Month: September 2015

Confessions of a Lister
by Jean Piatt

The author describes in this book how he got into the hobby of bird-watching. At first just a casual interest, he soon joined the ranks of those intent upon fulfilling a life list of all the different species they\’ve seen. The grand goal is 600, once someone has listed 600 birds they become members of an exclusive club. He picked up the birding passion with his wife; together they explored all nearby locales in search of birds and then began taking trips to further parts of the country specifically to look for birds. Somewhat disorganized and unplanned at first, he soon learned to tap into local knowledge and find the people who could point out where certain birds were to be found. Sometimes they were nesting in one particular thicket on one side of a road only, for years on end! The first portion of the book is about their travels around, meeting with people, associating with other birders, the oft-embarassing moments of mis-identification in the field. Other chapters describe the basic taxonomy of birds, the organization of birding clubs, the rules surrounding official lists and the confusion that ensues when species are re-named or re-assigned thus invalidating some names birders have already counted, and so on. The accompanying illustrations by Matthew Kalmenoff are very nice.

But I\’m not the right reader for this book, it seems. I found it only mildly interesting and before long, just tedious. The author likes to use eloquent phrases and quote literature in relation to his feathered interests, but it often came across as stiff or pretentious, to me. This book is not well-known; I only found three reviews online yet they all praise it highly. They all seem to be birders themselves, though. I was curious to learn more about this hobby- I learned that it\’s probably something I\’ll never do!

Abandoned        265 pages, 1973

the Pup After Merle
by Ted Kerasote

A year or two after the famous Merle passed on, his owner got a new puppy and named him Pukka. This is Pukka\’s story. How he came into the author\’s life, got to know neighbors, learned doggy skills and basic obedience, went adventuring with his new owner on hikes and even river trips. It\’s told from the dog\’s perspective, which in this case is charming and I think would make the book appealing for younger readers too. It\’s mostly presented in photographs, and they are very nice. The scenery is gorgeous, the photos taken in the Seattle, WA area of course make me feel nostalgic. And the puppy is darn cute. He doesn\’t do anything extraordinary, but such a nice dog and the storyline shows how a puppy can become well-adjusted, learn new situations and some basic rules, and in this case, have freedom to roam while near home but accept leash laws when out and about on public streets (they live in a rural area of Wyoming). This book has a different feel from Merle\’s Door, very casual and an easy read- I finished it in one sitting.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5       200 pages, 2010

Four days ago I forgot to mention the oddest thing I came across while reading Wild Heritage. Typos always jump out at me- spelling and grammar errors, letters switched around, mistaken homonyms and so on. But this was something I\’ve never seen before. Does this passage make any sense when you read it as printed? (page 112 in my edition)

Nope. You have to read the two lines highlighted yellow first, followed by the two highlighted in blue.

Somehow when the book was printed, these four lines got switched around. It really puzzled me when I first read the page, could not figure out what was wrong at first! Have you ever found a strange typo or printing error in a book? (I have another book on my shelf that has the first twenty pages included twice).

Life Nature Library
edited by F.D. Ommanney

This book is all about fish. Their evolution, biology, habitat, food sources, reproductive strategies, parenting methods, schooling behavior, migration routes, etc. Even just the basics about how they sense the world around them and navigate was interesting. The diversity of fish life in the world is really astounding, and the book just touches on some of the many different species, but I think does a good job at highlighting the wide variety of forms fishes have adapted, and different means by which they make their living in the water. Yes it\’s an old, outdated book but the pictures are pretty good for their age, and I learned a lot of facts. For example, about the heart structure. All these years of reading about animal life, why did it always escape my attention that fish have a two-chambered heart, most reptiles and amphibians a three-chambered heart, and that of mammals and birds, four chambers. This makes sense, but I never thought about it before. The last few chapters describe some then-new scientific studies that tracked where fish go in the ocean, using a variety of tagging devices in the hopes that fishermen, sportsmen and others would return them when found. Even though the return rate was less than 5 percent, they put so many tags on fishes it still generated useful information. There\’s also a chapter that discusses how the fishing industry was beginning to a see decline in stock numbers, and strategies to remedy that (interesting look at how it was managed in different countries, which I\’m sure is all very different now).

Rating: 3/5       192 pages, 1963

made by Milton Bradley ~ artist Charles Wysocki ~ 1,000 pieces

Just finished this one today- my kids squabbled over who got to put in the last few pieces. I admit I like this one because of the subject matter, and that’s the only reason it’s a keeper. The surface is too glossy, so you have to keep tilting your head against light bouncing off the pieces. The pieces are very uniform in shape, and they don’t fit completely snug, so you can’t pick up a section and move it, it all falls apart. When I had a group of pieces fit together and found out they go elsewhere on the puzzle, I’d have to move that section one piece at a time, unless there was a clear path to slide it all. The picture is a little dark, but there are still enough hues and textures to make it interesting.

The fun part about this image are all the book titles, guessing (some are really obvious) what real books they derived from:

Rat Holes of the World
Cat-o-Nine Tales
The Caterbury Tales
A Tale of Two Kitties
Poems by Robin Wing
The Little Brown Mouse
The Killer Sparrow of Ipswich
The Feline Comedy by Kitty Mewpur
Caterwaul’s Catalog of Hairballs
Holy Cats by Lord Myron
The Three Mouseketeers
Field Guide to the Garbage Can: a Catechism
The Sardine in All its Splendor
How to Catnap with a Smile by Z. Snooze
How to Smell a Rat by Nasal Nosegay
a series of Renowned Mouse Traps
Delicious Field Mice I Have Known by Thomas Cheshire

This last one makes me grin because I’m pretty sure the title is a play on this book. You can read more about the original painting here (but know that if you scroll down and read his bio, the photo of the artist as child is kind of freaky).

(click on arrows to view images in succession)

a thrift store find

by Sally Carrighar

In the sixties, field studies of animal behavior was a very new science. Sally Carrighar wrote this book to dispel many myths about animal behavior- particularly the Victorian notions that animals acted out of brutality or nobility etc., and the reactive ideas from the Industrial Age that attributed animal actions to mere mechanical response via insinct. The truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle- yes, animals are driven by instinct but they also have intelligence, basic emotions and individual preferences; thus Carrighar shows how similar animals\’ motives can be to our own. She divides her book into four main sections, exploring what were then-new observations on wildlife behavior in regards to parenting and raising the young, courtship and mating, the use of aggression and play or creativity. It\’s an intriguing collection of accounts, but somewhat dull because of its age. The book is solidly placed in its timeframe- when Carrighar wrote, Adolph Murie, George Schaller and Jane Goodall were currently young scientists conducting new field studies, with many of their significant discoveries yet to be made. Other great names which are only history to me, were contemporaries to her and spoken of as such: Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, Lois Crisler, Ernest Thompson Seton. For me the book was mostly a summary of things I\’ve already known or accounts I\’ve already read; the originals are much better sources. So the book is interesting in its historical aspect but very dated: a lot of its information is old hat now, and things she puzzled or wondered at have long since been explained. However I was surprised to find once again the incident of the boy in the badger\’s den once again related- although much briefer here. I wonder if she took her account straight from Seton\’s book.

Rating: 3/5        276 pages, 1965

by Peter Brown

Bobby is sure his teacher is a monster. She stomps and growls and yells at kids. Especially when he throws paper airplanes in class. Bobby often goes to the park to play and forget about his teacher. But one day he is shocked to find his teacher in the park! There\’s an awkward conversation. Then Bobby rescues the teacher\’s hat when it blows away. He finds out she likes ducks, he shows her his favorite hill, she gives him paper to make an airplane to fly. The teacher relaxes a bit too, dropping some of the formal language she uses in class by the end of their time at the park. Back in school, the teacher still stomps and yells at times, but Bobby also earns her praise now and knows she can be friendly.

The great thing about this book is that for the first ten pages the teacher looks like a monster. Then as she and Bobby reach an understanding, her image slowly begins to change- the skin is lighter, the features softer, and by the last page she looks like a normal person.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5     34 pages, 2014

more opinions:
Jen Robinson\’s Book Page
The Book Chook

edited by Lesley O\’Mara

A short story collection featuring cats. I was expecting to find more familiar fare here, but only knew two of the stories- Rudyard Kipling\’s famous \”The Cat That Walked by Himself\” and a chapter from one of James Herriot\’s books about a lady with a houseful of cats. I wouldn\’t say the selections were great– most of them good, several quite forgettable, a handful I really liked. A number of stories are about people jealous of cats- the wife jealous of the husband favoring the cat, the husband jealous of the wife loving the cat, the lover trying to do away with a cat that hates him, and so on. Common thread. There\’s even a story of a cat that\’s jealous of another cat that shares its household, and how its manners change when the second cat disappears… Also lots of stories about winsome, noisy and very opinionated siamese cats. I wonder if siamese cats were still a rare, exotic breed in the eighties? or did the editor who selected the stories just happen to like them.The authors include Mark Twain, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Doris Lessing, Emile Zola, Lloyd Alexander, P.G. Wodehouse and many others I didn\’t recognize. My favorites were-

\”How a Cat Played Robinson Crusoe\” by Charles G.D. Roberts- about a cat who accidentally gets left behind at a summerhouse on an island, and must find ways to survive the fall, winter and spring alone.

\”A Fine Place for the Cat\” by Margaret Bonham- a rather slovenly lady decides to purchase a siamese cat when her older cat passes away. She wants something different, to impress her neighbors. The new cat arrives from the train and it is so strange to her she at first thinks it a hideous monkey-like creature. But the cat immediately attracts the admiration of the fish-man (who peddles his wares door-to-door) and thus something develops between them. A nice story.

\”The Story of Webster\” by P.G. Wodehouse- a young man, bohemian artist type, gets saddled with his rich uncle\’s cat, and he feels that the cat\’s stares reprimand him so much, he starts to change his ways. To the astonishment and alarm of his artist chums and his girlfriend.

\”Midshipman, The Cat\” by John Coleman Adams- some boys are attacking a small cat on a waterfront, and a novice sailor rescue the cat, who promptly adopts the crew and boat as his new home. He proves to be a remarkable, bold and resourceful cat. The story of his antics aboard ship and what happened after the summer\’s cruise was over, made me smile.

Rating: 3/5       254 pages, 1989

by Ernest Thompson Seton

This book should really be titled Wild Animals of Yellowstone Park, because that\’s exactly what it is. One by one, Seton tells about the different mammals that live in Yellowstone. At the back he gives a list of all the known mammals in Yellowstone, and it turns out he only left a few out of his descriptions: raccoon, shrew, flying squirrel, wolverine, vole, weasel- because he did not personally encounter them. Unfortunately, his descriptions of the wildlife leave something to be desired. He wrote them at a time when not much was actually known about the animals\’ habits, so for many it\’s just a brief page telling where the animal is found, what it eats, that\’s about it. Now and then he has a story to share- Steon is much more in his element (or at least more fun to read) when he\’s telling a story. He has a lot to say about skunks because he used to keep them as pets, and a lot to say about bears because they hung out around hotels and garbage dumps in the park. He frequently mentions sneaking up close on animals to capture photographs of them, then proudly shows said photos in the pages- but they are very dated, unfocused, grainy and overall just amusingly poor in quality. His drawings and sketches weren\’t quite up to par what I recall from other books either- a lot of them are very humorous and cartoony in style, but I like his detailed, realistic artwork better.

Well, so the text about animals is mostly brief descriptions with some secondhand observations, popular lore of the time and now and then a personal story Seton has to tell. Two segments were very familiar to me- the bears hanging out around the dump and the silly dog teased by coyotes- both are related in far more detail in Lives of the Hunted. There is one chapter in the book however, which is the entire reason I am keeping it on my shelf. It\’s about badgers. And while speaking of badgers, Seton tells of a boy in a prairie town near Winnipeg who has a natural affinity with animals, gets lost in a storm, takes shelter in a badger den and is befriended by the badger, who had just lost her mate and young to a trapper. The boy lives with the badger for two weeks before he is found and brought back home. I instantly recognized this story: it\’s Incident at Hawk\’s Hill! The names are all different, Seton says it was at Bird\’s Hill, but I\’m sure when Eckert novelized the story he changed names for privacy. All the more this makes me think the badger story really was based on truth.

Rating: 3/5         226 pages, 1913

by Meindert DeJong

I thought perhaps I had read this book as a kid, and it did become more and more familiar the further I went. It\’s a story of a little stray dog, at first loved by two little kids, but frequently mistreated beaten by their mother (a strict housewife) and then lost during a storm. Wandering between houses until frightened by bigger dogs it ends up half-starving in the countryside. Due to rough treatment when it was very young, the dog is timid and in particular, terrified of brooms (used as punishment) so it avoids people. Happens to find safety from a pack of dogs under a farm woman\’s wagon, so the dog is travelling with her when an accident occurs, and everyone thinks he is her dog. While the woman is in the hospital he\’s taken to the dog pound, where although the surroundings and noise are terrifying, for the first time the little dog starts to respond to kindness from the pound man. But there are always brooms around, and the dog\’s phobia causes him to flee and hide again. He finally gets adopted by a retired ship captain, who looses him (once again, because of a broom). Then an incident with bank robbers get published in the newspapers, and the dog happened to be there, and the original children who had him as a little puppy see the pictures. They also see that the captain is offering a reward for his return. The kids don\’t care about their lost puppy anymore, they want new bicycles so go looking for the puppy in hopes of the reward money. Eventually it\’s another woman in the neighborhood who saw the dog scavenging around her back porch earlier in the story, who coaches the children on how to catch the frightened dog (but they are inept at following her directions), and helps the captain lure him home again. The dog gets there of his own accord, the captain finally recognizes his broom phobia, banishes brooms from his house, and now the little dog has a place to belong, without fear.

Yeah, it sounds rather convoluted and the parts at the end where all the different people who had seen or helped the dog came together to get him found and back to his new home, was a bit too convenient. But it is a really tender story showing things from the dog\’s perspective, how easily a fear can get instilled in a young animal and affect its life for a long time, while people don\’t realize the reasons behind its behavior.

I think this author often tended to write books about down-trodden or misunderstood animals; the other one I\’ve read by him is about a stray dog that starts hanging out around a chicken coop- I really like that one. And others have titles such as: Billy and the Unhappy Bull, The Little Stray Dog and The Cat That Walked a Week (to find its way home?) This one, Hurry Home, Candy, was a Newbery Honor book.

Rating: 3/5        244 pages, 1953


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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