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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Katie Kath, this is evidently part of the "Nora Notebooks" series, but can be read as a standalone. I'm not a huge fan of series, but this one was harmless, and moreover, it placed a heavy emphasis on science, which is a wonderful thing in books for young girls and makes them far from harmless!

Middle-grader Nora gets a new notebook and decides to devote the space to recording observations on her pet ants which she naturally (or unnaturally depending on your perspective!) keeps in an ant farm. Personally speaking, if all ants, wasps, hornets, and Africanized bees became extinct, that would work for me! Nora loves her ants though, and observes them every day. The problem, of course is that the ants die when separated from their queen, but Nora's ambition is to be the youngest girl ever to be published in a science journal, so she presses on with her research.

No one else gets her obsession though, so at school she has to contend with shrieks when she unveils her ant farm during show and tell, and she has to suffer the fake and fawning attention her classmates devote to one girl's addiction to making videos of her cat, dressed in assorted outfits. Making the girls be "girlie-girls" with this shrieking was a mistake, because it perpetuates stereotypes that need to become extinct also!

There is strife and trouble, problems with ants, problems with school; in short, the usual , but Nora maintains an objective view and deals with it all with wry comments and good humor, and everything works out in the end! Despite the stereotyping I mentioned earlier, I thought this story was charming, and I recommend it.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau


Rating: WORTHY!

My wife may leave me for confessing this in public, but I'm in love with Argyle Fox! But this is not one of those fatuous YA romances. No! It's based on understanding and respect! And yes, I confess a prior bias: I love not only foxes, but the entire concept of them and the mythology and folklore that surround them.

The day is very windy outside (as it whimsically illustrated by author Marie Letourneau), and as Argyle looks out of his window, he longs to go play in the wind. Argyle's problem though, is that he's not a very good listener. Every time he makes a plan - to play cards, pirates, knights in a castle, and so on - he's warned that it won't work in the high wind, and the warnings prove true and dire!

So while I would have liked to have seen Argyle learn the adult trait of being able to listen in place of his childish willfulness, I have to approve of three other things in this fox's tale. The first is his mature trait of steadfastness. He's determined to achieve his goal and is willing to work at it, even as he seems to fail often. The second and third are both tied to his thoughtfulness. When he finally realizes that his game plan isn't working, he first of all cleans up after himself without having to be told, keeping his forest neat and tidy, and then secondly, he sits down and gives the problem some hard thought - until he finally does come up with a plan that will work on a windy day!

I liked these traits and they way they were shown in this story. I also liked Argyle, and I recommend this as a worthy read, and a fun and instructive story that can be well made use of as a teaching tool, and a fine example (eventually!) of good behavior for children to follow.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Platypuses by Megan Borgert-Spaniol


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know of anyone who doesn't love a platypus, although the critters can be dangerous. The have poison spikes on their back legs that can do you up a treat if they stick you with one, although if you have one raised from infancy, it seems that it's not inclined to spike you, because I've seen people on TV handle platypuses without harm.

This book is part of a big series (Blastoff! Readers: Animal Safari) on different animals, but this same author and judged from this one, it looks like this is a fun and educational series. despite being quite short, it's full of informative text (although not too much!) and a bunch of photos of cute-looking platypuses. I recommend it for any kid who is interested in learning about a specific animal. Whether you'd want to get the whole series is another issue! That would be some investment.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment which failed! The story is about a rather sickly kid named Benji Wendell Barnsworth who is ten. He tells the story in first person, which is usually a problem for me at the best of times. It was not remotely helped in this case by the fact that a man with a rather croaky voice was reading this story. It. Simply. Did. Not. Work. The book was a DNF for me. Life is too short!

I can only conclude, from the number of trips we're told Benji makes to the hospital, that this mom is a world-class lousy mom. Or maybe it's the fact that the nurse at the hospital Dino, is practicing medicine without a license? This could account for at least some of those repeat visits.

These idiots think prescribing a therapy dog for Benji will cure him of his ills. He gets the president's puppy delivered by mistake and the president is such a bastard that he demands the dog be wrenched away from Benji, so the kid gets a different dog. This dog goes literally everywhere - including into the department store, and into the hospital. I somehow doubt that even a therapy dog would be allowed to get away with that, but who knows. Crazier things happen in this story.

Benji's two brothers, who happen to be twins, are complete dickheads and need to have their asses kicked (where's the trope school bully when you really need him?), but they get away with pretty much whatever they want to - due largely to the fact that mom is a lousy parent. It should be needless to say that I very quickly tired of this. even if it were not for the reader's annoying voice, the story was garbage. Maybe young kids will like it, but I don't really see how. I'm sure not about to recommend a children's story as flaccid and vacuous as this was.


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Little Mermaid Against the Shark by Chloe Sanders


Rating: WORTHY!

I really did not like Chloe Sanders's My T-Rex Gets a Bath, but this story was altogether different.

Frankly, this book sounded from the title like it was a rip-off of the Disney Movie or of the original story itself which Disney ripped-off, but it wasn't. I can't blame it for the title: every author needs to try and get an edge, after all - and the story was original, fun, instructive, and has a wry sense of humor running through it. It was faultlessly-written, and beautifully illustrated (by the author, who is a talented artist - and who is not to be confused with the actor of the same name!).

Celia the mermaid is out looking for her friend Billy the dolphin so they can go play, and as the two of them set out, they encounter a bullying shark. Here is where the book departs from what you might have expected at this point, and Celia really comes through and shows her smarts, making a friend instead of an enemy. A great lesson in diplomacy! I recommend this one.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


Rating: WORTHY!

Grahame was a Scot who grew up with his grandmother and ended up not going to Oxford as he wished, but working in a bank, and doing a good job, but when he retired due to ill health, he pursued an interest he'd had in writing, and out of that came The Wind in the Willows in 1908. The story features Toad of Toad Hall, Ratty (who is actually a vole), Mole, Badger, and Otter, although Otter is only a walk-on; it's the other four who are the main characters. The animals are very anthropomorphized, wearing clothes and in Toad's case driving a "motor car" - albeit badly! They behave very much like humans.

According to Wikipedia, this is what I would characterize as another example of the shameful cluelessness of both critics and of Big Publishing™, which turned down what is now considered a classic with the blinkered and dedicated complacency with which record companies turned down The Beatles. We have no idea how lucky we are that self-publishing (of not only written works, but also of music, movies, and art) is available to us now. According to Wikipedia, The Wind in the Willows was finally published by Methuen and Co after some agitation by Theodore Roosevelt, although how he became involved isn't specified. The moral to that story is: never give up!

At the beginning of the story, Ratty meets mole one day in early spring and invites him onto his boat. They go out for a picnic, and mole ends up in the water. Grahame evidently doesn't know that moles can swim quite well (they spend their time swimming through packed dirt, so water isn't going to be a problem for them! LOL!). Or maybe he conveniently forgot it just for this story. Anyway, the animals meet up with otter and later end-up riding out a snowstorm at badger's place. Later still, they have to try and talk Toad out of buying any more cars. He's evidently crashed seven and is about to take delivery of a new one.

Despite trying to talk him out of it and trying to keep him imprisoned until this driving "poison" works its way out of his system and he gives up, Toad isn't vanquished so easily! In fact, it's readily arguable that their ill-advised intervention precipitates a serious decline in Toad's behavior. Toad escapes their confinement, steals a car, inevitably crashes it, and ends up with a prison sentence which is steep by any standards. Badger and Mole, meanwhile, are enjoying the vacated Toad Hall and living there!

Toad busts out of prison with the help of a jailer's daughter, and goes on the run. Escaping on a train, he's pursued by another train full of police and prison wardens! He disguises himself as a washer woman and gets a ride on a barge only to be outed by his own incompetence, and tossed into the canal! Rustling the horse which pulls the barge, Toad escapes once again, and eventually ends up at Ratty's house where he learns that weasels and stoats have taken over Toad Hall!

The difference between weasels and stoats is simple: a weasel is so weasely distinguished, and stoats are stoatally different! The four friends manage to sneak into Toad hall via a secret tunnel which badger knows of, and retake his home.

This is a delightful story, full of adventure and bravado and not a little craziness. It's not told in the same way modern stories like this are. Which modern author would name such a book "The Wind in the Willows"? It doesn't happen. It's likely to be named after one of the animals - and be a series. And which modern children's writer has animals stealing cars, having crashes, and busting out of "gaol"? Reaching back to 1908 to read this makes for a refreshing story (in my case a refreshing listen to the audiobook, which is very effectively read by Martin Jarvis). I recommend this, especially for any hopeful writers of children's books who are looking to find a fresh take on such stories instead of cloning every other children's author's oeuvre that's out there today.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bunnicula Strikes Again by James Howe


Rating: WARTY!

I never read the original Bunnicula, and I never will! This was evidently, thinks I, volume two, but in fact turned out to be volume six! I made it about half way through before giving up on it. All is not lost though, because this print book will go to a local library which has limited funds, so others will benefit from it! I hope!

The joke here is that the rabbit is a vampire, but not for blood - for veggie juice, sucking vegetables dry. It's hilarious - as far as the concept goes, and I can't speak for the entertainment value of volume one, but this felt like five volumes too many, and is a major reason why I don't typically like series! They're boring, and by nature are derivative and repetitive. That doesn't work for me. In this case, this one didn't go anywhere. I read fifty percent of this and quite literally nothing happened. It was a tedious diary of a kid and his dog lying around, running downstairs, running upstairs, spying on the cat, and lying around. Yawn. A good portion of it was references to, and recapping of, volume one, which is just cheating in my book, but it is a hallmark of series.

Based on fifty percent of this, I can't recommend it. It wasn't in the least bit entertaining.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Lila and the Crow by Gabrielle Grimard


Rating: WORTHY!

Young Lila is new in town. With her darker skin, jet black hair, and onyx eyes, she might have felt different, but on that first day she has no thoughts of anything but making friends. It's not to be. Once one kid starts the chant that Lila's hair is dark as a crow's feathers, it seems her dreams have been broken. No matter how she tries to hide her differences, the kids find new ways to tease and bully her.

When her despair is at its peak, she realizes this crow, which seems to have been following her around, is really trying to tell her something. When she finally, truly, looks at the bird, she sees something new there - something she never saw before, and it's this insight and her determination not to give up which finally wins her the friends she has dreamed of.

This is a beautifully illustrated book in watercolors, with well-written, heartfelt text, and a fine story to tell. I loved it.


Gracie Meets a Ghost by Keiko Sena


Rating: WORTHY!

Thus was a fun story originally written in Japanese, but which translates well in any language. Gracie is a smart bunny. She gets herself some eyeglasses (what they say about eating carrots isn't all true. Carrots are good for you, but they can't fix poor eye genes!). Now she can see very well, and has fun playing outdoors with her friends, but she's also a bit irresponsible, and ends up losing her eyeglasses. She knows where they probably are, but it's dark when she goes there, so her task seems doomed to an almost zen-like paradox! Without her eyeglasses, how can she see to find them?!

Unexpected aid comes from an unlikely and mischievous source. I think it would be fun to tease a child and stir-up their imagination with questions of what's likely happen when the eyeglasses find their way back onto Gracie's nose! But maybe this isn't a bedtime story! It's more like a wake-up and enjoy the sunshine story. I liked this book and the resolution it came to, and the artwork was fine: very pleasantly fluffy. I recommend this story. There are many lessons to be learned here.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, Patricia Schneider


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not sure what this story is called! Net Galley had it as Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, but the downloaded advance review copy (for which I thank the publisher!) has the first page reading The Gamble Ranch with no author ascribed. Inside the credits are: story by Rob and Patricia Schneider, script by Patricia Schneider (not sure that that means!), art by Francisco Herrera, and colors by Fernanda Rizo (who is a remarkable artist in her own right, and definitley someone who I would want doing my artwork were I writing a book needing images, and if I could even afford her! LOL!). Hopefully those issues will be cleared-up by publishing time. Maybe what seems to be the cover in the ARC is actually an interior page - it was hard to tell.

None of this matters though, when compared with the story itself, which is magnificent and is actually based on real horses of the same names, which are owned by friends of the authors, and who reside at the Gamble Ranch. The horses really do dance. This story is perfect for young children and the art work is amazingly good. I mean really good - far better than you usually get in books for young children or even for older readers. Herrera's line work is gorgeous, and Rizo's coloring is beautiful. I was totally hooked from the opening image (of the 'it was a dark and stormy night' variety!). The vista of the farm, with the lightning in the sky, the slashes of rain falling across the picture and the mood lighting imbued in the artwork were magnificent.

Of course this would just be a coffee table book, albeit a beautiful one, if it were not for the story, too, and that was told nicely, beautifully worded for kids, and made sense in its own little world of anthropomorphized animals and gentle fairy-tale influences. The storks arrive at the wrong place with these two baby horses, but the mother duck, who sorely wishes she had children of her own, snaps up these two with a determination which Hilary Clinton probably feels Democrat voters had had more of on election day!

The horses prove to be unusual ones, however. They're really not very good at racing, and the other horses make fun of them, but come the Town Fair, they discover something the can beat anyone at, and they really come into their own. I love the way the story not only celebrates, but heartily embraces differences and teaches kids that being different isn't a problem or a curse, it's a source of wonderment and joy. I recommend this book for its horse sense! Quite frankly, if you don't like this story you're an equine dock (just kidding!).


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"He had a teasing look on her face" She had a pleasing look?!
"She tried a different tact" tack?!

I have to vote a 'no' for this one, I'm sorry to report. While the novel itself wasn't written badly and contained some interesting story-telling, the overall message of irresponsibility and misbehavior by these kids, and of withholding important information from parents, for which there were no consequences, really turned me off this. I don't think it's the kind of thing a middle-grader should be reading. Worse than this, I felt it portrayed people of color in an unflattering light and the young girl as easily led. I won't go so far as to say it's racist and genderist, but to me it sure felt that way from time to time.

The basic story features Lizzie Durango, who is the daughter of a senior zoo keeper if not the head of the zoo itself. I didn't quite get exactly what her father's role was. If the book mentioned it, I missed it, but he lives with Lizzie in a house on the zoo grounds. Lizzie never knew her mother, who died shortly after Lizzie was born. Her father never remarried.

Lizzie has the run of the zoo during the summer, and free food at the concession stands. This was one of the problems for me. There seemed to be no supervision, and Lizzie was essentially eating junk food all day, every day. This tells me her father was more concerned about the animals than he was his own daughter! He was an irresponsible parent. As far as it went, this is fine because in real life there are irresponsible parents. What bothered me here is that this issue was never addressed, and he was never brought to book for his behavior.

Lizzie is keeping a notebook on activities at the zoo as a summer project for school, but this was another issue. I never did get why the notebook was so important, because while it occupied a lot of the story-telling, it featured so little in events and had nothing to do with the plot. I had thought it might contain useful information that became important later in the story, but this never happened, so why there was such a focus on it escapes me. It was tied to a side-story about John Muir, but this story never really went anywhere and I didn't see the point of it. Worse than this, Lizzie's personal behavior seemed completely at odds with her adoration of John Muir. He was a very responsible and far-sighted naturalist, whereas Lizzie was about as short-sighted and inconsiderate as you can get.

One day Lizzie encounters Tyler Briggs, a kid her own age, who is a runaway from a foster home, and who is living behind the elephant enclosure at the zoo. The two kids begin to bond although no good reason is offered for why they should. One of Lizzie's favorite exhibits is the new wolf enclosure where rescued wolves live. There's also a minor side-story about her bonding with the wolf-pack leader, but this doesn't really go anywhere either and is betrayed on one occasion. It made no sense to me, but anyway, the wolves are apparently becoming sick and dying one by one, but it turns out that it's not quite that simple. There are, Tyler tells Lizzie, odd activities in the zoo at night, especially around the wolf enclosure. One night the two of them spy on these activities, and they discover that someone is tampering with the wolves.

So far, so good, but it was right around this point that the story went completely downhill for me. None of it made sense from here on out, but I can't go into very much detail without giving away huge spoilers which makes it really difficult to explain why I disliked this story so much. Let me just say that the plan for the wolves is that they will be rehabilitated and released into the wild at some point which makes the behavior of a certain zoo employee meaningless, and undermines the whole reason why Lizzie and Tyler end up alone in the Yosemite National Park. I've visited Yosemite, all too briefly, and I loved it. I became pleasantly lost among the redwoods for an afternoon and it was great. Lizzie and Tyler do not have such a pleasant experience.

My problem with Tyler was how selfish and inconsiderate he was. Again, this was never resolved and he was never held accountable for his entirely irrational behavior. As soon as he showed up, the independent and confident Lizzie became his pawn. Every time there was a conflict she was depicted as bowing to his wishes. It made her look like a stereotypical "weak and compliant woman." It also made Tyler look like a complete jerk, and a little tyrant. Curiously, no parallel was drawn between Tyler's behavior and the wolf-pack leader's behavior, and there was definitely one to be drawn!

Tyler never made any sense to me because we were never offered any kind of decent reason for why he absconded from his foster home, where (contrary to what he consistently leads Lizzie to believe) he is loved and missed. This made me believe Tyler was unreliable and an outright liar at times. This is hardly the kind of person I'd want my young child to hang out with. The fact that Lizzie clings to him from day one, almost obsessing over him, made me nervous and made me feel she really wasn't very smart after all. It also felt wrong because Tyler could have been portrayed in a much better light, yet he was not. I don't know why.

Tyler was African American and at first I was glad to see a story including main characters who were not white, but as I read more about him, I began to wonder why he was painted so negatively, and so stereotypically: broken home, drug-addicted mom, crowded foster home, and so on. It felt wrong. To me the story would have been better had the roles been reversed, and Tyler had been the one living with his dad in the zoo whereas Lizzie was the street kid. To me that would have felt less like it was profiling, you know?

But Lizzie had her own host of problems, the biggest one of which was how completely irresponsible she is. She's initially presented as smart and well-behaved, and as someone who really cares about the animals in the zoo, but her behavior reflects none of this. Instead of advising her father that there is a runaway kid in the zoo, she aids and abets Tyler, never pursuing any concern over how worried his foster family might be about him, or how at risk he is living on the street. She exhibits this same behavior with regard to the zoo animals.

When she learns exactly what's going on, she should have reported it to her father. That's the kind of person she's initially presented to us as being: responsible and caring, and protective of the animals, but instead she acts out of character and takes things into her own hands, which is how she ends up stranded at the National Park, lured into making the trip there by Tyler. When she wants to go to the village and call her father, Tyler once again selfishly browbeats her into going with him, and she buckles to his will. I really didn't like Tyler's lordly attitude and despicable behavior to begin with, and at this point I started really disliking Lizzie's, too.

The ending, where Tyler is accepted despite having been the lure which put Lizzie at severe risk in the park, felt false. Yes, Lizzie had bonded with him for some reason, but her father's complete and ready capitulation seemed entirely unlike a parent, especially after her painful misbehavior. She paid no penalty whatsoever and neither did Tyler. There was no moral to this story! There are ways this novel could have been written which would have avoided all of these pitfalls and still told an adventurous and exciting story. I was really sorry these were not explored. I can't recommend a novel which fails to avoid so many traps and which fails to give any rational and reasonable resolution to so much poor behavior. Perhaps the children at whom this is aimed will not be so critical, but I can be, and this kind of a story is where I draw the line.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audio book red amazingly by Jayne Entwistle, a professional narrator and (almost literally) one-time actor, who does great British voice because she's...British! She lives in the US now.

The story is a magical one in more ways than one. Lily and Oscar Spoffard move into a property their family inherits. It used to be the location of a very successful chocolate manufacturer and retailer which purveyed chocolates to royalty, until two of the talented Spoffard triplets were murdered by the other in 1938.

But there's more going on here than that. The third triplet is evidently in search of the magical chocolate molds used by his brothers, and now Lily and Oscar are tied up in the adventure, especially after they're recruited by a little known division of MI6 (the Brit equivalent of the CIA), they begin to learn their family history and of the magic that can be passed own in families - maybe to them?

The story wasn't perfect (but then which is?!). The terrorists didn't seem to end up caught, and the magical abilities the children were supposed to have never materialized in any overt form, but apart from that, the story was chock(olate) full of LOL moments, and the talking immortal cat (Demerara - great name for a cat) and the similarly endowed rat (Spike!) were hilarious. Spike was actually my favorite character, but then I have a soft spot for rats. Lily was a close second. I'd have been proud to have had a daughter like her. I thought Ms Entwistle overdid the cat's voice a touch, but overall I loved her characterizations. Her voice was to die for dahlings! I thought the story was great, and very entertaining. I shall be looking for more from this author.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Super Fish 2 The Stare Wars by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

This book is a riotous sequel to a riotous first book, and once again features the mysterious tiny super hero girl fish, who wears a mask and sports a cape? Our host this time is an octopus who we interrupt in the middle of making a sandwich - with real sand. You just don't get that kind of service nowadays.

The octopus seems quite obsessed with having staring contests, but I would caution you severely against getting involved in a staring contest with an octopus on a smart phone. It's a worse proposition than getting involved in a land war in Asia. The only person ever to have beaten the octopus in the staring contest is in fact: Super Fish! You knew it, right?

This was a fun addition to the series, and I think more fun than the first one. What's more, it featured actual sharks! Yes!


Super Fish by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some good success with Mary Lee's books, although not every one of her's I've read is a gem. This one though, is a riot! How bizarre - a tiny fishy super hero! And a girl fish too! Who is that masked fish - and what's with the cape? As soon as I read the dedication (by a star fish, no less!), I knew this was a book for me. The wording reads, "Dedicated to the amazing fish that make our oceans beautiful, except for sharks and jelly fish. They don't make good choices." How can you not love a book that starts out like that?

With bright colors standing out against the deep, dark, ocean background, you can't fail to be impressed with how this lights up the characters. Our host is the turtle who was once rescued by Super Fish. He has stories about her and even a photograph. He can barely contain himself, and that jar with the fish in it...?

I thought this was fun and frivolous and very entertaining - and eminently readable on a smart phone in case that tablet isn't to hand.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch by Shana Gorian


Rating: WORTHY!

Just in time for Halloween and in plenty of time for Thanksgiving, this is a middle-grade chapter book with some illustrations set around this time of year (assuming you're reading this in late October and you're in the northern hemisphere!). It has its roots in a real dog owned by the author, but the story is fictional. It's part of a series, and you can get another one in the series free by signing up for the author's mailing list.

Rosco (which I keep wanting to add an 'e' to so it looks less like a corporate name!) is in the McKendrick family, which consists of mom, dad, and two children, ten year old James, and seven-year-old Mandy. In this adventure, they visit the pumpkin patch where dad wants to procure a giant pumpkin to carve for Halloween. Rosco is a bit naughty at times, but it all comes from his desire to have fun and run-off excess energy. To be fair, he also has some very positive traits, though. He's very protective of children, and both his naughtiness and his protectiveness play a role in this story, as they enjoy the outdoors, take part in activities on the pumpkin farm, and get lost in the corn maze - which turns out to be fortunate for an even younger child who's in there, also lost. And very afraid. And hurt.

I'm not a big fan of "intelligent" dog and cat stories because in my sad experience the authors make them so human that they're no longer dogs or cats, so really, what's the point? In this case, though, I loved the way the author seems to get inside the dog's head, making it appear very human in a very doglike way, without turning it into a completely unbelievable human substitute. The story wasn't written for my age range, but even so it was fun, interesting, realistic, believable, and very entertaining. It carried positive messages and had a warm and happy ending. I recommend this for kids of all ages.


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Tale of Peter Rabbit By Beatrix Potter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an unexpected delight. Peter Rabbit is the naughtiest rabbit ever - and naughty is precisely the correct term for him. He's off adventuring when he should be gathering berries with his sisters; he's getting into trouble with the local farmer; he's almost getting himself caught; and he's ending his day by losing all of his nice new clothes!

First published in 1902, this story has every ounce of quaint still clinging to it like a scent of pot-pourri, and it's not your modern bleached fairy tale either. It's also a best seller, having sold over a hundred fifty million copies, which isn't too shabby given that it started as nothing more than an illustrated letter aimed at cheering up the sick son of a friend. Based on an actual pet rabbit which Potter owned, and illustrated by the author quite charmingly, this tale is well worth a few minutes of any child's time - no matter how old the child is!


Sea Otter Rescue by Suzi Eszterhas


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

"Sea Otter Rescue is the third in the four-book Wildlife Rescue series. Each book introduces a species of animal in danger somewhere in the world and profiles a rescue center that helps it."

This is my idea of what a non-fiction animal book for young people ought to be in contrast with the 'Tigers for Kids' book I also reviewed today. This book is more enjoyable, much more professional, and made for an educational, fun, and engaging read. Suzi Eszterhas is award-winning wildlife photographer, and not too shabby of a writer, too. She gets the facts out in front, gets to the point, doesn't ramble or repeat herself, and makes a great case for her cause. Some of the profit from this book will go to aid in sea otter rescue at the Alaska SeaLife Center which is the source of her information.

In simple and plain, but informative prose we learn how sea otters end up in dire straits and what's involved in rescuing and caring for them. The people involved get some of the spotlight, too. I recommend this for anyone who cares about our fellow mammals, especially ones which are threatened as some sea otters are. What you read here might surprise you! Some of it did me! Note this is not to be confused with Sea Otter Rescue by Roland Smith or with Seldovia Sam and the Sea Otter Rescue by Susan Woodward Springer and illustrator Amy Meissner, neither of which I have read.

This book felt professional, knowledgeable, and focused. It was full of interesting and useful information. It did not hurt that it was also full of pictures of the cutest mammals ever. Mostly young ones, of course, because these are the ones most often in need of help. You would definitely not want to mess with a full grown one. In fact you oughtn't to mess with them at all - leave them be and enjoy them from afar. If one looks like it's abandoned or in trouble, call animal rescue. The book has a host of information about that, too.

Sea otters are struggling in some places and among their major problems is big oil, and pollution of the ocean from irresponsible trash jettisoning. In short, it's the usual suspect: destruction of habitat by insensitive and selfish humans. This book discusses the life and natural history of the sea otter, how irresponsible people make their lives immeasurably worse, and what's being done by this little Alaskan rescue center to come to their aid.

I loved the way it was written succinctly, but sparing no important detail, and I adored the pictures. It was a pleasure to read and served a needful and useful purpose. You can't ask for more than that in a book aimed at young people. It was beautifully presented, with rich, color images and well-organized. I recommend it.


Tigers for Kids by Kim Chase, John Davidson


Rating: WARTY!

This book was a free special on Barnes and Noble, and I can see why. It was not very well written and rather sloppily edited in places. It read more like fan-fiction than any serious attempt to interest young children in tigers. A lot of it was repetitive and felt, at least, like it had been taken from some online source and the rest made-up. A lot of it actually read like it was a middle-grade essay. It was free, so you can't complain too much, but caveat emptor! Or in this case, cave-cat emptor?!

While the book gets a lot right, it's also a fount of misinformation. For example, on page 7 (the page number on my tablet in the Nook reader - the book itself has no page numbers), we're told the modern tiger is a descendant of the "saber tooth tiger" but that's not true. Tigers and their closest relatives, snow leopards, broke away from other cat species some three million years ago and are not closely-related to saber-toothed cats (not tigers!) at all - no modern cat is.

One of the things the introduction promises, is to explain why tigers have stripes, and it comes up with the obvious answer that tigers are better camouflaged with stripes than if they were all orange or all black or white. What this book doesn't tell you is that the basic reason for the coloration is that the tiger's skin is that color! If a tiger were shaved, it would not look as pretty, but it would still have the same stripes, and probably would be a lot cooler in the daytime heat!

But the thing which isn't addressed at all is that the tiger tends to be a crepuscular and nocturnal hunter, plus, it sees prey and prey sees it in ways it is hard for us to imagine with our sight, so the tiger's camouflage and hunting habits have to be pictured in a world of poorer daytime vision, better nighttime vision (be it greyscale), and a world inhabited by odors which we cannot even begin to imagine with our amateur and dysfunctional noses!

It's not true to say the tiger can see as well as a human during daytime. It can see as well as it needs to, but it doesn't have the acuity humans have for the simple reason it never evolved in tigers: it wasn't necessary for them to be able to conduct their business, which is hunting, and which is conducted at twilight or at night. During those times of day the tiger can capture six times more light (not "six time greater" as the book has it) than humans because they have six times the number of receptor rods in their retinas - just like your domestic cat does. They also have, like a domestic cat, a tapetum lucidum - essentially a mirror behind the retina which reflects light back onto the retina so they can 'double-dip' as it were. The cost of this is that they have poorer daylight vision - both domestic cats and tigers - and see color poorly if at all as compared with humans.

The "six time greater" spelling/grammar error is repeated in other places in the book in different ways, such as when I read on page 15 that "their black strips...hide them", when it should clearly have read 'black stripes'. There are awkward constructions such as "One form of verbal communication used by tigers is roaring. Other tigers from as far away as two miles can hear the roaring of other tigers." Another instance was "It is not uncommon for there to be a dominant or leader among the cubs."

Contrary to what the book tells us, that "Our current day tigers evolved into a subspecies that existed 25 million years ago," modern tigers have existed for less than two million years. About three million years ago they existed only as an ancestor species that eventually split into snow leopards on the one hand and tigers on the other, so I have no idea where the '25 million' figure comes from, and the book offers no references whatsoever to check.

In conclusion, if your kids absolutely adore tigers and can't get enough of them, and you can get this book free, then go for it, but I can't in good faith recommend it as a useful book on the topic. You should read my other non-fiction review posted today to see how a book on animals should be done.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazing non-fiction book discusses "Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People" and shows how blind and stupid the religious fanatics are when they claim that homosexuality is unnatural. It's perfectly natural in that we see it throughout nature, where gender is even less of a binary matter than it is typically perceived as being in humans. Joan Roughgarden is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has written several books on the topics, and in this book she explores diversity in gender and sexuality among fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, including primates, as the blurb says.

She takes issue with sexual selection, which has been a tenet of the scientifically established Theory of Evolution since Charles Darwin himself published The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex way back in 1871. I disagree with her on that score, and have to point out that the book is in places, rather didactic. She has a soap box and she's sticking to it, but on the other hand, being a transgendered mtf herself, she does have an inside track! However, anecdote isn't the same as data, so beware of taking everything she says at full scientific value.

It's important to keep in mind that this is a book expressing a PoV, not a science paper, so it's written in layman's terms and a lot of it is not established scientifically, but I did not read it for that, I read it precisely for the diversity portions, and those were highly informative and quite entertaining. Note also that Richard Dawkins's popular books are, for example, written in precisely the same way as this, so there's nothing substandard or unusual about this style of writing.

While I would take issue with her theistic evolution viewpoint, I do every much enjoy her writing, and I recommend this educational book highly. It's a pity that those who most need to read and learn from it will doubtlessly dismiss it out of hand.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Orangutan by Rita Goldner


Rating: WORTHY!

I really like this book. It's very colorful and well-researched. It's not only telling a plausible and non-anthropomorphized story of a day in the life of a young Orangutan, it's also imparting facts about the life the animal leads. The animal is cute and sure to invoke feelings of kinship and protectiveness, and the story is neither too short nor too long. And what a great name for an author writing about an bright orange animal: Goldner! LOL!

One thing that I particularly liked is that the text, though small, is readily readable because if you put your thumb and forefinger together on top of the text and slide them apart, a plain text-box appears with the same text in a large font. You can also call it up by lightly tapping it twice with a finger. You remove the pop-up box with the same motion. This works for the story and the "Fun Fact" section which is on each page. it works on the iPad and on a smart phone, which is really nice since the text is really small there. Adding a voice reading the text (preferably by the author!) would be an improvement, but I was pleased with this as is. It's a great little book for youngsters and I recommend it.