Jul 24, 2014

Four Boots One Journey

by Jeff Alt

This book is about a husband and wife team who hiked the John Muir Trail. They set off on their 220-mile journey shortly after the author's wife lost her brother to suicide. They made their hike a campaign for mental health awareness- wanting to inform people that depression is readily treatable, and how beneficial exercise in the great outdoors can be. Mostly the book is about their walk on the trail- the long miles, great views, a few encounters with wildlife, difficulties overcome, how their relationship changed and grew during the hike, the variety of people they encountered and so on. It's a good story and for a great cause, but not the most compelling reading. I wished for a little more depth and insight, that's all. I finished reading it last night, but can't think of anything very memorable to tell about it. Read it if you enjoy hiking and outdoor adventures, otherwise it probably won't be interesting.

Also the presentation left something to be desired- I noticed quite a few typos and the map at the beginning of the book is laughable. It's so nondescript I am puzzled why it was even included. The photographs are poor quality too. I saw most of them in full color as they were included in the promotional package; nice enough in that format. But they did not covert to black-and-white printing well. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher. It has also been published under the title A Hike for Mike.

Rating: 2/5      225 pages, 2005

Jul 22, 2014

Princess Hyacinth

by Florence Parry Heide

Princess Hyacinth is different. She floats. She has to wear heavy weighted princess clothes, or be tied down to the furniture! Her life is tedious, because she can't play outside like other children- her parents are worried she will just float away. She can't go swimming, and a walk in the garden is a drag with all those heavy clothesOne day the Princess sees a man holding balloons on the palace grounds, and has an idea. She takes off her heavy stuff, ties her ankle to a string and floats up with the balloons. Unfortunately she breaks away from the balloon man and floats higher and higher. She is fortuitously rescued by her friend, a boy with a kite. And thus finds a solution to her problem, which not only allows her to float outside but strengthens her friendship as well. Of course the Princess still has to eat meals tied down to a chair, but her floating problem is much more tolerable from now on!

Delightful story with expressive and decorative illustrations by Lane Smith. I loved the Princess, her spunky attitude and her ingenious solution. And the message it gives kids: you can't always get rid of your problems, but you can find a way to manage them and still enjoy life. (And for some reason this book reminds me of the Secret Lives of Princessess).

My only complaint is a minor one: after reading several pages, my tongue really starts to trip over the name Princess Hyacinth. For some reason it's difficult to say out loud too many times in a row.

Rating: 4/5     44 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Possum Bookshelf
Gathering Books
Lil Bug Book Review
Read Me a Story

Jul 21, 2014

The Life and Love of Cats

by Lewis Blackwell

This is a gorgeous book. A must-have for any cat lover. It is full of stunning photographs- larger than life-size- celebrating feline grace and mystery. The striking images are interspersed with quotes on cats, and a number of essays by the author on different aspects of cats and their relationship with humans. Very thoughtful and insightful. Blackwell muses on why we find cats so appealing and irresistible (quoting the number of google results for cat compared to dog to assert their greater popularity), even scrutinizing the many websites where people share photos of cats (and attribute human thoughts to their behaviors). He examines how cats and people have come together historically- sometimes merely tolerated but more often inspiring such passion as to be revered or heavily persecuted. Looks into some pervasive myths regarding cats' abilities and how they probably arose, the reasons why cats have not evolved such diverse shapes like dog breeds (why was the munchkin cat not mentioned?); the mixing of domestic cats and wildcats, the affect cats have on our moods, and much more. I was surprised to read about how cats' body parts have been used in folkloric medicine in historical times. I was dismayed to read about the Paris cat massacre of 1730. I came away with a short list of more titles on cats, and inspiration to search the internet to learn more about domestic/wild crosses. But most of all I kept returning to the book just to look at the pictures. I had never seen such a closeup of a cat's tongue before, showing the barbels that make it raspy. The many images of cats in front of or outside of windows, looking through, infused with contemplation, are lovely. Overall it was just delightful.
These are some of my favorite images from the book:
This cat's eyes are my absolute favorite color:
This cat looks like one that used to hang around an apartment I lived in for a brief time in southern California. It was very friendly and purred like mad whenever I held it. I asked around; none of the neighbors admitted to owning the cat. My roommate urged me to take the cat home on the plane with me! but I couldn't think how that was possible (I was moving back to my parents' house soon):
So elegant:
So strange and curious:
I love the smoky dark color and burnished gold eyes:
Beautiful. I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 5/5      216 pages, 2012

more opinions:
The Secret Writer
Texas a Cat in Austin

Jul 20, 2014

The Elephant Whisperer

by Lawrence Anthony

The author of this remarkable story ran a wildlife reserve in Zululand. He unexpectedly became the owner of a family of "rouge" elephants when their lives were threatened: they were such troublemakers that they were going to be killed. When first introduced to the Thula Thula reserve, the elephants did continually break out at first, trying to return to their former home (where if found they would be immediately shot). Anthony got the elephants to stay not only by building stronger electric fences, but by convincing the wild elephants (determined to trample any humans they saw) that he was not a danger to them, and to keep them calm until they accepted the new place as their home. They grew to trust him enough that he was eventually able to approach the adults closely, and they even began to seek out his company. The story relates his continual struggle to keep the animals (and people who worked or lived on the reserve) safe- dealing with poachers, neighboring tribal strife, floods and storms that broke fences, his own dogs confronting dangerous wildlife, poisonous snakes, preparing the reserve to receive guests (and then dealing with a new set of problems they brought) for the much-needed income, and so on. There are funny moments as well as sad ones- more than once evoking an involuntary verbal outburst from me as I read the pages. There were also many incredible moments, as Anthony learned how to communicate with these giant, wild animals in an effort to gain their trust and promote healing from the atrocities they had suffered at the hands of man (much of their family killed before they came to the reserve). It is definitely a book I want to read again.

When looking for more reviews about this book online, instead I found numerous articles relating how after his death in 2012, the author's home was visited by two herds of elephants. The elephants had not been to his house in three years, but travelled miles through the bush to pay a visit upon his death. They stayed for two days, then trekked back into the bush. No one knows how they were aware of his passing.

Anthony also wrote a book about rhinos, and one about his efforts helping to rescue wildlife from the Baghdad Zoo in 2003. Want to read both of those now.

Rating: 4/5       368 pages, 2009

Jul 19, 2014


by Gloria Whelan

Yatandou lives in a Mali villiage in Africa. Only eight years old, she must help her family prepare food by pounding millet grain into flour - a task that takes hours each day. She loves her pet goat, but doesn't have much time to play with him because she must work. She hears of a machine that might come to the village- a machine that can grind the millet for them. The women are saving their money to buy it. Yatandou, realizing how this can help her village and make their lives easier, sells her goat in the market to help pay for the grinding machine. It is a wonderful thing when the machine finally arrives. Not only does it relieve the women of some of their workload, but it grinds grain so much faster that they can now sell some surplus. A woman comes to the village to teach the women and girls how to write, so they can keep track of how much millet they grind with the machine, and who pays for it. Yatandou wonders at the novelty of writing: How strange it is to see that our words have a face. Her father complains that the women will become idle and cause trouble now that the machine is doing some of their work, but Yatandou's mother pacifies him with special bat stew. (I was sad to read of the bats getting eaten, especially when it made me think of this history). At the close of the story, the girl Yatandou carefully writes her name on her pounding stick, so she can one day show it to her own child and explain how the machine has changed her village, that her own future daughters and granddaughters will never have to use it.

I picked this book out at the library because I wanted to see more by illustrator Peter Sylvada. It took me a while to appreciate the pictures this time- their indistinctness makes me squint. But they really do convey a sense of shimmering heat and dusty haze, an atmosphere beaten by the blazing golden sun. I ended up reading Yatandou a few times, even though it was a bit too sophisticated a story to share with my three-year-old. It really grew on me. Not only does it show how hard life is for kids in other parts of the world, but one girl's sacrifice to help improve conditions in her village. Throughout the story are details of the culture, the landscape and the weather, mention of traditions and stories told to children, that bring the place alive. I was impressed at how precious and thoughtful Yantandou seemed- an eight-year-old child giving something up for a better life, and also thinking of the importance to teach her future children how things had changed because of that.

Rating: 3/5        32 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Muddy Puddle Musings
Your Friendly Librarian

Jul 18, 2014

Spirit Horses

by Tony Stromberg

A large art book full of gorgeous photographs. They all depict horses, most appear to be wild horses. Depicting the animals' beauty, strength, family bonds and most of all, the glory of their speed. In fact I was a bit surprised how many pictures in the book had a blurred effect. There were some so blurry I couldn't tell what the picture showed me- flowing horse hair? But the ones with close detail focus are really exquisite to look at. Many are black and white or with limited color; my favorites are the images in sepia tones. Especially the few (like the cover image) that show a blonde horse, the pale hair seeming to float as they move across the page. You really feel the strength and beauty of the animals in these pictures. There's an introduction where the artist explains why he chose to photograph horses and what he hopes his art will communicate to others. Our need to feel a connection to nature and what the horses can teach us. There are quotes about horses and nature throughout the pages. My favorite quotes from the book:
Different forms of life in different aspects of existence make up the teeming denizens of this earth of ours... and all beings primarily seek peace, comfort and security. Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures. - the Dalai Lama
Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things man himself will not find peace. - Albert Schweitzer
This is a book you will want to look through again and again. Just sit and look at it. I borrowed it from the library. Some of the photographs here.

Rating: 4/5      160 pages, 2005

more opinions:
My Horse Daily

Jul 16, 2014

Sky Dancer

by Jack Bushnell

Jenny is thrilled when she sees a hawk on her father's farm. It perches in the same tree on the edge of a snow-covered field, and every day she goes out to see it. But then she hears men in town talking, her neighbors who have lost chickens to a hawk. Even though it's against the law, they feel justified in hunting the hawk down, to protect their livestock. Jenny starts to worry: will the hawk attack her father's chickens? will one of her neighbors shoot it? She feels an affinity with the wild bird, thinks that it comes to the farm just to visit her. Celebrating nature and the closeness of a fierce wild thing, this book also takes a serious look at the reality of what happens when a predator visits a farm. Spoiler: this particular hawk doesn't die, but a different one is shot. The illustrations by Jan Ormerod are lovely watercolor paintings, overlaying expressive line ink drawings.

Rating: 4/5       32 pages, 1996

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Jul 15, 2014

Welcome, Brown Bird

by Mary Lyn Ray

I got this book at the library because I wanted to find more picture books with illustrations I love looking at. So I searched for some of the illustrators I've really admired in past books. This one has lovely oil paintings by Pter Sylvada, whose work I first saw in Gleam and Glow. (I thought I had written about that one, but can't find it anywhere on my blog! Must remedy that...)

The book is about a bird, a brown nondescript bird with a lovely flutelike song. On a farm a boy waits for late spring, when he always hears the song of the thrush. When his father wants to clear some land for a corn field, the boy begs him to leave the trees standing, because that is where the thrush lives. His father agrees. In fall the bird flies away and the boy waits all winter to hear it again. Meanwhile, in another part of the world a different boy waits for summer to end, waits for the rainy season when he will hear the thrush's song. His father also wants to clear trees off the land, and this boy too begs to leave them alone- for that is where the bird lives, the bird with a voice like a clay flute. This father too, agrees, and the boy listens all winter until the thrush disappears in springtime. Neither boy knows where the thrush goes when it leaves them, but they are tied together.

In the afterward the author gives some information about migratory birds, particularly the thrush, and how they are threatened by habitat loss. It's an important message beautifully communicated. I love looking at the pictures- the rich texture, the broad paintbrush strokes that suggest just enough form to let your mind fill in the rest.

Rating: 4/5      32 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Nurture PDX

Jul 13, 2014

The Curious Garden

by Peter Brown

One day a little boy is exploring his dreary, gray city when he finds access to an abandoned elevated railway. There are a few weeds and wildflowers growing up there. The boy starts to water and prune them, and the plants begin to thrive and spread. Eventually they grow across the entire railway. When winter comes the boy can't visit his garden anymore, but he does research- reading gardening books! In spring he starts tending to the plants again. They spread further into the city, and other people become inspired to garden as well. Before long there are rooftop and hellstrip gardens all over the place; topiary animals, treehouses and twining ivy climbing up walls. The illustrations are really lovely. The endpapers show before and after: at the front of the book you see a spread of the gray cityscape, at the back it's all green rooftops. If you look close in that final picture, you can find the little spot on the elevated where it all began. The afterward says this story is based on an abandoned elevated in Manhattan that became a garden space. Awesome. It all reminds me very much of Extra Yarn- the spread of color and liveliness through a dreary town. There's a good message here, too, about learning and leading by example. This boy didn't know anything about gardening when he found the plants, but he tried things and eventually succeeded. And others followed suit. Like Seedfolks, too.
I found this book at the public library.

Rating: 4/5        36 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Help Readers Love Reading