Whilst ‘Mirrors, Windows and Doors’ has become a collective metaphor to encompass the need for diversity in children’s books, there are plenty of books that use physical windows, mirrors or doors to tell their story. Of course, as well as being a necessary ‘prop’, like in The Hello, Goodbye Window, they can also provide figurative meanings beyond their actual presence – this is especially evident in Demi’s Reflective Fables, for example, which not only provides a real mirror but asks readers to ‘think about [reflect on…] the meaning of each fable’ whilst reflecting the illustrations.
So here is a reading list of children’s books that offer mirrors, windows and doors, both metaphorically and literally…
Anno’s Magical ABC: an anamorphic Alphabet
by Mitsumasa Anno and Masaichiro Anno
(Kuso Kobo (Japan), 1980; Philomel Books, 1981)
A wonderful alphabet book (one of my favourites!) that has capital letters in one direction through the book and lower case letters in the other. The joy of the book is that both the letters themselves and the objects represented are depicted anamorphically: the pictures can be viewed in the correct perspective by placing a mirrored cylinder over the circle in the middle of each page (each circle also containing the line drawing of a plant beginning with that letter). My second-hand copy of the book came without the mirrored sheets provided but it’s easy to make a substitute cylinder, as you can see from my photograph below. A page of ‘Clues to Anno’s spells’ provides a key to all three items for each letter – and a bonus is that the Japanese is also given. In the centre of the book there are instructions for creating your own anamorphic drawing.
An amusing and charmingly illustrated retelling of a Korean folktale in which a merchant brings home a mirror from a trip to China. Since no one in his village has seen a mirror before, everyone who looks into it thinks there is a stranger lurking, and the results are likely to arouse great glee in young listeners, who will understand exactly what is going on all the way through!
Chanda and the Mirror of Moonlight
written by Margaret Bateson-Hill, illustrated by Karin Littlewood, consultant and Hindi text by Asha Kathoria
(Zero to Ten Limited, 2001)
Bi-lingual: English, Hindi
This gorgeously illustrated story, set in Rajasthan in India, is a beautiful variation on the classic Cinderella, with a wicked step-mother, a lazy step-sister and a handsome prince who is disguised as a ‘working man’ when Chanda meets and falls in love with him. Add to the story a precious magic mirror bequeathed to Chanda by her mother, a kindly old woman, a banyan tree and a friendly peacock, and you have a satisfyingly unique read – and it’s not a glass slipper but the mirror that fittingly saves the day.
Demi’s Reflective Fables
(Grosset & Dunlap, 1988)
Each double-page spread in this gorgeously illustrated book is the succinct retelling of a Chinese fable, beginning with ‘The Mirror’ – in which a dragon brings a mirror home to his dragoness wife (compared with Mirra Ginsburg’s picture-book retelling – see The Chinese Mirror, above). Each fable follows a theme of mirrors and/or contrasting perspectives, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively; and often the moral at the end asks the reader to ‘reflect’ on its meaning – to contribute to these ideas, there is a ‘mirror’ inside the front cover that can be used to reflect the round illustration on the right-hand page. The mirror is not simply a gimmick; it is a useful tool for spending a bit of time pondering the meaning of each fable. A short Author’s Note gives some historical information about Chinese bronze mirrors and how and why they were treasured.
by Suzy Lee
(First published 2003; Seven Footer Kids (US), 2010)
In this wordless masterpiece, a small girl discovers her reflection in a mirror. At first distrustful, the ‘two’ become friends – until something happens (represented by a blank spread): the two are no longer in harmony; the reflection takes on a life of its own… This is a disquieting book about more than play, as Lee subverts the expectations of the little girl and readers alike. She explores illusion and reality, and the nature of friendship, all through beautifully executed drawings in black and brown of only the girl and the reflection against a stark, white background, with the centre-fold representing the mirror. Mirror was perhaps a natural progression from Suzy Lee’s first book, Alice in Wonderland, published in 2002…
by Jeannie Baker
(Walker Books/Candlewick, 2010)
Bi-lingual: English, Arabic
Although not about an actual mirror, the physical mirroring of the two wordless stories within the single unifying covers of this thought-provoking and deservedly award-winning book makes this a must for inclusion here.
The collage artwork is stunning, filled with captivating detail. Through a mirrored layout of two halves, helped serendipitously by the different conventions for reading a book in English and in Arabic, Mirrors follows a day in the lives of two boys, one in Sydney, Australia, and the other in the Valley of Roses in Morocco. They don’t know each other, and there is no hint that they ever will, but in essence their lives mirror one another’s – and there is one object that connects the boys across the miles.
Stranger in the Mirror
by Allen Say
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 1998)
‘I don’t want to be old,’ says Sam – but then, horror of horrors, the next day he looks in the mirror to discover that he is old, and he is in uncharted waters where everyone treats him differently… The nightmare only lasts a day but its effect on Sam and his attitude towards old age is profound. This book has the potential to be disturbing in a good way for its readers, as it makes young and old alike think about their relationships and ways of relating to people of different generations.
written by Sandhya Rao, illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan
Thangi gets more and more incensed as she tries to make the faces in the mirror go away… One of Tulika’s Thumb Thumb series, Mirror is a very funny story that on the surface is very simple, with its sparse text and amazingly expressive illustrations (who’d have thought a thumb print could look so endearingly infuriated?!): but as with any good story about mirrors, reality and reflections, it has complex overtones…
No Mirrors in My Nana’s House
written by Ysaye M. Barnwell, illustrated by Synthia Saint James
(Harcourt Children’s Books, 1998)
Accompanying 3-track CD with narration plus sung version by female-voice a capella quintet Honey in the Rock
A poem/song in which a young South African girl grows up knowing love and beauty through seeing the world reflected in her wonderful, far-seeing grandmother’s eyes and not in a mirror. The recording by author Ysaye’s quintet Honey in the Rock is beautiful, and the bold illustrations convey deep emotion, despite a lack of facial features (a clever allusion to the lack of mirrors, whether intentional or not). This is a good poem for introducing young children to the existence of challenges in some children’s lives and the possibility of rising out of them, and is a reminder to all of the importance of love – but it may also raise uncomfortable questions about child poverty and fairness in slightly older children.
by Jeannie Baker
Another powerful wordless book by Jeannie Baker – this time looking at urbanisation. It begins with a mother holding her baby looking out of a window on countryside untouched by human intervention. With each turn of the page, the child gets older and the view changes until all trace of the natural environment has been superseded by an urban landscape. By this time the boy is grown up and married, and the final spread shows him with his own child looking out of a window onto a different, undeveloped wilderness… There’s plenty for young readers to look at in the details of Baker’s amazing collages, with visual clues showing the passage of time – and the environmental issues raised are there for the taking.
Tarde de invierno/Winter Afternoon
poem by Jorge Luján, illustrated by Mandana Sadat
(Groundwood Books, 2006)
Bilingual: English, Spanish
One of my favourite picture books from 2006, a beautifully illustrated poem in the voice of a little girl looking out of a window, drawing pictures with her finger on the steamed up panes, while waiting for her mother to return home – and the joy of their reunion when she does. A perfect book for sharing with a child who often waits for his or her mother to come home from work, for example. A bonus is the animated version of the book created by Jorge and his son:
The Hello, Goodbye Window
written by Norman Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka
A little girl tells young readers all about the special window at her Nanna and Poppy’s house – the Hello, Goodbye Window, through which every interaction of their loving relationship is played out. Raschka’s typically quirky illustrations convey the girl’s joie de vivre and also set the story within the context of an interracial family, making this an extra special book… and there’s also a welcome sequel, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie (2008), in which the window still has a role, as her grandparents find out whether their grand-daughter is Sourpuss or Sweetie Pie when she comes on a visit…
A River Dream
by Allen Say
(Houghton Mifflin, 1988)
Mark is at home sick. He receives a special get-well present from his uncle – his box of fishing flies. And out the window, a new landscape awaits – instead of the street, there is a river, where Mark joins his uncle to fish… As dream and reality converge, the story becomes an allegory for growing up and making responsible choices – which in turn adds a symbolic layer of meaning to the lights in the windows of Mark’s house when his mother calls him home at the end. This is a beautiful story that will appeal not only to young fishermen, but also to any child who would rather not be stuck indoors…
written by Shirin Yim, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
(Chronicle Books, 2002)
The big, red door that feisty little Ruby looks through on the cover of this inspirational, award-winning book is the entrance to her home, which at that time in China marked the confines of her world, with the expectation that it would eventually be exchanged for another door when she got married, like all the girls in her family. But Ruby does not want to get married, not yet anyway. She wants to study and learn and go to university – just like all the boys in her family. Remarkably, Ruby’s grandfather listens to her wish… By the end, readers will be wishing for Ruby’s wish to come true – and there is a surprise awaiting us too, when we learn through words and photographs that this is a true story about the author’s grandmother…
The Door of No Return
by Sarah Mussi
(Hodder Children’s Books, 2007)
This is a gripping YA thriller that also leaves readers thinking deeply about some of the themes it explores, most notably the African slave-trade and its cultural consequences all the way to the present. Sixteen-year-old Zac is devastated when his grandfather Pops is killed in London, ostensibly by muggers. Determined to see through Pops’ obsession with their family history, even though he doesn’t really believe it himself, Zac escapes his spiralling world in care, to get to Ghana, where he tries to unravel the family’s past: but he’s not the only one interested in his complex background involving royal ancestors, lost treasure and betrayal, and Zac finds himself in mortal danger. The page-turner reaches its climax at the Door of No Return in the walls of the ancient slave fort…
The Old Man and His Door
written by Gary Soto, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
A hilarious story about an old man who never listens to his wife if he can help it – so on this occasion, ends up taking a puerta (door) to a barbecue instead of a puerco (pig). As it turns out, however, the door proves to be very useful… Inspired by a traditional Mexican song, this is a nonsensical story that is sure to entertain. You can’t help but fall in love with the old man, while empathising with his wife’s exasperation! Soto’s narrative begs to be read aloud with lots of Spanish words (there’s a glossary) to keep up the logical confusion between the words, as well as rooting the story in its cultural setting; and Cepeda’s delightful illustrations deliver extra chuckles throughout.