. The dedication in the front of the book tells us that the Elizabeth Brown in the story was in fact a real person who loved books and who was a good friend of the author and illustrator.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Celebrating Library week with Lee Bennett Hopkins


From School People edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins 

This week we are celebrating libraries and the wonderful people who work in them. April is also poetry month, so today I am bringing you a book of poetry that just happens to be all about libraries, librarians, and the people who discover that libraries truly are magical places. 

The late and much loved children’s writer and educator Lee Bennett Hopkins was a devoted promoter of poetry for children. He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and lived with his mother and siblings in a low-income housing project in Newark, New Jersey, after his parents divorced. Lee attended Kean University and earned an MS from Bank Street College of Education. His interest in poetry as an educational tool in the classroom led to his work as a classroom resource coordinator; he also worked as an editor at Scholastic before becoming a full-time writer and editor of anthologies. Leecompiled more than 100 anthologies of poetry for children.

Lee established the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poetry Award to recognize outstanding writing for children.

Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Janet Manning 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2015, 978-1590789247
A library is a special place. Some people think it is ‘just’ a repository for books, a storage place perhaps, but they are wrong. Thanks to the books in a library, people can find information, they can travel to distant lands, and have grand adventures. They can take a break from the world, and spend some quiet time immersed in wonderful words.
   For this marvelous salute to libraries, Lee Bennet Hopkins has brought together poems written by a wonderful selection of poets. On the pages of this book we will meet children for whom their library is a special place. With their library cards in hand - the card that is “more powerful” than a cell phone, a TV remote, or a hundred apps - children find treasures that invite them “to explore” and “to dream.”
   To help young readers in their search for a good read, there is the librarian who, by some magical ability, is always able to help a child find “the perfect book.” Somehow the librarian is able to read a child, like words on a page, and know what he or she needs.
   The library is also a place where you will find storytellers who are able to make “words / leap from pages,” as they read out loud. With the storyteller for company, children make friends with a frog and toad, and they can “walk / down a / yellow brick road.” During their storytimes they are able to believe in “once-upon-a-time” and “happily ever after.”
   There is something for everyone in a library. On the shelves there are dictionaries, books of poetry, fairy tales and so much more. And when night falls, and all the people have left the library, other little beings come out to partake of the library’s treasures.
   This wonderful collection of poems take us into the world of libraries. We enter the library as “Morning pours spoons of sun” onto the shelves, and then leave when “night falls / outside / a / window.” As we close the book we are left with a comfortable feeling, and a yearning to visit our local library where book wonders await us.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Happy Birthday, Richard Peck, author extraordinaire.


I read my first Richard Peck novel, the one reviewed below, in 2000, and I have been a fan of his work ever since. This novel A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories is the first book in a trilogy featuring, among others, the unstoppable Mrs. Dowel. It is the kind of story both young readers and adults will enjoy. Indeed, many of Richard Peck's mid-grade and young adult novels will appeal to adults because their themes are so universal and so pertinent for people of all ages and backgrounds. I strongly urge to get a copy of this book. You will love it. Richard Peck was an incredibly gifted author whose writings made me both laugh out loud and weep a little weep. He wrote books in several genres for young readers, and he also wrote adult fiction and nonfiction.  
   Richard Peck wrote his first line of fiction the day he quit his junior high school teaching job. The year was 1971 and Peck was thirty-seven years old. Teaching had reacquainted him with the challenges of being young: “As adults, we want young people to start looking for themselves, but they only want to look for leaders.”
   He remembers when life was different. “When I was young, we were never more than five minutes from the nearest adult, and that solved most of the problems I write about for a later generation living nearer the edge.” In fact, he remembers the year when everything changed. “I was teaching. It was the second semester of the 1967-68 school year. The change was due to many things: the collapse of family structure, the politicization of schools. . . . But, the authority of the peer group began to replace adult authority, and children quickly learned that they dare not be better achievers than their leaders in the peer group,” he explains. “You only grow up when you’ve walked away from those people. In all my novels, you have to declare your independence from your peers before you can take that first real step toward yourself.”
   Peck calls the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. “the only historic event that had ever happened” in the lives of his current readers. While the event briefly registered with them, he doesn’t see much difference in their lives or attitudes six months later. “This was not an attack on their peer group. When it didn’t impact them directly, then that was all. For these reasons--and so history does not repeat itself--there’s a real need for a greater sense of history in our schools.” Speaking and visiting in schools has inspired him to write historical fiction. “I am nudged by the ignorance of the young about the past,” he says. “I think the origin of history begins with your own roots,” he adds. With extended families often living miles apart, he makes sure to provide grandparent figures for his readers: “I try to include an elderly person in each of my books. These characters are tough, they’re fun, they’re outrageous, and they have survived. They’re what we wish for in our grandparents.”
   Peck was born in Decatur, Illinois, attended the University of Exeter in England, graduated from DePauw University, and served in the U.S. Army before becoming a teacher. The acclaimed author of 35 novels for children and young adults, he won the Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, a Newbery Honor for A Long Way from Chicago, the Scott O’Dell Award for The River Between Us, the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Are You in the House Alone?, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for The Best Man, and the Christopher Medal for The Teacher’s Funeral. He was the first children’s author ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal, and was twice a National Book Award Finalist.
   The world lost a truly great writer when Richard Peck left us in 2018 at the age of 84

Richard Peck
For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2000, 978-0141303529
Joey and his sister Alice have always known that their Grandma Dowdel is a tough old lady, but it is only when they start spending time with her in the summers that they get a real sense of how tough she is. The country is in the grip of the Great Depression and times are hard. Grandma Dowdel, like so many other people, has to adapt to the changing circumstances. Some things don’t change though; Grandma Dowel pretty much always gets what she wants – in the end. Joey and Alice are shocked to discover that there is very little that Grandma Dowdel won’t do to get her own way. She will intimidate, blackmail, bully, lie, and steal, among other things, and she will do it all with great aplomb and not the slightest bit of regret.
   They also discover that their large overall-wearing grandmother has soft spots. She will not tolerate bullies, she does her best to help those in trouble, and in her own crusty way she takes care of the people she cares about.
   In the nine summers that Joey and Alice go to visit their grandmother, they see their first dead body, they watch their grandma fire a shotgun, they see the sheriff in his underwear, they impersonate a ghost, they feed hungry hobos, and they 'borrow' a boat so that they can poach fish.
   Laugh out loud scenes and larger-than-life characters make this book a joy to read. At the same time, it is thought-provoking, and it paints a portrait of a very hard time in America’s history. Grandma Dowdel is a force of nature whom the reader will be compelled to admire. Surely we would all be better off if we had a Grandma Dowdel in our lives.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Jane Goodall - Scientist, Environmentalist, Writer, and Reader

Illustration by Petra Braun 

When I was a student at the University of Oxford studying zoology, Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist, came to town to sign her latest book at Blackwells, Oxford's most marvelous bookshop. Naturally I went to the signing, and as the line was not too long I was able to have a short talk with Dr. Goodall. She was a very slender, almost fragile, looking lady with a soft voice. She looked at me with her penetrating eyes as I stumbled over my words, blushing furiously "Take a breath," she said smiling and tilting her head slightly to one side. Her words made me laugh, and after that I was able to tell her how the books she, Gerald Durrell, and David Attenborough had written had set me on my current path. 

   Later that evening I was invited to attend a gathering that was being held in her honor. Dr. Goodall has difficulty remembering faces and yet for some reason she remembered mine. "Ah, the reader," she said looking at me. She asked if I had ever visit Gerald Durrell's zoo on the island of Jersey, and I told her about how I had worked there for a whole summer. We chatted about my experiences there briefly and then she moved on. Dr. Goodall gave a talk about her new book and I remember feeling deeply moved by the words of this unassuming woman, who was so determined to do all she could to protect the chimpanzees that she had studied for so many years. I could see that Dr. Goodall was the kind of woman who would fight, tooth and nail, in her own quiet way, to protect the animals of this world. She was, and is, an inspiration. 

   Not surprisingly, it turns out that Jane Goodall is also a great reader. In 2020 Enchanted Lion published a book called A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. In it, artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, philanthropists, musicians, and businesspeople who have been lifelong readers offer letters to children in which they talk about their love of reading. Jane Goodall wrote one of these letters. 

Dear Children,

I want to share something with you — and that is how much I loved books when I was your age. Of 
course, back then there was no Internet, no television — we learned everything from printed books. We didn’t have much money when I was a child and I couldn’t afford new books, so most of what I read came from our library. But I also used to spend hours in a very small second hand book shop. The owner was an old man who never had time to arrange his books properly. They were piled everywhere and I would sit there, surrounded by all that information about everything imaginable. I would save up any money I got for my birthday or doing odd jobs so that I could buy one of those books. Of course, you can look up everything on the Internet now. But there is something very special about a book — the feel of it in your hands and the way it looks on the table by your bed, or nestled in with others in the bookcase.

I loved to read in bed, and after I had to put the lights out I would read under the bedclothes with a torch, always hoping my mother would not come in and find out! I used to read curled up in front of the fire on a cold winter evening. And in the summer I would take my special books up my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places and I imagined I was there. I especially loved reading about Doctor Doolittle and how he learned to talk to animals. And I read about Tarzan of the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

I was ten years old when I decided I would go to Africa when I grew up to live with animals and write books about them. And that is what I did, eventually. I lived with chimpanzees in Africa and I am still writing books about them and other animals. In fact, I love writing books as much as reading them — I hope you will enjoy reading some of the ones that I have written for you.

Jane Goodall

More about Jane Goodall's Work

You can find out more about Dr. Goodall and her work on the Jane Goodall Institute websiteIn addition she has created a special global organization called Roots and Shoots who mission is to "empower young people to affect positive change in their communities." 

You can hear her read some of her children's books on her story time page . Here is more information about her books on the Astra Publishing House website. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Happy Poetry Month - A review of Classic Poetry

Dear Friends, 
Happy April and happy Poetry Month.
   When I was little, my father used to read to me. He had such a beautiful reading-aloud voice that I would sit and listen, taking in every syllable. One of the things that he liked to read to me was poetry. I had a collection of classic poetry, and we had such a marvelous time exploring the language in the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and others. 
   When my daughter was little I bought her the book that I have reviewed below, and she and I shared the same wonderful experiences. I reconnected with old friends, and made new ones, and to this day we will quote lines from some of the poems to each other, even though she is now an adult, living far away. 

Selected by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Paul Howard 
For ages 8 and up
Candlewick, 2009, 978-0763642105
In this day and age so many of us expect to be constantly entertained when we read. We like titles that have a fast-paced plot, ones that will keep us engaged all the way through the book. We are less willing to explore words and the images and emotions that they describe or conjure up. Because of this tendency, we often miss out on some wonderful stories, and we completely bypass poetry. Reading poetry can take a little more work; it is a little more demanding than a simple narrative. At the same time, poetry can give us a wonderfully rich literary experience.
   For this book Michael Rosen, one of Britain’s Children’s Laureates, has selected classic poetry written by some of the world’s most wonderful English language poets. Some of the poets will be known to the reader, like William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, while others will become new friends.
   For each poet Rosen has written a short biography, and so this book is “not only a book of classic poetry; it is also a book of classic poets.” For some of the poets Rosen has chosen more than one poem, and this will help the reader get a richer picture of what the poet cared about.
   In addition to reading poems about Ozymandius, the Mock Turtle, Paul Revere’s Ride, The Jumblies, and much more, readers can read the poet’s biographies, looks at portraits of them, and admire the art that Paul Howard has created to accompany the poems.
   This is a title that young and nor-so-young readers will dip into again and again, and it is a book that they will surely enjoy for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Please look after this bear.

In the late 1930s-1940s, Michael Bond, author of Paddington Bear, saw Jewish refugee children (Kindertransport children) walking through London's Reading Station, arriving in Britain escaping from the Nazi horrors of Europe. 

Mr. Bond, touched by what he saw,  recalled those memories 20 years later when he began his story of Paddington Bear.  One morning in 1958, he was searching for writing inspiration and simply wrote the words: “Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform…” 

“They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions,” Bond said in an interview with The Telegraph before his death in 2017. “So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.”

Paddington Bear - known for his blue overcoat, bright red hat, and wearing a simple hand-written tag that says “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” Paddington embodies the appearance of many refugee children. His suitcase is an emblem of his own refugee status. 

“We took in some Jewish children who often sat in front of the fire every evening, quietly crying because they had no idea what had happened to their parents, and neither did we at the time. It’s the reason why Paddington arrived with the label around his neck”. 

Michael Bond died in 2017 aged 91. The epitaph on his gravestone reads "Please look after this bear. Thank you."

Please look after all the young Bears from all around the world who are having to flee conflict and war. 

Shared from @DavidLundin

Friday, March 25, 2022

Books for Refugee Children

Art by Sophie Blackall

Long ago, but what sometimes feels like yesterday, my family and I fled a war-torn country as refugees. We were lucky in that we were able to take a few trunks full of our possessions with us. Most refugees can only take what they can carry. My mother packed a few of my books, but most of them were left behind and this broke my six-year-old heart. I loved my books. They were my friends, and on their pages I could forget about my problems for at least a little while. 

When your world has been turned upside down, books can offer a child a great deal of comfort. I know this from personal experience.

Here is an article from Publisher's Weekly 

Polish Literacy Foundation Leads Relief Efforts for Ukrainian Kids
By Joanne O’Sullivan 

A child alone, afraid, far from home. With a mother, maybe. Maybe without a father. In a time like this, research shows, a book can offer “a moment of peace, a way to forget,” said Maria Deskur, CEO of Poland’s Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania (Universal Reading Foundation). The Foundation—a collective of more than 20 Polish publishers and distributors—is leading an effort to supply books to Ukrainian refugee children in Poland and funds to Ukrainian publishers.

In the days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s estimated that more than half a million refugees have poured into Poland. About 100,000 are believed to be children. In addition to families, Ukrainian orphanages have been evacuated, and children have been newly orphaned by the war. Deskur—also managing director of children’s publisher Wydawnictwo Słowne—says that virtually everyone in Poland has sprung into action to help—taking refugees into their homes, volunteering at the border or in shelters, supplying material and financial support. Within the publishing industry, the response was almost immediate.

Initial efforts centered on collecting donations of picture books and coloring books from Polish publishers—“books you don’t have to read,” Deskur said. The Foundation is uniquely positioned to help. Formed in 2018 to promote early childhood literacy in Poland, its members are at the heart of the Polish publishing industry, and include Dwie Siostry, publisher of the international bestseller Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski. With its established distributor connections and warehouse and transportation resources, member organizations were able to quickly deliver books to relief groups.

Within days, though, the effort had expanded. Foundation members collected contact information for close to 40 Ukrainian publishers of children’s and adult books. Ukrainian publishers began to email book files to Polish printers who volunteered to print them for free. Eight books—with print runs of 1,000 each—are expected to be delivered on March 8. The books are “warm stories,” Deskur said, a mix of picture books and story books for the youngest children. Foundation member Nowa Era—Poland’s largest educational publisher—offered its network of representatives (connected to virtually every Polish preschool) as well as its distribution channels to get books to schools where Ukrainian refugee students are expected to enroll. To reach kids who won’t yet be in schools, Deskur has relied on her contacts with Poland’s union of municipalities, whose member organizations are in charge of local shelters. The Foundation is also responding to direct requests for books from individuals. Deskur said she heard from a man who had taken in 12 refugee children and wanted a book for each. ”We will try to answer all requests,” she added.

Deskur expects the Foundation’s efforts to be ongoing, emphasizing that in addition to supplying books to kids, financial support for Ukrainian publishers is critical. During World War II, the destruction of Polish books and libraries was widespread and the country’s publishing industry was decimated, she said. After the war, publishing had to begin again from scratch. That rebuilding had effects on the country’s literacy rates that are still felt today. According to the Foundation’s research, Poland lags behind its European neighbors in childhood literacy. Financial support for Ukrainian publishers now can help reduce harm to the sector so that kind of intergenerational impact can be avoided. But there’s an even bigger picture issue at play, Deskur said, since books are essential to democracy.

Depending on the success of fundraising efforts, the Foundation hopes to be able to pay Ukrainian publishers between one and three euros per book for each printed. All printing, distribution, and coordination efforts by Polish companies have been donated, meaning there’s no overhead and 100% of donated funds can go to Ukrainian publishers, Deskur said. While the Foundation aims to prioritize children’s books, its efforts include all publishers.

For the people of Poland, Deskur said, the war is “very near.” While urgent needs for food, shelter, and medical attention are being addressed by aid organizations, Deskur said the Foundation can offer children emotional support through books. As Foundation member publishers have reached out to their international partners, support is beginning to come in from outside Poland. Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall has donated an illustration to help the effort. “I heard about the Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania from Christopher Franceschelli, a pillar of the children’s book community,” Blackall said. “I think there were many of us who wanted to help but didn’t know how. Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania are doing all the hard work on the ground, and those of us who make books and work with children, who know how comforting a book can be, are eager to help them reach their goals.”

Publishing has always been about making connections and reaching out beyond the bounds of language and nationality. “Action is the antidote to despair,” Joan Baez once famously said, and it’s a philosophy that Deskur and her colleagues endorse. In these distressing times, “We have to take care of each other,” Deskur said.

To donate to help supply books to Ukrainian refugee children and funds to Ukrainian publishers, click here. For more information or to partner with the Foundation, email ukraine-funds@fpc.org.pl.

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