Except for a brief time when I was in college, I have always had cats in my life. When I was a child we had a Siamese who adored my mother and the dog, and who tolerated the rest of us. He was opinionated and when he did not get his way he stole things. He also yelled at us when we went away. Now I have two Siamese cats and they steal anything that is not nailed down, they get very huffy when we go away, and I love them to bits.
Today's poetry title celebrates cats in a unique and wonderful way. The characters on the pages are so colorful that Andrew Lloyd Weber was inspired by the poems to write a musical called Cats.
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Harcourt Children's Books, 2009 , 978-0547248271
Every person who is privileged enough to share their life and home with a cat knows that cats are very singular animals. Unlike dogs, they do not ‘belong’ to humans. Instead, humans belong to their cats. Many humans do not fully appreciate the remarkable nature of cats. Luckily for us, the poet T.S. Eliot was privy to some of their secret ways. In the 1930’s he wrote a collection of poems about cats, which he included in letters to his godchildren. The poems were then collected and published in 1939, and they are still entertaining and enlightening readers of all ages today.
Eliot begins his exploration into the world of cats by telling us that cats have three names. There is the one that the family uses daily. Then there is the name “that’s peculiar, and more dignified.” It is a name that “never belongs to more than one cat.” Jellylorum, Mankustrap, and Coricopat are good examples of this second kind of name. Finally, there is the name that only the cat knows. I cannot give you any examples of these names because they are a closely guarded secret.
Eliot then goes on to tell us the stories of various cats, all of whom are very extraordinary creatures. There is Jennyanydots, who is a Gumbie Cat, and who is “deeply concerned with the ways of the mice.” In fact, she is so concerned that she has secretly taken on the job of improving their behavior and manners, and feeding them a good diet. This extraordinary cat even goes so far as to provide cockroaches with “employment” to keep them from being lazy and destructive.
Rum Tum Tugger is nothing like Jennyanydots. He is a contrary kind of cat who always wants the opposite of what he has. If he is outside, all he wants to do is to come in, and if he is in, all he wants to do is to go out. He refuses to be cuddled when it suits you, but if you are sitting and sewing, he insists on jumping on your lap, which of course makes a “horrible muddle.”
Just to make sure that you are suitably equipped to deal with a cat, Eliot explains, in great detail, how to “ad-dress a Cat.” You must NEVER treat a cat the way you would a dog. For the most part a dog is a “simple soul,” whereas a cat is a much more complex creature who must be treated with respect.
In this wonderful edition of T.S. Eliot’s famous cat poems, the poems are paired with Axel Scheffler’s wonderful illustrations. Children and adults alike will enjoy dipping into the pages for poems that are entertaining, amusing, and enlightening.
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.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Monday, September 30, 2013
Every so often I come across a picture book that is truly universal in nature because the story is relevant for everyone. Today's book is just such a title, and I intend to keep it on hand for those days when I am in a hurry to fly.
Ages 6 and up
Clavis, 2009, 978-1605370323
When we come into the world, each one of us has to figure out how we want to face life’s challenges. Often figuring this out is a complicated business that takes time.
In this extraordinary book the author explores the idea that the challenges that we face all the way through life are part of a grand journey. In her artwork she follows what a little baby bird does after it comes out if its egg. We see scenes from the little bird’s life, scenes that are often sweetly funny. The text that accompanies these scenes introduces ideas that are universal in nature.
As we accompany the little bird we see how events in our past get in our way, preventing us “from seeing where we are going.” Sometimes we fall down, which can be uncomfortable, but it can also be a good thing. There are those “happy moments” that are so wonderful that they “make our feet feel like flowers.”
Just like the little bird, whose little flappy wings are not big enough for flight, we have to accept that “Having wings does not necessarily mean we can fly…yet!” We have a lot of learning to do before we can soar, and that is perfectly all right.
With wonderfully minimal illustrations and words of wisdom that are timeless, this is a book readers of all ages will be able to appreciate.
Friday, September 27, 2013
I have only been fishing a few times. My husband and I went fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and brought home pounds of bluefish and striped bass and sea trout. The expeditions were a lot of fun, often full of excitement and quite exhausting. In today's poetry title you will meet two children and their dad who go fishing on a lake and who have an day that they will probably never forget.
Tamera Will Wissinger
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
For ages 7 to 10
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, 978-0-547-82011-8
Sam is excited because he is going to go fishing with his dad tomorrow. Together they go out at night to collect night crawlers. They have to “Tiptoe near and grab them quick” if they don’t want to have to play tug-o-war with the wriggling creatures.
Sam gets out his tackle box, and then he finds out that what should be sacrosanct has been invaded by Lucy, his little sister. She has put her princess doll in his precious tackle box and a bunch of his stuff is missing. Where is his map and his compass?
Lucy explains that she just wanted to play with his box and that his possessions are safe. To say that Sam is annoyed is an understatement and he comes up with a spell to curse his sister for meddling with his tackle box. At least he won’t have to deal with her tomorrow when he and Dad go fishing.
Alas for Sam. The next morning his one-on-one time with his father is invaded by Lucy. Dad agrees that Lucy can come along on the fishing trip and there is nothing Sam can do about it. After waiting for Lucy for what feels like an age, a thrilled Lucy, Dad and a very unhappy Sam get into the car and head for the lake.
Sam can hope that he will catch lots of fish and that Lucy won’t catch a thing, but this is not what happens. It doesn’t seem at all fair when Lucy, in spite of the noise she makes and the silly song she sings, catches a fish on her second cast. Surely this trip cannot get any worse?
Using a variety of poetry forms, the author tells the story of a fishing trip that does not quite work out as planned. Readers will find easy to feel sorry for Sam, though the mishaps he has are rather funny. The story is told using an acrostic poem, a list poem, a concrete poem, a narrative poem, and many other kinds of poetry forms.
At the back of the book the author provides her readers with more information about the poetry forms that were used in the book.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Imagine if you can what it would be like if you were on a dragon's menu. It's not a pleasant thing to think about is it? Now try to figure out how you would convince said dragon not to eat you. Hmmmmm. It's not easy is it? Just in case you find yourself in this situation one day, I suggest you read today's picture book for inspiration.
For ages 5 to 7
North-South Books, 2010, 978-0-7358-2306-8
Once a year the great dragon wakes up hungry and he makes the earth shake and tremble. When this happens, the people in the village know that it is time to give the dragon a princess to eat. One year the dragon wakes up and the villagers realize that they have a problem; they have no princess to give to the dragon. Since they have no princess, the villagers decide that one of their children will have to be sacrificed, and by sheer bad luck Oscar’s name is the one that is picked out of the village elder’s hat.
Oscar sets off up the mountain to meet the dragon in his lair. The dragon is starving and he is not pleased that he is being offered a scrawny child who will barely serve as a “teeny-weeny snack.” Oscar suggests that the dragon fatten him up so that he can be a “main course.” Since this sounds like a good idea, the dragon takes Oscar into his cave and he gets Oscar the ingredients he needs and a stove.
Oscar cooks food that smells so incredible that the dragon gets hungrier than ever, but he refuses to eat any “stupid human food.” Again and again he turns down Oscar’s offer to cook the dragon a meal, and then the dragon cannot take it anymore and he finds out that human food cooked by Oscar tastes a lot better than a princess does. Who knew?
In this wonderful tale we meet a very intelligent boy who just happens to be a splendid cook, and a dragon who has a very empty stomach. The tale brings together humor, colorful characters, and an unusual food-centric element, and the clever interaction between the two main characters will delight readers who have a soft spot for dragons.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Poetry collections that have a theme can be a lot of fun to explore. I have reviewed a lot of books of this kind. Sometimes though one wants a book of poems where the poems are very different. Today's poetry title is just such a book. There are funny poems, thoughtful poems, nonsensical poems, and story poems.
Illustrated by Sherwin Tjia
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2004, 978-1-932425-82-6
There are times in life when it is very hard to find a feeling of lightheartedness. At such times things that bring a smile to our lips are elusive, and life can start to feel rather stale and sad. Thankfully the world is full of creative people who love to bring a little light and perhaps humor into our lives. One of these people is the author of this book.
The poems begin by looking at a Mope. Everyone knows one and this particular Mope seems incurable. The narrator “hoped and hoped” that “some happy thought might help her cope,” but alas all those hopes were in vain.
Next we meet another person with a problem. This one has a chronic tendency to slouch. One can understand why the slouch might be tired of hearing people say “don’t slouch,” but, as the poet reminds us, it is better to heed the warning before ones back is so bent over that one has to go to the hospital and undergo painful straightening procedures.
Later on in the book we meet a dinner guest who is annoyed because an uninvited ghost sent out a gust that “chilled his toast.” We hear about the rhinostrich, a creature that is part ostrich and part rhino. The animal has “leathery feathers,” a horn and a beak. Such an animal would be worth a great deal but the poet tells us that he would never sell his rhinostrich because it “wouldn’t be nice.”You never quite know what is going to turn up next in this book. Some of the poems make you think, some make you smile, and some make you laugh. Every single one gives you the opportunity to explore the ways in which poems make our lives richer.
Monday, September 16, 2013
When I encountered my first wordless picture books I was astonished to discover that the stories in the books were often rich and magical. Children who couldn't read could enjoy the stories, and adults could marvel at the artist's skill. Today's book is a masterpiece and I know that I am going to treasure my copy for years to come.
Wordless Picture book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6053-6
It is a non-school day and a girl is lonely and bored. Everyone in her family is busy doing something. Her mother is cooking and is on the phone; her father is working on the computer, and her sister is busy playing a game on her gaming device. Then, in her room, the girl sees a red crayon lying on the floor. She picks it up and draws a red door on her bedroom wall. Then she opens the door and runs through the doorway.
On the other side of the door there is a forest. Strings of lights and pretty lanterns are hanging between the trees. A stream meanders across the forest floor and the little girl walks over to a small wooden jetty. She draws a small boat, gets into it, and floats downstream.
The boat carries the little girl into a walled city where numerous elevated waterways cross this way and that. Suddenly, and without warning, the waterway she is traveling down ends in a waterfall. As she and her boat fall through the air she draws a hot air balloon, which carries her up into the clouds.
The little girl is not alone in the clouds. Flying machines, large and small, fly by. As she watches, a beautiful pink bird with long tail feathers is caught in a net, placed in a bird cage, and transported to a large and rather scary looking flying machine. For some reason, the girl cannot stand by and let the people cage the bird. She has to do something.
In this beautiful wordless picture book the author takes his readers on an extraordinary journey. The journey itself is fascinating, but the author adds another dimension when he has his little girl character interact with one of the stories that she sees unfolding in front of her eyes.
Readers will be delighted when they see how this unusual journey ends.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Fall is not far away and many of us are already experiencing cooling temperatures and rain showers. During the summer months we get very little rain here in Southern Oregon and those first showers of the fall are always welcome. In today's poetry book we take a journey through the seasons to experience rain in its many forms.
Compiled by Rita Gray
Illustrated by Ryan O’Rooke
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Charlesbridge, 2010, 978-1-57091-716-5
Depending on the season, rain either gives us some welcome relief, or we consider it a nuisance. Depending on our mood we enjoy paddling in puddles outside or we delight in staying indoors, cozy and warm while the raindrops tap on the windows.
In this lovely book, gem-like poems are paired with lovely evocative illustrations to take us through the seasons, celebrating rain in all its forms as we go. We begin in autumn when “the falling leaves / fall in layers…the rain / beats on rain.” In her poem The Mist and All, Dixie Willson tells us how much she enjoys fall’s mist, the “wailing sound / Of wind around,” and the rain. She is content to be tending to and sitting by her “cozy fire.”
In winter, the rain perhaps takes on a different feel. It is colder and greyer. In Haiku by Sora we read about “a pitter-patter / of winter rain” on a pond that is covered with the reflection of stars. Robert Frost’s poem To the Thawing Wind introduces us to Southwester, a wind that brings the thaw with rain and warmer temperatures that melt the icicles, make the doors rattle, and “Turn the poet out of the door.”
We then move on to the gentle rains of spring that bring life with them, and the welcome showers of summer that freshen the air and offer some respite from the heat and dust.
With a wonderful introduction, and a note about the haiku form, this collection of poems beautifully captures special rainy moments.
Monday, September 9, 2013
I have often thought that it would be wonderful to own and run a book shop. Dog is of the same mind and in Dog Loves Books we see what happens when he opens his own book-filled shop. In Dog Loves Drawing Dog discovers that a blank book can be the starting point for a wonderful art adventure. Now Dog is back and this time he learns that counting numbers can also lead to adventures in far off places.
For ages 4 to 7
Random House, 2013, 978-0449813423
Dog loves books and he loves to read book so much that he often reads late into the night, even though he knows that he needs to get his beauty sleep. Eventually Dog decides that it is time to set his book aside. He puts on his sleeping mask and prepares to doze off. The problem is that he cannot seem to fall asleep.
Dog tries counting sheep but the sheep are not at all helpful. Maybe what Dog needs to do it to count some other kind of animal. Dog opens a book about animals and the first thing he encounters in the book is an egg. He counts “One,” and then watches as the egg cracks open. A funny looking baby dodo steps of the egg and into the world. Dog is Number One, and the dodo is Number Two, and now they have to find Number Three.
Dog and the dodo walk through the book looking for Number Three, and eventually they find a sloth sitting in a tree. The sloth has three claws on each paw and so he becomes Number Three. Counting from one to three as they go, Dog, the dodo, and the three-toed sloth wander through the book looking for Number Four.
By sheer good luck the three animals meet a desert camel. Since it has four legs, it is perfectly suited to be their Number Four. Not only that, but the camel assures Dog that his home in the desert is full of things that they can count.
Learning how to count can be fun, if you are a little creative, and in this book Louise Yates has found a wonderfully creative way to make counting interesting. She combines tools for learning with a story that pulls the reader into Dog’s book world. As we read we cannot help wondering what is waiting for us on the next page. What new animal is Dog going to encounter, and what new adventure is he going to have?
This is the third book in a series of picture books that feature Dog.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Many years ago I worked on a young adult novel manuscript that was written in blank verse. When the author told me about the format my heart sank a little. I thought that the story was going to be challenging. To say the least. When I started reading I quickly came to realize that I had a gem in my hands. The book was fantastic and I learned that novels in verse can be amazing. Today's book is just such a title. Eileen Spinelli uses her considerable skill to tell a story that is sweet and timeless.
Where I live
Where I live
Illustrated by Matt Phelan
Fiction (in poetry form)
Ages 9 to 12
Penguin, 2007, 978-0-8037-3122-6
Diana loves her home. She loves the fact that a wren is nesting in the wreath on the front door. Diana also loves her best friend Rose. Rose and Diana fit together like vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce. Rose never complains when Diana starts talking about stars, and when Diana works on her poems. Rose is always there when Diana needs someone to talk to.
Then something happens that turns Diana’s world upside down; her father loses his job. Diana’s parents are going to have a hard time paying for their home without Dad’s wages. After Mom goes to visit her father, she comes home to announce that they are all going to move in with Grandpa. Mom and Dad won’t have to pay a mortgage if they move, and Grandpa will have someone to share his large lonely house. They are going to move away from the yellow house and from Rose.
Diana is heartbroken. She will never have another friend like Rose. She will never have a house like the yellow house that she lives in and loves. She will never be happy again.
Written as a series of poems, this warm, touching, and evocative story will resonate with readers of all ages. Because of her father’s bad luck, Diana is forced into a new situation, and in the process, she learns that change is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can even make life richer and more interesting.
Monday, September 2, 2013
The first day of school can be nerve wracking for some children, especially if they have never been to school before. Today's wonderful picture book tells the story of Noni, who learns that school may be a little confusing at first, but it can also be a lot of fun.
Illustrated by Genevieve Cote
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra, 2013, 978-1-77049-323-0
Noni gets nervous about many things. She gets nervous about playdates, she gets nervous about global warming, and today she is nervous about her first day of school. Noni’s parents and brother don’t understand why Noni is in such a state. Noni is worried because she does not know what she should wear to school, and she does not know where she will sit in her new classroom. What will Noni do if her teacher is “mean?”
Noni is nervous all day long during her first day at school. She bites her nails, twirls her hair and talks too much about nothing, and when the day is over she can’t remember what she did all day.
They next day Noni meets Briar, a girl from her class, on the school bus. Briar introduces Noni to some other girls. Noni can’t believe how easy it is to make friends and for a moment she stops felling nervous. Then she starts to get nervous again. What if she gets lost at school? What if she spills juice all over her clothes when she opens her juice box?
Many children get nervous when they go to school for the first time. After all, there are so many things that could go wrong. In this sweet book we meet a little girl who is overwhelmed by first day of school jitters, and who makes an amazing discovery on her second day of school.