Dec 30, 2011

digital!

I was completely floored this christmas when my husband bought us a Kindle Fire! I never expected to have an e-reader, at least not anytime soon. I always thought I wouldn't like them, wouldn't like the reading experience. Of course I miss the feel of pages and the scent of paper, but I'm surrounded by about six hundred paper books on shelves, so that's not really a gap in my life here. It was a different experience, reading on the kindle, but not as awkward as I'd expected.
I've never used another e-reader, so I'm just comparing this experience to reading regular paper-bound books. The Kindle is small, easy to hold in the hand, but a bit heavier than I expected when I first saw it. In some ways it makes reading easier- I can prop it up and read hands-free, and it's easier to hold in one hand and use a thumb or finger to turn the pages, when I'm nursing the baby and have my other hand supporting her. That's a struggle sometimes with a real book. I found turning the pages very easy and intuitive- you can do it either by sliding, or with a finger tap. I usually tapped. One of the features I really like is that you can tap on any word and pull up a definition, since the Kindle has a dictionary loaded onto it. I love that. You don't know how many times I've wondered about a word but not wanted to stop reading, jotted down a list and by the time I got around to looking them up it wasn't contextual any more. It took me a bit of time to get used to navigating the book on the screen, you can't just flip through pages to see what's ahead for example. And I really didn't like the way photos were handled. This book had an insert of photos in the middle. I really enjoy photos in books. But here, though each photo and caption was given its own screen on the Kindle they were incredibly small. If you tap on the picture you could enlarge it to fill the screen, but then it was blurry. I was really disappointed in that. I think with all the tecnology we have out there, it should be simple for them to put good photos up when they're included in a text. I can put my own photos on my Kindle, and they look fantastic! Here's my older daughter:
The Kindle Fire also has email, games, and all kinds of other stuff on it. Which means everyone else in my house wants to play on it and I have to juggle with them for reading time! I imagine in the future I would love to take the Kindle on trips, because I can load numerous books on it and not worry about the luggage space. But it would also be a great thing to entertain restless kids on airplanes or long car rides, so maybe I wouldn't get to read on it anyways!

I was a bit worried about eyestrain, since my eyes get fatigued reading stuff on a screen too long. Discovered that if I adjust the screen brightness according to the light in the room, it's easier on my eyes. Contrary to what I originally thought, lowering the brightness so the screen is dimmer in dimmer light made it easier. I'd never read on it in the dark, though, which I once thought might be cool. Nope. Have to have light.

I also found it felt like I was reading faster on here, than with a real book. Probably because the amount of text on each screen is less than on any regular book page (or so it felt to me) so I'm turning pages more frequently. You can look at what percentage of the book you've completed, but for me it didn't have the same sense of progress as looking at where my bookmark is in a block of pages.

So... overall I'm pleased with the experience. I don't think the e-reader will ever replace real books for me; if I read a book I like on the Kindle I'll probably go buy myself a hardcopy rather than just own a file. It still feels more real to me. But I was pleasantly surprised at enjoying the experience and I will definitely use this thing, especially on trips. Yay!

Alex and Me

by Irene Pepperberg

Even though he's so famous that the author had to devote the entire opening chapter (which I might skip next time, by the way) to how many people recognized and mourned his death, I never heard of this parrot until I saw other book reviews about it.  Alex and Me is about the author's work with him, training him to label objects with words and answer questions so she could delve into how complex his thinking process might be. I was pretty impressed with his accomplishments: correctly naming colors, shapes, textures, quantities. Learning to compare and categorize. Learning phrases from what students around him said and applying them to correct contexts. Showing understanding of the concept of zero. And more. A lot of the descriptions of how she taught him and how obstinately he often refused to do repetitive drills, reminded me of reading books on language experiments with apes. Much of this book is about Pepperberg's struggles in academia: trying to secure jobs, find funding, secure recognition from the scientific community, dealing with frequent moves and marital stress. It was interesting to me how particular she was with words in describing her project when seeking grants or giving lectures. For example, she wanted to be dissociated from the furor that was arising challenging the claims of those who taught apes sign language so she never said Alex learned words or names for things, instead she called them "labels". Also curious was how little passion comes through these pages; she didn't seem to have a very close relationship with Alex, or at least didn't express it. In fact, she mentioned a few times how she tried to keep her distance from him so their relationship would remain a clinical one appropriate for the study. Understandable, but it made reading the book a little cold. Overall, I was very intrigued with the work she did with Alex and wanted to learn more. I'm definitely going to try and find her other book The Alex Studies to read, it seems like that one goes into more depth and this book felt a bit lacking to me. I kept wanting more detail, more explanations, even more anecdotes than she provided.

After finishing the book I went on youtube to find videos of Alex talking, I wanted to hear his voice. I should have done it before I started the book so I could have had his voice in my head when I was reading!

Incidentally, this was the first book I ever read on an e-reader. I'm going to discuss that experience in my next post.

rating: 3/5 ........ 240 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Book Coasters
Bibliofreak Blog

Dec 28, 2011

more findings

One of the results of organizing my TBR was that I found more books I want to read- from poking around in the library's online catalog. Here they are, added to the list:

Horses Never Lie About Love by Jana Harris
Be Different by John Robison
Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls
Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Man O'War by Dorothy Ours
Seashells: Jewels of the Ocean by Budd Titlow
The Way of the Tiger by K. Ullas Karanth
Oudrey's Painted Menagerie by Colin Bailey

Lost Mountain

a Year in the Vanishing Wilderness
by Erik Reece

This book has filled me with outrage, sorrow and disbelief. I knew a little bit about the atrocities of strip mining from watching a brief news report on it once, but I had no idea of the extent of the environmental damage and threat to human life, until I read this book. It wasn't one I was intending to read over the holidays, in fact I had to take a break for a few days there because it was making me so incensed. It was the subtitle that caught my eye off the library shelf, and then a bit of perusal inside the cover flap made me realize what the book was about, I felt I ought to read it.

Lost Mountain chronicles the disappearance of one particular mountain in the Appalacian range in Kentucky. The author visited the mountain once a month for a year, hiking up to the summit and wandering around the ridges to see how the mining was changing its landscape. Changing? Removing. Destroying. Annihilating. Strip mining, or mountaintop removal, is when instead of tunneling through the ground, mining companies use large machinery and explosives to blow the mountaintop away, in order to reach coal. Not only does it destroy the habitat, but tons of debris is illegally dumped into streams and valleys and chemicals leach into the groundwater. I didn't know this before, but the Appalachain mountains have one of the most diverse forests in North America in terms of both wildlife and plant life, and are considered our only rainforests. Many of those species are in decline. I kept shaking my head in dismay at the continual blatant disregard for safety or concern for others that these mining companies practice. Blasting too close to human habitation. People's homes getting ruined: foundations cracking, flying rock breaking things, piles of rubble and naked slopes causing floods and mudslides. Children getting sick from respiratory illnesses. People dying of cancer left and right. Overloaded coal trucks driving dangerously fast on narrow roads, killing people. Miners getting paid pittance, families starving, union organizers facing death threats. People who sue for damage to their homes and loss of lives, just getting ignored or threatened or sidestepped because the companies just claim bankruptcy and then open up again under a new name. I could go on and on. It's just disgusting. It had me incensed. I can't believe that in our country a few powerful companies can just go on destroying the landscape and people's lives because they have the muscle of money and power.

Augh! Well, the book itself was a pretty engaging read. It's set up in alternating chapters, between descriptions of Reece's hikes around the mountain and the progressive destruction he observed and chapters about events, health issues, lawsuits, how people in the region live, etc. The chapters are so brief they almost feel like essays, but they are also so intense I don't think I could read it in longer stretches. I appreciated that the author presented both sides- he met and spoke with mining workers and owners alike, and sat in on some town hall meetings where mining employees argued to keep the industry rolling because what would they do without the jobs? It is truly a sad situation. In the end, after the mountain top is gone and Reece can no longer climb to the summit, he files complaints with federal Office of Surface Mining, and visits the mine with inspectors to see if the groundwater is getting contaminated, and sees firsthand how they argue out of every environmental ill.

There were parts I liked. I liked the chapter about the flying squirrels, such marvelous creatures. It was really interesting to read about a re-enactment of Robert Kennedy visiting the community. I liked the inclusion of poetry by Wendell Berry, which I'd never read before. And despite all I thought to the contrary, it even ended on a positive note: restoration of the land. The mining companies are supposed to restore the habitat, but the most they usually do is level the ground when they're done and seed it with grass, creating unnatural pastures up on the flattened mountain plateau. Reece reports that it would actually be easy to plant young trees, which can later be harvested for their wood and would hold back erosion better. It's even cheaper. It just doesn't look good as quick- little trees dotting the broken landscape are less impressive than a wave of green grass I suppose. So it was hard for the mining companies to be convinced that planting tree seedlings was better.

It was hard for me to assess from looking stuff up online if strip mines are actually following the procedures for reforestation. Looking online I found lots of sites that present a positive image of strip mining, with plenty of photos showing lush green forest growing where strip mines had been. But they predated this book so I wonder if some of these atrocities are still continuing.

I had a few small quibbles with the book itself, particularly a handful of typos I came across- break printed for brake, with for will, etc. They jumped right out at me. It's not a big deal, but it always bothers me a little bit to find that.

rating: 4/5 ........ 250 pages, 2006

more opinions:
Tree Hugger
Lake Loop

Dec 22, 2011

Seven Cats and the Art of Living

by Jo Coudert

This is a very pleasant and thoughtful little book. It reminded me a lot of Conversations with Amber, which is a favorite of mine. The author looks back on her years with seven different cats (she's owned quite a few more) and in describing their different personalities and behavior, draws parallels to how we human beings deal with life. It feels more like a book about living well and fully, than a book about somebody's cats. She talks about character, about patience, about building relationships. She discusses the effects of early childhood- whether secure and loving or stressful and abusive- in influencing one's outlook on life. She talks about having self-confidence, about the value of hard work, about breaking ruts of behavior, making positive changes in our lives, putting on appearances, being needy or self-sufficient, jealousy, meditation, etc. A wealth of insights and observations. It only helps that I happen to agree with or admire many of her sentiments.

I find it a bit amusing that she and I have completely different taste in cats, though. Meaning, how they look. I once fell into error by choosing a handsome cat from a shelter based solely on his looks- he turned out to be not right for our family (see below). Coudret, too, is pleased to have cats that are beautiful or striking in appearance, but our opinion on that differs. She likes stocky longhaired cats with luxuriant fur. I like lean, athletic cats with long, graceful tails. I've always thought white cats with tabby patches were pretty. A cat comes into her house with all those qualities- lean, muscled, white with tabby patches, a long tail- and she is always mentioning how much a ruffian he looks, how scrawny and unkempt. I'm thinking, I'd like to see his photo! I bet I would find him a handsome cat.

Some readers might be a bit put off by her solutions to problems with a few of the cats- one that turned assertive and began spraying all over the house was relocated to a farm where he disappeared and no one knew his fate. I can sympathize, though- I had a cat once that was very aggressive to children and after trying for months to remedy the situation I gave him to a family without children, who lived on a large property where he could roam (he was a passionate hunter). The same day we took him to his new home, he bolted out their door and was never seen again. I still feel bad about it to this day, but also don't know what I would have done differently... Anyway, that's a tangent here. I liked Seven Cats and the Art of Living, so much that I want to find a copy for my own shelves.

rating: 4/5 ........ 192 pages, 1996

more opinions:
From the Recamier
anyone else?

Dec 21, 2011

influence

Ever since I read Merry Hall, I've found some of Nichols' sentiments on plants creeping into my own opinion. Especially in regards to the speckled or spotted laurels. He speaks of them repeatedly with contempt, saying they look sickly, works very hard to rid his property of them. Finally I went online and looked them up. And instantly recognized the plant.
Soon after moving here to Virginia, I had noticed a shrub that grows in many people's yards. It has large, pointed bright green leaves with paler green or yellow speckles on it. They look rather tropical (to me) but keep their leaves right through the winter. I always wondered what they were. Now I know: spottedd laurels! I was familiar with solid-colored laurels from back home, my mom's yard has a nice hedge of them- but these were something new. I always looked at them with curiosity before.

But sadly, since Nichols influenced me, I can't help but look at them with distaste. Every time I see one, I think it looks ill, diseased. Just because of the spots. Just because of how Nichols went on and on about them.

 Am I alone or have you ever had an author's (or character's) opinion affect your own in real life?

Dec 20, 2011

Barnheart

by Jenna Woginrich

This book continues where her previous one left off. Woginrich continues to strive to live her dream of homesteading. She moves into a new place, a rented cabin in a small community in Vermont. Continues gardening, raising chickens and rabbits. Adds sheep, ducks, geese, a turkey, a goat and a sheepdog to her little farm. Most of the book is not really details about the animals, or even about her efforts to raise her own food. For all she loves sheep, I learned more about what it's actually like to keep them from this other book. There's not much mention of her practices of animal husbandry, for example, until she has to defend someone's accusations on how she keeps them. There's hardly any mention of the garden, except for that she has one. It came across to me that the focus was her emotional journey. She talks a lot about her longings, dreams and plans, and then describes how she goes about acquiring them. There are welcoming neighbors who help her along the way, and suspicious ones who report her (unfounded) for animal cruelty. In the end, she discovers she can't stay forever at the cabin and undergoes a frantic search for a piece of land to own.

Barnheart was a quick, focused read. I really admired the tenacity which she had, to stick to her goals. She didn't mind if she looked odd to her neighbors (or even her own family) but just went ahead and found classes in the things she wanted to learn, found someone to trade sheep with her, found friends who liked fiddling, neighbors who helped her build a sheep shed, a whole community of people living the same kind of lifestyle (with a surprising variety of backgrounds). Her enthusiasm is catching, her honesty refreshing, her love for this way of life very obvious. I enjoyed reading her little book and have recently subscribed to her blog so I can follow along with her doings. I don't know if I'll ever have a homestead (or even if I want to) but I do love gardening, and want to have a few chickens someday (maybe rabbits too) so it's nice to see someone living that dream and far beyond it.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 184 pages, 2011

organizing

I've spent the last week or so organizing my TBR list. The main focus of my task was to separate the list into the books I can find at my local library, and those that are unavailable. I don't know how many times I've gone to the library with a list of titles I was currently interested in, only to find most of them weren't in the system. Frustrating. So I've looked them all up and now know that even if I have to wait for something to travel from another branch, at least all the books on this list are there. It's satisfying to know that.

The list of books not at the library, dubbed TBR etc, is full of titles I'll just ignore for now. Someday I might search for them on swap sites, or purchase those I really really think I'll like, but I have no idea when. I've had a policy for a long time of borrowing books to read before I decide buy them, to keep the number of purchases down. It would be hard to start breaking that habit, especially where there's still so much on the regular TBR that I can still read at no cost.

I've also sorted the list a little more, especially with the nonfiction books, to make finding things easier. I'm not quite sure how to sort the fiction, which is the next-longest segment of the list.... It was interesting to see how the list broke apart when I started searching the library's catalog. About half the classics and nonfiction I want to read are available. Most of the YA books, two-thirds of the fiction and fantasy are available too. But less than a third of the animal books I'm interested in are. It was also eye-opening to go through the entire list in detail. I'm eager again to read many books I had completely forgotten were on my list. I found quite a few books that I'd read and not removed. And a number that were in the wrong place- fiction titles listed as memoirs, for example. Now it all feels tidy, and much more accessible. The list is not nearly so intimidating anymore. It feels manageable. I rather believe I might actually read all these books someday.

It will add an extra step whenever I add a bunch of titles to my TBR, because now I'll go look them up in the library catalog first. But I'm hoping it will save me some time and frustration down the road.

Dec 19, 2011

Animal Babies on the Farm

by Kingfisher

Yet another cute board book we found at the library. This one shows a close-up of a baby farm animal- the chick's feet, pig's curly tail, a lamb's bright eye- gives a clue about the animal's identity and hints that the child guess "who is my mommy?" The following spread shows each baby animal with its mother and identifies their different names- chicken and chick, sheep and lamb, horse and foal etc. It's utterly charming, a great introduction to familiar animals, their mothers and some typical characteristics each have, from the goat's silky beard to the lamb's wooly coat. Six animals are shown, with nice clear photographs. Animal Babies on the Farm is a hit with my child.

rating: 4/5 ....... 28 pages, 2005

Dec 18, 2011

Baby! Baby!

by Vicky Creelen

This is the first book that ever got my baby's attention. Baby! Baby! has no words, just pictures. Each spread shows a baby and on the other page an animal. There's always a similarity between the two- posture, expression or activity. It's fairly large for a board book, so the baby faces are nice and big and catch your little one's attention. My kid loved looked at the faces, and it was easy to make up some words telling her what was going on: "oh, look at this baby with his legs all bent like a froggy" or "this baby is sitting up like a big ole gorilla!" My daughter's favorite page is the one where a kid sticks out his tongue next to a yawning lion also showing its tongue. I like the one near the end where a baby holds his head high (seen against the blue sky) aside a giraffe also holding its head high. Or the one where a baby sleeps with his hands tucked under him, and a kitty sleeps with its paws tucked just so- they both have just a bit of tongue peeking out, too. The only picture we don't really appreciate is the caterpillar, juxtaposed with a baby lying on the floor on his tummy, arching his back. Both babe and caterpillar look really small on the page, and it's not nearly as engaging for the child. Overall this is a wonderful collection of pictures, arranged so nicely. You'd be surprised how much a kid can look like a turtle's face!

On Flickr you can see some of Creelen's paired photographs. (They aren't all in the book- that only has eleven pairs). And I noticed that some other reviews say it's baby faces next to baby animals, but the animals are definitely not all babies- about half are grown.

rating: 4/5 ....... 24 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Young Readers
Maya Reads
Readia: Children's Book Reviews

Dec 17, 2011

Wilderness and Razor Wire

by Ken Lamberton

This is one of the books I found on the John Burroughs Medal list, and was lucky enough to get through Paperback Swap. It was written by a former teacher who received a twelve-year sentence for having an affair with an underage student. During his time in prison, he kept his spirits up by observing what he could of the natural world around him- desert wildlife, birds and plants- and began writing essays on the subject. Ended up publishing numerous articles and essays about wildlife and nature in journals; I'd actually like to read a collection of those. This book is a kind of mesh describing his thoughts and emotional states while imprisoned, some of the details of prison life, how the system worked, the sadism of the guards, his observations of other inmates, etc. Mostly it is about what bits of nature he could connect to: naming birds that visit the prison yard, watching sparrows that build nests. The ants, cicadas, other insects that busily carry out their lives. The growth and spread of various plants, especially weeds and wildflowers. Patterns of weather and changing seasons. His grief and fury when trees are cut down and flowerbeds paved over because they pose a "security risk". I found most touching to read about the interactions of others with the wildlife: lots of inmates were curious to watch tarantulas hunt other bugs. Some kept birds or ground squirrels as illicit pets. When the author's family visits he engages his daughters in hunts for flowers, insects and toads.

Most of Wilderness and Razor Wire was an interesting read. But it was hard to ignore the unpleasant facts. One is the nature of his crime. He never goes into unnecessary details, but describes his guilt and remorse at betraying his family. The weird thing was that the man who wrote the forward tried to excuse his crime, calling it merely a crime of passion and of love. He said it wasn't comparable to crimes of violence, that if it had been a different era, would be considered no crime at all. It was strange going into the book having had that thrown at me. I would rather I had not read the intro. I would rather have not known what he'd done at all. It was hard sometimes to look past it and enjoy the nature bits.

The other part that bothered me was to read about his background as a naturalist. He was the kind of kid who liked to shoot animals (or run them down on the road) just to collect a specimen. Even protected species. Had a kind of cruel streak and enjoyed killing animals, taking them apart, engaging in taxidermy with the remains. You get the impression that only part of it was a fascination with learning. I thought this aspect of his character might fade a bit after so many years in prison, especially when I saw how sympathetic he was to his fellow inmates with their pets, to the living things around him, down to the very weeds in the concrete. But then I'd read about things like how he'd glue down the feet of insects to hold them still so he could draw them (and his drawings are quite nice, by the way.) No mention of whether they were set free again.

It's a kind of harshness, a raw edge butted up against sensitive feeling and passion for nature that kept me intent on the pages as an uneasy and enthralled reader. I'm a bit curious to read more of his books if I can find them, but wary of liking them.

rating: 3/5 ......... 218 pages, 2000

more opinions:
Southern Rockies Nature Blog

Dec 16, 2011

The Very Best Daddy of All

by Marion Dane Bauer

This little board book shares a theme with the Ashley Wolff ones about animal daddies and mamas. The Very Best Daddy of All shows how different animal fathers care for their offspring, and then at the end highlights a human father's love for his child. Birds bring dinner, a fish builds a house, a penguin snuggles his chick, prairie dog plays with his pup, fox brings food home so the vixen can care for the cubs, etc. The one that surprised me was a frog leaping at a snake with the caption Some daddies face every danger, so you will be all right. I had no idea frogs would attack a snake to defend their tadpoles! The pastel illustrations are soft and vivid, the words have a gentle rhyming flow that doesn't feel forced. It's easy to fall into a little singsong while reading it aloud. I enjoyed turning these pages with my baby daughter.

rating: 3/5 ....... 34 pages, 2004

Dec 15, 2011

The Alphabet

with Wild Animals
by Melanie Watt

You read through lots of alphabet books when you have little kids. And you start to notice the similarities and differences between them. For example, most of them seem to begin with A is for Alligator and end with Z is for Zebra. Lots of other animals are fairly common for certain letters of the alphabet: E- elephant, K- kangaroo, Y- yak, etc. What's really interesting is to see what animals the authors can come up for the hard letters like Q or X.

This version is completely charming. The illustrations in The Alphabet: Learning wiht Animals are simple yet descriptive, and the backgrounds show each wild animal's appropriate habitat with very few elements. It's just right for little kids. I also really like that the opening spread shows all the featured animals grouped together. Something different, and nice. Some of the more unusual (for an ABC book) and interesting animals here are the quetzal (a fantastic Central American bird), narwhal, monarch butterfly, salamander, tuna fish, orangutan, xerus (a ground squirrel) and unau (the two-toed sloth). I did have a few small quibbles with the book, though. One is the W animal: wapiti. I thought elk was a more common name for this animal, I don't know why you would introduce children to the less-used term (I would also have used the sloth for S not U, but I know it's hard to think of a U animal! the last book I saw had unicorn). The elephant's trunk on the E page looks awkward: too big, like a chopped hose. And the rhinocerous looks like he has cloven hooves, not three-toed feet. Small things, but I started to notice them after so many readings.

rating: 3/5 ........ 30 pages, 2003

Dec 14, 2011

Why Don't Pengins' Feet Freeze?

and 114 Other Questions
by New Scientist

Another book I found just browsing library shelves. Of course, it's not about penguins. It's a kind of trivia book, full of questions asked by readers of New Scientist magazine. All kinds of quirky and curious things you might wonder yourself, like: what makes your hair turn grey? do fish die when lightning strikes a body of water? how do gnats avoid raindrops? how do you make ice cubes without bubbles (as seen in commercials)? how does temperature affect the taste of food and drink? etc etc. A lot of the answers got quite technical in the details of physics or chemistry that causes certain effects, and sometimes I have to admit I got a little lost, even though I could tell the answers were written for laypeople. And here's the one little problem with this book. The answers in Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? are not uniform in quality. They're not written by the same author, or even by a team at the magazine. They're sent in by other readers, and vary quite a bit. (Some of them have impressive little list of credentials after their names, others just list their name and you wonder who they are or what they know). Quite often completely contradictory answers are printed next to each other and there are even some that are obviously making a joke of the whole thing. They did make me chuckle, and it was interesting to see different ways of explaining the same phenomenon, but a few times I was still left wondering which response was the most accurate. It didn't bother me too much, but other readers might find this uneven quality dissatisfying.

I want to see them answer the question about the hummingbird my sisters and I used to pose to each other as kids when we drove around in our large volkswagon van: if a hummingbird is hovering in the car and it takes off suddenly, will the bird keep moving along with the car or get smashed against the rear window? (I think this was mostly answered by the question in the book about how a floating balloon behaves in a moving car, but somehow I think a living creature powering itself, like a hummingbird, might act differently?)

rating: 3/5 ........212 pages, 2006

Dec 12, 2011

Architecture Shapes

by Michael Crosbie and Steven Rosenthal

Another little board book that's been visiting our house from the library this week. Architecture Shapes introduces children to shapes by juxtaposing a line drawing (circle, square, diamond, oval, etc) next to a photo where that shape is prominent on a building (mostly windows). The final picture shows several buildings together and suggests finding different shapes on the page. I keep looking for a star there, but can only find the other shapes mentioned in the previous pages. This is because my daughter's favorite page is the star, she keeps patting it with her hands (I think because it looks very three-dimensional).

It's a nice little book, but not one of my baby's favorites. She usually looses interest halfway through. I think she's just a little young to be learning shapes yet (her interests right now are animals, bright colors and people's faces). This is a book we'll probably look for again later on, when she's a tad bit older.

rating: 3/5 ........ 16 pages, 1993

Dec 9, 2011

Flower Confidential

by Amy Stewart

I wanted to read this author's book about earthworms, or the one about her first gardening efforts, From the Ground Up. But the only other Amy Stewart title my library had was Flower Confidential so I brought that home instead. And it's been quite an interesting, educational read.

This book is all about the cut flower industry. Amy Stewart traveled from California to Ecuador to Holland to see exactly where our flowers come from- the ones you see in the grocery store, in the corner florists' shop, or order online for Mother's Day. The first part is about flower breeding, from the old-fashioned (eccentric guy who hand-pollinated all his lilies but his place was always in disarray. They speculate that his lilies were so hardy because they had to be in order to survive the unsanitary conditions!) to the modern: gene-splicing in attempts to get new flower varieties, even the quest for a blue rose. Then she visits several growing operations, from local and almost-organic in southern California to low-wage pesticide-ridden in Latin America. It's funny, I never thought about flowers being a similar product to food but there are many parallels. Just like produce, the flowers that have been bred to withstand travel and handling have also lost their scent. Flowers are produced cheaper in other countries, so they get shipped from far away. Organic flowers, grown without pesticides and harsh chemicals, are just coming into vogue. Next the reader gets to visit the huge flower auction in Holland, which was fascinating. And then revisits florist shops on home soil, peeking into their doings. Last of all is a look at the mad rush that is Valentine's Day, and how florists cope with the demand. All of it was interesting, and eye-opening for me. I learned a lot about how flowers are propagated and cared for in mass numbers, how they travel around the world, how the demand for them rises and falls (most curious were some of the historical bits about what flowers were popular among Victorians, for example). And I kept jotting down notes of flower names, so I could look them up on my computer and see what they were. I'm familiar with peonies, snapdragons, chrysanthemums, etc but these had me seeking a visual: dianthus, clarkias, mignonette, lisianthus, tuberose, alstroemeria... Some I had seen before, just didn't know their names. Beautiful!

I enjoyed this book a lot more than reading Wicked Plants. This book had a nice, conversational narrative that took the reader along on a journey of discovery. Wicked Plants felt more like a detailed list. Interesting still, but the format is not as fun to read.

rating: 4/5 ........ 306 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Books and Other Stuff
Maggie Reads

Dec 8, 2011

Eva and Her Animal Friends

by Ulla Kampmann

This is a book that got weeded out of my daughter's library. She recently got a new bookshelf and it's crammed full (smaller than the old one) so a few had to go. (Most of the board books went to a different shelf just for the baby). Eva and Her Animal Friends is one I've had a long time and can't remember where I got it.

I actually really like the story: a little girl named Eva is getting ready to visit the zoo and talking to some animals in her backyard. The fox is very vain and thinks he's the most beautiful, clever creature around. The sparrow is practical, busy and forever worrying about her children. The bunny is just a little innocent fellow. They all want to know about the zoo, which the sparrow tells them about- having visited herself once (she has a cousin who lives in an elephant's cage). They learn that lions have long tails, brown fur and loving eyes. Elephants have wrinkled skin, big ears and are very smart. Eva goes off to the zoo with the idea that she can bring a lion home for a pet- or maybe an elephant (the sparrow's recommendation). When she gets there, she realizes at once that neither animal is suitable for a pet, and settles for an ice-cream cone instead. The next day, the animals in the yard wake up early and find a strange creature among them. At once they assume this is the new pet Eva brought back from the zoo- but is it a lion, or an elephant? It has brown fur, a long tail, loving eyes and wrinkles and large ears. What can it be? They are all puzzled until Eva arrives to tell them about it.

It's a charming little tale. My only problem is the pictures. They're awkward, look like a child drew them and scribbled in with markers. I really don't care for them at all (and neither does my kid). So even though the story is enjoyable, she doesn't want to look at the book. I really wish this book were reissued with new illustrations. As it is, my copy is probably going to get recycled- it's missing all the front pages (including the first illustration) and has quite a few tears with old, yellowed tape and a very worn cover. It's sad, but one that must go.

rating: 2/5 ........ 30 pages, 1967

Dec 6, 2011

Nam, Nam! Yum, Yum

by Catherine Hnatov

This cute little board book is quite simple. Bold, three-color illustrations show animals eating their favorite foods while the facing page describes what they're doing, in both english and spanish. The color mentioned on each page is the only one featured against black-and-white, so it makes a good contrast to help infants become familiar with colors. I like the simplicity of it. My favorite page is the donkey (eating red apples), he's just so charming! Yum! Yum! is very short, only twelve pages, but sometimes that's just right for little attention spans.

rating: 3/5 ........ 12 pages, 2011

Dec 5, 2011

I Love My Daddy Because

by Laurel Porter-Gylord

Another beautiful board book illustrated by Ashley Wolff, I Love My Daddy Because is a companion to I Love My Mommy Because.  It shows how animal fathers help care for their young, in many of the same ways human fathers do. Kids can see puffins bringing food to their chicks, beavers and muskrats building a home, a fox teaching caution. My favorite pages are of the eagle sitting with his baby, the lion snoozing with his cub, the chimp laughing with his offspring. The only spread I don't care for so much is the one where the animals play hide-and-seek. Spider monkeys, anoles, jaguars, parrots, toucans and sloths all hide behind busy patterns of leaves. Search as I might, I still haven't been able to find the second sloth. But it's a small matter. The gentle words reminding us of bonds between parent and child (whether human or animal), and the lovely pictures make this a great book to snuggle with your little one.

rating: 4/5 ........ 24 pages, 1991

Dec 4, 2011

Move!

by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins

This is one of the picture-book duds I brought home. The cover of  Move!is really attractive- it has one of those pictures that shift when you tilt it (is there a term for that? can someone tell me?) Inside, each spread describes how a pair of animal moves (walking, swimming, floating, diving, running, etc) and then one of the animals continues to the next pair on the following spread. For example, on one page a snake climbs a tree, alongside a praying mantis climbing a grass stem. On the next spread, the mantis is flying, next to a roadrunner also flying. It's a wonderful example of how different animals use the same methods of getting around. The illustrations by Steve Jenkins, done with cut paper are full of different textures, and just beautiful.

So why doesn't she like it? My seven-month-old only wants to look at the cover, once I start reading she squirms and complains and turns away. I've tried the book on her three times now, and she just doesn't want to sit through it. (It's not just the moment, either; I've picked up another book right after and she sat quiet for that one, happily patting the pages). I think part of the problem is that the concept is a bit advanced for her. I'm thinking she'd be more interested when she's two or three, able to jump and run with her own body, interested in imitating the animals. Just not there yet. And I think by the time she is at that point, she won't be interested in board books anymore. It would be nice if there was a regular, paper version of this one to share with an older child.

rating: 2/5 ........ 32 pages, 2009

a note: I've been listing the picture books in my index here by the illustrator's name, not the author's. Because to me, the illustrations are almost more important in a children's picture book. It's certainly what I look for when I'm trying to find new books to share with my kids.

Dec 2, 2011

this never ends

the TBR pile! thanks to...
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flynn- books i done read
Love at First Bark by Julie Klam- Caribousmom
Birdology by Sy Montgomery- The Stay at Home Bookworm
I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill- Kyusi Reader 
The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore- The Lost Entwife
As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross- My Porch
State of Wonder by Anne Prachett- Sophisticated Dorkiness
In a Single Bound by Sarah Reinersten- Caroline Bookbinder
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel - Farm Lane Books Blog
Bird by Zetta Elliott- Puss Reboots
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg- Books Under Skin
the Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp - Shannon's Book Blog
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik- Farm Lane Books Blog
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard - Opinions of a Wolf
Gluten -Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern- Sophisticated Dorkiness
At Home by Bill Bryson- So Many Books
Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan- You've GOTTA Read This!
Wild Life by Molly Gloss- A Work in Progress and So Many Books

Dec 1, 2011

You Had Me at Woof

by Julie Klam

Searching for love in her life, Julie Klam has a dream where a small black-and-white dog leaps across a field of flowers towards her. And pretty much, that's when she fell in love with the Boston terrier breed. First came Otto, a dog she simply loved to pieces. Then she (with the reluctant approval of her husband) became involved in a Boston terrier rescue group, and started fostering homeless dogs. All different sorts of little dog characters came through her home, some incorrigible, some adorable. There was the dog who pooped all over the house, another that bit people, a third that did nothing at all, just lay there. The story that endeared me most was of Dahlia, a very aged dog no one liked much until she brought a wonderful surprise into their home.

You Had Me at Woof is an amusing, lighthearted and sometimes surprising read. The author admits openly that she does almost nothing to train her dogs, they're completely spoiled. It made me wonder a little how the rescue group gave her dogs to foster, as their behavior problems didn't get much help from her. But then, at least they had a safe roof over their heads while looking for their forever homes. It was really interesting to read about the operations of the rescue group- I didn't really know how they functioned before, and it seems like (at least this one) they are basically just a collection of big-hearted people doing what they can to help dogs in need, without asking anything in return.

Sometimes the writing in the book bothered me a bit. There were certain gaps in the story, regards to the author. For example, she never explained why she can't drive- even though it comes up as an issue a few times. Reasons for events or changes in her life also get glossed over. I didn't mind that so much- I liked that the book was more focused on the dogs, and perhaps she just didn't want to share details about her life. But it was just confusing as a reader to suddenly have an aspect of her situation different, with no explanation at all.

One thing I particularly liked was that the "life lessons" weren't overly obvious, not shoved in your face. Each chapter had a title like "How to Uncover Truths" or "How to Mourn the Loss of a Friend" (yes, some dogs die in the book. It didn't make me overly sad, though- probably because I just didn't get attached to them as characters). Sometimes I would get to the end of a chapter and then look back at its title and think about the contents before I realized that it all summed up that title "lesson". The one I didn't get was called "How to Feel Good About Your Neck." What does that mean? is it some cultural reference I don't get? can someone explain?

rating: 3/5 ........ 226 pages, 2010

more opinions:
S. Krishna's Books
Luxury Reading