Allison's Book Bag

Author Archive

When looking for books to read, a perfect place to start is with the award-winners. They’re available for all ages and in all genres. Here are three recent ones.

We Are Growing by Laurie Keller bursts with the exuberance one would expect of a winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. Such exuberance is also perhaps the only way an author could comically write about such a mundane topic as grass. Each blade of grass is growing and proud of being the tallest, the curliest, or the silliest. But one long piece of grass doesn’t know what’s special about him until a lawn mower reduces them to the same size. Through googly-eyed grasses and slapstick moments, Keller gently teaches that we’re all the best at something.

Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up drawing with the support of his mom, who would lie with him to draw on old work papers. From her, Basquiat learned that art is found not just in museums and theaters but also in the games he played and the people he met. Basquiat overcame serious injuries suffered when he was struck by a car at age seven, and the institutionalization of his mom at age 13 to become a famous artist. Steptoe captures Basquiat’s life in his rich writing style and creative illustrations. To give meaning to the book’s artwork, Steptoe collected bits of scrap wood from around Basquiat’s home in New York City, and used them as canvases onto which he painted scenes from his book. He also adeptly integrates Basquiat’s favorite motifs into his illustrations. Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe is a brilliant Caldecott-winner biography!

Entrenched in fantasy, complex characters, and poignant themes, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is impossible to put down. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch that lives in the forest. But nothing is at is seems in this Newbery-winning novel. For example, the witch is kind. She rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest. One year, the witch discovers one of the children possesses magic and decides to raise Luna as her own. But the baby’s mother is searching for her. And the mother meets a man who is determined to free his people from the witch. Eventually, all paths intersect with a message of love.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is an atypical reading experience. Set in Russia in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the USSR has just ended and Russia is still in its infancy, One-Two takes you into the mind of conjoined twins Faith and Hope. The style is at first disconcerting, being told from an alternating first and second person, but in the end feels like the perfect choice. A psychological drama, the novel reflects on how difficult but also how important it is to remain human.

Faith and Hope do not have an easy life. Their own mother, aghast at the sight of them, signed their death certificate. The twins were handed over to one institute and then another as experimental subjects. When the scientists wearied of the twins, they were transferred to boarding school where they experienced some measure of happiness. The windows had no grids, the air smelled of moss and pine, and the twins felt like normal children for the first time. They even developed friendships. Unfortunately, due to a suicide by one of the boarders, their stay was short-lived. The next stop was an orphanage, where once again the twins were viewed as objects of curiosity and sunk into misery. Their one relief was a library and the news that successful operations were being performed to separate conjoined twins. But again, these comforts were short-lived. One-Two is a hard story at times to read, as there seems be no redemption in sight.

But I want redemption for Faith and Hope, who from start to finish I am rooting for. I like who the twins are. They value friendships from their peers, the knowledge to be found in libraries, and the kindness of strangers. They’re also self-aware and know when they are being cowardly or mean, but also how to be strong in the face of relentless suffering and pain. I empathize with the twins who wish for a different appearance, just as many of us are dissatisfied with our looks. Faith grows up knowing the story of the Ugly Duckling by heart, because she wants to undergo a similar transformation. She treasures artwork of a friend who depicts them as beautiful. Whether accurate or not, I find enlightening the insights into life as a conjoined twin. One teacher tells the class that anyone cheating will be seated at separate desks, and Faith laments how impossible that would be. Then there are the constant questions from bystanders of how the two function day-by-day with bodies that are conjoined. Perhaps the most bittersweet is how the twins at times encourage other and at other times wish desperately to be their own person. Finally, I feel abhorrence at their treatment. When the twins take a bus ride, passengers make comments such as they’ll never get used to them and they’ll one day turn into haggish toads. At the orphanage, when staff see them, the twins are told to cover themselves. And these are among the least cruel reactions.

The style is initially what I least cared for. The first person is used when Faith describes her traumatic childhood, and the second person is used when she talks to her conjoined twin. There are times when I wanted to simply stay inside Faith’s head and times when I wanted to know what her sister thought not what Faith said to or about her. At the same time, the technique serves to increase tension, and thereby creates a frightening foreboding. While narrating her story Faith occasionally presents philosophical truths that seemed too mature for her to know at the age being depicted. At the same time, her emotions swing from optimism to despair, and feel agonizingly real. By the novel’s end, I felt as if the author could not have chosen any other way to tell his story.

One-Two by Igor Eliseev is one of those books that need to be reread due to its complexity. The twins manage to struggle past thoughts of revenge, suicide, and other dark emotions to hold on to the belief that their life has been amazing and full of miracle, and therein they teach us how to be human. Upon the initial reading one will grasp the essentials of the plot and the characters, but an additional reading will be needed to fully comprehend all the truths being imparted.

If you’re looking for new ways to enrich your cat’s life, start with these six books on training cats.

Cat Training in 10 Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is the first book I encountered on training cats. The majority of the chapters are dedicated to teaching obedience, start with an overview and then include clear steps for the lesson to be taught. For example, in talking about sit, Babineau explains that sit is a base behavior for many more complicated behaviors. Because cats also have an inherent inclination to rest on their haunches, sit is also a quick command to teach. Second, a reason the guide engaged my cats and I is that Babineau also provides a numerous variations for each obedience procedure. For example, in talking about jump, Babineau suggests one teach to jump onto various surfaces and those of varying heights. Following the multiple chapters on obedience, there is a hodge-podge of chapters that includes information on tricks, misbehavior, and other ways to work with one’s cat such as therapy and shows. The most life-changing chapters for me were those on obedience and trick.s Using the step-by-step procedures, I’ve successfully taught my cats sit, jump, twirl, stay, down, and kiss. We’re still working on come and fetch. Miriam Fields-Babineau has been a professional animal trainer since 1983 and has taught pet owners how to work with and understand pets of all species. In Cat Training in Ten Minutes, she draws on all this expertise to show how anyone can find the time to enrich the lives of their cats.

The Clever Cat Trick Book by Steve Duno is an easy-to-read book that covers a lot of tricks. Cat owners will learn how to teach their cat to chase, sit, spin, shake, kiss, come, beg, down, fetch, and over. For many of the tricks such as sit and spin, cat owners simply have to reward their cat for doing what comes naturally to cats for the tricks to become part of their cat’s repertoire. Other tricks such as shake and kiss might depend on the cat having an outgoing personality, as the cat will need to accept being touched. Some of the tricks will prove more difficult but Duno offers ideas for simplifying them. For example, he recognizes that teaching the trick down will require a cat to take a submissive position, and so suggests teaching it on a table where cats will feel less threatened. In addition, he notes that teaching a cat the first part of fetch is relatively easy, but the retrieve part will require a cat to know how to come when called. Duno is a veteran pet behaviorist and his knowledge shines not just when he’s teaching readers how to do tricks, but also when he’s explaining why cats need the stimulation of tricks and how to account for individual needs based on breed, age, health, gender, and background. Novices to training will love this book.

In the book The Trainable Cat, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis discuss not only how cats should be trained but why cats need to be trained. I applaud the book’s structure. The authors first present key skills. Then as new training skills are introduced, they refer back to those key skills. In this way, the content builds on itself, and complex training tasks can be understood as edible chunks.
Thanks to The Trainable Cat, I’ve started to develop a whole new training mindset. I’m beginning to generalize my training efforts to include behaviors that my cats need. For example, when Andy and I bring home new purchases, I place them where our cats might discover them but I also allow them the freedom to discover these purchases on their own cognizance. If our cats indicate a dislike or fear of something, such as small spaces or loud noises, I help them gradually bring up their confidence. Or if our cats act in a displeasing way, such as growling over and stealing food, I teach them to wait. At three-hundred pages, with minimal illustrations, The Trainable Cat can feel overwhelming if one is starting out. Even so, I highly recommend that all cat owners take the time to read, study, and apply The Trainable Cat ideas. It’ll positively change your relationship with your feline companions.

Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor is a classic by the founder of the clicker training system. In the first chapter, Pryor overviews the reasons for training a cat, what clicker training is, and how to do it. She also provides alternatives to using a clicker and/or treats. The subsequent two chapters are divided into useful and fun behaviors cat owners can teach their cat with a clicker. One useful behavior that we’re working in our household is an alternative to begging during food preparation. So far, I’ve taught our youngest cat to sit on a stool to wait for her meal. Next, I need to work on having her wait on the stool while I work in the kitchen. One fun behavior we’re working on is building a repertoire of tricks to perform in succession, instead of repeating the same trick over and over. In the fourth and last chapter, Pryor address problem behaviors, for which a program of positive reinforcement can make a difference. She covers litterbox issues, aggression, biting, ambushing, scratching, yowling, fighting, getting stuck in trees, to name a few. The one we’re working on is counter-surfing, and it remains a work-in-progress. Although I’ve read Pryor’s book more than once, I’m still learning new skills from it.

What do elephants, killer whales, and the family pet have in common? Training with zoomility! Or so says Grey Stafford, who contends that training animals is as much about having fun as it is about helping them succeed in our world. Zoomility is divided into two parts. The first part is intended for anyone who is starting to train a new or young animal or “clean slate” animals that haven’t yet learned undesirable behaviors. Stafford spends forty pages covering his philosophy of positive reinforcement, and then another forty applying it to common behaviors. Some of those behaviors fall under obedience training such as sit, stay, come; other behaviors are practical such as crate training, leash training, and visits to the vet; and some are just for fun such as jump, balance, and fetch. The second part is intended for anyone who works with animals and has already made mistakes with them or for anyone who is starting to train an animal with an unknown or unpleasant history. Stafford focuses mostly on those animals with aggressive and destructive behaviors and so, while you might find ideas on how to work with bullies, you’ll need other resources for working with the shyer animals. Stafford adds lightness by beginning each chapter with a personal tale of his experience as a zookeeper, but his writing style relies heavily on training language, and so this book is most-suited for those immersed in the training world.

Naughty No More by Marilyn Kreiger is my newest purchase. In the first chapter, Kreiger defines clicker-training, explains how to use it, and shares its benefits. In doing so, she explains two terms relatively new to me: Shaping is act of breaking down a complex behavior into tiny steps and then rewarding the cat for each correct movement that gets the cat closer to the goal behavior; Luring is the act of tempting a cat to perform an action by offering some form of reward. The next seven chapters address problem behaviors: counter surfing, door darting, scratching, matchmaking, aggression, vet visits, and litter box issues. Some of these behaviors I’ve encountered prior to purchasing this book, such as how to deal with counter surfers and so have already read about. Kreiger overviews ineffective aversive methods, potential persuasive methods, and the effective positive reinforcement methods. The chapter is readable but also thorough, in that she explains the various reasons cats might surf and how to individually train cats to meet their unique needs. Some behaviors I’m just now encountering as a foster parent such as door darting and so need all the ideas I can find. Providing toys, puzzle feeders, and scheduled interaction time were a few options Kreiger suggested, in addition to using a clicker to train dashers to sit. The final chapter covers tricks, all of which could use a chapter in themselves, and so serve simply as an introduction. Kreiger’s book is colorful, uses an abundance of side bars, and includes several case histories. I recommend it for cat owners of all levels.

 

I’m so proud of Rainy! In April, she received her certification as a therapy cat. And in May we were able to take her to a studio photo shoot at JC Penny as a reward.

Rainy and I began her certification process back in January. Our first step was to have a Control Evaluation form completed by our vet. The form asks eleven questions. Some are about health, others are about temperament, and the rest are related to Love on a Leash (LOAL) regulations. For example, is Rainy house trained, will she be on a leash, and can I control her. Temperament is by far the most important. Aggressive cats are automatically disqualified. Our veterinarian described Rainy as: “social, inquisitive, and sweet”.

Our second step was to undergo ten supervised visits at a facility. If there is a local LOAL chapter, a graduate of the program can act as supervisor. Normally we would have been supervised by a graduate of the Omaha LOAL chapter’s cat program. But there were no such graduates. I would be the first. Therefore, we were instead supervised by the activity directors of the two senior residences where we visited.

The third step was to fill out the LOAL application for cats. The application is three pages. The first page asked for basic information about me, Rainy, and our vet. I also had to sign a declaration that states Rainy has never been aggressive. The second page was a fee checklist. A new membership is $50. The third page contained a pet agreement. Among other things, it stipulates that we’ll continue to train and that we’ll be clean and well-groomed for each visit. In addition to filling out the three-page form, I had to submit a headshot of Rainy for her photo ID and two full-body photos for LOAL’s records.

On April 8, I received an email from a LOAL National representative informing me that my application had been received. The representative asked a few follow-up questions and then told me my application would get forwarded to the Membership Chairman. I was, and I soon also heard from the Membership Chairman, who asked a few questions and then told me that Rainy’s certification was approved. I received my therapy cat certification packet on April 14. It included an ID for me, photo ID for Rainy, bandana, plastic ID holder for both IDS, retractable lanyard, LOAL pet tag, and LOAL certificate.

Rainy_LOALAs a reward, Andy and I took Rainy to a studio photo shoot on May 9 at JC Penny. We wanted Rainy photographed wearing only her LOAL cat therapy bandana, without the clutter of her collar or harness, and the photographer graciously blocked off the studio door so that Rainy couldn’t escape once off her leash. Customers are encouraged to bring their own props to add personality (and comfort for babies/pets) and so I brought Rainy’s favorite toys, bedding, and treats. Naturally, I dressed Rainy up with her therapy cat bandana.

Then began the challenge of having Rainy pose for a photo. I used every trick I could think of. I directed her to “Sit!” and held up a treat. Rainy complied but only for a couple of seconds. Next, I tried directing her to “Stay!” Unfortunately, she’s yet to become proficient with this command. I also tried directing her to “Pose for the camera!” while holding up a treat. Again, Rainy complied but only for a few seconds. I started having flashbacks of my parents’ efforts to photograph my brother and sister when they were energetic toddlers. The photographer made clicking sounds, which caught Rainy’s attention for a few seconds. Andy also tried to help by directing Rainy’s attention towards the camera, and by repositioning Rainy when she moved. Fortunately, the times when Rainy posed for even just a few seconds were enough for the photographer to take some great shots.

We had selected two backdrops for the shoot. The first was a blue sky with clouds. After several shots with it, the photographer then switched to the second backdrop, which was plain white. We wanted Rainy to stand out in her photos.

The photographer also added some of her own props. She selected ones that fit Rainy’s name: yellow galoshes and a yellow umbrella. She also added a bouquet of yellow flowers. We tried to get Rainy to sit on a stool or to stand with her front paws on it, but Rainy wasn’t having anything to do with the stool. She did however pose with everything else. At times, she crouched or flopped, but several times she sat upright and a few times she looked upward. And so once again, the photographer was able to take some great shots.

Over all, we were pleased with the visit. Rainy acted friendly and curious in a new place. She also somewhat followed our commands. Near the end of May, we’ll have two 8×10 photos to frame, along with two sheets of wallet-size photos that I can hand-out to people whom Rainy and I visit.

If your cat enjoys people and is comfortable with unfamiliar places, please consider cat therapy. For more information, please email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom and/or join I-Cat.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

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This post is one in a series of three being reprinted for the Companion Animal Psychology Train for Rewards Blog 2018, which will officially run June 14-16. Although training methods are directly referred to here, training is an essential part of cats both receiving and keeping their certification.

“Rainy’s come to visit again!” I hear this excited cry as Rainy and I start our therapy cat rounds. Since I last posted about Rainy’s therapy cat adventures, Rainy and I have completed four more supervised rounds. Although Rainy continues to have her off moments she’s growing in her role as an ambassador of happiness.

At one senior residence, Rainy and I pick which seniors to see and how long to stay. We started with just one senior, now we we’re up to four. One lady is very familiar, as we’ve been seeing her regularly since January and we’ve swapped many stories. She grew up on a farm with cats, but then got dogs when she got married. On our most recent visit, I heard several personal and sad stories about her family but also the happy news that one of her daughters was moving back to town. Two other ladies are less familiar, as we’ve only been visiting them since March. The first time we dropped in on one lady, she smiled at Rainy but barely talked. The second time, I came prepared with more stories and questions, with the result that I received longer answers. As I left her room the last time we visited, I encountered a man who expressed delight upon seeing Rainy. I asked if he wanted us to come by his room, and he said yes. As we entered his room, he told me that he misses his cats and wishes that he could have one now. While he held and petted Rainy, we talked more about cats. He expressed sadness about the homeless cats, and shared memories of his own cats. I promised that we’d return. On our way out of the building, we met the activities director. She told me how popular Rainy is, and how she’s all anyone can talk about the day after we come.

At another senior residence, those interested in meeting Rainy sign up for a 15-minute time slot, and the visits take place in a common room. There are three regulars, along with a few who sign up occasionally, and always one or two new folks. A visit early in March went particularly well. One lady proudly shared that after seeing the tricks Rainy can do, she’d taught her cat to sit. She invited me to come to her room, so I could see for myself. Another lady said she almost didn’t come because of her migraine.” Rainy allowed the woman to hold her close during the entire visit and, by the end, the woman’s migraine was gone. Such is the therapeutic power of cats! A third lady had just celebrated her birthday and wanted hugs from Rainy. Finally, a gentleman who used to own cats before moving into the senior residence might now want to pay the hefty pet deposit so that he can have a cat again.

On my most recent visit to the senior residence with Rainy, we had more positive experiences. One lady shared that she really wanted to adopt a cat, but she couldn’t afford it, and so we talked about the alternative of fostering a cat. As Rainy and I stroll the hallway between visits, a gentleman passing by expressed admiration for a cat on a leash. I invited him to spend time with Rainy, which he did until the next scheduled visitor. Later, as I prepared to leave, I ran into a lady who wanted to share stories about her cat. As we talked, another lady stopped to see Rainy. She then expressed an interest in signing up for Rainy’s next visit. The first lady then extended an invitation for the second lady to meet her cat too. When I left, the two were making plans to get together!

In additional to our official cat therapy rounds at the senior residences, we sometimes get asked to visit people not on our list. For example, at one of the senior residences we were asked to see a patient who was about to check-out at the end of a week-long stay. The lady shared details of her cat and asked for stories about Rainy. Her senior cat’s name is Little Bit. She’s adopted her cats from The Cat House. After we swapped cat stories, she asked me about my interest in cat therapy and how we got started. When time came for me to leave, she thanked me for bringing Rainy and said: “You made my day.”

Rainy and I have now completed twelve supervised therapy rounds. I love that our cat therapy work is strengthening our bond. Just as much, I value the opportunity it gives us to show how amazing cats are and answer questions about cat care. Rainy does more than make people happy–she’s an ambassador for cats! Cat therapy is a win-win on all levels! Stay tuned for future updates, and email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom if cat therapy interests you.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

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Allisons' Book Bag Logo

2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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