‘Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves’ by Caitlin O’Connell

Caitlin O’Connell knows a lot about animals. She spent decades studying animals in their native habitats from the Pacific Ocean to the African savannah. She specializes in elephants, and this is just the latest of her many nonfiction books about these majestic animals. But while “Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves” does include elephant rituals, she also includes the rituals of diverse animals from flamingoes and other birds to Galapagos tortoises and African lions. Even her dog, Frodo, is included in the discussion.

Continue reading

Andy Carpenter Strikes Again….and Again

“Silent Bite” is author David Rosenfelt’s twenty-second entry in the Andy Carpenter Mystery series, and it’s just as engaging and entertaining as the first twenty-one. I must admit that I’ve now read all twenty-two of them, and I still can’t help laughing out loud at the extraordinarily humorous phrases, sentences, and stories that grace virtually every page. As a matter of fact, LOL now has a home, and its name is Andy Carpenter. But the beauty of these novels lies in the simple realization that they’re both funny and suspenseful. And keeping readers in suspense while they laugh is, indeed, quite a feat.

In “Silent Bite,” attorney Andy’s client is Tony Birch, a former gang-banger who has served prison time because of a manslaughter charge of which he was wrongly accused and convicted. At his trial for that crime-that-wasn’t, two fellow gang members acted as eye-witnesses to his alleged crime, and their incriminating testimonies taken together were the coup-de-grace. Also during that trial, Tony had become so enraged at their fake testimony that he loudly threatened to kill one of them. Now, six years later, both of them have been murdered, and Tony is obviously the prime suspect even though he has straightened out his life in the intervening years and is now a respected small business owner. So Andy takes on his case, this time at the urging of one of his dear friends, Willie Miller, whom Andy had successfully defended in an earlier novel.

As always in these mysteries, Andy and his friends and crew are all sharp, tough, street-wise, and very funny. Each character continually either displays or is the object of Rosenfelt’s own unique sense of humor. Those characters, of course, include the ubiquitous canine pet/investigative assistants. One of them, for example, is the K9 partner of investigator Corey Douglas, whose team works for Andy. No spoilers here, so I won’t tell you the dog’s name, but here are a couple of hints: his initials are SG, and when he stretches (after a doggie-nap, for instance), he forms a virtual bridge over troubled waters.

So Andy and friends investigate; get themselves into all kinds of perilous, even life-threatening situations; patiently and doggedly (!) accumulate clues, and invariably take us on a roller-coaster ride of suspense and laughter. And even though every Andy Carpenter novel is a fascinating and complex mystery, there remains one thing we know for sure: when all is said and done, Andy Carpenter — and David Rosenfelt — will emerge as the winners every time.

‘Our Dogs, Ourselves: How We Live with Dogs’ by Alexandra Horowitz is an informative dog book for middle grade readers

Do you love dogs? Don’t miss “Our Dogs, Ourselves: How we Live with Dogs” by Alexandra Horowitz. Often, I love reading a nonfiction book written for middle grade children because while it’s informative and filled with fascinating knowledge, I don’t have to wade through pages and pages to get the information. It’s a quick and easy version of the adult book. And if you love dogs? This engaging and informative book is all about our bond with these amazing creatures — how we love them, how they return that love, and how we can best treat them. Continue reading

‘The Dog Who Saved the World’ by Ross Welford is amazingly funny and simultaneously exciting

I must admit, this is the first novel by Ross Welford that I’ve read. It won’t be the last. Actually, the reason this book caught my eye was the “dog” in the title. And this dog, Mr. Mash, is the epitome of dogly dogs. He smells awful from nose (his rank breath) to tail (the gas he emits is constant and horrifying in its ability to spew outward). But he is also the epitome of dogs because he loves everyone, especially main character Georgie. Continue reading

‘The Particulars of Peter’ by Kelly Conaboy is the book you didn’t know you needed to read

Kelly Conaboy loves her dog. She loves her dog Peter so much that she wrote a book, “The Particulars of Peter: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, and Other Excuses to Hang Out with My Perfect Dog,” about him. Like most of us canine fans, she loves her dog to distraction. She obsesses about her dog more than most of us, and she writes about Peter in a humorous and touching manner that few of us could match. Continue reading

‘A Wolf for a Spell’ by Karah Sutton is an engaging fairytale for middle grade readers

“A Wolf for a Spell” by Karah Sutton is a clever story of magic, determination, unlikely alliances, and folktale figures. We first meet Zima, a wolf with a mind of her own. Instead of hating humans and killing an unprotected girl from the nearby village, she shows mercy. But the presence of magic, and the witch Baba Yaga, the wielder of the magic, have thrown the wolves into a state of discomfort. They are determined to protect themselves from the humans who seem out to destroy the forest and its inhabitants. Continue reading

To Bark Box or not? Thoughts after receiving the first box

As you know, my blog is about books and animals. I adore both and actually went into teaching to bring books and animals (specifically dogs) to my students. My facility dog, Peanut, held up her part of the deal admirably in the nine years she worked with students. (Google “Miss Peanut therapy dog” to see her brief moment of fame. Note she isn’t really a therapy dog, but a facility dog, which is much fancier.) Continue reading

Picture books for worriers, grumps, wolves and those in need of help

Sometimes, reading the right picture book can be just the right medicine for what ails your youngster. Here are four picture books that will ease worries, make that grumpy one smile, and illustrate that we all need friends in our lives to help us and play with us. So get out your shopping list and be ready to add some books that fit the empty spot on your bookshelf (metaphorically speaking).

“Mootilda’s Bad Mood” by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call is the story of Mootilda, who is in a terrible mood. In Rosen Schwartz’s trademark meter we see that nothing seems to be going Mootilda’s way. Her popsicle falls on the floor; while jumping rope she trips and spills a bucket of milk; she falls off her bike and does a belly flop into the pond. Worse yet, her bad mood seems to be catching. The chickens tell her, “Our stuff was pecked. Our projects wrecked. We’re feeling bleak and blue.” Mootilda replies, “Oh my, what a cow-incidence! You’re in a bad mood too?” But sometimes, misery loves company ,and having others to cow-miserate with helps. Get this one for the message, but enjoy the clever word play and Claudia Ranucci’s whimsical illustrations. (Little Bee Books)

“Brenda Is a Sheep” by Morag Hood is a picture book in which the words only tell part of the story. It’s the kind of picture book that I like to read to students first without showing them the illustrations. They get pictures in their minds from the text, and those pictures are the opposite of what is really going on in the story. They can’t believe it when they finally see the illustrations and realize that everything that they’ve been imagining is completely wrong! The text says, “These are sheep.” And there is an illustration of a dozen fluffy white sheep. The next page says, “This is also a sheep. This sheep is called Brenda. Brenda has a very nice woolly sweater.” And the illustration shows a gray wolf in an orange sweater. And while the text tells us one thing, what we actually see is that Brenda does not like eating grass or doing sheep things. She really wants to eat the sheep. So how does this book end up not being a bloody mess as Brenda butchers the sheep for dinner? Read it to find out! You’ll love the sweet ending. (Random House Children’s Books)

“Way Past Worried” by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Sandra de la Prada is just what the title says. It’s a book about a boy who is way past worried. He is going to a friend’s birthday party, and he worries about everything. Is he wearing the right costume? Is it too small? Will he arrive late? Are the kids going to laugh at him? Kids who worry about things will appreciate knowing that they are not alone, just as Brock eventually feels better when he learns that he’s not alone. This would be a great choice for a school psychologist or social worker, or just anyone who knows a child who worries too much. (Albert Whitman & Company)

And for kids who feel that they can’t ask for help, there’s “Scout the Mighty Tugboat” by Charles Beyl. Scout, as the title indicates, is a tugboat. And she pulls everything by herself, from container ships to cruise ships. She pulls them into harbor and out to sea. But when an oil tanker is in trouble near huge dangerous rocks, Scout finds that no matter how hard she tugs and pulls, the job is too big for her alone. Sometimes, we just need some help. And with a little help from her friends, they get the oil tanker to safety. Sometimes, we all need a little help –  and that’s okay. (Albert Whitman & Company)

Please note: These reviews are based on the books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

Ten nonfiction picture books for readers of all ages

Nonfiction picture books are little treasures. They are a way to expand the world around our children as we read stories to them about important people, important ideas, and important concepts about the world around us. Well written nonfiction is a way to teach without a classroom, and to inspire without preaching.

voteWith the presidential election not quite behind us yet (at least in the news), “A Vote is a Powerful Thing” by Catherine Stier and illustrated by Courtney Dawson is timely. Of course, a book on voting is always timely, especially every four years when there is a presidential election. In this fictional account of a class election about a field trip, the main character actively campaigns for a class visit to a wilderness center. But while the story is fiction, the information at the end includes the headings “All about voting,” “Who Can Vote?” “How Do Citizens Vote?” and “Voting Rights in the United States.” It’s a great introduction to voting and the importance of each and every vote.

Two books by Doe Boyle, “Heartbeat” and “Blink!” are lovely examples of captivating and informativeblink nonfiction picture books. Each book features prose written in a pleasant meter which rhymes occasionally along with clearly nonfiction informational text written in a different font and placed in a location that indicates this is the place to find hard facts. Adèle Leyris is the illustrator of “Blink!” and the watercolor techniques she uses to create the images are perfectly suited to the almost glass-like eye of the cheetah surrounded by soft, blurred fur. heartbeatThe backgrounds are mostly solid colors with silhouette shapes and facts. Daniel Long, the illustrator of “Heartbeat,” uses shapes that have definite hard edges, and his python is a marvel of pentagonal jewel shapes. Both books will ignite the imaginations of young readers, and both books would be fabulous additions to a classroom library. “Heartbeat” in particular is a wonderful tool for teaching onomatopoeia.

“Adelita: A Sea Turtle’s Journey” by Jenny Goebel and illustrated by Ana Miminoshvili is a touching account of adelitaa loggerhead sea turtle who was named Adelita and tracked across the Pacific Ocean. The story is a bit sad when we realize that a fisherman caught the young turtle in the Gulf of California and took her to researchers in Baja, California, where she lived in a cramped tank for a decade. Researchers wondered where the loggerhead turtles had nesting places because there were none on the Baja coastline. Finally, a researcher thought of a way to find out where Adelita’s real home was. He attached a satellite transmitter, a brand new technology, to Adelita’s shell. They were able to determine that she swam across the ocean to Japan. It’s heartbreaking to find out that her journey ends there. The transmitter stops sending information. We never find out what happened to Adelita, but we learn that because of her, people around the world learned about the plight of endangered turtles. Fishermen started releasing them from nets. They are still endangered, but after reading this book, we all will root for their survival. The illustrations are engaging, and Adelita’s huge black eyes will grab at your heart.

seahorseOh, my. I dare you not to love the adorable “This Is a Seahorse” by Cassandra Federman. I want to reread it over and over just because it’s a combination of cute and informative. The story, as we find out on the endpapers, is that a class visited an aquarium, and now the homework is to write about an interesting animal. Cassandra Federman, the author, er – the student, writes her report on the seahorse on primary-school lined paper. She illustrates her writing, but we get to see the purple word bubbles that contain the “actual” seahorse’s responses to her ridiculous (at least to the seahorse) statements about the seahorse’s huge nose and big belly. When she compares seahorses to opossums, because both can grip things with their tails, the seahorse responds, “Those nasty creatures? You won’t catch me holding tails with one of them.” I learned that seahorses can camouflage themselves as octopuses do. While I find that information fascinating, our friend the seahorse is appalled that he is being compared to a hideous eight-armed sea monster. Kids (and adults) will enjoy the clever humor and the real seahorse facts.

“How to Grow an Apple Pie” by Beth Charles and illustrated by Katie Rewse is authored by someone who ownsapplepit an apple orchard. So she knows what it takes to grow an apple tree, and she knows what it takes to bake an apple pie. Do we know if Sophie, the main character in the story about growing the apple tree, waiting for the trees to mature (six years) and then learning how to pick the apples without damaging them (you turn them upside down), and then following the yummy recipe to bake an apple pie, is really a child in the Charles family? While we don’t know whether that is a fact or not, that doesn’t detract from the facts that we do learn about the care and treatment of apple trees and how to bake a pie. Be prepared, though. If you read this book to children, they will surely want an apple tree of their own. Maybe six of them.

tinaja“The Tinaja Tonight” by Aimée M. Bissonette and illustrated by Syd Weiler is an interesting book if only for the fact that most of the people reading this book won’t have any idea what a tinaja is. According to the facts in the book, “A tinaja is a pool formed by a natural hollow in the rock where rainwater or melting snow collects.” The text is conversational, and the transitions from one page to another and from one species of animal to another encourage continued reading. “What’s that sound? What’s that snuffling? The quail takes off running. If only they knew not to worry. It’s just…” and the reader has to turn the page to find out what is scaring away the quail, then the javelina, then the jackrabbits. Situated below the larger font narrative are the facts in a different, slightly smaller font. The broad swaths of deep colors make this a visually appealing book as well, even though the colors are deep and dark because the animals are nocturnal and are all out at night.

Like the other books in this nonfiction series of picture books, “Dragonfly” by the same author, Aimée M. dragonflyBissonette and illustrated by Catherine Pearson consists of narrative text:

“It’s a dangerous time for us. We need to hatch.”

Along with facts shown in a smaller, different font, we learn that most of a dragonfly’s life is spent underwater, growing from eggs to nymphs, which grow and change their skin as they enlarge and molt. The last time it molts, it changes and has wings. That time – between nymph and dragonfly — is a dangerous time as they don’t fly well until their bodies harden. It might take a few days for them to fly well. But once they are mature, dragonflies are masters of the sky. Their four wings can move independently, and they can fly straight up or down, even backwards. They are not only fast; they are hungry, and their favorite food is mosquitoes. They eat hundreds of bugs every day. “They can eat their own weight in insects in 30 minutes.” If you see a dragonfly, rejoice, because their presence means clean water is nearby. The illustrations are bright and bold, and while they don’t represent the true colors of nature, the rainbow hues are a feast for the eyes.

beatrix potterWhile we know Beatrix Potter as the talented author and illustrator of children’s books, in “Beatrix Potter, Scientist,” by Lindsay H. Metcalf and illustrated by Junyi Wu, we learn that she was first and foremost a scientist. From childhood on, Potter immersed herself in studying animals and plants. In fact, she learned how to germinate the spores of fungi, and shared that information with the gentlemen-only Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. But when she wrote a paper with her discovery, it was refused. She never again attempted to publish it, but shortly thereafter, she  began writing the much-beloved Tales of Peter Rabbit. As we learn in the informational text at the end, “she was later shown to be among the first British people to germinate spores from the group of fungi she worked with.” A century later, the Linnean Society, London’s group of natural history experts, apologized for how Potter was treated. There is also a timeline of her life at the end.

“My Name Is Helen Keller” by Myron Uhlberg and illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky is a fictional account ofhelen keller Helen Keller’s life. Because it’s a picture book, Uhlberg chooses certain events to exemplify how Helen lived and the difference Anne Sullivan made in Helen’s life. In the Author’s Note, he explains that this is a biographical fiction. “The scenes in this book are based on real events in Helen’s life, as detailed in many excellent biographies about Hellen Keller.” He also provides a timeline of her life and the manual sign alphabet that Helen and Anne used. Both this book and “Beatrix Potter, Scientist” are perfect first biographies for young readers.

Please note: These reviews are based on the uncorrected proofs provided by Albert Whitman & Co. for review purposes.

‘Fireborne’ by Rosaria Munda is a splendid combination of fantasy, friendship, political intrigue, and bloodshed

“FIreborne” by Rosaria Munda is a young adult fantasy with two main characters who alternately share their narrative. The story takes place nine years after a revolution that is very reminiscent of the Russian revolution, wherein the Czar and his family were executed. In a like manner, the “royalty” of Callipolis were murdered. These rulers were called dragonlords, and had their own dragons that served to terrorize their people, including their serfs, basically slaves, the lowest of the classes. Now, post-revolution, instead of being born into being a dragonrider because of your royal family, children of any class can be chosen by a young dragon to be a rider.

We meet Annie and Lee, two teenagers who met as children at an orphanage, and are now Guardians who ride dragons for Callipolis. We know from Lee’s narrative that he was Leo, and the child of one of the ruling dragonlords, Leon Stormscourge. During the bloody uprising, when the dragonlords and their families were murdered in a bloody coup, Leo was spared at the last minute. He ended up in an orphanage with Annie, who was left an orphan when her family was brutally murdered by Leon Stormscourge during a famine, when they couldn’t pay their share of taxes. Her family was barricaded inside their home and the home was set on fire by Stormscourge’s dragon. Annie was forced to watch.

How then, can Annie and Lee, as he is now known, be best friends? The novel reflects Munda’s ability to demonstrate the development of the relationship between those two rather than just telling us about it. We feel for both children as they depend on each other for moral support and affection. Lee ensures that the cruelest of the other orphans can’t take away Annie’s food or beat her. And when Annie depends on Lee, he feels a connection with another human, and he feels that he’s important to someone. Connections are important — especially since he has no family left. When both Lee and Annie are chosen by dragons to be dragonriders, they both eventually yearn to be the top rider, called the Firstrider. Of course, Lee had wanted that title since he was a young child, as it’s one of the few titles that carried over from pre-revolutionary times. But Annie wants it, too, and for a former serf to be declared Firstrider would be revolutionary.

Many of the other characters are complex and not all they appear to be. We meet Atreus, the First Protector, an intriguing character who seems to have the best of intentions when he foments the uprising and, in the name of justice, kills those who were his friends. He appears kind and noble at the start of the story when he saves the young Leo, but as we learn more about him, we wonder just what motivates him now, after the revolution is over. The other young Guardians who have been chosen by dragons to be riders are also multifaceted characters. The most negative and violent of them, a bully and a snob, turns out to be not quite what he seemed to be at first. Perhaps. As “Fireborne” is just the first in a series, there is much that remains to be determined regarding all the characters.

Will Annie and Lee ever act on their love for each other? As Guardians, they forsake ever having a family, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t fall in love. What will the future bring in terms of those of Lee’s extended family who escaped the country, but who are plotting to retake what they believe is rightfully theirs. This story provides the backdrop and the backstory of the two main characters and their country. And while Munda is a debut author, she has shown with the first book that she is capable of creating not only a fantastic world populated with dragons, but also a world in which all-too-human foibles torment its inhabitants just as happens in our world. And the next book in the series will build on what we’ve learned. I’m personally hoping for more about the dragons and their connection to their riders. We know that Annie has an especially strong connection to her dragon; I want to learn more about it.

Munda ends the first book in a satisfactory manner. There is an ending that gives us closure, but also much to wonder about, all of which will keep us waiting anxiously for the next book. We like Annie and Lee, and we want to know what the next step in their lives will bring. I would love to see this book used in high school or middle school and examined to compare this fictional world with the Russian Revolution and the reasons behind the latter. Obviously, no dragons were involved, but did Munda use details from history to make “her” revolution more real? It would be a fascinating study for readers of “Fireborne,” and they might enjoy the research.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘The Backyard Birdwatcher’s Bible: Birds, Behaviors, Habitats, Identification, Art Other Home Crafts’ gives you a plethora of information about birds

“The Backyard Birdwatcher’s Bible” is much more than a book about birds. In it you will find “The History of Birds,” “Practical Birdwatching & Identification,” “Understanding & Attracting Birds,” and “Bird-Friendly Gardens & Bird-Inspired Art.” It’s an all-encompassing work that is as beautiful to look at as it is useful for birding tips. The fact is that many experts wrote and edited it, including Paul Sterry, Christoper Perrins, Sonya Patel Ellis and Dominic Couzens, ornithologists, nature writers, photographers — and this precious book is the result of their collaboration.

There are four chapters, but it’s the first chapter that many will want to peruse. That’s the chapter that includes over 100 pages of species profiles with information about different birds, how to identify them, their habitats, their diets and their status. I learned that the red-bellied woodpecker that frequents my bird feeders lives throughout the eastern half of the USA. I know from experience that, as the book states, “it is an opportunistic feeder, taking a wide range of invertebrates, seeds, and nuts, also fruits (it drinks from oranges) and sap.” Mine also love suet. There are photos of both the male and female woodpecker and a map showing their range.

In the second chapter, “Birdwatching for beginners,” there is much information about the life of a bird from the hatchling to behavior. There are pages about the song of birds, territories and nests and eggs. There is information about birdwatching and how to best do it.

The third chapter is on attracting birds. The detail in the text is incredible. Want to learn about how to have a bird-friendly backyard? On page 266, there is detailed information from references to information on forage and feed pages and breeding shelters that can be found elsewhere in the book to information about flowers and shrubbery to plant in order to entice the winged visitors to stay.

And the fourth chapter is unusual for a bird bible; it’s all birds in art, historical art with birds, and modern art — it’s interesting, and the photographs, like the photos elsewhere in the book, are beautiful. From Audubon to Taiichiro Yoshida, who creates delicate metal work to create bird images, the art is inspiring.

The detailed index at the back helps find specific information, and the section with additional information is perfect for those looking for more specific information about birds and birdwatching.

This is a book you will come back to over and over for the facts. It’s a book that is so lovely, it could grace your coffee table. It would also be a terrific gift for a birdwatching friend.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Abrams, the publisher, for review purposes.