Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.
This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.
While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”
Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.
After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.
Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.
Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.
Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.
Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.
This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.
This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.
And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
Caution: This blog contains information that just may be too cute for your reading pleasure. If you are disturbed or irritated by anything cute, STOP IMMEDIATELY and avoid any potential future exposure.
Even though I don’t watch much television, one of my favorite shows is Too Cute! on the Animal Planet channel. This program showcases mostly puppies and kittens, (but also occasionally exotic pets), as they are born and develop for the first two to three months of life in various, usually for-profit husbandry households. Each show culminates in the members of the new generation being adopted by their “forever” families. Even though I have watched some episodes numerous times and know that they are slanted toward the “And they lived happily ever after” ending, I still can’t help myself. There’s something about the newborn, no mater what species (well maybe not snakes), that draws me in. Especially so if the producers contrive and manipulate the action to hyper boost the cloyingly sweet “cute quotient.”
But then, a little over one month ago I came upon a book that was “too cute” without the hype. I’m referring to A Little Book of Sloth, written and photographed by Lucy Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society. It documents the activities of the real-life sanctuary of Slothville, located in the wilds of Costa Rica, which is devoted to saving these sleepy-looking, engaging, and mellow creatures. The book features some of the “cutest” inhabitants of Slothville, from the orphan Buttercup to Mateo, Sunshine and Sammy, Ubu, as well as numerous other endearing two and three fingered sloths.
Thanks to a uniquely slow nervous system, sloths are known for their lethargic, unhurried movements. They epitomize a lazy, laid back, and ultra chilled lifestyle. But while sloths may look sluggish, they are also quite acrobatic and have the ability to turn their heads around up to 270 degrees, due to an extra neck vertebrae.
Although they appear to be huggable cuddle-bugs as depicted in this volume, sloths do not make good pets and definitely belong in the wild. In captivity, they require special care. For instance, at the Sanctuary, the sloths are given regular baths in a specifically formulated, green leaf tea solution to keep their skin in good physical condition. They also appreciate hibiscus flowers being part of their standard diet.
But don’t despair at your inability to have one of these creatures hang around your home. You can always visit slothsanctuary.com to help an orphaned sloth in need by making a donation, or go to slothville.com to join the Sloth Appreciation Society.
And don’t forget to check out this book. The pictures alone are adorable, precious and may very well lead to you having an absolutely slothful “too cute” day!
A Little Book of Sloth
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
Crows have glossy black feathers with glints of dark blue and purple. Their life span usually ranges from 9 to12 years. Like humans, they can pretty much adapt to a variety of habitats, eating just about anything that their bodies can digest. Crows are highly social and enjoy traveling in groups. They can mimic various sounds and have a highly specialized and evolved language of communication. A flock of crows is called a “murder.” Although worldwide there are 45 different crow species, the ones most commonly seen in Michigan is the American or common crow.
Crows can be noisy, nosy, and downright annoying at times. Because of their raucous tendencies, some people don’t like them very much, and most farmers tend to lump them into the pest category of animals since they are inclined to dine on their crops. On the other hand, crows have also been proven to be beneficial in farm settings since they consume many insect pests that can ruin a harvest.
I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by these highly intelligent, comical, and mischievous birds. When my husband and I walk around KVCC’s Texas Township campus, we usually see and hear numerous crows. They tend to hang out in small mobs, idling on and around lamp posts or sauntering along the parking lots and fields; forever on the lookout for a scavenging opportunity. They don’t have to look far since college students throw away lots of fast food offerings such as fries or buns, making the entire site an ever changing smorgasbord. The garbage bins seem especially suited for quick crow take-out buffet dining, and we’ve been amused many times by crow dumpster divers in search of their next snack.
As the Crow Flies is a new children’s picture book that was published in December, 2012. It was written by Sheila Keenan and illustrated handsomely by Kevin Duggan, an experienced nature painter. It beautifully captures and celebrates crows and their world in rhyming verse:
“All day long you’re on the go.
You don’t have time to watch a crow.
But we’re here ...and here... and there.
We poke our beaks in everywhere.”
Just a few weeks ago, I also happened to watch a very well made PBS program, originally filmed in 2010, entitled A Murder of Crows, a part of their “Nature” series. It was enlightening, entertaining and made me especially aware of these birds’ high level of intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that they can manufacture and use tools to solve problems.
And since I was on this crow kick anyway, I also read the “J” non-fiction book, Crows: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Bob Marshall, who are both popularly known wildlife advocates.
So the next time you are out and about, listen for the familiar “Caw, caw,, watch for streaks of black wing, and you might be fortunate enough to see crows in an entirely different, more appreciative way.
Crows and humans; we are so different, yet so alike!
As the Crow Flies
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our wonderful KPL patrons a very happy and healthy 2013! And to start this New Year off on the right note, I would like to correct a glaring omission that I had committed in the preceding year; amends for which will allow me to once again indulge in one of my absolutely, positively most favorite topics of all...cats!
To be specific, I regrettably forgot to mention in my personal “Best of 2012 List,” a book by well known cat lover and owner Hudson Talbott titled, It’s All About Me-ow (special emphasis on the Me).
Intended for early elementary kids on up (yes, even through adulthood), this particularly clever tome delves into the question of who is truly in control of any household where felines may be in residence. In this case, an older and wiser cat named Buddy welcomes a trio of wide-eyed, innocent kittens into his abode; one that he just happens to share with some naïve, yet well-intentioned humans. Soon after their arrival, Buddy takes it upon himself to train the newcomers as to the workings of their new world. In Buddy’s judicious and experienced opinion, success at being a housecat is all predicated upon the very well known and established fact that humans’ only goal in life is to want to make their feline companions happy. But in order to achieve this lofty aspiration, the cats themselves must take control of the situation from the very beginning, thereby aiding their human housemates in finding the exact, correct paths to feline approved pleasure. The accompanying illustrations to the various hilarious scenarios that Buddy utilizes in educating his young charges are very revealing, and are also evidence of the fact that the author/illustrator really does know his cats intimately!
In my own household, there are three very special and beloved cat occupants; Ollie, the eldest, as well as Graham and Lionel, two littermates my husband and I adopted some eighteen months ago. Upon the latter duo’s appearance, we were quite amazed by Ollie, who at first shunned them, but then took it upon himself to show the little guys just what it takes to be an upstanding cat and thereby fit into our family unit. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if part of their training consisted of something akin to the gospel as advocated by Buddy in this book, since all three have us trained very well! In fact, there isn’t one (reasonable) thing that we would not do to make them happy, from impromptu chin scratches, to sharing a cuddle, to daily group play time. We are crazy about these guys. And that’s because they have taught us that to please ourselves, we must first please them. Love has never been so unselfish!
It’s All About Me-ow
You’ll never look at roosters the same after you’ve seen the images of the genetically engineered featherless one shown in this larger-than-life collection of animal portraits by photographer Tim Flach. Treat yourself.
More Than Human
For many more years than I would like to admit to, I remember spending innumerable Saturday afternoons enjoying Julia Child’s cooking shows on the local PBS station. First, there was her classic “French Chef” series, then “Julia Child & Company,” followed up by “Julia Child and More Company.” All in all, her television career lasted for over thirty-seven years, and included nine more separate series in addition to the ones already mentioned. Considering the hundreds of episodes that she appeared in, it isn’t all that surprising that in 1996, TV Guide named her to their list of the “Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.”
Of course, fine food was the centerpiece of all these programs, as it also was in Julia’s personal life. But there was an additional source of great pleasure for her that until recently was not all that well known. Cats!
When Patricia Barey’s and Therese Burson’s book entitled Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in The Company of Cats appeared late last summer, I immediately placed a hold on the title. Being unabashedly cat crazy myself, and admiring Julia Child’s spunky, unpretentious, joie de vivre style, I very much looked forward to reading this slim volume, which is enhanced with many black and white photos of Julia and her felines.
As is told in the book, Julia’s story begins in 1948 as a newly wedded bride of thirty-six, who is madly in love with her husband Paul. They start married life living in Paris, France, a country and city obsessed with food and romance. There, Julia and Paul begin to collect the first of many cats who would grace their lives, several of whom adopted the young couple rather than the other way around. By throwing in their lot with Julia and Paul, these felines ended up winning the cat equivalent of the lottery, going on to live in the lap of luxury with a master chef and hanging out as the perfect kitchen comrades with the couple who truly adored them.
But this book is not only about cats. It also follows Julia as she begins attending the world renowned culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. Here, she receives a failing grade in her final exam at the hands of her instructor and nemesis Madame Brassart, who states that, “Julia does not have any great natural talent for cooking.” Over time, this has come to be recognized as one of the greatest misjudgments in the history of culinary arts education. In 1961, after her well received book titled The Art of French Cooking hit the stands, Julia went on to become an overnight sensation, and her name is still synonymous with fine cuisine to this day.
In addition to this adult account, released at about the same time was a children’s volume about Child and one particular cat. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich is a forty-page book about Julia learning to cook in Paris with her devoted feline friend, Minette, at her side. Although she has the best products of fine food preparation within constant reach, truth be told, Minette is not too fond of gourmet meals, often preferring the taste of a freshly killed mouse instead.
So, whether you are a Julia Child admirer, a cat devotee, both or even neither, you are in for a treat with these two volumes. As Julia might have said, “Bon Appétit, happy reader, Bon Appétit!”
It should be noted that had she lived, Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday last August.
Julia's cats : Julia Child's life in the company of cats
Piggybacking on Christine's post (2 down from this one), I also just finished a book about living with autism. This is a topic many of us can relate to, as 1 in 88 children are identified with having an autism spectrum disorder (http://www.autismspeaks.org). The book I read is The cat who came back for Christmas by Julia Romp. The book details single mom Julia's extremely difficult time raising her son George, who was eventually diagnosed with autism. He communicated poorly, had many behavior issues, was never affectionate or loving, and rarely showed happiness...until they took in a stray cat when he was 9 years old. George and the cat, Ben, had an instant connection and George quickly came out of his shell, beginning to communicate on a level (both with the cat, and with his mom) that Julia had never thought possible, even showing affection toward Julia that she had longed for since his birth. Then the worst thing possible happened...when Julia attempted to take George on their first real vacation, Ben went missing. As the months dragged on with no sign of Ben, grief-stricken George regressed, and Julia searched desperately, knowing the only way to get her son "back" was to find their cat. I won't give away anything else (although the title doesn't leave much to the imagination), but I must say this is one of the BEST books I have read in a long time...could not put it down.
Cat who came back for Christmas
Peter McCarty is a Caldecott honoree illustrator; that is, he won an award for his artwork for his picture book: Hondo and Fabian. His most recent picture book is Chloe, featuring a little bunny who has a mother and a father and twenty brothers and sisters; Chloe is in the middle.
One day, Chloe’s dad surprises everyone and brings home a new television set for some family fun. After dinner the family watches a television program. However, watching television is definitely not fun for Chloe who decides that playing with the tv box and bubble wrap packaging is much more entertaining and imaginative. Soon, each of Chloe’s siblings dumps the tv show and joins their sister Chloe. Even mom and dad can’t resist Chloe’s bubble-wrap popping and bigbox playtime!
Peter McCarthy’s calm, ethereal, sometimes comical illustrations are adorable. He’s written several children’s books and the first book that got my attention is Honda and Fabian, a story about a dog and a cat. Baby Steps is based on a month by month chronicle of his daughter Suki’s first year of life with the most beautiful, delicate life-like drawings of a baby.
Author Bob Tarte is at it again, this time with the rather lengthy titled, Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home.
Tarte, a Lowell, Michigan native whose previous books include Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather, has written a laugh out loud, true life account about his wacky existence living with six cats under one roof! His feline cast of characters include Agnes, Lucy, Maynard, Moobie, Tina, as well as Frannie the star stray. Being a celebrity in her own mind, Frannie, among other attention seeking eccentricities, insists on being petted while she eats.
And as if six fussy felines weren’t enough, Bob and his wife Linda also care for a variety of other abandoned animals such as rabbits, grey parrots, parakeets, songbirds, doves, hens, ducks and geese; in other words any animal that comes their way and needs a helping hand.
But the anecdotal antics in this volume focus mainly on the felines who constantly entertain, delight and sometimes aggravate their human owners. This book gets four enthusiastic Paws Up from me. It’s an enjoyable read for any animal lover who isn’t in complete sync with household harmony or perfection, but rather thrives on chaos and constant activity. The author uses great observational humor mixed with true compassion for these animals to paint memorable portraits of each. And each one is truly a one of a kind character.
Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home