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Staff Picks: Books

Feline Piano Composer and Player

Based on a true story, Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman with illustrations by Amy June Bates is a real winner for both music lovers and cat enthusiasts.

The book introduces us to Moshe Cotel, a composer for the piano who lives in a very busy and loud city. But far from it being a distraction, Moshe uses the urban noise as the starting off point for his numerous compositions.

One day, while on his usual afternoon walk around the neighborhood, he hears the forlorn "mew" of a tiny, lost kitten. He picks up the black and white tyke, names her Ketzel, and brings her back to his apartment.

Shortly thereafter, a letter arrives in the mailbox from the Paris New Music Review announcing a piano competition contest with one stipulation: No piece may be longer than sixty seconds!

Moshe exclaims that creating a musical work of such brevity is impossible, so he places the letter aside, not giving it another thought. On the other hand, the next day he decides to give it a try. From the outset, he is completely stymied by the task. Whatever he starts, he cannot finish. He takes his failures so hard that he temporarily stops playing the piano.

One day Ketzel creeps across the piano keys with all four paws much to Moshe's auditory delight. He proclaims Ketzel to be a musical genius who has composed the unbelievable: A piece for piano with a distinct beginning, middle and end that lasts only twenty-one seconds! So he names the solo composition "Piece for Piano: Four Paws", and sends it off to the contest judges.

A few weeks later, he receives a letter saying that although he didn't win a prize, the submitted work does merit a certificate of special mention, which comes with an invitation to attend a concert where the piece will be played.

Moshe sneaks Ketzel into the concert hall in his vest pocket and every time the young pianist chosen to perform the work mentions Ketzel by name, the kitten responds with a loud, emphatic MEOW!

Animals are forbidden from entering the concert hall but after Moshe reveals that Ketzel is the actual composer of the piece, both are allowed to remain. Several encores later, "Piece for Piano:Four Paws" turns into musical history.

Ketzel becomes quite famous and receives a royalty check in the amount of nineteen dollars and seventy-two cents which purchases many cans of yummy cat food.

An engaging tale, wonderfully reminiscent of Nora, the piano playing cat of YouTube fame!

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Rocky, a wonderful cat companion of one of my colleagues, Keith.



Snowman Goes From Being Lonely to Being Perfect With a Little Love and New Friends

The Most Perfect Snowman, written and delightfully illustrated by Chris Britt, is about a simple,lonely snowman named Drift, who has arms made out of sticks and a nose and mouth made of coal.

He dreams of wearing some splendid items of clothing like a hat, scarf, mittens and of possessing a pointed carrot nose. like so many other more stylish snowmen, who would often ridicule his plain looks. 

One day three children come upon Drift and much to his delight share with him a scarf, hat, mittens as well as a pointy carrot nose. Upon donning his new togs, the kids proclaim him to be a perfect snowman and all spend the rest of the afternoon in fun play.

Once darkness begins to set in, the kids say goodbye and head home.During the night ,a blustery blizzard blows most of Drift's clothes away. All is not lost because he befriends a scared, cold and hungry tiny bunny who asks for his help to survive. Sure enough, Drift gives the bunny his scarf for warmth  and his carrot nose to relieve his hunger. With these acts of kindness and generosity, he proves that he truly is the most perfect snowman!


Oliver and Ollie

Although the book, Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas: The Tale of a Little Cat with a Big Heart by Sheila Norton is a work of adult fiction, it nevertheless reads like a true story. This despite the fact that the narrator is the main feline character himself. Set in the English countryside, it's a heartwarming tale of an orange young cat who at the start of the volume leads the good life with his best friend George., who owns the village pub called The Forester's Arms.

One night after last call, a fire breaks out in the pub which destroys the establishment and turns Oliver's entire world upside down. During the mayhem and confusion of the conflagration, he is separated from George. Over the course of a few episodes, he has brushes with danger, is adopted by other humans more than once, considerably brightens the life of one reclusive girl he meets, and in the end..., well you better read it for yourself.

This story is told in Oliver's own voice displaying the feline perspective. All in all, Oliver is a very special cat who seems to bring happiness and good cheer wherever he goes, and to all he meets.

My husband and I are also proud owners of a cat named Oliver; Ollie for short. We found him seven or so years ago while taking a walk on a college campus near some tennis courts. Although we were never certain of this, it appeared as if he had been thrown from a car sometime ago. My husband spotted the little grey animal that at first sight looked like a dead baby possum. Upon closer inspection and the creature's sudden but slight head movement he realized that what he had in front of him was a very dirty, exhausted kitten , fighting to stay alive. After retrieving a cat carrier from home, we drove the kitten to the local cat hospital. There, the veterinarian told us that our foundling would probably not have survived another twenty-four hours if we hadn't gotten to him, since he was very dehydrated and hadn't had a meal in days.

While being treated at the vet's, he ate voraciously and drank lots of water. After close to two weeks, he was ready for a good new home. Since I visited him daily at the clinic, I grew very fond of this cat who just also happened to be a very determined talker. He seemed to want to tell me every detail of what terrible plight had befallen him and I fell in love with the little guy. After convincing my husband that our family was the only one for this kitten, we named him Ollie and he joined our other two cats and bunny.

Ollie is a very special cat; he enjoys gabbing with us every chance he gets and is a real sweetheart.

Happy holidays to all!

They all saw a cat

I discovered this book at this year’s Youth Literature Seminar and had to take it home with me. The book has a simple, repetitive, rhyming text that is great when reading to very young children and gives it a sort of sing-song quality. What I really love about this book though, is the way it is illustrated. The cat meets a number of other animals and each has a different view or perspective of it. The dog and the mouse, for example, see the cat very differently. Some of my favorite illustrations were of how the bee, the worm and the, flea see it. Come check out our copy to see what a snake thinks of a cat!


To All Misunderstood Cows, Here’s Moo To You

MOO  is written by award winning author Sharon Creech, who also penned Walk Two Moons, The Wanderer, Ruby Holler and others. She wrote this book partly because she lives in rural Maine and partly because over time she has become “enchanted by cows.”

This work of fiction for third graders and older kids is about a family: Mom, Dad, twelve year-old Reena, and seven year-old Luke. The family moves from the big city to Maine, after the parents lose their jobs at a newspaper that goes out of business.

It’s Mom’s idea to just get away from big city life, buy where to go? At this point. Reena blurts out “Maine!” The reaction of her parents is, “Of course!” That is where they had met and fell in love. It made perfect sense to move back. After all, Maine is full of great things - lobsters, blueberries, a beautiful ocean with breaking waves, lighthouses, mountains. But there is one big minus about Maine: Winters are awfully cold there.

There will have to be a period of getting used to Maine’s unique characteristics such as few buses, little traffic, few tall buildings, but mostly to good things. The family moves to a small town on the coast with the ocean just a short block away. They rent a small old house with a woodstove inside and apple and lilac trees outside. As the parents unpack, the kids are let loose to ride their bikes on wide sidewalks and explore their new surroundings.

Since they move to Maine during the summer months, Mom looks for something to occupy the kids. She meets and befriends an elderly neighbor lady who could use some help. Mom “volunteers” the kids to help her with her farm. Mrs. Falala is rather eccentric and bossy, but plays the flute beautifully. As it turns out she also has quite a menagerie of “pets”- Paulie the hog, China the cat, Crockett the parrot, and last but certainly not least a belted back and white Galloway cow named Zora. Oh yes, there’s also a snake named Edna.

Upon meeting cow Zora, the kids, who don’t know a thing about cows, find out that Zora is not only stubborn but ornery as well. But it is their job to take care of her daily needs. The kids scoop and shovel piles of cow dung as well as fill buckets full with feed and water. They do these tasks over and over again and learn a lot about cows in the process. By the end of the book they grow to appreciate Zora and even get to show her at a fair. Supposedly Zora is a prized cow with great lineage. They also grow fond of Mrs. Falala, her flute playing and all of her eccentricities.

A great read that is humorous, sad and heartwarming. A book I found very difficult to put down. In fact, so much so that I read it in just one sitting. Highly recommended and sure to please young and older animal lovers alike.

Dog Lost- Humanity Found

Pauls Toutonghi's "Dog Gone: A Lost Pet's Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home" is the beautifully written true account of one family's life prior to their son's losing his spirited dog, Gonker, and what transpires during the ensuing search for him.

Gonker is a six-year old golden retriever mix who on Saturday, October 10, 1998 is hiking the Appalachian Trail with his best friend Fielding Marshall when, without any warning, he bolts into the woods. Fielding calls and calls for his dog to return, but to no avail; Gonker simply vanishes into the surrounding wilderness.

The book is not only about the meticulous search that the family conducts for their beloved dog(who happens to be especially fond of fresh doughnuts), but also delves into the lives of each member of the Marshall family-father John, mother Ginny, sister Peyton and of course, Fielding. Author Toutonghi becomes immersed in their story. He probes deeply into their family history, highlighting both it's good and ugly faces. He also examines the strong bind between canines and humans from various historical, literary, psychological and philosophical perspectives.

To heighten the tension of the search narrative, it is revealed that Gonker suffers from Addison's disease which requires him to receive an injection every twenty-three days.The author then counts down the days to Gonker's demise at the beginning of each chapter in the final third of the book.

Great read! I thoroughly enjoyed it! This is a great title to pick up in October which, as it turns out, happens to be "Adopt a Shelter Dog Month". So, plunge yourself into this wonderfully heartfelt true story of humans and their relationship with their pets. Then, if you should get inspired, go out and adopt a new four-legged canine friend from any one of the following local animal welfare organizations: Animal Rescue,Animal Control Shelter, SPCA, Animal's Best Friend, Richland Animal Rescue, etc.

Who knows, maybe as with some members of the Marshall family, the life you end up saving  just may be your own.

Unveiling The Cloud Forest Dwelling Olinguito

Olinguito, from A to Z! by Lulu Delacre is an award winning alphabet book written in both Spanish and English. It takes the reader on a journey accompanying an intrepid zoologist searching out the elusive olinguito. An olinguito is a mammal recently discovered to be a separate species. Related to the raccoon, olinguitos live exclusively in the cloud forests of Ecuador.

This beautifully illustrated volume features the many plants and animals who call the cloud forest their home. It also includes the author's notes about the real discovery of the olinguito, as well as additional information about the cloud forest, how the illustrations came to be, on being an explorer, and a glossary of the various cloud forest plants and animals(with their Spanish pronunciations).As an added bonus, there is a built-in puzzle/game that will have younger readers going back to play more than once.

Very creative and truly Magnifico!

Worms For Breakfast: How to Feed A Zoo

What did you have for breakfast this morning? What is usually on your breakfast menu? I bet you are not having dried ants to taste, ¾ pound small oily fish or 1 teaspoon ground cuttlefish bone. But a gorilla will have the ants, a flamingo chick will have the oily fish and a snail will have the cuttlefish bone mixed in his snail trail mix. If this sounds interesting, then you will want to read Worms For Breakfast: How to Feed A Zoo. It is full of information and recipes for feeding all the zoo animals. Feeding time at the zoo is always one of the most popular events and this book is a cookbook for the animals. There are recipes for Predator Popsicles, Presto Pesto Sauce – Koala Style and Elephant-slimming Fruit Fandango. Worms For Breakfast is packed with facts about animal nutrition and feeding them. It also includes how the animals hunt and eat in the wild and how the zoo feeds them so they feel as though they are in the wild hunting for their own food.

The author answers questions about what and how much each animal eats, who cooks and serves the food (a zoo nutritionist) and what does the grocery shopping list look like. There is so much fun information in this book. The photographs and illustrations will keep families busy reading and looking at this book over and over again.

This book really is fun – oh by the way I had an English muffin with peanut butter for breakfast today – hold the ants!

The Bees

In her novel, The Bees, Laline Paull tells the story of the not-so-secret life of an actual bee, in the vein of the rabbits of Watership Down.

Based on the science of bee biology and behavior, the book looks at one bee as an individual--and so, daringly, does the character herself. Flora 717 is a worker bee but is physically different from others--a likely death sentence in the hive’s totalitarian society. But through a chance encounter, one of the “priestesses” who run the hive spares her, and Flora is afforded opportunities not normally available to her “kin” (all Floras are lowly sanitation workers). 

It isn’t clear whether her curiosity is another innate difference or is brought about her experiences, but one after another, Flora is allowed to perform many of the different roles of the hive. Her strength and intelligence contribute to her success, and she comes to the hive’s rescue in various crises.

Flora is not universally appreciated, however. The Sage priestesses in particular see her as a threat to their dominance, and she becomes a fugitive when she breaks the hive’s cardinal commandment through an involuntary action (based on a true natural phenomenon that occurs in one in 10,000 worker bees, according to an interview with Paull).

As in Watership Down, animals (and even plants) are personified without being entirely anthropomorphized. The Bees is a mix of reality and imagination: bees express human thoughts and emotions but communicate primarily through scent and vibration; they not only serve the queen but consider her fertility sacred and worship her in ceremonies of "devotion"; and the male drones are lesser characters in the operation of the hive but also provide comic relief through their self-important and bawdy conduct.

The Bees is a font of fascinating information about these social insects and also calls attention to the environmental threats to their survival, but it is also just a good read. Flora’s story is one that would be compelling regardless of her species, and it certainly made me think about bees differently!


Julie Paschkis, the author/illustrator of “Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems”, is a painter who has won awards for her artwork accompanying other picture books. Here, her illustrations depict folk art patterns that are both colorful and vivid; the perfect complement to the simple yet reflective poems. The poems appear in English on one page, and in Spanish on the opposite page. Despite her considerable abilities in constructing beautiful verse, she states that she is not a poet per se, nor a native Spanish speaker for that matter.Nonetheless, this slim volume depicts wonderfully all sorts of animals in motion- fluttering, slithering,leaping,stretching and the like.

A beautifully illustrated poetry book that is both fun and playful. Be prepared for young readers wanting to reread this many times over!