Feb 28, 2018

A Horse Called Dragon

by Lynn Hall

Another older horse story, one I'm sure I must have read as a kid, borrowed from my elementary school library. It's a fictional account of a real horse, an Appaloosa mustang from the Sierra Madre mountains in Michoacán. Who was caught and brought into captivity to become a founding sire of the POA breed. This little book tells of his early life, years as a stallion defending his band, modes of survival. His capture and slow adjustment to a new way of life (the mares tamed pretty quickly in this story, which I found amusingly implausible but oh well).  For such a short book, it's a surprisingly satisfying read. Very well-written. I like how it shows things from the stallion's viewpoint- what he would have understood, his reactions and decisions according to various circumstances. There's vampire bats in this book too, which feed on the horses at night and sometimes endanger the newborn foals. In that area of Mexico the bats are still a common threat to livestock.

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1971

Feb 26, 2018


Wild Stallion of the West
by Rutherford Montgomery

An older book I picked up secondhand somewhere. It's about horses that live on a cattle range in the southwest. In particular, one fine black mare owned by the ranch but allowed to run free on the range and an old squatter living in a cabin in the high country who admires her. The mare sometimes mixes with a band of wild horses. When she goes missing the squatter is accused of stealing her. Things happen, the mare goes off on her own and raises a colt in seclusion. Later the mare dies and the young horse grows up on his own, eventually challenging the stallion of the wild band, drawing attention of a ranch hand who recognizes he must be the offspring of the missing mare. This guy determines that catching the young stallion and showing it to the ranch owner will exonerate the squatter- plus acquiring himself a fine horse. His plan to catch the wild black horse does not turn out so easily.

I was skeptical of this story at first, but it turned out to be pretty good in the end. While it has a lot of vivid descriptions of the scenery, weather and interactions of various wildlife, much of the animal behavior is exaggerated or downright inaccurate and had me rolling my eyes. For example, wolves don't hamstring their prey, and the mating behavior of bears described in here made me laugh outright, it was so ludicrous. It's obviously written to be exciting for young readers, with a lot of vicious battles between wild animals for survival, and sensational scenes. The young black horse fights off (at different times) wolves, cougars and a bald eagle, survives an encounter with a bear, and battles another stallion on the edge of a cliff. But then many depictions of how the wild horses live, elk in the rutting season, mule deer interacting with the mare and her colt, are very nicely done. I really found the final third of the book more interesting, when the young stallion had taken over the band but obviously did not know how to lead the mares, and had to face his human opponent.

I happened to like the ending, particularly because it had some unexpected outcomes.

Rating: 3/5                 274 pages, 1940

Feb 25, 2018

Winter Pony

by Jean Slaughter Doty

I wanted this book because it's a sequel to Summer Pony- one I loved reading many times over as a child. I haven't written about the first book yet- last time I read it was long before I started blogging. Basically it's about a girl who gets her dream pony- which turns out to be an unkempt mare from a rundown pony-ride circle. Keeping Mokey is more hard work than she ever thought.

Winter Pony takes place after Ginny has learned more or less how to care for her pony through the summer, and made a small space for it in the backyard. She's looking forward to riding in the snow, especially when she finds out her friend's dad has an old (but well-kept) sleigh in storage. With the help and close tutelage of the stable hand (a guy who used to race in steeplechases, had to retire after an injury and now works in the stable- familiar character from other horse stories I think) she learns to harness Mokey to the sleigh and how to drive her pony. It is a very long process and Ginny often gets impatient. Finally they are able to ride in the sleigh, driving Mokey in circles around the property and across nearby fields.Then one day when they are unsupervised, the girls unwisely take the pony driving on a road and have a very close call with a snowplow.

That's the entire first half of the story. The second part is about Ginny's shock and delight when she finds out her pony is expecting a foal. She endures a long anxious time waiting for the foal to be born, and then is appalled when her pony doesn't react in a loving manner to the newborn. Once again the stable man teaches- coaxing the pony to accept her offspring, and instructing Ginny how to care for them both.

It's a nice horse story for kids, but somehow is rather lackluster compared to the first book. And mine seems to end abruptly, when Ginny happily goes to the house to get some carrots for her pony soon after the foaling. There are no endpapers, so I'm not sure if my book is actually missing a few pages, or if it ends just so! I'll have to find a library copy and check.

Rating: 2/5      106 pages, 1975

The Crumb

by Jean Slaughter Doty

A horse story about show jumping. The young girl who narrates it has a scruffy pony she keeps in her backyard. She needs to buy her pony a new winter blanket, so takes a job at a nearby stable where more well-to-do kids have riding lessons. The stable owner is so impressed, she's allowed to bring her pony to work, and goes along to horse shows as an assistant. Where she ogles the beautiful, famous horses owned by wealthy folks, listens in on gossip, and finds out about a scandal revolving around some rich stable owner who discards horses by dishonest means, to collect insurance money. The girl inadvertently gets way too involved, and results are devastating for her. Honestly I was shocked when the tragic event occurred only two-thirds through the book. I wondered what could transpire afterward, but it had a tidy ending- a tad predictable, but overall I was impressed how the author dropped hints, subtly allowing the reader to figure out what really happened. Nice story. And very horsey. I don't know how accurate the details are about training methods, show conditions, shady means used to improve a horse's performance, etc- but it felt very realistic. Grimy underside to a world full of girls who love horses, and wealthy folks who want to show off with them.

Rating: 3/5         122 pages, 1976

Feb 22, 2018


by Peter Dickinson

This is the sequel to The Devil's Children, and I'm glad to say the story more or less stands on its own. It's set five years after the Changes which made people in England revolt against technology (some kind of mental sickness) and flee the cities, living in small villages and farming communities while deliberating avoiding modern conveniences. A man from America (unaffected by the Change) who arrived on foreign shores to find out what is going on in England is attacked and stoned for being a "witch". Two young people rescue him in secret. He's severely injured but they hide him in a shed and nurse him back to health with rough care. The kids are gradually becoming disaffected by the Change- the girl Margaret still feels uneasy around machinery but is curiously compelled to visit the empty city and explore. The boy on the farm, Jonathan, is intrigued by machines and good at figuring out how they work. Together they form a plan to get the injured man out of the country. It involves Jonathan manning an old tugboat through the canals while Margaret rides ahead on her pony to open bridges. It has to be secret because the locals are highly suspicious of anything unusual; even their maid's brother Tim, a gentle man with mental disabilities, is at risk of being called a witch and killed by the community simply because he is different. The plot of the rescue mission is really straightforward, what makes this book so much better is how well its characters are written. Jonthan is quick of mind and keen about solving problems, yet totally callous and dismissive of animals- when a pony balks at getting aboard the tug he just says "I hate horses" in disgust. Margaret for her part finds anything remotely mechanical confusing and avoids being around it, but is remarkably patient with the ponies and understands their behavior and needs very well. She's also pretty brave- getting chased by a pack of feral dogs, and baiting an aggressive bull as a diversion during the getaway. They make an interesting contrast and a good team. Too bad there wasn't more of the other characters in the story- the foreigner, the maid and her brother Tim are all interesting people as well. but play minor roles. It was a pretty good read. A few times it seemed like the kids made remarkably complex plans or conveniently drew overly quick conclusions, but I took it in stride to enjoy the story. The ending surprised me somewhat.

Rating: 3/5          189 pages, 1969

Feb 19, 2018

The Devil's Children

by Peter Dickinson

This one was a bit odd. It's apocalyptic fiction where humanity is seized by some kind of mass infectious horror of machinery. They smash cars and radios, go berserk in riots against technology and then flee cities en masse. Disease plagues spread and society breaks down with small groups of people surviving in isolation, wary of outsiders.

However most of the book isn't actually about that- it's only described briefly in the forward and epilogue, with a few instances where the main character herself is seized by a mindless urge of violence when she sees someone try to start a bus, for example, or hears someone talk about farm equipment or radios by name. She's ten or twelve, I was never sure of the age, and lost her family in a riot. She attaches herself to a travelling group of Indian Sikhs, originally immigrants. For some strange reason people of other nationalities were not affected by the madness against machines, only the English. The Sikhs let her join them as a kind of insurance, they call her their "canary" because she can tell them what kind of actions or conversation will trigger the rage of their English neighbors. They set up a community on abandoned farmland but then have to deal with nearby English group who have formed themselves into a feudal system. These neighbors are suspicious and afraid of the Sikhs, even rumoring them to be Old Ones or Fae. Most of the story is about the girl's adjustment to living among people foreign to her- I'm not sure how accurately it describes Sikh culture but it depicted them as very honorable and relatively proud people. In the later part of the book, the girl takes a key role in their dealings with the English group, being a go-between and carrying messages, then later forming key strategies when it ends up in a battle. It seemed a bit improbable that a young kid would have such a leading role in strategies against the enemy, but what do I know. However I was doubtful enough that it kind of flattened my enjoyment of the story.

I got this book on swap because I acquired its sequel at a hotel, and wanted to read the series in order. Turns out this one was rather lackluster for me, but luckily the second one seems to stand on its own and I'm already enjoying it more.

Nothing to do with the story itself, but I did really like the decoration on the cover and chapter headings, which has a medieval or celtic-looking pattern intertwining with gear cogs.

Rating: 2/5          187 pages, 1970

The Complete Book of African Violets

by Helen van Pelt Wilson

This is an older book about the specific cultivation of african violets as houseplants, written when they were new on the scene and wildly popular. It is easy to read having a friendly style, and quite informative in spite of its age. I learned for example, that foliage isn't necessarily damaged by water contact- only if it is a lot colder in temperature and of course keep it out of the crown. In fact this book recommends regularly rinsing leaves off with light spray, to keep clean of dust. I didn't know that violets could be grown hydroponically, nor that propagation can be taken from the same individual leaf multiple times by restarting each instant the new young plant is cut free of the petiole. The care instructions are very thorough, but I would look for modern methods of pest control. The chemicals and pesticides the author recommends sound downright dangerous. There are chapters explaining how to share plants and leaf cuttings through the mail, how to grow violets commercially in greenhouses, how to conduct judged violet shows, and the difficulties of describing and naming new varieites. Illustrations in linework are quiet nice and have a lovely detailed texture of fuzziness on the leaves. The actual color photographs are amusingly quaint. I'm keeping this one around, and am now perhaps interested in acquiring a few more african violets myself. (I only have two right now, but am awful fond of them).

Rating: 4/5       247 pages, 1951

Feb 18, 2018

On the Wing

To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon
by Alan Tennant

After reading Peregrine Spring, I looked among my own shelves for some more falconry-related titles. I thought this one looked promising, in fact I had two copies of it among my unread-books, one picked up at a library sale and the other from The Book Thing. I guess it caught my eye twice for the same reason. It's written by a man who sometime in the eighties or nineties (my best guess) became suddenly gripped by the idea of following an individual peregrine falcon on its migration jouney- not just mapping its path on a screen via radio-tracking, but physically trailing it in a light aircraft. It sounds intriguing, especially for the time when little was known about peregrines, their exact routes and how juveniles fared on their first migration. But something about the book didn't quite work for me. The way the author apparently appropriated others' equipment for his un-sanctioned study kind of put me off. I thought the descriptions of flight in a small plane -akin to Saint-Exuprey's writing- would interest me, but it didn't. And actual descriptions of the birds are few and far between. They did learn some new things about how peregrines respond to certain weather patterns and their hunting styles, and there are some good observations from nesting sites in the arctic. Unfortunately most of the book seems to be about the travels, difficulties getting around regulations, encounters with loads of strangers, and effects of man on the environment -noticeable from the air- where the writing style just did not engage me. I found myself skipping around a lot to read the parts that actually described the peregrines. I probably missed a lot in the process and this is one case where I'm rather disappointed in myself for not appreciating a book properly.

Rating: 2/5          304 pages, 2004

Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat

A Calvin and Hobbes Collection
by Bill Watterson

I lingered over this one because it's the last of my Calvin and Hobbes books until I find a few more volumes. More nostalgic stuff of childhood: decoding secret messages, imagining grand schemes. First half is a lot of christmas glory and social commentary (or criticism of his parents) presented in snowman artwork. Calvin's dad shows himself to be an avid cyclist and takes the family camping- which both Calvin and his mom resent. The kid for his part gets regular thrills careening down slopes on a sled in winter, in a red wagon during the warm months. I cracked a smile at how Susie the girl-next-door calmly thwarts his plans to clobber her with snowballs, water balloons or some other kind of ambush. Their attempts to "play house" together, shown in a different comic art style, are hilarious. The larger horizontal format does make this book awkward to handle in softcover and I don't know if it adds much to appreciating the artwork as there are rather wide page margins.

Rating: 3/5         175 pages, 1994

The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes

A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury 
by Bill Watterson

I thoroughly enjoyed reading more Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin speculates on the realities of Santa Claus, makes terrible faces for family photos, resists bathtime, fights the babysitter, teases the girl next door mercilessly, procrastinates doing homework, imagines he's saving the world from distasters with superpowers, or rampaging around as a dinosaur, and argues with his more level-headed best friend tiger Hobbes. I laughed through many pages. I had forgotten the episode where the family's house got broken into. In this volume he starts his club against "slimy girls" and makes his cardboard-box duplicator. Yeah, second half of the book was suddenly a repeat-read for me that I skipped over: it's the entire contents of Scientific Progress Goes "Boink". With the improvement that this volume has all the weekend strips in full color. So now I know which one is immediately getting weeded from my collection as a redundancy.

Rating: 3/5         255 pages, 1992

Feb 13, 2018

Peregrine Spring

A Master Falconer's Extraordinary Life with Birds of Prey
by Nancy Cowan

The more I read about falconry, the more it fascinates me. This was one of those books that engaged me so much, I just couldn't read it fast enough. The author and her husband keep and fly birds of prey. Through this book Cowan shares many of her experiences with a variety of hawks and falcons. I learned so much about them. How they are raised, trained, rehabilitated, the differences between flying a hawk and a falcon. It was also really interesting to me how dinstinctly the birds behaved towards people according to their origins- those that were caught from the wild, born in captivity but hand-reared by humans, bred and raised by their own parents, or older trained birds transferred to a new handler, all so different. Each bird had its individual traits which required close observation and fine-tuned response by the handler. Cowan explains the birds are not pets but hunting partners. Some of them they hunt in partnership with bird dogs, that was really cool to read about. She and her husband worked for over a year with legislation to establish falconry as a legal sport in New Hampshire when they moved there, so they could fly their birds. Later she worked again through a lot of legal forms to apply for a rehabilitation license, to take in an injured bird of prey that would benefit from being flown by a falconer. She and her husband established a school of falconry, and spent many hours as volunteers conducting demonstrations and outreach programs to teach children and the public about the birds. So many stories, so many details. One very interesting chapter about efforts to relocate peregrine chicks to a new nest site that was safer (the parent birds had laid their eggs on a very narrow skyscraper window ledge). Sometimes close calls and near-accidents; injuries, lost birds, occasionally death. But the thrills and fierce joy all worth it. If I ever have chance to observe a flight demonstration again, I will watch more closely to see if I can note some of the behaviors and responses described to me in this book. I'd hope to understand a little better what I see, from what I have read of others' understanding.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5         265 pages, 2016

Easy-Care Guide to Houseplants

by Jack Kramer

Like any other book on plants, this one goes over the basics of selecting healthy plants, situating them in the correct location in your home, general care in terms of feeding, watering, pest and disease control (non-toxic methods emphasized), very basic soil mixes and propagation. There's also an entire chapter about how to choose plants that look nice in the room- complementing decor and using design principles. A lot of it was repetitive information for me, but I did appreciate the diagrams on how to hang plants with proper support, and how to build a simple rack for grow lights. The second half of the book is species profiles, arranged by families (I didn't know that my foxtail fern is in the lily family! or that coleus are also called "painted nettle"). I was hoping to find some specific instructions on a few plants I've struggled with- but the info here was very general. The best I can figure is that my boston fern simply needs repotting with fresh soil every season. This book says that orchids are easy, but I've killed every one I had. In one case I found a picture that seemed mislabeled. African violets were on the same spread; this picture looks just like another kind of African violet to me.
And my mother used to grow primroses, they have different kind of leaves. Which makes me wonder if there are more errors. Because I was happy to learn the names of many common foliage houseplants I see all the time- but now I don't know if they're all accurate in here. For example, this photo looks just like a plant my daughter recently bought (sans flowers), which was only labeled as "foliage plant" so I didn't know its name. I look up Medinilla and I think it's the same plant but she's doubtful.
I do have to say, the photographs in here are all excellent quality. Very nice-looking lush plants, quite a few I'd like to add to my own collection now. I found this book at a library discard sale.

Rating: 3/5         192  pages, 1999

Feb 12, 2018

it's time for one of these posts again

at my public library:
Alone on the Ice by David Roberts- Caroline Bookbinder
Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange - Bookfool
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui - Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Butchering Art by Lindsay Fitzharris- Caroline Bookbinder
Starfish by Akemi Bowman- Reading the End
World Without Mind by Franklin Foer- Across the Page
Dear Farenheit 451 by Annie Spence- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Spinning by Tillie Walden- Caroline Bookbinder
Spliced by Jonathan McGoran- Melody's Reading Corner
Quackery by Lydia Kang- Bookfool
The Life of Buzzards by P.J. Dare
Mindblind by Jennifer Roy- James Reads Books
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan- Bermudaonion's Weblog
A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson
A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson
The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett- Shelf Love
Mini Aquariums by David Boruchowitz
Browsings by Michael Dirda- Captive Reader
Rescue Road by Peter Zheutlin
The Life of Mammals by David Attenborough
The Possibility Dogs by Susannah Charleson
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn- Melody's Reading Corner
Wild Bird by Wendelin van Draanen - It's All About Books
The Most Perfect Thing by Tim Birkhead
Achtung Baby by Sarah Zaske- Caroline Bookbinder
The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton
One Wild Bird at a Time by Bernd Heinrich
Wallace by Jim Gorant
A False Report by Christian Miller- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys by Candace Savage- Indextrious Reader

not at the library:
Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti- Farm Lane Books Blog
Portage by Sue Leaf- Sophisticated Dorkiness
MIS(H)ADRA by Iasmin Omar Ata- Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Breathless Zoo by Rachel Poliquin
It's Just Nerves by Kelly Davio- Diary of an Eccentric
Heirs of Columbus by Gerald Vizenor- Shelf Love
More Was Lost by Eleanor Perenyi - Bookfool
Multiple Choice by Janet Tasjian- James Reads Books
Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades- A Work in Progress
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky- Thistle-Chaser
Walkabout by James Vance Marshall- Bookfool
Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout- Thistle-Chaser
The Rat by G. M. A. Hewett- Neglected Books Page
Houseplants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf- Commonweeder
They Never Talk Back by Henry Trefflich
Saber-Tooth by Lou Cadle- Thistle-Chaser
I Loved Rogues by George "Slim" Lewis
Bring 'Em Back Alive by Frank Buck
Wild Tigers and Tame Fleas by Bill Ballantine
Roam Alone edited by Jennifer Barclay and Hilary Bradt- Captive Reader

Feb 11, 2018

Last Chain on Billie

How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top
by Carol Bradley

This book is about how circus elephants have suffered, and the development of a few sanctuaries that seek to give some of them a 'retirement' where they can live in a relatively natural setting for the end of their lives. I thought by the title of this book, it was about one particular elephant. It actually has a much wider span, and in some chapters Billie isn't mentioned at all. The book tells about the early rise of popularity elephants had in circuses, being shown and forced to perform often from a very young age. Lots of circuses vied to be known as having the smallest elephant, so infants were taken from their mothers sometimes just a few weeks old, to be shown off in the ring. Often forced to do tricks. The rest of the time usually chained in one spot. Needless to say, the book has a lot of details on animal neglect and abuse, on the emotional damage that elephants appear to suffer when being mistreated for such long periods of time. Many of them end up emotionally unstable with unpredictable behvior.

The book chronicles how circuses fared over the past decades, pressure to travel frequently with long hours on the road, to have the most impressive shows with the newest tricks, to show the most exotic or spectacular things in order to draw in crowds- and how all this was deleterious for the animals. It is a long list of disasters that happen when elephants strike out in torment or rage, and terribly sad stories of those who died from illness or being kept in poor conditions. To be fair, the book quotes many circus performers and trainers who claimed their methods were the only way to keep elephants in control, who said that circus animals experienced more stimulation having things to learn, compared to zoo elephants that just stood around all day. Lots of court cases brought against circus owners and trainers for animal abuse are cited- those details sometimes made my head swim. In the end, there is a very positive note when the chapters start describing how a number of elephants were taken from the circus (or in a few cases, a zoo that couldn't keep them properly) and placed in sanctuaries. How the sanctuaries worked to give the elephants space to engage in normal behavior and proper medical care. Some of them were not curable. Some took years to overcome their fears and violent tendencies. Very touching is the final scene where Billie finally allowed a caretaker to approach close enough to cut off the chain that had remained around her ankle for so long.

A lot of the details in this book were not new to me, having read other titles about the subject before. But the countless stories of baby elephants forcibly separated from their mothers, of adults dying at a relatively young age after years of being beaten, starved, suffering from wounds and infected feet- well it can be very hard to read. There is a lot of death in this book. Not just elephants. People killed by them. Tigers and other exotic animals that also suffered in the circus. And yet some trainers say they did their best by the animals. I can't buy that line anymore.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5          320 pages, 2014

Feb 7, 2018

A Zoo for All Seasons

The Smithsonian Animal World
senior editor Russell Bourne

It starts with a narrative story- curiously, the only section of the entire book illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings, the rest has photographs. The opening chapter tells of efforts to breed an orangutan at the zoo, the decision keepers made to separate the orang infant from its mother when it developed an infection, and the anxious period spent trying to save its life with veterinary care that was rudimentary compared to technology of today. The rest of the book is more general in nature. Chapter subjects vary: a history of zoos in general, from menageries kept by royalty in the past to the beginnings of modern zoos, in particular the National Zoo, and its connection with the Smithsonian Institution. How the zoo manages its space and visitors, the balance between scientific inquiry and pleasing the public (whose entry fees contribute a lot to funding things), keeping the animals healthy, making enclosures more natural for them, managing breeding operations and gene pools between zoos. The role the zoo has in maintaining species populations- in particular a large breeding ranch it has in Virginia (not open to the public) and advancements that have been made there in breeding rare birds, ungulates and golden marmosets. Conservation, animal husbandry and scientific inquiry seem to be the main three points.

There's also a chapter in the back about studies in the field done by Smithsonian scientists on Asiatic elephants, red howler monkeys, tigers, chipmunks and the tenrec. There's mention of how every single animal that dies in a zoo is autopsied, and what zoo scientists learn from that. Discussion of how local wildlife that enters the zoo (piegons, rats, raccoons,domestic cats, etc) is managed- particularly because of diseases they might introduce to the exotics. Final two chapters highlight numerous other zoos in the country and around the world, pointing out significant advancements or special collections they each have.

I have another book called New Zoo published some ten years after this one, and it's about the very same zoo. I guess it's not surprising as I live relatively close to the National Zoo, that these two titles were among discard copies I picked up somewhere.

Rating: 3/5            192 pages, 1979

Feb 5, 2018

Tropical Fish as Pets

by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

There are some cases where an old book just shouldn't be around anymore. For once I am really disappointed in one I picked up on swap at whim, and I'm going to recycle it instead of sending out into the world again. In the first place, this isn't really a book. More of a pamphlet. I should have noticed the page count.

In the second place, it's old and outdated enough that some of the instructions, if followed, I'd consider bad advice and poor husbandry practice. It does tell a bit about common, easy plants- elodea, ludwigia, camboba, amazon swords, cryptocoryne, milfoil- but the way this puplication suggests growing them- well, there are much better methods nowadays. I have to say though, the small black-and-white photo of a tank full of crypts, vals and stems is impressive in its plant density. It would look really lush in color. The fishes mentioned are guppies, mollies, swordtails, platies, zebra danios, black tetra, angelfish, betta, pearl danio, firemouth cichlids, corydoras. That's it. Something in one of the fish descriptions made me laugh, but now I can't remember what it was. The details on their keeping is basic at best. I have much better books in terms of fish selection and disease treatment. And when it comes to an interesting look at how things used to be done, or quaint but quality photographs, this little publication just doesn't do it either. Sorry! Bye.

Rating: 1/5          32 pages, 1970

Feb 3, 2018

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor

by Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak

Subtitle: the Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town and the World. I had never heard of Baker and Taylor before, a pair of library cats who became famous (before Dewey). The author, Jan Louch, was recovering from a sudden divorce, having just moved with her two children to a new town to live with her parents. Her love of books carried her through many difficult times. She ended up getting a job at the small local library. When a new building was constructed on what used to be an alfalfa field, she and the library director decided they needed a cat to keep out the mice. After a lot of research she acquired Baker, a scottish fold- the breed was very exotic at the time, and known for their calm, mellow temperament. She named the cat Baker because he liked to sleep in boxes from the library wholesale distributor, Baker & Taylor. Jan really wanted to get a second cat, but it would be a long time to save up for one (all money spent on the cats' upkeep was personal). She mentioned the cat and her plans to someone from the wholesale company, and he offered to buy the library a second cat, if in return the company could photograph the cats for use in promotional materials. The second scottish fold was of course, named Taylor. When the first poster of the two cats came out, it was immediately popular with librarians around the country. The cats were featured on tote bags, in calendars, and even in a mystery novel written by Carole Douglas.

The cats were very popular with most library visitors. Jan shares how they touched the lives of herself and several individual patrons in particular. It's also story about a small town library went through growing pains- the immense amount of work it took to switch over from card catalogs to computers- different challenges the library faced in serving the public over the years as local population grew. It's pretty interesting to read how the fame of the two cats spread in a day and age when social media didn't exist yet. The author saw many fans and tourists come visiting the library just to see Baker and Taylor. She struck up a correspondence with an elementary school teacher whose students formed a fan club, writing to the cats. She helped set up a society among librarians whose libraries also kept cats. It was amusing to read how the cats loved (mostly) the attention from people, but hated their occasional photo shoots. There's a lot of endearing stories in here about the cats' individual personalities and habits.

When they grew elderly and passed away, the cats were missed by many; trees were planted outside the library in their memory. Lots of people kept asking when the library would get new cats, but unfortunately due to some complaints by patrons with severe allergies, the library board voted against them acquiring another cat.

Through the whole book, I really enjoyed how the author's love of books and reading was expressed. She worried near the end, that computers would make librarians' jobs obsolete- people could do their own research online and use self-checkout stations instead of the circulation desk. I'm glad to note that our libraries are still alive and kicking.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             274 pages, 2016

more opinions:
Lesa's Book Critiques
The Conscious Cat

Feb 1, 2018

Scientific Project Goes "Boink"

A Calvin and Hobbes Collection 
by Bill Watterson

Six-year-old Calvin is pretty much a self-centered, lazy, conceited brat of a kid. With violent tendencies. So why does he crack me up so much. I think I enjoyed this volume a little better than the last one, because it had quite a few little story arcs through several strips in a row, presented in sequence. In the last collection it seemed like they were more randomly presented, with gaps. Maybe only favorites were selected for that one? There's also a good sense of time- a big chunk of the book is during winter- seems it's Calvin's favorite season, for the snowball-fight and sledding opportunities. Also he makes some very disturbing "artistic" tableaux with snowmen. I think some of the funniest episodes in here are when Calvin turns a cardboard box into a 'duplicator' and makes copies of himself. He thinks it will get him out of chores and homework, but their troublemaking gets him into trouble. He has more confrontations with the babysitter. His parents ploys to deal with him are pretty amusing too- mom telling him dinner is made of bug parts so he'll want to eat it, for example. His dad's made-up explanations for scientific things- just messing with the kid- are pretty funny too. And it's been so long since I read any of these comics I had completely forgotten a few parts- the one where Calvin and his stuffed tiger play a game of Scrabble made me laugh. I happen to commiserate with his difficulties playing on a baseball team. I was no good at that sport, either.

Rating: 4/5             128 pages, 1991