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 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year
2012 - The Year of the Dragon

I have reviewed some splendid titles about Chinese New Year . You can see my 
reviewed a wide selection of books about dragons.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year
2012 - The Year of the Dragon

I have reviewed some splendid titles about Chinese New Year . You can see my 
reviewed a wide selection of books about dragons.

Picture Book Monday - A review of How to raise a dinosaur

I grew up with cats and dogs, but they were always cared for by my mother. Then, at the age of twenty-three, I got my first dog, and when I brought him home from the shelter it suddenly dawned on me that I now had a huge responsibility. My husband and I lived in a tiny apartment. How would the poor dog manage when I was gone all day long? Would he bark and disturb the neighbors? What was I thinking adopting a dog? Aghhh. 

The good news is that everything turned out fine. Thanks to informative books and helpful veterinarians, I quickly figured out what needed to be done to make sure my dog was healthy and happy, and he was my dearest companion for years. 

Today's book is all about how to take care of a pet, a special kind of pet, and if I ever feel inclined to adopt a dinosaur, I will read this book again. Carefully. 

Natasha Wing
Illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Roaring Brook Press, 2010, 978-0-7624-3342-1
   Picking the pet that is just right for you is very important. I mean, if you are allergic to fur, then a cat or a dog would be a very bad idea. Thankfully, there are so many different kinds of animals to choose from. There are birds, fish, horses, mice, snakes, and dinosaurs. I beg your pardon? You didn’t know that dinosaurs make good pets? Of course they do!
   Before you go out and get a dinosaur, there are a few things that you need to know about these animals. For example, you need to make sure that your yard is big enough to accommodate one. If you have a small yard, make sure that you don’t pick a dinosaur species that is as tall as a house and as long as a soccer field. Make sure that you know what you pet is going to need before you get it. There is not point trying to feed a meat-eater some broccoli. Most important of all, you need to make sure that your dinosaur knows that it loved, otherwise….um…well….there could be dire consequences.
   Children are sure to love this picture book with its novelty features and its deliciously funny illustrations. Though the advice offered is dinocentric, there are pet care tips that here that would apply to any pet. Readers who like dinosaurs will happily explore this book over and over, lifting flaps, opening doors, and laughing at the ending.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Appreciate a Penguin Day

I have a confession to make. I did not know that today is Penguin Appreciation Day. I cannot begin to imagine how such a day could slip by me, but it did. Better barely late than never so....

Happy Penguin Appreciation Day!

I have reviewed some spiffing penguin titles over the years. Take a look at the TTLG Penguin feature. Here you will find Tacky, Pip, Penguin Pete and other wonderful penguin characters. 

Poetry Friday - A review of If not for the cat

I live a life that is packed with words. When I am not reading a book, I am reviewing one or evaluating one or editing one. Sometimes I feel as if I have word overload! For this reason, I found today's poetry book very refreshing and calming. The poems are short, and they perfectly describe one special moment and one point of view. Each one is a gem to be savored. 

Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Ted Rand
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
HarperCollins, 2004, 978-0060596774
   Most of us, if we are asked to describe an animal, a hummingbird perhaps, will talk at length about what the animal looks like and how it behaves. We will talk about how tiny the bird is, how fast it moves, and how colorful it is. In this collection, poet Jack Prelutsky tells us about seventeen animals using a very minimalist poetry form, the haiku. In just three short lines he captures the essence of his subjects. The poems are written from the point of view of each animal, which gives readers a very different perspective.
   The mouse does not tell us about its bright eyes and whiffly little nose. Instead, it tells us that it “could be content” if there was not a “scarcity of cheese,” and if there wasn’t a cat around. Ted Rand’s beautiful painting shows us the mouse sitting by its hole, and we can see that the cat is on the other side of the hole, waiting.
   Further on we meet a sea otter. It is lying on its back holding a red sea urchin in its front paws. This delectable treat will be cracked open by the otter and it will “snack on my back.”
   The poet moves from animals that are commonplace, like a moth and some ants, to those that are more exotic, like an elephant and a sloth. Children who have a fondness for animals will enjoy trying to remember or guess what the animals are called, and they will surely be captivated by Ted Rand’s illustrations, which are gorgeously rendered to look like Japanese paintings. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fiction Wednesday: A review of Andy Shane and the Barn Sale Mystery

A few years ago I read and reviewed a book about a little boy called Andy Shane, and ever since I have made a point of looking for other titles about Andy. The titles in this series are perfect for young readers who are ready for chapter books, and they are funny, charming, and a delight to read. 

Illustrated by Abby Carter
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick, 2009, 978-0-7636-3599-2
   Andy Shane and Granny Webb always celebrate their unbirthdays in the fall. After all the fall chores are complete, and when they can finally relax a little, they decide that it is “the perfect time for a party.”
   This year Andy wants to get his granny the “best present ever,” and since she uses her binoculars all the time to watch living things, Andy decides that what she needs is a case for her binoculars. The problem is, as Dolores Starbuckle points out, Andy has no money. Somehow, Andy needs to raise some money, but how?
   Later that day Andy and Dolores see an old chair sitting by the side of the road. If they clean it up they could sell the chair. Andy is inspired. He can hold a barn sale to make some money.
   Soon Andy and Dolores are going around the neighborhood collecting all kinds of things that the neighbors have no use for. It isn’t long before Granny’s barn is full of pots and pans, boxes of books, and lots of other useful things. Andy never imagines that his grand idea is going to lead to a big problem.
   In this amusing Andy Shane title, Jennifer Richard Jacobson tells a story that young readers are sure to enjoy. They will worry that Andy will not be able to get out of his predicament, and they will also hope that he will be able to give Granny the perfect gift for her unbirthday.
   This is a perfect series for young readers who just beginning to read books with short chapters. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Fish on a walk

Some children love to tell stories. They spend long periods of time entertaining their friends with tales about adventures, magic, and villains. Often their tales are inspired by stories that they have heard, or by movies or television programs.

For today's picture book I have a title that will charm young (and not so young) storytellers. Looking through the book is rather like seeing scenes from movies that have been frozen. There is no sound and no movement, and you have to figure out what is going on. You are the one who gets to make up the story that fits the images on the pages. 

Eva Muggenthaler
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 9
Enchanted Lion Books, 2011, 978-1-59270-116-2
In almost all picture books, the story is told by the author and illustrator. We know what is happening because we are told and shown what is happening. Imagine what it would be like to be given a picture that suggests all kinds of stories. Imagine what fun it would be to tell those stories ones self.
   Well, in this book this is just what you can do. On every double page spread there is a picture, and below this there are two words that are opposites. For example on the first spread, there are the words “scared” and “brave.” In the picture above, we see a little bunny standing on a stage hiding behind a huge double bass. We can tell that he is scared. Sitting on the base there is a tiny little frog who is bravely playing his guitar and singing, much to the enjoyment of the audience. Why did the frog start performing? Why is there a little insect behind the curtain drinking a hot cup of coffee? What is going to happen next?
   These are questions you can address as you make up your own story for this picture. When you are ready for something new, just turn the page and start telling the story that goes with the next spread.
   Here we are looking at a scene in a park. The two words for this spread are “alone” and “together.” We see that a pile of animals are sitting on one end of a teeter totter (see-saw) so that a young elephant can sit on the other end. What is going on here?
   This book is going to delight and intrigue children who love to tell their own stories. They don’t need to be able to read well to be able to enjoy the book, and every time they look through the book they can make up new stories to go with the twelve double spread illustrations. 

A letter from Amy Nathan author of Round and Round Together.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in honor of that great man, I have asked Amy Nathan, the author of Round and Round Together to tell me about her book and how it came to be written.

First here is a brief description of the book and its author:

On August 28, 1963—the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech—segregation ended at Gwynn Oak amusement park in Maryland when eleven-month old Sharon Langley, her dad beside her, became the first black child to ride the park's famous merry-go-round. As Amy Nathan tells the story of how individuals in Baltimore integrated one amusement park in their town, she also gives an overview of the history of segregation and the civil rights movement. Round and Round Together creates a new civil rights symbol—the Gwynn Oak carousel is now the Smithsonian Carousel which thousands of kids enjoy each year.

Round and Round Together is illustrated with archival photos from newspapers and other sources, as well as personal photos from family albums of individuals interviewed for the book and a timeline of major civil rights events.

Amy Nathan is an award-winning author of several books for young people including The Young Musician's Survival GuideCount on Us: American Women in the MilitaryYankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War IIMeet the Musicians, and Surviving Homework.

Now, I will share Amy's letter with you. 

Dear TTLG:
I grew up in Baltimore, not far from the amusement park in Round and Round Together.
I never knew of its link to the 1963 March on Washington until four years ago when
my brother recommended Here Lies Jim Crow, C. Fraser Smith’s book on Maryland Civil
Rights. It mentions briefly that segregation ended  at that amusement park on
August 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington. The first African American
child to go on a ride there that day, eleven-month-old Sharon Langley, rode the
merry-go-round,sitting between two white youngsters. What a great story for kids,
I thought: black and white kids circling round and round having fun together at
a formerly segregated park on the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr., was
speaking of his dream that one day black and white kids would treat each other
as brothers and sisters.
I started researching and discovered something the Smith book hadn’t mentioned.
That merry-go-round was now on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, sitting
in front of the Smithsonian, not far from where Dr. King delivered his famous
speech. I contacted the Smithsonian press office. They knew their carousel had
been at that Baltimore park but didn’t know of its connection to Civil Rights and
August 28, 1963.
   I had stumbled on a new symbol of the Civil Rights movement, one most people
didn’t seem to know about, one that kids could relate to—and have fun on. It’s
a symbol that can give a feel for what the Jim Crow era was like, the pervasive
unfairness of a system that even kept little kids from riding a merry-go-round
just because of the color of their skin. Climbing onboard for a ride today
offers a “you are there," letting riders imagine what it was like for Sharon
Langley’s family on August 28, 1963, visiting a previously whites-only
amusement park, not really knowing what kind of reception they would receive.
   Originally I planned to write a short picture book but soon realized this story
offered a way to give an overview of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. The
Baltimoreans who kept trying different tactics over the years in order to find
a nonviolent way to end Jim Crow at that park were typical of Civil Rights
volunteers in other cities, all learning along the way how to organize effective
protests. So I geared the book toward an older YA audience, putting off writing
that picture book until later (one is in the works now). My goal was to write a
YA book that would help readers understand the Civil Rights movement better.
Little did I realize it could also give insight into current events. As I was
finishing the book,nonviolent protests were making headlines once again with
the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.I hope Round and Round Together’s story
of the evolving nature of 1950’s and 60s demonstrations can offer some perspective
into the varied and often changing strategies being tried out by today’s

                                     Thanks for your interest in how this book came to be!
                                    Amy Nathan

Friday, January 13, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Snow, Snow: Winter poems for children

One of the things that I look forward to in winter is snow. I love watching snow drift down, I like playing in the snow, and I enjoy sledding, snowshoeing and skiing. Usually by January the mountains around my town have enough snow on them that we can go skiing, but so far this winter it has been very dry and too warm. People of all ages are grumbling about our snow-less state.

Thankfully people like Jane Yolen know just how to take her readers into another world, which in today's poetry book is a snowy one. I might not be able to go skiing or sledding, but thanks to this book I can imagine that I am looking at a beautiful snow-dusted landscape.

Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for ChildrenSnow, Snow: Winter poems for children
Jane Yolen
Photographs by Jason Stemple
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 1998, 1-59078-346-8
   For many people snow is a “cold and wet and sometimes inconvenient” problem to deal with during the months of winter. For others, snow is something that turns the outdoors into a magical playground. It is something that transforms the landscape into a beautiful glittery world that is full of promise.
   For this special collection of poems, Jane Yolen has created thirteen poems that are perfectly paired with Jason Stemple’s gorgeous photographs to give readers, young and old, a picture (in words and images) of snowy woods, skiers going down a mountainside, a snowmobile flying through the air, and more.
   We find out “what is cold and plump / And billows,” and we see how snowy trees look as if someone has painted them in the night so that they are now “As white as wool” wearing “A diamond crown.”
   With language rich with beautiful imagery, and with touches with humor here and there, this collection is just the thing to share with someone on a chilly winter day. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A Sweet Smell of RosesGenius: Martin Luther King Jr.On Monday January 16th, people all over America will be
remembering the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. I did not learn learn much about this extraordinary man until I moved to the U.S when I was in my early twenties. Then I started working in a school, and my students began telling me about the civil rights leader who kept on fighting for the cause, even when his life was threatened. I was drawn to his story, and when I began reviewing children's books, I made a point of looking for titles that were about Martin Luther King's work. You can take a look at these titles on the TTLG Martin Luther King Jr feature page. Each title in this collection offers readers something special, and any one of them would be an excellent title to share with a children or children on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
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