Month: January 2012

by H.A. Rey

Another one of the ABC books in our house. This one is actually based on a previous book called Curious George Learns the Alphabet, which I\’m pretty certain was read to me as a child, as it sounds very familiar. In this short version, each page introduces a letter with a little phrase that uses several words beginning with the same letter. The alliteration makes reading it fun, and the pictures are quite charming- each letter is transformed into the animal, person or object that it stands for. The A forms the open mouth of the alligator (as seen on the cover), C is the curved shell of the crab, D is the belly of the dinosaur, and so on. This is one of the first books my baby actually seemed to enjoy; when she was very small she would squirm if I tried to sit and read her any baby book, but with this one she would sit quietly and pat the pages. When she\’s older I\’ll probably look for the original book to read to her, but for now this one is just right.

rating: 3/5 ……… 24 pages, 1998

by Roger Priddy, et al

I\’ve returned all the baby books to the library, to help enforce my participation in the TBR challenge by avoiding that building! So we\’re stuck with our own board books now, most of which used to belong to my older daughter. Right now this fat one is the babe\’s favorite. Each spread of  Happy Baby Colors features a color, showing four objects with that color and on the facing page a baby dressed in the color holding an object of the same color (green: peas, frog, leaf, pear, baby in a green sweater holding a green block). The photos are all very clear and bright, the babies are all cute, and my little one loves looking at them. It\’s nice to see a variety of familiar objects in slightly different shades of each color, too. After going through the rainbow white, black and grey are featured, then some rainbow-colored things (beach ball, macaw) and black and white (zebra, dalmation, penguin). The final page has four squares of color opposite four objects and invites baby to match the colors to objects. For a book of its type that is just about teaching little ones some basic vocabulary and recognition, it\’s really an attractive book. A little heavy and definitely too large for baby to handle on her own, but she loves it so much.

rating: 4/5 ……. 28 pages, 2001

by Wallace Byron Grange

I got this book thru Paperback Swap because it won the Burroughs medal for nature writing in 1955. It tells of the life in a northern forest, describing all the activities and habits of the creatures that live there. Opens with a snowshoe rabbit taking shelter during a snowstorm, and follows the rabbit throughout a year. Other animals are observed as the rabbit sees them or crosses their paths. Had a lot of potential, but sad to say, the book was boring. The lengthy descriptions of plant life were unsuccessful at painting a picture in my mind, the passages telling what animals did were just that- telling, without any extra flair or feeling. And then there were statements of things like how the air that touched a rabbit\’s eye had traveled so many billions of miles from the sun, or how far the wind had gone, or how everything is connected via the molecules that move from one living thing to the next when they\’re consumed by each other… all very well to point out but I\’ve heard it before and it got tedious again and again. Plus the rhetorical questions sprinkled throughout the text started to annoy me as well. I just wasn\’t enjoying it, so put the book down at about page 50. Had barely begun to hit spring. Disappointed.

Abandoned ……. 314 pages, 1953

by Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher

 Based on journal entries, this is the story of a husband and wife who lived in a cabin (built themselves) in a remote mountain valley in Northern Canada. So far north that winter lasts six or seven months out of the year, twenty-foot snowfalls are common, nobody lives for miles and miles around except the Indians and of course the wildlife. They traveled there to study the plants and animals, to take samples for a museum. A few times the author mentions the work of skinning and stuffing birds, pressing plants, or how they came to be fond of the creatures around them and regretting shooting one or two of every species they came across in order to send back pelts and skulls to the museum. But mostly, that work is hardly mentioned. The book is full of details about how they lived, surviving the elements, hunting their own food (gardening was impossible), trying to get along with their Indian neighbors, reveling in the beauty of the wilderness and the northern lights. They had no radio, no running water, chopped wood for their heat, etc. It was a life of hard work, but they loved it. They even came to resent visitors who dropped in without notice because they felt their lifestyle became cramped! Personally, I can\’t imagine living in such conditions. Not the remoteness, but the cold and the weather (down to sixty or seventy below). The misery of mosquitoes in summer, being trapped by floods of mud in spring, the awful bitter cold of winter. Driftwood Valley is a book with a big heart, full of love for the wilderness. There\’s lots of adventures as every time they traveled to meet a plane or explore a new area they had to pack all their gear and food on their backs, and walk all the way on snowshoes. Eventually they acquired a few dogs and two horses, which made their lives incredibly easier- the animals could help carry packs so they could travel further, the dogs snuggled against them at night kept them warm, and their presence at the cabin protected the couple\’s privacy (as the Indians were afraid of them).

There were a lot of interesting things happening besides wilderness adventures. The book was written by the wife, and she talked quite a bit about how most people thought women were too weak to live in such a remote area. Once she camped out at night all by herself just to prove she could do it- the main goal being to survive! She examines the Indian\’s culture and in particular is upset by how poorly they treat their pack dogs- the Indians in return are astonished at how well she treats her own. I would dearly love to read her husband\’s take on the whole adventure; she mentioned once that reading his journal showed the opposite side of everything- he wrote in detail about things that didn\’t interest her at all, and vice versa. But I don\’t think he published anything about this trip (it lasted about a year and a half).

I also would have liked to read more details about the wildlife- a lot of animals are mentioned in passing, and that is all. Many of the creatures they only ever saw footprints- especially of marten, wolverine, etc. It was not until the very end of their trip that they ever saw a wolf- and that encounter sounds breathtaking.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 384 pages, 1946

more opinions at:
My Reading Diary
anyone else?

books that have caught my eye, from the blogs noted:

The Sun\’s Heartbeat by Bob Berman – At Home with Books
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin- A Striped Armchair
Delusions of Gender by Cordeila Fine- Nymeth
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson –  At Home with Books
Running With Scissors by Augusten BurroughsEdge of the Page
Quiet by Susan Cain – Caroline Bookbinder
The Town that Food Saved by Ben Hewitt – Ardent Reader
Kraken– China Mieville- Nymeth
Wonderstruck! by Brian Selznick- You’ve GOTTA Read This!
Emory’s Gift by Bruce Cameron- Bookfool
Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar- A Striped Armchair
Intern by Sandeep Jauhar- Caroline Bookbinder
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi – At Home with Books
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard- A Striped Armchair
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi- A Striped Armchair
Temeraire series by Namoi Novik- Nymeth
Yotsuba! series by Kiyohiko Azuma from Puss Reboots

Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan M Bergman- Book Lady\’s Blog
Curiosity by Joan Thomas- Books Under Skin
My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerly- Ready When You Are, CB
Love Times Three by the Dargers- books i done read
Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson- Nymeth

True to my goal, I’ve looked these all up to see what’s available at the library. The first block of the list I can get my hands on to read, the second shorter part I can’t. So that’s cheering. I was thrilled to find almost the entire collection of Yotsuba! at my library, after reading about it on Puss Reboots. But for some reason volume 2 isn’t there, which is the very one that caught my eye first. Annoying already, even though I\’ve been assured they’re not really chronological so it doesn’t matter.

by DK Publishing

I like this series of touch-and-feel board books. We have a few at home, but not the kitten one so we keep borrowing it from the library. Each spread shows a few large, clear photos of kitties with various textures installed on the page, and invites the child to explore with her fingers. I like that book uses a variety of words to invite interaction: stroke, touch, feel, etc. There is a patch of soft kitten fur, hard plastic food dish, shiny smooth reflective tags. My favorite is the sandpaper-rough pink kitty tongue (although that texture patch is rather small). My daughter\’s favorite is the last one, with a kitten in a woven basket. The basket texture is relatively large- almost half the page, and certainly very interesting with its ins and outs and alternating colors. A cute little book that does well at engaging little hands.

rating: 3/5 …… 12 pages, 1999

I\’ve been thinking more about the reading experience that was 2011. It was hard for me to pick a \”best book\” and so I finally gave up trying. There just weren\’t a lot I read that really wowed me this year. I think that\’s because I read so much non-fiction. A lot of those books were great. They were interestting, satisfied my curiosity, even entertained me sometimes- but I didn\’t fall in love with many of them, or feel very passionate about recommending them to people.

In one regard it was a good reading year- I did read over a hundred books- but it many other ways it wasn\’t. I was dealing with pregnancy and then a new baby, lots of sleep loss. So even though I read alot while nursing the baby, much of the time my brain was too tired or mind wandering, to focus on the book in hand. And then I found when I sat down to write blog posts nothing seemed to come out right. I either couldn\’t think of much to say and wrote really brief posts, or just started rambling about the book and had a hard time organizing my thoughts. I feel in part that my visitors dropped off because my writing was suffering, but I know it\’s also because I failed to visit and comment on other blogs as much as I used to. I also didn\’t write a single past-reads post, something I\’ve been meaning to get back into lately. So overall I feel like my blogging efforts were really lame this year. Not enough visiting around, not enough focus, poor writing on my part. I\’m really hoping to do better again, now that the baby sleeps most of the night and I get a few hours to myself during her daytime naps….

Excuses, excuses. Mostly just writing this to remind myself there were good reasons I failed to blog well as last year, and that I want to and can get back into the swing of things again.

by Justine Smith

This is a board book version of the five-little-ducks rhyme. I\’ve become familiar with it through a few different versions I read with my older child when she was small. Momma duck has five babies who go off swimming, and each time she quacks to call them back, one is missing. At the end she quacks again and they all come back. There are a few things about this book that try to be cute and clever, but they just didn\’t work well for us. The number of diminishing ducklings is achieved by using cutouts on the pages. The duckies have little gold foil patches on their wings but they\’re so small and dull that they hardly get noticed, and certainly don\’t have any texture. Overall I was kinda disappointed with the illustrations- they\’re nice but rather bland. Not overly cute, or bright, or accurate, so I was left just thinking meh. The one thing that made me pick up this book is that when you turn the last page it makes a quacking sound. My baby was thrilled with this at first, she even laughed and wanted it to happen again. But the rest of the book never holds her attention long enough to get to the quacking. I end up having to truncate the rhymes so we get through the pages fast enough to get to the only part she really likes- the noise.

rating: 2/5 ….. 12 pages, 2007

by Leo Timmers

Most of the books I pick up for the baby either feature animals or basic shapes, colors, etc. I wanted something a bit different for once, and this Toot! was just right. The pages show various types of vehicles- fire truck, police car, ice cream truck, cold-storage, semi and trolley or cable car- along with the different sounds they make, from a ting-a-ling-ting to a wailing siren or deep honk. I make up my own little jingle for the ice-cream truck page because it\’s more cool that way. The pictures are bright and very engaging, the different animals in the trucks look so funny. I always get to the end wanting to add one more page that will say beep! but see that there\’s another book of his called Vroom! that has taxis and cars, so I guess that one\’s got the beep in it.

rating: 3/5 …….. 14 pages, 2009

Stories of Brain Injury and its Aftermath
by Michael Paul Mason

I chose this book off a library shelf because it jolted my mind: I knew I had another book on the TBR about brain injuries. This wasn\’t the one on my list, but it turned out to be a very gripping read. It\’s very sad, and frustrating, and astonishing. It\’s written by a man who works as a case manager for people with traumatic brain injuries. He travels the United States to visit people who have suffered brain injuries and try to help them get the medical care they need – most often woefully inadequate or non-existent.

Head Cases is a collection of stories about these people: what they have suffered, how it has changed their lives, and those of their families as well. He describes athletic accidents, car wreck, diseases and violence, all wreaking a moment\’s devastating havoc on the all-so-important yet so very fragile brain. Some of these stories literally terrified me, as you read them and see how easily it could happen to yourself, or someone you love. A few of them have positive outcomes, with a person recovering and regaining a sense of self (though different from what they were before) and a meaningful life. All too often though, the patient ends up shuffled around between facilities that don\’t quite know what to do with them, much less how to help them. It\’s very sad to read of brain injury patients who could improve with the proper medical care and therapy, being drugged into a stupor in a nursing home or mental health facility where they don\’t really belong. Also very sad to read of families torn apart- people who no longer recognize their loved ones, or whose personalities are so altered they can\’t stand each other anymore. What gave the book relief was how very well it is written. There are many passages beautifully describing the experiences these people had, the things they loved to do- it takes you into another person\’s life so acutely. They are written with compassion, you can tell the author really cared about these people. He often participated in experiences that were a part of the patient\’s spiritual life- sitting in a sweat lodge or joining a meditation session. Even in the last, most painful chapter where he tells the story of a suicide survivor he brings a personal connection to the narrative, as one of his close friends had just died of suicide.

Wait, that wasn\’t the most painful chapter. Just as disturbing was the one where he visited a hospital overseas that treats soldiers and civilians who have been injured in Iraq. Horrifying as the head injuries are, many patients survive them. Only to get released, come home, and find their lives frustrating, painful and misunderstood. It\’s very dismal that medical technology can now save people who suffer the most atrocious brain injuries, but then the system fails to continue offering them proper care. So many of them find their lives a dead-end.

I could not help comparing this book to those I\’ve read by Oliver Sacks. Mason writes in a much friendlier manner, his book is not nearly as technical as Sacks\’. I found it a lot easier to read, but also a lot more emotional. Because I didn\’t have to sit and struggle to understand, the narrative communicating itself to me easily, it was also easier to connect to it and feel like this was something that could happen to anyone I knew. Makes you scared to get in a car or ride a bike…

rating: 4/5 …….. 310 pages, 2008

more opinions:
curled up
Open Mind, Insert Book
Krista Stevens


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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