“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals” by Laurie Zaleski is not what I was expecting at all. We know from the first page, the Prologue, that it’s about how Zaleski rescues animals, but what is unexpected is that more than half the book is about her childhood, her parents’ abusive relationship, and how her mother left and raised them in a tiny, dilapidated house where she also took in animals of every size, shape, and need. This book is the best kind of nonfiction—it’s nonfiction that reads like a novel, and it’s hard to put down. We want to know more about Zaleski’s family and how they will survive in the shack where they end up after leaving their very nice suburban home. We also want to know how Zaleski ends up with a farm and over 600 animals.Continue reading
Cats. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. At least some of us feel that way. I adore my black cat, Blacky, yet my other black cat Natty is a big pain in the neck. He jumps on us, delights in knocking over things on our nightstands, and eats any flowers I bring into the house (so I don’t get flowers anymore). But we love them even when they drive us nuts. Here are two picture books that celebrate those cats that can be “negative” or have “problems.” You’ll love them both as much as my grandson and I do.Continue reading
One of the reasons to read picture books is to teach children about emotions and feelings. These three picture books are wonderful stories that will help start conversations about feelings and children’s feelings of self-worth. One of the books is about how pleasant it is to read with another person — or cat, as the case many be — so it’s not a solitary activity. The illustrations are very different in each book, but each interesting and well-suited for the stories.Continue reading
Nonfiction picture books for children are an essential way of emphasizing the importance of reading informational text to learn about the world around us. Most children are fascinated by animals and the environment they see every time they venture outdoors, whether it’s a city environment, like the cougar encounters in “Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” or a coastal environment such as those in “Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle” and “Beneath the Waves.” These three picture books span a wide reader audience from the simply rhyming story of turtles hatching and trying to reach the sea to the much more complex National Geographic Kids book about myriad creatures who live on, under, and near the ocean. Continue reading
If after reading this new exposé of the pet food industry, “Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How to Do Better by Our Dogs” by Shawn Buckley and Dr. Oscar Chavez, you don’t decide to try to change how you feed your cat or dog, I don’t want to know what’s in your own refrigerator. While some of what is in this new nonfiction release is not news to savvy pet caregivers (I like to consider myself at least somewhat savvy), there is plenty to shock them.Continue reading
With COVID-19, many families have adopted needy shelter pets. But there are still many, many animals in shelters across the country who are in need of a loving home. These three picture books will not only share why it’s rewarding to rescue a pet but also share how to train your new dog or cat, thanks to National Geographic Kids’ two training books for kids. Continue reading
In the adorable picture book “I Found a Kitty!” by Troy Cummings, there’s a new cat in town, and he needs a home. And Arfy, the pooch who charmed everyone in “Can I Be Your Dog?” is determined to help. The sweet kitty can’t live with Arfy and his friend who delivers the mail because she’s allergic to cats, but surely someone wants a many-talented, sweet, playful kitty for their very own?
Cleverly, before we even get to the title page, there’s a little narration by Arfy about how he found his new friend, the kitty. After the title page, as in Arfy’s own book, there are letters he writes to neighbors asking if they want a kitty of their own. Cummings brilliantly combines visuals with plays on words to make each letter that Arfy crafts match the visually revealing prospective home.
For example, the first prospective home is the residence of a music teacher. Even my four-year-old grandson recognized that the house looks like a piano with the treble clef symbol in both front windows. Even the mailbox has a musical motif. The letter introduces Scamper and shares that “He also likes to sing! I know he would make beautiful music with your students.” The response from the music teacher is negative, but also peppered with clever musical play on words — some that only an adult will get. “I was hoping for more harmony in my household. But with Scamper here, I can hardly find a single measure of rest.“
With each house, Scamper gamely delivers Arfy’s letter. But each time there is something that doesn’t work out. Three babies and a cat don’t make for gentle petting, and a cat who plays with mice instead of eating them won’t help a mechanic with a rodent problem. Even the cat-loving neighbor, whose house looks like a cat, seems to appreciate inanimate cats more than the real, moving, sometimes-clumsy ones.
Finally, Scamper sends Arfy a message. He really wants a home where he can do all the things that each house offered. He wants to get cuddled, play, get brushed, sing. And yet again, Cummings’ ending brought this reviewer (and lover of my three black cats) to tears with the all-too-clever, all-too-touching twist at the end.
As Cummings shares on the endpaper at the end of the book, there are many ways to help homeless kittens and puppies (and grown-up dog and cats). Donate to your local rescue. Get to know them and how the money is used. Adopt a pet instead of buying one. At the shelter, meet all the cats and dogs before you pick one to adopt. Some might be shy or scared at the shelter. A dog or cat missing a leg or even an eye will be a fabulous pet with lots of love to share. And don’t overlook the senior pets. They have years to show their gratitude to you for giving them a second chance!
If you don’t have Arfy’s book, buy it along with “I Found a Kitty!” and your classroom or library or bookshelf will be better for it. And your children will love them. Guaranteed.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Random House, for review purposes.
Sarah Beth Durst loves fantasy, and she loves cats. In “Catalyst,” she combines those loves to create a kitten that grows and grows and grows. When almost twelve-year-old Zoe finds the tiny kitten, she knows her mother won’t let her keep it. She knows because she wasn’t able to keep any of the other animals she rescued, including the last one, a skunk.
It’s stay-at-home time in Illinois with COVID 19 everywhere. We left school on a Thursday afternoon expecting to return on Friday. But after an emergency school board meeting, our superintendent (rightly) decided to close school that night. School as usual was cancelled, and we have not been allowed to go back.
For me, it’s presenting a problem because all of my treasured personal picture books, a collection built up over years of reviewing superb books, are in my classroom. But a few new picture books have arrived in the mail, and one, in particular, is going to make for an excellent lesson with my first and second (and maybe third) grade students. Continue reading
There are many dogs in shelters who are adopted and then returned over and over again. They bark too much. They are too active. They are too playful. In “Ember: Rescue Dogs #1” by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines-Stephens, we learn that those kinds of dogs often make the best working dogs.
This story is the first in what will be a series about rescue dogs who earn that title by then rescuing others — in effect showing the readers that just because a dog is in a shelter, unwanted, that dog, like all dogs, has a place where it can shine. Ember, who in the story pushes all her young siblings out from their hidden place when a fire threatens their home, a hole under a house, is rescued last. The firefighter who pulls her out resuscitates her and cradles her in his hand. Before leaving her with the animal control workers, he gifts her with one of his gloves. That turns out to be her most prized possession as poor Ember goes from one family to another, each time returned to the shelter for various reasons.
Read to children, as much as possible, and repeat. Often. The secret to raising book- loving youngsters is to read fabulous books to them from infanthood and never stop until they go to college. Or maybe high school. But even older children often love reading with parents. Here are some clever and humorous picture books that also have clever and important messages for young readers. Continue reading
Kids love animals, and when picture books feature animals to get across a message, or just to entertain, kids are sure to enjoy them. Here are several picture books that will include some that are destined to become favorites.