Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Freddy the Frogcaster is back, this time to tell readers about flash floods. In Janice Dean’s newest title, Freddy makes a mistake in his forecast but then later makes up for it by warning residents of an impending flash flood. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is another informative and entertaining picture book in Dean’s weather series.

Freddy has finally officially become a weekend weather reporter. This pleases him to no end, because he loves thinking, talking, and learning about all kinds of weather. He takes great pride in knowing that the town of Lilypad listens to and trusts his broadcast. Imagine then his dismay when Freddy realizes that the rain had moved north of his town, making his forecast incorrect. Even worse, the townspeople are upset, because they canceled evening events in lieu of the storm. Some of them go so far as to nickname Freddy “False Alarm Freddy”. Readers will relate to how terrible Freddy feels, while also learning through him that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that one should still pursue their dreams.

Despite being upset, Freddy returns to his job where he sees that another storm is on the horizon. Freddy once again issues flood watch warnings, and this time his prediction comes to pass. Floodwaters gush over streams and river banks, causing trees to fall and cars to be swept away. Some families have to be rescued.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to word constraints, Dean rushes through this part of the story. Readers will learn little else about flash floods in the main narrative, but instead will need to turn to the back pages for this information. While I found this section fascinating, especially the trivia about flash floods being the number one weather-related killer in the United States and the summaries of noteworthy historical floods, I would have preferred more of this data to be integrated into Freddy’s story.

Nonetheless, Dean has written yet another engaging story, one that makes weather attractive. The illustrations by Russ Cox remain colorful and reflective of the events in the narrative. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is a good first introduction to the series or a welcome addition for avid fans.

Talon Come Fly With Me by Gigi Sedlmayer is a quiet adventure about a young girl with special needs who befriends two mated condors. While the story suffers from a weak plot and simple writing, it’s also a heartwarming and informative one.

Nine-year-old Matica has a growth handicap that traps her inside a body the size of a two-year-old. It also causes her to be rejected by the residents in the remote village of Peru where she lives with her brother and Australian missionaries. Size however does not impact how she’s viewed by a local mating pair of condors. After a year of her watching them, Matica attempts to meet them face to face. She does this by visiting them in the same place day after day, until one of them becomes curious and flies near her. After this, she brings them dead lizards to eat. As a way of the male bird saying thank you, he flies up to her and allows himself to be touched.

Seldmayer could have easily filled a book with just the above drama, but instead strips her narrative to a few bare-boned chapters. She does the same disservice to Matica’s encounters with poachers, largely because Sedlmayer fails to integrate any tension, conflict, or surprise twists. Instead she relies heavily on a passive narrative laden with dialog. While this simplistic style might make the story more palpable for reluctant readers, it unfortunately left me at times bored.

After Matica has the opportunity to touch a male condor, her relationship expands to include his mate. When poachers attempt to steal a condor egg, the condor couple turn to Matica for help. She carries the egg home with her, where she keeps it warm. Every day the condors check with her to see if their baby has hatched. When the baby is finally born, Matica feeds it, cleans it, and even helps it to learn to fly. The second half of Talon Come Fly With Me is dedicated to Matica’s relationship with the baby condor, and here’s where Seldmayer’s admiration for these unique birds shines through.

Although Matica is a sympathetic character, a story from the viewpoint of the condors alone may have resulted in a stronger emotional connection for me. The condor family are the stars, and through Seldmayer’s detailed portrayal of them, I learned about their idiosyncrasies and their diminishing numbers. Talon Come Fly With Me is a pleasant way to launch one’s reading of nature books, after which one should turn to literary giants of the genre such as Jean Craighead George.

Happiness is the theme of Isoscles’ Day by Kevin Meehan and The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened by Darryl Diptee. In the first, a dog named Isoscles finds happiness when rescued from neglect and abuse. In the second, a caterpillar named Sumi finds happiness not in the world around her but within herself.

My favorite part of Isoscles’ Day is the inspiration behind the picture book. Isoscles and his sister lived the first few years of their life not being allowed inside and being isolated from people. When his owners abandoned the dogs, Isoscles was separated from his sister but adopted by the author. For the first time in his life, Isoscles was introduced to a warm house and loving people. My second favorite part are the illustrations. Many are so realistic that they look photographs, while others are so whimsical that they made me laugh. I enjoyed seeing Isoscles happy. My final favorite part is the theme. Isoscles’ Day is about one special day in his new life. We see the food, toys, and friends that Isoscles likes. Adults could easily use this picture book as a model to show young readers how to create a book about a day in the life of their pet.

Unfortunately, Isoscles’ Day disappointed me in a couple of significant ways. The first way is that the plot tells me nothing about the background of Isoscles except in the end pages. Rip out those end pages and all that’s left is a somewhat bizarre story of a dog told by a random parade of animals. Did the author think that the real story was too serious for children to understand? The other way Isoscles’ Day frustrated me is that the author tries so hard to be funny that at times the story is cartoonish. For example, at one point a frog says, “You are too big to walk on this thread. Would you like to wear my thimble instead?” Again, I have to wonder why the author chose to tell a sweet story in such a fantastical way.

There is much I appreciated about The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened. For starters, there is a traditional plot with problems and solutions. Sumi starts out her life by eating leaves like all the other baby caterpillars, but soon finds herself wondering if there’s more to life than just food. She finds a tree and decides to explore it, despite her peers who warn her that the last caterpillar to climb the tree was never seen again. Another aspect of The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened that impressed is how the author simplifies a complex idea and simplifies it for younger readers. Most everyone has at some point in their life found themself dissatisfied with life, despite how rich their life might be with people and possessions. In this picture book, Sumi climbs to the top of the tree and for a while is happy, but then once again finds herself dissatisfied because she’s looking for externals to make her happy.

The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened is about the deeper forms of happiness. For Sumi, peace is found by taking deep breaths and clearing her mind, which allows her to feel interconnected to everyone and everything in the world. I’m also not sure what the point of having Sumi turn into a butterfly is, unless to show that people who are content are transformed. Even if I don’t completely agree with the way Sumi found happiness, the author does share an important message in an entertaining format.

Nature and animals are themes that run through the following three books. The latter two also contain a message about finding oneself in the world.

Sunny Day Point and Match by Rosie Wingert is a colorful and sturdy board book that gives parents a fun activity to do with their toddlers. Together families can talk about objects, sounds, seasons, and more. Items to find on the page are illustrated at the top. Inside the cover are a list of other ideas for how parents can use the book, including matching shapes, finding favorite colors, counting related objects, and making sounds from nature. One parent told me that Sunny Day helped their son learn memory and matching skills by age one!

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae is a fun story with an inspiring message. Gerald was a tall giraffe whose knees were crooked and whose legs were thin. Unfortunately, while he was good at standing tall and munching shoots off trees, he wasn’t so good at dancing. This was a big problem for the giraffe at the annual dance. The solution is contrived, but readers will find hope in Andreae’s message about self-esteem. In addition, the bold artwork exudes a party vibe and the rhyming text has a lively style that will young readers will enjoy.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate should be on every animal lover’s list of must-read books. The plot drew me into another world, that of a gorilla who lives in a glass-enclosed display in a mall. Ivan fills his days drawing bananas, watching television, and talking with friends. I loved how Applegate integrated the theme of friendship and of hope. Ivan seems content until a kidnapped baby elephant joins the mall menagerie and his friend Stella becomes sick. Slowly he’s forced to remember his past, and to fight for a better life for himself and his friends. Finally, the short paragraph’s written from Ivan’s perspective are mesmerizing. I quickly found myself loving this easygoing gorilla, who has unique ways of expressing himself.

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

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.

 


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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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