Month: April 2014

Life Lessons from the Herd
by Joe Camp

A book I picked up browsing at the library, because it looked interesting. And was. The author is the man who created the Benji films. I didn\’t know this at first so it confused me when he kept interjecting things about training Benji, without much explanation. Actually, the narrative in general tended to jump around a lot. I did not get a real clear picture of who this guy\’s horses were, or how he acquired them all. It is not a story in that sense. It is a book about how horses ought to live. Or at least that is what I gathered. And the facts in here pretty much amazed me, because it was contrary to how most people seem to keep their horses. I don\’t have horses, nor expect that I ever will, but I\’ve read a lot about them.

And Joe Camp says we do it all wrong. He wrote this book after keeping horses for only two years, and tells of his efforts to make the best life for his horses, what he learned and discovered about that. In particular things that people have been doing for ages, without questioning why or neccessarily applying logic to it. The main thing how to create an emotional bond of trust with the horse using Monty Roberts\’ methods. That horses should not wear shoes- it affects the health of their feet in a tremendous way. That they ought to live outside 24/7, eat off the ground, wander over distance to acquire their food, live in a group of other horses, etc. In short, they are healthier and happier (not displaying any \”vices\”) when living out in the open among their own kind, not shut in a stall most of the day. That we should not attribute what we would find comfortable or even important, to horses. They think and feel differently. He says that horses in the wild are by far healthier and have much longer lifespans than horses kept by people. I was surprised. I had no idea. I found the writing a bit simplistic, and the alternating chapters containing a storyline about a wild horse living through some american history distracting at best, but I could not put the book down because its implications about how we have been treating horses for centuries just astounded me.

There\’s a lot more in here about horses: behavior, how they live in the wild, daily interactions, learning to work with them and so on, but I\’ve just noted the things that really stood out to me.

I just discovered that he wrote a sequel called Born Wild, and I want to read that now too. Bummer my library doesn\’t have a copy yet.

Rating: 3/5      238 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Scratching and Sniffings
Coffee Clutch with Dutch Henry
Curled Up

A Complete Pet Owner\’s Manual
by Sharon Vanderlip

More on hamsters. Best book I\’ve read about them yet. Focus on the dwarf hamsters, and the book goes into detail on what differentiates the four dwarf species commonly kept as pets. They may look the same at a glance, but the physical and behavioral differences are enough that the species will usually not interbreed. This book has a lot more on the history of hamsters than previous reads, clearing up some of the confusion I\’ve had. Makes a note of all the different names hamster species have had- most have several common names, and even the scientific names have changed over the years (in 1700\’s the siberian or winter white hamster was classified as a mus (mouse) species!

A few more things I learned: most hamsters eat insects in the wild, as a source of protein and moisture. You can feed a pet hamster crickets or mealworms from the pet store. Once again difference of opinion on exercise equipment: this author recommends use of the exercise wheel but emphatically states that hamster balls are unsafe. The book has all the usual information on properly caring for a hamster, but includes a lot more on their biology, dietary needs and health care than I\’ve read before. There\’s a useful list of the types of questions a veterinarian might ask, so you can be prepared for the visit if you need to get your hamster treated. Also a helpful checksheet of symptoms that could indicate a health problem, and what to do about it (including what not to do). The last few chapters of the book discuss breeding hamsters, raising and caring for the pups. If you feel so inclined. Which I wouldn\’t. I knew hamsters were prolific breeders, but not that they have the fastest reproduction cycle of all mammals on the planet! They are mature at just a few months old, females are pregnant for only 18-25 days (depending on the species) and the young are weaned at about three weeks. In addition to all that, some females can have up to four litters a year, and can be pregnant with their next litter while still nursing the first one. Yikes. Easy to see how this can get out of control.

This is another one of the Barron\’s educational series. Found at the public library.
I found an article written by the author here!

Rating: 4/5        112 pages, 1999

Your Happy Healthy Pet
by Betsy Sikoro Siino

Another hamster care book. This one actually a good read in and of itself. It’s sprinkled with humor and has nice writing. A bit redundant; sometimes I found the same phrase used again and again, as if the author was trying extra hard to make it all so interesting but at a loss for new descriptive words. But that’s me being nitpicky, it’s a good book!

The usual brief history, description of the animals, instructions on their care, handling, feeding and so on. Some things that I noticed: everyone seems to have a slight different take on the history of how hamsters became domesticated. This book tells of hamsters being “discovered” in 1829 and later 1930 by two different zoologists- the first British, the second from a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The second zoologist brought a family of hamsters back to captivity, but “because so little was known about their care” only three survived to become the basis of a breeding program. Vague mention is also made of their role in research. Other things I learned: hamsters can be allergic to certain kinds of bedding, odors in the air from smoke or cleaning materials, even some food items. Hamsters can catch colds from people and suffer from heatstroke if left in the sun. They can also go into hibernation if it gets too cold (home loosing power when temperatures are low, for example). There’s a nice little section refuting some misconceptions about hamsters, and to my surprise, suggestion that if your hamster is not too nervous, you might just take him along when you go on an extended vacation! This author obviously does not approve of exercise wheels, remarking several times that their use can become an addictive behavior and the hamster should only use them periodically, not have constant access.

The book talks quite a bit about why hamsters are so phenomenally popular as pets, especially when most other rodents are disliked by most people. She attributes this to their lack of a tail. Hm. Also notes the Japanese cartoon and books Hamtaro (I’ve read that!)

Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5     128 pages, 2007

by Marguerite de Beaumont

Most of the horse books I read are about behavior or people/animal relationships. This one was different, yet I still found it interesting. It\’s written by an Englishwoman who established and ran a stud farm. It\’s all about management. Starts off with the importance of having proper staff, caring for tools, organization, thrift and many other things. Discusses choosing stock, evaluating the points on a horse, breeding and caring for the mares, raising the foals. Health issues, feeding, housing and so on. Some of the views were interesting. She strongly believed in allowing horses to be kept out on pasture as much as possible. Talks about different kinds of training in brief, and about showing horses. There are not many anecdotes here, it is mostly just information. Lots of practical advice. For the right reader, I can see how this book would be very useful, for its good sense more than anything else. In the first chapter the author spectacularly (and quite casually) dated the book for me by quoting Ernest Shackleton, with whom she had held a conversation!

I found this book at a discard sale somewhere.

Rating: 3/5        192 pages, 1953

by Shena Mackay

I don\’t know if I should really write anything about this book, I didn\’t really get it. Gathered more from the flyleaf text than from the narrative itself actually. In brief, it\’s about a woman who lives in a small English village where the people despise and persecute her. Apparently she was once a beautiful young woman and seduced by a painter, but it must have been a lengthy affair as she has several children by him. And it seems his wife later knew of her. And so did everyone else- and they left her and the children (her family all gone, a grandmother disappeared to Australia who was supposed to send money but died instead) to literally starve. Well, the man wanted to help her and give support, and other times she was offered charity or various forms of assistance, but bitterly refused. The only scenes in the novel that made sense to me were those depicting the suffering of this mother and her children- gleaning fields in winter for cabbages and turnips thrown to feed the livestock, stealing vegetables from gardens and fruit from orchards, gathering coal from the train tracks and cut wood from the forests, freezing and starving in spite of what little they could find. One village woman in particular has it out for this destitute mother and involves herself in deliberate cruelties, the least of which is spreading rumors, trying to get them evicted from their small crumbling derelict cottage. I did not finish the book but I surmise it does not end well. I did not understand the way these people treated each other, nor their relationships- it\’s a sparse book and failed to inspire me to read enough between the lines.

Has anyone else read this book…? What are your thoughts.

Abandoned        158 pages, 1967

by Sue Fox

This book on hamsters and their care is pretty thorough.  It has some interesting facts on their history. I was aware that the first captive hamsters were dug out of a field, and that all modern pet hamsters are descendents of the first four captives. What I didn\’t know was that research scientists were paying farmers to dig up hamsters and turn them in- they were studying a disease that humans and hamsters have in common. Also that the original captive group (also held for research) included ten hamsters, but they escaped their cages twice and some were never found, leaving only four.

After all that, the book goes into much detail on how hamsters live, their needs and care requirements. Different options on housing, play equipment, food and other supplies are carefully compared. Nutrition is examined in detail. The importance of keeping a hamster\’s habitat clean is emphasized a lot- it can prevent potential disease and keep your hamster healthy. What to do if your hamster gets sick or lost, how to handle an older hamster that is slowing down. Also the role of parents in caring for the small pets, and what children of different ages can be expected to do.

I plan to read several of these books- already finding that they sometimes contradict each other. For example, the previous book emphasized that no child under twelve should have a pet hamster. This one talks about involving children as young as three in hamster care, but clearly states that parents must supervise and be the responsible one. Another difference was that the first book said hamsters should never have citrus or acidic foods; this book includes tomatoes and oranges in the list of fruits/vegetables that are safe for your hamster.

I borrowed this book from the public library. I\’m thinking of looking for my own copy, so my daughter will have a reference on hand.

Rating: 4/5      112 pages, 2006

Saving South America\’s Largest Mammal
by Sy Montgomery

Great book about a very interesting animal. I\’ve been wanting to read more books by Sy Montgomery, and so far she never disappoints. In this case, she travelled to the Pantanal (a large wetland area in Brazil) to join a team of field biologists led by Pati Medici. Studying tapirs. The book is all about what their work involves on a day-to-day basis. Tracking the animals. Trying to dart or trap them, taking measurements and samples, discovering where they go and who they hang out with. Things they\’ve learned about tapirs and things they still hope to figure out. Difficulties and problem-solving in the field. Long hours of effort for the reward of a brief moment with an elusive wild animal.

Excellent photographs and descriptions of what the field work is like. It\’s not all about tapirs, either. There\’s quite a bit of information on the environment, local people, other wildlife, background on members of the research team and so on. Makes for a very well-rounded book that I found very engaging and thorough.

Rating: 4/5        80 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Jean Little Library
Bookshelf: What We\’re Reading
For Those About to Mock

Galloping Through Time
by Kelly Milner Halls

Found this one just browsing on library shelves. It\’s a pretty good read, with nice photographs. All about wild horses, from their earliest beginnings as small prehistoric mammals to the present day. Featured types of horses are grouped according to what continent or region they live in. I did not realize there were so many different wild horses still roaming free in the world. The mustangs, arabians, chincoteague ponies, barbs, white horses of Camargue (in France) and Namibian desert horses were familiar to me. But also quite a few I had not heard of before including tarpans, koniks and Caspain horses.  Also, since they are part of the horse family (all equines) the wild asses, burros and zebra species are in this book as well. I thought there were more than three kinds of zebra, but guess I was wrong. A bit disappointed the book did not discuss the quagga, not even mention it. No Australian brumbies either?

The scientific aspect was nice, a number of interviews with experts are included. Also listings of places you can travel to see wild horses.

Rating: 3/5        72 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Journal of Ravenseyrie

A Complete Pet Owner\’s Manual
by Dr. Peter Fritzsche

Thought to inform myself more on hamster care, since we have one now. So brought home a few pet books from the library. Learned from the fish experience not to bother with the ones in juvenile non-ficion section. A lot of the info in here was already familiar to me, but I was reminded of some important things- like how stressful it is for the hamster when you rearrange stuff in its home cage. Also learned more about the history of these little pets. They are not really domesticated animals, only having become part of the pet trade since the 1980\’s. In Syria where they come from, people consider them pests. There are twenty different kinds of hamsters, only a few which are suitable to keep as pets. I also didn\’t know that in the wild some hamsters hibernate through the winter, they can make ultrasonic sounds (similar in frequency to bat calls) and that they can become diabetic. I was also unaware that the use of exercise wheel in hamster cages is a controversial topic among pet owners. The book included some material based on research, from observing the behavior of wild hamster in their natural habitat. Some of the more useful information in the book (for me) was a list of natural foods the hamster can eat (including hay, cat grass and kitchen herbs), instructions on how to find/trap a hamster that has escaped its cage, and tips on how to help your child deal with the death of their pet when it reaches old age (at two or three years).

Rating: 3/5    65 pages, 2007

by Per Petterson

I hoped to like this book. It\’s one of those I felt sure I wanted to read, but once I started was just not appreciating it. I am certain I was missing the big picture, what was really going on in the story, but by the time I realized this it was too late, I no longer cared. The narrative is about a man living in Norway, just across the border from Sweeden. In a cabin in the forest. Part of it is about him as an old man coming to this place to live in peaceful solitude (rebuilding the derelict cabin, taking walks with his dog), but other parts tell of events from his youth, when he and a friend would go up and down the river, looking for something to do and getting into trouble. I did, at first, slow down to absorb the descriptions of the forest and being there, but was unable to focus enough to read between the lines and really get it. It is one of those books full of understatement, which I have to be in the right mood for. It\’s full of quietness, musing reminiscences. Has a lot to do with father-son relationships, with his coming-of-age, with some awful accidents that occurred- and it felt like another horrific incident was looming just around the corner, in the pages I did not get to. I didn\’t want to get to that part. You can read some of the other reviews to see what the readers thought, who did get there.

And for some reason the book reminded me of A River Runs Through It, I\’m not sure why. I never finished that one either. If one of you out there has read both and cares to comment, tell me if those two books have much in common?

Abandoned       238 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Reading Matters
Blogging for a Good Book
Fleur in Her World
Ready Steady Book


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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