Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Lightweight but satisfying, Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery is the first in a projected series of mystery titles by author Laurie Cass, who resides with her husband and two cats in a small community near Lake Michigan.
What appealed to me right away about this book is that the title contained three of my favorite things: Bookmobiles, mysteries and of course a cat. As readers of my previous posts might have guessed, I’m absolutely crazy fond of any literature that is feline related.
What most of you probably didn’t know is that a while back, (I won’t say exactly how many years ago), I had the great fortune of working on the KPL Bookmobile. This book brought back some great memories - our Bookmobile’s devoted staff, the travels to various stops in our community, and most of all the highly appreciative and personable patrons who frequented those stops.
Another desirable coincidence is that the story takes place in Michigan, in the little, tourist town of Chilson.
The mystery centers around likeable, conscientious and free-spirited Minnie Hamilton. She is deliriously happy about landing a job in her favorite town in the country as the assistant director and head of the bookmobile department; which in translation means that she is both the librarian and the driver.
The bookmobile itself is a persistent thorn in the side of her boss Stephen, who wishes that the vehicle simply didn’t exist. However, it was a recent purchase made possible by a generous donor, one Stan Larabee, and cannot easily be disposed of for quite some time.
Around this time, she also finds a cat. Or is it the other way around? She hopes and assumes the attractive feline already has a home, but Minnie can’t find its owner, so she ends up adopting the animal and naming him Eddie. As it turns out, Eddie plays an integral part in the beginning and at the end of this mystery. He becomes a stowaway on the bookmobile’s maiden voyage and ends up charming all the new patrons, both young and old.
While out on the bookmobile’s rounds one day, the cat escapes its confines, acts a little crazed as if searching for something and subsequently finds a dead man with a bullet hole in his chest. That man turns out to be none other than Stan Larabee, the bookmobile’s magnanimous patron; a man not always loved or respected by his family or the community.
After some of her friends and family are questioned and thought to be possible suspects in connection to the murder, Minnie makes a solemn promise to help find the killer. There are many possible suspects in the case, but one by one Minnie exonerates most of them, and then of course solves the mystery, all with the invaluable assistance of Eddie.
A fast read that has some pleasant comedic undertones thanks to Minnie and Eddie’s very special relationship. Cat lovers will no doubt look forward to the next installment in the series.
I certainly am!
Lending a Paw
The World According to Bob is the sequel to the NYT bestseller A Street Cat Named Bob by author James Bowen. It is a well written and much anticipated book worthy of becoming another hit for the James and Bob duo.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with their tale, here is a quick recap. Two years prior to the writing of this second work, James Bowen was a down on his luck, recovering addict who happens to find a ginger/orange cat with open wounds on his legs and body. The two form an instant bond, and although James assumes that the cat he names Bob will return to the streets after he nurses him back to health, Bob has other plans. He steadfastly refuses to leave James’ side, following him wherever he goes about town.
As the saying goes “cats choose you and not the other way around”, and it was certainly true in this case.
The pair become inseparable, existing on the streets of London, each one helping the other heal the wounds of their mutually troubled past. James gives Bob companionship, food, and a place to crash, and in return Bob gives James new hope and a purpose in life. James learns to appreciate the minute things of life – his threadbare flat, his job selling a street magazine called “The Big Issue,” and now his newly arrived feline friend.
While the first book documents their first meeting and their lives in the early part of their relationship, this sequel delves further into what their life was like then, the people they met, (both good and evil), and the many experiences they shared along the way. It also goes into explaining how the first book came to be.
In September 2010, a reporter from the Islington Tribune interviewed James and took the famous photo of Bob perched on his shoulder. A few days later, there appeared a poignant article about James’ past and how he and Bob met, titled: “Two Cool Cats...the Big Issue Seller and a Stray Called Bob.”
Soon thereafter, a major London publisher approaches the duo about a possible book deal. James does not expect this book about himself and his stray cat to become a big hit. Rather, he thinks that it would end up being a nice little one-time windfall. But then events start indicating otherwise.
One day, completely unannounced, Sir Paul McCartney and his family stop by the street corner where they work selling the magazine to admire Bob. Instead of the little handful of people that James expected to be at the first book signing, over 300 show up, and all 200 copies available sell out in the first half hour. In addition, James and Bob are treated as celebrities with photographers and a television camera crew in attendance.
Having been translated into 26 languages, the book becomes an international bestseller. And for the first time in their lives, James and Bob become financially secure. No, Bob and James did not become millionaires, but they are able to live a comfortable existence with James enjoying having some money in the bank and even paying taxes like a true member of society. He also enjoys being able to give something back to Blue Cross, the animal charity that was so kind to both of them during their struggles in earlier years.
The first book also produced other positive windfalls. It greatly improved the relationship James had with his parents. And it also seems to have had an impact on people’s attitudes to London’s “Big Issue” sellers and the homeless in general. Many folks wrote to James to express their awareness of homeless people, and many others have stated that the book gave them an incentive to make a special point of engaging the homeless in a conversation instead of simply ignoring their plight.
The story of James and Bob seemed to connect with people who were facing difficult times in their own lives, while others expressed a newly gained strength from animals’ ability to heal human psyches.
With their account, these two cool cats touched the hearts, minds and lives of many, many others. And that may be the best windfall of all, for all of us.
The World According to Bob
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records by Mark Carwardine is a fascinating and addictive book about truly amazing animal records. It is quite comprehensive, utilizing the traditional animal classification system of groups, orders, families and species for organizational purposes.
The main goal is to “celebrate the wonders of the natural world and particularly its diversity.” For example, the box jellyfish found off the coast of Australia carries enough venom in it to kill sixty adult humans. At least seventy people have died from its stings, more so than from shark and crocodile attacks combined in that part of the country. In fact, some succumbed in as little as four minutes from the time they came in contact with the jellyfish’s tentacles.
The book also points out that quite a few of these record breaking animals are endangered and close to extinction, such as the white, black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses. These rhinos hold a number of records including thickest skin on a mammal.
This volume will captivate kids with fantastic photographs and keep them reading and learning astonishing facts which are presented in a fast and fun way. A great gift for your young nature lover or a good reference volume just to have in your own book collection.
Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
In journalism, a stringer is a writer/correspondent who isn’t formally employed by any one news organization, but rather produces articles that may be shopped around to many would be publishers, and more often than not, may actually end up being bought by none. Stringers usually cover their own expenses, provide their own support and go to places where established, affiliated reporters do not. The term itself is of unsure origin. Some say that it was coined because these writers are paid by the word and therefore would tend to “string” together words to increase their payout. Others believe that it refers to these journalists’ potential employers who would “string them along” into believing that a permanent contractual relationship was to be had just around the corner from the next article that they wrote.
Making a living by writing anything professionally is tough enough. Deciding to do it by becoming a stringer takes a certain character; one that is determined to succeed and driven by a thirst for adventure and non-stop action. It is also useful to have a very high tolerance level for repeatedly risking everything in search of that exceptional, preferably exclusive, story. All of these traits are displayed in abundance by Anjan Sundaram in his wonderful first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.
In the summer of 2005, Sunderam decides to leave behind his postgraduate studies in mathematics at Yale, as well as a lucrative job offer from Goldman Sachs, and instead to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why such an extreme exercise in life re-orientation? Although an explanation is provided, it is not very convincing. Rather it seems to be as much due to whimsy and a bad case of ants-in-the-pants as anything else. And why the Congo? Simply due to the shear coincidence that his bank teller tells him that her brother-in-law and family, whom he has never met, live there and would agree to put him up in their home during his stay.
Using his one-way ticket, he arrives and his previously calm predictable world completely disintegrates into the uncertainties of day-to-day Congolese existence; the latter occurring with the chaotic and frequently violent state of Congolese politics and social problems as a backdrop. After many mishaps and struggles along the way to becoming the journalist he sees himself as being, he lucks out by landing a position as a stringer with the Associated Press reporting on the never ending merry-go-round of political corruption and exploitation that are the trademarks of the country’s history.
Success begins to shine upon his efforts, and helps seal his commitment to his new life on the African continent. His story about the Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest wins a Reuters journalism award. His Associated Press editor acknowledges that he himself also began his career as a stringer in Congo. Editor and writer form a bond. Other opportunities present themselves, and Sundaram’s writings have since appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times as well as the Chicago Tribune.
I first heard about “Stringer” when the author was interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show in early January of this year. However, be assured: This work is no light-hearted, comedic romp. Sundaram’s writing is crisp, searing, and bursting with visual details that make it unforgettable for the reader. (One reviewer used the word “luscious” to describe it, and I could not agree more.)
It is very rare to find a truly engrossing page-turner, much less one that is a work of quality non-fiction. This is just such a rarity.
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo
Have you heard of an animal called the tapir, but have little or no idea what it looks like, much less what it’s up to on our fair earth? Well, The Tapir Scientist is just the book to correct this unfortunate state of affairs! With text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop, it explores the world of this unusual looking creature, whose closest living relatives happen to be the rhinoceros and horse.
The focus is upon the field investigation work of Pati Medici, an animal conservation scientist who is one of the founders of the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. It is dedicated to helping endangered animals such as tapirs survive.
The tapir actually existed in prehistoric times and surprisingly, its appearance has not changed much over 12 million years. What has changed is where they live. Once roaming all over Europe, Asia and both North and South America, their natural habitat has shrunk to parts of South and Central America, as well as Southeast Asia. It is South America’s largest mammal, and there are four distinct species all of which are endangered.
Tapirs are rather solitary, nocturnal animals who are difficult to see, much less count, capture, study and track as Pati and her team sets out to do. However, they persevere knowing that their work is crucial, since tapirs play a major role in propagating forest plant life. Being fruit loving herbivores, they eat, digest and then let’s just say “plant” seeds from one area to another. Without them, forests and all the animal life found within may very well disappear.
This book is part of a series by the Montgomery and Bishop team called “Scientists in the Field.” Author Sy Montgomery has taken on many challenges in the past including swimming with piranhas and chasing gorillas among other things. Nic Bishop is a renowned nature photographer. His photos have captured many animals in their full, natural glory. Fun fact: Nic used to live in the Winchell area of Kalamazoo for many years before relocating to New Zealand.
KPL owns a number of titles in the “Scientists in the Field” series, including The Tarantula Scientist, Snake Scientist and Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, as well as a few others. Both author and photographer have won many awards, and their works have been noted as being distinguished examples of the best science books for youth. (Although as an animal loving adult, I too found it to be engaging.)
With it’s lively, information laden text and beautiful pictures, The Tapir Scientist is a wonderful Brazilian animal travelogue!
The Tapir Scientist
Vermont based, veteran children’s book author/illustrator and artist Lizi Boyd’s latest literary effort is a wordless picture book that is deceptively simple. Inside Outside incorporates cool, slightly hidden, die-cut page openings through which readers can catch glimpses of what’s transpired and what is yet to come. This device is used to slyly, yet gently tie in the future and the past to the present, underscoring the continuity of the passage of time.
By means of bright, sharply colored drawings set in a predominantly muted, light brown background, Boyd tells the story of a seemingly self-sufficient young boy doing inside and outside activities over the course of one calendar year. Inside overlaps outside, and outside overlaps inside with each turn of the page, until we come full circle to the initial season once more.
With a collection of animal friends lending a helping wing, paw or claw, the young boy proves that there is no room for boredom no matter what time of year it is. Together they read, make crafts, fly a kite, plant a garden and engage in more activities than I could list here.
This book is great for a “one-on-one” reading session. That way both child and caregiver can pour over the intricate illustrations that show plenty of action both obvious and hidden, and share in the mutual delight brought about by their discovery.
Lizi’s dogs both agree.
Slipper the cat lives a life of feline luxury in the house of her elderly owner, Mrs. Fluffy Slippers. Unfortunately, all this suddenly disappears when Mrs. Fluffy Slippers moves and during the ensuing commotion the cat is accidently left behind.
Slipper’s immediate reaction is to try to chase down the moving van. But after a while of hard running, she ends up lost and forlorn. After a cold, scary night out in the woods, she decides that she will need to adopt a new owner and so the search begins.
This book, depicted from the cat’s low-to-the-ground perspective, shows Slipper perusing different owner candidates in various settings by initially evaluating their footwear. She first encounters a farm resident, Ms. Muddy Boots, who is quite welcoming. She offers Slipper a fish which is quickly devoured, but the sight of the woman’s charging dog turns the cat off the prospect of living there.
Other rejects include Mrs. Iron Shoes, a rider on a horse with rather large hooves, Mr. Cowboy Boots who rides a large truck which emits too much noise and unpleasant smells, High Tops, an adolescent who is too full of energy and Mr. Big Boots, a motorcyclist who is nice enough to give the cat a lift into town, but whose driving habits Slippers finds to be too terrifying. Finally, in the sea of shoes of passersby, she spots Miss Shiny Shoes, and decides that this young girl would be ideal as her new owner.
The girl brings the cat home and introduces it to her grandmother who just happens to be ....!
Well, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself to get to the surprise ending. Let’s just state that as the saying goes, the rest is history. Slipper’s life once again was very, very good indeed, and (need I say), everyone lived happily ever after.
Lost Cat is author and illustrator C. Roger Mader’s first children’s book. It is a charming tale with wonderfully realistic, pastel illustrations that are sure to be a purr-fect anecdote for any young cat lover!
Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life with Dogs is an emotionally gratifying collection of true dog stories written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, a dog owner and lover. She is also the founding director of the Deja Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising funds for the care of rescue dogs. The book’s cover was what first caught my eye. It is a photo of a dog looking attentively and lovingly above the camera at what could be imagined was his/her owner. An illustration of true, unerring devotion!
Many of the stories contained here feature people involved in public service, such as firefighters and veterans. Several that I particularly enjoyed showcase pit bulldogs who are many times made out to be fearsome and vicious in the popular media. This negative press has led some to conclude that they are unadoptable. But as these stories show, nothing can be further from reality.
One such entry was a retelling of the experiences of Steve Sietos and his pit bull terrier, Wilma. Steve, who is a New York City firefighter, also doubles as a herbalist/energy healer. Wilma was a sweetheart of a stray whose problem was that she was prone to episodes of self-mutilation, ripping the pads off the bottom of her paws. On top of that she was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
After spending $8,000 on Wilma’s vet bills, Sietos was left bankrupt. He decided to take a different tack, and started to investigate herbs and flower essences online that might help immune system disorders. From this arose his second profession as a clinical herbalist. He practiced his newly acquired skills first on Wilma, but then branched out to treat some of the guys in the firehouse, as well as their family members. Wilma was soon on the mend, and Sietos now regularly administers to the needs of humans and their dogs; dogs with health problems that veterinary science hasn’t been able to help.
Another story I much enjoyed was about a pit bull named Lilly, who was rescued from a shelter and became the constant companion to a police officer’s mother who struggled with depression and alcoholism over many years. Lilly ended up saving the mother from a moving train, and even though she was severely injured during the incident, stayed by the woman to protect her until help arrived.
Each of these thirty-eight short tales is accompanied by beautiful color photos of both the dog and owner in question. There are also concise informational notes about the specific breed or, in the case of mixed breeds, some fun and fascinating general canine facts.
What makes this book special is that as the title implies, devotion is important in any serious relationship. And for a true bond to form, devotion must be a two way street flowing not only from dog to owner, but also from owner to dog. Only then can true love blossom.
In a salute to that belief, this blog is dedicated to my friend and co-worker Mary who recently experienced the tragic loss of her faithful dachshund companion, Augie. Both will forever be devoted to each other.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown caught my eye a few weeks ago. This humorous and thought provoking picture book starts out by focusing on Mr. Tiger’s very uptight lifestyle; prim, proper, and oh, so boring! Being unhappy with the phony baloney circumstances of his town (where all the animal inhabitants walk upright and wear dreary, monochromatic, Victorian era clothing), makes him want to turn over a new leaf. He first decides to loosen up a bit by getting down on all fours. Right off the bat, this makes him feel like a brand new, more natural tiger. To celebrate this newly found life’s joy and to let off some pent up steam, he roars his loudest roar ever!
All his animal friends are shocked by this behavior. Mr. Tiger’s new ways are totally unacceptable and against all the proper protocols of their little society. But the animal citizens of this somber and stodgy town haven’t seen anything yet, as Mr. Tiger discards his fussy top hat, his drab suit and his oh, so sensible shoes. Au naturel, he runs into the wilderness to bond with the truly natural world that surrounds him, with his orange, white and black streaked fur on fast, furious and fabulous display.
However there is one drawback to this self imposed exile to freedom; he misses his friends and even the city he escaped from. After a while he returns to see that a lot has changed for the better there; more tolerance and freedom for all. By taking that first risky step himself and leading by example, Mr. Tiger made a positive impression on his friends and they in turn made positive changes in their own lives as well. In short, everyone was much happier being themselves. And that was indeed a very good --- no, a very great thing!
The message of the necessity to be true to oneself, and that by adopting this adage other good things will follow, could not be more clearly expressed than in this simply written, yet visually sophisticated volume.
It’s a Roaring good time!
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
I have just finished reading A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen, a true account of the author’s remarkable relationship with his best friend, the feline Bob. At the time of their first meeting, Bowen is a struggling street musician, who has to carry the additional burden of trying to shake off a heroin addiction problem. Day to day survival on the streets of London was his only preoccupation.
One gloomy March evening, James notices a ginger cat curled up on a doormat outside a ground floor flat. Having always had a soft spot for cats, and seeing the same cat on several subsequent occasions, James decides to give him a little loving attention; something which the poor puss seems to crave. Upon closer inspection, the cat appears to be a real beauty with memorable, piercing green eyes. But its obvious that just like James, he too has been somewhat down on his luck of late. His coat is in poor condition, thin with bald patches in places. And one of his back legs, which the cat holds in an awkward manner, is clearly in need of medical attention.
James tries to find the cat’s owner, but no one wishes to claim or take responsibility for him. So James makes up his mind to transport him back to his own threadbare flat. He offers the tom some milk and a bit of tuna mashed up with biscuits which is enthusiastically wolfed down in no time. After the meal, the cat settles in a comfortable spot near the radiator moving only when James goes to bed, whereupon he wraps himself up into a ball by James’ feet. James is pleased with his new company; something he hasn’t had a lot of recently. And the cat seems to enjoy what must be very fine accommodations compared to what he had experienced in recent times, and with the added bonus of a gentle soul and kindred spirit for a flat mate.
At first, James attempts to heal the animal’s abscessed leg with a home remedy. This does not work, and he ends up taking the cat to see a local vet. After paying twenty two pounds for the visit out of the total thirty he has to his name, he decides to name the cat Bob, after a favorite character in the Twin Peaks series called “Killer Bob”. Although James enjoys Bob’s company, he doesn’t want to form a close bond with the feline, because he plans to return him back to the streets after he is healed and neutered.
Following the neutering operation, James tries to implement his original plan to set the tom free, but Bob would have none of that. He becomes James’ shadow, following James wherever he goes, often by sitting on his shoulder and looking out the window of a double-decker bus as they travel around London.
James was a guitar playing busker in Covent Garden. Ordinarily, no one would exchange a look with James, much less try to engage him in conversation. He was just another grubby London panhandler that most people don’t see; a person to be avoided and even shunned. But with Bob by James’ side or on his shoulder, people would stop and broad smiles would break out on their faces. Seeing James in the company of the cat softened him in the eyes of the public. Coins and pounds were dropped into his guitar case, sometimes even before he began playing his guitar. Bob was indeed a charmer and that first day busking with the feline was the most lucrative of James’ career up to that point. With time, people started to bring Bob tidbits of food, homemade knitted sweaters, and even asking to purchase Bob who was definitely not for sale. The cat gave the man back his dignity and identity as well as a chance to get back on life’s right track. In James’ eyes, Bob was truly priceless.
James has now lived with Bob for several years, and they are still going strong. James believes in karma – that what goes around, comes around. And he believes that Bob came into his life at an exact, crucially important moment. Bob became the best mate who guided James towards a different, more productive way of living. He states in the last two lines of the book, “Everybody needs a break, everybody deserves that second chance. Bob and I had taken ours...”
Anyone who loves cats or animals will be drawn to this feel good book, about the power of love between a man and an animal. Bob is one remarkable cat who did save James’ life. This read will put a smile on your face and maybe produce a few tears of joy as well.
Long live Bob, James and the human/animal spirit!
Follow Street Cat Bob on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.
A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life
Do you have small children who are fascinated by different kinds of vehicles? Are they ready to learn to count? If so, this highly original, very well designed book was made just for them.
Night Light by Nicholas Blechman presents numbers one through ten in a series of riddles asking the young reader to identify what vehicle might possess the number of lights depicted on a totally blacked out page. For example, “2 lights, hovering in flight?” The lights are seen through die cut holes in the opposing page. As that page is turned, a very vibrantly colored scene is revealed depicting the vehicle in question, in this case a flying helicopter. And the holes through which the “lights” were seen revert to ....
Well, let’s just leave those surprises for when you see the book on your own!
Visually appealing and wonderful crafted from beginning to end, I just loved this minute volume. It is certain to shine some brightness into any little one’s day!
Paul Thurlby, a British illustrator, is making a name for himself in the children’s book field by (among other things) naming the books after himself. And so we have here Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife. This is a visually rich collection of his wonderfully unique, simple yet colorful, drawings of 23 different creatures, each with a fun fact about the animal that helps make witty sense of the accompanying captions. Every animal is represented in a style that is reminiscent of poster ads from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.
One example is “Armed to the Teeth” that informs us that, “Sharks are always growing new teeth to replace those that fall out”. Or how about, “Chill out - KEEP COOL” referring to the fact that iguanas must “...move into the shade to lower their body temperature.”
I read this July, 2013 title during a recent “Tales on the Trail” program that the Powell Branch Library holds along the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail. Kids, both young and old, were wildly interested in the text as well as amused by the cool art.
So, Thurlby’s imaginative fusion of strong visual design with wordplay and fragments of information works well on his intended audience. In fact, it should entertain little readers for more than just a single reading.
This book might also appeal to all animal lovers who are young of heart, for there is far more here than first meets the eye!
Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife
Ah, the good and simple life. Living on a farm out in the country, with some hens, goats, sheep, and a few cows thrown in for good measure. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Well according to author Angela Miller’s 2010 memoir entitled Hay Fever, farm life is anything but easy and carefree. Miller, a Manhattan-based literary publicist, decided one day that her frenetic, super urban lifestyle needed a U-turn into a more placid diversion of some sort. So she, together with her somewhat reluctant hubby, purchase and move into a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, that comes complete with a little over 300 acres of surrounding countryside. The year was 2001, and the farm was envisioned to be a refuge from the NYC hustle and bustle. But the farm’s history as a working creamery and cheese making facility put a bug into Angela’s brain that she too could run a profitable dairy based concern as had its originating owner, one Consider Bardwell. However, until profits materialized, and because she couldn’t bear to totally cut herself off from her literary clients in the big city, Angela came to the conclusion that she would still need to continue being a literary agent during the middle of the week, and run the farm on extended weekend stays. The latter task was made all the more difficult since she had precious little experience in farming, much less operating an artisanal cheese making business.
Angela and Rust, her husband, acquire the requisite goats and other barnyard animals, as well as assemble a cast of farmhands, cheese makers, vets and a sundry other rural characters. They also attend many cheese making workshops and seminars and believe that armed with their newly gained knowledge, they are well on their way to building a world class cheese company on the premises of Consider Bardwell Farm. However, that road is fraught with many unforeseen bumps and learning curve detours that constantly make the project an iffy proposition at best.
This book is a cautionary tale of sorts as Angela recounts the difficulties of running and maintaining the farm, which is the primary source of goat milk that is crucial to the cheese making venture. The year 2008 proved to be an especially difficult time and she particularly concentrates on the many problems that they ran into. For example, one variety of cheese that had previously been a prize winner, was rejected by specialty food retailer Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, which stated that the 250 pounds that were delivered to them did not match the taste profile of the winning cheese that their buyer had sampled some seven months earlier. It was returned and ended up being fed to the neighbor’s pigs. Soon after that, the farm instituted a new, more stringent control process, continuously testing and grading all the cheese being produced to assure consistent quality from one batch to another.
Currently, Consider Bardwell Farm makes over fifty thousand pounds of cheese annually, has won many prizes, and sells their products at over a dozen East Coast farmers’ markets. They are also found in the cheese carts of many fine dining establishments, as well as in numerous gourmet food shops across the country.
Speaking of farmers’ markets, my husband and I love to visit Kalamazoo’s outdoor version held every Saturday, between May and November on Bank Street. It is extremely popular, judging by the hordes of shoppers it attracts each week. It is also very well run and draws in many participating vendors, thanks in large part to the efforts of the People’s Food Co-op, which took over managing its operations from the city this year.
Last year, we remember purchasing a number of different goat cheese products at the market made by a small local producer. Now that vendor is nowhere to be found. We also searched for them at Sawall’s and the Food Co-op, both of whom used to carry their cheeses, but again these had disappeared from the dairy cases. I even went so far as doing a little more detective work by looking up the farm online. That resulted in the discovery that their prior site had been disabled, and that neither their phone number or email address worked anymore. Yes, artisanal cheese making is a tough, risky business. No one is guaranteed to make a profit and as a result, some farms don’t make it at all.
So go to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, get something yummy (preferably cheese) to munch on and spend some time reading Hay Fever. After all, it’s summer. Time to kick back and relax.
Unless of course you live on a farm!
For more information of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market go to: http://farmersmarketkalamazoo.com/
Hay fever : how chasing a dream on a Vermont farm changed my life
In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.
This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.
While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”
Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.
After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.
Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.
Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.
Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.
Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.
This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.
This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.
And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
Caution: This blog contains information that just may be too cute for your reading pleasure. If you are disturbed or irritated by anything cute, STOP IMMEDIATELY and avoid any potential future exposure.
Even though I don’t watch much television, one of my favorite shows is Too Cute! on the Animal Planet channel. This program showcases mostly puppies and kittens, (but also occasionally exotic pets), as they are born and develop for the first two to three months of life in various, usually for-profit husbandry households. Each show culminates in the members of the new generation being adopted by their “forever” families. Even though I have watched some episodes numerous times and know that they are slanted toward the “And they lived happily ever after” ending, I still can’t help myself. There’s something about the newborn, no mater what species (well maybe not snakes), that draws me in. Especially so if the producers contrive and manipulate the action to hyper boost the cloyingly sweet “cute quotient.”
But then, a little over one month ago I came upon a book that was “too cute” without the hype. I’m referring to A Little Book of Sloth, written and photographed by Lucy Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society. It documents the activities of the real-life sanctuary of Slothville, located in the wilds of Costa Rica, which is devoted to saving these sleepy-looking, engaging, and mellow creatures. The book features some of the “cutest” inhabitants of Slothville, from the orphan Buttercup to Mateo, Sunshine and Sammy, Ubu, as well as numerous other endearing two and three fingered sloths.
Thanks to a uniquely slow nervous system, sloths are known for their lethargic, unhurried movements. They epitomize a lazy, laid back, and ultra chilled lifestyle. But while sloths may look sluggish, they are also quite acrobatic and have the ability to turn their heads around up to 270 degrees, due to an extra neck vertebrae.
Although they appear to be huggable cuddle-bugs as depicted in this volume, sloths do not make good pets and definitely belong in the wild. In captivity, they require special care. For instance, at the Sanctuary, the sloths are given regular baths in a specifically formulated, green leaf tea solution to keep their skin in good physical condition. They also appreciate hibiscus flowers being part of their standard diet.
But don’t despair at your inability to have one of these creatures hang around your home. You can always visit slothsanctuary.com to help an orphaned sloth in need by making a donation, or go to slothville.com to join the Sloth Appreciation Society.
And don’t forget to check out this book. The pictures alone are adorable, precious and may very well lead to you having an absolutely slothful “too cute” day!
A Little Book of Sloth
I have not read much in the way of teen novels lately, but did get around to Paul Griffin’s 2010 effort entitled The Orange Houses. It concerns three rather unlikely allies, brought together by various circumstances into a state of friendship. The novel takes place during the course of a little over one month and the stories of these three individuals are told in alternating chapters.
First, there is Tamika, or Mik, who has been partially deaf since childhood. She attends a tough high school and manages to close herself off to the world around her by using her disability as an excuse.
Then there’s Jimmi Sixes, a nineteen year old war veteran, whose girlfriend committed suicide while he was enlisted. He turns to drugs, and despite trying to straighten up his life, his thoughts are regularly interrupted by a nagging question...Is life really worth living? And if so, then at what expense? Although he is Mik’s protective friend, (especially from the bullies she encounters at school), he is nonetheless detested by her mother as being a bad influence.
Finally, there is Fatima, a rather gentle soul who is an illegal immigrant from Africa. She arrives in New York on a ship all alone, with only the clothes on her back. She is looking and hoping for a better future in the United States and longs to see the Statue of Liberty up close. She is also a whiz at making beautiful, folded paper creations that are endearing mementos to those she shares them with.
This novel is a fast moving and absorbing read, ending in a dreadful outcome that the reader will not soon forget. The “orange houses” in the title refers to the projects, where all three characters reside; a place that offers little hope of redemption, where poverty prevails and where life is put on hold. The book made it onto the 2010 list of the best books for teens.
Reading this novel, brought back very fond memories of meeting one of my favorite teen authors, Robert Cormier, who did a book talk at Kent State University in the late 1970s while I attended library school there.
During the mid to late 70s and beyond, Mr. Cormier had written The Chocolate War, published in 1974 and I Am the Cheese, published in 1977, probably his most prominent and attention receiving books that were later made into movies. His other works included Beyond the Chocolate War, Tunes for Bears to Dance To, After the First Death, and Other Bells for Us to Ring.
His novels were famous at the time for their complex intensity. They covered sensitive as well as controversial themes, such as abuse, violence, revenge, betrayal, and conspiracy.
All in all Cormier, who passed away in late 2000, was considered by many experts as a gifted author and a major influence on teen literature. To this day, KPL still owns many of his books in their collection, and if you are not familiar with his writings, whether you are a teen or not, do yourself a favor and check them out.
The Orange Houses