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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse
By Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Dutton (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-525-47901-7
Ages 4 and up
On shelves now.

I like to think that the world of children’s literature has gained a bit more respect in the last decade or so. Folks notice it and reference it more often. And as sales continue to be good and scholars take note of it more often, its sub-genres proliferate and gain acceptance. Graphic novelists of children’s fare increase. Non-fiction writers for kids demand more attention. And then there are the poets. Poets like Marilyn Singer who has been doing good steady work for years and years. I’m looking at my watch and I see that it’s just about time that Ms. Singer get her due. How clever of her to make it easy on me by producing a poetry picture book that is not only fun, not only clever, and not only beautiful to look at, but also has a good FIVE stars from five professional review journals. Mirror Mirror is everything a person wants in a book for kids. It’s enjoyable for children, who will pore over the wordplay for long stretches of time, and it’s clever enough for the gatekeepers (librarians, teachers, parents, etc.) who want a poetry book for kids that doesn’t take them to Snoresville, USA. Mirror Mirror, in short, delivers.

Better flip to the back of the book (how appropriate!) if you want an explanation of what’s going on here. Says the last page, "We read most poems down a page. But what if we read them up?" Calling such poems "reversos", Singer’s concept is simple. Each poem is repeated. The one on the left is read down. Then Singer takes the same words, puts in some slightly different punctuation, and when each line is read backwards it tells an entirely new story. The stories in this book are fairy tales and Singer not only tells the tales frontwards and backwards but gives them new stories too. The ugly duckling, for example, has some doubts of his own potential beauty. In his upbeat poem he says confidently, "Plain to see – / look at me. / A beauty I’ll be." Then doubts set in and he sighs, "A beauty I’ll be? / Look at me – / plain to see." One of the smartest books out there for kids, young readers will be entranced by Singer’s wordplay and Masse’s lovely (if not equally clever) illustrations.

When I first heard of a "reverso" I thought it meant a poem where every single word is backwards when it repeats. Fortunately, Singer has no wish to drive herself bonkers. It’s not every word that’s backwards, but lines. This makes for great wordplay, and some creative solutions. My favorite is the poem that I think also comes across as the cleverest. "In the Hood" is a Little Red Riding Hood take. It’s short, so I can write it in full here. On the Little Red side of the equation it reads, "In my hood / skipping through the wood / carrying a basket / picking berries to eat – / juicy and sweet / what a treat! / But a girl / mustn’t dawdle. / After all, Grandma’s waiting." The wolf replies, "After all, Grandma’s waiting, / mustn’t dawdle . . . / But a girl! / What a treat – / juicy and sweet, / picking berries to eat, / carrying a basket, / skipping through the wood / in my `hood."

Alas, not every poem is equally strong.  I was a little baffled by the Rapunzel verses, since I couldn’t figure out who was telling each of the two poems. Generally speaking, though, these glitches are the exception rather than the rule. And if you don’t care for one poem, you’re bound to think another is fantastic.

Most folks will probably look at the pictures here and assume that illustrator Josee Masse utilizes a kind of paint on wood technique similar to the work of Stefano Vitale. Not the case, I assure you. According to her editor, "she painted the pieces of art with acrylic paint on illustration board. She uses an undercoat of acrylic which is what gives the texture . . . . Then she builds up colors on top of that". These puppies clearly took serious work to make. What I like about the pictures too is how well she has split the pictures that accompany the poems into two mirror-like images. Their details reflect how well Masse has understood the text too. For example, in the poem "Do You Know My Name?" the girl from the Rumpelstiltskin story laments that even though she’s the beloved heroine, no one ever knows her name. On the opposite page we see the little man dancing beside a fire that burns his name into smoke, while on the other side that smoke has turned into golden thread that spells out nothing at all. Extra points to Masse for taking the time to draw a correct bobbin on a spinning wheel too. Most artists of that story don’t take the time (Paul Zelinsky being an exception).

I can’t help but think that with the success of this book Singer and Masse will simply have to give in to the demands of their fans and do a sequel of sorts. Why, they could take nursery rhymes in the second! Then classic children’s books in the third. Then famous women from history, tall tales, presidents, the list goes on and on. For now, though, we can enjoy this single reverso collection, possibly the first of its kind for kids. Beautiful both as object and as a way of getting kids interested in poetic forms, this is a must purchase for any library or home collection. One of a kind.

On shelves now.

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews: The Washington Post

Interviews: David L. Harrison’s Blog


  • I was hoping I’d find this, and I’m glad that I have.  It’s a reverso review of the book.  And here’s a second, even more complicated version by 100 Scope Notes.
About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. jealous illustrator says:

    Congrats to Marilyn Singer!

    I got the chance to read this manuscript years ago when the publisher was looking for an illustrator. I have never ever been more excited about a book. I would have LOVED to illustrate this gem and have thought about it repeatedly over the years. Alas, although I worked up lots of samples, it was not meant to be. But how wonderful to finally see the book on shelves!

    And many congrats to Josee Masse! Lucky you! And beautiful work!

  2. laurasalas says:

    This is a terrific poetry collection. Incredibly clever and fun, and one of the few poetry picture books where I’m equally mesmerized by the words and the art.

    Way to go, Marilyn and Josee (and I AM shocked that it’s digital art–I had no idea)!

  3. As a matter of fact, this very morning, I have been dredging the back dates of this blog to find a video; I’m sure to have seen first here, to use in conjunction with this book. Help me find it dear Ms. Bird. I think it was an advertisement that when read through was a dismal cynical look at the world, but when read backwards was full of sweet promise. If I remember correctly there was also, in the same post, a similar piece that was publishing oriented.

  4. Fuse #8 says:

    Ah yes. I remember it well. You’re looking for this post:

    It is a cool idea.

  5. Thanks my dear, you’re a peach!

  6. lucia monfried says:

    I am the editor of the book, and I want to say that as Marilyn and Josee’s publisher, we are thrilled with the acclaim that this very deserving book has received. However, a correction is in order. The art was not done digitally. Josee Masse is a painter, and she painted the pieces of art with acrylic paint on illustration board. She uses an undercoat of acrylic which is what gives the texture you spoke of in your review. Then she builds up colors on top of that – it’s all quite traditional. I agree that the paintings are as brilliant as the poems, but that came from Josee’s hand, eye, and paintbrush.

  7. Fuse #8 says:

    Heavens! I was informed that it was digital. It shall be corrected immediately! Sorry for the confusion.

  8. Julie Hedlund says:

    I feel the need to race out and get this book right now!

  9. Fuse #8 says:


  10. Lee Wind says:

    this sounds amazing – great review, Betsy!
    Thanks for sharing about it, will order my copy right now.
    Namaste and a Hug,

  11. Yes, succumb indeed. If you haven’t seen/read this book listen to Betsy and the starred reviews and get your hands on it now. My middle school students are passing it around and really are amazed by it. Even our counselors think it would be great to show how looking at a situation from a different perspective changes everything.