Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animals. Show all posts

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Who are You Calling Weird? by Marilyn Singer


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a treasure trove of joyful illustration and rewarding information about weirdoes among the animal world. I'm quite well read about the natural world, and especially about oddball critters, but this book held some surprises for me. Some of these animals I had never heard of before; some I am quite familiar with, such as the narwhal, and the pangolin, but I'd never heard, for example, of the Pacific barreleye which is a startling creature to say the least. If someone had invented that for a sci-fi story you would never have believed it.

The book covers over twenty animals, including humans who are in some ways the weirdest of all. The illustrations were colorful and amusing, and the book very educational and eye-opening (barreleye-opening in my case!). I thought it was wonderful and a great way to fascinate a child with the wonders of our natural world, and how delicate and rare they are, and how much they need our love and protection. I commend it unreservedly.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Cookie Eating Firedog by Lida Sideris, Joan Young


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I could not help but want to like this one because of the title which was so absurd, and in the end I did enjoy this young children's colorful and fun story about a naughty firehouse dog - which is of course the traditional Dalmatian.

This is a departure from this author's usual line of writing, which is aimed at a much more mature audience and tends toward murder mysteries. Also do not confuse her with Lisa Sideris who is also an author and an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Based on a twenty-year-old story that came out of something her young (at that time) son said, the book was created rapidly, but found no publisher. Now it has one, which is an object lesson in never giving up. Those firefighters should never have given up on their dog either, because while he was a lazy little critter, much preferring to eat cookies than fight fires, even when out on the truck at a fire, he learned his lesson when a fire started...at the station house! And with dogged determination, he came through! The Dalmatian escaped damnation! Give that dog a cookie!

I thought this simply yet sweetly illustrated (by Joan Young) story was a blast and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Will Roar if I Go? by Paige Jaeger, Carol Hill Quirk


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Illustrated beautifully by artist Carol Hill Quirk, and written poetically by the author with the highly appropriate name of Paige Jaeger (Jaeger in German means 'hunter'! Page Hunter? Great name for a writer! LOL!), this book highlights some of the endangered animals on the planet, and we really need to start paying close attention.

We need to focus not just on the species charmingly depicted in this book, but to entire ecosystems that we are despoiling not only through hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction, but also through climate change, which notwithstanding our idiot president's delusional view of science, IS caused by humans, IS happening right now, and IS dangerously affecting the entire planet.

The lion is considered a 'vulnerable' species, which is only one step up from endangered. The gorilla is critically endangered, which is one step below 'merely' endangered. Well over a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers in 2015. Their population cannot remotely sustain such wanton murder. The western black rhino and the northern white rhino are already extinct along with a sub-species of the Javan rhino. We will never see their like again. The rest of the Javan, and also the Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, and the Indian rhino is vulnerable.

In the mid-nineteen thirties - Ernest Hemingway's puffed-up 'Great' White Hunter era - there may have been as many five million elephants in Africa. Now there is far less than a million. The tiger is Asian, and it's endangered. There is much less than four thousand of them left in the wild. Most zebra species are endangered. One of them, the quagga, is already extinct.

The quetzal bird is much better off, being 'only' near-threatened, while the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered because the idiot Chinese hunt it for food and medicine. The North American Karner blue butterfly - which I have to be honest and say the art in this case does not do justice to (sorry, Ms. Quirk!) - is vulnerable, and all eight species of the pangolin - which live across the southern hemisphere and which are utterly adorable - are threatened with extinction. Despite China doing the right thing (but perhaps only because it's a national treasure) the panda is still considered vulnerable.

This gorgeous picture book is the beginning of what I hope will be a successful and informative series because it has a lot of potential not only to do good, but to be inventive in how it informs readers. This first makes a colorful statement and a plaintive call for help.

There's a glossary of long words in the back. I would have liked to have seen a short section giving some details - for the grownups! - in the back along with some ways they could help - for example by means of listing URLs of conservation and wildlife protection organizations, but any enterprising adult ought to be able to find those for herself these days. Other than that I though this was a treasure and I commend it for its message and its presentation.


Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not normally given to reading this kind of fantasy, and I should have known better, but I picked this up because the blurb looked interesting. It began well, but took a rather downward turn once the main female character with the unfortunate name of Malora encountered the centaurs. I can't take centaurs seriously; they're asinine on the very face of it, but like I said, I let the publisher fool me with a blurb. Shame on me!

This girl had lost all her family to some large, bat-like predatory flying creatures, and was living alone with a growing herd of horses on the plains for three years until she was around fifteen, when she became a captive of the centaurs, the very people who apparently wiped out a lot of humans many years ago.

When her mother sent her from the village shortly before it was wiped out, she warned Malora to steer clear of these people, but the girl ran into a hunting party by accident. I had no idea if the author planned some sort of YA romance here between horse girl Malora and centaur prince Orion (seriously?!) which would not only be distinctly perverse, but would be insane given how cruel the centaurs have been.

I'm guessing there was some sort of back-story which would explain how humans persecuted centaurs and they fought back, thereby absolving them of genocide, but the premise still seemed thin to me and it failed to explain Malora's asinine and contrary behavior once she became their captive.

The author owns horses, so I'd tend to bow to her superior knowledge, but this one paragraph I read was nonsensical, especially if you're someone who knows horses. Malora has only been living with these horses for three years. She started out with just this stallion she was riding, but a wild mare took up with them shortly after Malora struck out on her own. The author tells us this pair (the stallion and the Mare, not Malora and the stallion!) produced six foals - in three years.

That struck me as too much too quickly, so I looked it up and it turns out that horse gestation is variable, but runs around 340 days - a lot longer than humans and very nearly a whole year. Twin foals tend to be rare in the horse community, so how they managed six foals in only three years is a mystery to me, especially given that foals in captivity tend to be weaned at a minimum of three months. In the wild I am guessing the weaning would take longer and that the mare is unlikely to be receptive to mating again while still feeding a foal.

It looked worse than that on first reading because it looked like they had produced twelve foals in that time period, but on re-reading the paragraph, I understood the latter six were over a longer time frame. Still, those first six are not credible in such a short time and an author who knows horses ought to have known this. Either that or should have written the paragraph more explicitly, if that's not what she meant.

When you create a world like this, it needs to hang together within its own framework. You have to consider how the population of living things in a world evolved together. You can't just put random things in there and have it make guaranteed sense. I had this same problem with James Cameron's Avatar. I loved the movie, but the world being so relentlessly hostile made no sense at all.

Neither does it make sense to have creatures prey on humans with such dedication. That's why the bat-creatures in this novel were too much. Any organism that overruns its food source inevitably becomes extinct. The same thing is going to happen to us if we're not careful.

If humans were all but wiped-out by the centaurs, then the bat creatures would have died out had their food source been humans. If they had survived by taking other prey, which we know was readily available, then why suddenly turn to scarce humans? It made no sense. Any author creating a fantasy world needs an understanding of science and of biology and evolution in particular. They would create much more engrossing worlds if they had such knowledge. This author does not, but it wasn't actually that which turned me off this story about a quarter the way through it.

What went wrong here was that yet another female author trashed her own female main character. This author turned her Malora from a reasonably tough and self-sufficient girl into a simpering fangirl in the space of a few paragraphs.

She was captured by the centaurs because they had run her (along with her horses) into a dead-end canyon which was then hit with a flash flood. A bunch of her beloved horses drowned. There's a paragraph where it describes her seeing all the corpses, yet instead of being intensely upset and in turn, angry with centaurs, she has no sadness and no anger at all. Instead she begins to idolize the centaurs. Barf. Totally unrealistic even for a fantasy novel.

Listen Kate Klimo and clones: if you'd wanted some horses dead and the main character to take up with the centaurs and make it realistic, why have the centaurs responsible for the death of the horses? Why not have Malora trapped by a flash flood which had nothing to do with the centaurs, her horses dying, and prince Orion swoop and rescue her? At least that would explain her selling out afterwards. If you wanted any tension between them, create that later from something else. This isn't rocket science! As it is, you wrote a sorry-assed simpering YA love story and it sucks.

That was it for me. And that's it for me reading anything else by this author who evidently has nothing to offer that a hundred other female writer clones don't have. if all you've got is poor writing, half-assed 'plotting', and pathetic female leads, get a clue. Do something the others are not doing: write well, make your female main character strong and at the very least street smart and don't have her do dumb-ass things - or at least let her learn fast from doing dumb things and become smart. And Good Lord don't have her start out strong and independent and then become a total wet rag as soon as a guy shows up. There are a lot of authors out there I haven't read. I see no point in going back to try something else from one who has proven to be a poor author when there are new voices to be heard. I'm done with this one.



Friday, November 2, 2018

I Don't Want to Eat Bugs by Rachel Branton


Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated rather oddly by Tim Peterson, this book for young children didn't impress me. The story is supposed to be about a young girl curiously-named Lisbon. Maybe she should have been named Lisbon-bon since she's so hungry! Reporting to her mother, the poor child finds no solace there.

Her mother informs her that dinner is almost finished (by which I assume she means it's almost ready), but instead of offering her a small snack though, or advising her to wash her hands and take a seat at the table, and having her maybe eat a little salad or fruit, mom sends Lisbon out to play?

The oddity about this image is that Lisbon looks pregnant, despite being little more than a toddler. I found that a curious illustrative style. Maybe it's part of the eccentricity of the depictions, because Lisbon also looks like she shares a condition of macrocephaly with Joseph Merrick.

When she goes outdoors, Lisbon is offered a bug by a bird and she declines. The illustration of the bird makes it look like it has a trunk. it took me a minute to see that the bird is extending a wing to offer the bug. Next her cat offers her a mouse it has caught. The dog recommends catching a hedgehog, but failing that, offers her some of its dry food. Finally she decides on ice cream which her mom promises her after she eats dinner, which is now, of course, ready. Lisbon doesn't wash her hands.

This book could have been a great opportunity to educate readers. It offers no reason for Lisbon to reject the food other than the mouse is cute, for example, but neither does it explain that there are cultures which do eat bugs, and hedgehogs, and mice, but it was wasted. It didn't really tell a story, and certainly it wasn't educational, to say nothing of unhygienic, so I can't commend this at all.


Peter & Ernesto a Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable


Rating: WORTHY!

I can see why the publisher didn’t want to let a reviewer like me at this story when I requested it from Net Galley: it wasn’t very good. But they can only delay my review – they can’t silence it! The story, I’m guessing, is aimed at a very young mindset, but even so it really fails to tell any kind of a story. Peter and Ernesto are sloths, and curiously-hued sloths too, given how drab and alike their cookie-cutter compatriots are.

One of them - and I forget which - decides he wants to head on out and see the sky – like he can’t see it from the top of his tree. He wants to see the sky from other parts of the world – for a certain highly constricted values of ‘world’ - so he sets off walking - on two legs - to see what he can see. Curiously everyone he meets is nice and seeks to help him.

He makes a short and seemingly pointless journey - not really looking at the sky or noting how or even if it changes, and then he abruptly turns around and heads back, meeting his pal on the way. That’s it! That’s the entire pointless story. It’s neither entertaining nor educational, and the artwork is childish - perhaps deliberately so, but I see no redeeming value in this story and cannot commend it.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Peep by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another in what appears to be a series of confidence-building books by this author. I have no idea how many there are in the series. I know there are at least three and this author, who is Dutch by birth, has published over a dozen children's books on various empowering themes. I just happened on them by accident in my local library while checking out a display of kid's books the librarians had set up. Unlike the Goodreads 'librarians' for example, who don't appear to do a damned thing, the librarians in my local libraries are fun and inventive and hard-working, and their efforts pay off.

This one concerns a young chicken name Peep, who is following her brothers and sisters, who are in turn following mom, line-astern, on an outing, but when they reach the curb it seems to be so very high for a little Peep who wouldn't say Bo to a sheep. Mom and the siblings seem to have no trouble with it, but Peep can't handle this at all. However, with encouragement, pluck and determination, Peep makes the leap and does not regret it - that is until she reaches the other curb and has to figure out what to do next - which is delightfully where this tale ends.

I really liked this story. Just like the previous volume I read by this author, this one is also colorful, simply but competently drawn, amusing, and playful. I liked the humor and the lesson, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Splash by Maria von Lieshout


Rating: WORTHY!

This playful and amusing little book for young children tells the story of a seal who can't seem to do much and feels very disappointed in itself until one day the sun falls into the ocean and it's up to the seal to replace it. The seal discovers that it can do things when those things are very important to it, and this leads to reconnecting with its friends. Fortunately for small and delicate flippers, the sun is only the size of a small beach ball and not too hot (it was cooled off by the ocean no doubt!), so this task isn't too arduous.

This is a colorful book (not all the seals are navy, for example...) and proved inventive and quite entertaining. The author appears to have a series of these, and I shall be reviewing one other like it by the same author. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Madame Cat #1 by Nancy Peña


Rating: WARTY!

I went into this not really knowing what it was, but it had seemed appealing. In truth, it wasn't. What it was, was one of the most boring graphic novels I've ever read. Some authors, particularly those of the newspaper cartoon variety seem to think people will find hilarious nothing more than a drawing of an everyday activity. I don't. And that's what this was - the lifeless recounting of the mundane day-to-day experiences of a woman and her cat.

The author's illustrations were simplistic, but not bad, although her two main human charcters (the woman and her boyfriend) seem to have only one expression ever on their faces. It was the dumb stories which were tedious. This cat talks to its owner, and seems hell bent on total destruction of the owner's home, but there are never consequences, and some of the antics are just plain stupid. The biggest problem was that there was nothing funny here: nothing original, nothing new. This was, essentially, a waste of a good tree. I do not comend it and I resent the time I wasted reading it. This book makes a great case for ruthless DNF-ing.


My Amazing Dinosaur by Grimaldi


Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Carol Klio Burrell, this was a kids comic about a cave family's child named Tib and his absurd and anachronistic dinosaur playmate, Tumtum. Playing into the idiotic creationists hands by allowing that humans and dinosaurs co-existed (they did not, by some sixty million years or more) is only acceptable if the story-telling makes it worthwhile by being informative, and/or educational, and/or entertaining, and these stories were none of the preceding.

If I'd known Kirkus had praised this I would have avoided it and thereby saved myself the time it took to read it! The stories were trite, predictable and of the Sunday not-so-funnies quality, which is dismal at best and even more dismal at worst. I'd recommend steering clear of this Tyrannosaurus wreck.


Verdi by Janell Cannon


Rating: WORTHY!

This young children's book was hilarious. A hardback with glossy colorful pages and limited text, it tells the story of a young snake by the name of Verdi, who loves his yellow coloring and doesn't want to mature to the usual green scales. He tries to fight this, but in the end he loses and realizes that change isn't necessarily a bad thing.

As far as I can tell, Verdi is Indonesian - supposed to be a green tree python (Morelia viridis) based on his coloring, his life in the trees, and his residence on an island. These pythons are actually under threat because of smuggling to feed the pet market, and pythons like these do not travel well - many die before they ever reach the pet store.

What impressed me about this book was the beautiful artwork which manages to be colorful and realistic without looking like it belonged in a biology book. What amused me was the text and the snake commentaries from various other members of the local Pythonidae family. Verdi isn't impressed with these adults and decides to strike his own course, but no matter what he does he doesn't seem to be able to stop the spreading o' the green! He is determined, but nature beats cherchez.

His antics are amusing, especially the way he catapults himself off the top of a tree by holding a branch in his mouth and tightening his coils until he lets go and springs into the air. I laughed out loud at that. His 'spa treatment' with the mud was also amusing. I liked this book very much and commend it as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults!


How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food by Jane Yolen, Mark Teague


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a huge fan of this author, but this short, amusing, and colorful pasteboard book for young children was a worthy read I thought, and the art by Mark Teague was great.

I think Dinosaurs are overdone these days, but this was a different take: working on the assumption of something which never happened in real life - that humans and dinosaurs existed together. This book amusingly takes that farce one step further by turning dinos into fellow citizens, who have lives and like to go out to eat - which seems to be true based on fossil evidence. Their al fresco dining habits are well documented.

Unfortunately their manners leave a lot to be desired and this is not so well-attested by fossil evidence, which is why this book is important! I found it entertaining, especially for the intended audience, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Charlie Franks is A-OK by Cecily Anne Paterson


Rating: WARTY!

I didn't realize when I began this that it was volume 2 of the 'Coco and Charlie Franks' series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether, but there is, once again, nothing on the cover to indicate to a poor unsuspecting reader that this is part of a series. This book won the CALEB writing prize in 2017 (this is a competition that authors pay to enter) and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I guess the competition was poor?

The book isn't god-awfully bad, and the reason I decided to read it was because I thought it might be different. It's set in Australia for one thing, and doesn't involve an only child or a child who is an orphan or who has only one parent. Aside from that, it hit every trope you can find in a book about girls and horses - the evil girl competitor, the competition you must win no matter what, the girl getting all the credit and the poor horse none; problems with her horse that threaten to derail her overriding ambition, lack of parental support (although both parents are present, they're really absent); resentment of a new addition to the family that becomes unrestrained joy later, trope overreaction to 'necessary' guy to validate the main female character, and so on.

After a year of home-schooling, the twins are going back to public school. Why they were home-schooled and why they're now going back goes unexplained. Maybe it's from something in volume one? It's at school where Coco fits in to the alpha girl pack and of course Charlie doesn't because she's nothing like her twin. Maybe this was something else that was gone into in the first novel, because it's not mentioned here as to whether they're identical or fraternal (can girls be fraternal twins? LOL! Sororal?).

I'm not one who expects identical twins to be exactly alike in behaviors and desires etc. I prefer it if they're not, but that said, they are quite literally clones and therefore have the same genes which often express in the same ways when it comes to preferences, tastes (not testes which is what I first accidentally typed! LOL!), lifestyle, etc. These two showed none of that whatsoever, so the point of twinning them was lost on me.

The worst problem for me though, was that the main character wasn't AOK. She wasn't even likeable. She had a one-track (or maybe in this case one-tack?) mind which revolved solely around her own selfish and self-absorbed desires, and really had no time for anything or anyone else, not even her sister who loaned Charlie her own horse after Charlie's wasn't able to compete. Charlie didn't strike me as having an over-abundance of smarts, either, as this quote indicates:

While I was at school, I put in enough effort to show I was actually present in the class, and at least vaguely interested in most subjects (I think I mostly just looked vague in Ancient History) but as soon as the bell went and I was on the bus, school was forgotten. Horses were the only things that were important....

The only other thing - quite literally - that she had her mind on was this guy with the asinine name of 'Jake' who seemed to have super powers since Charlie literally felt electric shocks when she so much as looked at him. I'm sorry, but no. How shallow can you make her? Well, this author paradoxically plumbed the depths of shallowness.

With regard to the baby her mother was expecting, this is Charlie's Take On it: " I didn't want to say 'she'. That baby was an 'it', forcing its way into our lives, and making my mum sick" Don't sugar-coat it like that, Charlie. Just plan on trampling the 'it' under your horse's hooves why don't you?!

I'm guessing that the author's plan was to turn this around, but by this point it was too late! I was slightly over halfway through, at the end of Chapter 13 (or 13 Chapter 13 as this book insisted on labeling its chapters!) and I was so sick of this character's attitude that I simply didn't care what happened to her. I refused to read about her any more. She was a dick, and you can't turn that around with simple homespun remedies.

Charlie boasts that she's never fallen from her horse, but even if this is what the author has planned, you can't turned around that obnoxious arrogance, and selfishness with a fall from a horse. You can't do it with mom having a miscarriage, because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't change it by her mom having a cute baby because Charlie selfishly hates the baby. You can't do it by winning the championship, because she's already convinced that a win is inevitable. You can't change it by having her lose the championship because she'll simply blame it on having to ride her sister's horse, for the use of which she's never even properly thanked her sister. She's a big jerk, period and I refuse to commend a novel that makes virtues out of vices in one so young and then seeks to fix all these problems with a magical redemption.


My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon, Cat Farris


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the third Pamela Ribon Graphic novel I've read and I've been entertained by all of them. Besides, how could you not want to read a graphic novel with a title like that? Especially since it's quite literal! I admire a writer who can take an absurd concept and treat it as though it's an everyday thing and get an entertaining story out of it. I found this especially refreshing after reading and negatively reviewing a rather poor children's book about a bear. This was the perfect counterpoint to that.

If you have some feelings of eeww over a girl dating a bear, you might want to reserve them instead for the girl's old boyfriend, who is a complete creep and thinks he owns her. He's way more eeww than the bear could ever be, trust me - I am not a bear-faced liar..... You might want to consider, too, that this is a commentary - a metaphor - as is exemplified if not outright spelled out, by the awful guys she lists as previous dates. If a bear makes a better partner than these guys, what does it say about male attitudes towards women? In this day and age, this is a seriously important topic and any way of getting that across is to be welcomed, because too few men are getting the massage.

The story begins with a history of bad relationships, and this woman (no, her name isn't Ursula unfortunately, it's Nora) isn't really in the market for anything new, when a forest fire pushes a bear out of the forest and into her back yard. The bear and Nora make a connection, and she realizes he's a lot sweeter than any guy she's been involved with recently, but how will he be accepted by her friends and the world at large? Well, he's perfectly integrated, apparently. The Japanese sushi bar staff love him! As does one of her two closest girlfriends. The other? Not so much. It's interesting that the most accepting one was a woman of color and the least accepting, a white girl who, I'm guessing, inexplicably voted for President Lowlife. Her parents are a bit skeptical too. Curiously, Nora's father is more onboard than her mother.

Of course, not everything is smooth sailing. Sometimes life is as rough as a bear's fur. There are breakages, and bear claw marks are worse than cat claw marks (unless they're the marks of Cat Farris, the artist, who did a great job. We'll always have Farris...), but the bear finds work and helps out around the house, and Nora learns to interpret bear speak, so it's cool. Even when winter approaches and the bear is feeding heavily trying to pack on the pounds for the upcoming hibernation, they manage to make their budget work. But when he leaves for his cave, can she expect him to return in the spring? Only time will tell. Either Time or Newsweek. One of them has to have the story, right? So bear with the author and enjoy. I commend this story.


I Am a Bear by Ben Bailey Smith, Sav Akyüz


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb lies once again. It tells us that "Bear fills his day with food, funny jokes, tricks on his friends" and frankly that latter is all bear does. He zips on his fur coat before heading out - a violaceous fur coat - and spends his day pulling mean pranks on people (animals mostly, but in one case, an actual police officer). Written by first-time-and-it-shows children's author Smith, and illustrated just so-so by Akyüz, this book tells children how to go through life being a dick - and how to swallow a live squirrel whole, in case you wondered. It's not funny; it's not educational, and it's not entertaining. I do not remotely commend this.


Monday, October 1, 2018

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole


Rating: WORTHY!

Justin Richardson is a doctor, Peter Parnell a playwright, and Henry Cole an illustrator. How they all came together to create this true story is a mystery to me, but I'm glad they did. There's an ignorant but powerful element out there who believe that same sex relationships are an abomination, and also a choice made by people, although they can never explain why people would make a choice to become victims of the abuse and violence aimed at them by these same vile people who think they somehow have the right to dictate how everyone else should live. Wrong!

And nature itself proves them wrong - very wrong. It's not a human choice, it's a perfectly natural happenstance. Gender isn't binary. It's a sliding scale which can slide one way or another throughout life, and it's not a human thing but an animal thing - and I mean that in a generic sense, not a punitive one. We are all animals, and many animals have LGBTQ members. This book amply demonstrates that by telling the true story of two male penguins who decided they wanted to emulate any reproductive couple.

Roy and Silo (who have their own Wikipedia entry!) are chinstrap penguins who built a nest and tried to hatch a rock. This doesn't work. Rather than have them trying to steal another couple's egg, some inspired and inspiring members of the zoo staff gave them an egg from a cis couple who were not able to hatch two eggs. Roy and Silo successfully hatched the egg and raised 'their' daughter - Tango - successfully. Evidently taking her cue from her parents, Tango herself paired with a female penguin called Tanuzi, although this part of the story doesn't appear in this book.

This book was listed among the top-ten banned books for five years, which is why everyone ought to read it. I commend it. It plays a little bit fast and loose with the true story, but not by much and it's still worth reading even so.


Counting birds by by Heidi EY Stemple


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I was truly disappointed in this book. It certainly is a good idea to get kids out into the fresh air and exercising as well as hopefully doing something for the environment, but what exactly are they doing for the environment? This is where this book failed for me and why I cannot rate it positively.

There was another minor issue in that this book is designed as a print book and not as an ebook. In the ebook, the pages are presented not as single pages, but as double pages meaning you can only view them two at a time, which means they're small, and you have to fiddle with the magnification to see them optimally. Having them as single pages viewed in portrait format would have helped, but the pages are designed as two-page spreads, so that effect would have been lost. My advice is not to buy this for reasons I will go into, but if you want to buy it, do not buy it in ebook format.

I said above, "hopefully doing something for the environment" because there was nothing in this book to say what the purpose of bird counting is or how it actually benefits the environment or the birds. The original idea, from Frank Chapman in 1900 was that instead of going out shooting birds, which seemed to be something of an insane and barbaric tradition on Christmas Day (I wonder how many doves were slaughtered on Christmas Day by the good Christians with their guns?), he would call upon readers of his magazine to go out and do nothing more than count them, and report their results in to the magazine.

That's great, but if that's all it is: counting, then the logic is flawed. The people who went out counting were not necessarily the same people - and I would argue it's highly unlikely they were the same people - as those who were out shooting. And merely counting was doing nothing to save any birds.

Now you can argue that keeping a yearly tally of birds at least allows us to track their numbers over time, but this is precisely what the author has failed to argue in this book because she offers no justification whatsoever for counting the birds, and there needs to be one for all those children who will ask, as I would have as a child: how is this helping the birds?

Just knowing that, say, bird species X is in decline isn't going to do species X a damned bit of good unless action is taken on that knowledge - and assuming those numbers are reliable. But are they? There was no word on that, either. Nor does a wish to act do any good unless the government can be moved to put protections into place - and good luck with that with the present business-obsessed administration who are determinedly destroying environmental protections as fast as they can and outright lying about pollution and climate change.

This book was some twenty pages long and nowhere in it was any kind of word about exactly how this is helping, save for one tiny, brief, and rather vague paragraph on page fifteen. Now word on how the numbers translate to help or even to a plan to help. No word on what kind of help has been given over the last century. No word on whether it has worked. No word on species saved, if any. No word on how conservation has improved. Nothing.

This is unacceptable and unforgivable, because what it means is that this author is asking us to mindlessly go out and count birds - and that's it! Hey, I do, and you should do it too! That's not rescuing the environment, it's acting like a sheep with its attendant wooly thinking. Don't treat your readers like sheep. Treat them like intelligent human beings and give them solid reasons for asking them to do as you do. It's for this reason that I refuse to commend this book as a worthy read. It falls far too short of where it needed to be.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Matt the Green Cat by Jenny Mitchell, Abira Das


Rating: WARTY!

I wasn't impressed with this. The story, written by Jenny Mitchell, and illustrated colorfully but lazily by Abira Das, is supposed to be about accepting differences, but the cat really isn't different: it's just paint-stained, so that it's green instead of ginger. Perhaps this isn't going to be noticed by young children, but it bothered me.

Matt the cat is green. His mom was repainting the wall in one of the rooms in their house (so kudos for allowing that a woman can paint rather than defaulting to the dad!), and Matt got splashed. Rather than put him in the tub and wash him off, everyone seems to suddenly accept that Matt is now green and is stuck with it.

This struck me as weird also! The rest of the story is then about Matt parading aimlessly around and being accepted by everyone he meets with no issues. I don't think that quite gets to the core of the matter! Unless the author's intention as something quite different from what I thought it was (color-prejudice), which is quite possible.

I had a problem with Matt in that every picture of him was pretty much the same - like the artist could paint only one perspective. I swear his head was reused several times and never once does he look at the reader. This gave him an air of arrogance and superiority which mitigated strongly against the air of affability with which the author seemed to want to imbue him. Again, it's for young kids ands maybe they won't notice, but why take that chance?

The worst problem with this book though is that the image wouldn't shrink to fit the iPhone I first read this on unless the iPhone was in portrait position in which case it was way small. it was way small anyway, so I looked at this book on my iPad and had the very same issue! It's not just the iPhone, it's Amazon's crappy failure of a Kindle app - yet again!

It was really annoying too, because picture was always larger than the screen which meant that often, the text wasn't visible. You either had to pinch the picture to reduce it and hold it to read the text, otherwise it would spring right back to oversized, or you'd have to slide the picture up and down (the width was fine, it was just the height that was off screen since my phone isn't square but rectangular!) until you found the text to read it.

Amazon doesn't care. They're so big, they don't have to care! Why waste effort on improving a free app when they can frustrate you through their incompetence to buy a device instead? This is one more reason why I thoroughly detest Amazon.

So, in short, I cannot recommend this, and I wouldn't advise selecting this book to read at all unless you do have some sort of tablet computer to read it on that's bigger than a phone.


Woody Saves the Day by Harvey Storm


Rating: WORTHY!

How can I not like a book which has a title character whose name so closely allied with my own?! Yes! Biased review coming up!

Woody is a mouse who rules by fear. He has a secret which makes other animals try to placate him with gifts, but life at the top can be a lonely one as Woody discovers, until along comes Rocky the fox, who is caught in a downpour and finds shelter in this strange and forbidding cave. Rocky discovers Woody's secret and urges him to come clean. Honesty is the best policy (as neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris pointed out in his very perceptive - and honest! - book Lying). Woody decides to take the plunge and face whatever it brings - and good for him!

This book is interesting and useful, and a good idea. The story is simple and the images colorful and illustrative. The only oddball thing I encountered was this sentence: "...and there was a terrible noise that made his wool stood on end." The verb tense is wrong and foxes do not have wool! They have a type of hair commonly referred to as fur, in keeping with all other members of the dog family. This made me wonder if English is not the author's first language and if his name is a fake one! C'mon, hurricane Harvey Storm?

That's a minor problem though, so overall, I commend this book as a worthy read for young children - and even a few adults who might be inclined to tell stretchers.


Jane Goodall by Isabel Sanchez Vegara


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another in a series of books aimed at doing its part to redress the imbalance between genders when it comes to high achievers. This one shows young children that a determined young woman can do whatever she wants if she puts a mind to it.

The story simplifies Goodall's interesting and complex life considerably, but hopefully it will inspire children to read more about her as they mature. Her story is one of an abiding interest in animals ever since she was young, inspired in part by a plush toy she had as a child: a chimpanzee. From this simple beginning, she found her way to Africa and came into contact with famous human ancestry researcher Louis Leakey, who eventually dispatched her to work at Gombe, where Goodall's unorthodox research practices were at times criticized, but which nonetheless produced original and unexpected research results.

Goodall was one of three Leaky Ladies, so to speak, whom Leakey named 'The Trimates', the other two being Dian Fossey who died horribly at the hands of gorilla poachers, and Birutė Galdikas, who studied orangutans. Each of these has written one or more books on their studies. It would be nice to see a book in this series for each of the other two women. I commend this one as a great start.