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, January 31, 2022

The Redwall Gifts

A summer picnic in the orchard

The Redwall books give readers so much; marvelously rich characters, grand adventures, battles, expeditions, villains, heroes, warriors, beautiful lands to explore, and.....food. Throughout these books meals, feasts, and snacks are described, and let me tell you, they make you hungry. Truly, they do. Here is sample from one of the books:

Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg… crusty country pasties, and these were being served with melted yellow cheese and rough hazelnut bread.

From the otter’s spicy soup to the deep, earthy Deeper’n’Ever Turnip’n’Tater’n Beetroot pies presented by the moles to the fruit-studded scones and and honey-covered hotcakes and colorful salads, reading about a Redwall meal is like being trapped on the wrong side of a window watching someone else’s feast.  You desperately want to get inside, but can’t figure out how to magically transport yourself into the story so that you can try everything just to see if it can possibly be as good as Jacques made it sound.

In his books Jacques makes a point of describing every feast in detail (and there are feasts in every book) and he makes sure that his characters, when they go on their quests, are provisioned with a good supply of rations that would make most fantasy heroes cry with jealousy.  No hardtack for these furry warriors. It’s oatcakes and honey, scones, and bottles of cordial for the heroes who set out from Redwall.

The meals in these stories aren’t just a way to make readers wish that they were smaller, fuzzier, and wielding swords for the good of all creaturekind.  The feasts are a coming-together, often at the start or the end of an adventure.  Friends and family from all over the Mossflower forest are invited into the abbey.  Stories are told beside roaring fires while the adults sip October Ale and the little ones enjoy cups of strawberry fizz or dandelion cordial.  Long-dead heroes visit young warriors-to-be in their sleep and inspire them to set out at dawn.  And once the questing is through and the heroes return home, a feast will be assembled to welcome them again.  Food, feasting, fellowship: the coming together of characters is significant enough to deserve detail.  Rather than leaving it at “and then they ate together,” Jacques satisfies us with extensive description so that we, too, can attend, at least in part – I have yet to receive a slice of deeper’n’ever pie from an obliging mole.

Here is a marvelous article written by Molly Priddy about Redwall Feasts.  In it she mentions The Redwall Cookbook, which I will review soon. 

The Bookish Calendar for February First to February Seventh


Dear Friends:

Here are the birthdays and special days for the first week of February. I hope that you take a look at the features on Through the Looking Glass that celebrate these days on the pages of books.

February 1st - The Lunar New Year 
The Lunar New Year begins on the date (in East Asia) of the second new Moon after the winter solstice, which always takes place in late December. This means that the first day of the Lunar New Year can occur anytime between January 21 and February 20. In 2022, this new Moon occurs in China on Tuesday, February 1, marking the start of the Lunar New Year. 
   The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means that it is based on astronomical observations of the Sun’s position in the sky and the Moon’s phases. This ancient calendar dates back to 14th century BCE (whereas the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582). The Chinese lunisolar calendar shares some similarities with the Hebrew calendar, which is also lunisolar, and it has influenced other East Asian calendars, such as those of Korea and Vietnam. 
   Because the Chinese calendar defines the lunar month containing the winter solstice as the 11th month, Lunar New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
   Just like New Year according to the Gregorian calendar (January 1), Lunar New Year celebrations start on the night before the first day of the new year. 
   Although this holiday has commonly been called “Chinese New Year” in the West, China is not the only country to observe it. Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most celebrated and longest of all Asian festivals, and is observed by millions of people around the world.
   A number of other countries in East Asia, including Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, hold their own new year celebrations at this time. (Occasionally, the date celebrated may differ by one day or even one moon cycle due to time zones and other factors.)
   As with many winter solstice celebrations, the symbolic darkness of night is banished by the light of fireworks, lanterns, and candles. Man-made paper lanterns are hung by the hundreds in public areas, bringing good luck to the new year.
   There are dragon dances, performances, and festival parades with music and acrobatics. The festivities continue for two weeks, finishing with a special lantern festival, which signals the end of the New Year celebration period.
   In 2022, we ring in the Year of the Tiger, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The animal designations of the zodiac follow a 12-year cycle and are always used in the same sequence.

February 1st - The birthday of Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. One of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called jazz poetry, Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "the Negro was in vogue", which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue."

February 3rd - The birthday of Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell (February 3, 1894–November 8, 1978) was an American painter and illustrator best-known for his Saturday Evening Post covers. His paintings depict real American life, filled with humor, emotion, and memorable faces. Rockwell shaped the face of illustration in the mid-20th century and with his prolific body of work, it's no wonder he's called "America's Artist."

February 4th - The birthday of Rosa Lee Parks
Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913–October 24, 2005) was a civil rights activist in Alabama. When she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person her case touched off the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a significant milestone in forcing the Supreme Court to end segregation. She once said, "When people made up their minds that they wanted to be free and took action, then there was change. But they couldn't rest on just that change. It has to continue." Parks' words encapsulate her work as a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

February 4th - The birthday of Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 - August 26, 1974) is known as the first aviator to complete a solo transatlantic flight, which he did in his plane, Spirit of St. Louis. In 1932, his 20-month-old son was kidnapped. The Lindberghs paid the $50,000 ransom, but sadly their son's dead body was found in the nearby woods weeks later. The events made world news and added to Lindbergh's fame. 

February 6th - The birthday of Babe Ruth
Baseball icon Babe Ruth (February 6, 1895 - August 16, 1948) set numerous records as a pitcher and slugging outfielder. He was among the first five players inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, Babe Ruth went on to break baseball's most important slugging records, including most years leading a league in home runs, most total bases in a season, and highest slugging percentage for a season. In all, Ruth hit 714 home runs—a mark that stood until 1974.

February 7th - The birthday of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (February 7, 1812 - June 9, 1870) was a British novelist, journalist, editor, illustrator and social commentator who wrote such beloved classic novels as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Dickens is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century. Among his accomplishments, he has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian-era underclass, helping to bring about social change.

February 7th - The birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pioneer and author Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 - February 10, 1957) wrote the semi-autobiographical 'Little House' book series. She published Little House in the Big Woods, the first of her well-known Little House series in 1932. Wilder finished the last book in 1943. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Classics Monday with a review of Redwall, one of the greatest fantasy books written for readers of all ages


I first read Redwall when I was in my early thirties, and it quite took my breath away. I think what drew me to it the most were the characters. Some filled me with admiration, others made me laugh, and still others filled me with revulsion. My emotional reaction to the mice, hares, moles, rats, and other creatures was very strong indeed. On top of this the food described in the book sounded so delicious!
   I had never read a book like Redwall, and I proceeded to voraciously read the rest of the books in the collection. Once I had caught up, I, like so many other Redwall devotees, eagerly waited for the author, Brian Jacques, to write the next book in the series. Altogether Brian wrote twenty-two and two picture books. The twenty-second, and final, novel, The Rogue Crew was posthumously released on the third of  May in 2011, almost three months after Jacques' death on the fifth February. He is greatly missed. 

For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2002, 978-0142302378
Matthias, a novice mouse at Redwall Abbey, dreams of becoming a warrior like the great Redwall hero, Martin the Warrior. Abbot Mortimer tells his young charge that the "day of the warrior is gone" and that Matthias has to learn how to live a different, peaceful sort of life; he must accept, with good grace and humility, the simple jobs that are given to him. Poor, clumsy and dreamy Matthias, who is not in the least a warrior-type of mouse, cannot help wishing that things were otherwise.
   Then one day the Abbot and his Redwall creatures discover that those times are not gone after all. As Redwall bakes in the warmth of the summer sun, Cluny the Scourge with his horde of rats arrives in Mossflower. As soon as Cluny sees Redwall he decides that he must have the great abbey for himself. It would make a perfect headquarters for his vicious gang, and a stately and impressive residence for an animal who intends to rule over the whole country of Mossflower.
   Suddenly, and with little time to prepare, the peaceful animals of Redwall have to adopt a new way of life. They have to learn how to fight and how to scheme. They have to do everything that they can to protect Redwall and  keep the mice, squirrels and other creatures that live there safe from harm.
   To the astonishment of all, including himself, Matthias steps easily out of his role as a bumbling novice and into a new role as champion of Redwall. As Cluny tries to find ways to get into Redwall, Matthias seeks the legendary sword of Martin, sure in his heart that once he has the sword he will truly be Martin's heir and will be able to protect his home and his friends.
   Packed with gripping action, riddles, and mysteries, this first book in the Redwall series is sure to whet the appetite of the reader. The characters are rich, and so vivid that the reader begins to feel as if they are friends, or enemies, as the case may be. Among others we meet moles who speak in an endearing dialect; a hare who eats more than anyone else imagines is possible; a sparrow who has great courage and ferocity; and a mouse who never gives up.
   Set in a world filled with animal characters, in a time when one has to live off the land, and fend off enemies, to survive, this is a fantasy title that offers readers a memorable reading experience.

Friday, January 21, 2022

A magical ability - Would it be a gift or a curse....or both?

If you are a Beaumont - by blood mind you - you know that after you turn thirteen it is certain that you will develop a magical ability, a "savvy." No one knows what their savvy will be, so the waiting process is rather nerve wracking, as I am sure you can appreciate. Sometimes a savvy is a wonderful thing. One Beaumont's savvy is the gift of perfection; she is always perfect in her looks and behavior. Then there are the savvys that are prone to creating disasters; Fish Beaumont can control the weather. If he does not keep his emotions in check tornadoes and hurricanes appear and wreck havoc. 
   The marvelous New York Times bestselling author Ingrid Law is the person who tells the stories of the Beaumonts and their savvys. To date she has written three books about this remarkable family, Savvy, Scumble, and Switch; Savvy won the Newbery Honor award in 2009. 
  Today I bring you a review of the third book in the series. The book is available in print, as an ebook, and as an audiobook. As with all the books that I've written about so far this year, these three titles will appeal to both young readers and adults. 

For ages 9 and up
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3862-1
Gypsy Beaumont is so eager to turn thirteen. In her family, turning thirteen is a landmark birthday, but not because it is the first of the teen years. When Beaumonts turn thirteen they get their savvy and they are always eager to see what form their savvy will take. A savvy is a magical ability, and no one can tell in advance what it will be. Gypsy’s big brother Sampson can become invisible, and he can become incredible strong. He can even pass this latter ability on to others in a crisis. Her mother’s savvy is that she is always perfect in her appearance, and every other aspect of her life. She is never frazzled or out of sorts, she never drops, breaks, or burns things. Gypsy’s Grandpa Bomba, could “move and stretch” landmasses to make them bigger or smaller. 
   Now it is Gypsy’s turn, and she has high hopes that her savvy will be something fabulous. She is therefore rather disappointed when it turns out that Gypsy’s gift is that she is able to see into the past or the future. The family discovers that her savvy is linked to her poor eyesight. On the very day Gypsy gets a pair of glasses her savvy “visions” stay where they belong. As long as she wears her glasses she is vision free, and so this is what she does; she keeps her head down and plays it safe.
   Three months after she gets her savvy, Gypsy has a vision while they are in church. She sees an old woman standing on a tower. The woman is wearing a bizarre outfit and it is a cold, snowy night. The old lady falls from the tower, surely to her death. Gypsy is sure that the old lady is herself in the future, and she decides that she will do everything that she can to prevent her premonition from coming true. 
   When they get home from church, Gypsy’s father, Poppa, tells his children that his mother, Grandma Pat, is going to have to come to live with them. One of Grandma’s neighbors called and told Poppa that Grandma is becoming forgetful and disorientated, and she cannot live alone any longer. No one is happy to hear this news because Grandma Pat is, to put it simply, not a very nice person. She loves her son, and thinks he made a big mistake when he married Momma. She has never shown much interest in Gypsy and her siblings.
   On hearing this news Tucker, Gypsy’s little brother, proceeds to have a tantrum, which then turns into something else altogether. Tucker starts to get bigger and bigger and bigger. And then Samson bursts into flames. They manage to get the two boys outside where Sampson put himself out in a bank of snow, but Tucker is still in a rage and he is enormous. Desperate for the chaos to cease, Gypsy yells “Stop, stop, stop, stop, STOP!” and everything stops. Literally. Gypsy has frozen time. 
    It takes a while, but Gypsy finally figures out how to unstick time. Tucker is given gummies and he shrinks back to his normal little boy size, and the family set about trying to figure out what is going on. They decide that Momma, Sampson, and Gypsy are experiencing a savvy switch. Instead of being perfect Momma is very imperfect; instead of being invisible Sampson  gets hot and can light himself on fire; and instead of being able to see into the past and the future, Gypsy can now stop time. On top of this Tucker has got his savvy a lot sooner that is the norm Apparently he can make himself big. Really big.
   Feeling very out of sorts and pretty miserable, the Beaumonts set off for Colorado a few days later to pick up Grandma Pat. Poppa has to stay home to get the house repaired because Tucker did a lot of damage when he got his savvy. When they finally get to their destination they can see very clearly that the neighbor was right, Grandma Pat certainly cannot live alone. She drifts between her memories of the past and the present and wanders off without any warning. This situation is bad enough, but what makes things even worse is that Gypsy comes to realize that the old woman on the tower in her vision was Grandma Pat and not herself. Somehow Gypsy has to make sure that Grandma Pat does not end up on that tower on a cold, snowy, wintery night.
   This remarkable companion to Savvy and Scumble takes readers on a whirlwind adventure that is full of surprises. As Gypsy, Sampson, and Tucker race to save Grandma Pat from herself, they collect a colorful collection of allies along the way. In addition Gypsy learns some interesting things about her grandmother that give her cause to think about things in a new way. Gypsy had convinced herself that the solution to her problems was to live under the radar and to suppress her natural “sparkle” and ebullience. Could it be that this strategy is not the answer after all?  

About Ingrid Law:
Before Ingrid Law wrote her Newbery Honor book Savvyand its companion books Scumble and Switch, she had many different jobs and interests, including: issuing marriage licenses, being a mom, selling shoes, working in a bookstore, designing and sewing costumes, puppets, and dolls, and creating art quilts she displayed and sold in galleries. Ingrid was born in northern New York but moved to Colorado when she was 6 years old, where she grew up and lived for many years before moving to Portland, Oregon, for five wonderful, rainy years. Back in Colorado now to look after her aging parents, Ingrid spends her free time reading, writing, watching movies, and contemplating small and lovely things in the garden behind her house—a house just big enough for her and her two dogs, George and Eliot. Ingrid has a new children's fantasy book in the works, but cannot say yet when it will be finished.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why do we write? To educate, to entertain, and to touch the hearts of our readers

When I read this post from the great Kate DiCamillo I smiled from the tips of my toes to the tips of my ears, and, unbidden, my hand found its place over my heart. This is why people write for children, and this is why I love to read children's book literature. I believe that authors who write for the young have a gift for creating a kind of word magic that is rarely seen in adult literature. They create characters who are not only memorable, but whose words and actions also touch our hearts. The little boy who met Kate DiCamillo deeply cared about Despereaux. He was afraid for him and needed to know that the little mouse would "be okay." 
   It is my dream to be able to touch my readers in this way one day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Children's literature enriches the lives of adult readers

Some years ago my daughter gave me the book What the Dormouse said: Lessons for grownups from Children's Books. The marvelous Judith Viorst, a famous children's book author, wrote the forward for the book, and in it she says: 

"In my editing days...the children's book department was the patronized kid sister of the far more important, and self important, adult book department, where, it was deemed, the serious action took place. I didn't - and don't - accept this point of view. 
   For I've always believed that, at their best, the language and art of books for children are as good as it gets. At their best, the subjects treated in these books include almost all our central human concerns. At their best children's books offer insights we'll want to remember and ponder and savor and learn and revel in."

I completely agree with this. I believe children's literature is a gift for readers of all ages,  which is why I am writing these posts. Now, more than ever, we need children's literature in our lives so that we remember how to see the world through eyes full of wonder, how to think about at least "six impossible things before breakfast," and how to reclaim some of the virtues of our younger selves.

   I can remember how excited my child self was when I was able to progress from picture books and simple little chapter books to hefty novels. It was a rite of passage for me, and I was so proud on the day when I left the library with a stack of books that had not come from the children's section. At this point in our lives we are all so eager to do the next 'big thing' that comes with growing up; "onward and upward" is our rallying cry. We set aside the 'babyish' things that we loved, eager to embrace the things that are for people who are bigger and older.

   Unfortunately, this can mean that we set aside books that, though they were written for children, have an ageless quality. I know of many people who still love to read the Winnie the Pooh books, particularly in hard times. The sweet humor and gentle wisdom that lies within the Pooh stories can be very healing for a hurt, weary, or anxious adult heart. Often adults are reluctant to admit that Pooh still has the power to delight them because they feel that an adult should only be reading books that are written for adults. 

   Let us set this idea aside, my friends. Childhood favorites such as The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Sarah Plain and Tall, Wishtree, Redwall, Harry Potter, and James and the Giant Peach offer us adults a reprieve from our busy and often stressful lives. Some convey a truth, or several truths, that we need to be reminded of. Others make us laugh and lift us up with their extraordinary language.

   The books that I will be telling you about in this blog are books for children AND adults. In some cases adults will enjoy a book I mention as they read it to a child, and talk about the subject matter with that child. Adults will learn something new or will be reminded of something important that they have forgotten.

   In other cases adults will enjoy reading the books I talk about on their own, for themselves. In these books adults will go on adventures with marvelous characters, they will learn about remarkable people, they will revel in language that is rich and emotive. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Classics Monday - Romanticism, L.M. Montgomery, and Anne of Green Gables


I recently started re-reading the Anne of Green Gables stories and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I'll be honest with you; I really did not expect to like the stories this much. The style of writing that L.M. Montgomery used in her stories - Romanticisim - is flowery, sentimental, and sometimes a little overly sweet for our modern sensibilities. 
   Romanticism was a literary movement that emphasized individualism and emotion. The Romantic era lasted from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, but its effects are still evident throughout modern literature.

L.M. Montgomery
   Romantic works were a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment and the   advancing Industrial Age, a time in which science and rationalization   began to take firmer hold in the public consciousness. Romantic   literature challenged this new wave of ideas by telling stories rooted in   emotion, nature, idealism, and the subjective experiences of common   men and women.
   It’s important to note that romanticism, as a literary movement, is not   the same thing as the literary genre of romance novels. Romanticism   may be an influence on today’s romance novels, but romance novels do   not typically possess all the elements central to Romantic-era literature. Also, the term Romantic does not refer directly to romantic love. It comes from the medieval French romaunt, the term for an epic, chivalrous quest told in verse.
   What I like about the Anne books is that, unlike many other authors of that time, the female characters in these stories are not idealized; they are not presented as "innocent, na├»ve bundles of perfection that needed sheltering and, in some cases, outright worship." They are flawed, and funny, and kind, and rude, and sometimes even downright annoying. 
      If you have a love of words, and an interest in stories that grow and evolve with the characters, then the Anne of Green Gables books will suit you. They are entertaining, and they are gently funny because Anne herself is an amusing and delightful character. 

Anne of Green Gables
Ages 10 and up
Random House, 1982 , 978-0553213133
To the amazement of the good people of Avonlea, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a brother and sister who never married, have decided that they are going to adopt an orphan boy; Matthew is no longer as young as he used to be and he could do with a little help around the farm. The thing of it is, when Matthew goes to get the boy from the train station he discovers that some kind of mix-up has taken place, and there is a girl waiting for him at the station and not a boy. She's not just any girl either. This girl has flaming red hair, she never seems to stop talking, and what she says can be very peculiar and very funny.
   Though Anne Shirley has had very little education, she has somehow picked up a lot of ideas, and she is a bottomless well of questions. Matthew, who normally is rather afraid of little girls, is quite bewitched by the strange and fanciful child. At first Marilla is convinced that Anne should be returned to the orphan asylum as soon as is possible, but Anne, in just a few days, grows on her too. Matthew is convinced that Anne should stay, and before Marilla quite knows what is what, Anne is settled into one of the gable bedrooms in the Cuthbert house.
   Marilla with her sharp tongue and old-fashioned ideas, and Matthew with his gentle, quiet and generous ways, soon find themselves severely tried by the “scrapes” that Anne gets into. No matter how hard she tries, Anne still manages to ‘find’ trouble.
   There is the time when Anne gets her best friend Diana quite drunk by accident. On another occasion Anne puts some very unexpected flavoring in a cake; she mistakes a bottle of iodine for a bottle of vanilla and the result is too dreadful to eat. One day Anne plays the part of a poetical heroine only to discover that the boat in which she is sitting is sinking.
   When she is not getting into trouble, Anne is coming up with all sorts of ideas, the more “romantic” they are the better. Anne’s biggest asset, perhaps, is that she has an “imagination.” Of course this gift gets her into scrapes sometimes, but it also makes her life endlessly amusing and interesting, and others find themselves gravitating towards her, wanting to hear her funny sayings, her stories, and her imaginings.
   In what seems like no time at all, Anne is a very much loved member of the Avonlea community. There is no doubt that Marilla thinks the world of her, though she would never admit as such. Anne is a little bundle of sunny energy who gets many of the people around her thinking and doing things that are quite out of the ordinary.
   Though this book was originally written at the turn of the century, and though the writing style and some of the ideas and sentiments expressed in the book are somewhat old-fashioned, there is no doubt that the irrepressible little redhead who decries “woe,” and similar dramatic phrases, is timeless in her appeal. Anne Shirley is funny, loveable, and at times she sets her world on its head with her antics. What she also does is to give her love and affection freely, and she is generous and well-meaning. The little girl who never had a real family and who was starved for love finally, now has a home of her own, and we delight in her good fortune. We also enjoy sharing her various adventures,  seeing her triumphs, and laughing out loud at some of her more outrageous mistakes. With grace and obvious affection, L.M. Montgomery shares her Prince Edward Island world with us, and shows us that good things can still happen to good people.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Appreciate a dragon with a review of A tale of Two Castles

I would love to live in a world where dragons and humans could live side by side, working together. Imagine if you could hire a dragon to help you find out information about your family, or find your dog if it gets lost. In the town of Two Castles there is a dragon that provides these, and many other, services. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could work for a dragon as an investigator?  I think it would, and today I bring you the story of a girl who becomes apprenticed to just such a dragon. 

A Tale of Two Castles 
Gail Carson Levine
Illustrated by Greg Call 
For ages 9 to 12
Harper Collins, 2011, 978-0061229657
The time has come for Elodie to leave her home and her family, to journey to the town of Two Castles so that she can be apprenticed to a weaver. Elodie's parents want her to take this position, but Elodie has no intention of becoming a weaver. Instead, she wants to become a mansioner (an actor) and she feels that she has a good chance of finding a place once she gets to Two Castles.
   With an aching heart, Elodie boards a cog (boat) and a new chapter in her life begins. She is not on the cog long before she finds out that the business people in Two Castles are no longer accepting apprentices who cannot pay them a fee for taking them on. Poor Elodie only has enough money to pay for a few meals. She wonders if she might persuade one of the masters or mistresses to take her on for fifteen years. Surely, they will jump at the chance to have “free labor” for such a long period of time.
   Soon after arriving in Two Castles, Elodie is robbed by a cat, she sees a count who is an ogre, and meets a dragon called Meenore. Elodie tries to get an apprenticeship with one of the mansioner companies, but is told that the only way she can get an apprenticeship is if she pays the master mansioner money, which she does not have. To her surprise, Meenore invites Elodie to become ITs (dragons keep their gender a secret) apprentice. Her job will be to proclaim the dragon’s “powers of deduction, induction, and common sense,” to help Meenore to prepare the skewers of bread and cheese that IT sells in the market and to help IT with IT’s “many responsibilities.” In return, the dragon will give Elodie food, lodging, and a small salary.
   Elodie helps her new master in ITs daily doings, and then Count Jonty Um comes to Meenore and asks IT to find his lost dog. Elodie goes to live in the count’s castle, posing as a servant as she tries to find the missing dog. Meenore warns Elodie that the count is not well like by the people of Two Castles, and that many of them wish him ill. She must keep her eye on him as well as look for the dog. When she accepts the charge, Elodie never imagines that she will soon witness an attempted murder, and that she herself will be in mortal danger.
   Gail Carson Levine truly has an extraordinary gift. She is able to create a world that is entirely credible, characters that are so alive that we feel that we know them, and stories that are captivating and addictive. Readers who have a fondness for mysteries and adventures will thoroughly enjoy this delightful tale.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Appreciate a Dragon with a review of A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans


There are very few dragon-centric stories that are written from the dragon's point of view, which I think is a dreadful injustice. I am sure the reason why dragons are so often portrayed as fearsome beasts is because dragons are so rarely given a voice, a chance to express their views. Thankfully, Laurence Yep and his wife Joanne Ryder (marvelous writers both) have chosen to right this grievous wrong; and about time too. I should say here that Laurence Yep is a true dracophile, and you can read more about him below the review.  
   In today's Appreciate a Dragon book title, I bring you a wonderful title that is funny and sweet. On the pages you will meet a very proper dragon lady who finds herself stuck with a human child who simply does not understand 'how things are supposed to be done.'

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans 
Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre 
Fiction  Series
For ages 8 to 12
Random House, 2016, 978-0385392310
Miss Drake the dragon has suffered a great loss. Her pet human, Fluffy, has died, and the dragon is grieving. She is considering sleeping for a few decades until she feels less miserable. She is even considering not getting another pet at all. After all, humans are so fragile and they don’t live very long.
   Miss Drake therefore gets rather annoyed when a small human girl barges into her home without having the decency to call or send a note first. The girl is called Winnie, and she is Fluffy’s great-niece. Unfortunately, she has none of Fluffy’s gentle ways and good manners. Winnie is not at all impressed with Miss Drake and her home, and she makes her disappointment quite clear, which is really very shocking. Humans are supposed to look up to, nay even revere, dragons. That is how things are supposed to be done.
   The problem is that Winnie is a very independent child. She has not had an easy life, and it is only since the death of her aunt that her life has become relatively comfortable and stable. Winnie therefore knows how to cope in an unpredictable world and she is not easily impressed. Nor does she automatically give a dragon the respect she is due.
   Miss Drake does her best to get rid of the child, but Winnie, who has heard about the dragon from her great-aunt, refuses to be dismissed. She has a key to Miss Drake’s home (given to her by her aunt) and she waltzes in, expecting Miss Drake to play games with her and serve her tea. Miss Drake begins to realize that she is going to have to take Winnie in hand, whether she likes it or not. For Fluffy’s sake Miss Drake will do her duty no matter how unpleasant it is.
   When Miss Drake tries to sneak out of her back door to go shopping, she finds out that Winne has padlocked the door, and when she tries to use her front door that is padlocked too. Winnie will only free the dragon if Miss Drake asks her to do so. Politely. Gritting her teeth, Miss Drake complies, and then, not knowing what else to do, she takes Winnie shopping with her.
   It turns out that dragons and other magicals living in the San Francisco area have a special shop that they patronize. At the moment the Emporium is located on a cloud above the city, and that is where Miss Drake, with Winnie on her back, goes. After dealing with a few unpleasant magicals who are out to create trouble, Miss Drake and Winnie look around the incredible shop, and Miss Drake buys a few things, including a sketchbook for Winnie. The child is a gifted artist and Miss Drake wants to encourage her. Plus, she hopes having the sketchbook will keep Winnie occupied and out of trouble for a little while at least. Miss Drake never imagines that the sketchbook is going to create a number of very challenging problems, one of which could threaten the whole city of San Francisco.
   In this wonderful story, readers will meet a dragon who unexpectedly acquires a new ‘pet;' a pet that turns out to be a very troublesome creature. However, the dragon does come to appreciate that the girl has some pleasing, even admirable, qualities. Readers will enjoy seeing how the relationship between the two main characters develops, and will be delighted to enter a world where magic is alive and well.

Biography of Laurence Yep:
Yep was born in San Francisco to Yep Gim Lew (Thomas) and Franche. His older brother, Thomas, named him after studying a particular saint in a multicultural neighborhood that consisted of mostly African Americans. Growing up, he often felt torn between U.S. and Chinese culture, and expressed this in many of his books. A great deal of his work involves characters feeling alienated or not fitting into their surroundings and environment, something Yep has struggled with since childhood. Most of his life, he has had the feeling of being out of place, whether because he is the non athlete in his athletic family or because he is Chinese and once lived in Chinatown but does not speak the language. As it says in his autobiography, "I was too American to fit into Chinatown, and too Chinese to fit in anywhere else." As a boy, Yep attended a bilingual school in Chinatown. He attended Marquette University and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He earned a Ph.D in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
   Laurence Yep's most notable collection of works is the Golden Mountain Chronicles, documenting the fictional Young family from 1849 in China to 1995 in America. Two of the series are Newbery Honor Books, or runners-up for the annual Newbery Medal: Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate. Dragonwings won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association in 1995, recognizing the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award. It won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in 1976, and has been adapted as a play under its original title. Another of the Chronicles, Child of the Owl won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for children's fiction in 1977. The Rainbow People, Yep's collection of short stories based on Chinese folktales and legends, was a Horn Book runner-up in 1989.
   In 2005 the professional children's librarians awarded Yep the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, which recognizes a living author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children". The committee noted that "Yep explores the dilemma of the cultural outsider" with "attention to the complexity and conflict within and across cultures" and it cited four works in particular: Dragonwings, The Rainbow People, The Khan's Daughter, and the autobiographical The Lost Garden.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Classic Book Monday with a review of The Reluctant Dragon


January 16th is Appreciate A Dragon day, and since I really do love dragons I plan on writing several dragon book posts this month. Some years ago I wrote a serialized story about a dragon, and my dragon character is very dear to my heart. I frankly admit that he feels very real to me, and I miss writing about his adventures; I miss spending time with him. Perhaps it is time to resume his narrative? 
   Today I bring you one of the great dragon stories, a classic tale about a dragon who absolutely refuses to attack human settlements, eat maidens, or fight knights. He is a gentle, bookish soul, which naturally endears him to me. Readers of all ages will enjoy this story, which is deliciously funny. 

The Reluctant Dragon 
Kenneth Grahame
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard 
For ages 7 and up
Holiday House, 2020, 978-0823447251
Once day a shepherd comes back from his work tending his sheep in a real state. It would appear that there is a dragon living in a cave on the Downs, and everyone knows that dragons and sheep just don’t mix. Luckily for everyone, the shepherd’s son is a scholarly young fellow and he announces that he - knowing more about dragons than everyone else - will take care of the scaly problem.
   The boy and the dragon soon strike up a pleasant acquaintance and the boy soon learns that the dragon is a "lazy beast" who is not in the slightest bit interested in fighting knights or eating maidens. He is quite happy to rest quietly, write sonnets, and mind his own business. The problem is that the dragon simply cannot seem to grasp the idea that people have a terrible preconceived notions about dragons. What on earth is the boy to do with this reluctant dragon who won’t fight to protect himself when Saint George, of dragon slaying fame, comes to town?
   Using the rich language that he is famous for, Kenneth Grahame takes us back to time when dragons were a part of everyday living and when little boys could indeed have wonderful adventures. The characters, many of whom have a touch of the South Downs accent in their 'voices,' are charming, funny, and often surprising. Ernest H. Shepard, whose drawings of Pooh are beloved by so many, has superbly captured the essence of the story in his artwork. Sophie Blackall, whose own books have won numerous awards, has written a foreword for this special anniversary edition.
   All in all this is a book to treasure for years to come, and it would make an excellent addition to a collection of classic children’s literature.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Ways of seeing - With a review of A Stone Sat Still

Generally speaking we humans are always in a hurry, and we are so used to being a hurry that we don't really know how to live when we are not in a hurry. I used to be a just such a person, until ill-health forced me to slow down. When you aren't always pushing yourself to get to what comes next, you start to notice what is here, right now, and in front of your face. You see a weed pushing its way through a concrete pavement, a bird's nest resting in a rose bush, the way the light touches the floor in a room, the beauty in a acorn that is resting on a bed of vivid, green moss. 
   In today's book we read about a stone. It is just a normal stone, and yet it is an extraordinary object that serves many purposes, is seen through many eyes, and 'interacts' with a wide variety of living things. It turns out that stone can be a miraculous thing if you look at it the right way. 

A Stone Sat Still 
Brendan Wenzel
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2019, 978-1-4521-7318-4
Next to a stream there was a stone. It sat on a little hill of earth, and green things grew around it. It was just a stone being a stone. And yet, this stone was not just a stone for the creatures that lived on it and around it. 
   Through the eyes of an owl it shone white in the moonlight like a beacon. For a chipmunk it was a place of darkness, and so the little animal kept watch as it nibbled a nut. After all, you never knew what might be hiding in such a puddle of dark. 
   For a seagull the stone was a place of loud noises, for it used the stone’s surface to crack open shells.  For a little snake the stone is a place of quiet where it can lie and bask in the warmth of the sun. 
   As the seasons unfolded the stone changed color; it was green in summer, covered in red leaves in fall, it was purple in spring, and blue in winter. To a moose it was a mere pebble, but to a tiny insect it was a hill. 
   For some animals the stone was a place that was covered with scented messages that they could read if they wished. For others it was a place to sit and dine. For geese in the sky it was a marker, and for a little ant it was a map. 
   From moment to moment the stone took on a different role depending on who was looking at it, or interacting with it.
   Often, when we see an object we see it as one thing - one obvious thing. Surely a stone is just a stone? It turns out that a stone can be many things to many different kinds of living creatures, and its role will change over time because nothing stays the same. 
   As they explore this book, readers of all ages will find themselves pausing every so often to consider. They will realize that a simple stone is not so simple after all. They will perhaps take the time to consider the story of other ‘simple’ things that they see around them. What kind of story might a leaf tell? Or a blade of grass?


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Times of hardship with a review of Ida B... and her plans to Maximize fun, avoid disaster and (Possibly) save the world

There is no doubt that all of us have been touched by this wretched pandemic. Some of us have been sick, some have lost loved ones, and we have all lived with this appalling cloud of fear, worry, and even anger hanging over us. How on earth do we cope with something like this? How do our children cope with all these changes, and losses, and uncertainty?
   Today I bring you a book in which you will meet a girl whose perfect, happy life very suddenly becomes miserably imperfect. The story is touching and inspiring. It will make you laugh and cry. Though this is a book for children, I think that adults will enjoy it as well. Read it to a child, read it for yourself. Just read it. 

Ida B... and her plans to Maximize fun, avoid disaster and (Possibly) save the world 
Katherine Hannigan
For ages 9 and up
HarperCollins, 2011, 978-0060730260
Ida B is an extremely happy nine-year-old. Her parents have the good sense not to send her to a school which she hates. Instead, she is homeschooled and she loves it. She loves living on the farm with her Mama and her Daddy, and she loves her conversations with the apple trees in the orchard, and her talks with the burbling stream. She loves the games that she plays with herself, and the walks that she takes with Daddy in the evenings. Everything is "righter than right."
   Then one day the apple trees warn her that hard times are coming. Ida does not want to believe them. What could possibly go wrong with her perfect life? What happens is that Mama gets cancer and everything changes. First of all Mama is sick all the time and so she cannot give Ida B the attention she is used to having. Then Daddy has to sell some of their land to pay for Mama's medical bills. Ida B is appalled. How can Daddy sell some of their beloved orchard and let strangers cut down some of her trees? Then, to top it off, Daddy tells her that she has to go to school, neither he nor Mama are in a position to homeschool her. Ida B feels completely betrayed and  she decides there and then that she is never going to allow herself to trust or to love anyone again.
   So Ida B goes to school and she goes through the motions of living, but she doesn't let anyone, not even her parents, get close to her. She also begins a campaign against the family who bought the land her father sold. Perhaps if she is as unwelcoming as possible they will go away and give the land back.
   This book has a decidedly magical quality that is hard to resist. Ida B's struggles with her own feelings are so true to life that readers will start to feel that they know her, that perhaps that they have always known her. They will recognize her anger and then later, they will recognize her struggles as she tries to stay angry even when her heart wants to give in.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The January Bookish Calendar and Classic Book Monday with a review of The Hobbit


Dear Bookish Friends, 

Happy New Year! Another uncertain year lies ahead of us, but one thing that we can be certain of is that there is a wealth of good books out there for ourselves and for the children in our lives. Thank goodness for that!

First of all, as it is the beginning of the month, I would like to direct you to the January Bookish Calendar. Here you will find a calendar on which are noted the birthdays of famous people. Many of these notations have links to books about the people in question. Special days, such as Appreciate a Dragon Day (January 16th), are also on the calendar. As I have a deep fondness for dragons, I shall be sharing several dragon books with you this month.  

You will see on this calendar that January the 3rd is J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. There is a link on the calendar to reviews of books about the author. Thank you, dear man, for your stories, the worlds that you created, and your marvelous characters. In honor of his birthday I bring you a review of The Hobbit on this Classic Book Monday. 

What many of you might not know is that Tolkien was an accomplished artist. The image at the top of this page is one of the pieces that he created for The Hobbit. There is a marvelous book, The art of the Hobbit that was published in 2012 in which his art for this book is showcased. I shall be buying a copy of this book for myself today! 

The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien
For ages 10 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 978-0547928227
Bilbo Baggins is very happy with his quiet life in his comfortable hobbit hole under the hill. Meals areoften, abundant, and predictable, and everything is as it should be. He is therefore very discombobulated when Gandalf the wizard appears on his doorstep one day, and he tries to get rid of the disturbing old man as quickly as possible. He is even more horrified when thirteen dwarves and Gandalf arrive for tea the very next day. It would appear that they want Bilbo to join them on an adventure. The dwarves want to get back the treasure that Smaug the dragon stole from them, and they want to hire Bilbo to help them; he will be their "burglar." Bilbo very much wants to refuse this offer, and yet for some confusing reason this fails to happen. Before he quite knows what is happening, Bilbo is riding on a pony, heading off on an adventure which may very well be his undoing.
   As it happens, the dwarves are very lucky that they took Bilbo with them for he saves their lives several times over. Not only is he quick thinking and brave, but he also finds a ring of invisibility, which makes it possible for him to do all kinds of remarkable things.
   In the end, quiet little Mr. Baggins does indeed fulfill his role as the expedition's burglar. In the process he becomes very fond of a side of himself that he otherwise would never have discovered; he learns that he is able to out-riddle an evil little cave-dwelling monster; he can fight huge spiders; he figures out how to rescue his friends from captivity; and he even talks to a huge dragon. It would appear that Bilbo is more than just an unassuming little hobbit who likes to have his meals on time. That other side of his character helps him rise to challenges that would fell many, and he thus earns the respect and admiration of elves, dwarves, and men alike.
   This is a tale that has truly stood the test of time, and it has delighted readers of all ages since its publication in 1937. Tolkien is without a doubt one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time.

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