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.
Bookmark and Share