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Staff Picks: Books

Of Whispers and Promises

A young boy loves to frequent the Bronx Zoo but feels very sad when he sees the plight of animals living in empty cages and barren rooms. These feelings are especially intense when he visits the jaguar exhibit. Seeing these big, majestic cats living in unnatural, desolate surroundings makes him want to change both his and their futures. And he sets out to do just that.


A Boy and a Jaguar, is the inspiring autobiographical account of  Alan Rabinowitz, who through his love of animals, managed to overcome a personal obstacle that seemed overwhelming at first.


Alan is a stutterer. During his childhood years, he sometimes had his head and body shake so uncontrollably when attempting to speak, that his teachers placed him in a class for disturbed kids and pronounced to his parents that, “He is broken”.


However, there are two ways that Alan can verbally communicate without stuttering. One is to sing, and the other is to talk to animals. He starts off by telling his pet hamster, gerbil, turtle, chameleon and green garter snake about his dreams and they seem to listen to him. He also promises that if he ever finds his voice, he will also be their voice, and that no harm will come their way. He then goes to the Bronx Zoo great cat house and “fluently” whispers the same vow to the resident jaguar through the cage bars.


When he starts college, he is enrolled in an experimental program for stutterers which relieves him of his speech impediment, but not his continuing feelings of being somehow broken on the inside.


Pursuing his passionate interest in animals, Alan prepares for a career as a wildlife conservationist. He hikes the Smoky Mountains to study black bears, and then lands in Belize to study his favorite species, the jaguar, in it’s natural habitat.


Jaguars are severely threatened by human encroachment into their jungle environment. Alan decides to use his new found voice to help the big cats. He presents his case to save the jaguars from hunters directly  to Belize’s Prime Minister. And his fifteen minute presentation produces success! His wish that the world’s first jaguar preserve be established in the country, comes true.


I love the message that this book delivers about people and animals who can’t speak for themselves. Complimenting the story are Catia Chien’s colorful and evocative illustrations that deliver just the right amount of visual dynamism.


A little book with a big hearted message that should be thoroughly enjoyable for readers of all ages.


Since overcoming his stutter, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation. He is also a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

For more information visit and .

Rescue Cat Rescues Boy

 When Fraser Met Billy is an engaging true account written by Louise Booth, the mother of two kids; Fraser and Pippa.


When Fraser was just several months old, Louise was aware that her son was not completely normal. Her intuitions are confirmed when at 18 months, Fraser is diagnosed with autism. Besides this, he also has hypotonia, a rare muscular disorder that makes his joints loose.


At an early age, Fraser finds it difficult to communicate, often has tantrums, emotional meltdowns and easily withdraws into his own private world. Depending on the circumstances with which he is confronted, his behavior is unpredictable and volatile. Fraser begins speech and behavioral treatment, but his therapists soon come to the conclusion that Fraser will never attend a normal, mainstream school. This is devastating news to Louise and her husband Chris.


Prior to this crisis, the Booth family had always loved cats. In fact, they share their space with an aging cat named Toby, who is mostly preoccupied with sleeping and eating. Louise starts wondering if a much younger pet would prove to be a positive influence on Fraser; a “special” friend of sorts that her son could interact with and bond.


Shortly thereafter, the parents contact the Cat Protection League. A caregiver there senses that one of two identical cats, Billy or Bear, found together earlier in an abandoned house, might make a good fit for Fraser.


Prior to meeting the cats, Fraser studies their photos and keeps these by his bed. Unlike most adults, he is right away able to distinguish between the two. When Fraser and his parents meet the cats at the rescue, he instantly latches onto Billy. Upon arriving home, he declares that “Billy is going to be Fraser’s very best friend”, a statement that truly predicted their present and future relationship in more ways than one.


The two become inseparable and this rescue cat transforms Fraser’s life. As Louise puts it “Billy had the ability to enter Fraser’s own, private universe, a place that none of us could penetrate. It had made that universe a less lonely place for Fraser but not only that; it had encouraged him to venture out of it so that he was more and more part of our world”.


As time goes by, Fraser is able to enroll into a mainstream school and is currently doing remarkably well.


I found this book difficult to put down. I read it in two sittings and love its reaffirmation of the power of the animal/human bond; something that can never be overestimated.

Click, Clack, Peep!

As all of the farm watches an egg – they hear nothing. Then a CRACK! Each animal answers ….crack /moo? Crack/baa? And so on until out pops a baby duck.

Baby duck laughs, waddles, and plays all the while peep, peep peeping. The animals yawn, peep. The chickens sing a lullaby, more peeping. That baby duck won’t sleep! The cows and the sheep try peep, peep, peeping. All the animals go outside to sleep but they can’t – too much peeping. Finally, Duck takes off his headphones and puts them on sleeping Farmer Brown. Duck puts baby duck in a bucket, covers her in a blanket and takes her outside. All the while baby duck keeps peeping. Duck climbs into the tractor, buckles their seatbelts and backs out of the barnyard. And you guessed it… Duck drives back and forth – peeping continues until finally little duck falls asleep. When Farmer Brown wakes up he doesn’t hear any animals but he sees Duck and little duck on the tractor sound asleep. Duck drove all over the farm – he was not a good driver - but mission accomplished!

Kids will love the animal antics while parents and caregivers will laugh at the premise. And really who hasn’t tried that age old trick of taking the baby for a car ride in hopes of having them go to sleep.

I love the Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin combo of stories and illustrations. They are so child pleasing but with that added adult humor which is so much fun to find in picture books. Enjoy sharing this book over and over again.

Lucky Cat...Lucky Family

The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat is a heartfelt  memoir written by Lissa Warren, who in addition to being an author, is also an editor and publicity director residing on the East Coast. This chronicle revolves around Ting-Pei, Lissa’s family’s Korat cat. The Warrens’ had always been a cat loving family. Ting’s feline predecessor, Cinnamon, had lived with them for over 19 years, when kidney disease finally claimed her.


So in 1996, when Lissa’s father Jerry retired, had quadruple bypass surgery, and needed a companion to help him pass the time during recovery, Ting was adopted. Despite the fact that she weighed a mere seven pounds, Ting was a kitten full of vim, vigor, and a pronounced mischievous streak. Using her abundant intellect and winning personality, she quickly established herself as a prominent member of the Warren clan. Being on very friendly terms with everyone, she especially bonded with the father, and was an integral part of his daily life right up to the time of his death due to a heart attack in 2008.


Not too long after that loss, Ting begins to act strangely; stumbling, swaying back and forth and just staring into space for prolonged periods of time. A visit to the veterinarian reveals that Ting had become “syncopal”. These episodes of semi-loss of consciousness were being caused by a lack of blood reaching the brain as the result of cardiomyopathy; a condition where there is a weakening of the heart muscle thereby decreasing it’s ability to pump.


Ting’s prognosis is grim unless she has a pacemaker implanted; a common procedure for humans, but not so much with cats. However, neither this knowledge nor the rather high cost involved, daunts Lissa, and she transports Ting to Boston where the procedure is completed.


After surgery, Ting recuperates at the Boston clinic for about a week, and after a few more weeks at home, recovers completely. As of the book’s publishing date, she was still doing fine at 19 years of age!


Unfortunately, three years after Ting’s pacemaker implantation, Lissa was diagnosed with MS. Once more, Ting becomes a valuable support.


This book focuses on Ting and how she changed the lives of Lissa’s dad and Lissa herself. It is also a moving tribute to a family’s power to love, rejoice, deal with illness, grief, fear and accept their own fates.

Froggy's Birthday Wish, by Jonathan London, Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Jonathan London first introduced Froggy to readers in 1992 with the publication of: Froggy Gets Dressed. The 25th title in the series is: Froggy’s Birthday Wish, c.2015. Froggy is funny, forgetful, sometimes insecure, and very similar to a typical child and Jonathan uses scenarios from the lives of his own two sons for the topics of the Froggy stories.
Froggy’s mom frequently calls his name throughout the many books with a: FRROOGGYY! and Froggy emphasizes doing an activity such as getting dressed with a Zip! Zoop! Zup! Zut! Zut! Zut! Zat! He moves with a flop flop flop as would a frog who walks and, of course, talks! In the story: Froggy’s Birthday Wish, Froggy wakes up excited as ever to celebrate his special day, but, his family pretends that the day is nothing special, Froggy begins to think that maybe his family FORGOT his birthday, so he visits his friends, but they’re not home, did they FORGET his birthday too? Poor Froggy! When he returns home, however, something awaits him and it is a SURPRISE PARTY! Will Froggy’s birthday wish for Chocolate Covered Flies come true? Yum!
KPL has many titles in the Froggy series. Here are some titles to begin your summer reading challenge with: Froggy Goes to School; Froggy Goes to the Doctor; Froggy Learns to Swim; Froggy’s First Kiss; and Froggy’s Day with Dad.
Visit Jonathan London’s website at for more information about his books.

A Happily-Ever-After Story

In these times, it’s rare to find a story, whether written for kids or adults, that has an unabashedly “...and they lived happily-ever-after” ending to it. That’s not surprising since we live in a cynical period, where to show any interest in a tale soaked through with unrealistic happiness sometimes feels like an unpardonable sin. Well, I fear that I have committed just such a sin by falling in love with Cat & Dog, a picture book written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. And it feels great!

The story is very simple. Homeless mother cat finds a dry place under a highway bridge to curl up with her three kittens. Next morning, she sniffs out a fish delivery van and tells her youngsters that she will be back soon with breakfast. But the van drives off as soon as the cat jumps inside.

While mom is away on her accidental adventure, a scruffy old dog comes sniffing around and ends up befriending the feline brood. Before long they are all asleep in one cozy heap together. Mom returns with stories of the seaside; fish, fresh salt tinged air and of the very nice van driver who finds her in the back and returns her to her kittens.

At the end of the tale, all agree that they should move to the seaside which, thanks to the good graces of the fish van driver, they then do. The van driver also lets them all move into a shed he owns by the harbor, and together they watch the wonderful aquatic world that lays before them at the end of a pier.

This is a touching story with beautiful watercolor illustrations; (the kittens’ facial expressions are especially endearing). It is a heartwarming, gentle tale of new found friends and salvation, that should appeal to young children and all other human beings willing to temporarily suspend reality in the pursuit of joyful feelings.

Do Bears and Libraries Mix? Silly Question. Of Course, They Do!

 A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is a humorous picture book about a bear who had never been to the library.


One morning, Bear hears a tapping at his door. He sees the bright-eyed face of his fervent  friend Mouse who is excited to take Bear to the library to show him around, and because he thinks that it’s just a doggone fun place to visit. While previously Bear did promise to accompany Mouse, today he thinks that this expedition will be a complete waste of his very precious time. After all, he already owned a grand total of seven books and believed that this private collection would more than adequately cover his needs for the foreseeable future. But a promise is a promise, so off they go.


Upon their arrival, a very grumpy Bear is once again quick to criticize. In his estimation, the library building is much too big and contains “far too many books”. All this, he declares, is nothing more than pure excess.


But enthusiastic Mouse persists with positives, pointing out that the library is quite exciting and declares that he will find Bear a perfect book about pickles, since pickles is the one topic that Bear seems to find most intellectually stimulating. But no matter which title Mouse suggests, Bear is dismissive of the selections and voices his displeasure in a very loud and disruptive manner.


Before long, he is shushed into quiet by two mothers (one squirrel, the other raccoon), whose youngsters are gathered around a smiling librarian conducting story time. Bear is upset at being told to quiet down and wants to leave the library pronto.


However, on his way to the exit, he overhears the librarian read a story about a very brave bear and a treasure chest filled with very special pickle slices. Oh my, Bear becomes entranced, and it is now he who quickly tells Mouse to quiet down!


After story time, Bear checks out a number of new books including one titled “The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island”, which Bear reads to Mouse back at his home that very same day.


Wonderfully expressive illustrations compliment this top notch choice for young children, that gently promotes libraries and all that they offer!


And it’s a great selection to celebrate “Read Across America Day”, March 2nd, 2015.

Hoot Owl, master of disguise

 Hoot Owl is hungry. He is also clever, and a self proclaimed master of disguise. This wonderful new picture book, Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor, shows Owl first disguising himself as a large carrot to catch an unsuspecting rabbit. But Rabbit, not fooled, hops on by. Owl devises costumes as a birdbath, and as a sheep, with no success. How he manages to snag a tasty meal of pizza makes for a clever solution.

Illustrator Jean Jullien has perfectly captured the spirit of the story, and his large, colorful pictures add to the silliness. This is a wonderful book for sharing with a child!

My Red Balloon

This is a delightful book by Kazuaki Yamada with simple double page landscapes featuring a yellow bus on its way to pick up various passengers consisting of one little girl and several friendly animals. The little girl is holding a red balloon attached to a string which she intends to show to her friends. Suddenly, the wind blows it away! With each turn of the page we are anticipating the balloon’s whereabouts and capture by the animal at the next bus stop. At each animal’s bus stop the sign pictures the animal whose stop it is. Will the rabbit catch the balloon? Will the penguin catch the balloon, or the elephant, or the giraffe catch the balloon as it floats up into the clouds? They follow it high above the mountains and when they almost catch the balloon, a bird pops it! The little girl cries and her very caring friends say: “cheer up”! They distract her and point to the sky and encourage her to look up and wave at another huge red balloon and they watch it as it slowly sinks into the horizon.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...Well, Not Exactly

C. Roger Mader has done it again! He’s the author of Lost Cat, a children’s picture book I had previously blogged about. Supposedly, this newest work Tiptop Cat is based on reality as it mimics the adventures of his niece’s cat living in Paris ...“who roamed the rooftops of her neighborhood and survived a six story fall”. Yikes! 


As the story and pictures describe, a young girl gets a black and white cat for her birthday, who becomes her most favorite gift. Although the cat enjoys his indoor life, he also especially likes the outside balcony. This cat is no slouch – so he roams and jumps from one rooftop to another and then another, and then one more until he finally reaches “Le Grand Prix”; a prime sitting spot on a chimney that happens to have the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris.


However, one day he submits to his baser animal instincts and pounces upon a pigeon intruding on his balcony domain. Unfortunately, it’s a misjudged jump. As a consequence, he falls many floors down, right through a café canopy and into the arms of a man who just happens to be in the right spot, at the right time!  Luckily, the cat doesn’t break anything except maybe his spirit for hunting. For a while, he shies away from the balcony and rooftops until one day he once more spots someone landing on his domain; this time an irritating crow. And then he can’t help but give chase.  


The author states that he himself lives in the Normandy countryside of France with his wife and a petite cat named Pete, who is not allowed to hop on rooftops in search of excitement. That’s very good to know. Because you should never, ever let your cat wander over balconies, rooftops or anything else located high off the ground! The depth perception of domestic cats is not as keen as their agility, so accidents happen much more often than is commonly known. And in the end, the danger of losing your feline friend for a lifetime is just not worth their temporary happiness.


A wonderfully spirited book with many bright, evocative illustrations. Just remember one thing: Unless you’re a stunt cat, don’t try this at home!