Nov 30, 2013

Choosing a Fish

by Laura S. Jeffrey

Another kid's book about fishkeeping. The title is a bit misleading, it has far more information than just how to choose the right fish for your space and conditions. There's information on tank setups, water conditioning, where to situate the aquarium and so forth. Also some info on what kinds of fish are compatible for communities, and how to maintain a healthy environment for the fish. I liked this book. It recommends that you start with species that are hardy and easy to care for, and tells how to do research on the fish before making a purchase- even noting that pet store employees will not always know what they're talking about! The book points out that you should be conscious of where the pet store gets their stock from- are the fish wild-caught in ways that deplete reef ecosystems? or are they raised in hatcheries? All things to think about.

The book has very good pictures, as well.

Rating: 3/5    48 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Marina's Tween Materials Blog

Nov 29, 2013

101 Facts About Tropical Fish

by Sarah Williams

This fact book felt familiar to me, the way it was laid out. It's in a kid's non-fiction series, and I feel pretty sure that I read a book laid out like this before, but perhaps didn't blog about it. This is not a trivia book about fish as might first appear, instead it's your regular instruction book with basic information about the history of keeping fish, their biology and needs, how to set up a tank, choose healthy pets etc. But all laid out in brief numbered paragraphs, thus the 101. Odd, but maybe easier for kids to read?

I learned from this book that fish scales don't actually have any color. The pigment comes from the skin underneath. Some fish have no skin pigment and are transparent! And that the shape of a fish's mouth can tell you what kind of food it eats. There is some misinformation here, though. It says that algae is a kind of fungus (not!) and that once a year you should take your entire fish tank apart and scrub everything with soap (NO! this will kill the fish) Mention of rainbowfish, tinfoil barbs, rasboras, glass catfish and mudskippers led me to look them up online. The last one- mudskipper- I have heard of before but didn't know they could be kept in an aquarium.

Rating: 2/5   32 pages, 1976

Nov 27, 2013

Fish for Kids

by Dana Meachan Rau

This kid's book about keeping fish is a good introduction. It outlines basic setup, water maintenance and fish care. I appreciate the fact that the book points out that although you have to spend time caring for your fish, they are only for looking at and you can't play with them like a cat or dog. That's important for kids to realize! While the book advises that saltwater aquariums require a lot more specialized equipment and are harder to care for, it then goes on to profile quite a few popular saltwater fish. I can just see a kid reading this book and begging their parents to get a pair of clownfish or a seahorse. I've been wanting for a long time to one day keep seahorses, but in no way am I ready for their special needs! The fish species that get brief profiles here (describing needs, water requirements and behavior) include angelfish, bettas, blue-green chromis, goldfish, seahorse, molly, guppy, clownfish, platies and neon tetras. The pictures are okay, nothing spectacular. And while the book didn't introduce me to many new fish (the only one I hadn't heard of before was the chromis) I did learn that neon tetras' color gets duller when they are asleep, and that live-bearing fish (guppies, mollies and platies) like brackish water.

Overall I think this book is very good for children interested in keeping an aquarium, it really lets you know what you're getting into. Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 3/5   48 pages, 2009

Nov 26, 2013

adding to the TBR

book titles I found on other blogs, in the past couple weeks:

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy- The Lost Entwife
Returning to the Lakota Way by James M. Marshall- The Lost Entwife
the Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono- So Many Books
Alice in Tumblr-Land by Tim Manley- The Lost Entwife
The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke- The Lost Entwife
C.S. Lewis on Stories and Other Essays On Litearature- Across the Page
Dollybird by Anne Lazurko- Indextrious Reader
The Urban Bestiary by Lyanda Lynn Haupt - Bookwyrme's Lair

Making the list was a bit discouraging this time. Only the first title is available at my library. The rest I'll have to wait, or find elsewhere...

Nov 25, 2013

Setting Up An Aquarium

A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
by Axel Gutjahr

This is a book from one of those educational series, the kind of pet manual you'd probably find in a store alongside fish supplies (my copy came from the library). Barron's, in this case. It has lot of the solid, basic information I'm looking to brush up on, plus plenty of bright, enticing photographs of fish species. Like most fish-keeping instructionals, the book goes over basic aquarium necessities, fish care, some disease control, easy live plant choices, how to balance and maintain water quality and so forth. For such a short book, it has a lot of information! I read about some things I'd never heard of- that some people use computers to regulate the lighting in their aquariums and simulate sunrise/sunset conditions?! (sounds expensive), that some filters pass the water through ultraviolet light to sterilize it?! And while the book advises to test for pH and water hardness and to control oxygen exchange, it makes no mention at all of ammonia, nitrites or nitrates, which is what I've been monitoring. It's only five years old, I didn't think the chemical testing I'm doing was such a very new thing...

Regardless, it's also given me plenty of new ideas on how to beautify my aquarium with water plants. And has suggestions on finding and making your own decor out of bamboo stems, coconut shells, river rocks and driftwood (must be cleaned and prepared, but I'm going to try some of this!) The pictures and descriptions of popular fish have changed my lineup a little bit. I'm now adding zebra danios, swordtails, black skirt tetras, blue gourami, striped panchax or other killifish varities to the list of possibilities for my tank.

Rating: 3/5    64 pages, 2008

Nov 24, 2013

Adam's Task

Calling Animals by Name
by Vicki Hearne

I haven't read a book this difficult nor so excellent, in quite some time. Vicki Hearne is an animal trainer who works with dogs and horses, also writes poetry and studies philosophy. So the book touches on all those things, but mostly is (to my understanding) about how we communicate with animals, how that relates to understanding and training them. I can't quite explain how that all intertwines with philosophy, because I admit I didn't understand all those parts. I like how the author thinks, but often the details of her explanations would loose me (thus it was a good book to take to bed. About one chapter and my brain was tired!) I think it shows its time, because a lot of her stance appears to be reactionary to the aftermath of Hitler's era- she encounters a lot of dog owners and trainers who believe that strict obedience is abhorrent because look what it lead to in Germany. Also she butts heads with lots of people- pet owners, trainers she disapproves of, behavioral scientists and university professors all- who claim that animals react to things merely in a mechanical fashion and have no sense of reason or emotion. Hearne adamantly believes otherwise, and strives to prove it. She shares some compelling stories about training dogs in obedience and tracking work, and of working with problematic horses. I found her description of how horses think and communicate particularly fascinating- I didn't know they were so tactile. There's also a very interesting section about pit bull dogs. She had one, and the media hysteria about these dogs as dangerous animals was just starting to boil up. She remembers when these dogs were beloved as a bold, friendly and all-american breed. Runs into trouble when brings one on campus, even though the dog is obviously well-mannered. I was most curious to read one of the final chapters, which is her opinions on how cats think and deal with people, but admit I had trouble comprehending that one. It's definitely a book I'm keeping on my shelf to read again, because I want to understand better the things Hearne is getting at.

Oh, and I loved the fact that she was constantly referring to literature, especially how stories about animals reflected or influenced our ideas and perceptions of them. She mentions myriad famous animal stories, also quotes from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis and Rudyard Kipling. And the introduction was writting by Donald McCaig. I always enjoy it when the books I have talk to other books I also have on my shelves. It makes me feel like they are having a conversation and I am in the middle and in good company.

Rating: 4/5     274 pages, 1982

more opinions:
From the Armchair

Nov 21, 2013

Freshwater Fishes

Great Pets
by Marjorie L. Buckmaster

I'm planning on starting up an old hobby- keeping tropical fish. It's been sixteen years or more since I had a fish tank, so while I wait for the setup to be complete and the tank cycled, I'm reading up on all I can find and doing my research about what kinds of fish I'll get. This starts, of course, with lots of online reading. I've read posts on fish forums until I feel like my eyes are going to fall out. So on our latest trip to the public library I brought home all the books I could find that seemed applicable- either to tropical fishkeeping in general, or to the specific species I'm considering for my tank. The selection among the adult non-fiction books is pretty slim, so I brought home a stack from the juvenile section as well. If nothing else, these books remind me of the basics in a very solid way, and they usually have fantastic photographs to admire while I daydream about my own aquatic pets.

So, Freshwater Fishes was the first one I read. My older daughter immediately commented on the title: isn't the plural of fish just fish? The book explains: when you speak of two or more fish of the same species, you use the plural form fish. If you're talking about a group of different species together, you say fishes. I had no idea!

That's not the only thing this book taught me. I knew that goldfish have been kept domestically for centuries, and that the practice began in China, but I didn't know that people have been keeping fish for over 4,500 years, and that they were first kept as food stock. I also learned a bit about the presence of fish in mythology, some cultures even have fish deities- although the book only touched on this.

Mostly, this book was a reminder of the basics for me again. It explains the anatomy of fishes, their dietary and temperature requirements, how to set up a fishtank, how to clean it, how to choose healthy-looking fish and steps to introduce them into the aquarium. There are also some brief descriptions of popular species including: bettas, mollies, goldfish and koi, guppies, tetras, gouramis and algae eaters. The book tells young readers how to keep their fish healthy with regular water changes, strict feeding schedules and being careful to match fish temperaments when keeping a community tank, as well as being mindful of how large the fish will grow, so they have enough space.

I was a bit surprised that with all the details on regulating temperature and such, one important part was left out: dechlorinating or conditioning tap water before adding it to the tank. I shouldn't be too critical: the book is probably meant to give kids facts and get them excited about keeping an aquarium, expecting that most will have an adult helping. But still, it's such an important thing to omit! Another thing that alarmed me was that the book says you can keep goldfish in a bowl with only once-a-week water changes. That's bad advice. I started out with goldfish in a bowl myself as a kid, and I remember very clearly that I had to change the water once a day. Goldfish simply poop a lot. It wasn't until I put my goldfish in a filtered tank that I had ones survive any length of time- I think my oldest lived to be a few years. (I did have a certain pair of angelfish live for ten years, when later I had tropical fish).

Well, I liked the book for all that it reminded me of, and enjoyed the pictures. I'm getting excited about my new venture!

Rating: 3/5      48 pages, 2008

Nov 20, 2013

Dogs I Have Met

by Ken Foster

I picked this book up at a used sale because I did enjoy Foster's first volume, Dogs Who Found Me. In this book Foster tells of returning to his home in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, and continuing rescuing dogs he finds wandering on the streets. His work now includes book signings and travels, also quite a few television appearances speaking in behalf of dogs, particularly pit pulls and related breeds. But strangely, my impression was that most of this book was about the people involved in dog rescue, not the dogs themselves. Either that, or there were simply too many dogs mentioned, with not enough details on them, that I failed to remember any of them individually. Which ultimately, made me bored with the whole book. That disappoints me, as I liked the first one so well. The book is also stuffed with letters from readers and other people telling about their own experiences rescuing dogs, their own pit bulls, or simply how touched they were by Foster's book, for whatever reason. While I appreciate how this showed the many people Foster has reached, the numbers of other people helping lost and misplaced dogs, and the strength of the human/dog bond, it also felt a distraction to me, like the author was using it as filler because he didn't have as much to say. Hm. Maybe it's my own fault, being distracted? That's often the case when I can't focus on a book. So please do read the reviews linked to below. The do better justice to this book, which I'm sure is good in its own right, just didn't work for me right now.

There is an extensive resource listing in the back, of rescue groups and organizations that work with certain misunderstood dog breeds or help people with their dogs. Certainly useful!

Rating: 2/5    192 pages, 2008

more opinions:
American Dog Blog
Two Little Cavaliers
anyone else?

Nov 17, 2013

winner!

There were only two entries for my latest bookmark set, so to make it a bit more fun than just punching an integer into random.org, I wrote the names on slips of paper
and let my kid pick
it's Anna!
please email me your postal address and I'll send these along

Nov 16, 2013

Chi's Sweet Home

vol. 10
by Konami Kanata

My older daughter and I have been waiting for the new installment of Chi's Sweet Home, so I was thrilled to see it finally available at the library. It picks up right where the last one left off, with Cocchi the stray kitten still confused at the strangeness of Chi's pampered home. He finds the restrictions too frustrating- not to scratch walls and furniture, dictated where to pee, etc- and runs off outside again.

There are a few little plot arcs through this story. One is that Chi's "Daddy" finds a lost poster with her picture on it, and debates whether or not to tell his family. When the wife learns about it, they argue several times: should they contact her missing first family? how can they give up Chi, or break up the bond between Chi and their son Yohei?

Chi herself starts to notice the differences between herself and her human family- only she has a tail, for example. The big grey Bear Cat points out Chi's feline features, and she starts to learn to act more like a cat- how to control her claws, hunting practice, etc. It's really cute to see her feline nature unfolding more and more, and her fumbling attempts to hone her skills.

Meanwhile Chi and Cocchi meet a pair of tabby kittens who look strangely familiar. The quartet of kittens romping and playing together are absolutely adorable! Of course the reader realizes these are probably Chi's silblings, but the cats themselves don't yet, though they are intrigued and puzzled by their uncanny similarities. Cocchi especially notices that Chi looks almost exactly like one of the other tabby kittens. Chi and her friend are confused by the kittens' references to their "momma" and ask the friendly Auntie Calico what a "momma" is. Their imaginings based on her description are hilarious. It seems at several points that Chi will meet her lost mother, but this never quite happens, leaving lots of anticipation for the next volume!

Rating: 4/5   160 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Geek Lit Etc

Nov 15, 2013

Goldie and the Three Bears

by Diane Stanley

This lovely picture book is another interpretation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Utterly charming, this story tells of a little girl with wildly curly hair who happens to be very particular. She likes everything to be just so, including her choice of friends- some girls are too rowdy, or too prissy or too something else to really be friends with Goldie. Her parents worry about her not having many friends, but Goldie is waiting to find just the right friend, someone she can really appreciate. Then one day she comes across a house with the door open (she's seeking help to get home when mistakenly gets off at the wrong bus stop) and here the story becomes familiar. Goldie is hungry and tries all the sandwiches on the table- the last one is just right. She tries all the chairs in the living room (and reads her favorite book), then takes a nap after trying out all the beds. When the family comes home, of course they are bears and the little girl bear is quite upset- she looses her temper and leaps at Goldie on the bed. But- surprise! - the bed is bouncy and suddenly the little girl and little bear are giggling and having fun. Goldie calls her mom, stays to play a while, and becomes best friends with a bear cub who likes to dress up, jump in leaf piles and build block towers. It's a great story about friendship and being yourself, based on an old classic tale.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5   34 pages, 2003

more opinions:
books my kids read
fishing for anthea

Nov 14, 2013

Triple Dog Dare!

I'm signing up once again for C.B. James' TBR Dare, which runs from january through the first of april. I will truly be disappointed if this is the last year he hosts the Dare. I have enjoyed participating each year, and it gives me a little more motivation to try and clear some space on my shelves. Last count (using my librarything catalog) I have 240 books on my shelves that I haven't read yet. That's plenty for four months' reading!

The whole point, in case you haven't run across the TBR Dare before, is simply to read only books off your own shelves (or library reserves, it's pretty flexible) for the first four months of the year. You can sign up here at Ready When You Are, CB- if you dare!

* note added: I will be sticking to the rule of reading books already in house, making exception for the library books I read with my children

Nov 12, 2013

Watchers at the Pond

by Franklin Russell

Abundance of life. That is the overwhelming message I got out of this book which describes the lives of creatures that inhabit a pond (and its shoreline) through one full season. Each chapter has a portion of the season or an aspect of the animals' live to cover, and within that focus describes snippets of the lives of myriad beings, from tiny microscopic things that swim in the water to swarming insects on land and birds in the air, only occasionally mentioning the animals that I'm used to seeing featured- the mammals and at the very apex, the predators. Overall it was a huge naming of so very very many small things that live and survive against all odds- insects galore, larvae and hydra and algae and worms and fish fry and tadpoles and so on. Turtles, squirrels, moths, wasps, mantids, beetles, elvers, hares, snakes and many many more. The briefest of mention on how they all go about their lives, whether it be mating, raising young, surviving the cold of winter, hunting or avoiding being eaten, etc. It was just such a broad scope and so little time spent on each animal that ultimately I found it a bit tiresome. But I was in awe at how well it shows the interlacing of all life, the intricate way all the little things fit together in this one arena which is the pond, and how vast the numbers are that support the very few at the top- the owl and hawk, the mink and weasel, the raccoon and fox.

It did send me quite a few times to look things up, wanting to know more about the ichneumon wasp, the life cycle of diatoms, to hear the call of a bobolink. I didn't know that a mink would prey upon herons at the water's edge. And I was continually confused that the author referred to all young birds as "chickens"- as in blue jay chickens, grouse chickens, a female nuthatch's chickens, etc. Is that just what baby birds were called in the sixties, or was it a local term ...?

What a wide vision this book gave me, of all the wild lives that are interwoven in nature in just one particular space. And I love the cover illustration. It didn't surprise me at all to look it up and discover it was one of my favorite artist duos, Leo and Diane Dillon.

Rating: 3/5    241 pages, 1961

more opinions:
Wildlife Almanac

Nov 11, 2013

The White Bone

by Barbara Gowdy

I don't remember now how this book first came across my radar. I must have seen some reviews of it a while back, but something kept it from actually making it onto my TBR list. Turns out my hunch was partly right- the book didn't quite work for me. But I was in the mood to read more about elephants, and a book written from an elephant's point of view seemed just the thing.

The story is about a family of african elephants living through perilous times- drought and human poaching being the greatest dangers. Their lives are dominated by a matriarchal society, which has its own rules and codes of conduct. They are highly emotional animals, with strong family ties and are often overcome by powerful memories, to the point of having difficulty distinguishing memories from reality. As the story progresses, it follows several different elephants in their daily life and travels, but always revolves back to a single one called Mud. The book begins with Mud's birth, and ends with the arrival of her first own calf.

Most of the story is about how the elephants are trying to survive the drought, searching for water, and for a rumored haven of safety, where no humans threaten them and there is abundant green food. There are legends of a white calf's rib that will direct animals towards the safe place, so they are alternately searching for that and also for missing members of their family. Because they run into tragedy (several times) when poachers shoot large numbers of them, and the family dissolves alarmingly when the matriarch dies and new leadership proves to be lacking. It was a stark reminder of how these animals depend on each other and how devastating the loss of family members must be to them.

Yet I found it difficult to get into the story, and so read most of it too quickly, in order to finish. The habit of the elephants naming themselves in a pattern of alliteration made it difficult for me to remember who was who; the ones with distinct birth names were the only individuals who retained a personality for me. Although any book with animals that communicate in language requires some suspension of belief, the elephants' mythology and mind-talking and belief in signs from the landscape felt a bit far-fetched to me. I did like their inclusion of songs, I was touched by their mourning rituals, I was intrigued by how they perceived other animals, man-made objects they came upon, and the prevalence of scent and sound in their world. Overall, though, I felt removed from the entire thing, perhaps because it described an alien way of seeing the world. That was likely the author's intent, but unfortunately I had trouble really getting into it.

And the ending is indescribably sad.

Rating: 2/5    330 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Pages Unbound
Books Distilled

Nov 10, 2013

bookmarks giveaway!

As you might guess from the scarce posts this week, I've been busy with other things, namely this. I simply haven't been reading much, and the three books I am in the middle of are all dragging on me. I need a change of pace to get back into things.

So, here's a giveaway! I was looking through my stacks of handmade bookmarks thinking to pick out one with a fall-colors flair, but instead this pair caught my eye (probably because of the book I posted about yesterday, it was on my mind).
The bookmarks feature two wild animals from Asia, the dhole (indian wild dog) and the chital (spotted deer). A fitting set! One will hunt the other... Well, if you'd like to have these free bookmarks, simply leave a comment and let me know. I'll pick a winner at random a week from now.

Nov 9, 2013

The Whistling Hunters

Field Studies of the Asiatic Wild Dog
by M.W. Fox

This short but very interesting book is about a wild canine that lives in jungles in India, the Indian wild dog, also called the Asiatic wild dog or dhole. I picture it as being something like an australian dingo, for it is mid-sized and reddish in color. It's the wild dog that formed the large packs featured in one of Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories. They are called whistling dogs because apparently they make a piercing whistling noise as a contact call. The author reports making a whistle to attract the dogs to his study area, after days of searching for the animals. The book is one of those written in a very reader-friendly fashion, describing the course of the study, what they learned about the dogs' behavior and pack structure, and plenty of interesting anecdotes. It's one I'd dearly like to add to my collection, not having been able to come across another copy since I read this years ago from a public library in San Francisco. Oh, and it has lots of black-and-white photographs, which makes it look dated but they're very good images regardless, for the time.

Rating: 3/5    150 pages, 1984

Nov 3, 2013

Chained

by Lynne Kelly

This middle-grade book is about a boy and a young elephant, both working for the cruel owner of a dilapidated circus in India. The boy, Hastin, is desperate for a job to pay off a medical bill when his sister falls ill. He gets talked into working as an elephant keeper, but when he arrives in the jungle, nothing is as he'd expected. The circus is in ruins, the elephant has yet to be caught, and his employer keeps adding additional tasks to his job description. When they do catch a young elephant, Hastin immediately feels sympathy for the animal and guilty for his part in separating her from her family. He tries to care for her, but all the while secretly wants to set her free.

Unfortunately, while I liked this book at the start, I began to loose interest about halfway through. I'm just not the right target audience anymore (feel like I've said this before) and it takes a certain kind of writing style to keep my attention in a book aimed at younger readers. It's a good story, but a lot of it just felt flat to me. Even though the characters weren't quite all black-and-white. The trainer, while overworking the elephant and using cruel practices to teach her tricks, showed that he had a measure of kindness in his heart as well. The elderly man who worked as cook in the camp, proved himself to be a wealth of knowledge about elephants and was a mentor to Hastin. But he has a dark past as well. The owner, appearing kind and enthusiastic when he first met Hastin, soon proves himself to be a strict taskmaster, never paying Hastin and always adding more time onto his service until it seems the boy will never be free of what has become intolerable work conditions.

I finished the book, wanting to know what happened, but even though events escalated I didn't care enough about the characters anymore, and found myself skimming the last few chapters. I do think kids interested in elephants or India would like this book, and I appreciated how it taught quite a bit about different areas of the country, cultural practices and religious beliefs throughout the story. There's also a lot of description about elephants, mostly in the form of things Hastin observes or learns from the old man. And of course, there is the pervasive theme of captivity- both the now-illegal practices of catching wild elephants and training them to perform, and child labor.

Rating: 2/5   248 pages, 2012

More opinions:
I Read Banned Books
Marcia Hoehne
Presenting Lenore

Nov 1, 2013

more on the list

from the following bloggers, as usual
also noted: I cleaned off my desk and found a few handwritten notes that had book titles in them. Looked them up and added to this TBR post, but I don't recall where I originally found them. Probably in the course of some other reading. When looking books up (for borrowing availability) I discovered a dangerously attractive feature my library's website has: it suggests books of similar subject at the bottom of an item page. So I found a lot more titles in the catalog that I want to read someday.
yay for books! I am glad for the endless supply. Reading is the best hobby/passion ever!
What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren- Caribousmom
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau - Opinions of a Wolf
the Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods- Caribousmom
A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam- Reading the End
The Girl with No Name by Marina Chapman- library catalog find
The Pastures of Beyond by Dayton O. Hyde- library find
Tibet Wild by George Schaller- library find
Lost in My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill- library find
James Herriot: Life of a country Vet by Graham Lord- library find
The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans
All My Patients Kick and Bite by Jeff Wells
The Gift of Pets by Bruce Coston
Gardening at Dragon's Gate by Wendy Johnson
Dog Talk by Harrison Forbes
Part Wild by Ceirdwen Terrill
Ask the Animals by Bruce Coston
Octopus by Katherin Harmon Courage- Bookwyrme's Lair
Octopus by Anderson, Mather and Wood- Bookwyrme's Lair
The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell- Shelf Love
Wainscot Weasel by Tor Seidler
End of the Game by Peter Beard