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Staff Picks: Books

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!

 

 


A Letter to My Cat: Notes to Our Best Friends

A Letter to My Cat was created by Lisa Erspamer, who also compiled a collection of correspondence from owners to their canine companions in A Letter to My Dog. These books celebrate the dedication, love and joy that our true-blue, four-legged friends provide us. In this most recent volume, the letters are written by celebrity cat lovers such as Dr. Oz, Gina Gershon, “ cat whisperer” Jackson Galaxy , and many others.

Another year is fast approaching and after reading this, I decided to also sit down, and with pen in hand, write a letter of appreciation to my own feline menagerie.

 

Dear Ollie, Graham and Lionel:

All of you have always been and will continue to be so very precious to me. I especially love the fact that we never take each other for granted and cherish every day that we have together living our mutually entwined lives. Since you are the most senior of the group, I will begin with you, Ollie.

My dearest Ollie, you are a very respectful, well-mannered and dedicated companion. You especially love your time with my husband when he reads anything printed on paper. The two of you have made “Reading with Ollie” an exceptional occasion, and you jump at every opportunity to cuddle, purr and show your love for the written word. You are also a great, night-time sleeping companion; quietly guarding over us to make sure we have accomplished a safe and restful slumber. But best of all, you love to talk – either to complain or more often, to express your happiness with your current life’s surroundings.

Graham, you are the biggest cat we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You have beautiful, tawny-colored long fur. It is possible that you have a Norwegian Forest Cat bloodline, but we’ll never know since you were found as a two-week old kitten by the side of the road and given to us as a stray. You are plus-sized; not actually fat mind you, just big boned. Recently, we changed you over to a diet food and to our delight, you love it! Although large, you are no bully; far from it. In reality, your big boned physique is perfectly paired with your big hearted nature. You are so sweet and innocent, that friends and strangers love you alike.

Lionel, you are the shyest of all our cats. Although you are supposedly Graham’s sibling, there is very little resemblance between the two of you in either looks or character. While skittish, you also greatly enjoy being mischievous and revel in causing a little trouble, (or should I say excitement), in the house. You are also very possessive of your people and simply don’t like to share them. This is especially true when human attention is being showered upon you. Then you rise to the occasion and show your authority by pushing any inconsiderate, trespassing feline “buttinskies” out of the way!

To all three of you, stay healthy and happy this coming New Year and always remember that you are very much loved!

Love from your friend and mom,

Teresa

P.S. This volume would make a great gift for any cat lover who appreciates felines’ individuality and unique personality.


Sparky

 

A young girl pleads with her mother for a pet. Her mother finally agrees, saying any pet is fine, as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed. A pretty tall order….

Sparky is the wonderful new picture book by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhaus that details how the young girl selects a sloth as her chosen pet. Sparky can’t fetch, chase a ball, or roll over. But he is great at playing dead, and he has other unexpected attributes, as his young owner soon discovers.

Expressive pictures pair perfectly with the story, making for a satisfying picture book for the younger set.


Peggy, No Ordinary Chicken

“Peggy” is the title of a book about a chicken. But not just any old, run-of-the-mill, barnyard hen. No, Peggy happens to be one very brave, extraordinary chicken. As such, she joins the Chicken Coop Hall of Fame populated by other famous children’s literature pullets such as Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Tillie, Yelta, the Little Red Hen, Rosie, Lottie, Hilda, and my all-time personal favorite, Minerva Louise.

Written and illustrated by Australian Anna Walker, Peggy enjoys her day-to-day existence living in a small house on a quiet street out in the sticks. Life is very good indeed! However, one windy day, she is blown away by a particularly strong gust, and lands in the busy city and all that that implies – traffic congestion, great restaurants, department stores, big buildings and bustling crowds.

As she roams around, she comes to realize how much adventure and excitement she missed out on by living in the confines of the country. But as she widely wanders, she also wisely wonders how she will ever find her way back home, because after all is said and done, there’s no place like......well you know!

On a whim, she follows a sunflower like the one she remembers growing in her yard. Sure enough, this (along with a little help from a flock of pigeon friends), leads her back to where she really belongs.

The wonderfully detailed illustrations are delightful and well-suited for this satisfying chicken tale. “Peggy” is highly recommended for pre-schoolers, as well as early-ed children.


I Love You Just Enough

On the last day of school, Heather is looking forward to a summer helping her dad on their Hazel Ridge Farm. While pulling weeds in a field, she discovers a fuzzy, helpless, and frightened baby duckling, who somehow was separated from its family.

Heather wants to help the duckling by keeping it warm and well fed. Her dad tells her that “...the hardest thing that you will have to do is not to love him too much”. After explaining these words to his daughter, she replies that “ I think I can love him just enough”.

She calls her young charge Mr. Peet due to his “peet, peet, peet” vocalizations, and puts the little wood duck into an empty fish tank with a towel, heat lamp, and a screen cover. She then begins a daily ritual of scooping up dragonfly larvae, crayfish and other little pond dwellers which she feeds to him. Mr. Peet grows and begins to explore the house and the farm, and in time teaches himself how to fly.

Summer ends and Heather returns to her friends at school, while Mr. Peet finds friends of his own. The now grown duck comes to visit less often and Heather misses him greatly, but tearfully announces that he will be okay, “...because I loved him just enough”.

This book was written by Robbyn van Frankenhuyzen, and beautifully illustrated by her husband Gijsbert, (aka Nick), both of whom actually still live at Hazel Ridge Farm in Michigan. This narrative is a true account of the wild duck fostering experiences of one of their two daughters in the 1980’s. Through this and other stories, (many of which are in the KPL collection), they relate the adventures of wildlife rehabilitation and how they have cared for many injured and orphaned animals over the years.

I Love You Just Enough is a gratifying picture book that is just right for sharing with your children as the leaves turn to their fall colors.

Also, you can visit Hazel Ridge Farm online at www.hazelridgefarm.com.


Guest Cat

The Guest Cat by well known Japanese poet Takashi Hiraide, was originally published in Japan in 2001 and won that country’s prestigious Kiyama Shohei Literary Award. Unfortunately, it has taken thirteen years for it to be translated into English. But it has finally appeared; a gem of a book written in a very poetic style, with a somewhat unsettling ending.

The story’s narrator and his wife are a couple in their mid-thirties, who live and work as freelance copywriters in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They are somewhat isolated, feel lonely and their marriage seems to have settled into a rut.

One day a small cat appears in the garden next to their abode. It happens to belong to their neighbors’ son. A simple wooden fence separates the two properties and the cat becomes a frequent visitor.

The feline’s name is Chibi, which means “little one” and she is described as being a jewel of a cat “...with pure white fur mottled with several black blotches”. She walks quietly, rarely making a sound; except that is, when she is made to wear a bell around her neck to announce her comings and goings.

She visits the couple almost daily, gaining entrance to the cottage through a partially opened window; an uninvited yet increasingly welcome, subtle guest who breathes new life into the couple’s otherwise monotone relationship. Little by little, her visits help nurture the formation of a deeper, permanent bond between husband and wife, as well as between them and her.

It’s difficult for me to relive the ending because the resolution is so tenuous and unclear. Read it and judge for yourself. The book is only 136 pages in length. But it is a powerhouse of literary emotion!


Chickens in the Road

This Spring I read Farm City by Novella Carpenter, one of two titles that were picked for the “Reading Together” program that the library sponsors with several other organizations in the community. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and told of the author’s attempt to become an “urban farmer,” as she lived in downtown Oakland, California. Since I liked this topic so much I decided to seek out other books where people are doing the same in going back to the land and becoming self-sustaining.

My next choice was a book entitled Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn. The author was previously a romance writer who after a divorce moved with her three children to rural West Virginia where some of her other relatives had lived and she had visited the area many times growing up. She depicts her struggle in adjusting to being a full time farm owner where everything she raised, crops and animals, were either eaten by her family or sold at the market.  Of course there were many struggles along the way; a partner who stopped paying his share, building a brand new home on a rather precarious piece of land, many roads that continuously flooded, and the overwhelming amount of nonstop work. When that farm was no longer manageable, she sold it and bought one more suitable to her. Through her can-do attitude and a great sense of humor, she is now not only a successful farmer, but conducts workshops at her farm for others wanting to learn all the skills connected with farming, and she writes an almost daily blog, also called Chickens in the Road, as to what’s going on in her farm life. An extra plus is that there are many wonderful pictures of the farms and her family. This book was thoroughly enjoyable and you find yourself pulling for her to succeed. And succeed she did!


PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO

With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.

Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.

Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.

In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.

Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.

My husband and I  traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.

This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.