Jan 31, 2013

Architecture Animals

by Michael Crosbie and Steve Rosenthal

Of all the architecture board books by Crosbie and Rosenthal we've found, this one featuring animals is my favorite. The distinct photographs show three-dimensional animals featured on or near buildings: statues and relief carvings are the norm but there are also eagle gargoyles, a neon owl sign, a duck that is an entire building in and of itself, a grasshopper weathervane and a tortoise holding up a column. My daughter and I both really like the bronze frieze from the Chanin building in New York, which shows a myriad of sea life- the bit of it pictured in this book has three bass swimming among some plants. It's just beautiful. Another  page I really like shows walrus heads decorating the side of a building in Seattle. I just find it really intriguing- walrus! And my kid is really into walruses herself lately, probably because we have several board books that feature arctic animals. She always insists on turning first to the pages with penguins ("pen-wins") and walrus ("wall-wrie").

But back to the architecture book! Each page has a little caption that tells the name of the building and its location - they're from all over the world- and a fun little poem or verse describing something about the animals (Bubble, bubble / In bronze pieces / Swim some fish / Of assorted species). My toddler usually has no patience to hear the rhymes so I just read one or two lines that give the most basic description, or just name the featured animals for her. A very cool little book.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 24 pages, 1995

Jan 30, 2013


A Winter's Tale
by Linda Haldeman

One of my favorite books is Linda Haldeman's fantasy The Lastborn of Elvinwood. I'll write about that someday- it sits on my shelf so is easily accessible- but this is another by the same author I once found. The story is set in a college town, among a few college students and a professor. There's a spirit from another world that's been exiled- I forget what the reason was- and forced to live on earth until it can be of assistance to someone and thus gain the right to return to its own realm. One of the students does a research paper on rituals used to summon demons, and another kid decides to go ahead and try the summoning. I seem to remember this was more out of boredom or curiosity than malice, although I was horrified that a puppy was going to be used as a sacrifice. The puppy escaped an awful fate, the ritual was botched but a demon shows up regardless and demands that one of the students be sacrificed to make things right. So then they have to figure out how to get out the ensuing mess while appeasing the demon, and in steps the helpful spirit. I remember finding the (sexless) character of the spirit intriguing, also the main character, a female student. But I was a bit disturbed by the romance that grew between the student and one of her professors, and I think that's why this book is no longer in my library.

I just discovered that this author has long since passed away, and only published three books. I've read them all and always was on the lookout for more, but sadly I don't think there are any more to be found. So if I do come across Esbae again I think I will put it back on my shelf. It deserves a re-read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 224 pages, 1981

Jan 28, 2013

Wild Echoes

Encounters with the Most Endangered Animals in North America 
by Charles Bergman

I'm not quite sure how I first encountered this book, I recall seeing it on a shelf in my parents' house and wondering about its contents many times when I was a teen. I think it was picked up at a gift shop in a national park somewhere, but that memory could be erroneous.

The book is about the author's travels through North America to view the most endangered species, or at least to visit with people who have seen them. He describes his travels, meeting with people, conservation and politics that affect those efforts, how the different animals have fared through history and so on. The animals discussed include manatees, Florida panthers, whales (I forget which species exactly), condors, wolves and the dusky seaside sparrow (now extinct).

This is a book I didn't finish reading. I was interested in the animals, their descriptions and histories, but other aspects of the writing got in the way of enjoying that. The philosophical rants confused me, and the crude humor I found distasteful. I wonder now if it was because of my youth; I might be able to make better sense of it now (and ignore the phallic jokes). Some other reviewers have pointed out that a lot of the material in this book is now seriously outdated; I know for a fact that the numbers of condors and wolves have recovered dramatically. I think I might try this one again someday, if I just happen to come across it (not sure if a copy still exists at my parents' home, I know I don't have one in my own collection).

Abandoned ........ 360 pages, 1990

more opinions:
Ivory-Bills Live?

Jan 27, 2013


by Keith Kimberlin

This board book uses puppies to demonstrate opposites. It does a good job with some of them- light and dark colors, groups of few and many, and the front and back on the covers are especially cute. A lot of the other pages kinda bug me, however, because they just don't seem to illustrated the concepts well. I will tell you of them.

The fast puppy is sitting on a scooter, looks like he's going for a ride- my toddler gets a kick out of this. But the slow puppy next to him isn't moving at all, just sitting there. Wouldn't it be better if he was at least walking?

The short and tall spread shows a little chihuahua next to a german shepherd- but the shepherd is pictured so large his lower legs and feet are off the page, and he's sitting. It looks almost exactly like the big and small spread, just with different dogs. I imagine it would have worked better to show a dog with short legs- like a dachshund or basset- next to a dog with very long legs, like a greyhound. And both standing up.

The in and out page shows a puppy in a box, then the same puppy just sitting on the bare ground. I think the concept would be stronger if the box was shown in the second picture. The awake and asleep spread show a fat little puppy sleeping in a chair on the beach, and then a different pup just looking at you. I think showing the same pup in the awake picture would make it stronger. Incidentally, the sleeping pup is a pinkish wrinkled shar pei, and my daughter seems to think he looks like a pig. She always says "oink" or "piggie"!

So that's me being very critical, just because I kept picturing how these pages could have been done better. But it doesn't really matter; my kid loves this book because it's full of cute puppies!

Rating: 2/5 ........ 22 pages, 2006

Jan 26, 2013

bookmarks giveaway

I'm giving away this set of three bookmarks with pretty patterns. They are handmade from magazine scrap and clear laminate.
If you'd like to win the set, just leave a comment and let me know! There must be an easy way for me to contact you via email. Available if you have a postal address in the US or Canada. The giveaway runs for two weeks, I'll draw a name at random on Feb 9.

Jan 24, 2013

Donkeys Galore

by Averil Swinfen

I think this is the first book I ever read that focused solely on donkeys. The author describes her work in establishing a donkey stud farm in Ireland.  A lot of it is narrative- about how they became interested in donkeys, the work in breeding and raising them, arrangements in selling them, seeking public attention to become part of the tourist trade, visits from celebrities, notable donkeys they've had (including a rare set of twins) and so forth. It has a very old-fashioned, formal writing style that even while being humorous manages to sound a little dry. So I admit I didn't enjoy the narrative parts as much as the factual ones, and in spite of the author continually remarking upon the charm of the animals, that never really came through for me. I did find it interesting to read about how difficult it is to keep donkeys in good health in cold, wet places because they normally come from arid, dry regions and easily catch chills or have problems with their feet in the damp. In a few instances it was pointed out how different donkeys actually are from their relatives, horses- they require a different diet, and their body conformation gives them their great strength (for their size). Thus, when the author helped establish a donkey society in Ireland and got a donkey class accepted into a prominent horse show, she was dismayed that donkeys were often judged on physical points more appropriate for horses, and worried that continued selection for those traits would actually harm the donkey stock and weaken them for the work they were intended! The end of the book wraps up with a plea to kindness for all animals, and for people to realize that donkeys don't deserve the reputation they've gathered for being dull and stubborn. There's lots of lively characters and entertaining events in this book, but not quite enough that I think I'll ever read it again.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 136 pages, 1976

Jan 23, 2013

Apple Farmer Annie

by Monica Wellington

We found this one at random browsing in the public library, and it's currently a favorite- both with my daughter and myself. The book seems quite simple, but has a lot going on. With simple text and bright-colored pictures, it shows how Annie tends to her orchard, picks and sorts the produce, turns the apples into salable goods, drives them to a farmer's market in the city, and sells them for her living. There are so many things I find attractive about this book. First of all, it has a female business-owner as the main character. It shows a sequence of events, where apples and their products come from, and how (via the illustrations) many of those are made. The text doesn't address this, but if you look carefully at the pictures you can see all the tools and deduce the basic process in making the cider, applesauce, baked goods, etc. My daughter is too young to appreciate this part, but with an older child I can imagine talking about the pictures in more detail to explain how those things are done. Each page also has a little dog and cat somewhere- this pleases my toddler, who loves to point out where "puppy!" and "cat!" are at each turn- except for the pages where Annie takes her apples into the city, when the cat sensibly stays at home!

Rating: 5/5 ........ 32 pages, 2004

Jan 22, 2013

Thistle & Co.

by Era Zistel

Another book I picked up at random from the Book Thing. As the cover suggests,  it's about a collection of animals that form (more or less) friendly relationships: cats, raccoons and skunks. There's not much introduction to the book, it doesn't explain the setting or circumstances but just launches right into stories about the animals. So it took a bit of reading before I figured out that this was just a kind-hearted soul taking injured and abandoned wildlife into her home when people brought them to her. It started with one raccoon, who when finally let outside made friends with wild raccoons in the neighborhood and brought them all home for handouts. They ended up living in the crawl space under the house, which caused quite a few problems later on.

The second half of the book tells about a baby skunk that was taken in and how the author gradually trusted the skunk enough to give it the run of the house, even though everyone was afraid it would become alarmed and spray. Quite to her surprise, the skunk had a calm personality and even learned to play with one of the cats. This animal never adapted to living on its own, was frightened of going outside alone, and when finally startled into flight by the raccoon mob, there were sad consequences.

Overall it was a nice light read, entertaining and educational- I learned quite a bit about raccoon and skunk behavior. It was a bit dismaying to read about things like the overcrowding of raccoons under the house causing disease outbreaks, but I kept reminding myself that this book is quite dated, and nowadays it would be illegal to keep wildlife in your home like the author did. They would have to go to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Regardless, the skunk turned out to be such a charming animal, I'm glad to have read it.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 101 pages, 1981

Jan 21, 2013

The Mimosa Tree

by Vera and Bill Cleaver

This novel is about a poor family who move from North Carolina to Chicago when they fall on hard times. Their fields are blighted, their pigs died and it seems like there's nothing left. So they pack up and move to the big city, hoping for work and better opportunities. Things don't go as planned. Jobs are hard to find, they are woefully ignorant of how things work in their new environment and soon after moving the two grown women in the family disappear. A bunch of little kids and one fourteen-year-old girl are left to fend for themselves with an incapacitated, blind father. At first they try to do things right, to find odd jobs, even apply for government aid- which never materializes. Finally they realize the hopelessness of their situation and follow the lead of a local kid they meet in the back alley, who guides the oldest boy and finally the teenage girl into thievery to survive. One bad thing follows another and finally the older girl realizes that the city is changing them, they are becoming hardened and loosing their morality to the harshness of their new life. She determines that something must change before it is too late.

The mimosa tree in the title never exists. Ashamed to admit to her blind father that the view from their small apartment window only has blank walls and a trash-filled alley, his daughter makes up a landscape with trees and birds. Funny, in the only other book I read that featured a mimosa, the tree was also symbolic. It was The Help. In that case the tree was real, but constantly reminded one of the characters of her failings and created such bitterness that she tried to chop it down (if I remember correctly).

This book is written by the same authors as Where the Lilies Bloom. I like The Mimosa Tree a bit better.

Rating: 3/5 ........  127 pages, 1970

Jan 20, 2013

befriending your ex after divorce

by Judith Rusky Rabinor

Another valuable book that nevertheless is a bit difficult to write about because of the personal nature in how I relate to it. I am not in the habit of accepting review copies from publishers anymore, but I took this one because it seemed very applicable to my situation.

Written by a clinical psychologist who herself has survived divorce and successfully co-parented her children, the book is a guideline to finding a way to build a new relationship with the person you were once married to. Not only for the sake of your children, but also because, the book purports, if you're going to have to deal with this person for the rest of your life- and you likely will- you might as well make it as pleasant as possible. (That's not an exact quote).

Rabinor makes it clear that this is not easy, nor is it always possible. In almost every stage and situation discussed, she points out when it is unreasonable to expect things to progress positively and sometimes you have to just let things be, knowing you've done your best. I appreciate that she always showed both sides of the situation- for example, in the segment on forgiveness she discusses forgiving your ex, and then also forgiving yourself. The gender pronouns are also frequently switched, so it feels evenly unbiased.

The book goes in detail through many emotional states and uncomfortable situations you will have to deal with when attempting to turn what was a bad relationship (after all, it fell apart) into a working friendship, no matter how limited that might be. Moving through grief, handling anger, letting go of past wrongs, becoming allies (mostly for your children), recognizing the difference between big obstacles and small minor irritants, and coming together for celebrations or family rituals are all discussed in detail. There's also an entire chapter devoted to the difficult prospect of meeting your ex's new partner and/or including that person in your wider family circle. Along the way Rabinor offers professional advice, points the reader to more detailed resources when needed and recommends how to find assistance if necessary. She also includes many examples from a wide variety of couples' situations- some showing how things can work out, others when it doesn't. The book is also replete with activities to help the reader work through issues or recognize things- like making lists, visualizing, journaling and so forth.

I admit I didn't do any of the exercises, although I certainly thought most of them through. One that seemed very vivid to me was the idea of writing down things that have upset, angered or hurt you, crumpling and tearing the paper, then burning it. Seems very cathartic. The book helped me with many things, like recognize what stage of grief I'm in, realizing what negative responses I habitually make to strong emotions, and remembering that it's often more productive to state a need rather than blame or accuse someone.... Regardless, I know I'm not ready yet to do most of the things this book offers help with, but it will be waiting on my shelf when I am.

I did have a few problems with the book. It has no index, so when I wanted to look for something specific sometimes it was tricky to remember which segment it was in. Also the headings are annoyingly large, especially considering how many of them there are. When a heading within a chapter is as large as the small paragraph it introduces, following immediately by another heading nearly as large, it just feels like too much. Sometimes I felt like the author was shouting the headings at me, or assumed I wouldn't noticed them unless they were really big. Maybe they had to fill up more page space to make the book longer, I don't know. It is rather slender but don't be fooled, there's a lot of valuable information in there.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 203 pages, 2012

Jan 19, 2013

more things I'd like to read someday...

Time again for one of these posts. Thanks to all the wonderful bloggers linked to below, for adding these books to my never-ending list!
Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter Brooks- Puss Reboots
Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato- At Home with Books
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog- Caroline Bookbinder
Vertical Vegetable Gardening by Chris McLaughlin- Vegetable Gardener
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro - Bermudaonion's Weblog
Replay by Ken Grimwood- At Home with Books
Catseye by Andre Norton- You Can Never Have Too Many Books
The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin - Books and Movies
Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore- A Library of My Own
Lamb by Bonnie Nadzan - Farm Lane Books Blog

Jan 17, 2013

The Camera My Mother Gave Me

by Susanna Kaysen

This book has sat on my shelf for ages. I picked it up because I did so like her earlier memoir Girl, Interrupted.

It's quite unlike anything I've ever read. It was a book I could not put down- I don't have a lot of spare time to read anymore but found myself making time, even if it was in fragments here and there, to read this. Kaysen has a voice I really love- frank, honest, directly to the point, often makes me laugh but sympathize and feel acute sorrow as well. Her story is one I don't think often gets told. She narrates the turmoil her life becomes when she is suddenly stricken with chronic pain, in the most private region of her body. Doctors can't explain it, myriad treatments fail to work. She consults her friends (a very informed group), reads medical journals, visits specialists and alternative clinics and has a terrible time with her boyfriend. The relationship goes sour very quickly when intimacy becomes painful for her. She even starts to question if it's all just psychological.

I was riveted to this story. It's refreshing to read something so honest dealing with an aspect of a woman's life that most people don't even talk about. The details were vivid, but not too much for me. She's very good at cutting to the quick of things. I have to say I am really glad I read this, because it made me recognize some things about my own life. Although I've not had the same medical condition, I'd read conversations in the book between her and her boyfriend and then sit there in shock, staring at the page. The words echoed exactly some things that my husb and I said to each other, many times. I recognized immediately the wrongness of it when in a story; why did it take me so long to recognize it in my own situation? It made me realize that for a long time things were not right between us and it is probably a good thing that we are apart now.

So now you know more about me than you probably did before, because of this book.

I must note a lot of other reviews I saw online complain about this book: it's all Kaysen whining about her pain, talking about her vagina. Well yeah, that's what the book is about. And I think if you had constant pain so bad it hurt to simply sit on the sofa, to drive a car, to put on a pair of jeans, you'd be preoccupied with it too...

It's really good. Go read it, if you're not too squeamish about women's health issues and some frank discussions of intimacy. Be ready for a few good laughs as well.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 158 pages, 2001

more opinions:
"down there"
Life Under a Rock

Jan 16, 2013

Architecture Counts

by Michael Crosbie and Steve Rosenthal

I really like this little board book series that has counting, shapes, colors, etc. all associated with architecture. It's unique from most of the other kid books I see that tend to have cute animals, babies, familiar household objects or food items. This one is about counting- each page has a picture of part of a building and a number to count a certain feature- three dormers, five arches, eight chimneys and so on. The last page shows a large building with lots of windows, columns, chimneys and things for a child to count on his own. But I happen to especially like how it starts out- a picture of an open landscape with the caption 0 buildings.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 26 pages, 1993

Jan 14, 2013

Island of the Loons

by Dayton O. Hyde

Another book I picked up on a whim at the Book Thing, this one also shelved among bird books but not quite as erroneously as the last. It does feature loons although they are not really central to the story- or at least, did not feel so to me. This story is about a boy who grows up in a town on Lake Superior. He doesn't know his parents and has pretty much been raised by the whole town, is something of a scamp but well-liked by everyone. He goes missing one day in a storm (has his own fishing boat at fourteen) and ends up on an uninhabited island in the lake, with an escaped convict as his companion. At first the kid tries repeatedly to get off the island and turn the man in, but when the convict gets injured the boy nurses him back to health. They are pretty much trapped there for the winter, and end up slowly developing a friendship as the man's growing interest in nature (especially birds) seems to soften his nature. There's a happy ending in more ways than one- not only does the convict find a way to redeem himself to society, as it were, but the boy also meets one of his long-lost family members, although that is only thrown in at the very end of the book and you don't get any reaction to it at all.

Well. It's a good story, but it didn't really captivate me. Probably because it's written for younger readers and so lacked the detail or complexity I wanted. There wasn't enough about nature to suit me, even the appearance of wolves later in the story was kind of disappointing. I was also surprised at how extremely adept these two were at surviving in the wilderness- a young teenager and a man who'd been locked up for years were able to easily enough find and gather food, fell trees, build a cabin, etc. Maybe if you grow up in those northern parts these skills are just something everyone knows but it seemed a little too convenient. Yes, they had mishaps and struggles but getting supplies and knowing how to fix or build things was never an obstacle. It seemed a bit unrealistic.

The island really does exist, and it is a location where wildlife was studied and battled over to save the land from commercial development; so the brief afterward informs me. I just have to say I probably would have loved this book had I read it ten or more years ago, but I can't help compare it to the other books by this author I've read, based on his own experiences, which I found much more enjoyable.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 155 pages, 1984

Jan 13, 2013

Dear Zoo

by Rod Campbell

A child writes to the zoo asking for a pet. Each page has the shipping container, which open in various ways-  and usually there is a bit of the animal peeking out. Lift the flaps and see what arrived- but most of them are of course unsuitable as pets- elephant, giraffe, lion, etc and get returned to the zoo. They keep diminishing in size down to a monkey, frog and finally a puppy which the child decides to keep. I think it's really cute and my toddler likes "opening" each package to find the animal inside. She loves puppies right now, so it has the perfect ending. My favorite page is the one featuring a lion- the flap of the crate actually has gaps cut so you see the lion's body through it- as pictured on the cover- and my kid always points out (delightedly) that his tongue is showing as the lion roars!

Rating: 4/5 ....... 18 pages, 1982

Jan 11, 2013

Bunny Rabbit in the Sunlight

by Kate Endle and Caspar Babypants

I think this little book is so wonderful, even though my toddler doesn't (once again!) share my opinion. It has lovely illustrations by Kate Endle of What is Green? and apparently the text is also a song- you can hear a bit of it here. Very catchy and cute. And the book is pretty unique, for baby fare. It's not just about naming animals or recognizing colors, but shows individual animals in their different habitats, and names the kind of light they're basking (or sleeping, etc) in. So it's not just sunlight and moonlight but starlight (skunk wandering across a yard), fog light (whale by a lighthouse), lamplight, lantern light, candle light, dawn light, twilight and so on. I really enjoyed this one. I'm holding onto it for a bit even though my kid shows little interest and won't sit through it. Maybe she will if I sing!

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

Jan 9, 2013

The Big Eating Book

by Guido van Genechten

I seem to be making a round of poor choices, for my toddler's taste in books lately. This one I happen to almost agree with her assessment, though, which equals that of the last book. The book is about how kids eat, compared to other animals. First shows an infant nursing with a young boy looking on. Then shows a variety of animals eating different kinds of foods- the orangutan only eats fruit, the rabbit likes veggies, squirrel has nuts, the goat eats grass and so forth. I like that the last page of animals shows butterflies and says they get their food from flowers! Then we see the little boy again, eagerly raising his fork and spoon before a spread of spaghetti, salad, soup and bread. And on the next page he gets three desserts! I don't know why but something about the ending doesn't sit right with me. I like that it showed how we eat a variety of foods- but did the boy have to have three bowls of ice cream? I guess kids would find it delightful, though. And I do like the quality of the illustrations.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 20 pages, 2007

Jan 8, 2013


by Helen Collins

I really picked up this book by mistake. Probably because of the title, it was shelved among nature books on birds, where I found it browsing at the Book Thing. It was an interesting read, but not really my kind of book.

Egret is about a young woman named Jodi trying to make her way in New York City. She's an artist, and her experiences adjusting to city life, living in crowded apartments with roommates who don't share your interests, and the often-desperate embarrassment caused by feeling like you'll never get out of poverty were all things I could relate to (from my years as an art student). Her experiences with budding sexual awareness and entanglement with various love interests were foreign to me. She's lesbian, also a virgin and very uncomfortable when her roommates drag her along to bars and nightclubs. Then they convince her to accompany them to Long Island, using an older woman's interest in her and her desire to see the local wetlands and wildlife, to get into a party, where they promptly ditch her. Lots of strange experiences unfold. I could not comprehend the behavior of many characters in this story, and the apparent love-at-first-sight scenario between two people from opposite backgrounds and social classes seemed very unlikely to me. Even up until the end of the story, I couldn't always understand what was going on, people's reactions to each other just did not make sense to me.

The book did make a good point that stereotypes are usually incorrect, whether it was from straight people judging the homosexuals they knew, or the other way around. I found their constant misunderstandings of each other rather amusing, although sometimes a puzzle to work out. But there were other problems with the book, for me. The writing often felt awkward, unpolished. The characters' inner thoughts and opinions on each other were all over-explained, yet in a way that left me with really no sense of who they were. I kept getting her three main friends mixed up; even though they were very different people their characters were unclear to me for a long time. I enjoyed the parts that had to do with art, but felt disappointed there wasn't a bit more depth there. And the aspect of the story that had to do with wildlife conservation felt unrealistic, an extra thing tacked onto the story that didn't really fit. I wished it had fit in better, but most of the narrative seemed to be about who-thought-this-about-whom and which party Jodi was awkwardly navigating now or who she was having overwhelming feelings for (in spite of hardly knowing them) and I just didn't care for all that.

Anyhow, it was interesting and I liked reading about the life-in-the-big-city with an artistic bent, but it's not a reading experience I'll care to repeat.

Rating: 2/5 ......... 220 pages, 2001

Jan 7, 2013

Babies on the Go

by Linda Ashman
illustrated by Jane Dyer

This is another board book that my child just doesn't like, protests when I pull it out and we never get through more than a few pages. I however think it's lovely- all about how different infants are carried about by their mothers. The first page shows a baby in a stroller, then goes through a variety of animals: swan cygnet tucked under wing, baby bat clinging to its mom, lion cub dangling by its nape, anteater riding piggyback, kangaroo joey tucked in a pocket and so forth. It's got some nice rhymes and shows a wide variety of animals and methods of taking their babies from here to there. The last spread shows human infants once again, in different kinds of infant carriers, strollers, baby slings etc. The illustrations are nice with very gentle lines and colors, perhaps the lack of strong contrast, bright colors or general liveliness is what bores my kid. I'll try it on her again a few more times when we're in quieter moments, then back to the library it goes!

Rating: 3/5 ....... 32 pages, 2003

Jan 6, 2013

Garden Anywhere

by Alys Fowler

This is my favorite book right now. It has galvanized me into doing new things for my little garden. I was kind of dismayed at first at the lack of space and open ground I now have, living in an apartment. But I do have big windows with lots of southern light, and a decent-sized balcony. And suddenly I am excited about the prospects of spring again, I have all kinds of plans. Thanks to the inspiration that is Garden Anywhere.

I used to always kind of ignore the advice in gardening books about container and small-space gardening, but now that's what I need to learn, so this book was perfect. It's all about gardening in a city environment, in a rental unit or small space, when you don't have permanence to put a lot of effort into the soil, for instance. She talks about choosing containers, utilizing space, understanding the needs of your plants- light, soil, moisture, etc. Discusses aesthetics, recommends easy plants, pretty ones and tasty ones. Stresses the importance of being environmental-friendly, of saving your own seed, of growing organically, of learning to deal with the pests in ways that don't hurt others. She gave me enough info on making a worm bin that I am hoping to create my own plant food again, and taught me some new stuff about composting as well. Introduced me to a whole slew of new favorite websites. And even better than all that, she discusses all kinds of ways to re-use or find materials you need for your garden, or make it yourself. She calls it "scrap crafting" and this is my kind of thing! I got a lot of new ideas on things to use and make, and hers are usually attractive-looking to boot. I took tons of notes; if you're interested in the details they're over here.

rating: 5/5 ......... 192 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Eco-Library blog
apartment therapy
Folkways Notebook
Velvet nectar

Jan 4, 2013

Every Season

by Anne Love Woodhull 
and Shelley Rotner

This is a wonderful picture book celebration the seasons. It starts off proclaiming I love spring and subsequent text and pictures depict the joys of spring: fresh rainfall, sprouting seeds, eggs in bird nests, ducklings and flowers and baby animals galore. But then summer comes and I love summer too, it continues. Summer features visits to the beach, running barefoot on the grass, watching butterflies, tasting watermelon and lemonade, etc. Autum pages show the beauty of leaves turning colors, of seeing geese fly across the sky, picking pumpkins and enjoying pears and apples, feeling the wind. Winter has glittering icicles and fun in the snow, ponies with thick warm coats, the comforts of hot chocolate and bundling up warm. Then it cycles around again with I love spring and a picture of bright green, new leaves.

There are so many things I like about this book. The photographs are very nice. It shows not only how things change in nature and how the animals behave in different seasons, but also how we change our clothes, the differences in weather, and what foods are enjoyed fresh. There's something exciting, fun or wonderful to discover about each time of year. Perhaps my favorite page is the one with pictures of the lovely, secretive patterns animal tracks leave across the snow. My toddler has little patience for longer books but she will sit quietly through this one.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 32 pages, 2007

Jan 3, 2013

staggering list

It's been a while since I compiled a TBR list, so this will be rather long. These are titles I've discovered via the following bloggers, which I now want to read myself someday.

Books found in my public library system:
Lives of the Trees by Diana Wells- Garden Rant
The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire- Things Mean a Lot
The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins- Opinions of a Wolf
Brain on Fire by Susannah Callahan- Sophisticated Dorkiness and Shelf Love
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers - Farm Lane Books Blog
Rabid by Bill Wasik- Things Mean a Lot
Arcadia by Lauren Groff- Farm Lane Books Blog
January First by Michael Schoenfield- At Home with Books and Bermudaonion
Chained by Lynne Kelly from Presenting Lenore
the Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban- Shelf Love
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky- At Home with Books
Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh- Opinions of a Wolf
Breasts : a natural and unnatural history by Florence Williams- Superfast Reader
Chi's Sweet Home by Konami Kanata from Puss Reboots
Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks- Sophisticated Dorkiness and Bermudaonion
A Country Life by Roy Strong- The Captive Reader
Fools Crow by James Welch- The Lost Entwife
Jane by Robin Maxwell- the Lost Entwife
Giant George by Dave Nasser from Shannon's Book Bag
Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti- The Book Lady's Blog
War Horse by Michale Morpurgo- Kyusi Reader
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Gilman- At Home with Books
Comet's Tale by Steven Wolf from Diary of an Eccentric
the Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin- Commonweeder
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall from Sophisticated Dorkiness
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman- At Home with Books
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin- The Lost Entwife
The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy- Bookfoolery and Babble

Books not found there, which will go onto my TBR backlog ...
The Guests of War Trilogy by Kit Pearson- The Captive Reader
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin - A Work in Progress
The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd - Caroline Bookbinder
Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenger- Farm Lane Books Blog
Seasons on the Pacific Coast by Susan Tweit- Beautiful Wildlife Garden
Doppler by Erlend Loe - Jules' Book Reviews
Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh- Reading Through Life
The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns - A Work in Progress
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie - Shelf Love
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett- Iris on Books
More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby- Things Mean a Lot
the Roots of My Obsession edited by Thomas Cooper - Garden Rant
A Cat Named Squeeky by Vic Reskovic - Puss Reboots
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson- Opinions of a Wolf
The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman- Things Mean a Lot
the Cow by Beat Sterchi - Farm Lane Books Blog
Settled in the Wild by Susan H. Shetterly- Garden Rant
The Surrounded by D'Arcy McNickle- The Lost Entwife
A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller- A Work in Progress
Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue- Iris on Books
The Voyage of QV66 by Penelope Lively - Indextrious Reader
We're Flying by Peter Stamm- Shelf Love
The War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen- Farm Lane Books Blog
City Foxes by Susan Tweit-  Beautiful Wildlife Garden
Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling- Cold Antler Farm
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy- The Octogon

Jan 2, 2013

double-dog dare

At the very last minute last night I decided to join once again in CB James' TBR Dare. It's a Double-Dog Dare this year. Basically to only read books off your TBR stack (I have many) until April Fool's day. I think I can make it this year, even though I fear I will not read a large number. I have been so slow at reading the past few books I got from the library were renewed two or three times, and some by the time I got around to reading them, I no longer had interest!

Well, for the duration of the Dare I'm still going to post (when it interests me to do so) about the books I read with my children, but the books I read for my own enjoyment or edification will be from my TBR bookcase (or one of the nearby piles on the floor).

You can read more about the Dare at Ready When You Are, CB.

Jan 1, 2013

Hothouse Kids

the Dilemma of the Gifted Child
by Alissa Quart

I found this book browsing at the library; the title and then the cover image really caught my interest. It's all about "gifted" children in American society. I found it quite interesting at first but slowly my involvement in the book started to lag. The author looks critically at the recent surge in popularity of products (think Baby Einstein) that claim to improve infants' learning ability or intelligence and the plethora of classes and intense instruction for the very young- I didn't know that formal soccer training was all the rage for three-year-olds! There are chapters that delve into the issues surrounding specialized education, others that look at competitions young kids are fiercely involved in- scrabble or chess tournaments and the like. She talks about the difference between kids who are intently interested in their specialized pursuits and others who are pushed into it by their parents. Most of the children she discussed seemed to either shine as a child prodigy and then turn out to be rather normal adults, acutely missing the former attention; or grew up resenting the loss of their childhood to the pressure to perform and schedules full of classes or structured activities. Very few, it appears, ended up successful in a field related to what they excelled at when young.

So... it was very intense but often the arguments seemed a bit unfinished to me, or the plethora of quotes and studies referred to simply lost me. I did pay more attention to the stuff about infants and very young children, probably because I can relate to that easier than the stories of parents pushing their kids into the limelight or prepping them for private preschools, or getting heavily involved in homeschooling when they feel public school systems fall short. I found myself agreeing with the author's position that baby-educating videos are probably a waste of time; children learn far better in their natural environment (taught by people and experience) than by sitting in front of a screen (and the idea that listening to Mozart benefits young developing brains is, she claims, based on two small studies whose results were never successfully repeated- it's more a cultural myth than anything).

However, she seems to also dismiss the benefits of teaching babies sign language and I disagreed. Admittedly I didn't teach my baby very many signs- I tried about eight or ten and she ended up learning and using half a dozen, but I found them very useful. I don't know if teaching her sign language necessarily enhanced her language development, or affected her later-in-life reading skills (that wasn't my goal anyways) but I do believe that it lessened some possibility of frustration, as she was able to communicate a few basic wants or needs before learning to talk: "more", "eat", "drink", "potty" etc. It did take a lot of patience. I know I repeated the first sign for two months, perhaps longer, before she first used it herself- so the author's criticism when observing a class of infants being shown a few signs -I wondered what the teachers and the parents thought their children got out of it- seems unfair to me. Most of those babies probably never made signs themselves in class, only at home and after their parents/caregivers repeated them many times in a familiar environment and appropriate context.

Anyways, I think I've gone off on a tangent here. The book is good- I got two-thirds read before realized I simply didn't want to go further. It probably doesn't help that I'm tired all the time lately (have a headcold). It's one I might come back to later, as I was particularly curious about the ideas of how early intensive education affected people's attitudes and emotions in their adult life. Either this wasn't addressed in detail enough to stand out to me, or I didn't get to that part yet. I ended up skipping the final chapters about youth competitions, child prodigies who preached religion (really?) and math whiz kids recruited to work for investment and finance companies.

Abandoned ......... 260 pages, 2006

more opinions:
Reading is My Superpower
Read the Other Day

what was 2012

Here's a look at what turned out to be a rather quiet year for me, in terms of book blogging. There was just so much change in my life that reading and blogging kind of took a backseat, and once again the numbers reveal how much my reading focus shifts from year to year. This was definitely a year of light reads and escapism. And more time spent snuggling with kids reading their choices, than spent reading my own. I started out intending to keep a running tally as I did in 2011, but lost track halfway through the year. So as usual, the count might not add up exactly (some books span two or more categories) but more or less here's what I read.

Total books read- 158
(including the baby/board books)

Fiction- 88
Non-fiction- 24
(this count doesn't include the baby books)

further breakdown:

Memoirs- 8
Gardening/Food- 7
Nature- 3
Parenting- 1
Animals nonfiction- 5
Other nonfiction- 4

Fantasy- 23 (I think most of these were Sandman volumes)
YA- 6
Animals in fiction- 50 (and most of these were Thornton Burgess books)
J Fiction- 56 (and most of these were comic books or chapter books read with my kid)
Picture books- 8
Baby books- 54

Short story collections- 1
Graphic novels- 46

Owned books- 50
Library books- 117
Borrowed from a friend- 1
From another blogger- 1
Review copies- 1

Abandoned books- 6
Re-reads- 5

Places I visited this year via books: England, Paris, Kenya, Tanzania, Canada and India.

These numbers are not impressive at all. A solid third of those books were baby books. Of the rest of the books read, half were J fiction and/or graphic novels, which is a lot of light reading. I am glad that I read many more graphic novels than I ever did before; that was enjoyable. Also glad that I continued to use the library a lot, as well as whittle away at my own piles.

The most memorable books of the year for me were Pride of Baghdad, Blankets (both graphic novels) and Wasted (not exactly a feel-good book but very powerful, one you can't stop thinking about). In terms of nature writing, I think my favorite book of the year was Swampwalker's Journal.