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.
Here in southern Oregon signs of spring are everywhere, even though there is still a chilly nip in the air in the mornings and evenings. The official first day of spring is tomorrow, and so I bring you this review of a book that is sweet and deliciously funny!
It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel
For ages 5 to 7
North South, 2018, 978-0-7358-4310-3
One morning Mr. Squirrel wakes up to see that the world
outside his home has been transformed. He has no idea what has happened. Where
did all the bright green grass and colorful flowers come from? Bear explains
that spring has arrived that it is time to “lie in the sun, stroll through the
meadows, and fill our tummies with fine food!”
Squirrel scampers this way and that. He finds delicious things to eat, gorges
himself, and then naps in the sun. However, Hedgehog has no appetite for food
or frolics. He has been to the pond where he espied a lovely lady hedgehog.
Unfortunately, he was so terrified of the gorgeous creature that he fled.
Squirrel is there to help Hedgehog. He tells Hedgehog that he needs to “gain
fame and glory” to earn the lady hedgehog’s esteem, and the best way to do that
is to show off how brave and strong he is and to win lots of fights. The thing
is that to win fights you have to look suitably dangerous and intimidating.
quickly gets to work. He measures Hedgehog and then runs off to gather
supplies. He is going to make his friend look tough and masterful. It takes a
while to come up with the right costume but in the end he succeeds. Not only
that, but he too dons a similar costume so that he can help Hedghog win a
“dangerous fight.” Now all they have to do is find an opponent who will make
them look good.
going to laugh out loud as the follow the adventures of Mr. Squirrel and his
friends. Who knew that winning the heart of a lady hedgehog could be so hard?
Who knew that spring could be so full of surprises?
delightful animal characters and its surprising ending, this is a wonderful
book to share with children. Adults will find it hard not to fall for Mr.
Squirrel, who is such a good friend.
Happy Friday everyone. The new issue of Through the Looking Glass is now online. In this issue the special feature focuses on books that are about saving the environment. Some of the titles that I have reviewed are informative, some are how-to books, and others celebrate the people who have worked tirelessly to save wild spaces and wildlife. Then there are the stories that show us how important it is to save the environment. There is also an Arbor Day feature that looks at stories about trees. Who doesn't love trees!
March is Women's History Month here in the U.S. so I have added new books to the Women's History Month feature that I hope you will enjoy.
I am lucky enough to share my home with three wonderful felines. Legolas is a big, fluffy, ginger tabby who is easy-going and easy to please. Sumalee and Sarafee are two very opinionated Siamese cats who are fussy, difficult, and demanding. They remind me a lot of the cat whose story is told in today's Poetry title. Won Ton is also a demanding fellow and he is determined to keep the humans in his life on their toes.
In a shelter there is a cat. He is an elegant beast with
beautiful blue eyes. In his cage the cat has a bed, a bowl, and a blanket, and
he tells himself that what he has is “just like home.” Or least that is what he
has been told.
hours the cat feigns a complete lack of interest in what is going on, though he
cannot resist a little peek. One person pinches him, and another pulls his tail,
but then a boy comes along and he knows how to rub the cat’s chin just right.
The cat tries to seem unconcerned. He grooms himself assiduously and does his
best to appear as if there is “No rush.” In actual fact the cat is thinking, and
hoping “Please, Boy, pick me.”
Sure enough Boy
does choose him and the cat is taken out of his cage. He is thrilled to be
free, but at the same time afraid of what awaits him out there in the world.
Briefly he “clings to what is known.”
After a trip in
a car, the cat arrives in his new home, and the process of naming him begins.
He believes that he deserves a name fitting for an “Oriental Prince.” He ends up
being called Won Ton, and he is not impressed.
tale, which is told using a series of haiku poems, is funny, sweet, and
sometimes touched with just a little uncertainty and anxiety. It is a story
about new beginnings that readers of all ages will be able to connect with.
I happen to really like Valentine's Day, but I know a lot of people don't. There are some people who find the whole idea of giving someone a Valentine just too mushy for words. What will people think if they find out that they succumbed to the lovey-doveyness of Valentine's Day?
In this deliciously funny picture book we meet a boy who refuses to have anything to do with Valentine's Day nonsense; and yet this does not mean that he does not have feelings for a certain little girl who has curly black hair and a sweet smile.
This is NOT a Valentine
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2017, 978-1-4521-5374-2
It is Valentine’s Day and while they are waiting for their school bus to arrive, a girl gives a boy a Valentine’s Day card. The boy is shocked. He is not in favor of Valentine’s cards, gifts, and all the mushy stuff that goes with these things.
However, he does give the girl a little bouquet of dandelions, though he tells her that it is not a Valentine because the bouquet is not fancy. Furthermore most of the wishes have been blown off the fluffy, white dandelion heads.
Then he gives her a toy ring that he got out of a machine at a grocery store. It isn’t a Valentine either because “jewels and gems belong in treasure chests or museums or on ladies who sing at the opera.”
Then the boy gives the girl his cape, which is not a Valentine because it is red and red is not the girl’s favorite color. Mind you, red is a good color for a superhero and the girl is the boy’s favorite superhero.
Could it be that maybe, just maybe, the boy is finding unique ways to make the girl’s Valentine’s Day special?
Children are going to thoroughly enjoy this not-a-Valentine story that is actually a pretty good Valentine. We see, as the story unfolds, that the boy understands what the girl likes and dislikes. It would appear that he knows her quite well and likes her quite a lot. Though of course he is still NOT giving her a Valentine.
Here is southern Oregon it has not been a very wintery winter. In fact, our ski mountain has not been able to open, and just yesterday I did not have to wear any kind of jacket when I went running. Meanwhile our friends in many other parts of the country and in Europe have been hammered by heavy snow falls, ice storms, and freezing temperatures.
Needing a winter fix I chose to read today's wonderful picture book. On the pages you will meet two sisters who are very different in many ways, but who are also very alike. It is fascinating to see what each little girl chooses to do on a snowy day.
One morning two sisters wake up and they discover that it
has snowed overnight. One sister, a pretty little redhead who is still clad in
her nightgown, opens the front door to look at the snow covered garden with
delight. The brown haired sister takes in the view from indoors. She is not as
pleased by what she is seeing through the window.
little redhead gets decked out in her outdoor clothes, while her sister gets
cozy on a big chair with a blanket, a pile of books, and a mug of hot cocoa.
While her sister is building a fort and throwing snowballs outside, the brown
haired sibling bakes cookies and makes paper snowflakes. Then she plays with
her toys and looks at the wild animals from her snug place on the window seat. All
the while her boisterous sister is having a wonderful time outdoors “Tracking”
Finally the little
redhead has had enough. She is cold and wet and she is ready to come inside to
warm up. Her brown haired sister is now ready to take her turn outside. With smiles
on their faces, the siblings greet each other as one comes inside and the other
Now it is the
redhead’s turn to bake and make, to enjoy books, blankets and a cup of cocoa;
and it is the brown haired sister’s turn to build a snow fort and throw snowballs.
going to love this beautiful seasonal book. It is interesting to see how
different the two sisters in this story are. They technically do the same
things (though they do them at different times), and yet the way in which they
do these things is so different.
text – just a few words on every page – the author of this little narrative
gives readers a charming picture of a snowy day.
I have a big soft spot in my bookish heart for graphic novels. I grew up reading the Tintin stories and The Adventures of Asterix the Gaul over and over again, so perhaps this is not surprising. These days quite a few publishing houses are creating beautiful graphic novels, and one of my favorite houses is First Second. Today I bring you a review of one of their titles, which delighted me when I read it. It is the first book in a series and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Sunrise Valley is a pretty place, and the residents lead peaceful,
normal lives. Most of them don’t think about the fact that the only reason that
they are able live as they do is because of the dam. Long ago Pig’s father
invented the dam to keep out the fog. The fog is a deadly phenomenon that
killed Pig’s mother and countless others. Beyond the dam the fog has laid waste
to the world.
For some reason
that no one can understand, after teaching Pig how to maintain the dam, his
father walked out into the fog and is presumed dead.
Now Pig manages
the dam alone, making sure that it does what it is supposed to do to blow back
the fog every time the black cloud rolls in and bares down on the village. Being
the dam keeper means that Pig is not quite like everyone else. He knows the
danger that lurks beyond the wall of the dam, and lives with the responsibility
that his father left him to shoulder on his own.
Fox is the only
young animal in the village who seems to like Pig, and her friendship makes all
the difference in his life. Unfortunately, Fox is friends with Hippo, and Hippo
loves to bully Pig. Fox insists that Pig just needs to spend time with Hippo to
see that the big guy isn’t all that bad; which is why she brings Hippo to the
dam on day to see Pig.
Pig is not best
pleased to see Hippo, but he tries to be accommodating for Fox’s sake. Which is
when the fog rolls in, and this time the wave is enormous. So enormous is it that
the dam does not hold. Pig, Fox, and Hippo are dragged out into the wasteland
beyond the dam when the fog pulls back. For the first time ever, Pig’s father’s
invention does not hold back the darkness.
graphic novel takes readers into a world where danger is never that far, though
most of the animals in Sunrise Valley don’t realize it. We see how Pig has been
shaped by the loss in his life, and how he tries to come to terms with the fact
that all is not what it seems. It turns out that there is something beyond the
dam after all.
This is the
first title in what promises to be a wonderful series.
I always enjoy reading books that writers have written about other writers. Often the stories we encounter in such books are incredibly perceptive, and it is interesting to see how the authors get into the minds of their subjects. Today we will encounter a book written by poets in which they explore the writing styles and the lives of twenty-five wonderful poets. It is a beautiful book and the respect that the authors have for the people that they write about is tangible and warming.
Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2017, 978-0-7636-8094-7
Kwame Alexander had the privilege of growing up in a
house where books were treasures and “words came alive.” He grew up loving
poems in particular because a poem is “a small but powerful thing.” Poems allow
us to connect with the people who wrote them on a very deep level; they inspire
us, and in our minds they evolve as we grow and change.
For this collection
Kwame and his co-authors, Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth, have chosen
to focus on the lives and works of twenty-five poets who are “ interesting
people” and who were, or still are, “passionately in love with their poetry.”
They have written poems of celebration that reflect the styles of these poets,
and they hope that we will use their creations “as stepping-stones to wonder.”
The book is
divided into three parts. The first section looks at poets who developed
singular styles in their writing that poetry lovers have grown to recognize. For
example, in the poem In Every Season,
Marjory Wentworth beautifully captures the free verse style favored by Robert
Frost. She takes us to a farm where we walk with the narrator “through fields
and woods.” We crunch on ice “through
starless winter nights” and shake snow from the branches of trees.
section celebrates poets who beautifully capture everyday moments. Here there
is a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, a poem about a boy who dreams of becoming a
basketball player who will “grab the world in my hands and /twirl a big ball of
hope / from corner to corner.”
section serves as a tribute to the poets who have written poems that delight Kwame,
Chris, and Marjorie in a special and very personal way. The poets that they
feature in this section make the authors feel that “the poet is speaking
directly to us, as if we are in the middle of a private conversation.” On these
pages we find poems like No Idle Days,
which celebrates William Carlos Williams. We read of the man who had “two lives
/ crammed / into one.” William Carlos Williams worked as a doctor, and in his
spare moments, the few that he had, he scribbled away on his prescription pads.
He was a man who crafted “a new American voice,” for ordinary people.
title the extraordinary poems are paired with beautiful multimedia artwork to
give readers a special book experience.
At the back of
this remarkable collection readers will find biographies of the twenty-five
poets who lives and works are celebrated in the book.
I used to be very fearful of trying to do something new. I did not like taking on anything when I couldn't be sure of what the outcome would be. Thankfully I learned that going through life without taking chances was not a good option; my life is richer because I have dared to embrace the unknown.
Today I bring you a book that explores what it feels like to be afraid of taking chances, and what it feels like to turn away from chances with they present themselves. It is a beautiful book that will resonate with readers of all ages.
What do you do with a Chance?
Illustrated by Mae Besom
For ages 5 and up
Compendium Inc, 2017, 978-1-943200-73-3
One day a chance came flying up to a little boy, fluttering like a golden butterfly by his side. He had no idea why it was there, nor did he know what he was supposed to do with it. The chance seemed to want the boy to touch it, but he was “unsure and pulled back,” and in response the chance flew away.
Later the boy thought about the chance that had got away, and he began to wish that he had taken it. Then another chance flew up and the boy, though he was still unsure and perhaps a little afraid, decided to try. He reached for the chance…and fell flat on his face. The boy felt so embarrassed and ashamed that he decided that he would have nothing more to do with chances. Whenever a new chance came his way he ignored it.
Over time fewer and fewer chances flew near the boy until a day came when the boy realized that he hadn’t seen a chance “in quite a while.” Had he missed an opportunity that would never present itself again? Perhaps he should have overcome his fear the first time he encountered a chance. Well, now he had to decide if he was going to be brave just long enough to grab a chance, if one ever appeared again, or if he was going to give into his fear.
This is the third inspirational book that Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom have created together. Just like the first two titles, What do you do with an idea and What do you do with a problem, this story will encourage readers of all ages to find that inner strength that will help them bring about positive changes in their lives. The story does not diminish the wariness and fear that we feel when chances come our way. Instead it acknowledges how strong these emotions can be and it encourages us to face our fears head on.