Tag: Juvenile Nonfic

by Charise Mericle Harper

Another graphic novel memoir. This one has a very clear focus: sibling relationships and rivalry. Older sister is of course, jealous of her baby brother as a new arrival. When he gets older she finds out what fun it is to play together- and to play tricks on him. Get him into trouble. Come up with new, creative ways to take risks, and carry the game as far as she can, until someone gets hurt. Which was usually her younger brother, though some neighborhood kids got into frays as well. Reminds me a lot of my own childhood, from the taunting of sisters who repeated every word you said, to finding new thrilling ways to catapult yourself onto couch cushions. Sometimes the older sister in this story carries her pranks a bit too far, as when she tricks her little brother into eating cat kibble, or actually provokes the cat into scratching someone. When her brother breaks a tooth in a fall, remorse finally hits her hard, compounded by her brother’s own easy forgiveness. She determines to become a better person, following the example of – who else, really- her younger brother. I wasn’t really keen on the illustration style in this book, but the story really got to me. It’s such an honest depiction of siblings. The arc of character development is very clear and so good to see how with a bit of effort, people can change. And the author was honest about the root of some of her struggles- she could not recognize faces, had difficulty understanding meaning when people used idioms or non-lieteral phrases it made me wonder if perhaps she was a bit on the autism spectrum? or just had face blindness (which Oliver Sacks had, I only recently learned that from his memoir).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
236 pages, 2021

Sharing Our Urban World

by Ann Downer

I didn’t realize when I picked this book from a recommended list, that it was juvenile non-fiction. I liked it anyway. It’s about wildlife in cities. Why wild animals are becoming more common in urban areas, why that’s a problem, and what people are doing about it. The book tells about raccoons, black bears, cougars, sea turtles, crows, bats, coyotes and alligators in particular, but also mentions some other species. Details why exactly certain animals start to inundate cities. Some are very adaptable, having a broad diet, ease in finding their way around or making do with different kinds of living space. Some have developed a very short flight distance, being unafraid of people. And others are simply forced into close contact with people because of habitat overlapping or being lost- in particular the flying foxes in Sydney Australia and loggerhead turtles in Florida. I thought that most of the animals mentioned would be numerous- and that’s the case for many, but not all. Deer, raccoons and coyotes are in no danger of disappearing soon. But the flying foxes and sea turtles are. It’s troubling to read about how difficult we’ve made it for animals to live in the world, but also encouraging to see how people are solving the issues in many places. Making greener spaces. Discouraging animals from living off garbage, while leaving them alone to live their lives otherwise. Building wildlife bridges or tunnels so they can safely cross highways. I learned quite a few new things- didn’t know before that jungle crows are such a problem in Tokyo (one stopped a bullet train for several hours when its nest on a power station caused an electrical shortage!) I didn’t know that crows are afraid of bees- the city encouraged urban beekeeping as a way to discourage crow numbers. I had no idea that some bat guano is purple- I’m guessing from the fruit they eat. Fun read with a lot of information, and just the right balance of detail for kids (I think).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
64 pages, 2014

by Dr. Michael Fox

Lovely little book about the family life of wolves. Part of it is story, following one pup from birth to adulthood as it learns life skills, how to stay safe, hunting with the pack etc- all the usual stuff. Interjected are explanations about wolf behavior and ecology, so it\’s very educational as well. The little wolves grow and play, although one dies young from a disease. This book has a lot more about their intimate social lives- showing how the interactions form their bonds and organize their place in the pack. The young wolves encounter threats from a bald eagle, a wolverine and porcupine (seems to be the classic encounter in any book about young wild animals). They learn to catch mice and grasshoppers on their own, and are schooled in hunting caribou by their parents. I thought for once this would be a story just about the (relatively) peaceful lives of the animals, but man does make an appearance at the end- the wolf pack is hounded by hunters using airplanes. Some are shot and left to die. The ending is a plea for wolves to be protected, pointing out their role in keeping populations of caribou and other prey animals healthy, and a little bit about conservation work. Of course the book is dated- it hopes for example that wolves will someday be re-introduced to Yellowstone (which has now occurred).  The illustrations by Charles Fracé are very nice.

As I read this book immediately after Cry Wild, I couldn\’t help notice the differences between a few very similar scenes. In both stories the young wolf pups find a porcupine, but in this case the parent warned them from approaching, and later they came across a dead one and found out how sharp the quills were against their curious noses, so escaped injury. In both books one pup dies very young, and the mother\’s reaction is opposite. In Cry Wild the mother wolf anxiously licked and tended the dead pup, trying to coax it to nurse again and finally when they all moved to a new den, simply left the body behind. Here in The Wolf, as soon as the dead pup ceases moving, the mother apparently no longer recognizes it as her young, and matter-of-factly eats the body.

I wonder which depiction is more accurate. I suppose they both could be, if the wolf learned how to react to the situation according to what wolves around it normally did?

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1973

Tracking Wolves in the Wild
by Sylvia A. Johnson and Alice Aamodt

For a juvenile non-fiction book about wolves, this one is pretty thorough. It details how wolves live in the wild, their social structure and pack life, how the pups are raised, what they eat, hunting methods, territory defense and so on. Also conflicts with humans, some folklore and misconceptions about wolves, and how radio-tracking is used to study them (thus the subtitle, which I found a bit odd because it\’s only one short chapter at the very end that discusses this). It\’s basic, but really informative for all that. I recognized most of the photographs. I think I\’ve seen them before in some older edition of National Geographic.

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1985

by Joanne Ryder

I picked up this book for my seven-year-old. She\’s never quite as keen on animal stories as I was at her age (still am). I also found for her a book about a bear cub, and a more fanciful one about a crow family (which I might review here later). Tried to read Snail in the Woods as a bedtime story, but my kid was grossed out by hearing about slime and snails eating fungus and how they can retract their eyeballs back into their heads through their feelers; she refused to finish it. So I read the book myself. It\’s very simple text, decent monochromatic pictures, about the life of a land snail. Hatches from an egg, eats its own eggshell, crawls around seeking shelter and food. Estivating when there is no moisture. Avoiding getting eaten by shrews (more drawings of shrews in this one book than I\’ve ever seen before!), mice, birds, millipedes and other predators purely by luck. (My kid thought the millipede looked like a monster. It surely is to a tiny snail). Biggest event in the story is a flood, which some snails escape by crawling higher on trees and shrubs, and our snail gets carried downstream on a log. Finds a new home, finds a mate, crawls around more, lays eggs which will hatch in spring. Nice little book, if your kid wants to learn about how snails live.

Rating: 3/5               62 pages, 1979

Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk
by Sy Montgomery

This \’Scientist in the Field\’ book was more in-depth than the previous one, and I enjoyed it more. The chapters detail how the author accompanied a team of scientists who were studying the eating habits of octopuses around the island of Moorea. For the duration of her visit they actually spent most of their time looking for octopuses to be their study subjects- they\’re very difficult to find, being excellent at camouflage and hiding in small spaces. Then it all fell into place and on the last day of her trip, they were suddenly finding octopus all over the place. So a lot of the information about octopus in this book is side notes and explanations, but it\’s fascinating regardless. (She mentions briefly the encounters with octopus in public aquariums described in The Soul of an Octopus). The part about how octopus change color (and skin texture) to blend with their surroundings is especially cool. There\’s a lot about other animals sharing the same ocean habitat, as well. And for some reason this book reminded me of those I\’ve read by Eugenie Clark.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5            72 pages, 2015

by Pamela Turner

This is another of the \”Scientist in the Field\” books, just the level of J-Nonfiction I like reading. While the focus is on marine biologist Amanda Vincent\’s study concerning the impact of fishing and trade on seahorses worldwide, her focus began around one coral reef in the Philippines. Initially the study was to gain knowledge on seahorse reproduction but after talking to many local fisherman to find what they knew about seahorses, she realized their numbers were steadily dropping. She also realized that many local fishers depended on seahorses and other marine life for their livelihood. She expanded her project to change that- educating locals about seahorses and the welfare of the reef in general, advocating to close off certain areas against fishing entirely, implementing plans to repopulate the reef and plant mangroves to protect marginal areas, creating sustainable fishing practices and so on. It\’s all very intertwined, a precise example how the fate of one small creature (there is a pygmy seahorse the size of a pecan!) depends on the choices and actions of many people far away. And of course, there\’s lots of info on the seahorses themselves- charming, intriguing little creatures. I do stare at them in wonder whenever I visit a public aquarium.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5            58 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Miss Rumphius Effect

by Cat Urbigkit

Browsing, picked up a few juvenile non-fiction books on wildlife, which I enjoy sometimes. This one is about pronghorn antelope, which aren\’t actually antelope but something between an antelope and a goat. Which the book did not really explain, it keeps things simple. It basically just describes the life cycle of pronghorn, where they live and migrate, what they eat, how they survive the winter, something of their behavior repertoire etc. The photos by Mark Gocke are excellent. I learned just enough about these animals to become curious about finding a more in-depth book on the same subject.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5              34 pages, 2010

Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna
by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton

This is a firsthand account of growing up in a nomadic Maasai tribe, the Ariaal to be precise. Lemasolai describes what it is like to live in Kenya as a nomadic herder, and learning a bit about Maasai culture was pretty interesting. The customs, gender divisions, hardships, his experience in the initiation ceremony and most of all, the cattle. He talks a lot about cows, and it makes sense, seeing how important they are to the Maasai. There is not much mention of wildlife- avoidance of elephants, a brief but very memorable story about a hyena, a lion hunt where he is desperate to prove his bravery.

The government requires each family to send one child to school. Lemasolai\’s brother went first, but hated it and ran away from school, so Lemasolai volunteered to go in his place. He had a bit of a culture shock there, being required to wear western-style clothes, learn English and submit to a different form of discipline. While a lot of his story opens your eyes to how different some people live in the world, much of it is universal as well. He wants to make friends and impress them, has to endure teasing, struggles to face a bully, sometimes skips his obligations to play instead. Has to trek miles to go home to his family on vacation time- as they are nomads sometimes they are very far away, there are no roads and once it took him two weeks to get home. I really admired how he held onto his traditions and managed to straddle two cultures, seemingly with ease. He learned as much as he could at school. Catching the attention of the President of Kenya in a soccer game earned him a sponsorship which sent him very far, and eventually he ended up as a teacher himself in the States. Always returning home when he could, taking American students with him to show them to his homeland.

One really amusing incident occurred when he was home for a visit, dressed in traditional clothing and walking with some friends. They encountered a group of European tourists who tried to take advantage of their presumed ignorance. It was hilarious and satisfying when Lemasolai revealed that he\’d understood everything the tourists said. Near the end of the book, I found it very touching that he took his mother a gift of fine cattle. He really wanted to show his love and appreciation, and did not give her any modern gadgets or labor-saving devices, but some quality livestock that would improve his family\’s herd, a thing she could really value. The afterword, written by a man who knew the author in his teaching capacity, is insightful and adds a bit more context to the book.

While the writing style is simple and straightforward, in this case it worked well. It\’s a book written for younger readers after all- the author wanted to share his story with children. I did wish for a bit more depth and detail, but as it accomplishes what it set out to do admirably, I can\’t complain.

Rating: 3/5        128 pages, 2003

Yellowstone 1988
by Patricia Lauber

In 1988, Yellowstone National Park had not seen any huge wildfires in over 200 years. Fire was managed in the park- manmade fires were put out, while naturally occurring ones were allowed to burn unless they threatened people or buildings. This book tells about the events during the wildfires of 1988, when an entire third of the park burned. It describes the dangers and benefits of wildfire, and how the park recovered.

Because it did. I was twelve when those fires occured, I had visited Yellowstone and I remember feeling devastated at the news. Reading this book puts it all in perspective- the land actually recovers fairly quickly from wildfire. Most animal species survived, some benefitted greatly (predators ate smaller mammals on the run, insects moved in to take advantage of dying trees, etc). The lodgepole pines, in particular, start to die back until fire revives the forests by allowing younger trees to thrive. Certain seeds will not germinate unless prompted to by high temperatures caused by fire. I was surprised to learn about the unique way aspen thickets grow- they send up shoots from root systems that are often interconnected throughout the grove. Aspen seeds are troublesome to germinate, and the young trees easily shaded out. So most aspen in the park did not grow from seed but instead exist because of stands that have been growing back from the root systems for hundreds of years. I think that\’s amazing.

This book is a bit old- I can tell from the quality of the photographs alone, although they are very nice. It\’s also a juvenile nonfiction book, which I didn\’t realize until I started reading it. As such, it doesn\’t offer a lot of in-depth information and poses lots of unanswered questions, because when it was written scientists were still studying the effects of the blaze and how the Yellowstone plants and wildlife recovered from fire. (In some cases, very systematically- blocking off sections that hadn\’t been burned, planting them with certain seeds or not, observing later to see what grew and didn\’t after the fire, etc.) It would be nice to know more of the answers, so it prompts me to look more stuff up online. A nice, fairly informative read I got through in one sitting.

Rating: 3/5          64 pages, 1991


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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