Month: April 2013

by Sally Carrighar

This book seems at first to be all about one woman\’s search for lemmings in Alaska, but it ends up being mostly about a dog. Sally Carrighar spent many years living in the North studying the wildlife in order to write books about them. Here she describes how she tried to find elusive lemmings during a year when their population was very low, and how during her work observing them she came into contact with a remarkable husky dog named Bobo. The dog was charismatic leader of a local pack until overthrown by another dog during a terrible fight when they all turned against him. He barely survived, and by a twist of fate Carrighar ended up nursing him back to health in her home even though she feared he would end her lemming experiment by eating all the study animals.

She was surprised to find that the dog seemed (after his initial uncontrollable excitement) to understand that he was to leave the little rodents alone, and slowly came to build a rapport with the dog. He was never very demonstrative or playful, but had his dignity and many characteristics she attributed to wolf blood in his heritage. For most of the book she talks about her relationship with Bobo, how she gained his trust and learned to communicate with him, and his eventual forays out into the community to try and win back his place as pack leader. As she describes it the dog had a very vivid intelligence and strong personality, and the book reminded me of Moobli.

I did wish for a bit more about the lemmings. I cringed a bit inside to read her affirmation of strange behaviors everyone mistakenly attributed to these little animals- that they perform mass suicide by running into the sea and drowning (or running off cliffs), and that they fall from the sky or can fly- she even was shown tracks in the middle of an airfield that seemed to start in the middle of nowhere. Carrighar came up with a theory about the supposed mass drownings (now proven to be a hoax) but had no explanation for the mysterious tracks.

I enjoyed her descriptions of life in Nome, some of the people she knew, and various dogs. She also muses about what it means to be a writer, and what the work of researching wildlife is like- particularly difficult when most people didn\’t take her studies of \”mice\” or \”rats\” as they were often mistakenly called- seriously at all.

A good read!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 191 pages, 1953

by Dr. Seuss
illustrated by Joe Mathieu

I never saw a Dr. Seuss book as a board book before, and it works perfectly in this format. I\’m also mostly familiar with Dr. Seuss books illustrated by the man himself, which are most of the ones I grew up with in my mother\’s collection (and have re-gathered to put on my own kids\’ shelves). So this one was a bit different for me. It has cute illustrations that show different ways a boy and his companion (in this case a bunny) use their eyes to see stuff. The rabbit and boy both have large, exaggerated eyes, but not so much to be goofy. My daughter really likes this book.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 22 pages, 1968

by Frank LeGall
illustrated by Flore Balthazar

I was tempted by a shelf of graphic novels at the library the other day, and brought half a dozen home. This one about a cat looked really cute, but I found it disappointing. Miss Annie, the star character, is a five-month-old kitten. Bored inside the house, she engages in some normal kitty mischief (knocking things off the desk, unraveling a ball of yarn) and makes friends with a mouse. She really longs to go outside, and when finally allowed is dismayed to find that the big wide world is not just freedom to roam and do whatever you want. There are dangers, and some other cats she meets advise her to be cautious and follow certain rules. The book ends with Miss Annie anticipating going back outside after dark to meet up with a white cat for a nighttime adventure.

I\’m sure this book would appeal to young readers, especially cat-lovers, but for me it just didn\’t have enough. The pictures are cute, but very simple. There\’s no interesting perspective angles or linework, not even very engaging expressions. The storyline is also pretty simplistic and ends right when I felt things were starting to get a little interesting. Obviously the book has several sequels, but I didn\’t feel like it needed to be more than one volume; it would have given the story a better arc and more closure to have it continue further before cutting off.

Oh well.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 40 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Library Elf Designs
Through the Looking Glass
Wandering Librarians
Comics Worth Reading

I thought I’d get a bit more organized and note which books of my TBR lists I’ve actually read. So today I went back through those posts and marked all the read books with strikethrough, and linked each title to its respective review. I marked off more than I’d expected to, but fewer than I’d hoped! I think usually I end up finally reading these books because I come across them at the library or a book sale and remember they’re on my list, so pick them up. But I have so much on hand to read I rarely go out seeking for a particular title because it’s on the list. I ought to, though. I’d probably get through it so much faster that way!

by Tracey Campbell Pearson

This short baby book illustrates a familiar nursery rhyme by turning it into a little storyline about a child who should be sleeping but drops her stuffed toys (sheep) out of the crib and then cries until mom and dad come to retrieve them for her. It\’s simple, clever and effective.

I\’ve seen another one that featured the rhyme Diddle diddle dumpling/my son John in the same fashion. I like how it makes old-time rhymes something more familiar, applicable to a child\’s own life.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 14 pages, 2004

by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

In this fun little book, the letters of the alphabet dance up the trunk of a tree singing out about who will get there first, is there enough room? I\’ll meet you there! Telling of their little adventure with a singsong chant introduces all the letters in order, making it a fun way for kids to become familiar with the alphabet. At the end the tree can\’t support the weight of all the letters and they fall down in a big pile (boom! boom!) My toddler just loves seeing that last picture with the jumble of letters, she\’ll often insist on turning to it before we finish the rhymes on the previous pages. A silly book full of bright colors, bold simple shapes and plenty of fun. One of my daughter\’s favorites.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 14 pages, 1989

by Ernest Thompson Seton

This Seton book tells the life story of a beautiful, rare melanistic phase of red fox with unusually dark fur. Like most animal stories it starts with the fox\’s childhood, shows how he grows up and learns the ways of wild foxes. Much of the story is about his evasions of man\’s attempts to trap him, and of dogs that hunt him, especially one particular hound. There\’s also an interesting bit about a deer. The dark fox happens upon a fawn hidden in the grass one day, and is surprised because where he lives deer are rare, so he\’s never seen one. The doe attacks him with ferocity, and when she runs across him again later in the story, her aggressiveness this time is good fortune for him.

The fox becomes noted in the local community for his beautiful dark fur, and is a particular target for trappers and small boys alike who try to catch him over and over again. He finds a mate and raises cubs, and the last few chapters describe a particularly long hunt in which he must flee for his life from not one but two packs of hounds (he escapes one group to run into another in a different area far from home) then finally when exhausted is tracked by his nemesis the loud-voiced hound dog. Happily the fox escapes with his life (I won\’t tell you how though, in case you read the book- it\’s quite a dramatic scene!) which is not always the case at the end of Seton\’s animal stories.

My copy of this book is an older edition as pictured above, but I do like the cover of this one, which shows the notable dark fox standing next to his mate with the more common red fur coat. As always I really enjoyed the artwork in the book; Seton was an accomplished wildlife artist and illustrated all his own stories. There are beautiful plates of drawings (I cannot quite tell if these are paintings which have been reproduced in black-and-white, or etchings, or very fine pencil drawings. If they were originally paintings I would dearly like to see the works in color!) and the margins are decorated all over with line drawings in his remarkably spare, descriptive style. Some of these are purely academic showing poses or footprints of the animals, others are more humorous, all wonderful to look at.

I didn\’t find the story quite as amusing and engaging as the prior collection I read, but it\’s still a very good book and one that will have a permanent place in my collection. Curiously, I read in the little forward that Seton published this book at the same time that Charles Roberts published his story Red Fox. Seton defended the case that some of the incidents in the lives of the foxes in these two books were very similar, saying that Neither has read the other\’s story and This means simply that we have independently learned of traits and adventures that were common to the Foxes of New Brunswick, New England, and farther west. I happen to have a copy of Roberts\’ Red Fox and have read it a few times myself, but I don\’t recall any particular adventures the two books have in common. I\’m curious now to re-read Red Fox yet again and see if I can pick out the episodes that other readers noticed similarities in, so long ago!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 218 pages, 1909

by Sandra Boynton

Silly illustrations of animals ask the reader\’s identity as you go through this little book: are you a cow? perhaps a pig? and so on. They get a bit more ridiculous as you near the end- a bear with sunglasses and a big cheesy grin, a chicken upside-down on the page (my kid gets a big kick out of that one). Finally insisting you\’re not a penguin and then the final statement: you must be you. Isn\’t that great! It\’s simple, cute and fun. What more could a toddler want?

Rating: 3/5 …….. 14 pages, 2010

by Mary Brown

by Mary Brown

This is a curious fantasy story I found picking up books at random in a secondhand shop one day. It’s got the usual fantasy elements: knights and dragons, talking beasts, witches and unicorns and ladies in distress. But the story is rather unique. It’s about a girl so ugly she always wears a mask, and a group of animals she can communicate with, all held captive by a witch. They escape when villagers form a mob against the witch, and then must embark on a journey to learn how to rid themselves of a curse she left on them.

Each of the characters- the woman, a cat, crow, toad, goldfish and kitten- has a stone (or jewel?) embedded in its flesh, that torments it. On the journey meet up with a unicorn who has a broken horn, and a knight in rusty armor, also cursed by the witch. They each have to face a particular trial that only the individual can overcome, and find a way to rid themselves of the stones.

Unfortunately I don’t remember too much more about the book. I recall liking the characters and the unique storyline, but it got rather tedious how much the characters kept bemoaning their fate and feeling sorry for themselves. I don’t recall the ending at all now, and I’m wondering how a goldfish got carried around on a journey- in a bowl? I’m curious enough to seek out the book again. I think I’d like to try a few more by this author, as well. Anyone read her works?

Rating: 3/5
432 pages, 1987

by Deborah Donenfeld

This is one of my daughter\’s favorite books right now, probably because she just loves looking at photographs of other babies and is fascinated with her own belly button. The babies are all pictured just in their diapers (except when the illustrated word calls for a piece of clothing) with cute pudgy tummies and belly buttons galore. We get stalled on nearly every page as she pokes the babies\’ tummies with glee and exclaims \”belly! belly!\” over and over. Each picture illustrates a letter of the alphabet. The only color on the page is the item the baby holds or wears matching the featured letter (yellow boots for B, blue socks for S, and so on). In contrast the baby himself is black-and-white, which makes the pictures full of interesting contrasts. They\’re all really cute, too.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 28 pages, 2013


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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