Mirror Mirror is a book of poems about classic fairy tales. You read each poem and then you read each poem again backwards, reading each line in reverse order. It’s amazing and hard to believe, but both poems work. This seems unbelievably difficult to me. To make it even more complicated, when you read the poem in one direction, it is from one character’s point of view and when you read the poem backwards it is from a different character’s point of view. I have no idea how the author managed to do this. It’s word brilliant! THEN, to make the poems even more amazing, the illustrator, Josée Masse, made the pictures the same way!
The author and illustrator also teamed up for a second book of mirror poetry called Echo, Echo. The theme in this one is Greek myths.
To test just how hard writing a poem like this might be I gave it a try using Grover and Tyson from the Percy Jackson books. It’s lame, four lines, but hey, I’m a beginner!
Together til the end Percy is my friend And now Brothers in arms
See, if you read it from top to bottom it’s about Grover. Percy is his friend at school before Percy knows he’s a demi-god, but then they become brothers in arms in the war against Kronos. If you read the lines in reverse it’s about Tyson. Tyson and Percy are Brothers in arms first fighting their way back into to camp half-blood. It’s only later that they become friends.
My poem kind of works. Trying it showed me that I was right – writing like this is incredibly difficult! You have to consider each line and how it will work for the two different points of view and mine doesn’t even rhyme or anything. Marilyn Singer’s poems have everything: the poems flow right, the rhyming is right and the poems make total sense read both ways. Really. How in the world did she do this? Amazing! These are two amazing books to celebrate April, National Poetry Month.
The poet James Whitcomb Riley was born in Greenfield, Indiana on October 7, 1849. To give you an idea how long ago that was, he was about 12 years old when the U.S. Civil War started. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were both born around the same time.
At the time of his death on July 22, 1916, James Whitcomb Riley was a beloved figure in Indiana. He was also well known for writing in dialect. A dialect is a particular form of a language that is special to a specific region, in this case Indiana. It is similar to what we would call an accent today. When a person read his poetry, it was like listening to a neighbor and people really liked that. Many of his poems were funny. People really liked that too. Riley traveled the country giving live shows reading his poetry. In his time, he was a rock star! His death was such news it made front page headlines in major newspapers all across the country. There is an old scrapbook of the events that followed his death at The James Whitcomb Riley Home & Museum. You can look at this scrapbook online. It has all kinds of old newspaper clippings in it. One of the headlines about his funeral says, “35,000 People Pass Casket of Indiana Poet”. That is a lot of people!
During Riley’s life people did not have radios in their homes yet. To listen to music or readings they used phonographs. In Riley’s day you had to hand crank a machine to listen to a recording. Very early ones recorded onto cylinders. Later ones recorded onto flat discs, like a CD, only larger. Today you can play a digital file of an audiobook on your phone or computer. In 1912 Riley recorded poetry readings for the Victor Talking Machine Company on one of those flat discs so that people could listen at home – an old time audiobook. We have these old Riley Recordings at IndyPL in our digital collection. James Whitcomb Riley Recordings You can listen to the man himself reading his own poetry. Lucky for you they are in a digital file now!
Mr. Riley’s most famous poems for children were and still are, “Raggedy Man,” “The Little Orphant Annie,” “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” and “The Old Swimmin’ Hole.” You can read them right now in these free eBooks from IUPUI. I recommend the deliciously scary “The Little Orphant Annie.” Annie is a great storyteller! She tells the story of why you better mind your parents because “The gobble-uns’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!” To read it click on the green book Riley Child Rhymes and then click on page 23.
In the spirit of another beloved Hoosier, David Letterman:
Top 10 Ways to Know James Whitcomb Riley was a Rock Star of his Time:
10. His book Rhymes of Childhood was published in 1912. Today, over 100 years later, you can easily find his book at the library or go to an online bookstore and find it for sale as a print book or an eBook. There are not very many books that are still printed from that long ago!
8. When Riley died, the President of the United states, Woodrow Wilson, and the Vice-President of the United States, Thomas Riley Marshall (who was from Columbia City, Indiana), both sent messages of condolence to his family. The Governor of Indiana allowed him to be laid in state at The Indiana Statehouse Rotunda so that people could come pay their respects. Until that time, only Abraham Lincoln had been honored in that way.
1. James Whitcomb Riley donated the land indyPL’s Central Library is built on. The bronze gates at the main entrance on St. Clair Street were purchased with pennies donated by children. The bronze tablets on each of the iron gates say: The gates are the gift of the children of Indianapolis in loving remembrance of their friend James Whitcomb Riley