Month: November 2011

by John Schindel and Sean Franzen

This is the board book featured in my post about the baby\’s shocked expression! It\’s a real appealing book with bold pictures of cats in various activities.  Begins by saying Busy, busy kitties. What are they doing? and continues with simple captions that rhyme across each spread of pictures: Kitty strolling, kitty rolling / Kitty hissing, kitties kissing…etc. All the pictures are really cute or expressive, and show cats doing cat things- sprawl in the sun, drink from a dripping faucet, cry insistently for noms. My baby likes this book especially, whether because she recognizes cat faces (we have two) or recognizes me talking about them, I\’m not sure.

Busy Kitties is part of a series, all in the same format, all featuring animals. We\’ve brought home from the library at various times Busy Birdies, Busy Bear Cubs and Busy Elephants. My daughter liked the birds okay, the bear cubs and elephants not at all. Her favorite is the cats. There\’s lots of other books in the series, featuring penguins, dogs, pigs, chickens, barnyard animals, horses, etc. I\’m sure to find some others that she\’ll like!

rating: 4/5 …….. 20 pages, 2004

by Jill Hartley

Since I\’m reading my own books at a rather slow pace (not much free time, I\’m afraid) but going through lots of picture books with the baby, I figured might as well feature the kid books here. After all, there\’s good and bad of those just like any other book. I\’m more likely to only feature the \”good\” books for now, as I do a quick evaluation and only bring home the ones I like best (or think the baby will like). Later when she\’s big enough to pick her own books at the library we\’ll bring home some not-so-good ones and those will probably get mention here, as well, if I keep this up. I\’ve been looking forward to exploring the picture-book section at the library again, when she\’s more able to appreciate the stories. Right now learning to turn the pages, not chew them, is her focus.

So, Circle + Square is one of the board books my six-month-old has been enjoying recently. It has no words, just bright photographs featuring objects that either have circular or square shapes, or both. Not only are the colors vivid and kid-appealing, but the pictures are paired so that each spread has a nice color harmony. For example, a photo of blue-and-green highlighted bubbles floating against a background of dark evergreens is next to a picture of clear marbles with blue-green swirls sitting on dark pavement. It just looks nice together, and adds to the visual appeal of the book. The only thing that throws me off is seeing a skull on the first page! (paired against black-and-white dice in a child\’s hands) but it doesn\’t faze my daughter at all (she probably doesn\’t even know what it is) and after learning that the author is from Mexico it makes sense; probably some Dia de Los Muertos figure. Some of the more striking images include an array of vividly-striped spinning tops, the insides of a gumball machine, a boquet of bright flowers, a table full of what looks like jello molds (all shaped like cups, many colors), a huge swirly lollipop obscuring a child\’s face and a bunch of little prickly cacti wrapped in pink tissue paper. The square book is small enough to be easily held, my baby has just started turning pages by herself and this one she always seems eager to see the next picture.

rating: 3/5 …….. 24 pages, 2008

by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

This charming little baby book features paintings by the famous artist Mary Cassatt. All the pictures feature children, and are accompanied by simple, rhyming text describing the picture. My favorite is the last page, on a pink background it has a detail of Cassatt\’s work Breakfast in Bed and says Fresh and clean, on cool white sheets, it\’s cuddle time before we sleep. (The fact that the painting is of morning time and the words make it sound like bedtime doesn\’t bother me; I didn\’t know that until I looked up the title of the picture!) Such a nice little book, Quiet Time with Cassatt is a wonderful way to introduce some great artwork to your little one.

Other titles in this \”Mini Masters\” series include Painting with Picasso, A Picnic with Monet, Sharing with Renoir, Dreaming with Rousseau, Sunday with Seurat, In the Garden with Van Gogh, Dancing with Degas….  I really wish I could search for more at my library but for some reason they don\’t catalog the board books. I can\’t search for them, and even though I check them out, they don\’t show up on my list. I find that very odd. Maybe they just loose too many to bother keeping track of them? I\’ll just have to rummage through the board-books shelves and see if I can find more.

rating: 4/5 …….. 22 pages, 2006

a True Story of Vengeance and Survival

by John Vaillant

This is another book I picked up just because it was on the library shelf. For some reason the zoology/natural history sections in my nearby public library are woefully small (either that, or all the good books are usually checked out!) so whenever I\’m there I simply glance over the two meager shelves, ticking off the ones I\’ve read already, and bring home whatever is new.

The Tiger was a book I\’d never heard of, and turned out to be an excellent, compelling read. It\’s a detailed piece of narrative nonfiction, centered on one brief incident in the Russian Far East, where a man-eating tiger was hunted down by a band of men picked specially for the job. Although the events beginning with the tiger\’s first kill and ending with the hunt span only a few weeks, the author takes readers back eons and across a broad sweep of countries in exploring humans\’ relationships with big cats in order to further understand the motives both of the tiger and the men who injured it. Because it becomes quite clear that this tiger was not a man-hunter until he got shot at by someone. For years beyond counting men had lived in the taiga alongside tigers, and rarely been harmed. They respected, in some cases even worshiped, the magnificent cats, and kept their distance. But this tiger had been injured by a man, and apparently took umbrage. After hunting down and killing one man, he went on to deliberately hunt for others (it seems, because his injuries made it difficult for him to kill normal game). It was tricky business to dispatch the tiger, not only because the animal is so dangerous, so silent and unseen, so powerful and capable of thinking (ample proof is given). But also because of the difficult time people have living in this remote wilderness. Most people in the area where the tiger rampaged lived in desperate poverty, and many of them turned to poaching tigers for a profit (selling the bodies across the boarder to China, where they are used in traditional medicine). Teams of men were stationed in the forest to thwart poaching and protect the tigers; it was these very men who were called upon to help hunt down the rouge man-eater.

Vaillant spends a lot of time in his book going into the details of each man\’s life; both the first and second victims of the tiger, and the leader of the group that hunted him down. He also delves into the tangled history of the area, painting a very clear picture of what affected the men\’s morale and drove some to such measures as to kill a tiger. At times I felt like the narrative was sidetracking; but whether I found myself reading about Bushmen living alongside lions or speculations on early man\’s hunting/scavenging roles, it all tied back into the main story of the tiger. I learned so much about tigers, and about Russia, and it was all intriguing. Helped immensely by the fact that it\’s also very well-written, with clear, descriptive language and beautiful prose. I appreciate that in a non-fiction book. Some of them can be very dry. Although this one is hefty, and took me some time to get through, it was a wonderful read.

Rating: 4/5 ……..329 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Books Under Skin
book addiction

Planet of the Cats

by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 11. More adorable, humorous kitty comics. One about a cat who ranges far and wide, known by everybody it seems. Another about Michael’s son, young tabbycat now who gets a crush on a girl-kitty in an apartment and tries to woo her. Cat and baby ruining mom’s morning sleep. Older couple amusing themselves by bothering their sleeping cat. Michael’s antics ruin a phone conversation his owner is trying to have with a friend.

Most of this book was the Planet of the Cats storyline, about a spaceship crew that crashes on a planet populated by sentient cats, who are horrified to find strange monsters among them. They erroneously classify them as elephant seals and put one of the crew in the circus; another member tries to rescue her with hilarious and disastrous results. It wasn’t until I read another synopsis online that I figured out it was a parody of The Planet of the Apes, which I’ve neither seen nor read. So I guess if I was more familiar with that story, I’d appreciate this part more. As it was, I just found it bizarre.

But I liked the first half, and got quite a few chuckles out of it.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 104 pages, 1995

Sleepless Nights

by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 10. More kitty adventures. Michael\’s kitty-wife Popo ruins his naps because she likes to snuggle but always pushes him off the edge (of whatever surface they\’re snoozing on). The cats of one household are mortified when their owner shaves their fur because of the summer heat. Michael can\’t sleep and ruins everyone else\’s night, too. A curious kitten gets stuck inside a speaker. A high school is full of cats instead of students, but they can\’t help but break all the rules. A cat-food company struggles to figure out why cats refuse to eat their food but like the competitors\’. Among other stories. And there was another Dracula appearance, but it was just so weird.

One thing I finally realized about these books; Michael the tabbycat cat always looks the same, but he appears in different households. In some homes he\’s a single cat, in another he has his kitty-wife and offspring, in a third he lives with four other adult cats. He lives with a single woman. He lives with a young couple who has a baby. He lives with an older couple. He prowls the alleys. He lives in an American Southern mansion. Or…. he scares off Dracula with his cute wide-eyed face!

It\’s just so ridiculous it\’s funny. Oh, and I like Michael far better than I ever did Garfield. Why doesn\’t my library have more of these books?

They\’ve got my daughter reading more, too. She\’s into the Little House series right now, but balks at doing the assigned fifteen-minutes reading for her homework every day, even though she likes the book. But this morning after an (ominous-seeming) long stretch of silence I went to see what she was up to and found her curled up under a quilt with one of the What\’s Michael? books. She\’d found the stack on my bed. \’Mom, these books are so funny!\” I\’m tickled that she\’s enjoying them so much.

Rating: 3/5 ……. 88 pages, 1995

The Ideal Cat

by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume 9. Owners take the idea that a sleeping cat must not be disturbed to extremes (this one even made my husband laugh; we know what that\’s like! If the cat\’s napping on your lap, so reluctant to get up and do anything). Ugly duckling story retold as a puppy somehow gets raised by a cat, to the dismay of the mother and amusement of the kittens (and utter confusion of the dog). A photographer tries in vain to get a candid shot of a cat, who keeps spoiling the right moment. Dracula is terrified of cats, who inadvertently save the lives of people just by being there. Sweetest cat in the world goes berserk after eating catnip. Those are just a few of the little stories!

It\’s easy for me to relate to and chuckle over the incidents of living with a cat; their nature seems to be the same no matter what human culture they are a part of. It\’s the fantasy bits in these comics that I don\’t quite get; sometimes I see where the humor is supposed to lie but it just doesn\’t make me laugh, other times I puzzle over the whole thing. I mentioned this to my husband and he remarked that humor must be one of the hardest things to translate, across cultures. That makes sense. It doesn\’t mitigate my enjoyment of these books, though.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 86 pages, 1995

A Hard Day\’s Life

by Makoto Kobayashi

Volume six of the Japanese comic series about a cute tabby housecat.

I first encountered this series several months ago and was intrigued if a bit puzzled. It\’s been rolling around in the back of my mind that I wanted to read more, especially after I found a few panels online from the first book, which looked really amusing. So I looked them up at the library. In my entire public system, they only have five of the books, starting with this one, number 6. So I won\’t get to read the first few, which disappoints me (unless I buy them). O well. I checked out the lot and brought them all home. Made for some enjoyable evening reads.

There are so many little storylines. The cat\’s cuteness delaying his owner\’s departure for work every morning. The cats attacking a cicada that wanders into the house. The owners worrying themselves sick about the cat being left behind when they go away for the weekend. The cats\’ need to investigate every odd noise or new appearance in the household. A little kitten ingratiating his way into a sushi restaurant. Then there are segments a bit more odd: a man who hates cats trying to repel his girlfriend\’s cat without offending her. The main cat, Michael, dressed and acting human, going out for a night-on-the-town. A fugitive veterinarian (yes, hiding from the law) sneaking around helping out distressed cats, in this case, breaking into some lady\’s house to give her a lesson in litter-box cleaning!

Ha ha.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 86 pages, 1995

by R.D. Rosen

When I first spotted A Buffalo in the House  on the library shelf, I thought it was about the guy featured on the tv show Fatal Attractions (about people who keep dangerous animals as pets, often with disastrous results). It wasn\’t the same man and bison, but a story even more interesting.

Roger Brooks\’ artist wife Veryl Goodnight was the descendent of a couple who had helped save the buffalo from extinction, bottle-raising two orphaned calves in the 1870\’s. She decided to create a sculpture of her great-great-great grandmother (I don\’t know how many greats) feeding the calves, and so when the opportunity came for them to take in their own orphaned calf they were thrilled. Veryl used the calf as a model for her sculpture, and her husband Roger became increasingly attached to the animal. He started out living in the house, but eventually Charlie the buffalo became too big and potentially dangerous. He was moved to a corral outside but continually poked his nose in windows, browsed on flower shrubs, and went for walks in the countryside with Roger. When the bison was at his \”teenage\” stage they tried to introduce him to his own kind, hoping to integrate him into a regular herd. But an accident injured his spine and left him disabled. Amazingly, Roger kept the buffalo, increasingly dangerous not because of his nature (he was very gentle for such a huge animal) but because he was now prone to bad falls (and very difficult to get back on his feet again).

The story of Roger\’s dedication to Charlie is one I could not put down. Interwoven in the narrative is a brief history of the American bison, from their near-demise to the handful of people who protected the animals and helped bring them back from the brink. The latest chapter in this story astonished me; I had no idea that the bison herd which lives in Yellowstone was threatened- of all things by cattle ranchers in Montana. This book was written four years ago and apparently the killing is still going on– bison which migrate out of the park in search of food are shot because of supposed threat to grazing cattle (even though there\’s never been a documented case of a cow catching a disease from a buffalo). Spurred by his love for Charlie, Roger Brooks worked tirelessly to get the Yellowstone herd protected, but it hasn\’t happened yet.

rating: 3/5 …….. 242 pages, 2007

by Michael Elohon Ross

I looked for this book specifically because I wanted more with illustrations by Ashley Wolff. Similar to I Love My Mommy Because, it shows different animal mothers caring for their offspring. Only in this case, the entire focus is about breastfeeding. Mama\’s Milk has a nice gentle rhyming quality. It begins showing a mother nursing her baby in bed Cuddle little baby warm and tight Mama\’s going to feed you day and night then each page shows a different animal mother nursing her infant(s). In the middle spread there is a picture of a mother nursing her baby in a park (while another mom nearby feeds a toddler in a stroller with a spoon), another picture shows a mom holding a baby in a sling leaning over to see a mother cat with her kittens, and the final picture shows a mother fallen asleep in a chair with her nursing baby. Delightful is the variety of animal moms- not just the ones you\’d expect to see like horses, pigs or bears but other less-familiar animals like the platypus, a bat, and an armadillo- all nourishing their babes with their milk. I like that the book showed a variety of aspects regarding breastfeeding- nursing at night, in public, at home, by humans and animals alike. At the end of the book is a spread with little thumbnails giving some facts about each animal featured. I found this particularly interesting: did you know that an elephant will nurse her baby for up to five years? or that kangaroo milk is pink? Lovely little book, Mama\’s Milk is one I enjoyed just as much as my daughter.

rating: 4/5 …….. 24 pages, 2007

more opinions at:
the Petite Bookshelf
Breastfeeding Mum\’s Blog
Carma\’s Window


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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