Monday, August 29, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror was a book I have heard about for more than a year.  I read reviews and pre-publication discussions about it, I purchased it for the library I worked for, my library consortium added it to their mock list...and still I didn’t actually read it.  After 2010 was over, Mirror, Mirror was on a best of the year list, and that finally spurred me to read it.  Now that I have, I am angry I didn’t read it earlier so I could have advocated for this book all year long.
I am a big fan of poetry, but Marilyn Singer has really done something magical in this book.  Singer uses fairy tales as her framework for this collection.  But she uses a unique form of poetry in this book, called reversos.  Singer uses the same words in two poems, set back to back on the page.  These poems have the exact same words, but the second poem is an exact reversal of the first.  Some of the punctuation may change to reflect the different meanings of the words, but otherwise the words are exactly the same.  It is truly jaw-dropping to see how carefully these poems are constructed.  I can’t imagine the work that went into adding and subtracting words to get the balance and meaning just right.
Not only are these poems exquisitely constructed, but they also turn familiar fairy tales on their ear.  Singer amazingly takes fairy and folktales that we all recognize and reverses the tale just as she does the words of the poem.  For instance, in the pair of poems called “Cinderella’s Double Life”, Cinderella begins the pair of poems bemoaning “Isn’t life unfair?” before describing her stepsisters gaily going off to the ball.  At the end of the second poem, where Cinderella is the belle of the ball, dancing gaily with the prince, she asks “Isn’t life unfair?” in more of a triumphant manner.
I was so awestruck by Singer’s work that I can’t even name a favorite poem in this book.  However, Frances can.  She loved “Longing for Beauty” about Beauty and the Beast.  I actually didn’t set out to share this book with Frances.  But she happened to walk by as I was reading it.  Frances immediately sat down and made me start at the beginning and read it all to her.  While we have read plenty of books with rhyming text, I’m not sure we’ve read an entire book of poetry, and I didn’t think she would be interested through the whole book.  But she was transfixed.  She correctly identified the tales from the pictures and titles and listened intently.  When Gloria walked by after we finished, she told Gloria excitedly “Gloria, look at this book!  It has Cinderella in it!”.
Part of my daughters’ interest in this book was definitely the illustrations.  We have loved Josee Masse’s illustrations before, and once I began to recognize her technique in this book, I felt she was a perfect choice to illustrate these poems.  Her paintings on peeling, striated, cracked wood bring an ethereal, old-fashioned touch to these poems.  She incorporates familiar elements into the paintings (the gingerbread house laden with sweets in the Hansel & Gretel poems), but her characters have a spark of independence, competence and whimsy about them.  They are modern and old-fashioned at the same time.
I can’t rave enough about this book.  It is perfect and I can’t believe it wasn’t more popular with award committees last year.  I would have voted for it over and over!
Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse.  Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Josee Masse.  Dutton Children’s Books, 2010.
Borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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