Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Current (After 1999)’ Category

Ever wonder why cats have nine lives? Catatlantis by Anna Starobinets offers one explanation. Good and bad guys dot the landscape of this fun fantasy hailing from Russia. Friendship and romance also mark its chapters. Highly imaginative, Catatlantis is a madcap adventure that kept me enthralled from start to finish.

At first glance, our hero Baguette seems like just another ordinary housecat. He’s well-fed and loved by his human owners. His most outstanding concern is exactly how safe that window ledge on the twelfth floor is. Oh, and whether the slender and striped female neighborhood cat loves him. The family’s dog didn’t understand the allure. Nonetheless, out of respect for the friendship that existed between him and Baguette, the family’s dog agreed to act as a messenger between Baguette and his love. Soon he becomes witness to a marriage proposal, counteracted by a rival suitor, and a challenge. Baguette’s life quickly becomes anything but ordinary, when he travels back in time to find the flowers that once used to allow cats to live nine lives.

The good and bad guys aren’t necessarily whom you’d expect. Yes, the fate of Purriana’s great-great-grandmother lays in Baguette’s paws. But without the help of a spotted cat princess that he encounters in France during his time travels, Baguette might not have discovered the real reason no one can recall what the magical flowers from Catatlantis look like. Just as important to Baguette finding his way back home is a French baker. True, Baguette’s rival suitor is villainous enough to care more about the magical flowers than Purriana. But Baguette finds more than more one bad guy in his jaunts during time such as Trash Man, a sickly yellow-toothed man raised from the dump to defeat Baguette. Just as disturbing are the greedy and arrogant cats that Baguette encounters on the magic island of Catatlantis itself.

At times, Catatlantis is outlandish and even illogical. To travel back in time, Baguette simply stared at a clock and willed time to stop. If time travel were that simple, why hadn’t any other cat performed this trick? On the other hand, Baguette is a descendant of the magic Catlanteans who lived long ago in peace and happiness on the island of Catlantis.  Perhaps this ancestry endowed him with unusual capabilities. Over all, Catatlantis is delightfully weird. Case in point, Purriana’s great-great-grandmother life is not the only one at stake. Should she die in the middle of spring, the whole line of striped cats will die with her.

Author Anna Starobinets is a Russian novelist. Catatlantis is her first children’s book to be translated into English. Referred to as a European classic, Catatlantis should find a home here in America too in the hearts of all lovers of animal stories, folklore, and fantasy.

Stinkwaves Magazine is the brainchild of Tevin and Nicole Hanson.  Tevin is the author of numerous books and short stories. He enjoys skateboarding, reading half a dozen books simultaneously, and chasing his two small children around the house while singing horrendous versions of children’s songs. Nichole is a full-time mom of two children and an avid reader of young adult books. Thanks to Nicole for taking time for this interview, and for sending me a free sample copy of Stinkwaves Magazine.

ALLISON: Why did you start Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Handersen Publishing actually started as silly handmade books for friends and family featuring Tevin’s quirky story ideas and art. Then, after reading a few literary magazines, we thought, “Why not start a literary magazine for middle grade and young adult readers?” and Stinkwaves was born. All this time Tevin was trying to go the traditional route for publishing his middle grade books. We finally decided to give self-publishing a try. We started with Hole in the Wall, Mr. Boggarty, and An Evening of Temptation and The Ultimate Sacrifice. When it was time to take on new authors, we immediately started with past Stinkwaves Contributors and became a full-fledged publishing house!

We want Handersen Publishing to be a place where reluctant readers can find a book to connect with, and established readers can find something new to challenge themselves. Each project that we take on has some type of twist to the traditional books in that genre. Some of our books have been labeled bizarro fiction, and we kind of like that title.

ALLISON: How has this venture changed your life?

NICOLE: We are now running Handersen Publishing full time, which is both amazing and exhausting. It’s amazing to be able to work from home and be doing what you love, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Seriously, though, how can you complain when you make books for a living, and get to work with great kids making slime and thumb theatres?

ALLISON: Why both books and a magazine?

NICOLE: It just kind of worked out that way for us, and I’m glad it did. We have met some amazing talent through Stinkwaves. And each of our authors was originally published there.

ALLISON: What skills—business or otherwise–does each bring to Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Books are where we have found the most success. Unfortunately, Stinkwaves has had a hard time finding readers, it’s a great little magazine, and we’ve been lucky to get some great submissions, but we’re finding that a lot of readers aren’t super familiar with what a literary magazine is, especially when it is for a middle grade and young adult audience. Anytime we get it into kids’ hands, though, they really like it and seem to connect with the stories and poetry.

ALLISON: How involved is your family with Henderson Publishing? *Who is in your family?

NICOLE: We are definitely a family business. Our two kids Elinore (6) and Gordon (4) are the inspiration for most everything we do. They encourage us to stay young and think young. They are also great helpers when it comes to creating art or setting up for an event. Our daughter Elinore is also great to have in an audience. She has a fabulous laugh that inspires other kids to get involved with the show and have fun!

ALLISON: What other activities do you and your family enjoy besides Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Right now, it seems like our lives revolve around books, but it’s what we all love. Whether it’s finding the perfect book (or twenty) together at the library, snuggle time reading, or watching a movie that was based on a book, book time is the best time! We also have a lot of fun with art, jumping on the trampoline, or spending time together at the park.

ALLISON: Share one success story.

NICOLE: We recently booked our first paid gig for a reading event. We’ve done a lot of donated time events, but it was very exciting that an organization found value in what we do, and invited us to come and work with their kids. It was also a TON of fun!

ALLISON: Share a major challenge and how you overcame it.

NICOLE: The publishing industry, itself, is a major challenge. Navigating libraries, bookstores, online marketing, websites, social media . . . the list goes on and on. We overcome this one step at a time. We currently have four authors from the UK and Ireland, and it’s a challenge learning another regions rules and processes, but we are working on it, one step at a time.

ALLISON: What are your future dreams—for Handersen Publishing or personal?

NICOLE: We want Handersen to be successful so that we can share literacy and the importance of books and reading. There are a lot of communities that struggle to have the necessary resources to encourage kids to read. If we can succeed we will have more resources to share, whether it’s actual books or events that connect kids with books and authors.

ALLISON: Where can those who live in the area find you?

NICOLE: Our books are for sale online both through our website (free shipping) and on Amazon (they even qualify for FREE PRIME shipping). We are also season vendors at the Haymarket and the Fallbrook Farmers Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska, and you can find us at craft fairs and other events throughout the year. Also, Indigo Bridge (Lincoln, NE), Francie and Finch (Lincoln, NE), Chapters Books and Gifts (Seward, NE), and The Bookworm (Omaha, NE) all carry Handersen Publishing titles.

Isn’t Stinkwaves a deliciously fun name for a young people’s magazine? I hold in my hands an 80+ page literary magazine packed with stories, poems, and artwork by contributors of all ages. With its wide range of genres—from adventure and fantasy to scary and silly–the magazine will appeal to young people and adults.

The Spring Issue hosts an eclectic collection of writings. To start, there’s a how-to article on writing and an interview with an author. My favorite story is The Prize to be Won. Think the movie Mission Impossible and mice. That’s all I’m going to tell you! Other top contenders are: The Caterpillar mixes fantasy with reality as it tells the tale of a man whose life would be perfect except he must ride the bus, and then one day he meets a caterpillar who forever changes the course of his life; The Winter of the River is a love story about two young people who discover a new world at the end of the river, but that new world takes them on two different paths; and A Wish for Stolie weaves humor into a tale of a dump ranger who unleashes a genie from a bottle, only to potentially lose his chance a wish when his friend falls into a ravine.

The Spring Issue also boasts a colorful cover and multiple illustrations. The latter are all submitted and, as such, vary in their style and quality. A duck drawing looks computer generated, a robot forms a perfect stencil, a flower drawing resembles those found in adult coloring books, an alligator emerges from a watercolor background, and much of the remaining artwork is either line drawn or painted. The most adorable are the bear sketches accompanying a poem entitled “I’m my own best friend” and the most striking is that of an ink-drawn city landscape. If they don’t already have one, many of the contributors should have a promising art career.

My one concern about the magazine is its hefty price of $20 for two issues. My circle of writing friends immediately put that worry to rest. The ladies (who are also parents) enjoyed the magazine and reassured me that families who want quality reading for their teenagers will not be deterred by the price.

In today’s market, with many print publications folding, relatively young publishing companies need to stand out to compete. The content of Stinkwaves is quirkier than the norm, which should have high appeal to its adolescent audience. In addition, editors have selected submissions from authors of various experience levels and from all around the world, ensuring both a fun and quality read for readers of all ages. Bravo to Henderson Publishing!

Animal welfare takes a village. This is the message I took away from the ten nonfiction books I recently read. There were books about shelters, rescues, and fosters. Some titles kept me up at night; others required me to push myself more to finish. Yet all were informative, enlightening, and worth the read for anyone with a passion for animals.

The Animal Shelter by Patricia Curtis details the purpose and history of humane shelters. A shelter is a place where stray, lost, abandoned, or surrendered animals are housed in kennels and rehabilitated until they’re adopted or euthanized. Curtis illustrates this definition with a story of a dog bought by a couple for their children as a Christmas gift, and then later surrendered it when the routine of life resumed after Christmas vacation. Although not real, Curtis drew on a composite of millions of dogs living and dying in shelters to create her story. But shelters don’t just tackle animal homelessness. They also fight to end dog fighting, animal baiting, and medical testing on animals. In addition, they advocate for humane ways to capture and euthanize animals, the hiring of skilled professionals (animal control) to do this job, and humane education. Curtis dedicates a chapter to each of these topics, as well as two chapters to the history of animal shelters. Although her book is somewhat dated, having been published in 1984, it provided me with an appreciation for historically how instrumental shelters were in changing the landscape of animal welfare.

May their beautiful spirits and unending dedication continue to give a voice to the voiceless, inspire us to work as one, fill us with enormous hope, and remind us to always balance the dark with the light.–Finding Shelter by Jesse Freidin

Finding Shelter by Jesse Freidin is dedicated all the “animal shelter and rescue volunteers that we’ve lost over the years”.  The world of animal welfare is one filled with controversy, drama, and passion. As such, it’s one where those who dedicate their lives to saving animals sometimes burnout or even take their lives because the stress overwhelms them. Freiden created his portraits to erase the negative connotations associated with animal welfare workers and with homeless animals. Finding Shelter is divided into two sections, one which gives tribute to the volunteers “who spend every waking minute thinking about how they can keep just one more animal from being euthanized” and the other which gives tributes to the dogs that “wake up in the shelter every morning ready for their second chance”. If I were to change anything about Freidin’s book, I’d provide a broader coverage of shelters and animals; he featured only ten states and focused exclusively on dogs. I’d also provide more context to the selected portraits, which currently feels a little haphazard. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the diverse stories and admired the professional photos. After reading Finding Shelter, you’ll have nothing but high regard for shelters workers and animals.

Miracle Dog is a small book by Randy Grimm, the famed founder and president of Stray Rescue in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2003, headlines were made when the city pound opened the door to its gas chamber, and found a dog still alive inside. How it happened no one knows, but soon the story of “Quentin the Miracle Dog” was being told across the nation. Miracle Dog is an educational and engaging mix of personal narrative, documentary details, and animal welfare statistics. To illustrate, I’ll look at chapter three as a sample. Chapter three begins with a tongue-in-cheek description by Grim of the now famous Quentin stealing food from Grim’s refrigerator. The anecdote transitions to the pound, where the supervisor faced the daunting task of euthanizing the dogs in line for the gas chamber. After this narrative, there’s a news report about gas chambers. From here, Grimm switches back to the gas chamber, where Quentin is discovered still alive. The chapter ends with a press release, written by Grim. Anything by or about Grimm is usually inspirational. Miracle Dog is no exception.

To homeless animals everywhere, may they forgive us. And may we be worthy of that forgiveness by giving them the only fitting tribute: to stop the killing.–One at a Time by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer

Of the five books that I read about shelters, One at a Time by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer is one of my favorites, because of how thorough and touching it is. The stories presented are based on the experience of the authors during one week in a typical animal shelter in California. When the authors arrived at the shelter, kennels were almost full, with 238 animals being cared for. By the end of the week, another 125 had arrived. For the book, the authors choose a random selection of animals, and then took the time to get to know them. They learned the circumstances that had caused the animals to be at the shelter, and then followed their stories throughout the week without knowing what the end would be. I can’t imagine how tough this project must have been; the emotional rollercoaster of seeing lives saved and lost. The authors not only presented real stories, but also attempted to paint an accurate picture of the shelter demographics: the proportions of animals lost versus those surrendered was reflected in the numbers of stories shared, as was the number of young animals to senior animals, and even the number of happy to sad endings was reflected. In addition to this meticulous care, stories are organized by categories and each section has an introduction that provides context. The end pages list the 363 animals that passed through the shelter that week, includes a one-line description, and tells the fate of the animals.

My second favorite book about shelters is Rescuing Penny Jane by Amy Sutherland. Sutherland talks to shelter directors, researchers, trainers, adoption counselors, and caretakers across the United States to build her understanding of animal rescue.  Through Rescuing Penny Jane, I learned that today some shelters exist more as consultants than warehouses so that owners might stay united with their pets. Sutherland also elaborates on the numerous services which exist specifically to address financial needs and behavioral concerns that pet owners might face. As such, Rescuing Penny Jane serves as a solid companion to The Animal Shelter by Patricia Curtis. Sutherland also draws on her own experiences with rescue dogs to fill out her narrative. I appreciated how honest she is about her failings. She openly calls her first dog “canine training wheels” and refers to his fear linoleum and ceiling fans. I also enjoyed her ability to balance the serious with the humorous. Soon after Sutherland began volunteering at a local shelter, she found herself tackling the mammoth issue of how to find enough homes for all the dogs, but she also quickly realized that an equally important question was the issue of how to pull a halter onto a stir-crazy German Shepherd in the tight confines of a kennel. Rescuing Penny Jane is one of those books that was so good I couldn’t put it down, but for that reason I was also disappointed when it ended.

From the first day, the caregivers at Best Friends did not see a skinny stray better off dead; they saw one of God’s creatures, worthy of devotion, and they spent well over a decade helping him to become that better dog they saw all along…. In the end, he had ended his days surrounded by people who truly knew him and truly loved him. No one could ask for more.–Dog Town by Stefan Bechtel

Dog Town by Stefan Bechtel is about dogs who live at Best Friends Animal Society. The acclaimed no-kill sanctuary only accepts animals as a last-resort and so, as you can imagine, the dogs featured faced insurmountable obstacles. The very first chapter is proof. It tells about Georgia, one of the pit bulls rescued from a dogfighting operation run by football player Michael Vick. One thing I like about Dog Town, besides the high quality of writing, is that each story also seamlessly incorporates educational information. Case in point, in reading about Georgia, I also discovered why the Michael Vick dogs became among the first former fighting dogs to not simply be euthanized but instead to be given a chance at rehabilitation. Something else I like about Dog Town is that integral to each story is a detailed explanation of how a dog’s behavior was modified. In reading about Georgia, I learned how to teach an animal to not guard food; a strategy I’m trying with my one cat. A final thing I like about Dog Town is that scattered throughout the stories of rescued dogs are profiles of various staff at Best Friends Animal Society. Incidentally, if any of the stories seem familiar that might be because they were also aired on television by National Geographic.

Underdogs by Caryn Casey has been popular in my area because it featured stories from rescues in the Midwest. Her collection of true rescue tales is a mix of storytelling and education. Each section contains a few stories which illustrate a theme and then concludes with facts related to the theme. The themes revolve around reasons animals become homeless. Some are the reasons covered are not the fault of the owner such as disasters, thieves, or sickness. Other reasons do solely lie with people such as abandonment, greed, and neglect. The author’s writings have been published in various publications, but her book has been self-published, and could have used editing to improve the style. Nonetheless, this author who volunteers at a rescue in her hometown in California has written a well-researched and thoughtful book about animal welfare.

Enjoy the new member of your family and take good care of him, no matter how he happened to come into your life.–Rescue Me by Bardi McLenna

Rescue Me by Bardi McLennan is a straightforward guide to selecting, adopting, and caring for a rescue dog. The first third overviews the reasons why dogs end up homeless and the impact of this life on them. The second third provides extensive coverage of rescue groups. Many things are misunderstood or unknown about rescues. They’re often considered the same as no-kill shelters but instead are a small group of volunteers who find temporary homes for animals until they’re placed in permanent homes. A foster care provider is usually expected to attend adoption events until an adopter is found. Rescues often get their animals from owner surrenders, through partnerships with shelters, or might focus on a specific breed. Rescues also typically cover expenses for the animals in foster care. The final third of Rescue Me overviews how to prepare for and welcome a rescued dog. It briefly touches on problems that might be unique to rescues. A potential companion guide would be one that focuses specifically on the issues that foster care providers face in contrast to those who purchase a dog from a breeder.

Of the five books that I read about rescues (of which sanctuaries are a part), Best Friends: The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Sanctuary by Samantha Glen is my favorite, because of how exhaustive it is. Glen takes readers all the way to the 1980s to before Best Friends Animal Society existed, to when a handful of friends were rescuing animals the way many of us do by taking them home. Thankfully for animal welfare, when these friends dreamed, they liked to dream big. And I mean BIG. In 1982, Francis Battista made a call to his friends telling them that he had found an oasis in the desert that would be perfect for an animal sanctuary. And from then to today, it was five steps forward and at times ten steps back. The group faced opposition from residents, bankruptcy, and the death of their first veterinarian. At a pivotal moment, they also had to decide whether to stay small or to reach out to animal welfare groups across the country. Doing so was far from easy, because many volunteers were introverted animal lovers who valued their solitude, but found themselves having to embrace the commercial aspects of being a business. They didn’t always embrace the changes with grace, but they always managed to find a way to put first the needs of the sanctuary and the animals within it. Best Friends is an inspiring tale of passion put into action!

To some people, homeless cats and dogs have no value. But to those who are not quite so blind, they are not only precious lives but also very special beings, blessed with the ability to touch our imagination and lead us into a world of true magic and wonder.–The Cats of Kittyville by Bob Somerville

The Cats of Kittyville by Bob Somerville is about cats who live at Best Friends Animal Society. This coffee table style book is partly a history of Kittyville and partly a tribute to its inhabitants. When the no-kill sanctuary first began, most of the cats lived in a bunkhouse that also served as an office, clinic, and general meeting room. As Best Friends grew, the structures became more professional and plentiful as the number of cats increased. The additional houses included Happy Landings for new arrivals, the Wildcats Village for cats from feral colonies, Kitty Motel for older cats, and Tender Loving Care for special needs cats. In giving tribute to the resident cats, Somerville includes a summary of how they came to Best Friends, their specific needs, how those needs were met, and whether they still live at Best Friends or have been adopted. If I were to change anything in Somerville’s book, it would be to double the size of this 78-page book to include even more stories!

Gabby Duran is a name you’ll remember. She’s the world-renowned babysitter in a hilarious science fiction series by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners for middle schoolers. What makes Gabby so famous? The fact that she’s sought by leaders and celebrities all over the world for the most impossible babysitting jobs. What classifies the books as science fiction? The fact that the Association Linking Intergalactics and Earthlings as Neighbors hires Gabby as babysitter of aliens. To date, the series has three titles. All are fast-paced, action-packed, and will have high appeal to reluctant and avid reader alike.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables introduces Gabby’s family, friends, and enemies. Her mom is single and believes her husband lost in a war. Gabby has a younger sister who, although she lacks social skills and interprets every speech as literal, is super smart and handles all the family’s finances and schedules. Best friend Zee is a mad scientist stuck in an adolescent body who would like nothing more than to analyze the aliens that Gabby meets. In contrast her musician friend Satchel remains blissfully ignorant even when Gabby’s life is in danger. At the same time, Gabby’s sworn enemy is zealously determined to get to the bottom of Gabby’s secrets and to outplay Gabby in the school band. This initial title also introduces Edwina, Gabby’s contact with alien parents. Edwina is uptight, primly-dressed, and no-nonsense. She’s also totally confident of Gabby’s abilities and deeply concerned about the safety of her alien charges. These charges come with some tall orders. For example, Gabby’s first job is to care for a girl who is no larger than a garden gnome and who can transform herself into anything she wishes. Oh, and she’s also in line for the throne for one of the plants, and so key to intergalactic peace.

The subsequent two titles introduce equally unusual babysitting charges. In Gabby Duran and Troll Control, Gabby encounters the first family to truly dislike her. The mother wrinkles her nose upon meeting Gabby, describes her as “uneasy on the eyes,” and throws around the word unpleasant. The father attempts to act polite, but can’t resist a sneer or cleansing his hands with sanitizer after Gabby and he shake. And who is Gabby’s charge? A frizzy-haired, mole-covered troll with a habit of stealing and showing off. Gabby also encounters the first true setback of her new job. Prior to now, she’s successfully remained secretive about her job and handled babysitting at odd hours. With this newest charge, she inadvertently allows him to get kidnapped. In Gabby Duran and Multiple Mayhem, Gabby has not only redeemed herself in the eyes of Edwina, but received the dubious honor of babysitting One. It’s her first experience with a real baby; all her other charges have been toddlers or preschoolers. Gabby soon discovers that One isn’t all he seems to be. In one short evening, One has replicated into not just two, three, four babies but thirteen! Despite it being against agency orders, out of desperation, Gabby calls her friends to help. To make matters worse, a classmate discovers Gabby’s secret and her mother might be dating a bad guy.

Is there anything I don’t like? Okay, the characters are mostly one-dimensional. But that’s often the case with light-hearted books. Besides, over time, idiosyncrasies are revealed such as the fact Gabby blushes, sweats, and speaks in a high-pitched voice when telling a lie. True, the plots are simplistic. But again, that’s often the case with easy-to-read series. And, eventually, subplots are developed such as the mystery of what happened to Gabby’s dad. The most serious criticism I have is that the overblown “good versus bad guy action” is so outrageous that I gave up trying to understand it.

Over all the series has a lot of creativity and heart. It reminds me of the Scary School series by Derek the Ghost. Those titles entertained me for a few hours and turned one of my reluctant readers into a fan of books. I’m enthused to own the first three titles of Gabby Duran and equally eager for the next book to be published.

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals


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