Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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
I’m Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison, is a wordless graphic novel about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch published in association with Jeff Corwin Connect, a company founded to raise awareness of issues facing the earth and its many inhabitants.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirling spiral of manmade litter in the central North Pacific Ocean. It formed accidently as the result of discarded waste (mostly plastic) bits and pieces that have pooled together through the naturally occurring movements of oceanic winds and currents over the course of many years. The Patch occupies a large and relatively stationary region between Hawaii and California. Research shows that this marine debris field negatively affects at least 267 species of marine birds and animals worldwide including seals, whales and turtles.
Plastics are materials that have been designed to last, in some cases almost forever. They are also cheap and readily available making them ever-present throughout the human world. In fact, millions of plastic bags are tossed away every single day, some of which make their way into waterways and eventually the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There they join the Patch, one of the largest, unintended accumulations of consumer waste on the planet!
After learning about this Patch, illustrator Rachel Hope Allison felt she had to spread the message of substituting bio-degradable bags for plastic ones. By using her artistic imaginings of this real threat to our environment, she does a commendable job portraying the trash items and their interactions with one another, as well as their devastating effect on marine life. The negative message is pretty clear, but there is also a strong positive one: The hope that readers will get excited about decreasing their plastics consumption footprint on the environment.
Jeff Corwin, the conservationist and television host of “Ocean Mysteries”, wrote the forward to this book. In it he drives the enormity of the issue home by stating; ”The journey of discarded waste is wide-ranging and far-reaching. A produce bag from a distant supermarket, masquerading as a jellyfish, could find its way into the belly of an endangered sea turtle.” Read Jeff’s review of the book.
The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, yet generates 40% of the world’s trash. All of us can make some simple changes in our daily habits and thereby reduce ocean bound plastic garbage and help marine life survive into the future. And now is a great time to start!
After all, it may be just an innocent plastic bag at the market, but it could turn into a serious threat to an animal’s life if it joins the Patch.
I'm not a plastic bag : a graphic novel
Hari Kunzru’s weird and wonderful new novel Gods Without Men masterfully weaves together multiple story lines and characters with a deeply mysterious rock formation in the Mojave Desert loosely threading it all together. The novel, legitimately I believe, has been compared to “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham and David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” in the way it magically snaps back and forth through time and changes perspective without losing a bit of its momentum. Ultimately this rather surreal novel leaves it to the reader to determine what strangeness is happening out there in the desert, but along the way as more and more questions are raised and fewer conclusions offered you become twisted in knots of inquiry that pull you deeper into this book and don’t let go. This is Kunzru’s fourth novel and I enthusiastically recommend them all, they are all so different and all so great.
Gods Without Men