Tag: Juvenile Nonfic

My Tale of Training Canines for Combat
by Mike Ritland

This book is about how military working dogs are trained and used. The author served as a Navy Seal and then became instrumental in training dogs for government and military use. There is a brief history of how dogs have been used in various wars in the appendix (which put into perspective some of the things I read in Cracker!) Main part of the book describes in detail how the dogs are trained. Ritland describes how carefully the dogs are bred and chosen, and the regiment they go through to prepare them for specific kinds of work. I found all this interesting, although some aspects of the training seemed to be skipped over or not explained very thoroughly. I think I found out why later on: this book is a re-issue of an earlier one the author wrote titled Trident K9 Warriors. It has been edited for a juvenile audience. That said, I didn\’t  find the writing style too simplified, and it kept me mostly interested throughout.

The second part of the book describes a number of handlers and the dogs they were paired with. To me it seemed like it went into more detail about the backgrounds of the men in service than describing the work the dogs actually did. The brief stories describe some incidents with dogs and handlers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East. It\’s pretty amazing what these animals can do. Impressive enough that they can scent and locate hidden bombs or weapons, alerting very specifically so that soldiers can avoid or address the danger. But then I read about a dog which indicated he\’d found the scent of explosives- the men uncovered nothing. Through other means they found out the dog was indicating the exact location where explosives had recently been made. Even though the items were no longer there, this information was invaluable to the team. I was also enlightened to learn that military (and police) dogs trained to apprehend people actually save their lives- whether criminals, the enemy or an innocent. In many situations a cop or soldier would shoot at a presumably dangerous person fleeing or hiding- but if there is a dog who can apprehend them instead- holding and disarming them, but not trained to kill- then using firearms can be avoided.

At first glance through the book I mistakenly assumed that the dogs in the pictures were German shepherds. In the past, labrador retrievers, dobermans, rottweilers and pit bulls have also been used by the miliatry. Turns out most of the dogs in this book are Belgian Malinois, and the author explains why this breed is the best for his purpose. At the end there is a brief chapter about his foundation that helps find appropriate homes for retired military dogs- and cares for them in his training kennels in the meantime.

I kind of wish I\’d found the earlier version of this book first. I probably would have appreciated it a bit more- but reviews tell me it has nearly all the same material, so I don\’t know if I would get much out of reading it now.

Rating: 3/5       190 pages, 2013

Inventions Inspired by Nature

by Dora Lee
I picked up this book at the library just because the cover and title caught my eye. It\’s a book about human inventions that were inspired by things present in the natural world. Some of them I already knew about, even if when the book was written they weren\’t actually made yet, just being researched. There are robotic hands now, that move realistically. Tiny machines that mimic the flight mechanism of insects. I knew about the observation of cockleburs that inspired the invention of velcro, and I\’d heard of nanobots that can carry information into the body the way viruses invade. But I didn\’t know before that wind tubines have bumps on the leading edge of the blades, like a humpback whale does on its fins to avoid stalling in the water during sharp turns. I didn\’t know of this building in Zimbabwe which has an air-conditioning system inspired by termite mounds (this interesting article refutes some of the science behind it), or that bullet trains were quieted by modelling their noses after a kingfisher\’s beak- so very streamlined they enter the water with hardly any splash. I\’d never heard of a device that collects energy from the motion of ocean waves, even though it was conceptualized before 2008!
That\’s just a small sampling of the material in this book. There\’s a lot to spark curiosity and admiration. I didn\’t mind that the examples were brief- after all, it is a kid\’s book. I did wish that they were identified more clearly, or had a listing in the back of where the sources came from. However all the things I wanted to know more about, I found easily enough with a brief search online.
Rating: 3/5      40 pages, 2011

from Endangered to Extinction
by Diane Brischke

This book is a call to action on behalf of endangered wild animals. It highlights twenty very recognizable species- cheetah, elephant, panda, manatee, wolf, iguana, parrot, rhinoceros, etc and tells briefly what kinds of threats they face from mankind including pollution, habitat loss, climate change, poaching and population decline due to the pet trade. Sadly, it is not a book I can recommend. I expected from the large format to find gorgeous photographs inside, but only a few are excellent in quality, the rest are just okay. I know the book is directed at younger readers, but still it seemed overly simplified and very repetitive. Not much real information was shared, mostly generalizations about animals loosing habitat and facing the end: extinction. Except- some of them aren\’t in that dire of a situation yetBlack bears are featured in this book, yet the IUCN lists this bear as being of \”least concern\” and National Geographic says \”this is the only bear species considered secure throughout its range\”. Sloths are also \”of least concern.\” Leopards are \”threatened\”. So why are they in this book? There are far more species seriously critically endangered that could have been included.

Aside from that, I found it annoying to read because of the numerous typos, odd punctuation, run-on sentences and awkward phrases that seemed to be missing words, so they made no sense. I often had to read a sentence two or three times. The book really needed a better editor. White text on various dark and colored backgrounds was a poor choice, it\’s a headache for my eyes. I can only imagine this would be frustrating and disappointing for kids to read, as it was for me.

I received a copy of this book for review.

Rating: 1/5      52 pages, 2014

by Russell Freedman

A juvenile non-fiction book, this is pretty good for its intended audience but won\’t be a keeper for me. It relates what life was probably like for kids during the mid- to late 1800\’s in America. Pioneer children travelling west in wagon trains and native american children living in their various tribes. Mostly it just details daily life, occasionally touches on some deeper topics such as how native american children were often taken from their homes and put into white schools, taught new occupations. (Some of the most compelling images were side-by-side pictures of groups of native girls and boys, depicted when they first arrived at a school dressed in their traditional attire, and again a year or so later in stiff western clothing. They look miserable- but its hard to tell really when you remember how still they had to keep their faces for a clear photograph back then). The book also tells how young children had to work on farms and homesteads, in town jobs such as running messages or typesetting, riding horses on ranches and even acting as travelling performers. Their typical daily chores. What kinds of games and amusements they had. Schooling in one-room buildings (that often doubled as a church on sunday), the hardships of frontier schoolteachers. I did not find a lot here that was new to me, but the photographs are excellent for their time, it is quite something to peer at their solemn, often indistinct faces and wonder what it was really like for them. The book also details how early photography was done, the difficulties of travelling photographers who presented their skill as a novelty item to the hardworking people in frontier and mining towns.

Rating: 3/5        104 pages, 1983

A Dog Like No Other
by John Grogan

I was right in my initial guess about this book. This is a middle-grade version of the book Marley and Me, simplified for younger readers. For what it is, it was pretty well done. Even though it doesn\’t really have any new material and all the main incidents and jokes were familiar to me.  I read it in one sitting, laughing all over again. It\’s been long enough since I read the first book that I had to stop and think to remember what portions had been left out. I still prefer the original, but this one is pretty good too. And has less of the serious moments, the adult issues and dealings with raising kids. It\’s mostly just about the family dog.

Rating: 3/5   196 pages, 2007

more opinions:
A Year of Reading

by Karen Gravelle and Anne Squire

This book is all about how animals communicate, with each other and with us. It\’s written for young readers (I would say age group eight to twelve) but is very informative and I even learned a few things (that ducklings coordinate their hatching time by responding to the mother\’s calls through the shell, and that rattlesnakes can\’t hear the sound they produce with their own tails!) While none of the topics are discussed in a lot of depth, they are all clearly presented. Each section is headed with a short descriptive passage of an animal interacting with others, and then the following chapter explains how this is possible. Not only the different methods animals use to communicate- sound, scent, touch, body posture and so on- but also why their communication abilities differ (animals that live underground or are nocturnal don\’t use many visual signals, for example). Animals featured in the book include honeybees, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, housecats, chimpanzees, songbirds, elephants, seals, deer, frogs, sheep and even certain fish (which pulse electric signals to each other)! The final chapters discuss why dogs are so good at communicating with people (we share many similar types of signals) and how humans have taught signals and rudimentary language to dolphins, chimpanzees and gorillas. I was familiar with the apes briefly presented here- Lucy, Washoe and Koko. Even though this book is written for kids, it was a satisfying quick read for me.

Rating: 3/5        114 pages, 1988

the Language of Friendship
by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff with Dr. Paula Kahumbu

In 2004, a young hippo was found in trouble after a tsunami struck Southeast Asia with widespread aftermath. The hippo was rescued and taken to a wildlife park in Kenya. To everyone\’s surprise, the hippo named Owen befriended a 130-year-old male tortoise, Mzee. The animals became inseparable, with Owen following the Mzee around and copying what the tortoise ate. The two became protective of each other. Even more remarkable, they seemed to develop some basic communication, using sounds that tortoises and hippos normally don\’t make. But eventually the park managers faced a difficult decision: would Owen and Mzee need to be separated? Owen was adopting habits and a diet not usual for hippos, and when he grew larger could probably injure Mzee. He needed to learn that he was a hippo. The book closes with change looming at hand: with another young hippo elsewhere needing a companion, plans were in the works to move Owen.

I wish I could give this book a higher rating, it certainly is an incredible story. But for some reason it all falls a bit short with me. The writing style is aimed at younger readers and rather simple. (I am sure having three authors doesn\’t help, I\’m always a bit standoffish to books with more than one author for some reason). The part about their interspecies communication, which I was most intrigued by, was actually very brief. There is not much meat here; I am actually wondering what this book includes that the first one didn\’t. I am sure there will be a third installment, but I\’d really rather wait until someone writes a book ten years down the road that tells the entire story in more detail. The part I actually liked most was reading in the end about how Dr. Haller (who established the wildlife park the two animals lived in) works to rehabilitate old abandoned limestone quarries, restoring the forest at those sites so wildlife can live there again. I\’d like to read more about that.

The story of Owen and Mzee has definitely caught the attention of many. There are already three books illustrated with photographs by Isabella and her father, plus two picture books by different authors.

Rating: 3/5      36 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Esther\’s Roost
Bottom Shelf Books

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


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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