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Mirror by Jeannie Baker

mirrorThe great children’s literature specialist Rudine Sims Bishop has talked and written about books for children needing to be both windows and mirrors. This book seems to me to be the epitome of that idea.

There’s so much to talk about here, so I’m looking forward to what you all have to say about this book. In particular, how would you introduce it to children — and in what grade/at what age? Wordless books can be rich resources in classrooms, but I think they work best with some well-considered scaffolding.

Last year The Horn Book published a terrific interview with Baker. It’s not online, but if you can get your hands on the May/June 2013 issue, you can read more about her process and specifically about the people and places that inspired this book.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Anna Weerasinghe says:

    First of all, I have to say that this book is absolutely beautiful. The collages are stunning and so well-photographed that I kept expecting to be able to feel the different textures of the materials (I can easily imagine small children wanting to touch the pages!). I also thought that the format of having two picture books bound side-by-side was clever and worked very well – it definitely made me want to think about the two families and two stories in parallel, comparing and contrasting, which I believe was the author’s intent.

    I was also impressed by how easy it was follow the story and become invested in the characters without words. I was quickly drawn in by the two main child characters and their families as they went about their daily lives. Personally, I think this book would be well-received by children from a very young age up to age 10 or 11 (I should mention here that I am not an Ed school student, so this is just a guess – I’m mostly imagining reading this to my young nieces and nephews). Yes, it would probably require some “scaffolding,” but I think it could lead to some very interesting discussions depending on the age. For a really young child, that might involve simply identifying items on the page; slightly older children might be challenged to come up with a verbal story to accompany the pictures (“What is the Australian child thinking here? What is he doing here?”); even older children might be led to compare the different lives led by families in different places – in the book and in comparison to their own homes.

    That said, I think it was fairly clear that the author was more at “home” with the Australian family (and indeed the postscript says she is herself from Sydney). I felt a bit uncomfortable with the final images, where the exchange of the carpet (made by the Moroccan family, bought by the Australian family) and the use of the computer/internet to access images of the globe (in the Moroccan family’s home) were put in parallel. I could be getting this completely wrong, but it seemed to me that the carpet was being allowed to “stand” for Morocco, and the computer for Australia in a problematic way. The carpet was a product of the Moroccan family, but it does not appear that the Australian family is involved in the building or designing of computers, so what is it about technology that is more “Australian” than it is Moroccan? Or is it that the image of the world (centered on Australia) is meant to parallel the little boy’s drawing of Morocco? Even so, the connection is a bit one-sided, though again this might provoke some interesting class discussion (for older children) about the movement of goods and technology around the world and what that might mean for those of us who are more often consumers than producers.

  2. Lindsey Horowitz says:

    As much as I appreciate the beauty of wordless books, I have a hard time spending time on each page constructing a narrative without any words to ground me. What is wonderful about “Mirror”, however, is that a dialogue already exists between the two stories. I found myself pausing as I compared each page to its counterpart and back again. Last semester, I zoomed though “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan as I hastened to see what image would come next; “Mirror” forces the reader to take in two parallel stories, which slows the reading process down, and (at least for me) makes wordless “reading” more manageable.
    Because I find wordless reading challenging, I do not think that there is any one age that would not benefit from the use of wordless books in a classroom. For “Mirror” specifically, I think it would work really well in my sixth grade classroom because it lends itself so well to comparing and contrasting. My students often have an easier time analyzing images than words, so I would use “Mirror” as a scaffold in teaching the comparing and contrasting process. To scaffold “Mirror” itself, I would start with a single pair of images (I found the marketplace pairing to be especially rich) to work on close analysis of detail, then progress to thinking about the stories as a whole.
    “Mirror” would also work well in a unit focused on writing narratives. This could be approached in a couple of ways: 1) students could write a narrative for one of the two stories, then work with a partner who had focused on the other story to compare their narratives and edit them to make a cohesive text (this would also give peer review a different, but clear purpose) 2) students could write the narrative for both stories then “publish” them to be shared with the class as part of a discussion on the necessity of words for reading.
    Although I see this text working well with sixth graders, I think it makes some important cultural connections that would be relevant in other classrooms. Anna makes an interesting comment about the problematic nature of some of the images; I was actually most troubled by the text at the start of the book which emphasizes the connections between the two families (while also acknowledging their differences). I think “Mirror” does a wonderful job of illustrating those connections, so the text at the beginning almost seems to be overdoing the message, though I concede that seeing it in both languages is very beautiful.

  3. Corinne Fischer says:

    Mirror by Jeannie Baker is an amazing visual telling of the story of two families from different cultures. The creation of these illustrations is impressive and the depiction of different textures seems so real, I wish I could touch them all. The themes presented in this book make it universal in the audience it could appeal to; this book could be used with children of all ages, beginning in pre-K through 5th grade or even later. In the early grades I would use it to illustrate themes of family. All students have some form of family even if it is not the traditional structures that are depicted in Mirror. The two different families presented could lead to a class discussion about what family looks like in other cultures or even the different family structures that are present within a single culture. When using this book with students, especially American students, I would reinforce the idea that although different cultures have different family structures, one culture’s representation of family is not superior to another. I feel that today’s Western students may look at the Moroccan family and feel sorry for them because they do not have the similar things (like cars, airplanes, hardware stores, and asphalt parking lots) to the Australian family depicted in the mirrored story. This is not the message that should be relayed to students. In order to foster an appreciation for different cultures, children need to respect other cultures instead of feeling sorry or superior to them.

  4. Janice Chong says:

    I found the design and illustrations in this book to be fascinating and absolutely relevant to all students. The design is ingenious because of its physical practicality and symbolic relevancy. It also, first and foremost, captures the reader’s attention to pick up the book.

    Children raised in households with cultures different from those reflected by U.S. classrooms would find the book relevant because of the parallels it draws in daily lives in two starkly different environments. The book walks the reader through two different shopping, eating, and leisurely family experiences, and I was blown away by the masterful way the book gently leads the reader to appreciate and becoming excited by the two cultures. This would be relevant to non-English-speaking children who may be embarrassed of their non-American backgrounds (i.e., help appreciate their backgrounds) while students from culturally American backgrounds would enjoy the rich (vicarious) exposure it lends its readers.

    I am interested in international collaboration between domestic students and those abroad to help facilitate global awareness and citizenship at the elementary level. So I most appreciated the parallel structure of this book because it clearly sends the message that people are alike in their needs (food, materials, food), which would certainly help students see diversity as an enriching, rather than dividing, reality.

  5. Abigail Russo says:

    As a few people have already mentioned, I was first and foremost impressed by the ingenuity of this book in its form and its content, the form being informed by the content. I am very interested in the myriad of ways in which children learn about other cultures, and this book was a beautiful and poignant means to sharing knowledge across cultures.

    Touching on Lindsey and Anna’s comments, I think this book has the potential to capture audiences of different ages. For younger children, it provides particularly vivid illustrations that could be accompanied by simpler explanations. For older children, it provides space for creative thinking and extrapolation about plot, characters, and intentions from the visual information provided.

    I would be interested to see how this story would be received by children who don’t “identify” with either storyline. Personally, even though I am not from Australia, the scenes depicting life in Sydney somewhat accurately reflect things I experience in my daily life, whereas the Moroccan scenes are less personally familiar. I wonder if the book would be as engaging for children for whom neither storyline rings true, or whose cultures are not represented by either of these stories. I would imagine that the book would hold an entirely different meaning for a child comparing her own culture to another as it would for a child exploring two relatively unfamiliar cultures. Of course, the fact that the picture is written without words makes it infinitely more accessible to children of all language and cultural backgrounds than it would be if it were narrated.

    Wonderful read!

  6. I really like the way the author brings form and content into a unifying whole for Mirror. It is the different writing directions of the two languages that make it possible for two parallel stories, and the name “Mirror” also corresponds to the form. What is more interesting about the form is that colorful and vivid collages are used as the main components in this picture book. They give the stories a slight sense of 3D, as if the readers could touch and feel the people and the objects, making the readers feel they are really close to the two boys’ life. In my opinion, this collage-style form would actually help children, who are still developing their cognitive skills, to better connect the scenes with the real world.

    In terms of the stories, they are comparable as well: the boys are both in red; they travel a long distance with their father to buy goods; and they come back home with new stuff and enjoy life with their family happily. I love the idea of the time span–it starts and ends with a full moon up in the dark blue sky. It makes people reflect upon the fact that these two families, though from different cultures, still live in the same world and share some common values.

    I have just one question after reading this. As an Asian, I see myself trying to understand what life patterns the two families are leading and getting confused with the meanings of some little pictures sometimes. So I was wondering if a family, from either Australian (or American, European) culture or Arabic culture, are reading this, will they understand what the other story is telling in some parts? Can the author’s intention of multicultural interaction be effectively conveyed?

  7. Stacy Tell says:

    My tutoring student for this past year has been a young girl, from Morocco, who speaks the exact language that is depicted in Mirror. I was so excited to open this book not only as a way to connect with her, but as a way to explore picture books and how they tell a particular story. Mirror by Jeannie Baker is a work of art in itself, and upon further exploration of her as an author, I watched an interview with her shortly after Mirror came out, where she explains her story process and the authentic materials that provide a three-dimensional, real type of feeling. I think this also would speak to a wide range of students who are eager to explore how other cultures can look so different on the surface, yet have many similar core values.

  8. Jennifer Stacy says:

    I loved Mirror. The format of the book was something I had never seen with any other book. I found myself absorbed in the pictures, creating my own narrative and considering how I may have approached each illustration if I had created the book. I also thought at length about how I would use this as a teaching tool. My thought (and I am not a teacher) is that such a book could be introduced at different points in a child’s life by modifying how it is used as a teaching tool. I can envision using this with a child as young as four, and without an upper limit on age. The beauty of wordless books is that they provide an opportunity to adjust to the audience in a way the books with text are more limited,

  9. Alexandra Fish says:

    This book’s illustrations are beautiful. I love the textured look of each page, along with the way each part of the daily routine is truly “mirrored” across cultures. The physical structure of the book really lends itself to drawing comparisons, which makes it a great teaching tool for students. While I think this book would be fun to use with the 1st to 3rd grade range, I think it could also be part of a unit for older students. While younger children may draw more direct comparisons between cultures – food and transportation practices, for example – older students could use this book as a jumping off point for a more in-depth culture study, or a study of more sophisticated topics like trade and economy. The book could also be a fantastic model for students to use while designing their own “mirror” books, using facts about a different culture to highlight similarities and differences as Jeannie Baker does.
    If I were introducing it to lower elementary students, I would definitely need to provide some sort of discussion to elicit background knowledge of these two cultures. I would also scaffold students’ understanding of this book by having a discussion or activity about our own daily routines in the United States. While this book has a bigger message than routines, I think this would be an appropriate area to begin before attacking the story’s broader message.

  10. Shannon Moran says:

    I was introduced to my first wordless book this year with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It was a disconcerting experience for me at the time; initially, it seemed as though I was not actually “reading.” Without words, the burden of creating a story line falls upon the reader. The Arrival ended up being one of the best children’s books that I have ever read. To me, it read like a movie and I was able to follow each frame to construct a narrative.

    The format of Jeannie Baker’s Mirror made it a little bit challenging at first. The book is designed so that two different stories can be read side-by-side. I had never seen a book with instructions on how to physically read the text. At times, this threw me off because I became concerned that I was not on the same page for both stories. I could easily see how children might have difficulty keeping track of both texts.

    As others have mentioned, Mirror is visually stunning. Baker creates illustrations that are vibrant and colorful. At the end of the book, she describes how she uses both natural and synthetic materials to create collages. Then she photographs the completed scenes. This method creates a textured, almost three-dimensional effect in her illustrations.

    In terms of instruction, I agree with Lindsey that this book would be excellent way to model compare and contrast for students. The academic skill of comparing and contrasting two texts can be challenging, so I think the visuals of Mirror could help scaffold this activity for middle school students. I would want to break this book down into smaller sections so that the students could practice this skill with one scene at a time from each text.

    I think the book lives up to the notion that a picture book should serve as both a “window” and a “mirror.” The Australian family served as my mirror; I could easily relate to the modern, urban environment where the family lived. At the same time, I was a bit offended by the pictures in that I felt they portrayed the Australian family as materialistic consumers. It made me question the “mirror” that I was supposed to be viewing of daily Moroccan life. I think it is important when we are talking about these “windows” and “mirrors,” particularly with students, that we do so with caution and remain critical of the stereotypical images we might be viewing of other people’s lives.

  11. Sarah Thompson says:

    Although I’ve never actually attempted to “teach” a wordless book, I find the instructional options they present very interesting. In some ways, I think the experience of “reading” a wordless book offers a way to sort of level the playing field for students. The “best readers” no longer have an advantage, and it gives those students that possess keen observational skills an opportunity to shine. Because the text is so accessible, I think it could be a powerful tool for creating norms around how books are discussed, practicing using evidence to support claims, and the like. In terms of how to introduce this book to children, I think a discussion of the format would be critical, especially with younger students. It’s a very different tactile experience than a typical children’s book, and requires some understanding of the way it’s meant to be read. Again, depending on the age of the students, discussion of the author’s purpose and of the two cultures presented here would also be important. With older students, however, I think it might also be powerful to let them experience the story in raw form first, then begin the more guided unpacking of the text. A second reading could be framed with some thought-provoking questions to consider in pairs or small groups, then discussed as a whole group.

  12. Kim Fernandes says:

    I definitely echo many of the comments above this one about the content and the form, and particularly Lindsey’s thoughts on how hard it is to follow a book without any words and only pictures as the narrative. I have always had a hard time figuring out how to teach these books (I taught 4th and 5th grade) because my students (especially the struggling readers) particularly enjoyed books that they could interpret in any way they wanted, but I didn’t quite understand over the course of my two years as a teacher what this would mean for a lesson plan. I definitely agree that this is an excellent way to discuss writing narratives, but also to have conversations around perspectives and cultural paradigms. It would be interesting to see whether students would have a preference for one kind of lifestyle over the other, or whether they would (just looking at the pictures alone) like to live in either Australia and Morocco, and if so why. I imagine that this line of questioning can take different forms depending on the age of the child(ren) you’re interacting with, but this book definitely provides an interesting window for students to examine how they think about their own lives in relation to the lives their peers around the world have.

  13. Nell O'Donnell says:

    Like many of the commenters above, I loved this book. The images were beautiful, the cross-cultural narrative was rich, and it was unique in a very appealing way. I am very interested in literacy development in many contexts, including non-US and non-Western/Northern contexts, so I’m always excited to see books that are accessible (in terms of text–or in this case lack thereof–and imagery, and subject matter) to families where there is limited access to books and other literacy materials. i wonder the extent to which a child in Morocco (or a context like it) would enjoy this book compared to a child in Australia (or a context like it).

    Another question that I have is about the actual process of reading the book: how is the experience of reading this book affected by the format of the book? As I sat reading it, I struggled to hold the two sections open at the same time (as I was instructed to, while still trying to sip my coffee and savoring the experience. I had the book open on a table, which was hard enough. How hard is this book to read with a child on your lap? If the child can’t hold open one side, how can you manage the child and book a the same time?

  14. Felicity Fu says:

    The illustration and layout of the book is appealing for both adults and children. The book itself seems to be a medium and outlet for the author to put in her experiences and thoughts after her journey. Her use of different mediums to illustrate the storyline helps tie together how similarly children of the two countries live. The fact that she explains her inspiration and use of different materials and the end propelled me as the reader to go back and appreciate the work one more time.

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