Alicia's Reviews > Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
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Jun 08, 2010

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Read in May, 2010

From the time that we are very young, magical stories of princesses and fairies, princes and talking animals are told to us, over and over. Fairy tales teach us of the dangers of straying from the path, of judging a man by his fur and not his heart, and of forgetting one's manners and stealing from a witch. Breaking from rote tellings of these tales requires creative thinking on the part of both the author and the reader; author is charged with re-situating well-known characters and actions in a new manner, and reader must hold both her expectation and her anticipation side by side.

Marilyn Singer's "Mirror, Mirror" contains paired "reverso" poems, or poems that can be read both frontwards and backwards, line by line, on familiar fairy tale themes. A turn of words turns Little Red's hood, which she wears on a deliciously sweet and tasty berry-picking walk to Granny's, into the Wolf's (neighbor-) 'hood, which turns unsuspecting Little Red into a potential deliciously sweet and tasty treat. Some of these paired verses serve as a point/counterpoint for major characters in these popular fairy tales: Singer reverses the name-game that a familiar straw-spinning poppart plays, challenging readers to recall not only his tongue-tangling name, but also the name of the distressed miller's daughter turned King's wife.

Other poems present two conflicted sides of a character's personality, or two opportunities between which she is forced to choose. Chance a second kiss with the frog, or chalk the first up to experience and innocence? Charming illustrations follow the mirroring lead of the text. The folds of Sleeping Beauty's dress roll into thorny-forested hills through which her Prince Charming must fight to come to her rescue. Rapunzel's hair flows from her head down the walls of the tower in one half of the page, and, in the other, breezes behind her scissor-happy adoptive “Mother”, abandoning Rapunzel in her high prison.

This lovely little picturebook is a great conversation starter: try to get yourself and your youngsters to be thinking about putting yourselves into the positions of some of the lesser, or more maligned, characters from your favorite fairy tales. Singer describes writing these poems as "rather like creating and solving a puzzle", and suggests that readers try their own hands at creating reversos. My attempts have been frustrating, but the moment when those phrases fit together in different directions is something nearly magical.

[This review first appeared on the Madison Public Library's MADreads blog]

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