Dec 30, 2012

Bathtime for Twins

by Ellen Weiss
illustrated by Sam Williams

Entertaining little book about two toddlers sharing a bath. They splash and pour water, admire their toy boat, play with soap bubbles and generally just have a good time getting squeaky clean. Then there are towel rubs, squirming into pajamas and snuggling in bed. It's simple and adorable. The text moves in an easy rhythm with good rhymes patterns (not forced as some kid books can feel). The pictures are pencil drawings with watercolor wash (at least that's what it looks like to me); they have a nice soft feel and are yet very lively and fun. My kid really likes this book; it's currently one of her favorites. If I see one of the companion volumes -there's one featured on the back of the twins enjoying playtime- I'll certainly check it out.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 28 pages, 2012

Dec 28, 2012

Otherwise Normal People

Inside the Thorny World of Competetive Rose Gardening
by Aurelia C. Scott

Although it has (again) taken me quite some time to read it, I found this book about roses very interesting and engaging. In it, the author met with quite a few rose enthusiasts from different areas of the country, visited their gardens, learned how they grow roses, and attended a few rose shows. It was all quite eye-opening. First of all, I was pretty taken aback by all the work that roses seem to require. Especially if they're grown in cold areas and need winter protection- which ranges from simply covering them up to burying them in trenches (resurrected in spring) or finding ways to bring them indoors (usually a garage). But it seems that rose people love the challenge. Not only that, but roses also need constant tending whether in the form of pruning, pinching unwanted buds, complex feeding and spraying schedules, applications of insecticides, etc. This part upset me a bit, but it sounds like it would be impossible to grow perfect show roses without the use of chemicals to kill disease and thwart bugs. If the roses are grown well enough to be considered show quality, there is a whole 'nother round of meticulous preparation and grooming they go through to make it to a display table and possibly win a prize. Even the spacing between petals is carefully rearranged. It all sounds quite heady, and the show-rose people certainly seem obsessed. I do admire their ingenuity in devising things to protect blooms from the weather and safely transport cut roses, usually out of recycled materials. One guy even built his own sprayer.

All that was fascinating, but I found the very end of the book enthralled me most. I wish Scott had written more about this side, the world of old-rose enthusiasts. They are even more my kind of people. Instead of being interested in the perfection of form and visual beauty of the rose, they are all about the scent and the thrill of finding and rescuing hundred-years-old varieties. (Because you can't have both, a rose is either very beautiful or has an incredible smell). As roses are usually grown from cuttings, there are scions alive today that are literally from the same living tissues as roses that grew hundreds of years ago. These old-rose enthusiasts will hunt for roses growing at old homesteads or graveyards and take cuttings to grow them in their own gardens. Sometimes they rescue roses from sites slated for demolition. Then they try to identify what variety they have; some arguments of old-rose names in public gardens are ongoing! They are rose-hunters and rose-rustlers, definitely a more casual bunch than the show people. And the roses they grow have deep history, often have a mystery surrounding them, or a story behind them. In fact, while there were quite a few tender stories about roses in the lives of people among the show set, they didn't really touch me the way stories of the old roses did; one tale of a rose planted on an infant's grave brought me to tears... These old roses are wild, rambling, intoxicating and not at all persnickity about care. I think if I got into roses these would be my kind, the ones that make your head swim when you inhale, and don't require arsenals of chemicals to keep them healthy.

The only thing that would have made this book better would be the inclusion of some pictures of roses!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 235 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Pop Matters
The Hum of Desperation
Rose Garden Advice

Dec 27, 2012

Who Hoo Are You?

an animals book
by Kate Endle

This is one of those little books which I happen to find lovely, but my daughter doesn't seem to  like herself. It has the same charming cut-paper illustrations with wonderful patterns and visual textures as What is Green? Each page is just a picture of an animal naming himself: I'm a lazy lion, I'm a curious kitten, I'm a lovable little lamb, etc. They're really adorable. I especially like the tipped-over turtle; his shell has splotches that look like differently-colored rocks, with a nice patchwork effect. But for whatever reason when I open it and start reading about the animals, my daughter reaches out to shut the book saying "No!" and pushes it away. I think her opinion is made clear, though I'm puzzled at the cause. It's happened the past five or six times I've tried to read it to her (we've only once made it all the way through) so I'm going to take it back to the library and continue with other books.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 18 pages, 2010

Flip, Flap, Fly!

by Phyllis Root

Soft and bright pastel pictures illustrate this board book that shows various baby animals learning from their mothers their respective mode of locomotion. The little bird practices flying, the baby fish to swim, the snake wiggles, otter slides, duck paddles and so on. At the end of each spread the baby animal says "Look, I see a-" leading onto the next page of mother-baby pairs. Finally the little mouse sees a child, who isn't running or jumping but just getting a kiss from mom. Then the child ties it all together by observing all the baby animals around him. Nice book.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 2009

Dec 26, 2012

Touch and Feel Jungle Animals

by DK Publishing

Another one of the touch-and-feel variety, this board book features animals from the jungle with some foliage around them, and a texture patch on each page for little hands to explore. There's a fuzzy tiger, hairy orangutan, and nice scaly pattern on the snake. I did find it a bit disappointing that the toucan beak and frog skin were both the same- perfectly smooth- doesn't a frog skin have some kind of texture? but other than that it's a very nice book that keeps my kid engaged. Bright colors and very attractive-looking animals.

 Rating: 3/5........ 10 pages, 2001

Dec 25, 2012


by Lois Ehlert

This is one of the coolest board books I've seen in a long time. Cut-paper collage illustrates birds looking for food in the new-falling snow. Then the narrator shows an accumulation of things in bags and piles, names the anticipation of waiting for a really good snow day. And there follows a showcase of snowmen, suddenly spanning two pages and taking up the width for their height so you have to rotate the book ninety degrees to change the orientation. There is a snow dad, snow mom, snow boy and girl, snow baby and snow cat, even a snow dog (pretty shapeless but fun nonetheless). The cool thing is that the snowmen, made also of cut paper, have all kinds of real objects put on them besides the iconic scarf and carrot nose. And multiple items are used that will feed the birds. There are strawberries and corn kernels, sunflower seeds, berries, raisins, popcorn, peanuts, etc. Plus all kinds of curious objects like id tags, toy car wheels, bottle caps and so forth. The dog covered with many kinds of buttons is fun. My eighteen-month-old likes to point out the objects she knows: "Hat! Fork!" Each page also shows a (grateful you must think) bird or squirrel on or near the snowman, which will also provide it some winter food. The last few pages show the snowmen melting. a nice touch with a bit of rhyme.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 26 pages, 1995

Dec 24, 2012

Baby's Best Friend

by Rachel Hale

Like Hugs and Kisses by the same author, this book is full of absolutely beautiful photographs of babies paired with young animals. The simple text phrases describe attributes of being a friend, or of the animals- cute or furry, friendly, snuggly and so forth. There's puppies and kittens but also birds (perched on baby hats) and bunnies, even a duckling, sheep and turtle. (Funny thing, my daughter always says "ewww" at the turtle picture because once we found a smashed turtle shell outside and while looking at it with curiosity cautioned her against touching it because of possible germs. Now she seems to think all turtles are yucky!) This book has better phrasing than Hugs and Kisses, the rhythm doesn't feel so forced. Both baby and I like it a lot.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 20 pages, 2011

Dec 23, 2012

Hugs and Kisses

by Roberta Grobel Intrater

Cute book of close-up photos showing babies exchanging kisses and hugs with their parents. Kisses on the feet, belly, cheek (one leaves a lipstick mark!) etc. Of course my eighteen-month-old loves seeing pictures of other baby faces, and she recognizes the activity, often presents her own foot or face for a kiss as we read this book. She also likes to point out identities: "Baby! Mommy! Daddy!" and sometimes facial features: "Eye! Noo (nose). Eaw (ear)." The only question I have of the book is the choice of a black background for the pages. They just seem kind of dark and often the hair blends into the background. Not sure why that choice was made. But it is an adorable book regardless.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 10 pages, 2002

Dec 22, 2012

Good Morning Baby!

by Sabine Kraushaar

This board book is shaped like a flower. The pages are round and the petals make tabs, two or three per page, sticking out at different angles. It's really the only thing going for it, the curious shape. The gist of the content is just toys: each page shows a toy and names it while a sparkly butterfly appears alongside. That's it. I don't even know why it's called Good Morning, it could just be called My Toys or Let's Play or something else entirely and still work. I find it rather inane. But the flower shape is just so charming and original I forgive the book its otherwise silliness.

Rating: 2/5 ......... 8 pages, 2006

Dec 21, 2012

Do You Want to Be My Friend?

by Eric Carle

A book without pictures, this one shows a little mouse on each page greeting other animals. On each spread the next creature's tail is showing, letting you guess who the mouse will meet next. Mousie encounters a lion, elephant, peacock, seal, horse, giraffe and myriad other creatures before he finally finds another little mouse and together they find shelter in the hole of a tree. Just in time, as a thick green line that has been present on all the pages reveals itself at the end to be a very long snake! Lovely textures make the pictures enjoyable to look at and it's pretty easy to come up with some narration for the book, whether pretending to have the mouse talk to each animal, or just name the animals for your little one.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 30 pages, 1971

Dec 20, 2012

Baby Animals

In the Jungle
by Kingfisher Books

Beautiful clear photographs of cute baby animals introduce toddlers to creatures that inhabit the jungle. The book features an orangutan, frogs, tapir, gorilla, elephant, tiger and lemur (is that a jungle animal?) There's a little description telling something about each animal and a feature of its behavior: the tapir's spots help it hide in the foliage, a lemur likes to sunbathe, elephants cool off in the mud, etc. The text has some fun variations going on, with letters bending, changing shape and doing other irregular things to help emphasize the action or characteristic described. It's quite fun, very attractive and a bit educational all at the same time.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 14 pages, 2011

Dec 19, 2012

What Are You Doing, Maisy?

by Lucy Cousins

I remember reading Maisy books with my older daughter when she was small, and now I'm discovering them all over again for her little sister. Maisy is a little mouse with animal friends. She's featured in board books, often with lift-the-flaps (which is always fun but I have to guard against enthusiastic little hands tearing them!) The pictures are simple and bold with bright, clean colors. This one shows Maisy in each picture getting ready to do something, and the text on the facing page has little pictures of the objects involved. When you lift the flap it shows what Maisy does with all those things. For example, on one page it shows eggs, butter, flour and candles, Maisy on the facing page is stirring in a bowl. What is she doing? Lift the flap, and there she is looking proud with a finished cake! The teaching moment of deducing what activity might use each group of objects is only enhanced by the progression of all the pictures- it turns out that Maisy is doing things specifically to get ready for a big event at the end. My little girl loves these books so much that she even says the name; she'll bring me a book repeating "May-sie, May-sie" insistently until I read it. We're going to have to find more than just the three I've currently borrowed from the library.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 14 pages, 2003

Dec 18, 2012

Thumper Counts to Ten

by Kitty Richards

Cute little counting book full of adorable furry bunnies and other forest animal friends. The details of the background foliage, flowers and textures of grass, pebbles, water ripples etc really make it lovely. What is a very simple concept ends up being a book full of detailed pictures that give the young reader a lot to look at beyond just counting how many butterflies or ducklings are on the page. I'm not terribly fond of books that capitalize on popular films or tv characters, but this one has a nice quality that readily overcomes my reluctance to appreciate it.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 16  pages, 2007

Dec 17, 2012

My Very First Book of Motion

by Eric Carle

You must know that Eric Carle is something of a classic illustrator when it comes to picture books. At least, I think so. He's the one who did The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Well, this board book has the same lively, bright cut-paper collage illustrations. Each one simply shows an animal. The textures and patterns in the paper pieces that make up each picture are wonderful, but what makes this book really fun is that it has a double set of pages, top and bottom, so you can leave an animal page in place on the top and turn through all the words that describe actions on the bottom, until you find the one that matches. It's quite fun, especially as some can be ambiguous- does the caterpillar match with climb or crawl? which animal goes with strut? And you'll never guess which one performs the action flip- a creature I hadn't encountered in a kid's book before!

rating: 4/5 ........ pages, 1986

Dec 16, 2012

A Good Day

by Kevin Henkes

This cute little book shows four creatures, each with a simple problem: a bird has lost its feather, a puppy got his leash tangled up, the baby fox is missing his mother and little squirrel has dropped his nut. Each animal looks sad at his predicament but then a bad day turns around as they each find a solution or overcome their disappointment. At the very end there's a nice closing touch where a little girl finds the feather the bird had lost and runs with it to her mom in delight: what so dismayed the bird turned out to be a highlight of her day!

 Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Kate's Bookery
What Adrienne Thinks About That
The Brimbank Book Shelf

Dec 15, 2012

Beach Day!

by Kristin Sorra

Cute little board book shows a redhead toddler enjoying a visit to the beach with her family. Each page simply has the words of her greeting a new activity or person: the lifeguard, the waves of the ocean, a seagull, a sandcastle. Hello, umbrella. Hello, towel. Hello, shells etc etc. Can be quite repetitive. But kids like that. One of my toddler's favorite words (at least it gets a lot of use) right now is simply "HI!" (she practically yells it at everyone we meet on walks) so she quite enjoys this book.

rating: 3/5 ........ 22 pages, 2009

Dec 14, 2012

Four Tenths of an Acre

by Laurie Lisle

I don't know why this book didn't sit well with me, but I just couldn't focus on it. And normally I like reading memoirs about gardening. Hers includes a lot about the history of her new town, and quotes from other writers (most famous names) about gardening. If I had been in the right frame of mind I could have enjoyed learning how a little town changed its face over the generations, and compiled another large list of books related to gardening and plants to read. The book is peppered with their titles. As it was I often found my attention wandering, or bored. Perhaps it's because my own focus has shifted; the challenges of creating a nice garden design in her oddly shaped narrow yard failed to capture my interest.  I suppose I relate more to the growing of houseplants now; I did find myself curiously attentive to the pages about her indoor plants, particularly a large jade which she tried unsuccessfully to coax into flowering. I actually thumbed eagerly through the pages to see if she ever managed that; having read on another blog last year about someone who did I wanted to say aloud to her: it's not just the dryness, it's temperature, too! Let it go dry and cold, and see if that works! But of course the author can't hear me talking aloud to her book.

So I really only skimmed the second half of this book, but perhaps you would like it better.

Abandoned ........ 219 pages, 2005

Dec 9, 2012

Picking Your Battles

by Bonnie Maslin

I find it difficult to write about self-help books without feeling like I'm exposing something of my flaws and failures. I also find it hard to know which books in this area are more credible than others. What makes one author's advice more solid than another's? And I often wonder if I am just liking a self-help book because its views already agree with my own; but what if my views are wrong? maybe a book that I didn't agree with but that taught me to do different would be more useful...

Anyway, I found this book helpful enough that right after finishing I wanted to turn to the front page and read it all over again, but I've already renewed it twice from the library. So I bought myself a copy. That in itself says a lot. I feel like the real test of the book's veracity will be how well its suggestions work when put into practice. I am trying, but still fall far short of where I should be as a parent. Here's some of the things that really stuck with me from Picking Your Battles.

The book describes methods of implementing discipline, being firm and sticking to the rules and standards you have made for your family, without caving into arguments. It helps you discern between what kinds of infractions are merely irritating to you and better ignored, which are impolite misconduct that should be corrected, and which are serious infractions that need to be acted on immediately. It tells you how to teach your child to be responsible, to recognize consequences, to understand the impact of their actions on others. Shows you strategies for managing anger, whether it be at your children, or anger they feel towards you. Points out that anger can be useful, as long as it is not expressed with aggression. Helps you recognize your own discipline strategy and realize if it is effective or not. And so on. Grounded in an understanding of child psychology, the author also tells you how to recognize when your kid is acting the way he does because of a developmental stage, not just because they're trying to be difficult or get under your skin. This is another thing I often need to remember. There's a lot more that I'm not even touching on here, but I don't really know how to describe it properly.

Well, I'm trying to implement some of the ideas from the book: to listen more, guide and direct more than demand and punish, give positive reinforcement instead of negative reprimands, and stem my irritation (I tend to nag a lot). But I think I'm going to read this book over again many times before I am done.

rating: 4/5 ......... 352 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Jesse's Girl

Dec 8, 2012

Busy Gorillas

by John Schindel

Guess what, I'm still reading the parenting book. And have a handful of gardening books I foolishly checked out from the library but have found no time to read. Life is busy now, hours always occupied. But I do happen to read lots of kid's books. So they're going to be the main feature here for a while! I have some catching up to do . . .

Busy Gorillas is in the same little series as Busy Kitties, one of my daughter's favorites that must be popular with other kids as well because I have never been able to find it again at the library. The board book shows gorillas doing various things: climbing, swinging, gnawing on plants, slapping their chest, pushing each other, napping, dashing about (blurry photo here- nice effect!) cuddling an infant, and my favorite, a big frowning face. That picture is just great! Each photo is paired with simply rhyming text. Sturdy little book illustrating to small readers activities that gorillas do- many of which are just like things we do ourselves.

rating: 3/5 ....... 20 pages, 2010

more opinions:
The Brainpan
the Well-Read Child

Nov 26, 2012

-ahem- more aquisitions

I just can't seem to help myself. When the books are free, I grab everything that looks interesting. Regardless of whether I've ever heard of it before. And I hadn't been to the Book Thing in several years, so I was extra-excited about the prospects. So... I brought seventy-two new-to-me books home this weekend. I won't make notes on them all, because I know so little about most of them- but really, how can you pass up titles like Wooden Fish Songs or The Grasshopper King? And things like Through the Eyes of a Young Naturalist look like they were written just for me.

Well, here they are! Some brief mentions about each stack just below it. You can click on any image to see the titles larger. If you recognize some of these books, please do tell me how wonderful (or awful) they are! I'd love to know.
Those three little black books on the top seem to be humorous accounts of a young physician's first years of practice. They look entertaining.
Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. I read this wayyy back in the days when I was also going through all the Jim Kjelgaard books I could get my hands on. Like Lassie, it's about a remarkably intelligent hero-dog man's best friend yadda yadda. But I might still like it and get some nostalgia out of reading it again.
Snake by somebody Gody seems to be about a black mamba that terrorizes New York City. I probably won't be frightened but might get some good chuckles out of it.
The Kitchen Madonna and The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden- always anxious to read more Godden but I'm hoping Diddakoi isn't the one that I recall Jenny decrying as the worst Godden book ever....  !
The Mimosa Tree by Vera and Bill Cleaver- I picked this one up just because I am so delighted in the little mimosa tree in my windowsill, not that I have any clue what the book is about!
Love, Let Me Not Hunger by Paul Gallico- another author I've loved but read very few of his works. Never heard of this one before and curiously turning some pages it seems to be about a little circus that falls on hard times.
Un Lun Dun by China MiƩville- I picked this up because I read some reviews about it who-knows-when and thought it looked interesting.
Egret by Helen Collins- is not about a bird, but about a young artist in New York City. I'm really curious about that one.
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera- remember the movie of same title, that was out some years ago? This seems to be the original story.
The Midwife's Tale by Gretchen Moras Laskas- when I got home I realized not only did I already have this book, but I tried to read it and didn't finish it. Oops! Anyone want a copy?
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx- I saw all the hype about this when it was a new film. I didn't realize it was at first a short story. I was surprised the book was so little. I'm hoping since it's so short there's not too many -ahem- explicit scenes so I might read it.
I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti- I still recall the moment when a roommate's friend in college recommended this book to me. And I put it on my list but never read it. That was roughly fifteen years ago. Yet when I saw it on the shelf I immediately recoginzed it and remembered who told me about it. How's that for memory!
A Zoo for All Seasons- published by the Smithsonian Institute, this book is about the National Zoo. I like books about zoos. And not only does it have photographs (a bit old fashioned, but still good!) but also some lovely drawings.
How I Photograph Wildlife and Nature by Leonard Lee Rue- I don't know who this guy is, and I don't know if his photography advice is still pertinent (maybe outdated, at least as far as equipment recommendations go) but just from thumbing through I saw that he had a lot of notes about animal behaviour, because he tells you how to get close enough to wildlife to get good pictures. That alone interests me.

The rest of this stack is mostly National Geographic books focused on various places in the world- mostly about nature, as you can see. I hope they're good reading! If not, the pictures will still be appreciated.
The Maine Woods by Henry Thoreau- I didn't know he wrote about the woods in Maine. Perhaps this one will be a bit more accessible to me than Walden, which I've tried a few times but made little headway...
Bodach the Badger- I'm stoked about this book! It wasn't until I got home and looked inside the cover more that I realized it was by the same author who wrote String Lug the Fox, an old favorite of mine that I found by chance at a used bookstore one day ages ago. Delighted!
The Searching Spirit by Joy Adamson- I did so like her books about Elsa the lioness, the cheetahs and leopard she also raised. Curious to read what else she has to say, although I think from what other sources tell me I should temper this by reading George's words as well (that's always been a goal of mine anyways).
Animal Liberations by Peter Singer- I think this is a classic in the animal-rights world.
Rosy is My Relative by Gerald Durrell- all the books I've come across by Gerald Durrell were about his forays around the world animal-collecting: I didn't know he wrote fiction. But of course, even his fiction features animals- at a glance this one seems to be about an elephant.
Donkeys Galore by Averil Swinfen- a book about a stud donkey farm. How fun is that?
The Giraffe by Marie Nimier- apparently a little fable about a zookeeper who falls in love with a giraffe. Sounds a bit bizarre.
Lie Down in Darkness by Williem Styron- this is one of those titles I have always recognized, it sticks in my mind for some reason. Now perhaps I'll finally learn what it's about.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore- I assumed, as did the people who shelved this book in the natural history section, that it was about birds. But it's actually a short story collection. Hm.
Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan- this is an old favorite of mine but I got a second copy on purpose so I can give it to one of you when I finally write about this dear book!
African Violets by Helen van Pelt Wilson- mine aren't flowering. Maybe this book will tell me why!
In and Out of the Garden by Sara Midda- this book looks absolutely lovely. It's little notes and tidbits about gardening all with the most wonderful handdrawn lettering and illustrations. Here's a few samples I pulled offline.
the rest of that stack is mostly books about birds, especially birds of prey. I've always had a minor fascination with falconry. Picking up on that once again...

see anything you recognize? What should I read soonest?

Nov 25, 2012


People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
by Studs Terkel

I can't remember the last time it took me so long to read a book. The length alone is not the cause. This book is an oral history, a compilation of essays, so it was easy to dip in and out of it without loosing focus. It's made up of interviews, where people from all across the nation, from all walks of life and all types of occupations, discuss what they do for a living. Some are proud of their work, others feel it's a meaningless grind. Their words express sorrow, longing, frustration, hope, contentment, even on occasion irresponsibility and there was one guy who sounded downright crazy. He was very much the square peg in a round hole. Working was published in the early seventies and this one essay I'm thinking of was a young hippy-type guy talking about how he'd do things at the office that others perceived as subversive. From simply wearing his hair long and ignoring the dress code to meditating in the middle of an office floor, just sitting there would work other people up into a fit! It was very amusing to read his words but also a bit alarming- for someone who professed to be a pacifist he sure did talk about violence a lot.

Anyway, you'll find here the words of firemen, chefs, doctors, store clerks, truck drivers, family farmers, business executives, waitresses, traveling salesmen, nurses, miners and factory workers, just about anything you can imagine people doing. Mechanics. Housewives. Hotel owners. Cabdrivers. Stockbrokers. Insurance and car salesmen. Doormen, policemen, mail carriers, meter readers, barbers, even a prostitute. And more. I think my favorite was the segment about the work of a bookbinder! Very interesting. Some interviews pair the voices of fathers and sons next to each other, or of husband and wife. People who have their dream job, a position they've worked hard for. Others who don't quite know how they ended up in that occupation but are stuck with it. People new to the country and those who had been here for generations. Old people looking back at the end of a lifelong career, young people talking about change and the future. Some get into discussing unions, organization and workers rights and strikes; others discuss prejudice and how the way people treat you or perceive your job can make it feel demeaning; yet others talk about the satisfaction of physical labor, of creating a well-made product, of serving people the best way they can.

Particularly interesting was to read the book with an attention to its time frame; a lot of the older generation in it talk about how things have changed since the Depression era, or since the thirties when they were young; but their description of how things were in their now (the seventies) compared to my now (the 21st century) gave it another perspective altogether. It is a fascinating book, a lively tome full of rich, varied voices. Recommended.

rating: 4/5 ........ 589 pages, 1972

Nov 19, 2012


by DK Publishing

This is one of my toddler's favorite board books right now. We got it from a library sale. I think she likes it so much because it's very small, so fits well in her hands and just by its size alone is charming. Plus, she loves chicks! Next to cats, I think they're her favorite animal. She learned to say "bock, bwak" before any other animal sound and when we go to the petting zoo she laughs and wiggles at the baby chicks. No other critter there gets the same reaction of delight.

The little book shows the mother hen sitting on eggs, then the baby chicks hatching. After that each spread shows the chicks doing something- pecking at seeds, sipping water, finding things (a seed and a nasturtium flower), or just standing around in groups looking cute. The text is very simple descriptions of what is going on for each page. It's a darling little book.

rating: 3/5 ....... 20 pages, 2003

Nov 18, 2012

Animals/ Animales

by Milet Publishing

This book is full of illustrations of animals with their names in both english and spanish. Each spread has a few animals in groups more or less according to their habitat; pets are grouped together, as are arctic animals, jungle animals, a fish with a crab, livestock animals, etc. The one odd grouping is of a zebra and giraffe with a kangaroo on the same page. A minor quibble, but it stood out to me particularly because the bottom edge of each spread has a graphic illustration showing the habitat: water, lawn, fenced pasture, etc. It's a nice little touch. But kangaroos don't live in the same place as giraffes. Neither do lions and tigers for that matter (except for the introduced ones!) but that doesn't bother me as much. Although they really should have put the lion on the page with the giraffe...

Anways. The book also is a curious mix of both photographs and illustrations. All the insects are illustrations, for example, as are the habitats. It works, though.

A bigger issue with this one is simply that my kid doesn't seem to like it! Maybe I need to talk up its charms  and say more about each picture ("look at the kitty! what is that kitty doing? does he want his tummy petted?  meow!") but for whatever reason after just a few pages of naming animals she's ready to move on to another book.

rating: 2/5 ....... 24 pages, 2011

Nov 17, 2012


by Michael Blake 

Another board book we picked up at the public library. Delightfully simple, each page or spread has a photograph from nature with a certain color prominent. Red shows some poppy flowers, green a frog on a leaf, pink a vivid flamingo, gray some seals snuggled in a pile, etc. All close-ups, beautiful photography. The final spread is of a mix of autumn leaves with many colors.

But what I really like about this book is something that puzzled me at first. The page edges don't line up. They're not all smooth in a block, but each gets an eighth of an inch shorter towards the center spread, then they each get a bit wider again to the final page. I thought it was an error or the book's spine had just got incredibly worn and loose, but then I noticed a label on the back said "easy-open, specially designed for little hands." And it is easier to turn the pages like this. I thought of how many times I've seen my toddler sitting there fumbling on the edge of a smooth, tight page block trying to get her little finger to hook the next page, and understood. Great idea for a little book!

rating: 4/5 .......16 pages, 2006

Nov 11, 2012

Stripes + Arrows

by Jill Hartley

I picked up this little square book because I so much liked another one by the same author, Circle + Square. For some reason this one didn't quite have the same appeal, though. There are twice as many pictures featuring stripes than arrows for one thing, so it feels rather unbalanced. The pictures aren't quite as colorful, at least not all of them. I do find it interesting how many different objects present stripes: cloth, shadows, patterned socks, candy, stairs, a zebra's hide. Whereas the arrows are almost all from signs and drawings. One stands out, it is a sign of a hand shape pointing. Regardless, my toddler doesn't find this book very interesting, at least not the two times I've picked it up to show her yet. So I think this one is going back to the library soon. The kid on the cover is really cute, though!

rating: 2/5 ........ 12 pages, 2008

Nov 10, 2012

Where is My Friend?

by Simms Taback

Wow, this blog is really languishing. I've just been very slow at reading Working. In the meantime, however, I've made the happy discovery that the new-to-me public library branch has a huge selection of board books, so we've been bringing them home in piles. The little one will run over when I say "let's read a story. Go get a book!" and pull one out of her bottom shelf. This is one of her favorites lately.

Where is My Friend? has, like most baby books, a simple premise. On each spread an animal (usually looking dejected) asks where is my friend? then you turn a flap, his face becomes a smile or surprised expression, and a second animal is revealed standing next to him. I like that the animal pairings match their environments: the zebra has an ostrich friend, the hippo a flamingo, the seal is with a penguin, kangaroo with a koala, moose with a turkey (who looks cross for some reason). As a final pair we meet a little boy who has a dog friend, and at the very end all the animals march across the page together. It's cute, but I don't really care for the artwork. It just doesn't appeal to me. However, my daughter really likes turning those flaps to find all the different animals, so for her it's a good book.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 16 pages, 1984

Oct 9, 2012

The Unfinished Garden

by Barbara Claypole White

I have finally finished a book! It was a good read. The story is about a recently widowed mother who immersed herself in her gardening business (a wholesale nursery) in order to escape her grief and guilt. Her husband died in a hospital, under circumstances which aren't revealed until much later, as the main character Tilly is having trouble facing them herself. She soon meets James Nealy, a very successful man with his own inner battles. He suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (and a myriad of other troubles, it seems) and has determined to finally overcome some of his deepest fears by creating a garden. He finds Tilly's nursery and is immediately affected by her garden; demands that she help him make one. Tilly refuses; she doesn't do landscape design. She thinks that's the end of it and moves back to England to confront a family emergency- her mother is ailing. Once there she feels immediately back at home, but is confronted by a host of new troubles- namely that her ex-boyfriend of many years is suddenly hanging around. And before long the unexpected happens when James shows up as well. It makes for a very interesting triangle as the three try to work out their feelings.

And that's what most of this story was about. James struggling to put aside his compulsions, and win Tilly's heart. Tilly trying to figure out what she wants, still grieving her husband and now faced with two very different men both of whom she finds attractive. There are other little dynamics in the form of her mother who seems to know everything that's going on, her best friend who is acting surprisingly chummy with both James and the ex-boyfriend, and her son who was one of my favorite characters- a very likable boy and surprisingly even-tempered considering all that he's going through. There wasn't nearly enough about gardening itself to suit me, but I did find the descriptions of life with OCD interesting. And the storyline had enough unexpected turns (in the relationship dynamics) to keep me curious about what would happen at the end. It was a light, satisfying read.

For once this was a review copy I accepted from the publisher, Harlequin. I was interested because this book dovetailed two of my reading interests- gardening and mental illness. I wasn't much disappointed in that, but I should have paid more attention to the publisher name and realized what I was really getting into was a romance! No real complaints there, it was light for a romance (in my opinion). That means no explicit scenes, just suggestions of what happens behind the closed doors...

I have two copies of this book available to give away! If you'd like to receive one, just let me know in the comments. Sorry, shipping to the US and Canada only. Giveaway ends 10/17/12.

rating: 3/5 ........ 364 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Good Girl Gone Redneck
Book Journey
Steph the Bookworm
Library of Clean Reads

Oct 6, 2012


There is something really dumb about buying more books when you're about to pack up over 600 of them into boxes for a move (and that's not counting the two-hundred-odd children's books, either!) But I just can't resist the annual library sale. Here's what I came home with:
A few board books for the little one- I like Maisy (and she enjoys lift-the-flaps right now), she likes chickens (says "bawk-bawk") and the numbers one is cute.
My stack. A few notes on them.

Rivethead by Ben Hamper- I swear this book used to be in my house, but I let it go for some reason. Finding another copy made me intrigued to try reading it again, dunno if that will be fruitful or not.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist- I liked the film (and I don't usually care for vampire stories); have heard the book is good too.

The Devious Book for Cats and The Dangerous Book for Dogs by Joe Gardner et al- these look like fun, and I was tickled to find them as a pair. Remind me of Paul Gallico's book The Silent Miaow- instruction manuals for pets. Looks very humorous.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman- I think this one was on my tbr already, seen it on a blog somewhere. It's about how the earth might change if humans disappeared.

Herbal Medicine by Dian Dincin Buchman and The Honest Herbal by Varro Tyler- as my garden is getting reduced to a patio collection mostly of herbs, I thought I might learn a bit more about their uses.

Seasonal Guide to the Natural Year- this looks good! A book about my region- the mid-atlantic- telling you what to expect/observe at different times of the year in nature.

The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden- another book I'm suspicious is on my tbr list, its title looks so familiar. It's handwritten notes with beautiful sketches of plants, birds and other small wildlife. I can't wait to peruse this one.

Minerals: Gifts from the Earth by Julie Kerr Casper-  okay, not really sure why I picked up this one. I guess I was amused to see a book about my friend's hobby, written by someone who has his name as their last name. I might even read it- it's a junior non-fiction book so can't be too difficult on a possibly boring subject. Hm.

The final book at the bottom of the stack was turned sideways to make a nice base and I forgot you wouldn't be able to see the spine. Perspective Sketches. It's an art book of drawings by Theodore Walker. I was interested in them because of the different styles of buildings, trees, linework and materials. I'm not too good at drawing architecture or trees but would like to expand my skills, so it's nice to have something inspiring to look at.

That's it! As usual most of these books will probably sit on my shelves for weeks, months, perhaps even years before I read their pages. But they have a home with me now.

Sep 28, 2012

Catching Fire

by Suzanne Collins

I feel like there's no real way I can do this book justice, particularly as my mind has been very distracted lately, but here's my impressions anyways. Catching Fire takes off directly where The Hunger Games left off. Having survived the brutal Games, Katniss should have a life of ease now, with a house of her own, more money than she knows what to do with, friends right next door. But of course since she blatantly thwarted the Capitol in her move to win the Games, they've got their eyes on her. Unwittingly she finds herself mixed up in the throes of a rebellion, and thrown into danger when she least expects it. Once again forced into the arena of the Games, she must depend on her wits to survive, hopefully to pull her friends through as well. Things are in turmoil, danger is looming, the government is seething with corruption, people have hidden agendas etc etc. It's always hard for me to write about sequels without giving too much away so I think I'll just stop there. Honestly I was quite surprised at the turn this book took, I wasn't expecting the events that rose up, at all. And even though it was my escape-read of the moment, which meant I didn't really get lost in a gripping story but instead used it to distract myself before going back into the real (lately often unpleasant) world, the last page had me immediately wanting to pick up Mockingjay to see what happens next. It's got that kind of cliffhanger, to grab my attention even when I wasn't really trying to give it. Yeah, I've been a pretty lame reader of late. And still I can tell you this is a good read. It's got angst, rebellion, love, action, suspense, intellectual challenges, survivalist moves, futuristic weirdness (which always intrigues me).... I just wasn't in the mood to give it all my appreciation. For that reason probably going to wait awhile until I read the third in this series. So I can give it its due. Properly.

Do the book a favor and read a few of the reviews linked below.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 399 pages, 2012

more opinions: Ardent Reader
who else? I know some of you've read it!

Sep 21, 2012


This blog is experiencing an interruption of its normal publishing schedule, for now and into an unpredictable amount of time in the future...

Seeing as it's been over two weeks since I last posted and I am still lingering in the middle of a book, I suppose it's time for a notification of sorts. I used to be so good about posting regularly, even finding thoughts to share on past reads when I hadn't recently finished a book. But a lot has changed in my life recently, including the start of a new job and a pending move. I am lucky to be able to work from home, but between the kids and the work hours there is little-to-none "me time" left. I've been reading Catching Fire for weeks now (and its the kind of book I normally would not be able to put down!) For the most part my reading has been in little snatches, mostly simple, entertaining stuff like Thornton Burgess stories (which no one else seems interested in) or fascinating but still relatively short articles from back issues of National Geographic. I have one promised review copy sitting waiting on my shelf but after that will no longer be accepting books for review, until further notice. So my blogging activity is going to be very sparse now, with posts here just once a week or even less frequently. Just didn't want you all thinking I'd fallen off the face of the earth! I'm still here, just very occupied in this new phase of my life.

As a good indication of how upside down things are around here, my blog turned five years old last month and I didn't even notice!

Sep 6, 2012

The Wake

Sandman Vol 10
by Neil Gaiman

Once again, I'm a bit disappointed to say that Sandman didn't quite wow me like I kept hoping it would. I feel like it's a failing on my part, though, not at all a reflection on the works.

The main part of this book is about the wake held in memory of Morpheus, for he has passed on and his son Daniel taken his place as the new Dream King. Loads of characters from the previous volumes make an appearance, quite a few which I didn't really remember well (wished I had all the previous volumes on hand to flip back to). Morpheus' previous lovers remember him in their own ways (some say a lot, others nothing at all), his family members take turns speaking, many many others have their say but most of them are just alluded to. I did chuckle at the Batman bit, and I haven't even read those, just know what I've picked up from pop culture and a few films. On the other side of this story we see the new Dream King adjusting to his new role, meeting the denizens of the realm, bringing a few servants back to life, etc. The raven gets quite a big part as he grieves Morpheus' end and tries to decide if he wants to stay on and serve the new Dream King (who proves quite soon that he's a different entity from his father, even if in the same role and now bearing the same knowledge...)

There are several shorter stories at the end, one showing Hob (still one of my favorite characters) attending a renaissance fair with his present girlfriend, and complaining about how unlike the past it really is (which made me laugh, as I've often wondered how accurate any kind of re-enactment is to what it purports to remember). Hob is disgusted by the revelry and bad pronunciations of old English (or whatever it's supposed to be) and goes off to get drunk when he meets Death who informs him of Morpheus' passing and offers him the opportunity to end his long existence as well...

Another little tale is of an old man sent into exile. While crossing a vast desert he rescues a kitten, then wanders into the outskirts of the dream realm, where he meets his dead son and then encounters the Dream King himself, has a brief conversation with him, finds his way out again. Lovely brushwork illustrations in that one.

The final story is about Shakespeare writing The Tempest (a play I really like) under Morpheus' inspiration. Interesting stuff. But still, for some reason parts of the book I enjoyed most were the eloquent introduction, and the quirky artwork at the end portraying the artists/contributors! Another thing I really do like about these books is to see how the various artists depict the same reappearing characters in their very different styles. It's really intriguing to see how I can recognize their faces and gestures even when they come from the stroke of a different artist's pen.

This is the last book in the Dream King's story arc, but I find quite a few other companion volumes listed in the back, like The Dream Hunters (which I think remains me favorite)- one that has stories featuring each of the Endless family members, another pair of volumes about his sister Dream, etc. I think I might enjoy those, so going to look for them someday.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 192 pages, 1996

more opinions:
Stella Matutina
Such a Book Nerd

Sep 4, 2012

Mrs. Peter Rabbit

by Thornton W. Burgess

In this little book Peter Rabbit is suddenly feeling restless and lonely. He needs a change of scenery so leaves his home and visits the Old Pasture. On the way he has a narrow escape from an owl which leaves him injured. Hiding in a strange place with smarting wounds, Peter is miserable for some time but then starts exploring the new environment and his spirits lift somewhat with the adventure of it all. He learns that another, larger and older rabbit, lives in the Old Pasture territory and has a few scrapes with the stranger. Almost ready to give up fighting and go home when he discovers another rabbit lives here as well: a gentle, timid rabbit with soft eyes- a girl rabbit, of course! So Peter is determined to stay and make her acquaintance, and he ends up taking her back home with him as his new mate. The two rabbits set up housekeeping and of course soon start a family, although they try to keep that secret hidden for a while. Having read quite a few of these Burgess books by now, I soon recognized a pattern of a restless young male animal going off in search of adventure and then finding a companion. This one reminded me a lot of the woodchuck's story. None of the usually present moralistic themes jumped out at me (but then I read a lot while tired, and in bits and snatches) aside from the one of minding your own business, as lots of Peter's friends wanted to poke their noses in where they weren't wanted, when he suddenly returned home with Mrs. Peter!

It's funny that I never thought of the Mrs. Peter Rabbit character before as Peter's wife. I've read several of the books out of order, so met her before and she was always worrying about Peter's recklessness and chiding him; sounded like a mother to me, I guess! (Also, I have a perpetual image in my head of Peter as the Peter Rabbit from Beatrix Potter, who was always a young bunny living at home with his mom).

My computer is out of sorts so if you're reading this post with no cover image it's because I'm not working on my own computer; I'll post images up soon as it's fixed!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 64 pages, 1919

Aug 27, 2012

Babies, Babies!

by Debby Slier

A baby book could not be more simple. This one is just baby faces showing a variety of identified expressions and activities: smiling, pouting, crying, looking curious or surprised. My child's favorite page seems to be the one of a little girl peeking through her hands; she always stops on that page and wants to initiate a peek-a-boo game herself. She just loves looking at pictures of other babies her age, something I wish more board-book publishers would realize, as I have trouble finding any more books like this at the library. Of course, it could just be that they're popular with other toddlers as well and so are never available on the shelf. Very cute!

rating: 3/5 ........ 12 pages, 2012

Aug 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

I've had Catching Fire sitting on my TBR shelf for ages, but never felt motivated yet to find the first book at the library and start the trilogy. But then my sister gave me a copy of the Hunger Games, so I've been reading it over the past few weeks. Slow going only because other events in my life have limited reading time of late; the story actually moves very quickly and its one of those books that are hard to put down; you want to just read straight to the end.

So- in case you don't know the brief version, The Hunger Games is a dystopian story set in a future country called Panem where the United States used to be. There's twelve districts all in subservience to the Capital and periodically in order to assert their authority the Capital requires each district to offer up two teenagers to participate in the Games. The kids are prepped and then thrown together into a wilderness arena where they basically fight to the death- it's a game of elimination. The last one alive wins glory, fame, wealth for life, you name it. Oh, and it's all televised and everyone's required to watch. So not only does Katniss (our female protagonist) have to pit her wits against her peers in the Games, she also has to keep in mind how the audience responds to what she does (or doesn't do) as gaining favor with viewers can earn her support. It's really a gruesome thing, this life-or-death reality tv battle. There's plenty of harrowing scenes. But somehow those didn't stick with me. The writing is sparse yet descriptive; I found it easy to gloss over the gory details and instead enjoyed the adventure, the survivalist aspect of it all, the intrigue between the characters. Pretty gripping stuff. I don't think I'd like to see it on the screen, though. I think that would be too much for me.

rating: 3/5 ........ 374 pages, 2008

more opinions (just a few of many): 
Maw Books Blog
Jenny's Books
Puss Reboots
I Read a Lot of Books

Aug 24, 2012

Funny Farm

by David Doepker

This cute board book is just close-ups of animal faces, all living on a farm. It's the captions that make it so amusing- the horse curling his lip is proclaimed to tell jokes, the cross-looking chickens are declared "pushy", a goat posed regally and shot from a low angle is touted as being "as big as the sky." The "happy hog" really does have a big smile on its face; the only picture that doesn't really seem to fit is the shaggy sheep- he's really not that shaggy. I've seen ones with much longer wool! Regardless, it's really cute and flows with singsong phrases that introduce kids to animals attributed with recognizable emotions or personalities. The pictures are big and bold, which makes it really attractive to my little one.

rating: 4/5 ........ 16 pages, 2004

Aug 21, 2012

Kitten's Summer

by Eugenie Fernandes

I finally got hold of a copy of Kitten's Summer from the library, completing this little quartet of picture books. Lush illustrations made of paint washes, cut paper and modeled clay collages show the little kitten exploring the forest around his farm during a rain shower. We see flowers blooming, baby animals hiding from the rain with their mothers- raccoons, squirrel infants in a leafy nest, a fuzzy robin chick under its mother's wing. My favorite was the darling little nest of baby rabbits under a bush. The details of leaf, twigs, forest litter, raindrops and other tiny things and textures are just exquisite. And there are snails and other small creepy critters tucked into corners just awaiting discovery. It's an adorable book full of woodland wonders to explore on every page. When the kitten comes back home at the end of the book, a basket of strawberries and freshly-picked peas next to muddy boots show the bounty that nature provides in the garden during the summer as well. Lovely!

rating: 4/5 ........ 24 pages, 2011

Aug 12, 2012

One Moon, Two Cats

by Laura Godwin
illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

I seldom find and read a book so quickly after seeing a review of it online, but this time I did. Something about what Puss Reboots said of this picture book made it sound appealing, so I went and checked it out.

One Moon, Two Cats shows what two different cats are up to at night while their owners sleep. A fluffy white cat lounges on a little girl's bed in a city bedroom; a somewhat sneaky-looking tabby seems to be just waiting for the moment to escape from his boy's room in the country. Both cats stretch and jump out the window, go strolling along high vantage points, sniff about and then chase mice. Even though their environment is different- city streets and grassy countryside lanes- they both delight in the same feline activities. A thunderstorm frightens them home where they curl up to sleep just as the children awake, having no idea what their kitties have been up to. The text is simply, brief phrases that rhyme nicely. The acrylic paintings have a lovely soft texture, and the cats' faces are really expressive with their knowing eyes. I liked it.

rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 2011

Aug 11, 2012

Kenneth Graham's The Reluctant Dragon

retold by Robert D. San Souci
illustrated by John Segal

This is the Reluctant Dragon book I found browsing, that made me look for the original. And it is nearly cut in half. The length, I mean. But the text is lifted so easily that the story still reads seamlessly. Having read the first one so recently I recognized passages immediately and could tell where parts were missing- conversations cut short, detailed descriptions just not there. It lost some of its whimsy and charm, but still a good story. The boy has a name here; he's called Jack. He doesn't express glee at the dragon's prospect of a fight, which I noticed right away. Not much else stood out to me as being different. The pictures are charming but rather small, however there are several on each page and the font is one of those that makes you read slow and careful, holding the book perhaps a little closer than usual, which makes you see those bitty pictures up close too. Well, I enjoyed it and so did my seven-year-old who read it after me. But I still prefer the original, it has just that much more character that's missing a bit here.

rating: 3/5 ........ 40 pages, 2004

Aug 10, 2012

books are my ally

It's become pretty much a regular thing in my house that there's always a little stack of board books by the potty. At first it was just a way to get her to sit still long enough to do her business, but now she insists on having a book read to her (often that's just two or three pages!) even if she's already tinkled. A few times I've taken her potty into the bathroom so she can join me there and she runs out to get a book and brings it back with her. I think it's kind of funny. I have to keep rotating which books are sitting there to keep her interest in them long enough for moments when a bit of patience is needed.
The books have also started helping with my older daughter as well. She's been having some rather late nights and very early mornings of late, and I've been suggesting naps but of course she balks strongly at the idea. Today I was putting the baby down for a nap and handed older daughter a picture book I'd brought home just to read for myself. She started reading, picked up another one, and when I looked back over she'd fallen asleep! And I think she really needed it because she slept for several hours. I know I can find a lot more picture books at the library that are sophisticated enough to hold her attention, even though on her own she'd rather read chapter books. Perhaps I can coax her into some daily quiet time and induce a few more naps...!       

Aug 8, 2012

The Reluctant Dragon

by Kenneth Grahame

This is one of those books I just can't believe I never read before! It's a charming little story about a boy who befriends a dragon near his cottage home. The dragon is quite the gentleman, loves poetry, and is also rather lazy- he likes his quiet time, let's say. The local villagers discover his cave is occupied and get quite upset. Even though he's never bothered them or so much as set foot in the village, they ask the famous knight St. George to come get rid of the dragon. When the knight arrives, everyone is eager to see a battle- except that the dragon doesn't want to fight at all. The boy is just as excited as the others about a fight, but of course he wants to help his friend. How can he work out the situation? I thought the solution quite clever, and funny too. The original illustrations by Ernest Shepard (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) are just lovely.

I really discovered this one because of another, newer edition with colored illustrations that I found on a library shelf. I wanted to read the original before the adapted version. It's really not a long story so I'm not sure why it had to be adapted, but I'll find out soon enough if a lot of text got cut; reading that one next.

rating: 4/5 ........ 48 pages, 1966