Nov 30, 2011

Busy Kitties

by John Schindel and Sean Franzen

This is the board book featured in my post about the baby's shocked expression! It's a real appealing book with bold pictures of cats in various activities.  Begins by saying Busy, busy kitties. What are they doing? and continues with simple captions that rhyme across each spread of pictures: Kitty strolling, kitty rolling / Kitty hissing, kitties kissing...etc. All the pictures are really cute or expressive, and show cats doing cat things- sprawl in the sun, drink from a dripping faucet, cry insistently for noms. My baby likes this book especially, whether because she recognizes cat faces (we have two) or recognizes me talking about them, I'm not sure.

Busy Kitties is part of a series, all in the same format, all featuring animals. We've brought home from the library at various times Busy Birdies, Busy Bear Cubs and Busy Elephants. My daughter liked the birds okay, the bear cubs and elephants not at all. Her favorite is the cats. There's lots of other books in the series, featuring penguins, dogs, pigs, chickens, barnyard animals, horses, etc. I'm sure to find some others that she'll like!

rating: 4/5 ........ 20 pages, 2004

Nov 29, 2011

Circle + Square

by Jill Hartley

Since I'm reading my own books at a rather slow pace (not much free time, I'm afraid) but going through lots of picture books with the baby, I figured might as well feature the kid books here. After all, there's good and bad of those just like any other book. I'm more likely to only feature the "good" books for now, as I do a quick evaluation and only bring home the ones I like best (or think the baby will like). Later when she's big enough to pick her own books at the library we'll bring home some not-so-good ones and those will probably get mention here, as well, if I keep this up. I've been looking forward to exploring the picture-book section at the library again, when she's more able to appreciate the stories. Right now learning to turn the pages, not chew them, is her focus.

So, Circle + Square is one of the board books my six-month-old has been enjoying recently. It has no words, just bright photographs featuring objects that either have circular or square shapes, or both. Not only are the colors vivid and kid-appealing, but the pictures are paired so that each spread has a nice color harmony. For example, a photo of blue-and-green highlighted bubbles floating against a background of dark evergreens is next to a picture of clear marbles with blue-green swirls sitting on dark pavement. It just looks nice together, and adds to the visual appeal of the book. The only thing that throws me off is seeing a skull on the first page! (paired against black-and-white dice in a child's hands) but it doesn't faze my daughter at all (she probably doesn't even know what it is) and after learning that the author is from Mexico it makes sense; probably some Dia de Los Muertos figure. Some of the more striking images include an array of vividly-striped spinning tops, the insides of a gumball machine, a boquet of bright flowers, a table full of what looks like jello molds (all shaped like cups, many colors), a huge swirly lollipop obscuring a child's face and a bunch of little prickly cacti wrapped in pink tissue paper. The square book is small enough to be easily held, my baby has just started turning pages by herself and this one she always seems eager to see the next picture.

rating: 3/5 ........ 24 pages, 2008

Nov 28, 2011

Quiet Time with Cassatt

by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

This charming little baby book features paintings by the famous artist Mary Cassatt. All the pictures feature children, and are accompanied by simple, rhyming text describing the picture. My favorite is the last page, on a pink background it has a detail of Cassatt's work Breakfast in Bed and says Fresh and clean, on cool white sheets, it's cuddle time before we sleep. (The fact that the painting is of morning time and the words make it sound like bedtime doesn't bother me; I didn't know that until I looked up the title of the picture!) Such a nice little book, Quiet Time with Cassatt is a wonderful way to introduce some great artwork to your little one.

Other titles in this "Mini Masters" series include Painting with Picasso, A Picnic with Monet, Sharing with Renoir, Dreaming with Rousseau, Sunday with Seurat, In the Garden with Van Gogh, Dancing with Degas....  I really wish I could search for more at my library but for some reason they don't catalog the board books. I can't search for them, and even though I check them out, they don't show up on my list. I find that very odd. Maybe they just loose too many to bother keeping track of them? I'll just have to rummage through the board-books shelves and see if I can find more.

rating: 4/5 ........ 22 pages, 2006

Nov 27, 2011

The Tiger

a True Story of Vengeance and Survival

by John Vaillant

This is another book I picked up just because it was on the library shelf. For some reason the zoology/natural history sections in my nearby public library are woefully small (either that, or all the good books are usually checked out!) so whenever I'm there I simply glance over the two meager shelves, ticking off the ones I've read already, and bring home whatever is new.

The Tiger was a book I'd never heard of, and turned out to be an excellent, compelling read. It's a detailed piece of narrative nonfiction, centered on one brief incident in the Russian Far East, where a man-eating tiger was hunted down by a band of men picked specially for the job. Although the events beginning with the tiger's first kill and ending with the hunt span only a few weeks, the author takes readers back eons and across a broad sweep of countries in exploring humans' relationships with big cats in order to further understand the motives both of the tiger and the men who injured it. Because it becomes quite clear that this tiger was not a man-hunter until he got shot at by someone. For years beyond counting men had lived in the taiga alongside tigers, and rarely been harmed. They respected, in some cases even worshiped, the magnificent cats, and kept their distance. But this tiger had been injured by a man, and apparently took umbrage. After hunting down and killing one man, he went on to deliberately hunt for others (it seems, because his injuries made it difficult for him to kill normal game). It was tricky business to dispatch the tiger, not only because the animal is so dangerous, so silent and unseen, so powerful and capable of thinking (ample proof is given). But also because of the difficult time people have living in this remote wilderness. Most people in the area where the tiger rampaged lived in desperate poverty, and many of them turned to poaching tigers for a profit (selling the bodies across the boarder to China, where they are used in traditional medicine). Teams of men were stationed in the forest to thwart poaching and protect the tigers; it was these very men who were called upon to help hunt down the rouge man-eater.

Vaillant spends a lot of time in his book going into the details of each man's life; both the first and second victims of the tiger, and the leader of the group that hunted him down. He also delves into the tangled history of the area, painting a very clear picture of what affected the men's morale and drove some to such measures as to kill a tiger. At times I felt like the narrative was sidetracking; but whether I found myself reading about Bushmen living alongside lions or speculations on early man's hunting/scavenging roles, it all tied back into the main story of the tiger. I learned so much about tigers, and about Russia, and it was all intriguing. Helped immensely by the fact that it's also very well-written, with clear, descriptive language and beautiful prose. I appreciate that in a non-fiction book. Some of them can be very dry. Although this one is hefty, and took me some time to get through, it was a wonderful read.

Rating: 4/5 ........329 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Books Under Skin
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Nov 20, 2011

What's Michael?

Planet of the Cats
by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 11. More adorable, humorous kitty comics. One about a cat who ranges far and wide, known by everybody it seems. Another about Michael's son, young tabbycat now who gets a crush on a girl-kitty in an apartment and tries to woo her. Cat and baby ruining mom's morning sleep. Older couple amusing themselves by bothering their sleeping cat. Michael's antics ruin a phone conversation his owner is trying to have with a friend.
Most of this book was the Planet of the Cats storyline, about a spaceship crew that crashes on a planet populated by sentient cats, who are horrified to find strange monsters among them. They erroneously classify them as elephant seals and put one of the crew in the circus; another member tries to rescue her with hilarious and disastrous results. It wasn't until I read another synopsis online that I figured out it was a parody of The Planet of the Apes, which I've neither seen nor read. So I guess if I was more familiar with that story, I'd appreciate this part more. As it was, I just found it bizarre.

But I liked the first half, and got quite a few chuckles out of it.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 104 pages, 1995

What's Michael?

Sleepless Nights
by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 10. More kitty adventures. Michael's kitty-wife Popo ruins his naps because she likes to snuggle but always pushes him off the edge (of whatever surface they're snoozing on). The cats of one household are mortified when their owner shaves their fur because of the summer heat. Michael can't sleep and ruins everyone else's night, too. A curious kitten gets stuck inside a speaker. A high school is full of cats instead of students, but they can't help but break all the rules. A cat-food company struggles to figure out why cats refuse to eat their food but like the competitors'. Among other stories. And there was another Dracula appearance, but it was just so weird.

One thing I finally realized about these books; Michael the tabbycat cat always looks the same, but he appears in different households. In some homes he's a single cat, in another he has his kitty-wife and offspring, in a third he lives with four other adult cats. He lives with a single woman. He lives with a young couple who has a baby. He lives with an older couple. He prowls the alleys. He lives in an American Southern mansion. Or.... he scares off Dracula with his cute wide-eyed face!

It's just so ridiculous it's funny. Oh, and I like Michael far better than I ever did Garfield. Why doesn't my library have more of these books?

They've got my daughter reading more, too. She's into the Little House series right now, but balks at doing the assigned fifteen-minutes reading for her homework every day, even though she likes the book. But this morning after an (ominous-seeming) long stretch of silence I went to see what she was up to and found her curled up under a quilt with one of the What's Michael? books. She'd found the stack on my bed. 'Mom, these books are so funny!" I'm tickled that she's enjoying them so much.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 88 pages, 1995

Nov 19, 2011

What's Michael?

The Ideal Cat
by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 9. Owners take the idea that a sleeping cat must not be disturbed to extremes (this one even made my husband laugh; we know what that's like! If the cat's napping on your lap, so reluctant to get up and do anything). Ugly duckling story retold as a puppy somehow gets raised by a cat, to the dismay of the mother and amusement of the kittens (and utter confusion of the dog). A photographer tries in vain to get a candid shot of a cat, who keeps spoiling the right moment. Dracula is terrified of cats, who inadvertently save the lives of people just by being there. Sweetest cat in the world goes berserk after eating catnip. Those are just a few of the little stories!

It's easy for me to relate to and chuckle over the incidents of living with a cat; their nature seems to be the same no matter what human culture they are a part of. It's the fantasy bits in these comics that I don't quite get; sometimes I see where the humor is supposed to lie but it just doesn't make me laugh, other times I puzzle over the whole thing. I mentioned this to my husband and he remarked that humor must be one of the hardest things to translate, across cultures. That makes sense. It doesn't mitigate my enjoyment of these books, though.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 86 pages, 1995

What's Michael?

A Hard Day's Life
by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume six of the Japanese comic series about a cute tabby housecat.

I first encountered this series several months ago and was intrigued if a bit puzzled. It's been rolling around in the back of my mind that I wanted to read more, especially after I found a few panels online from the first book, which looked really amusing. So I looked them up at the library. In my entire public system, they only have five of the books, starting with this one, number 6. So I won't get to read the first few, which disappoints me (unless I buy them). O well. I checked out the lot and brought them all home. Made for some enjoyable evening reads.

There are so many little storylines. The cat's cuteness delaying his owner's departure for work every morning. The cats attacking a cicada that wanders into the house. The owners worrying themselves sick about the cat being left behind when they go away for the weekend. The cats' need to investigate every odd noise or new appearance in the household. A little kitten ingratiating his way into a sushi restaurant. Then there are segments a bit more odd: a man who hates cats trying to repel his girlfriend's cat without offending her. The main cat, Michael, dressed and acting human, going out for a night-on-the-town. A fugitive veterinarian (yes, hiding from the law) sneaking around helping out distressed cats, in this case, breaking into some lady's house to give her a lesson in litter-box cleaning!

Ha ha.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 86 pages, 1995

Nov 16, 2011

A Buffalo in the House

by R.D. Rosen

When I first spotted A Buffalo in the House  on the library shelf, I thought it was about the guy featured on the tv show Fatal Attractions (about people who keep dangerous animals as pets, often with disastrous results). It wasn't the same man and bison, but a story even more interesting.

Roger Brooks' artist wife Veryl Goodnight was the descendent of a couple who had helped save the buffalo from extinction, bottle-raising two orphaned calves in the 1870's. She decided to create a sculpture of her great-great-great grandmother (I don't know how many greats) feeding the calves, and so when the opportunity came for them to take in their own orphaned calf they were thrilled. Veryl used the calf as a model for her sculpture, and her husband Roger became increasingly attached to the animal. He started out living in the house, but eventually Charlie the buffalo became too big and potentially dangerous. He was moved to a corral outside but continually poked his nose in windows, browsed on flower shrubs, and went for walks in the countryside with Roger. When the bison was at his "teenage" stage they tried to introduce him to his own kind, hoping to integrate him into a regular herd. But an accident injured his spine and left him disabled. Amazingly, Roger kept the buffalo, increasingly dangerous not because of his nature (he was very gentle for such a huge animal) but because he was now prone to bad falls (and very difficult to get back on his feet again).

The story of Roger's dedication to Charlie is one I could not put down. Interwoven in the narrative is a brief history of the American bison, from their near-demise to the handful of people who protected the animals and helped bring them back from the brink. The latest chapter in this story astonished me; I had no idea that the bison herd which lives in Yellowstone was threatened- of all things by cattle ranchers in Montana. This book was written four years ago and apparently the killing is still going on- bison which migrate out of the park in search of food are shot because of supposed threat to grazing cattle (even though there's never been a documented case of a cow catching a disease from a buffalo). Spurred by his love for Charlie, Roger Brooks worked tirelessly to get the Yellowstone herd protected, but it hasn't happened yet.

rating: 3/5 ........ 242 pages, 2007

Nov 14, 2011

Mama's Milk

by Michael Elohon Ross

I looked for this book specifically because I wanted more with illustrations by Ashley Wolff. Similar to I Love My Mommy Because, it shows different animal mothers caring for their offspring. Only in this case, the entire focus is about breastfeeding. Mama's Milk has a nice gentle rhyming quality. It begins showing a mother nursing her baby in bed Cuddle little baby warm and tight Mama's going to feed you day and night then each page shows a different animal mother nursing her infant(s). In the middle spread there is a picture of a mother nursing her baby in a park (while another mom nearby feeds a toddler in a stroller with a spoon), another picture shows a mom holding a baby in a sling leaning over to see a mother cat with her kittens, and the final picture shows a mother fallen asleep in a chair with her nursing baby. Delightful is the variety of animal moms- not just the ones you'd expect to see like horses, pigs or bears but other less-familiar animals like the platypus, a bat, and an armadillo- all nourishing their babes with their milk. I like that the book showed a variety of aspects regarding breastfeeding- nursing at night, in public, at home, by humans and animals alike. At the end of the book is a spread with little thumbnails giving some facts about each animal featured. I found this particularly interesting: did you know that an elephant will nurse her baby for up to five years? or that kangaroo milk is pink? Lovely little book, Mama's Milk is one I enjoyed just as much as my daughter.

rating: 4/5 ........ 24 pages, 2007

more opinions at:
the Petite Bookshelf
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Carma's Window

Nov 13, 2011

I Love My Mommy Because

by Laurel Porter-Gaylord

I've discovered that I'm kinda picky about what board books I read my daughter. She likes bold colors and faces (especially of other babies) so I end up choosing ones that have photos or very lifelike illustrations. There's lots of books with cute sketchy or cartoony pictures but I always pass these over for some reason; thinking she won't make much sense of those kind of pictures. How do I know, though?

Anyway, one of my favorite board books for her right now (which we've borrowed from the library several times) is I Love My Mommy Because with illustrations by Ashley Wolff. I was really drawn to it for the pictures. The paintings have beautiful texture and colors and they all show mother animals doing things for their babies that really occur in nature. The book starts out with the words I love my mommy because she reads me stories, showing a mom reading to her child. Then each page names something mothers do for their children, but showing different animals performing the care: She feeds me when I'm hungry shows an ewe suckling her lamb She rocks me to sleep the sea otter holding her pup in the waves She lets me play in the mud a mother sow and her piglets, etc. It's just a lovely little book and I enjoy reading it to her again and again.

There are two editions of this book. I like the board book one better, not only because it's easier to read with a baby but because the cover illustration is more attractive. The other edition has a picture of a child with a mother cat and her kittens- and (in my opinion) the artist is just better at doing animals than people so it's not quite as charming.

rating: 4/5 ........  24 pages, 1991

Nov 11, 2011

Walking Wisdom

by Gotham Chopra

Picked this book up from browsing the public library shelves, it looked interesting. It's a musing, meandering book full of introspective thoughts on life- from the viewpoint of a man who is the son of a famous (although I never heard of him before) spiritual self-help kind of guru. And it's about their dogs, and their father-son relationships, and what it's like having a toddler... and it didn't work for me. It was just too jumbled. I was enjoying the thoughts, but finding it hard to see how they fit together. I kept getting confused on who was who, and which dog belonged to which generation (he talks about his childhood dog, and the one he owns currently). I realized how bad my concentration was when a description of one of the dogs as a teacup bit of fluff that fit in two hands gave me a double-take; I'd been picturing it as a husky-type dog. I flipped back looking for a description of it but couldn't find any...

My lack of interest reflects more on me than on the book itself; I just wasn't following it well. I don't know if I'll pick it up to try again, though.

Abandoned ........ 254 pages, 2010

TBR Double Dare

I'm joining in on CB James' TBR Double Dare for 2012!

Last year I didn't quite make it to the end, this time I'm hoping to accomplish the goal and clear some real space off my shelves. It goes from Jan to April, read stuff only off your shelves, nothing new that comes into the house, no library borrowing, just get to those books that have been sitting patiently in a row... yeah!

Nov 7, 2011

The Blessing of the Animals

True Stories of Ginny, the Dog Who Rescues Cats
 by Philip Gonzalez

This was a light read. Very good for these last few days of stress my family is going through, when I just catch a few minutes of quiet time with the baby now and then. Read a few pages, not much heavy thinking, pick it up again later. That's why it took me so long, a book I'd normally get through in less than a day.

The Blessing of the Animals tells more about Ginny, a dog in New York City that engages in cat rescue. When I saw the picture on the cover I recognized her immediately from the first book about her, The Dog Who Rescues Cats  (which I've read but don't think I reviewed it on the blog yet). To make the story short, she's a dog that the author Gonzalez adopted from a shelter after he suffered a disabling work injury. Gonzalez didn't care much for cats at the time, but soon discovered that his dog did, and she was constantly finding them hiding away in tight places. Most of the cats Ginny found were in need of help- injured, sick, abandoned, starving. Gonzalez took them into his home, took them to the vet, found some new homes and kept others. Eventually he ran out of space- he had nineteen cats in his apartment, so those that weren't found homes in several weeks' time were let back out onto the streets (all spayed and neutered) and then provided with food via one of his many cat feeding stations. Some people vilify the guy for feeding hundreds of stray cats but he points out that he's helping the population, because he always traps and fixes the homeless cats so they can't reproduce, and finds homes for those he can. As of the writing of the second book, he and Ginny had rescued nine hundred cats!

Ginny is a schnauzer/husky mix, with a winsome face and an odd ruff of long, wiry fur around her neck. Some people think she's sent from God, that her way of finding cats is a miracle. Personally, I don't think there's anything miraculous in how she can locate cats in trouble, hearing or sniffing them out. Her affection for them, and theirs for her, is wondrous. My own thoughts, from reading how she approaches cats, grooms them with nibbling teeth, and is reluctant to socialize with dogs, is that maybe she thinks she is a cat. Her past is unknown; maybe she was fostered by a cat mother? Who knows. But her dedication to digging cats out of trouble- from dumpsters, vehicles, pipes, once a pile of cut sod in the back of a landscaping truck, another time a box of broken glass- has earned her the admiration of many.

I was a bit disappointed that most of this book narrated how the author handled his dog's newfound fame after the publication of the first; a lot of it is about events they attended, meeting with publishers, visiting schools, going on talk shows, etc. I was really more interested in the stories of the cats, there wasn't quite enough of that.

Anyway, if you like animals and are in for a light, easy read, this is a nice heartwarming little book. You can find articles (and video) of Ginny the dog online by just googling her name connected with "rescues cats."

rating: 2/5 ........ 177 pages, 1996

Nov 3, 2011

Merry Hall

by Beverly Nichols

This read was delightful. I'm sad I didn't discover Beverly Nichols sooner, and happy there are more books of his to search for. It's thanks to A Work in Progress that I found this author!

Apparently his gardening books are the "less serious" of Nichols' works, but I'd be happy enough to just read them. Merry Hall begins the trilogy where he describes acquiring an old mansion with extensive grounds and attempting to restore its gardens. He is a man obsessed with plants, enchanted by flowers. While he kind of inherits an old, crotchety gardener who has worked at the manse for years and maintains a stupendous vegetable garden (envied by ladies around), Nichols himself dreams up, designs and attempts to put into place new lawns and pools, flowering shrubs and tall walls of living greenery, while at the same time tearing out plantings by the previous owner he finds hideous. Lots of commentary on that subject! Anyone who's ever moved into a new house with a piece of land on it and tried to remake it according to their own taste can probably relate. I really like this man for his eagerness to do gardening experiments: if he sees a plant he likes while traveling, he thinks nothing of gathering some seed or digging up a young plant and smuggling it home! he even hides an avocado pit in his pocket at a dinner party to sneak home to his greenhouse (from the way he spoke of the "avocado pear" it must have been a rare fruit to encounter). Quite amusing are his descriptions of neighbors and acquaintances, most of whom want to share their own opinions on what ought to be done with his gardens. And then there are delightful tidbits like his chapter on plants that give you flowers in winter, or one that describes his efforts to grow all the flowers needed to reproduce in life a painting of a floral arrangement that he loves. The book made me laugh out loud quite a few times, and smile to myself many others, and dream big ambitions of my own garden. I can't wait to get my hands on another Nichols volume, though I fear it will be difficult (my library only has this one title by him).

Borrowed from the public library.

rating: 4/5 ........ 320 pages, 1951

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The Captive Reader