RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Lily and the Octopus

I've been thinking lately about having a dog again sometime in the future. So as soon as I came across this title in my review of upcoming adult fiction titles, I decided I'd put a hold on it myself. Lily is a 12-year-old dachshund with a brain tumor that her owner, Ted, as a way of coping with the prognosis, decides to refer to as an octopus. Perhaps a bit of magical realism mixed with an emotional dog-lover story, I expect this will be a popular title among readers who liked The Art of Racing in the Rain. According to Kirkus Reviews, "[i]n his funny, ardent, and staunchly kooky way, Rowley expresses exactly what it's like to love a dog."

Weekends with Daisy

Sharron Kahn Luttrell had self-diagnosed CDD (Canine Deficit Disorder) when she chose to volunteer as a weekend puppy raiser for NEADS in their Prison Pup Partnership program. During the week, the puppy, Daisy, was raised and trained by Keith, an inmate dog handler at a nearby prison. On weekends Daisy stayed with Luttrell’s family. Here Sharron gradually introduced Daisy to many experiences she could not get inside the prison as part of Daisy’s training to become a service dog.

Though Luttrell was the puppy’s primary trainer on the weekends, the whole family fell in love with her. Sharon found that her parenting skills and insights grew as she focused on training Daisy. The dog helped her bridge gaps between her and her oldest child, Aviva. Her son, the most eager family member to meet Daisy, accompanied his mom to several of the pup’s training events.

The author illustrated the value of this program to the prisoners who participate. Training the puppies helps them develop a positive relationship with another living being. They have to provide constant care, patience and consistency throughout the week. The experience builds self-esteem for the inmate dog handlers, as they watch the puppies learn and succeed, knowing their efforts will make a difference for someone else, if the puppy becomes a service dog. Luttrell sometimes fantasized about how it would be, if Daisy were to fail the rigorous testing to become a service dog, for as the weekend trainer, her family could have ‘first dibs’ on adopting Daisy. As she grew to know Keith better, however, she became properly motivated to improve Daisy’s weekend training and ensure her success as a service dog. Her motivation came not just because it was the right thing to do, but also because she cared about Keith and wanted his success, too.

Cecil’s Everlasting Roar

When Cecil the lion was killed in July 2015, the event precipitated a huge outpouring of grief, anger and disgust among people from all over the world. Cecil was a protected lion who was lured out of his safe haven, the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, by native hunting guides for the express purpose of letting Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist by vocation and a misguided, self-styled big game hunter by avocation, shoot him dead. Cecil was killed in cold blood only to satisfy an American dentist’s craving to be surrounded by dead animal trophies.
Shortly after the news of Cecil’s demise spread, numerous protests erupted led by conservation groups, animal advocates and just common folks. The anger and sadness resonated and lingered on for more than a month after the careless killing.

However, one positive outcome was a huge surge in donations for animal conservation efforts. Even celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel spoke out against the senseless slaughter and helped raise over $150,000 to aid preservation. Jane Goodall the world renowned primatologist simply stated, “I have no words to express my repugnance.”

The authors of Cecil’s Pride: The True Story of a Lion King are a father and his two daughters, the Hatkoffs. They wrote this children’s book not to dwell on his sudden and inhumane death, but rather to celebrate through narrative a life that was well lived. Photographs by Cecil’s human friend Brent Stapelkamp, underscore the beauty and fullness of his time on earth. Taken over the course of nine years, Brent, a wildlife researcher, tracked, and documented Cecil as he wandered about in the forests and plains of Hwange Park.

Since lions defend their pride and territory against other lions who challenge them, it was known that Cecil was challenged by a long-time rival named Jericho. They fought to see who would gain control. But when other male lions started moving into their domain, something unusual happened; Cecil and Jericho formed an alliance against the interlopers!

After Cecil’s sudden death, it was feared that Jericho would either abandon or kill Cecil’s cubs to start his own family, which is usually the case when the male head of the pride dies. However, in this case another astonishing turn of events came to be when Jericho took in Cecil’s cubs to raise them as his own.

This is a wonderfully touching true story with vivid photos that proclaims that Cecil’s legacy will live on.

Facts about lions as well as the global impact of Cecil’s death are included. New laws and regulations about illegal hunting of lions as well as other endangered species is a hopeful sign that conservation efforts will improve and protect these majestic animals. But as is usually the case, only time will tell if they still have a chance.


One Terrific Tree

Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book is a visually stunning children’s rhyming book that has a wise, all-seeing owl tell the tale of a forest tree as the seasons change. Sitting inside the tree’s trunk, the owl first portrays winter, where “...all is still, gripped by winter’s icy chill”. Soon thereafter, snow is seen melting and a family of foxes, together with some bear cubs come out to play. As spring progresses, the leaves are growing, a breeze is blowing, the squirrels are scampering here and there, and the forest is covered with fragrant flowers.
Next, summer arrives and the sun shines intensely. The bees and birds enjoy the warm days and when come the nights, the stars shine bright. Fall follows with it’s changes. The weather turns cooler, ripe fruit tumble off an apple tree, autumn leaves turn red and gold, and animals gather and store food for the inevitable arrival of winter.

The seasons have all come and gone,
Snow has fallen, sun has shone.
Owl sees the first new buds appear,
And so begins another year

A winning, poetic book that is guaranteed to astound,
Preschool children all the year round!


Pax, the new book by Sara Pennypacker of Clementine fame, is an animal story. And an anti-war story. Pax is about community. It's a coming of age story about a fox and a boy told in alternating points of view with each chapter. There's also a little baseball thrown in. Pax is a story about learning who you are and finding your family by being a friend, whether young or old, fox or human. 

Pax has illustrations by Jon Klassen. It's a book that you'll probably have a difficult time putting down after you pick it up and a book you'll probably keep thinking about long after you've finished reading. Or listening. Pax is available in multiple formats from your library. However you experience it, I bet it's a book you'll be glad you read.

Lakota: The Wolf Who Was Bullied

A Friend for Lakota: The Incredible True Story of a Wolf Who Braved Bullying is a true and touching account from National Geographic. It focuses on a wolf pup named Lakota which means “friends” in the Lakota Sioux language. Lakota grew up as the runt of the litter; shy, apprehensive and gentle. His brother, Kamots, was just the opposite – fearless and assertive. Three other wolves join the brothers after the first winter to form a bona fide wolf pack.

Kamots becomes the leader, while Lakota tags along hoping to fit in with the others and just get by. Unfortunately, after a short period of time, two of the other dominant wolves attack gentle Lakota, while another wolf named Matsi watches. Matsi ends up standing up for and defending Lakota against the others and soon they become best friends. After that, Lakota is never challenged again.

The authors, Jim and Jamie Dutcher, lived in a tented camp in the Idaho Sawtooth Mountains for six years within close proximity of this wolf pack. They observed and documented their social behavior, making several movies and books about their discoveries. They also formed a non-profit organization - “Living with Wolves”.

This interesting, worthwhile book offers wolf facts, suggests other informative books about wolves and gives much needed information on conservation awareness.

I have been interested in wolves for quite some time now. One highlight of this interest resulted in traveling to Battle Ground, Indiana, (which is close to Lafayette) over 25 years ago to visit the Wolf Park located there. I was able to observe many wolves up close, and even participated in their Saturday evening Wolf Howl Night. The Park also offers seminars and a young naturalist program for kids aged 13 through 17. For more information check out the website.



That's Bruce...Not Goose

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is a laugh-out-loud children’s story about a grumpy black bear named Bruce, who lives by himself and is perfectly content with that state of affairs. His only great passion in life is cooking up exotic recipes made with eggs.  He finds the recipes on the internet. The eggs he procures from various bird neighbors by throwing his ursine weight around.   

One day he comes across an especially tantalizing recipe calling for boiled goose eggs which are then drizzled with honey salmon sauce. He locates all of the necessary ingredients, but just before he starts boiling the eggs, realizes he will need more firewood for his stove to complete the task. Upon his return, instead of finding four eggs in his pot, he finds four newly hatched goslings, all staring at Bruce and crying for their “MAMA!!!”; an utterly disastrous case of mistaken identity!

After abandoning a fleeting thought of snacking on buttered gosling on toast, Bruce decides to take them back to Mrs. Goose, only to find a note at her nest saying that she had decided to fly down south a little earlier than usual that year. He tries deserting the youngsters at their true mother’s abode, but to no avail; they insistently and dutifully follow him back home. No matter what he does to ditch the little tykes, they refuse to leave their big, black, hairy mama’s side.

Trying to make the best of a very bad situation, he decides to teach them to do “goosey”/kid stuff such as wading in a pool, finger painting etc. He even explains and demonstrates the concept of bird migration to them. But the last idea especially does not seem to sink into the goslings’ little birdbrains.

So Bruce and his brood end up migrating to Miami via bus. There they lie on the beach, play in the sand, wear tacky t-shirts and even meet a turtle hatchling looking for his own mama.

This is a wonderfully hilarious story that I tested out on some early elementary aged kids, with very positive results of laughter and delight. The illustrations fit the text perfectly. Highly recommended for ages five to whatever.

A Christmas Tale from Street Cat Bob

Following A Street Cat Named Bob and The World According to Bob, A Gift From Bob by James Bowen is the third installment in the “Bob the Cat” series of books.

This one differs from the previous two by focusing on past Christmases, especially the bleak holiday season of 2010, when James was very low on cash and the winter weather was especially harsh. His main concern was survival; earning enough to pay for his electricity which was just about to be shut off, and to put some food on the table.

James was a London busker at the time. He sold copies of a magazine called “The Big Issue” as well as played his guitar for tips. His reality was such that he knew that the only way to make some money was to venture outdoors, bad weather notwithstanding.

Luckily, his faithful cat companion Bob, whom he had found three years earlier, allowed him to attract people in a novel way. Although James never forced his feline to join him when he went to work, Bob was usually game to spend time on his best friend’s shoulder or on a harness, instead of being curled up near the toasty radiator at the flat they shared together. With Bob by his side, James was not just another invisible face in the crowd relying on the kindness of strangers.

Thanks to Bob’s presence, those dreary days leading up to Christmas and the period right afterwards, turned out to be very lucrative for James. Many of his regular customers actively searched for the lively duo, and enthusiastically donated money to help them out. James was especially touched by the realization that people he knew casually or had just met, were so generous. They reached out to James and Bob not only with money, but with greeting cards and kind words to cheer them up. James felt grateful, emotional, and incredibly blessed by their outpouring of affection and caring. What James learned through this tough period of his life was the true meaning of the holidays – that it all hinges upon the gifts of kindness, generosity, and time.

That holiday period was the last time he faced real financial hardship. The presence of his constant buddy Bob marked a big turning point in his previously troubled life. Bob gave him companionship, purpose, and direction.

And as they say, the rest is history. His first book about Bob and their relationship was published in March 2012, and became a sensational, global success.

So best wishes to James and Bob, and to all a good holiday night!


A Shiloh Christmas

A Shiloh Christmas by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a holiday companion to the Newbery Medal winning book Shiloh.

It’s been a year since Marty rescued Shiloh from Judd. Not that it hasn’t been a year of struggles for both boy and dog, this Christmas season brings hope for them and their small town.

A new Minister and his family bring questions about the sermons full of fire and brimstone instead of love and mercy which Marty’s family and church members are used to. Marty has to write a biography about Rachel, the Minister’s oldest daughter, and he discovers that there is concern about the children’s treatment from their Father, the Minister. Marty knows that he has to share his concerns with adults who will know what to do about the situation.

Just as Judd seems to be working to improve his reputation, the woods catch fire. The fire destroys the woods and many homes including Judd’s. Some of the townsfolks blame Judd due to his past.

Can Marty help the Minister’s family and Judd during this Holiday Season – this is a story of suspense as well as comfort and joy. This is a comforting conclusion to the Shiloh QuartetShiloh, Shiloh Season and Saving Shiloh. Fans of the series will want to read this final story.


Of Whispers and Promises

A young boy loves to frequent the Bronx Zoo but feels very sad when he sees the plight of animals living in empty cages and barren rooms. These feelings are especially intense when he visits the jaguar exhibit. Seeing these big, majestic cats living in unnatural, desolate surroundings makes him want to change both his and their futures. And he sets out to do just that.


A Boy and a Jaguar, is the inspiring autobiographical account of  Alan Rabinowitz, who through his love of animals, managed to overcome a personal obstacle that seemed overwhelming at first.


Alan is a stutterer. During his childhood years, he sometimes had his head and body shake so uncontrollably when attempting to speak, that his teachers placed him in a class for disturbed kids and pronounced to his parents that, “He is broken”.


However, there are two ways that Alan can verbally communicate without stuttering. One is to sing, and the other is to talk to animals. He starts off by telling his pet hamster, gerbil, turtle, chameleon and green garter snake about his dreams and they seem to listen to him. He also promises that if he ever finds his voice, he will also be their voice, and that no harm will come their way. He then goes to the Bronx Zoo great cat house and “fluently” whispers the same vow to the resident jaguar through the cage bars.


When he starts college, he is enrolled in an experimental program for stutterers which relieves him of his speech impediment, but not his continuing feelings of being somehow broken on the inside.


Pursuing his passionate interest in animals, Alan prepares for a career as a wildlife conservationist. He hikes the Smoky Mountains to study black bears, and then lands in Belize to study his favorite species, the jaguar, in it’s natural habitat.


Jaguars are severely threatened by human encroachment into their jungle environment. Alan decides to use his new found voice to help the big cats. He presents his case to save the jaguars from hunters directly  to Belize’s Prime Minister. And his fifteen minute presentation produces success! His wish that the world’s first jaguar preserve be established in the country, comes true.


I love the message that this book delivers about people and animals who can’t speak for themselves. Complimenting the story are Catia Chien’s colorful and evocative illustrations that deliver just the right amount of visual dynamism.


A little book with a big hearted message that should be thoroughly enjoyable for readers of all ages.


Since overcoming his stutter, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. He is also a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

For more information visit and .