Allison's Book Bag

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Celebrate Love Your Pet Day on February 20 with Ralphie Always Loved by Andrea Yerramilli. This colorful and upbeat picture book will win the hearts of everyone who loves dogs, enjoys dog rescue stories, and is a child at heart. My Advanced Reader Copy even came with a bookmark and a bandana. The story was inspired by the author’s real dog.

Yerramilli adds a whimsical touch to what could otherwise have been an overly sentimental story. The story has a fun start, with Ralphie being in heaven, where the angels in heaven are busily painting puffy white clouds on a clear blue sky. He wants to help and so dips first his tail, then his paws, and even his tail into the paint. The result is a mess, but God just laughs and grants him the wish of visiting earth. Yerramilli recognizes the reality of dog relinquishment. Three owners in a row gave him up to a shelter. Rather than dwell on the negative, Yerramilli chooses to focus on the positive. Ralphie was still young when he found his forever home, one where he grows old and knows that he’ll always be loved.

Through the power of words and fiction, Yerramilli models what a lifetime commitment to a pet should look like. After three strike-outs, Ralphie was adopted by a couple who want him as a companion for them and their older dog. The couple doesn’t care that Ralphie has a lot to learn, but rather teach him good manners. Nor do the couple give him up after having a baby, but instead they gave Ralphie time to find new ways to love. Whatever changes came into their life, even that of their first dog dying of old age, the couple ensure Ralphie remains part of their family.

The illustrations are done by Samantha Van Riet and are just as heart-warming as the story. She lavishes each page with warm and bright colors. One of my favorites is a yellow-framed portrait of Ralphie. God has just dipped his finger into paint and drawn a heart on Ralphie. The watercolor backdrop is a lovely blend of purple, blue, and yellow. Another favorite of mine depicts gray-haired Ralphie with a bone. Next to him are a montage of fond memories of times with family.

The real Ralphie was diagnosed with cancer at age 16 and recently crossed Rainbow Bridge. Read more about his true adventures at 16 year old Ralphie Loves Every Human and Animal He Meets.


Now an annual tradition here at Allison’s Book Bag, what follows is my tribute to those authors for young people whose died this last year. I’m not familiar with the writings of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, but grew up reading Michael Bond and Paula Fox. I have the complete Paddington Bear series, and even a Paddington Bear doll.

After the photo collage, you’ll find a list of the featured authors. If the author had a website, I added the link to the author’s name. Besides the name is a description of the works that made the author famous. On the next line, I added a photo credit. If I’ve reviewed any books by the author, I added a note in the third paragraph, along with any relevant links.


Michael Bond is the English children’s author who created the beloved Paddington Bear. While working as a television cameraman for the BBC, he first came up with the idea for Paddington. He bought a small toy bear on Christmas Eve 1956 as a present for my wife Brenda and named it Paddington because they were living near Paddington Station at the time. He wrote some stories about the bear, more for fun than with the idea of having them published, and within days he had completed a book. In addition to the Paddington bear series, he wrote a television series The Herbs, books about a guinea pig called Olga da Polga and adult novels about a French detective turned food guide inspector. In total Michael Bond wrote almost 150 books, including his autobiography ‘Bears and Forebears’ that now is a collector’s item.
Photo Credit:, Micheal Bond the Creator of Paddington.
You can read my review of one of his books here: Paddington Here and Now

Paula Fox is best known for her children’s book “The Slave Dancer” which won the 1974 Newbery Medal. Based on historical accounts, it tells the tale of a white 13-year-old boy who witnessed first-hand the African slave trade. He is put on board a slave ship to play his pipe for slaves forced to “dance” as exercise. A Place Apart won a US National Book award and One-Eyed Cat was a Newbery Honor winner. Fox was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international award for children’s literature, in 1978.
Photo Credit: GoodReads Paula Fox

Norah McClintock was a bestselling Canadian writer of young adult fiction. Her first book, Shakespeare and Legs, was published in 1987 and she continued to write prolifically until she became a full-time writer in 2000. Though that first book was a teen romance, McClintock became most famous for her crime fiction. She wrote more than 60 books for young readers, including the popular Robyn Hunter mysteries, Chloe & Levesque mysteries and the Mike & Riel mysteries. McClintock was the only female writer to contribute to Orca’s popular Seven Series and Seven Sequels. She won five Arthur Ellis Awards for crime fiction for young people.
Photo Credit: GoodReads Paula Fox

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a prolific children’s book author, as best known for her many children’s books, including “Duck! Rabbit!” “I Wish You More,” and “Uni the Unicorn,” among others. Amy’s Poehler’s Smart Girls features Rosenthal.
Photo Credit: Twitter

The above list is based on searching many web pages for reports about those young people’s authors we lost in 2017. If you know of others I missed, please add them in the comments. Thank you!

  1. Favorite book of the year? Best Friends: The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Sanctuary
    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…. Best Friends is an inspiring tale of passion put into action!
  2. Picture book I most liked? Hannah is My Name / My Name is Yoon
    Hannah is My Name by Belle Yang is about a Chinese family who emigrate to the United States and try to assimilate while waiting for the arrival of their green cards. The family wants to become Americans more than anything in the world. Why? Because in America one is free. Yet becoming American isn’t easy if one is born elsewhere.
    In My Name is Yoon, a Korean girl starts school for the first time in America. To prepare Yoon, her father teaches her how to write her name in English. But Yoon prefers how her name is written in Korean. Her name looks happy in Korean. The letters seem to dance. She doesn’t want to learn the new way. She wants to go back to Korea. My Name is Yoon tells how a young girl finds her place in a new country in her own time and on her own terms. I laughed and smile … but also understood Yoon’s sadness and frustration, which eventually turns into joy and acceptance. The author, Helen Recorvits, grew up in America. Her grandparents were immigrants from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine.
  3. Intermediate book I most liked? The Cat Who Came in from the Roof
    Tibbles is so timid that he spends his time reporting about cats and nature, instead of about people. He’s at risk of losing his reporter job, when he meets a lady who can talk to cats because was once had been one. She tells him all the gossip around town, including some secret news, and he writes it all up for the paper. Suddenly he is a star. And she has a home. Except nothing can ever stay perfect. There is a bad guy, a quirky neighbor, a pregnant cat, and…. Next thing you know Tibbles has not only lost his job but also been evicted. Author Annie Schmidt is considered the Queen of Dutch Literature. She’s won several awards, including the Hans Christian Anderson, and is included in the canon of Dutch history taught to all school children.
  4. Middle School book I most liked? Clementine
    Readers of the classic Ramona books need look no further than Clementine by Sara Pennypacker for another lovably-rambunctious character. Clementine’s week hasn’t been going so well. She’s been sent to the principal’s office for cutting off her friend’s hair. Margaret’s mom has refused to allow the two girls to be alone together. The disastrous week is made worse partly because of the effort Clementine puts into making everything right again, including trying to glue Margaret’s hair back on and offering to sacrifice her own hair. Like Ramona, nothing Clementine does comes from a mean heart, but rather from a creative mind. Clementine is quirky, hilarious, and unforgettable.
  5. Young adult book I most liked? Extraordinary
    Extra Ordinary is a delightful debut novel about friendship. The main character of Pansy, who is quiet and fearful but also exuberant and determined, won my affection. I also admire the author, Miriam Spitzer Franklin, for creating a sweet but realistic story about disabilities. Just as what lies at the end of Pansy’s year isn’t exactly what she had expected, so I too was surprised at plot twists in Extra Ordinary, and both are good things.
  6. Adult book I most liked? The Cat Who / Therein Lies a Tail
    In The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, the 24th book, the residents of the small town of Pickax located in Moose County “400 miles north of everywhere” have two concerns. The first concern is how late the arrival of the Big One is; residents are becoming increasingly anxious about wildfires, which the first snow storm of the season would help obliterate. The second concern naturally involves murder. I enjoyed Braun’s fast-paced style, her focus on one main character through whom I meet residents and hear community gossip, her creation of a town which bubbles with personality and of course the cats. Although the cats are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. They air their opinions of James’ redecorating efforts, predict changes in weather and newsworthy occurrences and, just as important, provide clues to James as to the murderer’s identity.
    The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location.
  7. Advanced Reader Copy I most liked? Gabby Duran
    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.
  8. Nonfiction book I most liked? Rescuing Penny Jane
    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 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 Janeis 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.
  9. Educational book I most liked? Gifts of Imperfection
    The Gifts of Imperfection is a guide to a wholehearted life. The first five chapters provide the research and philosophy behind the book, while the remaining ten chapters provide ten guideposts to the wholehearted life. What’s a wholehearted life? It’s about being real in the very truest sense, the way that the Velveteen Rabbit was. It’s about putting oneself out there, being vulnerable and honest, while also finding belonging and love.
  10. Animal book I most liked? One at a Time
    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.
  11. Special interest book I most liked? 50 Women Every Christian Should Know
    Everyone wants and needs role models. One handy reference guide is 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha. Published in 2014, the selections begin with the early 1100’s and end with the mid-1900s, and they include figures lesser known to me such as Dorothy Day along with those more familiar to me such as Madeleine L’Engle. What I most appreciated is that DeRusha dedicates an average of six to eight pages to each heroine. This allows her to weave a story, while at the same time provide enough detail to encourage further reading, which one can do by looking up her sources that our listed in the back pages.
  12. Book I can’t believe I waited to read? Catification
    What do you get when a cat behaviorist and a cat-friendly environment designer team up to write a book? You get a colorful and informative guide to designing a happy and stylish home for your cat. Catification is written by Jackson Galaxy, the host of My Cat from Hell, and Kate Benjamin, the founder of the cat design website Hauspanther. Together they walk readers through a step-by-step process of designing an attractive home that is also an optimal environment for cats.
  13. Best book I reread? Hiding Place / Gates of Splendor
    Though Gates of Splendor recounts the story of five young missionaries who were killed while trying to establish communication with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. The story is written by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliott, one of the young men who was killed.
    The Hiding Place is the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom who lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi invasion in World War II. She and her family were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews. One can only hope to show similar courage, if in the same situation.

This past year has been full of life changes: a new job, a new house, my citizenship, and a visit from my family for the first time since my wedding. As such, last January when I discovered Brene Brown feels like such a long time ago. As does last April when I read immigration books in light of political unrest and last June when I read animal welfare books as part of a plea for unity among those in the field. By the time that December came around, I needed some light-reading, which I found in animal cozy mysteries. How did your year go? What books were your favorite reads from 2017?

On Friday, I’ll return a tribute to young adult authors whom we lost in 2017. And then? I plan to try something new at Allison’s Book Bag. At the end of each month I’ll report on my reading activities and pick my favorite books to review in the following month. As I’ve been doing for the past few years, I’ll also share highlights of my writing publications and other activities. Join me for another year of reading and blogging fun!

Clicker training has been around for over half century. B.F. Skinner discovered its underlying principles in the 1940’s and used a clicker publicly as a marker with a dog in the 1950’s. Within ten years, dolphin trainers began to use whistles for the same purpose, that of cuing animals with sound to perform desired behaviors. In the 1970s, clicker training gained popularity with pet owners, when animal trainers Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes started giving clicker training seminars to dog owners. After that, in 1998, Alexandra Kurland published Clicker Training for Your Horse. This text led to the publication of training books for other companion animals including cats. What follows are the highlights of my attempts to teach our three cats clicker training, a feat that has perhaps educated me as much or more than it has them.

Day 1: I picked targeting for my first training technique. Targeting is considered a versatile training aid in which animals practice touching a target for a click and a treat. In addition, targeting is also considered the easiest behavior for novice clicker trainers to learn. For these reasons, targeting seemed the ideal place to start. To teach targeting, I used a target stick and canned chicken. Then I followed these steps:

  • Show the cats the target stick.
  • Click and treat the instant my cats looked at the target stick.
  • Show the cats the target stick.
  • Click and treat the instant my cats touched the target stick.

Two of our cats immediately figured out that looking at and later touching the target stick earned them treats. Our third cat wanted nothing to do with the target; instead she tried to figure out where I had placed the treats, so that she could go straight for the prize.

As for me, I struggled with two challenges. First, trying to retrieve meat with the same hand that I held the clicker slowed my response time. Second, I found it cumbersome trying to avoid dripping chicken juices onto our carpet.

Day 2: Undaunted, I refined my training technique. Instead of using canned meat, I switched to deli meat that I could more easily grab. I also began using my left hand instead of my right to retrieve the meat. Both changes speeded up my delivery of incentives. But now I had a new challenge. Apparently, I’d trained two of my cats so well that they expected treats from my right hand, and they refused to believe that I might use my left hand.

Day 5: After a few days of lackluster clicker training, I decided to consult my husband, who has trained our dog for almost ten years in agility. He asked three questions, all of which caused me to think.

  • What command do you want to use?
  • How do you want the cats to touch the target?
  • What is your end goal?

We decided that I could stick with the command “Touch,” the cats should touch the target with their nose (not their head, cheek, or tail), and the first goal was for them to sit in an assigned spot. If I could achieve this goal, the cats would be less underfoot during meal preparation. Eventually, I could also modify this goal, so that the cats would retreat to their crate. After this goal is achieved, the next will be to send them to a crate in the case of an emergency. Clicker training could someday save their lives!

After our discussion, Andy took on the role of handing out treats. In doing so, we figured out yet another way to refine my training technique. Instead of handing the meat to the cats to reward them, he placed the meat on the target. Now the cats would not just connect the clicker with a treat, but they’d also connect the target with a treat. The cats showed their appreciation with a flawless performance!

Week 2: I moved on to the next step in targeting: changing the position of the target after each success. Each time my cats touched the stick, I clicked and treated. Initially, the higher or lower I moved the target, the more confused were the cats. Rainy even at one point rolled on the ground, as if looking cute would earn her a treat. With practice, I found it helped if I made sure that the cats were watching the stick as I moved it. Interestingly, two of them had no trouble following the stick when I moved it to the left or the right. Our third cat, however, made it clear that she wasn’t going to move far for a reward.

For the rest of week two, I continued to change the position of the target after each success. The cats showed more and more focus, until near the end of the week when I moved our training session to a different time. Normally, we head to the basement right after lunch, but that day I had other commitments, and it was nearly suppertime before we started our session. Big mistake! Cinder’s tail twitched and she persistently meowed, while Rainy rubbed her head against me and purred. Neither of them could concentrate. Not even the juiciest meat could tantalize them. Their minds were firmly fixated on supper! Only Bootsie complied.

Week 3: I moved closer to my end goal, using the target stick to direct the cats to an assigned spot. As with previous attempts, the first attempts had a low success rate. Cinder twirled multiple times before she’d follow the target stick, while Rainy wandered this way and that before she’d follow the target stick. As we continued to practice, they began to dawdle less and moved to their assigned spot more quickly.

In contrast, Bootsie became more reluctant. I was puzzled by her behavior. When I held the target stick in front of her, she’d gladly touch it with her nose and accept her reward. But when I moved the target stick to the left or right, which would require her to move to touch it, she stared at me as if that action would take too much effort. One reason for this might be that I can only reward her with prescription food, due to her food intolerance, and so she may not as highly motivated as the other two cats. On the other hand, if I forget to take the food with me when I leave the room I always find it gone upon my return, so obviously she likes it. Another factor could be her feral background. While she has adjusted to domestic life is many regards, she remains wary of new situations. Maybe the farther away I move the target, the more suspicious she is of trickery.

One of the leaders in clicker training, Karen Pryor, has described clicker training as “a clear form of communication that combined with positive reinforcement is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.” After three weeks of clicker training, I’ve decided to take each cat at their own speed. With Cinder and Rainy, I’m mixing up their training by using the target stick to lure them through obstacles on an agility course, which is not only teaching them obedience but is also rewarding them with fun. As for Bootsie, I’m simply trying to get her to take one or two or three more steps to the left or right each day, with the realization that in doing so I’m building trust. And, ultimately, trust is the foundation for any training routine.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

The second half of December I treated myself to three dog cozy mysteries. All three are titles my husband bought for me at a library book sale. The first is by an author (David Rosenfelt) whom I know about through the animal rescue world, while the others are by authors with four or five-star ratings at Cozy Mystery List.

My interest in the Andy Carpenter mysteries by David Rosenfelt comes from my having read his funny account of the start of a dog rescue foundation. The series contains sixteen titles to date and features a reluctant attorney who is most likely to be persuaded to take a case when a dog is somehow involved. In Dog Tags, the eighth book in the series, a German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder. If his owner, an Iraq war vet and cop-turned thief, is convicted of the crime, the dog could be euthanized. Dog Tags didn’t fit my perception of a cozy mystery, which supposedly don’t focus on violence and contains bloodless murders that take place off stage. Instead Dog Tags revolves around a murder case with roots in Iraq, payoffs, hit men, and even a possible national security threat. Indeed, some reviewers have noted that Dog Tales is darker than earlier Andy Carpenter titles. What helps lighten the intensity of the plot is Andy’s sarcastic style, adamant opposition to danger, and obvious love of his wife and dog. I also enjoyed the quirky characters including Pete who is always calling in a favor, Marcus who eats as if there were no tomorrow, and Hike who puts pessimists to shame. Dogs are front and center, with one being on trial and the other being Carpenter’s own pet. Dog training and the building of trust are also integrated into the mystery.

The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location. More than any other animal book, thanks to his unique style, Quinn had me wondering what goes on in the mind of my dog or for that matter any dog. As a canine partner, he likes to puzzle out what scents mean for the case. He’ll also wag his tail, growl, and bark to turn Bernie onto clues. And he enjoys helping Bernie tackle criminals. At the same time, he’ll also interpret phrases so literally that conversation can be quickly lost on him. He’ll also scavenge places for food and will rarely turn down food—no matter what it’s source. Bernie is an equally multi-layered character. He makes bad financial investments, and proves a tough guy with criminals, but also has a soft heart for his dog and the woman he loves. Thereby Hangs a Tail takes place in remote areas in Arizona, well-suiting it to the cozy mystery genre.

The Rachel Alexander and Dash mysteries by Carol Lea Benjamin is my only selection by a female author. The series contains nine titles to date and features a female detective and her pit bull. In The Wrong Dog, the fifth book in the series, Sophie Gordon hires Rachel because her cloned dog does not possess the skills of a service dog as was promised to her. While Rachel is searching for the Side-by-Side agency that led Sophie astray, she’s thrown into a deeper mystery when Sophie is killed. I found the first two chapters, wherein Sophie recounts her story to Rachel, somewhat confusing and dull. After that, the narrative improves. I enjoyed how the plot unfolded, with Rachel finding herself in more and more danger as she digs deeper into Sophie’s murder. I also appreciated Rachel’s attempts to find Sophie’s two service dogs a home. Although the dogs (and an iguana!) are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. The dogs like playing in the dog park and accompanying Rachel on her sleuthing expeditions.

Now that I have read six animal cozy mysteries, I’m curious about trends. Are dog mysteries normally darker, written by men, and starring male leads? Are cat mysteries normally lighter, written by ladies, and starring female leads? I’d also welcome reader recommendations! For those of you who are fans of animal mystery cozies, who are your favorite authors and why?

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Happy New Year!

Allison’s Book Bag is currently on hiatus. I will return after a much-needed rest with reviews of Advanced Reader Copies including: 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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