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.

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.
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