Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.


I watched the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interview author and dog lover Maria Goodavage about her latest book entitled Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes which was published last March, and I immediately put it on my must read list. By the way, MWD is the acronym for Military Working Dog.

Throughout history, dogs have been used in numerous martial roles: Attacking enemies, protecting fighters, as well as alerting soldiers when they detect danger. They have also been deployed as trackers, messengers and first aid deliverers, especially in high risk areas where humans would more likely than not be able to get through. But today their most common job is to sniff out explosives.

This book is an engaging account of the dedicated canines who play significant roles in our military’s efforts both past and current. While the exploits of military working dogs have been documented in earlier war efforts, much of the information in this volume concentrates on the hostilities in Afghanistan. In 2010, working dog teams in that country were credited with finding more than 12,500 lbs. of explosives. Current figures show that the Department of Defense has some 2,700 U.S. military working dogs in service throughout the world, with about 600 found in actual warzones.

Ironically, MWDs are classified as equipment by the Department of Defense. It’s a designation that fell upon military dogs after the Second World War, when the military started purchasing canines. Of course handlers see their dogs as anything but equipment. Handlers put their lives on the line for their devoted canine companions, and the reverse is also true. A common refrain among handlers who have been deployed is “war would have been hell without my dog.” Dogs and their soldier counterparts spend almost every minute together. Handlers and their canines eat, sleep, play and work together. As a result it’s not surprising that extremely close bonds are formed. Some soldiers feel so close to their dogs they have even shared their honorary medals with them, and many make a point of adopting their dogs when they return home.


So the military’s practice of categorizing soldier dogs as mere equipment seems odd, out of touch and somewhat heartless. After all, these animals are hard working and vibrant partners who should be treated with respect, kindness, and love, all of which their soldier handlers freely lavish upon them.

Many of the dogs used by the armed forces are German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois, although other breeds are also occasionally drafted. I can especially appreciate the use of German Shepherds. My step mother-in-law used to breed these very disciplined canines. They are highly intelligent, aggressive and have a keen sense of responsibility and devotion to owner and family. They are natural protectors and enjoy having a job to do, which makes them highly suitable for military purposes.

This book is written in an easygoing style which relies heavily on first hand accounts, observations and quotes from those involved with MWDs. It also chronicles the stories of soldiers whose dogs did not come home, dying at the hands of the enemy; an all too common and heartbreaking reality of this world.

Over the years MWDs have become an invaluable part of the complete modern army. As former Four Star General and current CIA Director, David Petraeus put it: ”The capacity they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.”

So here is a salute and a heartfelt thank you to our military and their canine heroes!

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Maria Goodavage
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes

There Once Was a Bunny with an Ear Not So Funny

Patrick, a Dutch Blue Dwarf rabbit, has lived with us for a little over two years. He weighed a meager four pounds when we adopted him from the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary in Willis, MI, not too far from Ann Arbor.

Right from that first day when we met him we knew that he was going to be a handful. As we were readying him for his trip to his new home, one Sanctuary staff member casually mentioned that we should be careful in handling Patrick, since apparently he had started to nip people recently. No problem, I thought. He seemed docile and sweet enough. And besides, how much pain can a diminutive bunny inflict? A few days later I learned the hard way. Being irresistibly cute, Patrick was the recipient of many kisses from me; something that he did not enjoy as much being the recipient, as I did being the giver. So to get his displeasure through to me, one day he bit me on the cheek just as I was about to land a particularly loving smooch on that adorable little nose of his. The pain was tolerable. But I was shortly thereafter admitted to a local urgent care clinic to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding.

After reading up on domestic rabbits in a 2008 book titled, When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care: Traditional and Alternative Healing Methods by Lucile Moore, I was only a little bit happier to learn that only highly intelligent rabbits nip or bite. Supposedly, that’s because they know what they like and don’t like, and have no inhibitions in communicating their desires as forcefully as they can. No dumb bunnies for our family!


Patrick turned out to be brilliant - absolutely brilliant! However it was a brilliance that came with an attitude the size of Texas! A few months later in a momentary lapse of judgement brought on by his delightfully sweet appearance, I was once more bitten, this time on the lip. Back I went to the clinic to have it super glued together. No worries, but from that time on, I decided to show my affection to Patrick from the back of his head, so that my face was not in his. In all honesty, after that second bite, for a moment or so (actually it was a little longer than that), the thought of taking him back to the Sanctuary from where he came did cross my mind. But a promise is a promise, and I did pledge to take care of that rabbit until death did us part. However, who will precede whom into the great hereafter is still up in the air.

Well, as it happens, about three weeks ago we almost lost Patrick. On that Sunday morning, (why do these things always take place during the weekend when most vets are closed?) we noted that Patrick was uncharacteristically tilting his head and that one of his ears was drooping. After consulting the internet, we came to the conclusion that the treatment would be rather painless, relatively inexpensive, and that recovery would be imminent. The next day we took him to a local vet known to have some familiarity treating rabbits. She confirmed our diagnosis and prescribed an antibiotic for the infection in his ear. After administering one dose of the medication that day, Patrick began wheezing terribly and breathing through his mouth, which is not a good sign in bunnies.

He was visibly worse the next morning, but our local vet was not in the office, and rather than take him to the emergency clinic here in town that has little experience dealing with rabbits, we decided instead to transport him to a clinic in Grand Rapids. Although the vet there did have some knowledge of bunnies, after several hours he called saying that they couldn’t do anything more for him. However, he also suggested that we take him to see a true rabbit specialist in Cascade, MI. Although the specialist didn’t hold out much hope for his prognosis upon his arrival, after several days of intensive care, Patrick started responding positively.

After several more days, we were able to take him home where we continued his treatments. He seemed very happy to be back in his own environs at last and his condition improved dramatically, almost on a daily basis. The three feline members of our family, Ollie, Graham, and Lionel kept vigil over him and seemed to really care about his condition. They took turns lying by his cage and keeping him company throughout the day. It seemed obvious that they were hoping for his recovery almost as much as we were.

Finally after more than two weeks at home, Patrick is close to his normal self. No more force feeding him, no more meds or penicillin shots. He’s back to a normal bunny routine of constant eating and pooping with intermittent naps or jaunts around his area. He is still very assertive and isn’t above nipping the hands that nursed him back to health. But he is our bunny; we love him dearly and wouldn’t have it any other way!



When your rabbit needs special care : traditional and alternative healing methods

Rin Tin Tin: the Life and the Legend

When I read that Rin Tin Tin: the Life and the Legend was Library Journal’s pick for top nonfiction title of 2011, I was intrigued.

Author Susan Orlean has written a wonderfully readable book, not only about Rin Tin Tin, the iconic dog star of films and TV. Her story ranges widely and touches on the early history of Hollywood and films, the bravery and use of animals in war, and much more.

The story begins on a battlefield in France during World War I. A young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovers an orphaned German shepherd puppy in a bombed out kennel. He has left his own dog behind in America, and adopts the small pup. Duncan, who was raised in an orphanage, feels an affinity with the abandoned dog, whom he names Rin Tin Tin. He immediately senses that this is an extraordinary dog, and is fortunately able to bring “Rinty” back to the US. The rest, as the saying goes, is history—and what a ride it is!

Susan Orlean is a respected reporter who spent ten years researching and writing this book, the story of a dog born in 1918 and his descendants, and the people who loved them and helped to insure their legacy.

This is a book for all people who have ever had or loved a dog.


Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

It’s almost butterfly time!

With the weather we’ve been having you can’t help but realize that butterfly season is right around the corner. The library has lots of really good books on butterflies. One of them is simply called Butterflies by Seymour Simon. Simon does children’s science educational books with simple titles like Cats, Global WarmingThe Universe and Penguins and they all have great pictures. The pictures are all close-up and graphic. His books are colorful and well written. The information is useful and comprehensive at a child’s level. There’s no better way for you and your kids to spend the day than in the garden with this book looking for butterflies and learning just about everything they need to know about them.



World Without Fish

For a fast-moving look at the crisis of the oceans, check out Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish, a 2011 release geared to readers aged nine and up. Kurlansky, a former commercial fisherman, explains how overfishing, pollution, and global warming are a triple threat to ocean eco-systems. He argues that these threats must be resolved by the generation of people that are not yet adults. I appreciated the nuanced explanation of the problems and the potential solutions that are available to us. Punctuated by a multi-part comic strip narrative and other illustrations by Frank Stockton, World Without Fish is fascinating for its design alone. Mark Kurlansky is the author of the bestselling Cod, among other books.


World Without Fish

Warm Hearts and Cold Noses

Those of you who have read my previous posts here, will be well aware of my weakness when it comes to cats. We currently live with three domestic felines, and I have had the pleasure of the company of quite a few others over the years, all of whom I dearly love. However, this does not mean that I am indifferent to, much less prejudiced against, those of the canine persuasion. In fact, my affection for all animals began with dogs.

It started when as a small child living in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Parma, I laid eyes upon my first hound. I don’t really recall it’s looks, just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it and it to me. All dogs were now officially identified by me in my naïve way of thinking as my best friends ever. And there was nothing more important in my life at that time than to make friends with each and every one as soon as I saw it. By the time I was six, I was often never to be found anywhere around our house, since I was out chasing dogs of all breeds and sizes in the neighborhood. They led and I followed. Not being able to locate me and growing somewhat desperate, my mother would often resort to calling my seventeen year old cousin who had just attained his driver’s license to track me down in his ‘55 Oldsmobile. His task was to bring me home in one piece, preferably without any motley mutts in tow. My behavior never resulted in my family actually getting a dog of our own, since my mother was dead set against the idea, and her veto power was absolute. But still I was on affable terms with each and every pooch in a four block radius around our house. And to this day at family get-togethers, my childhood obsession with dogs is rich material for nostalgic anecdotes that are always good for a chuckle or two.

Just as much as I am attracted to dogs, so too am I attracted to fiction about them. As a result, I very much looked forward to reading A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. Sometimes hilarious, and oftentimes heartrending, this is a rather unique work of fiction since it’s told from the dog’s perspective and is a search for the true meaning of life. While this task may be too much for most humans to contemplate, much less to seriously consider undertaking, the book proposes that it can be that much more daunting for canines. The story follows a dog who finds himself reincarnated over the course of several lives. As a result it tries to weave together a common purpose for these lives and discover how best to fulfill that purpose.

Somewhat reminiscent of Garth Stein’s 2009 novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, where a lab terrier mix narrates his experiences as a canine and observes what makes human beings “human,” Cameron’s work similarly produces a wealth of insight and emotions. As a bonus for Michiganders, Cameron, being a Michigan native himself, sets the story in various state locations.

So, if you have ever gazed into the eyes of a dog and wondered what that creature in front of you was capable of thinking, this book might help answer that question. It certainly suggests that there might be much more than just walks, sniffs, supper and squirrels on the agenda.


A Dog’s Purpose

Holiday Read-Togethers with Kids

We usually travel to my sister’s place in Cleveland, Ohio to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s a hectic, yet fun time for all, but especially so for the kids. In this case, I’m talking about my niece’s two young girls Zoya, age 7 and Maya, who is 4. To keep the tykes from being underfoot in the kitchen while celebratory meals are being prepared, I have taken to bringing a bag full of children’s books to read to them. All three of us find a comfortable sofa, oversized pillows or bed in a quiet nook of the house and settle in for some choice holiday stories. After doing this for the last 3 years or so, the girls eagerly look forward to our holiday read-together times.

During Thanksgiving our favorites have included Run, Turkey, Run! by Diane Mayr, as well as A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting. In both of these humorous kid’s tomes, the turkey does not get eaten on Thanksgiving Day and instead a vegetarian meal is served. In Run, Turkey, Run! the meal substitution is completely unintentional, when the turkey manages to outwit the farmer and his family who have to settle for grilled cheese sandwiches as a result. However in A Turkey for Thanksgiving, a non-turkey menu is planned from the very start, as the moose family (all fervent vegetarians by birth) invite their local turkey neighbor to sit down with them for the feast as their guest of honor. And of course as befits this special status, he is placed at the head of the table.

For the Christmas holidays, some of our past favorites have included: What Dogs Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski, The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot, Wake Up Bear...It’s Christmas! by Stephen Gammell, as well as the British classic, The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley.

On occasion, I like to mix-up the repertoire a little by also including stories not related to the holidays. One of these is Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters, which happens to be Zoya’s particular favorite, and which I have had to read numerous times due to the incessant clamor of an unyielding, adoring (and adorable) audience. To further keep interests high, along with the stories I will sometimes incorporate a craft or two that relates either to the holiday theme or the main character of a book.

So if you have kids, nephews, nieces or friends with children, go to your local library to stock up on some fun titles. Then take some time out, gather up the troops, read, laugh and enjoy.

Reading together: It’s a great way to put that memorable, extra special, human sparkle into the next generation’s holiday season!


Run, Turkey, Run!

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

If you are looking for a funny, poignant, delightfully read audio book, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith, is just the thing.

The dog in question is a Pimlico terrier, with the rather elegant name of Freddie de la Haye. Freddie and his owner, William, a middle aged wine merchant, live in alively London neighborhood apartment building called Corduroy Mansions, with a varied, quirky assortment of residents.

To his complete surprise, William is approached by British intelligence agency M16 who want to recruit Freddie for a spy mission. It involves placing a tiny recording device in Freddie’s collar, and putting the dog in the middle of a Russian spy ring to monitor conversations.

The mystery involving Freddie is intertwined with stories of Corduroy Mansions residents’ lives, loves and foibles and the reader, Simon Prebble, brings just the right touch to the tale and the characters.

Many readers may recognize the author McCall Smith from the Ladies’ #1 Detective Agency series and other books. The first title in the series about Freddie and his human friends, Corduroy Mansions, is also available at Kalamazoo Public Library.


The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

Living In Relative Harmony

This past July, I posted a blog about kitten care. That effort came about as a result of our family’s recent adoption of two rescue kittens. As promised then, this is an update about their and our family’s progress together.

The two kittens, Graham and Lionel are a little over six months old now, which means that their individual looks and personalities are beginning to shine through. And at this point in time, they don’t look or act like there is much common parental heritage. While it is true that kittens born to the same litter are more likely to share only their mother’s genes since they have different fathers, in this case even a remote resemblance to maternal ancestry seems to be hidden.


Both Graham and Lionel are supposedly of mixed breed, but that has not prevented them from being quite handsome. Graham in particular appears to have more than a smidgen of some pure bred feline in him. He has very soft, long fur and an especially elongated, bushy and willowy tail. He seems to know of the attractiveness of his back extremity, and will take every opportunity to show it off by swaying it back and forth in an exaggerated manner whenever a human is in the vicinity; somewhat reminiscent of a feather boa in the beckoning hands of an old timey cabaret dancer. In addition to drawing attention to himself, Graham also has found a more utilitarian use for its length by completely covering his nose and ears with it when he wishes to sleep undisturbed.


After doing some research in The Encyclopedia of the Cat by Bruce Fogle, DVM, my husband now firmly believes that he is mostly Norwegian Forest cat, a breed that possesses pronounced tufts on their ears and paws, as does our Graham. Whatever is his lineage, it’s clear that he is proud of his good looks. He washes himself much more than his brother, and often purrs with enjoyment while doing so. Actually, Graham purrs most of the time because he is one very happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care kitten!

Lionel on the other hand is a short haired orange and white tabby with attractive markings on his back. He is a bit smaller than his brother, but whatever he lacks in stature and looks, he seems to have made up for by having more than his share of smarts. In both looks and personality, he closely resembles our beloved Cosmo, who died from renal failure last February. Lionel learns quickly, understands commands and is very enthusiastic when it comes to playtime.

Both kittens respect Ollie our other cat, three years their senior. To our surprise, he has taken upon himself the task of surrogate parent, washing each kitten regularly, showing them where the chipmunks come to the sliding glass door, and when are proper nap times, snack times etc. If they don’t show respect to him and his direction, he does not hesitate to swat them with his oversized front paws or give them a sharp nip, thereby reminding the miscreant who is boss.


Unfortunately for Patrick, our four pound house bunny, pet politics in our home has turned somewhat for the worse. Whereas Ollie has always left Patrick alone, both Lionel and Graham have developed an unhealthy fondness for the game of “Hunters and Hunted”, with you know who being reluctantly yet steadfastly cast as prey. Whenever they get bored and left to their own devices, both kittens begin stalking, chasing and roughhousing with Patrick. We on the other hand try the best we can to get it through to them that this is a big no-no. This is usually accomplished with a few well aimed squirts of water from a spray bottle, accompanied with whoops and hollers of reprimand. While water is of course harmless, it is also disliked by most cats, and this combination has been most effective in dissuading Lionel from engaging in this behavior. However, Graham seems to enjoy all things aquatic, (again my husband blames this on his Norwegian Forest cat ancestry) and is curious and amused as to why anyone would want to spray him with water, how we accomplish this feat and even how the water bottle sprayer works. But however slowly, both kittens are learning that the pursuit of bunnies is not an acceptable diversion, and find other ways to amuse themselves. This is a good sign that they are maturing and that their listening /obeying skills are on the increase; a major positive for both our household and Patrick’s nerves.

Every evening I organize a play session with all three felines - Ollie, Graham and Lionel - that lasts for about 45 minutes, so that they can all chase, jump, retrieve and especially interact with one another. This last activity is most important since it builds positive feelings about each other, while decreasing jealousies. No one ever misses playtime; it’s clearly the highlight of their hectic day, which includes many naps, eating, drinking, listening to mellow music and getting into whatever mischief they can. And so our three feline family members live a life of comfort and relative harmony.

Hmmm, I wonder how Patrick feels about that “harmony” part?


The Encyclopedia of the Cat

Make Way for Ducklings

I wonder how many times I’ve read this book aloud. Hundreds, at least. I remember the book from my childhood and I’ve since shared it with children at home and at the library.

How is it that a book published in 1941, with illustrations in only one color, is so loved by kids? Those one-color illustrations in Make Way for Ducklings are certainly a big part of the attraction... the ducks are realistic, the perspectives and angles are varied, and there’s a strong feeling of movement and action. But the story is nearly perfect, as well. Words are practical yet poetic, the conversations between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are wry; Mrs. Mallard, especially, has a bit of attitude that allows for no nonsense from anyone or anything.

If it’s been a while since you’ve spent some time with Robert McCloskey’s ducklings, visit the Children’s Room for a reminder of the power of a picture book.


Make Way for Ducklings
Share RSS