Month: January 2013

by Michael Crosbie and Steve Rosenthal

Of all the architecture board books by Crosbie and Rosenthal we\’ve found, this one featuring animals is my favorite. The distinct photographs show three-dimensional animals featured on or near buildings: statues and relief carvings are the norm but there are also eagle gargoyles, a neon owl sign, a duck that is an entire building in and of itself, a grasshopper weathervane and a tortoise holding up a column. My daughter and I both really like the bronze frieze from the Chanin building in New York, which shows a myriad of sea life- the bit of it pictured in this book has three bass swimming among some plants. It\’s just beautiful. Another  page I really like shows walrus heads decorating the side of a building in Seattle. I just find it really intriguing- walrus! And my kid is really into walruses herself lately, probably because we have several board books that feature arctic animals. She always insists on turning first to the pages with penguins (\”pen-wins\”) and walrus (\”wall-wrie\”).

But back to the architecture book! Each page has a little caption that tells the name of the building and its location – they\’re from all over the world- and a fun little poem or verse describing something about the animals (Bubble, bubble / In bronze pieces / Swim some fish / Of assorted species). My toddler usually has no patience to hear the rhymes so I just read one or two lines that give the most basic description, or just name the featured animals for her. A very cool little book.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 24 pages, 1995

A Winter\’s Tale
by Linda Haldeman

One of my favorite books is Linda Haldeman\’s fantasy The Lastborn of Elvinwood. I\’ll write about that someday- it sits on my shelf so is easily accessible- but this is another by the same author I once found. The story is set in a college town, among a few college students and a professor. There\’s a spirit from another world that\’s been exiled- I forget what the reason was- and forced to live on earth until it can be of assistance to someone and thus gain the right to return to its own realm. One of the students does a research paper on rituals used to summon demons, and another kid decides to go ahead and try the summoning. I seem to remember this was more out of boredom or curiosity than malice, although I was horrified that a puppy was going to be used as a sacrifice. The puppy escaped an awful fate, the ritual was botched but a demon shows up regardless and demands that one of the students be sacrificed to make things right. So then they have to figure out how to get out the ensuing mess while appeasing the demon, and in steps the helpful spirit. I remember finding the (sexless) character of the spirit intriguing, also the main character, a female student. But I was a bit disturbed by the romance that grew between the student and one of her professors, and I think that\’s why this book is no longer in my library.

I just discovered that this author has long since passed away, and only published three books. I\’ve read them all and always was on the lookout for more, but sadly I don\’t think there are any more to be found. So if I do come across Esbae again I think I will put it back on my shelf. It deserves a re-read.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 224 pages, 1981

Encounters with the Most Endangered Animals in North America 
by Charles Bergman

I\’m not quite sure how I first encountered this book, I recall seeing it on a shelf in my parents\’ house and wondering about its contents many times when I was a teen. I think it was picked up at a gift shop in a national park somewhere, but that memory could be erroneous.

The book is about the author\’s travels through North America to view the most endangered species, or at least to visit with people who have seen them. He describes his travels, meeting with people, conservation and politics that affect those efforts, how the different animals have fared through history and so on. The animals discussed include manatees, Florida panthers, whales (I forget which species exactly), condors, wolves and the dusky seaside sparrow (now extinct).

This is a book I didn\’t finish reading. I was interested in the animals, their descriptions and histories, but other aspects of the writing got in the way of enjoying that. The philosophical rants confused me, and the crude humor I found distasteful. I wonder now if it was because of my youth; I might be able to make better sense of it now (and ignore the phallic jokes). Some other reviewers have pointed out that a lot of the material in this book is now seriously outdated; I know for a fact that the numbers of condors and wolves have recovered dramatically. I think I might try this one again someday, if I just happen to come across it (not sure if a copy still exists at my parents\’ home, I know I don\’t have one in my own collection).

Abandoned …….. 360 pages, 1990

more opinions:
Ivory-Bills Live?

by Keith Kimberlin

This board book uses puppies to demonstrate opposites. It does a good job with some of them- light and dark colors, groups of few and many, and the front and back on the covers are especially cute. A lot of the other pages kinda bug me, however, because they just don\’t seem to illustrated the concepts well. I will tell you of them.

The fast puppy is sitting on a scooter, looks like he\’s going for a ride- my toddler gets a kick out of this. But the slow puppy next to him isn\’t moving at all, just sitting there. Wouldn\’t it be better if he was at least walking?

The short and tall spread shows a little chihuahua next to a german shepherd- but the shepherd is pictured so large his lower legs and feet are off the page, and he\’s sitting. It looks almost exactly like the big and small spread, just with different dogs. I imagine it would have worked better to show a dog with short legs- like a dachshund or basset- next to a dog with very long legs, like a greyhound. And both standing up.

The in and out page shows a puppy in a box, then the same puppy just sitting on the bare ground. I think the concept would be stronger if the box was shown in the second picture. The awake and asleep spread show a fat little puppy sleeping in a chair on the beach, and then a different pup just looking at you. I think showing the same pup in the awake picture would make it stronger. Incidentally, the sleeping pup is a pinkish wrinkled shar pei, and my daughter seems to think he looks like a pig. She always says \”oink\” or \”piggie\”!

So that\’s me being very critical, just because I kept picturing how these pages could have been done better. But it doesn\’t really matter; my kid loves this book because it\’s full of cute puppies!

Rating: 2/5 …….. 22 pages, 2006

I\’m giving away this set of three bookmarks with pretty patterns. They are handmade from magazine scrap and clear laminate.

If you\’d like to win the set, just leave a comment and let me know! There must be an easy way for me to contact you via email. Available if you have a postal address in the US or Canada. The giveaway runs for two weeks, I\’ll draw a name at random on Feb 9.


by Averil Swinfen

I think this is the first book I ever read that focused solely on donkeys. The author describes her work in establishing a donkey stud farm in Ireland.  A lot of it is narrative- about how they became interested in donkeys, the work in breeding and raising them, arrangements in selling them, seeking public attention to become part of the tourist trade, visits from celebrities, notable donkeys they\’ve had (including a rare set of twins) and so forth. It has a very old-fashioned, formal writing style that even while being humorous manages to sound a little dry. So I admit I didn\’t enjoy the narrative parts as much as the factual ones, and in spite of the author continually remarking upon the charm of the animals, that never really came through for me. I did find it interesting to read about how difficult it is to keep donkeys in good health in cold, wet places because they normally come from arid, dry regions and easily catch chills or have problems with their feet in the damp. In a few instances it was pointed out how different donkeys actually are from their relatives, horses- they require a different diet, and their body conformation gives them their great strength (for their size). Thus, when the author helped establish a donkey society in Ireland and got a donkey class accepted into a prominent horse show, she was dismayed that donkeys were often judged on physical points more appropriate for horses, and worried that continued selection for those traits would actually harm the donkey stock and weaken them for the work they were intended! The end of the book wraps up with a plea to kindness for all animals, and for people to realize that donkeys don\’t deserve the reputation they\’ve gathered for being dull and stubborn. There\’s lots of lively characters and entertaining events in this book, but not quite enough that I think I\’ll ever read it again.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 136 pages, 1976

by Monica Wellington

We found this one at random browsing in the public library, and it\’s currently a favorite- both with my daughter and myself. The book seems quite simple, but has a lot going on. With simple text and bright-colored pictures, it shows how Annie tends to her orchard, picks and sorts the produce, turns the apples into salable goods, drives them to a farmer\’s market in the city, and sells them for her living. There are so many things I find attractive about this book. First of all, it has a female business-owner as the main character. It shows a sequence of events, where apples and their products come from, and how (via the illustrations) many of those are made. The text doesn\’t address this, but if you look carefully at the pictures you can see all the tools and deduce the basic process in making the cider, applesauce, baked goods, etc. My daughter is too young to appreciate this part, but with an older child I can imagine talking about the pictures in more detail to explain how those things are done. Each page also has a little dog and cat somewhere- this pleases my toddler, who loves to point out where \”puppy!\” and \”cat!\” are at each turn- except for the pages where Annie takes her apples into the city, when the cat sensibly stays at home!

Rating: 5/5 …….. 32 pages, 2004

by Era Zistel

Another book I picked up at random from the Book Thing. As the cover suggests,  it\’s about a collection of animals that form (more or less) friendly relationships: cats, raccoons and skunks. There\’s not much introduction to the book, it doesn\’t explain the setting or circumstances but just launches right into stories about the animals. So it took a bit of reading before I figured out that this was just a kind-hearted soul taking injured and abandoned wildlife into her home when people brought them to her. It started with one raccoon, who when finally let outside made friends with wild raccoons in the neighborhood and brought them all home for handouts. They ended up living in the crawl space under the house, which caused quite a few problems later on.

The second half of the book tells about a baby skunk that was taken in and how the author gradually trusted the skunk enough to give it the run of the house, even though everyone was afraid it would become alarmed and spray. Quite to her surprise, the skunk had a calm personality and even learned to play with one of the cats. This animal never adapted to living on its own, was frightened of going outside alone, and when finally startled into flight by the raccoon mob, there were sad consequences.

Overall it was a nice light read, entertaining and educational- I learned quite a bit about raccoon and skunk behavior. It was a bit dismaying to read about things like the overcrowding of raccoons under the house causing disease outbreaks, but I kept reminding myself that this book is quite dated, and nowadays it would be illegal to keep wildlife in your home like the author did. They would have to go to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Regardless, the skunk turned out to be such a charming animal, I\’m glad to have read it.

Rating: 3/5 ……… 101 pages, 1981

by Vera and Bill Cleaver

This novel is about a poor family who move from North Carolina to Chicago when they fall on hard times. Their fields are blighted, their pigs died and it seems like there\’s nothing left. So they pack up and move to the big city, hoping for work and better opportunities. Things don\’t go as planned. Jobs are hard to find, they are woefully ignorant of how things work in their new environment and soon after moving the two grown women in the family disappear. A bunch of little kids and one fourteen-year-old girl are left to fend for themselves with an incapacitated, blind father. At first they try to do things right, to find odd jobs, even apply for government aid- which never materializes. Finally they realize the hopelessness of their situation and follow the lead of a local kid they meet in the back alley, who guides the oldest boy and finally the teenage girl into thievery to survive. One bad thing follows another and finally the older girl realizes that the city is changing them, they are becoming hardened and loosing their morality to the harshness of their new life. She determines that something must change before it is too late.

The mimosa tree in the title never exists. Ashamed to admit to her blind father that the view from their small apartment window only has blank walls and a trash-filled alley, his daughter makes up a landscape with trees and birds. Funny, in the only other book I read that featured a mimosa, the tree was also symbolic. It was The Help. In that case the tree was real, but constantly reminded one of the characters of her failings and created such bitterness that she tried to chop it down (if I remember correctly).

This book is written by the same authors as Where the Lilies Bloom. I like The Mimosa Tree a bit better.

Rating: 3/5 ……..  127 pages, 1970

by Judith Rusky Rabinor

Another valuable book that nevertheless is a bit difficult to write about because of the personal nature in how I relate to it. I am not in the habit of accepting review copies from publishers anymore, but I took this one because it seemed very applicable to my situation.

Written by a clinical psychologist who herself has survived divorce and successfully co-parented her children, the book is a guideline to finding a way to build a new relationship with the person you were once married to. Not only for the sake of your children, but also because, the book purports, if you\’re going to have to deal with this person for the rest of your life- and you likely will- you might as well make it as pleasant as possible. (That\’s not an exact quote).

Rabinor makes it clear that this is not easy, nor is it always possible. In almost every stage and situation discussed, she points out when it is unreasonable to expect things to progress positively and sometimes you have to just let things be, knowing you\’ve done your best. I appreciate that she always showed both sides of the situation- for example, in the segment on forgiveness she discusses forgiving your ex, and then also forgiving yourself. The gender pronouns are also frequently switched, so it feels evenly unbiased.

The book goes in detail through many emotional states and uncomfortable situations you will have to deal with when attempting to turn what was a bad relationship (after all, it fell apart) into a working friendship, no matter how limited that might be. Moving through grief, handling anger, letting go of past wrongs, becoming allies (mostly for your children), recognizing the difference between big obstacles and small minor irritants, and coming together for celebrations or family rituals are all discussed in detail. There\’s also an entire chapter devoted to the difficult prospect of meeting your ex\’s new partner and/or including that person in your wider family circle. Along the way Rabinor offers professional advice, points the reader to more detailed resources when needed and recommends how to find assistance if necessary. She also includes many examples from a wide variety of couples\’ situations- some showing how things can work out, others when it doesn\’t. The book is also replete with activities to help the reader work through issues or recognize things- like making lists, visualizing, journaling and so forth.

I admit I didn\’t do any of the exercises, although I certainly thought most of them through. One that seemed very vivid to me was the idea of writing down things that have upset, angered or hurt you, crumpling and tearing the paper, then burning it. Seems very cathartic. The book helped me with many things, like recognize what stage of grief I\’m in, realizing what negative responses I habitually make to strong emotions, and remembering that it\’s often more productive to state a need rather than blame or accuse someone…. Regardless, I know I\’m not ready yet to do most of the things this book offers help with, but it will be waiting on my shelf when I am.

I did have a few problems with the book. It has no index, so when I wanted to look for something specific sometimes it was tricky to remember which segment it was in. Also the headings are annoyingly large, especially considering how many of them there are. When a heading within a chapter is as large as the small paragraph it introduces, following immediately by another heading nearly as large, it just feels like too much. Sometimes I felt like the author was shouting the headings at me, or assumed I wouldn\’t noticed them unless they were really big. Maybe they had to fill up more page space to make the book longer, I don\’t know. It is rather slender but don\’t be fooled, there\’s a lot of valuable information in there.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 203 pages, 2012


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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