A Dazzling Display of Dogs by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Michael Wertz


Rating: 5 stars

A Dazzling Display of Dogs by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Michael Wertz is a humorous and clever collection of poems about dogs doing what dogs do: riding in the car, sleeping, usurping a favorite chair, snuggling with a teddy bear, escaping, running, barking.

The vibrant and vivid colors of the illustrations will draw children of all ages into the pages and the funny, well-thought-out rhymes will keep the reader turning the pages.

The poems are adorable, and the unusual juxtaposition of shapes and graphics take the words to a new level. Some of the poems are written in circles, some on the wings of gulls, one is on a tennis ball sitting wetly in the dog’s mouth, and others crawl diagonally across the page. Movement is everywhere–this is not a sedate collection of poetry but rather poetry that will make its readers laugh out loud.

The illustrator, Michael Wertz, adopted his dog from the Berkeley Animal Shelter. She is a pit mix called Miss Olive.

He says, “Olive showed up in a couple of spots in A Dazzling Display of Dogs – there’s the poem that Betsy Franco (the poet) wrote called “Miss Olive’s Teddy Bear,” but that’s also Miss Olive who modeled for “Circling Poem 2 : Coco Circling on the Rug”. When you live with a dog, you end up drawing (and photographing) her a lot, and that ends up in the artwork, even as details or facial expressions. I have a huge scrap file of dog images to draw from as well, but it’s always fun when Miss Olive makes a personal appearance.”

His love of dogs shines through on every page.

Because of the sophistication of the language and vocabulary in some poems, this book will be enjoyed by children from the age of seven on up through adulthood.

Teachers will love using this book to teach students that poetry can be — and perhaps should be — lots of fun.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs was a starred review in the School Library Journal.

The first book of animal poetry, A Curious Collection of Cats, is just as clever and beautifully illustrated. It won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor.

Interview with Brian Hare, author of ‘The Genius of Dogs’

Brian Hare, author of “The Genius of Dogs,” wrote a revolutionary book that will change the way people think about their dogs.

Brian Hare and dog

courtesy of Brian Hare

Dr. Hare met with me during the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) conference in Spokane, Washington. He was there to present his findings on “Dognition.” He defines Dognition as how dogs use inferential reasoning to flexibly problem solve. Dogs showed different types of intelligence including navigation, memory, social learning, inhibitory control, and empathy.

Dognition began when Brian was in undergraduate school and was discussing with a professor how only humans can understand flexibly used gestures like pointing. Brian said, “I think my dog can do that.” He proceeded to test his dog at the local pond. He threw three different balls. The dog only saw where the first ball went. But the dog would follow Brian’s gestures to find the other two balls. He taped this. When he showed the video to his professor and a developmental psychologist, they got excited. “Now let’s really do some experiments,” they said.

From that almost accidental beginning, he went on to test chimpanzees, bonobos, wolves, foxes, and dogs of various breeds and how they compared in problem solving while seeing human gestures. He devised a cup test in which a food was hidden under one of two cups. The dog didn’t know which cup had food hidden under it, but when a person pointed or gestured to one of the cups, the majority of the time, the dog would choose that cup.

What Brian learned through his studies is that the genius of dogs is that dogs, unlike many other animals which humans consider to have higher intelligence, are geniuses at comprehending visual gestures.

He plans on continuing to work with Dognition. Currently, there are about 12,000 people who have tested their dogs’ “Dognition” on the website. His plan is to keep analyzing and developing the site and “celebrating individual dogs.”

Brian’s research began with his interest in human evolution. He had studied bonobos and chimpanzees; he had no idea that those studies would cross over into his work with dogs. He likes working with each animal for its own reasons, and because of his work with apes, he gets to go to Africa.

He is passionate about the condition of animals in many places. The bushmeat trade (killing primates for meat) contributes to the transmission of zoonotic diseases like HIV and ebola. He also believes that new strains of HIV and other diseases will emerge from the black market trade, so stopping the trade is vital in stopping the transmission of new diseases.

He also explained how media commercials and movies showing primates as happy, cute animals desensitize people about the true plight of those animals in the entertainment industry, research and the wild. (National Geographic paid to have chimps in their documentaries.) Primates can only be used for commercials and movies when they are young. As they get older and unmanageable, they are often abandoned and abused.

Also, when animals like primates are portrayed as cute in the media, people want them as pets. That perpetuates the sale of those animals on the black market. Then, when people realize that their pets are uncontrollable, they get rid of them, and there are no safe places for them to go. To repeat: Primates do not make good pets.

The media make chimps seem happy, well-cared-for in domestic settings, and generally well-adjusted. Marketing studies show that when the media portray animals like chimpanzees as “cute,” people see them as happy pet-like creatures and are less likely to help those animals in need. In a paid marketing study, after seeing a commercial with a cute chimpanzee, people didn’t donate to a primate-related cause, saying that the chimps in the commercial looked happy.

Regarding his animal studies, Brian said, “The change hasn’t been to the animal, it’s been to me. I had to know about dogs.” One of his dogs, named Oreo, … “changed my life path. And the social system of bonobos changed how I interact with my wife and think about conflict.” He went on to say that if a bonobo, who has a much smaller brain than he does, can resolve conflict without anger, then he can solve conflicts without getting angry.

When I asked what he wanted people to take away from his studies, he said: “Everybody knows that dogs are remarkable, but the exciting thing is that science is now learning why.”

Read “The Genius of Dogs,” a book that will change your thoughts about dogs.

Interview by Liz Kramer, APDT. She is also the co-author of this article.

Interview with Matthew Cody, author of the ‘Supers of Noble’s Green’ series


Matthew Cody should be a familiar name to those who read or recommend middle grade fiction. He wrote the popular series “The Supers of Noble’s Green” including “Powerless,” “Super,” and “Villainous.” He also wrote “Will in Scarlet,” about a companion of Robin Hood.

His books appeal to kids because they feature ordinary kids who come to do extraordinary things. One thing is for sure: Matthew Cody is no ordinary writer. He’s quite extraordinary.

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‘Why Dogs Eat Poop’ by Francesca Gould and David Haviland

dogs poop

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Why Dogs Eat Poop: Gross But True Things You Never Knew About Animals” by Francesca Gould and David Haviland is a nonfiction book for middle grade readers that will fascinate kids with its detailed and, at times, really gross information about animals that do disgusting things.

The Contents reads both alliteratively and fairly benignly. Amazing Animals, Peculiar Parents, Crafty Creatures, Mind-Boggling Biology, Vicious Varmints, Weird Wonders, Eye Can See You and Extra-Disgusting Details. But delve deeper and the mini-chapters ask questions like “Which Bird Drinks Blood?” (Hint: it’s not the vampire bird, it’s the vampire finch.)

“Can Ants Be Farmers?” is another section and describes how ants care for aphids and milk them in much the same way farmers milk their cows.

One touching section is entitled “Which Animals Make the Best Parents?” The answer is the Orca, also known as the killer whale. Killer whales stay with their family groups for life. The author writes, “Astonishingly, after 25 years of intensive research, watching killer whales in coastal waters of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, researchers have not observed one single incidence of a killer whale ever leaving its mother.” This is sad when thinking of “Blackfish,” the documentary slamming SeaWorld and their captive orcas. The orcas are taken from the wild and kept in small tanks where they will never swim in the wild again nor see their family.

“How Does a Snake Swallow an Antelope?” is yet another kind-of-gross, kind-of-fascinating section in this book that kids will read and then loan to their friends.

This book is a great tool to get kids hooked on nonfiction reading.

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.

‘Rain Reign’ by Ann M. Martin: Touching middle grade tale about a girl and a dog


Rating: 5 stars

With “RAIN REIGN,” Ann M. Martin cements her status as an author who writes fabulous stories about people and animals alike. In “RAIN REIGN” Martin brings to life the powerful connection between dogs and children, and how having a dog can make a huge difference in the life of a child.

Rose Howard is a girl who is on the autism spectrum. She is high functioning, but suffers from an overload of stimuli and a compulsive need for order and rules. This causes her to be ridiculed at school, and at home her life is no better.

Rose’s father is a gruff man, and he is unable to show her any love. There are several references to how he wants to raise her and not make the same mistakes that his father made. Young readers may not make the connection between his cryptic words and abuse, but they will recognize that he does not have the patience to deal with Rose as a loving father might.

Rose’s life changes when her father brings home a dog he found. She names the dog Rain because it’s a homonym and she compulsively thinks about homonyms throughout the day every day. It’s because of Rain that Rose is able to breach the divide between herself and some of the other students. They see her as more approachable with her dog.

When Rose’s father lets Rain out after a hurricane and Rain disappears, Rose is bereft. She cannot understand why her father didn’t put Rain’s collar on before letting her out. She is determined to find her lost dog and figures out an organized way to do it. She and her uncle visit and call all the surrounding shelters to see if Rain is there.

The ending is one that will bring tears to the eyes of any reader with a heart. Rose is a character worthy of study. She is fiercely loyal, with a strong sense of right and wrong. She understands how she is different from others and tries to overcome that so she can make friends. Rose embodies determination in many ways, from her determination to make friends to her determination to find her beloved dog.

This book is a must-read for classrooms. While kids will enjoy it on their own, reading it in the classroom setting — perhaps as a read aloud — will enable the teacher to lead discussions about why some kids are different from others. Discussions of feelings and how we are all alike in important ways are essential for children approaching adolescence. Rose explains what it feels like to be autistic in a simple-to-understand way.

Note that Canine Companions for Independence raises service dogs and pairs them with children who are on the autism spectrum because of that bond and the way that dogs can help autistic children.

For a middle grade book study, this would be a perfect companion to “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper and “Wonder” by R.J. Palacios.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Feiwel and Friends Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.

‘Saving Grace’ by Jane Green: What if someone stole your life?

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Rating: 5 stars

In her brilliant new book “Saving Grace,” Jane Green explores many themes. What makes a perfect marriage? Does one ever overcome a horrible childhood? How can someone steal into your life and take away that which you love before you realize it’s happening?

To outward appearances, Grace and Ted Chapman seem the perfect couple. And to one of them, Ted, they are the perfect couple. Grace, though, is very unhappy. Ted is a bully and he loses his temper at the least mishap, showering Grace with emotional abuse. Grace is sensitive to being yelled at as her mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, constantly yelled and screamed. Grace is unable to handle the yelling and anger her husband directs at her in private.

In public, though, they are impressive. Ted Chapman is a literary wunderkind; his books have been fantastically successful; and Grace is always at his side, the perfect partner, beautiful and elegant. However, when their assistant quits to take care of her mother, both Grace and Ted are bereft.

Grace is not organized and bills go unpaid. Ted loses his temper when there is no ink for the printer and he can’t print off a draft of his new book. When they meet Beth by chance, she seems like the perfect assistant. And when she begins to help both of them, they can’t believe how easy their lives have become. She organizes, cleans, sorts and schedules.

Grace does begin to suspect that something is a bit off with Beth, but soon enough there are bigger signals. A charity luncheon gone wrong. Then Beth, plain and a bit plump at first, loses weight and wears Grace’s cast-off clothing better than Grace did. Was it really an innocent mistake when she also wore a piece of clothing that Grace did not bag up to give away?

Finally, Grace’s life turns into a horror when the thing she fears most seems to be happening. Because her mother had a mental disorder, and basically died from it (unable to handle life and refusing to take medication that might have helped), Grace has always worried that she might suffer from it, also. She was so ashamed about it, she never told Ted or their daughter.

When Beth convinces Ted that Grace is suffering from a mental disorder, Grace must rescue herself — there is no one she can rely on. Beth has successfully poisoned everyone around her with doubts about Grace’s sanity and is, in fact, poised to take over Grace’s life.

Green’s writing is, as always, wonderfully descriptive and evocative. The beginning relies on explanations and background, but very quickly Green’s lively dialogue and fast-moving story draw the reader into Grace’s life.

Readers will yearn for the charming kitchens that are described in the book (and for another kitchen to yearn for, visit Jane’s website and see her own kitchen). Recipes are included at the end of every chapter (many of them beautifully British), so when Grace loves to cook, it’s obvious that this is due to Green’s own passion — a love of cooking and home-making.

“Saving Grace” is about a woman’s struggle to find herself when her marriage falls apart. Is she willing to settle for what had been her life — and upon reflection, a fairly unsatisfactory life at that? Or is she willing to take a chance that life on her own might just be what she needs?

Another thought that this story raises is about emotional abuse. Sometimes, is it the fact that the person being abused allows it to happen that causes the abuses to escalate? Grace’s childhood was such that whenever she was yelled at, she froze, reverting to a child-like inability to deal with anger.

The title, “Saving Grace,” is really a thoughtful one. In the end, the reader will ponder the question of whether in wrecking Grace’s life, did Beth really save it? Does it take a near disaster to make us appreciate what we have? For readers who love stories about realistic people with real faults, this book will ring true. Romance lovers? There’s a good bit for you, also.

It may not come as a surprise to loyal readers of Green’s books that she is also publishing a book of her favorite recipes. Is there anything that Green can’t do? Candle making, cooking, writing, what will come next?

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.

‘The One and Only Ivan’ by Katherine Applegate

one and only

Rating: 5 stars

“The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate is a book that almost defies definition. It’s a book that should earn six stars on the five star rating system, but only five stars are allowed.

It’s not quite a children’s book, but it’s not an adult book either. Rather, it’s a book for everyone, and it’s a tribute to animals everywhere who exist in small cages with substandard care due to ignorance, greed and apathy.

Applegate based this story on a real gorilla who lived for twenty-seven years in a cage in a shopping mall. Eventually, after much public protest, he was able to live in Zoo Atlanta.

The Ivan in the book is a wonderful protagonist and a wonderful narrator. Full of self-deprecating humor and with a biting wit, he tells his story with beauty and with feeling. Ivan is an artist and he tells his story with an artist’s voice. He doesn’t just relate his story, he colors it beautifully and shades it with vibrant emotion.

The book will bring tears to almost every reader’s eye — I defy anyone with a heart to not be touched by Ivan’s plight and that of his fellow inmates in the shopping mall where they are incarcerated.

But as with all great stories, beauty can be found in the basest of places and Ivan’s shopping mall is no different. All the inhabitants are victims of man’s cruelty.

Ivan’s family was killed when he and his twin sister were captured as babies. His sister died en route from Africa. Ruby, the baby elephant, saw her family killed in front of her when she was captured. And even Bob, the stray dog who completes their family, was one of a litter of puppies thrown from a car onto a road. Bob luckily rolled into a ditch; the others did not.

Yet in spite of the horrors and cruelty of their situation, the animals find comfort in each other. Ruby tells the story of the time when humans saved her from drowning in a well. When the others express their incredulity that humans would help an animal, Stella, the tired, lame elephant says, with typical understatement, “Humans can surprise you sometimes.”

The characters in the story become so real that when the book is over, it feels like a friendship is ending. The animals are so appealing, I want to keep talking to them. What’s Bob up to these days, anyway?

Applegate’s writing could be used as a model when teaching descriptive writing. For example, instead of writing, “I saw colors — a red flower over there and a black bird flying by,” she pens, “I grabbed at colors — the crimson flower just out of reach, the ebony bird streaking past.”

This book would be a wonderful choice for fifth-grade and older and even through high school. It could open up wonderful discussions about writing style, imagery, voice, inference, and global issues (for the older students) such as animal rights, poaching of wild animals, zoos, and treatment of animals.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever loved an animal. And those who haven’t.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher, HarperCollins, for review purposes.

‘Tuesdays at the Castle’ by Jessica Day George: First in a delightful series

tuesdays at the castle

Rating: 5 stars

Jessica Day George brings it all to her “Tuesdays at the Castle” series. The first book includes gripping action, fabulous characters, well-written dialogue and best of all — a magic castle.

The castle is at its best, or worst, on Tuesdays. That’s when it changes. And the main character, Princess Celie, wants to know all about the castle and its moods and changes. She is mapping the rooms, but how do you map a place that changes weekly?

And that’s the crux of the story — the relationship between Celie and the castle. For make no mistake, the castle is not inanimate — it’s a living, breathing, thinking creation. It somehow knows what Celie needs and makes it happen.

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‘Out of the Easy’ by Ruta Sepetys a beautiful story about 1950s New Orleans

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Rating: 5 stars

Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys is a gripping novel. It’s a book that can easily cross over from young adult fare to adult reading. The story, about a girl growing up in New Orleans, is beautifully told.

From the beginning, when the reader learns about Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, her sterling character grabs the reader’s heart. At that point, the reader is hooked — what becomes of Josie and how she deals with her abomination of a mother (and not because she’s a prostitute) — how does this strong, intelligent young lady turn out?

The setting is the French Quarter in 1950’s New Orleans. Readers will be able to breathe in the steamy scent of the Mississippi and see both the squalor and the mansions in the French Quarter. The snobbery and the kindness of families there are equally described as they pass by the bookstore where Josie works.

Josie has lived at the bookstore since the age of twelve, thanks to the kindness of the bookstore’s owner, Charlie. His son is one of Josie’s best friends and has the potential to become more than just a friend.

Josie also works mornings cleaning the brothel where her mother works, and where the madam, Willie, has befriended Josie. Josie’s other best friends are Willie’s driver, Cokie, and Willie’s cook, Sadie. They become the family that her mother, a cold, greedy, stupid, grasping woman, could never be.

Josie has many difficult choices to deal with. Should she try to attend Smith College far away from New Orleans while she carries the stigma of being the daughter of a prostitute? Or, cheaper and far more practical, attend a local college which would mean going to school with snobby girls who would spread the word about Josie’s antecedents.

The book is beautifully written and a commentary on life in the South in the 1950s. Sepetys portrays the social strata and the cruelty of those in the highest levels of society. The aura of corruption in New Orleans is also painted vividly as is the kindness and generosity of those Josie loves.

This is a story about prostitutes, their customers, the madam, and those who live on the fringes of society. It deals with mature themes — but never explicitly. While the book was written for those aged 14 and older, adults will enjoy the story and never realize that it’s not a book written for adults.

Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by the publisher, Philomel, for review purposes.

‘Ashes’ by Ilsa J. Bick


Rating: 5 stars

“Ashes” by Ilsa J. Bick is a book one should think very carefully about beginning. After all, finding time to read a 465 page book without stopping might be difficult.

But it’s guaranteed to be worth your while. Absolutely.

During the first chapter, the reader is grabbed by the neck and shoved face-first into the horrifying, desperate future after a world-wide disaster. Alex leaves her home on the North Shore of Chicago, Illinois, and journeys to the Waucamaw Wilderness in Michigan (the west part above Wisconsin). Continue reading