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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Little Joe Chickapig by Brian Calhoun, Pat Bradley

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Calhoun and illustrated by the author and Bradley, this book tells the quest of Little Joe, who is a chickapig: part chick, part pig, who lives on a farm and has ambitious dreams of going on quests, having adventures and even maybe fighting pirates. The pig part seems to be just his nose and ears, but that's not important. It takes a long and winding tale to set him straight about who inspires who to follow their dreams and the tale comes right back home at the end. I thought this was amusingly-illustrated, well-told (in rhyme yet!) and was a wonderful story. I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Small Matters by Heather Ferranti Kinser

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

If the fact that bumble bees have hairy eyeballs grosses you out, then this book is not for you! Not that bees really have eyeballs as such, but you know what I mean. The book literally zooms in on animals and finds things that are too small to be seen with the unaided eye.

I don't know about you, but for me, some books are way too long. This was too short, because it was over before I felt fully-satisfied by these truly engaging images and revelations. I wanted more, but for a much younger child than me, it's probably the ideal length. It educates young children to the unseen world, and encourages them to realize that there is much below the surface to fascinate and learn. I don't doubt that the lessons taught here will be as useful in preparing us for learning about fellow humans as they are in learning about the animals presented here, from all walks - and slithers an flights - of life.

In some thirty pages, we meet a sea-snail, a shark, a butterfly, a bird or two, a snake, an insect or two, and others that each has a microscopic secret to success. For example, I'm sure many of you know that a gecko has a sort of 'suction pad' on its feet that help it climb the walls, but the details of exactly how this works are really interesting - and it's not really a suction pad! Each creature we visit here has a similar script about some aspect of its life. It turns out that 'small matters' are big deals! I found it fascinating and educational and I commend this as a worthy read.

Follow Those Zebras by Sandra Markle

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was definitely a worthy read. I mean who's doesn't love a zebra - and here's a British joke: who doesn't appreciate a zebra crossing?! This is about Zebras crossing scores of miles of terrain (when they're allowed to with farm fences not getting in their way). A herd (sometimes known as a zeal of zebras!) of some 2,000 animals, would disappear periodically and return just as seemingly magically.

No one knew where they went or why, so they fitted collars to some o the mares (who fight less, of course, than the stallions do, so they're much less likely to damage a collar) to track them by satellite. They made some interesting discoveries, and in the light of climate change, a scary discovery, too.

The book for me was a bit too prolix. The 44 pages could have been cut by maybe a quarter and still presented a solid and educational book, but I'm not going to bring it down because it had a few extra pages of zebra pictures, including some young 'guns. The story it told was very educational: scientistic and informative, and it handsomely explained what was happening, so I commend this one as a worthy read.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Insect Superpowers by Kate Messner, Jillian Nickell

Rating: WORTHY!

This book seemed rather obsessed with ants, but that aside it was a worthy read for any child who wants to learn fun and interesting stuff, learn more about insects, or be a bit grossed out. We're talking about supersonic assassins, decapitators, green bolts, malevolent mimics, aphid imposters, false flashes, weight lifters, mutant grasshoppers, shells of steel, machine gun butts, vomitizers, glue shooters, evil architects, fungus farmers, sonar smashers, super stings, pirate queens, and jaws of doom!

I defy any kid not to be interested in something in there! Illustrated in fine style by Nickell and written breathlessly by Messner, this book is sure to appeal to your kid. Or you. You can pretend it's for your kid. Really. It's ok. I won't tell. Honest.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Rating: WORTHY!

This book sounded quite interesting and although it wanders from the octopus often to delve into other topics, it always comes back to the main one and overall, despite an issue or two, I enjoyed this audiobook, read by the author, and commend it as a worthy read. It's for the most part well written, although a bit sentimental and anthropomorphizing at times, and the author has a pleasant and enjoyable reading voice.

The story covers her falling in love with the octopuses (octopods if you must, never octopi), at the Boston Aquarium, and since they're so short-lived - the Pacific giant octopus, which is the mainstay of this book, lives only for four years or so at most, and is biologically programmed to die after caring for the thousands of eggs that she lays. In the main, there were three of these animals discussed throughout the book: Athena, Kali, and Karma, but others were also touched upon - sometimes literally!

At one point I had to question the purpose of bringing these animals from the wild into a zoo to be put on display. There was this one relatively young octopus they named Kali, who featured in a large part of the book. Overnight, she managed to get out of this new tank she'd just been put into that same day, and she died of dehydration and suffocation on the floor at night.

There was a small gap in back of the tank where the water pipe went in, to keep the water refreshed, and she somehow squeezed through that. You have to wonder how intelligent these critters really are when they deliberately leave a safe environment to go into the open air through a two- or three-inch gap. The thing that really bothered me though, was the sheer number of accounts in this book, of this kind of thing happening repeatedly, affecting one species after another. Frankly it was irresponsible of the captors of these animals not to have seen to their welfare better than they did and I'm sorry the author didn't seem angry about it. She was more like, 'Oh well, there goes another octopus. Bring a fresh one in.' It's a little cruel to phrase it like that, but honestly, that was sometimes how it felt to me.

Obviously caring for animals is not an exact science, and things can go wrong. I can imagine if these animals were kept by private owners there would be all kinds of stupid and thoughtless mistakes made and animals dying, but this is the Boston Aquarium staffed by seasoned professionals and the number of incidents was disturbing, like for example, when this electric eel got from its tank into a neighboring one where it electrocuted two prized fish in that tank.

Seriously, did these people never consider keeping the tanks completely isolated from one another? Keeping secure lids on them? At least giving a nod and a wink to Murphy's Law? The saddest thing is that it felt like none of them learned anything from past experience and were therefore condemned to repeat their mistakes. This is incompetence, plain and simple. I sincerely hope other zoos and aquaria take more care.

I can also imagine that Kali's death was an emotional moment for the author after she'd bonded quite strongly with this particular octopus, but the rapidity with which she moved on to Kali's replacement, named Karma, of all things, rather cheapened her mourning period. It was at that point that she put some stuff in the book aimed at justifying going through this parade of wild-captured octopuses.<./p>

She talked about the value of the education that the aquarium does, but she never said a word about pollution or climate change and whether or not the educational experience, for whatever it's worth, that random members of the public get in seeing these animals in captivity, ever really translates into any concrete results in terms of public awareness and support for combatting climate change, or pollution, or in increasing environmentalism.

The absence of something like that undercut the value of her words, because without knowing if that works and produces results it seems fatuous indeed to me to be so devil-may-care about capturing these animals from the wild and then seeing them die in foolish and thoughtless ways. Neither does it do any good to educate people that the giant pacific octopus is really cute, interesting, and harmless if they don't connect its habitat with a polluted and warming ocean. I found that annoying and inappropriate.

I had to ask myself why they aren't breeding these octopuses and repatriating their offspring back to the ocean, or using the bred-in-captivity offspring to populate zoos instead of capturing more from the oceans. That would help to make up for those that are dying in captivity, but she didn't say a word about that either! Overall I got the impression that she was so enamored of the animals that her thoughts really were not free enough to stray very much into the bigger picture, which was truly sad.

That said, the book was educational, although it could have gone a lot further, and it was entertaining. It gave me more of a picture of what's involved in maintaining an exhibit in an aquarium and in how octopuses interact with novelty - including humans sticking their arms into the tanks. It said a lot less about what I was interested in: how intelligent (or dumb!) these animals truly are or what efforts are being made to measure and test that intelligence. I'd hoped for more. This was very much a puff piece - a PR exercise for octopods - but I was reasonably satisfied with what I got, so on that basis I rate it a worthy read.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, Guy Parker Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

A cute little book for young kids, and an affirmation of do-ability for anything they want to try. The tall, ungainly giraffe wants to enter the jungle dance contest, but while other animals disport themselves famously, the poor giraffe can do a thing until it gets some advice from Jiminy Cricket - or some relative of his, and inspired by the full Moon, it finally finds its groove! This was a very colorful, silly and fun book that children will love.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Happenings at Hookwood by Michael Wilton

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I made it a quarter the way through this, but had too many issues with it to continue. It may appeal to a certain set of readers, but I found it inappropriate for children and downright objectionable in parts.

The story is of a young rabbit named Startup who lives with his mom and dad in a community close by an old house. When a couple move into the house and bring their cat, an alarm runs through the wild community. This part I could get with because pet cats are in fact devastating our ecology. There are so many of them preying on wild birds and other animals that they're actually destroying wildlife at an alarming rate. Unfortunately that's not the thrust of this novel at all. On the contrary - rather than trying to do good with the fiction, it seems like the story is going in the opposite direction. More on this shortly.

My first problem with this is that while this is obviously a children's book, one of the rabbits smokes a pipe. Admittedly he does have it taken away by his wife later, but the fact that he had it at all is a problem in a children's novel. This is not the nineteen-fifties! I don't mind some anthropomorphization of animals in children's books, but if you're going to make them completely human, then why have them as animals at all? To me it makes no sense to divorce them completely from their nature. These rabbits - and other animals such as squirrels and owls, for example - were entirely human - so much so that they'd lost all connection with nature. That was a problem for me. This lack of a vision as to what their origin was, had become so all-encompassing that at one point Mrs Rabbit, Startup's mom, was making curtains. For a burrow. Which by definition is underground. Where there are no windows. I won't get into why mom is depicted in traditional female roles and so on.

The next problem was that Startup - who seems to be appropriately named, sought to trick a squirrel into paying him for recovering some nuts. I could not get my mind around exactly how this came to be despite going back and re-reading several pages, but clearly Startup's motives were hardly altruistic. I didn't think this was a good example to set before children.

Right after this we're introduced to a hare, the characterization of which is evidently heavily-influenced by the idea of 'mad as a march hare' and the creature is depicted as crazy which again to me was a highly inappropriate precedent to set before children when thinking about a person who appears to have to some mental health issues, or who is maybe simply a bit different in his approach to life. He was called 'Lenny the Looney' and Startup's attitude to him is described like this: "He had no desire to get caught up in a dotty duscussion with Hare'. That's about where I decided I didn't want to read any more of this book, and why I cannot commend it based on the portion of it I have read.

Winter Sleep by Sean Taylor, Alex Morss, Cinyee Chiu

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a sweet and charming book about animals who sleep their way through winter the better to creep out with the spring and renew their lives along with nature revitalizing itself each year. Visiting his grandmother, the unnamed boy in the story is taken to a secret glade in the nearby woods where he finds the charm and appeal of nature to be irresistible. But when he makes a return visit in winter, the entire glade has changed, and far from being a place of buzzing insects, flourishing flowers, and chirping birds, it lies asleep under a blanket of snow, soundless, lifeless.

Or so it appears.

Grandmother Sylvie points out though that even in the midst of the quietude, they're surrounded by sleeping nature: the bears and the bees, the dormouse, the bat, the beetles, the earwigs, the moths, the fish and the frogs, all hidden and awaiting the return of long days and strong sunshine to wake up and get moving. There's a section at the back of the book about how and why animals hibernate, and the illustrations by Cinyee Chiu are charming and well-wrought. I commend this as a worthy read.

Wild in the Streets by Marilyn Singer

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

A Singer writes poetry! I'm not a huge fan of the poetic despite having published a volume of my own short stories and poems, but you have to love this one which not only teaches about wild animals that have adopted a lifestyle among humans - for better or for worse, but which also teaches a bit about poetry, using several different forms to describe the various animals and discussing those at the end of the book.

As for the animals? Well! The book travels the world from Austin to Australia, Rome to Rio, and it looks at Coyotes in Chicago (although pick most places in the US and you'll find coyotes!), Agoutis in Brazil, Bees in Vancouver, Butterflies in California, Boars in Germany, Hyenas in Ethiopia, tree frogs in Taipei, badgers in burial grounds, and so on. The animals are fascinating: from charming to harming, and trooping to pooping. Just like the the pigeons with the deadly aim, you can't miss with this book, which was fascinating and engrossing. I commend it as a worthy read.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Animal Awards by Martin Jenkins, Tor Freeman

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by Jenkins and illustrated by Freeman, this is a fun and educational book about animal world record holders. Some of the records are less to be desired than others, but are nonetheless interesting. The book covers axolotls to vampire bats, and scores of others in between, but it features only those who are outstanding in one way or another - and their closest competitors. It might be that they live longest - like an estimated 400 years for a Greenland shark! - or that they are the fastest on land - like the cheetah, or the fastest in the air, like the peregrine falcon.

Maybe they have the goofiest mating dance, or can make the loudest noise (from one of the smallest animals, too!). Maybe they dive deeper or travel further, or have the most boring diet. Whatever it is, they're very likely in here. The record holders are not always cute and cuddly-looking mammals either. They could be vertebrates or non-vertebrates, fish, molluscs, birds, insects, mammals, amphibians. They could live anywhere on land or sea, or in the air. They could live in the hot or the cold, the jungle or the plains. But they're out there, and this books tells you what's special about them, and with enough text to educate, without lecturing, and with colorful and useful illustrations.

We puff ourselves up with human achievements, and often forget that these animals were first in the field (and elsewhere!). I commend this as a worthy read.

Jerry the Squirrel by Shawn PB Robinson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I'm a big fan of squirrels because they're so utterly insane and so proud of it to boot. I couldn't not read a book about them, and I'm glad I did in this case as it happens, because it was amusing and entertaining. Jerry is an inventor and while he doesn't necessarily always think things through, he does carry things through, and he never conceives of a solution to a problem without actually designing and building that solution. That's when the real problem starts, unfortunately.

Cold floor? That calls for super-duper slipper solution! Nut harvest time? That clearly calls for a nut-harvesting machine! Nut beetle invasion? That calls for...well, Jerry has some issues with the solution to that one!

The slippers, the first story in what, in effect, amounts to a collection of short stories about Jerry, was by far the most amusing to me. It was inspired, and I loved it. The impact of the subsequent stories seemed less after that one, but they were still eminently entertaining even when the rather-annoying Gary and his mom moved in upstairs.

If I have a complaint it was that I felt Jerry ought to have been granted some reward, somewhere along the trail, in some fashion or other, but the hapless squirrel never seems to get one. While this is amusing in some ways, I can't help but wonder if children who read this might be induced to feel that being creative is a forlorn and pointless exercise because of poor Jerry's singular lack of lasting success and recognition.

That aside, the stories were amusingly-written, inventive, and engaging and I commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath

Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and while there were some tame bits, for the most part it amused me highly. I'm not sure who it was aimed at. It seems a bit too mature for a middle-grade or earlier audience, and a bit too 'bunny' for older audiences, but none of that bothered someone like me who is completely insane.

It's read in fine style by the author, and she does a great job. She seems to take an unhealthy delight, it must be noted, in pronouncing bunny with an explosive beginning and a whimper of an ending. That word appears in almost every other sentence. 'Rabbit' not so much.

This is a sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! which I have neither read nor heard, but which deficit I intend to rectify at an early opportunity. Fortunately this one worked as a stand-alone so I didn't feel robbed at not having encountered the initial volume first. Once again it's a case of the publisher not having the decency to put something on the cover indicating it's a part of a series. This is why I self-publish. I do not trust Big Publishing™ one bit.

In this story the bunnies, Mr & Mrs, travel by ship to England to inherit a sweet shop, and hopefully a title - like Queen - along the way, and the story is about their travel across the ocean, their struggle to get to the shop, and get it up and running profitably, and endure assorted mishaps along the way including an unprovoked assault with acorns by squirrels along the way. I tell you, those squirrels. If I had an acorn for every time....never mind. I do.

I commend this as a funny bunny story and a worthy wabbit wead. Or wisten! Be advised: Do not let it get anywhere near marmots.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This isn't out until January 2020, but again there are reviews appearing on Goodreads already. I refuse to post there since it's Amazon-owned, but I don't feel bad about posting this so early since everyone else apparently is already doing so!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, was too long for my taste. It began interestingly enough, but after the initially flurry of excitement over the disappearance of the head from a statue in the grounds of an old and barely-used public library in New York City, things seemed to slow to a glacial pace with nothing really happening. There are some four hundred pages all told, but in the first one hundred, this was literally all that happened that had anything to do with the main plot, and I found that while the story wasn't exactly boring, I wasn't looking forward to reading another three hundred pages of this like I ought to have been.

The title and then the blurb is what drew me in because it sounded, fun, oddball, and intriguing, but the story didn't turn out to be any of those things, and the characters seemed so lifeless and uninteresting that I found no one to buoy me up and carry me along. Pearl is the main character. Her mom works at the library as the circulation librarian, but she's neither in charge, nor second-in-charge at the library, so why she's called in when there is an apparent break-in, I have no idea. She nonetheless comes in and drags her daughter, who is too young to be left home alone, at three o'clock on the morning which is just plain irresponsible.

It's weird, too, because the author has some oddball idea that she has to add footnotes every single time she mentions a book or a magazine. The story is set in a library, but really? Even commonly-known books, such as Harry Potter are referenced, like no one ever heard of them. Worse, there are sidebars for no apparent reason. The first sidebar is one which explains what sidebars are. The others have little or nothing to do with the story, but go off at tangents from it. One sidebar is about four times longer than the text on the page. Several more ran to two pages which is way too long for a sidebar. I quickly took to skipping the sidebars.

I did like the idea that raccoons had this secret life and produced their own newspaper, but it took way too long to get that part of the story moving - about a third of the way in, and right at the point where I was seriously thinking I should really let this book go and move on to something which would spark my interest more; however, the story became rather more intriguing after that. I still felt like it was too long and dragging, and I found myself really wishing that the characters would be less docile and a bit more motivated; less lackluster and more go get 'em.

To me they seemed like they were drifting through life letting things happen to them rather than being shakers and movers. This changed, but again it took forever to get there. The main character developed a friendship with this girl she initially found irritating, and those two combined made one interesting character as it were - like they were two halves by themselves - not completely and not wholly engaging, but almost interesting enough as a pair.

The big problem for the library staff wasn't the fact that their statue in the library grounds was missing its head, but that circulation was at an all-time low, and no one seemed interested in coming into the library any more. Bruce, the library branch head, seemed more interested in begging for more money from the city than ever he did in coming up with ideas to actually bring more people into the library. Never once did he say what he would do with this money if he got it (not until right at the end), so why would they give it to him?

I was disappointed in this approach because it quite frankly made the library staff look like idiots who could only bemoan the fact that the library was in grave danger of being closed and the building sold, instead of thinking positively and taking preventative action to thwart the threatened closure by stirring up interest in the library, or in putting on activities to bring people back. I've met one or two librarians who were idiots, but not many. This approach - that the entire library staff is idiotic - was a poor direction in which to drive a story about books.

The result of this was that rather than side with these people who I found tedious, I was starting to get fully on the side of the city who seemed to favor closing the library, because I'd been given no reason at all to root for the librarians. Why would I root for people who had let it all slide to this sorry impasse in the first place? The time to be thinking of solutions was months ago when circulation first showed signs of sinking, not when it had reached a nadir. Why would any city want to support a bunch of people who did nothing to help themselves and simply sat around whining about their sorry status and begging for handouts instead of showing signs that they were actively trying to make improvements in the things they had control over, but had let slip from their lax grasp?

So like I said, I was about ready to let this go, but then it all turned around and the last two or three hundred pages made up a lot for the sluggish writing in the first hundred or so. At that point the story became much more interesting and I became much more engaged, although I have to say the final reveal was a bit much. The early talk about the missing head was that it was solid stone and too much weight for someone to simply walk-off with, but then we see this little kid carrying around this replacement head like it weighs nothing, and this is a granite carving! Granite is one of the densest stones and weighs more for a given size than most other stone does, so it made rather disingenuous all this talk about how limited the pool of potential thieves was ! Had I known a kid could carry the head, it would have been easier to work out who was really behind it. I felt a bit cheated there!

So this review sounds negative because it is. It reflects my strong feelings over the first hundred and some pages, and my disappointment in the sluggish story-telling and poor pacing, and improbable ideas. And I'm not counting literate raccoons, which I enjoyed, as improbable at all. Not for this purpose! The rest of the story let them down though. So overall, I cannot commend this as a worthy read at all.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis

Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Bird's Eye View The Natural World by John Farndon, Paul Boston

Rating: WORTHY!

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

"Pampas deer grass" should be ‘pampas deer graze' I suspect on the South American page.

This colorful and educational book is quite literally what it says: a bird's eye view of various places of beauty and fascination in the world, starting in the Florida Everglades and going down over South America, out to a Pacific atoll, then across the Pacific to Uluru Rock in central Australia, up over the Guilin Hills in China, across the Asian Steppes, down over the Himalayas, through East Africa, across to Wales, on to Northern Scandinavia, back to the Irish coast, and then to France.

At each stop we learn about the animals and plants that live there, and a little about the ecology and how the land got to be that way at that location. It was unusual, fun, and very interesting, and hopefully it will lure readers into learning more. I don't think anyone who has read this book or anything like it can fail to see what horrible things we're doing to our planet and how urgent it is that we stop doing those things and rectify the evil we've already perpetrated. I commend this fully as a very worthy read.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I happily reviewed Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Festival back in August of 2017, and while I felt this one did not quite match up to the high standard that one set (I really enjoyed that one!), I still think this is a worthy read. It expands on the original story and adds new folklore, and has some interesting new characters.

The author's artwork is of the same high standard as before, but the story felt to me a little bit more meandering. I should say up front that I'm not a fan of series because they tend to be little more than a retreading of the original story. Like retreaded tires, they're not worth the money, and are typically boring to me. This was not one of those sequels I was happy to see. It did have some more story to tell that was new and different.

As I said before, the tea dragon story book is everything that the overly-commercialized 'My Little Pony' garbage ought to have been, but failed so dismally to get there. The tea dragon stories do get there, and by a different and far more interesting route. The little dragons are renowned for the tea they produce through leaves which grow on their horns and antlers. Those leaves contain memories which the drinker can share, but they cannot grow without a true bond between the Tea Dragon and its care-giver. And no, you cannot buy that tea commercially!

Rinn, the protagonist here, grew up with tea dragons and is used to their being around and their habits and foibles, but in this outing she runs into a real dragon named Aedhan, who has been sleeping for a very long time. This enchanted sleep is a mystery that begs to be solved, and Rinn is up to the job! I commend this story as a fun and worthy read.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Confuchsia: An Early Bird's Tale by Alan J Paul

Rating: WARTY!

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

I couldn't get with this book at all and for a number of reasons. It's not accurate at all, and doesn't even try to be. Yes, it's aimed at young children, and no, it's not a science text book, nor should it be, but science education and understanding in the USA frankly sucks. It's consistently shown itself to be appalling and has fallen lately to where the combined math, science and reading scores in the US are way behind China, for example with whom a trade war is, as of this writing, in full swing, and even behind other places not renowned for their prowess, such as Estonia, Vietnam, Slovenia, Macau, and the Czech Republic, for example. Books like this are not to blame for those poor scores, but they sure don't lift a finger to help, and so are a part of the problem.

You can argue all you want that this is a children's book, not a science book, and it shouldn't be expected to teach children what they're obviously failing to learn in our underfunded schools, but the bare fact remains that it is just as easy to get facts right as to get them wrong, and you never hurt a child by telling the truth. On top of that, there was a strong religious element in this book which I didn't appreciate what with talk of a supreme being - which contributed nothing at all to the story and had no place in it, and with naming the characters after Confucius and Buddha! Why?!

The basic story is an old one of the 'ugly duckling' variety where a baby is born (in this case hatched) and doesn't fit in with the rest of the family - and so it's kicked out? This was the wrong approach to begin with. I hope no adopted child reads this. The child, Confuchsia, has to make her own way in the world very briefly, until she's rescued by a guy! Way to make a woman feel invalid until some guys saves her. The book buys right into the 'women are helpless playthings or property of men' garbage that women are still fighting, even in the west.

Confuchsia is obviously based on the fossil Confuciusornis, which contrary to this author's belief was not a bird and could not fly. Confuciusornis lived about 120 million years ago, and so would never have encountered a Brachiosaurus which lived thirty million years earlier, nor T rex, which lived sixty million years later, nor any velociraptor which also lived much later.

Obviously you don't want to spell out all these things in a children's book, or lecture them, but a modicum of research would have turned up a primitive bird such as Apsaravis which did live at the time of the velociraptors and T rex, and which could fly, along with Chiayusaurus which could have readily stood in for the brachiosaur. Also Confuciusornis was far from brightly-colored. It was a rather drab gray and brown color as far as science can determine. It took me five minutes to dig-up this information!

I'm sorry but this book could have done a lot better both in the factual parts of it and in how the story was told. As it was, it was passing on misinformation when it would have been just as easy to get it right and without even changing the arc of the story! I can't commend a book that so badly misinforms children and really doesn't tell that great of a story anyway.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

Rating: WORTHY!

Written in 2013 by an author who died almost exactly a year ago, this was a fun little audiobook which frankly dragged a bit for me towards the end, but given how short the book is and how much fun the first two-thirds of it was, I'm not about to mark it down for that, especially since it wasn't written for my age group!

This mouse not only has a question mark tail, he lacks a real name and is known as Mouse Minor for the most part - and he is minor - small for his age. It seemed so obvious that I don't see it as a spoiler to reveal that this mouse is royalty. He's sent to school but ends up getting in trouble over a caterpillars-in-lunch-boxes incident to which Mouse Minor neither confesses nor denies. He runs away instead and ends up on an adventure in which he's kidnapped by bats and eventually gets an audience with Queen Victoria herself who seems, I have to say, curiously unafraid of mice.

Richard Peck is an American and while he does for the most part get his 'Britishisms' right, there are times when he strays, but most Americans won't notice those, especially not children. Overall though, this was a fun romp and I commend it as a worthy listen, but I should warn you that this is an old style children's novel (Peck was in his late seventies when he wrote it) and so it contains some violent concepts which tend not to appear in children's books written by younger authors. These include a somewhat bloodthirsty discussion of the beheadings in the French revolution, which goes on a little bit too long, and also instances of Mouse Minor contemplating having his brains beaten to jelly by the school bullies - that sort of thing, so be mindful of that.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Who Laid the Egg? By Audrey Sauble

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a colorful little book for young children about eggs and the creatures that lay them. It poses a question at each egg illustration, and offers some possible solutions as to who laid it. Sometimes there are many suggestions, sometimes a few, sometimes only one! Children can have fun guessing who did what, and comparing the kinds of eggs to see if that can be used as a reliable clue. The animals include birds, turtles, dinosaurs, and even a mammal! This is a fun book for young children and I commend it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

1, 2, 3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? by Janina Rossiter

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I don't personally know Janina Rossiter, but we've exchanged an email now and then, and I've favorably reviewed several of her books on their merit, most specifically the 'Tovi the Penguin' books. She's branched out into a different concept here: teaching counting and at the same time offering some environmental awareness to young children. I believe this is something of a companion to her 'ABC' book, although I haven't read that one.

In an era where we find trash islands floating in the ocean and beached whales with pounds of plastic in their gut, and as National Geographic reported last October, your table salt most likely includes tiny plastic particles no matter where in the world you buy it, it hits any rational, caring person hard in the head as to how badly we're making a mess of our environment.

The book aims to counteract some of that by educating youngsters about this nightmare of a problem. It starts with the number one and finds a marine animal to represent each number in one way or another. Obviously the 8 is an octopus, but what number is a Jellyfish collecting plastic bags? Children will have fun finding out which other animals have different numbers of legs or fins, but more importantly, they will learn how bad our ocean is and how desperately it needs help.

Yes the ocean is huge, but so is the problem. We've been tossing modern trash into it for decades, and like climate change, it's way past time to stop making things worse. Maybe a kid who reads this will grow up to take charge of the problem and fix what we have so poorly managed. I commend this book as a worthy read.