Monday, May 04, 2015

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

When I found that Bonnie left A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz on my nightstand, I thought that I had found a fantasy. The beautiful illustrations by Catia Chien lend the book a magical aura. In side its covers, however, is a true story. Rabinowitz has written an inspiring memoir for children about his overcoming stuttering to become a noted zoologist and conservationist. It is fantastic.

Through his love of animals and good counseling when he reaches college, Rabinowitz finds his clear voice through accepting that he will always start from a stutter.

I don't want to give too much away, but I will point out that there is a plug for the book on the back cover by Temple Grandin. You do not have to be a child to enjoy this picture book.

Rabinovitz, Alan. A Boy and a Jaguar. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN 9780547875071.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

On Old MacDonald's farm, every animal has only one thing to say. "Quack quack" or "Moo moo" or "Cluck cluck." Anyone who has been around animals, however, knows it is not so simple. Animal, especially birds, are a bit more expressive. Each has a range of grunts, calls, chirps, etc.

In Froodle by children's author/illustrator Antoinette Portis, everyday birds say their everyday things at first, day after day, through the seasons, until Little Brown Bird suddenly says "Froodle sproodle!" Cardinal, Crow, and Dove are shocked. They insist Little Brown Bird return to simply saying "Peep." LBB, as many birders know sparrows, wrens, and other hard to identify little birds, complies at first but then exclaims "Tiffle biffle, just a miffle! A revolution is declared.

I can imagine reading Froodle to children will be much fun for people of all ages. Silliness shall reign. Take that Conformity!

Rumba numba wonka skirby dirby!

Portis, Antoinette. Froodle. Roaring Book Press*, 2014. ISBN 9781596439221.

*How appropriate!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Second Reading of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

If you had asked, I would have said I read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick last year, maybe two years ago. I see from my March 2011 review, I'm losing track of time. I also thought I remembered the book very well. In rereading I recalled a few stories, but many I did not. Almost a new reader, I read again with concern about the lives of six people who escaped the poverty of the totalitarian regime of North Korea.

The reason for the second reading was a book club commitment. I was happy the title was chosen because I remembered it being quite moving. I was gratified that the book group had such an engaging discussion. Several people had also made an effort to research the current affairs in North Korea, not something that usually happens for the discussion.

I was surprised on rereading that the escape stories came very late in the book and were a smaller part of the story than I recalled. I think I had mentally injected part of another book, the novel The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo into Demick's account. The focus of Nothing to Envy is really the hard life in North Korea and the difficulties of adjusting to life in South Korea.

The phrase "nothing to envy" comes from a North Korean propaganda song.

I recommend the title to other book groups.

Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Spiegel and Grau, 2010. ISBN 9780385523905.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Disneyland Book of Lists: Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented! by Chris Strodder

I have never been to Disneyland in California but I have been to Walt Disney World in Florida several times. After examining The Disneyland Book of Lists: Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented! by Chris Strodder, I see that much about the parks is similar. Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Star Tours, and lots of costumed characters can be found in both states. The difference is that Disneyland, the original Disney theme park, packs what it has into a much smaller space.

Strodder's book falls somewhere between a historical reference and a travel guide. Arranged into thirteen chapters are lists about the park's origins, its attractions, the shops and restaurants, the business, its guests, its cast (people who work at Disneyland), and its impact on popular culture. Some of the lists provide practical advice for visiting, but most lists are offered as entertaining observations by either the author or by Disney fans or employees whom he has interviewed. There are many lists. Strodder has obviously researched his topics energetically.

I most enjoyed lists about the popular culture impact of Disney parks and about the origins of the attractions, most of which were built first in California and them duplicated in Florida. There is, however, a list of attractions that debuted in Florida as well.

Someone going to Disneyland for the first time will probably just get lost in this book, but the frequent guests (there are a lot of them) will find much to like in The Disneyland Book of Lists. Any library that needs to stock a variety of books on Disneyland will benefit by having this title, too.

Strodder, Chris. Disneyland Book of Lists: Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented! Santa Monica Press, 2015. 360p. ISBN 9781595800817.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds by Monica Russo

In both of the first two libraries in which I worked as a librarian with my MLS, the adult and juvenile nonfiction was shelved together. The reasoning was that adults and children could benefit from many of the same books and they could be found all in one place. Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds by Monica Russo is just the kind of book that supported that philosophy. It is aimed at young readers but offers much to readers of any age.

Inside the brightly illustrated cover of Birdology are lessons on birding, basic ornithology, do-it-yourself experiments, and many beautiful photographs of birds. Though I am about 50 years beyond the target audience, I read with interest, gaining understanding of some aspects of bird life that I had not realized reading more scholarly works. That birds who eat only insects in flight must migrate in winter is probably in the books I've previously read but it never registered with me. Woodpeckers who pick insect eggs and larvae from bark can winter over in many climates. I saw woodpeckers all winter long because of this.

I read with the interest the section on attracting birds to your yard with plants. We are expanding our flowerbed and replacing shrubs in the next few weeks. I will keep the birds in mind.

Birdology is a good addition to any public library.

Russo, Monica. Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds. Chicago Review Press, 2015. 108p. ISBN 9781613749494.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove

On a family trip to Orlando in 1980, John Hargrove saw a killer whale show at SeaWorld and immediately knew his vocation. He wanted to be a trainer and ride the orcas into the air. To get his wish, he focused on learning everything about the whales and convinced his family to take vacations that included the Florida theme park. He asked trainers questions at the park and wrote letters to them from home. Finally in 1993, his dream came true when he was hired as apprentice trainer at SeaWorld in San Antonio.

In Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish, he recounts how after many years as a dedicated SeaWorld employee he slowly realized how his love for being with the killer whales had blinded him to the ethics of using them in popular entertainment. He saw they were stressed by the demands of performing unnatural behaviors up to seven times a day and then bored in the confinement in small pools when not in training or performing. He was also appalled by the discomfort and danger to whales required for artificial insemination and by SeaWorld's policy of separating mothers and offspring, who would be together for life in the ocean. He began to sense the truth in the animal rights movement criticism of trained animal entertainment.

Changing sides was still difficult because it meant leaving his employment, closest friends, and the whales he loved. Agreeing to speak out in the documentary Blackfish was his declaration of his new conscience.

While at first glance Beneath the Surface might seem a book that would appeal to a narrow audience, for Hargrove is hardly a national celebrity or killer whales a frequent front page news story (except when a trainer is accidentally killed), but his situation is universal. Many of us have matters of conscience that trouble us upon which we do not act because we would sacrifice so much. Combine that with subjects of animal rights, wildlife conservation, government regulation, and corporate responsibility and the title deserves a wider audience. Nonfiction book discussion groups should consider Beneath the Surface.

Hargrove, John. Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781137280107.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland by Peggy Macnamara

The spring migration of birds has just begun. While there are many books, articles, and websites that tell birders what species to expect when and where, a particularly interesting title to me is painter Peggy Macnamara's The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland. With text by John Bates and James H. Boone, she alerts readers to the birds and insects that will come up the Mississippi flyway through the counties surrounding Chicago.

Macnamara's watercolor illustrations are not by any means photographic, but they reproduce the effects of sunlight and shade on birds and insects as observed outdoors. Their intentional impressionism prepares spotters to natural conditions that are not ideal for seeing everything that the best photographers have been able to present in their bird and insect guides.

Working often with the scientists at the Field Museum of Chicago, Macnamara has access to the museum's specimens of birds and insects collected for over a century. Of particular interest to her are the birds who died during migration when they crashed into buildings in downtown Chicago or along the lakefront. These birds were gathered and brought to the museum every day for about 30 years. A census of them shows trends in the migrations passing through the area. Current numbers are way down thankfully because building managers have reduced lights and architects have designed friendlier buildings, but there are still plenty of bird corpses to gather.

Macnamara's book will interest artists as well as birders, as she often describes how she uses her brush to apply colors and shading. As a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and illustrator-in-residence at the Field Museum, she has much experience. The Art of Migration could as easily be shelved in the art section as the zoology area.

Since Macnamara and her co-authors tell so much about the birds and where to see them in the Chicago area, we shelve it with other helpful birding guides.

Macnamara, Peggy. The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland. University of Chicago Press, 2013. 202p. ISBN 9780226046297.