This Spring I read Farm City by Novella Carpenter, one of two titles that were picked for the “Reading Together” program that the library sponsors with several other organizations in the community. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and told of the author’s attempt to become an “urban farmer,” as she lived in downtown Oakland, California. Since I liked this topic so much I decided to seek out other books where people are doing the same in going back to the land and becoming self-sustaining.
My next choice was a book entitled Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn. The author was previously a romance writer who after a divorce moved with her three children to rural West Virginia where some of her other relatives had lived and she had visited the area many times growing up. She depicts her struggle in adjusting to being a full time farm owner where everything she raised, crops and animals, were either eaten by her family or sold at the market. Of course there were many struggles along the way; a partner who stopped paying his share, building a brand new home on a rather precarious piece of land, many roads that continuously flooded, and the overwhelming amount of nonstop work. When that farm was no longer manageable, she sold it and bought one more suitable to her. Through her can-do attitude and a great sense of humor, she is now not only a successful farmer, but conducts workshops at her farm for others wanting to learn all the skills connected with farming, and she writes an almost daily blog, also called Chickens in the Road, as to what’s going on in her farm life. An extra plus is that there are many wonderful pictures of the farms and her family. This book was thoroughly enjoyable and you find yourself pulling for her to succeed. And succeed she did!
With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.
Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.
Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.
In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.
Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.
My husband and I traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.
This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.
The Snatchabook is an entertaining rhyming story about a small winged animal who secretly flies into other animals’ homes at night and steals their story books, yes, ALL the story books in the town of Burrow Down. Soon, there are no more stories to read, no more pirates on the seven seas, no more princesses trying to sleep on peas, no more tales of dragons spitting flames. Who is stealing all the books?
A little rabbit named Eliza Brown decides that whoever it is, she’s not scared! She’ll catch the thief! Eliza baits the thief with a pile of books and she waits. When the thief arrives she shouts: “Stop stealing all our books, right now! Just give them back, I don’t care how!”
The Snatchabook hangs his head in shame. “A tear rolled from the creature’s eye, and softly he began to cry.” Then he says: “I know it’s wrong, but can’t you see--I’ve got no one to read to me!” The Snatchabook looked so sad, Eliza realized that if he just had a mom or dad to read him stories every night, then he would behave all right!
They hatched a plan to turn a wrong into a right and the Snatchabook promptly returned all the books. Now, if you take a closer look you might just see the Snatchabook, perched happily on someone’s bed...listening hard to each word said.
This book is a great read-aloud. There is an Educator’s Guide with Common Core Activities at JabberwockyKids.com.
The Snatchabook: Who’s Stealing All The Stories?
Lightweight but satisfying, Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery is the first in a projected series of mystery titles by author Laurie Cass, who resides with her husband and two cats in a small community near Lake Michigan.
What appealed to me right away about this book is that the title contained three of my favorite things: Bookmobiles, mysteries and of course a cat. As readers of my previous posts might have guessed, I’m absolutely crazy fond of any literature that is feline related.
What most of you probably didn’t know is that a while back, (I won’t say exactly how many years ago), I had the great fortune of working on the KPL Bookmobile. This book brought back some great memories - our Bookmobile’s devoted staff, the travels to various stops in our community, and most of all the highly appreciative and personable patrons who frequented those stops.
Another desirable coincidence is that the story takes place in Michigan, in the little, tourist town of Chilson.
The mystery centers around likeable, conscientious and free-spirited Minnie Hamilton. She is deliriously happy about landing a job in her favorite town in the country as the assistant director and head of the bookmobile department; which in translation means that she is both the librarian and the driver.
The bookmobile itself is a persistent thorn in the side of her boss Stephen, who wishes that the vehicle simply didn’t exist. However, it was a recent purchase made possible by a generous donor, one Stan Larabee, and cannot easily be disposed of for quite some time.
Around this time, she also finds a cat. Or is it the other way around? She hopes and assumes the attractive feline already has a home, but Minnie can’t find its owner, so she ends up adopting the animal and naming him Eddie. As it turns out, Eddie plays an integral part in the beginning and at the end of this mystery. He becomes a stowaway on the bookmobile’s maiden voyage and ends up charming all the new patrons, both young and old.
While out on the bookmobile’s rounds one day, the cat escapes its confines, acts a little crazed as if searching for something and subsequently finds a dead man with a bullet hole in his chest. That man turns out to be none other than Stan Larabee, the bookmobile’s magnanimous patron; a man not always loved or respected by his family or the community.
After some of her friends and family are questioned and thought to be possible suspects in connection to the murder, Minnie makes a solemn promise to help find the killer. There are many possible suspects in the case, but one by one Minnie exonerates most of them, and then of course solves the mystery, all with the invaluable assistance of Eddie.
A fast read that has some pleasant comedic undertones thanks to Minnie and Eddie’s very special relationship. Cat lovers will no doubt look forward to the next installment in the series.
I certainly am!
Lending a Paw
The World According to Bob is the sequel to the NYT bestseller A Street Cat Named Bob by author James Bowen. It is a well written and much anticipated book worthy of becoming another hit for the James and Bob duo.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with their tale, here is a quick recap. Two years prior to the writing of this second work, James Bowen was a down on his luck, recovering addict who happens to find a ginger/orange cat with open wounds on his legs and body. The two form an instant bond, and although James assumes that the cat he names Bob will return to the streets after he nurses him back to health, Bob has other plans. He steadfastly refuses to leave James’ side, following him wherever he goes about town.
As the saying goes “cats choose you and not the other way around”, and it was certainly true in this case.
The pair become inseparable, existing on the streets of London, each one helping the other heal the wounds of their mutually troubled past. James gives Bob companionship, food, and a place to crash, and in return Bob gives James new hope and a purpose in life. James learns to appreciate the minute things of life – his threadbare flat, his job selling a street magazine called “The Big Issue,” and now his newly arrived feline friend.
While the first book documents their first meeting and their lives in the early part of their relationship, this sequel delves further into what their life was like then, the people they met, (both good and evil), and the many experiences they shared along the way. It also goes into explaining how the first book came to be.
In September 2010, a reporter from the Islington Tribune interviewed James and took the famous photo of Bob perched on his shoulder. A few days later, there appeared a poignant article about James’ past and how he and Bob met, titled: “Two Cool Cats...the Big Issue Seller and a Stray Called Bob.”
Soon thereafter, a major London publisher approaches the duo about a possible book deal. James does not expect this book about himself and his stray cat to become a big hit. Rather, he thinks that it would end up being a nice little one-time windfall. But then events start indicating otherwise.
One day, completely unannounced, Sir Paul McCartney and his family stop by the street corner where they work selling the magazine to admire Bob. Instead of the little handful of people that James expected to be at the first book signing, over 300 show up, and all 200 copies available sell out in the first half hour. In addition, James and Bob are treated as celebrities with photographers and a television camera crew in attendance.
Having been translated into 26 languages, the book becomes an international bestseller. And for the first time in their lives, James and Bob become financially secure. No, Bob and James did not become millionaires, but they are able to live a comfortable existence with James enjoying having some money in the bank and even paying taxes like a true member of society. He also enjoys being able to give something back to Blue Cross, the animal charity that was so kind to both of them during their struggles in earlier years.
The first book also produced other positive windfalls. It greatly improved the relationship James had with his parents. And it also seems to have had an impact on people’s attitudes to London’s “Big Issue” sellers and the homeless in general. Many folks wrote to James to express their awareness of homeless people, and many others have stated that the book gave them an incentive to make a special point of engaging the homeless in a conversation instead of simply ignoring their plight.
The story of James and Bob seemed to connect with people who were facing difficult times in their own lives, while others expressed a newly gained strength from animals’ ability to heal human psyches.
With their account, these two cool cats touched the hearts, minds and lives of many, many others. And that may be the best windfall of all, for all of us.
The World According to Bob
The title of this post is mostly a joke; our taxidermy books are probably more useful for hunters. Whatever your reason for wanting to preserve the bodies of animals, or if you are just interested in learning for its own sake and exploring a fairly esoteric topic, we have a few books that will make for an unconventional beach read. The title pictured here (as yet unread by this blogger) does indeed explore pet memorials among other types of taxidermy.
The authentic animal
It’s okay to be different and this book is about a little crocodile (well, maybe), who has many brothers and sisters with whom he wants to play, but he cannot play with them because they all like to swim and play in the water, but this little crocodile does not like the water. He even saves up his money to buy a swim ring in an attempt to learn to swim, but, it just won’t happen. He gets very cold in the water and he begins to shiver, and then, he sneezes FIRE!
This little crocodile does not like to jump, either. However, he is VERY good at doing other things such as… flying and climbing, and something else that if I reveal it to you will give away the surprise ending! The illustrations by Gemma Merino are uproarious and simply convey the emotions of The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water.
The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records by Mark Carwardine is a fascinating and addictive book about truly amazing animal records. It is quite comprehensive, utilizing the traditional animal classification system of groups, orders, families and species for organizational purposes.
The main goal is to “celebrate the wonders of the natural world and particularly its diversity.” For example, the box jellyfish found off the coast of Australia carries enough venom in it to kill sixty adult humans. At least seventy people have died from its stings, more so than from shark and crocodile attacks combined in that part of the country. In fact, some succumbed in as little as four minutes from the time they came in contact with the jellyfish’s tentacles.
The book also points out that quite a few of these record breaking animals are endangered and close to extinction, such as the white, black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses. These rhinos hold a number of records including thickest skin on a mammal.
This volume will captivate kids with fantastic photographs and keep them reading and learning astonishing facts which are presented in a fast and fun way. A great gift for your young nature lover or a good reference volume just to have in your own book collection.
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
This is based on a true story. It is World War II and a group of Polish soldiers who are escaping the Germans and Russians by way of Iran purchase a tiny, half-dead orphaned bear cub from a boy. The soldiers name the bear cub Voytek, which means “Smiling Warrior.” Voytek is cared for by Peter and Stanislav and Junusz and Lolek and Pavel… they explain to their sergeant that the bear is their new ‘mascot.’
The soldiers join the British army. The story follows the soldiers and Voytek from camp to camp for five years watching the many different soldiers’ reactions to Voytek. Voytek is a sweet bear. Peter is his keeper and there are a few instances where he aids the soldiers: he carries bombs, he corners a spy, and he entertains. Voytek provides comfort amid the horrors of war. The soldiers have a few other animals: Kaska, a monkey, who rides on the back of a big dog named Stalin and Dottie the Dalmatian.
Soldier Bear has been translated from the Dutch into English by Laura Watkinson. Soldier Bear received the Margaret Bachelder Award, an American Library Association Award given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
Have you heard of an animal called the tapir, but have little or no idea what it looks like, much less what it’s up to on our fair earth? Well, The Tapir Scientist is just the book to correct this unfortunate state of affairs! With text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop, it explores the world of this unusual looking creature, whose closest living relatives happen to be the rhinoceros and horse.
The focus is upon the field investigation work of Pati Medici, an animal conservation scientist who is one of the founders of the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. It is dedicated to helping endangered animals such as tapirs survive.
The tapir actually existed in prehistoric times and surprisingly, its appearance has not changed much over 12 million years. What has changed is where they live. Once roaming all over Europe, Asia and both North and South America, their natural habitat has shrunk to parts of South and Central America, as well as Southeast Asia. It is South America’s largest mammal, and there are four distinct species all of which are endangered.
Tapirs are rather solitary, nocturnal animals who are difficult to see, much less count, capture, study and track as Pati and her team sets out to do. However, they persevere knowing that their work is crucial, since tapirs play a major role in propagating forest plant life. Being fruit loving herbivores, they eat, digest and then let’s just say “plant” seeds from one area to another. Without them, forests and all the animal life found within may very well disappear.
This book is part of a series by the Montgomery and Bishop team called “Scientists in the Field.” Author Sy Montgomery has taken on many challenges in the past including swimming with piranhas and chasing gorillas among other things. Nic Bishop is a renowned nature photographer. His photos have captured many animals in their full, natural glory. Fun fact: Nic used to live in the Winchell area of Kalamazoo for many years before relocating to New Zealand.
KPL owns a number of titles in the “Scientists in the Field” series, including The Tarantula Scientist, Snake Scientist and Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, as well as a few others. Both author and photographer have won many awards, and their works have been noted as being distinguished examples of the best science books for youth. (Although as an animal loving adult, I too found it to be engaging.)
With it’s lively, information laden text and beautiful pictures, The Tapir Scientist is a wonderful Brazilian animal travelogue!
The Tapir Scientist
Vermont based, veteran children’s book author/illustrator and artist Lizi Boyd’s latest literary effort is a wordless picture book that is deceptively simple. Inside Outside incorporates cool, slightly hidden, die-cut page openings through which readers can catch glimpses of what’s transpired and what is yet to come. This device is used to slyly, yet gently tie in the future and the past to the present, underscoring the continuity of the passage of time.
By means of bright, sharply colored drawings set in a predominantly muted, light brown background, Boyd tells the story of a seemingly self-sufficient young boy doing inside and outside activities over the course of one calendar year. Inside overlaps outside, and outside overlaps inside with each turn of the page, until we come full circle to the initial season once more.
With a collection of animal friends lending a helping wing, paw or claw, the young boy proves that there is no room for boredom no matter what time of year it is. Together they read, make crafts, fly a kite, plant a garden and engage in more activities than I could list here.
This book is great for a “one-on-one” reading session. That way both child and caregiver can pour over the intricate illustrations that show plenty of action both obvious and hidden, and share in the mutual delight brought about by their discovery.
Lizi’s dogs both agree.
From the prolific author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, comes another bittersweet story featuring a young boy named Robbie. Robbie, is an only child; it is summer and his friends Jack and Lizzie are at summer camp. Robert’s parents are musicians who are in the Allegro Quartet. His aloof mother is a violinist and his father is a violist and pianist. They are off on a two month summer tour without Robbie who is staying with his Grandmother Maddy. Maddy and Ellie, his dog, are his two best friends.
Maddy’s house sits on a hill bordered by woods. Maddy’s friends are Henry, who is a doctor and a very good cook. Maddy also has many animal friends who live in the woods, even a bear! One night, Robbie and Maddy camp in a tent on a hill in the starlit woods, but then, Maddy gets hurt! What is he to do?!!! Robbie sends a written message to Henry and stuffs it in Ellie’s collar. Will Ellie find Henry and deliver the message? There is a bear in the woods and Robbie cannot leave his grandma! Read this exciting story and find out!
The Truth of Me: About a Boy, His Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog
Slipper the cat lives a life of feline luxury in the house of her elderly owner, Mrs. Fluffy Slippers. Unfortunately, all this suddenly disappears when Mrs. Fluffy Slippers moves and during the ensuing commotion the cat is accidently left behind.
Slipper’s immediate reaction is to try to chase down the moving van. But after a while of hard running, she ends up lost and forlorn. After a cold, scary night out in the woods, she decides that she will need to adopt a new owner and so the search begins.
This book, depicted from the cat’s low-to-the-ground perspective, shows Slipper perusing different owner candidates in various settings by initially evaluating their footwear. She first encounters a farm resident, Ms. Muddy Boots, who is quite welcoming. She offers Slipper a fish which is quickly devoured, but the sight of the woman’s charging dog turns the cat off the prospect of living there.
Other rejects include Mrs. Iron Shoes, a rider on a horse with rather large hooves, Mr. Cowboy Boots who rides a large truck which emits too much noise and unpleasant smells, High Tops, an adolescent who is too full of energy and Mr. Big Boots, a motorcyclist who is nice enough to give the cat a lift into town, but whose driving habits Slippers finds to be too terrifying. Finally, in the sea of shoes of passersby, she spots Miss Shiny Shoes, and decides that this young girl would be ideal as her new owner.
The girl brings the cat home and introduces it to her grandmother who just happens to be ....!
Well, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself to get to the surprise ending. Let’s just state that as the saying goes, the rest is history. Slipper’s life once again was very, very good indeed, and (need I say), everyone lived happily ever after.
Lost Cat is author and illustrator C. Roger Mader’s first children’s book. It is a charming tale with wonderfully realistic, pastel illustrations that are sure to be a purr-fect anecdote for any young cat lover!