Review: Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami

 

Title: Stargazing Dog

Author: Takashi Murakami

Publisher: NBM Publishing

ISBN: 978-1561636129

 

May Contain Spoil

From Amazon:

Translated from the Japanese bestseller, this story centers on Oto-san, a man who finds himself abandoned by his family and friends with nothing in his life happening the way he had planned. He embarks on a road trip to escape it all, and he soon discovers the only one he can count on completely is his faithful, recently adopted dog, who helps him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Illustrating the valuable lessons of friendship and loyalty, this is a heartwarming tale of two endearing characters and their shared adventure into the unknown.

Review:

I don’t know what exactly I expected from Stargazing Dog, but a sad story of wasted opportunities wasn’t anywhere on the list.  From the cover, I expected a carefree tale about a man and his dog.  It’s not.  It’s a story about a man without goals or the ability to change, and the love he has for his dog, the one constant in his life.  Happie provides most of the narrative, and as someone who loves dogs and can’t imagine life without my Buu, the deceptively simple language packs a powerful punch.  It actually felt like someone stabbed me in the heart a few times as I become totally engrossed in Happie’s life with Daddy.

Told in two parts, the first half of the book follows Daddy and Happie from a comfortable life in the suburbs, to divorce, to homelessness.  Through it all, Happie stays faithfully by Daddy’s side.  His whole life revolves around Daddy, and he is over the moon as long as he gets his daily walk and is allowed to spend time with the center of his universe.  When Happie first enters Daddy’s life as a puppy, the man tolerates the dog and allows his daughter to keep her new pet.  As the years slowly pass, the only anchor in Happie’s life is Daddy, and Daddy slowly grows fond of the dog.  Unconditional love is hard to resist, and Daddy soon succumbs to Happie’s worship.  As his fortunes decline, Daddy’s world begins to revolve around Happie, and soon, the two only have each other.  Everything else is gone; sold, stolen, discarded.  Just their mutual affection remains, even as life-threatening illnesses and a life on the road take their toll on both of them.

The second half of the book follows Okutsu, a social worker who is trying to uncover the mystery left by Daddy and Happie.  Okutsu is a lot like Daddy, except that he lacks one thing that the homeless man still possessed; the blind love and trust of a dog.  As Okutsu follows leads to close his case, he is forced to reflect back on his treatment of his dog when he was a child.  He wasn’t always nice to the dog, and even when he was at his meanest, the dog still accepted him with unwavering devotion.  Unconditional love isn’t always as easy to return as one would think, and when Okutsu was a boy, he resented his dog for always loving him, no matter how cruel he could be. 

This book resonated with me because of the relationship between Daddy and Okutsu and their dogs.  Neither one of them is particularly successful in their dealings with other people, but they have learned to form a deep connection with their pets.  Even as Okutsu chides his dog for stargazing and staring into the night sky, you can’t help but wonder how the lives of both men would have changed if they had been the dreamers and the stargazers.  Neither of them seems motivated to become more than they are, and if they didn’t have their dogs, they would both be alone, emotionally detached from everyone and everything.  Maybe that is what struck me the hardest about this book – the dogs had a fundamental ability to live and love that both men were sadly lacking.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Shelter Puppies by Michael Kloth

 

Title: Shelter Puppies

Author: Michael Kloth

Publisher:  Merrell

ISBN: 978-1858945606

 

 

From Amazon:

What could tug at the heartstrings more than a puppy looking for a home? Whether he’s exploring eagerly with his littermates or winning you over with his doleful stare, a puppy is quite irresistible. Dog ownership is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, however, and every year growing numbers of newborn or abandoned puppies enter shelters. In this delightful new book, photographer Michael Kloth captures the canine spirit at its floppy-eared, tail-wagging best with over 60 endearing portraits of shelter puppies. From chihuahuas and poodles to pit bulls and Labradors, and all kinds of mixes in-between, the puppies enchant with their curiosity, playfulness and all-round lust for life. By documenting the unique characters and stories of some of the puppies he has encountered in his volunteer work, Kloth raises awareness of animal rescue causes, and especially the need for more adoptive homes.

Thoughts:

Since I am totally biased towards puppies, this isn’t a review so much as a discussion about a cause that I feel very strongly about.  If flipping through very, very cute pictures of puppies helps prompt you to go out and adopt a dog, then please grab a copy of Shelter Puppies right now.  Open the book, and you can’t help but smile as one adorable photograph after another holds you captive.  In addition to the glossy photos, there are success stories about adopted puppies and how much their presence in their forever homes have enriched the lives of their new families. 

I don’t need to look through a book to know how true this is – my dog, Buu, was rescued from a breed specific private shelter, after he was saved from a city shelter.  Because he was an older dog, and because he is a large breed, his chances of adoption through the city shelter were slim.  When we decided it was time to add another member to our family, Buu was not a likely candidate for our home.  I wanted to adopt a female, but there wasn’t one available.  Instead, we took home a very underweight 18 month old male who was still recovering from pneumonia, which he caught at the city shelter.  He almost didn’t make the trip home with us – after agreeing to adopt him, he had to be rushed to the animal hospital, and they didn’t think he would make it.  That was a devastating phone call.  Why did I cry for a dog I hadn’t even met yet?

We decided to adopt a dog instead of purchasing a puppy from a breeder after we failed to save our Doberman.  KC died of congestive heart failure, an affliction that is common for Dobermans.  It was hard for me to decide to bring a new life into our home, because there is always that fear of loss.  Could I go through that again?  It is an inevitable end when you love a pet and agree to care for it for its entire life.  That is what pet ownership is really about, though, isn’t it?  Making a promise to your pet to take care of it and to love it forever.  It is a sacred trust that you agree to accept when you bring an animal into your house.  The joy and love that you receive in return is priceless, though.  How can you resist that happy greeting every time you walk through the front door?

Shelter Puppies is a beautiful book full of beautiful photographs of adorable puppies.  The glossy, full-color pages will delight even the most hard-hearted of readers.  Michael Kloth’s introduction should be required reading for all potential dog owners.  There is more to having a dog than feeding it and letting it outside.  The statistics included in the book are sobering – millions of dogs and cats are euthanatized every year in the United States alone.  In our throw away society, when did these vulnerable lives come to mean so little?

Grade: A – How can a book full of puppy pictures NOT get an A?

(25 cents from every copy sold in the US will benefit the ASPCA)

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Trouble With Being a Horse by Emily Edwards

 

Title: The Trouble Being a Horse

Author: Emily Edwards

Publisher:  Single Stride Publishing

ISBN: 978-0986671500

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The main character, Olivia, is an eleven-year-old girl who loves horses and finds her greatest happiness with them. The rest of her life is not so great: her family mostly ignores her and don’t really understand her, and she’s a bit of a social outcast. She feels unhappy a lot of the time, as many young girls can feel, and in a low moment of unhappiness she unwittingly wishes to become a horse, as she thinks this will solve a lot of her problems. Olivia is shocked, to say the least, when she is actually turned into a horse. Thrust into the unprecedented situation of being a girl in a horse’s body, Olivia is unsure of what to do. She feels strongly that she should keep her unusual state a secret, and joins a group of wild ponies, but is forced to seek help after sustaining a bear attack. Luckily, she winds up at a good stable, and meets Jenny, the daughter of the man who runs the centre, and together they form an unbeatable team in the show ring. But when Olivia can’t resist showing off how much she knows, she puts her secret and friendship with Jenny in jeopardy. Olivia must decide whether she wants to remain as a horse or return to her life as an ordinary girl, and in the process is taken on a journey of self-discovery.

Review:

Olivia is your typical horse-crazy young girl.  She lives for her riding lessons and for hanging out at the barn.  Her family doesn’t have a lot of money so she has muck stalls and perform odd jobs at the barn to pay her way, but she doesn’t care.  She loves horses, and she wants to learn to be the best rider she can be.  She is frustrated that her family isn’t supportive of her equestrian goals, and when she is forbidden from riding anymore, she rebels.  She goes to the barn anyway, and wishes that she was a horse.  She thinks that life would be much easier that way.  She feels unloved and unappreciated at home, and the uncomplicated life of a horse seems ideal to her.  After a bizarre twist of fate turns her into a horse, Olivia learns just how wrong she is.  Being a horse isn’t nearly as easy or carefree as she thought!

This book offers a twist on the usual horse-theme – the protagonist actually gets turned into a horse.  Now a horse-girl, she ends up in the care of Jenny and her family.  Able to understand everything that is asked of her, Olivia tries to be the perfect horse.  Only being the perfect horse isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Jenny quickly becomes frustrated with her new mount, because she does everything before she’s even asked.  It’s as though Jenny doesn’t even need to be part of the equation for them  to win at horse shows.  Olivia’s perfect horse act has also garnered a lot of unwanted attention, and after a tragic accident befalls Jenny’s father, Olivia learns just how hard it really is to be a horse.

I thought the premise of this book lived up to its promise.  While Olivia understands everything that is going on around her, she can’t make the humans in her life understand her.  She finds it frustrating and frightening that she has no control over her life now that she is a horse, and that she can’t take anything in her life for granted.  An accident changes everything, forcing her into an unpleasant new home.  Now that she has had so much time to think, Olivia realizes that maybe being a girl wasn’t so awful after all.

This book will delight middle grade girls who enjoy horse and animal stories.  There’s a ton of suspense, and I actually started worrying about how Olivia was going to deal with the ownership change that put her in a horrible situation.  The ending was just a bit too simplistic in regards to how Olivia’s long absence was dealt with, but over all this is a satisfying read.  Olivia returns home with a new perspective, which helps her to better understand both the people and horses in her life.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review–Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian and Tim Bowers

 

 

Title: Memoirs of a Goldfish

Author: Devin Scillian

Illustrator: Tim Bowers

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

ISBN: 978-1585365074

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Day One
I swam around my bowl.

Day Two
I swam around my bowl. Twice.

And so it goes in this tell-all tale from a goldfish.

With his bowl to himself and his simple routine, Goldfish loves his life until one day.

When assorted intruders including a hyperactive bubbler, a grime-eating snail, a pair of amorous guppies, and a really crabby crab invade his personal space and bowl, Goldfish is put out, to say the least. He wants none of it, preferring his former peace and quiet and solitude.

But time away from his new companions gives him a chance to rethink the pros and cons of a solitary life. And discover what he’s been missing.

Review:

Aw, this is a very cute book!  I loved it!  The art is fantastic, and the narrative had me laughing out loud.  Goldfish goes from being the sole occupant of his bowl, to feeling a bit squeezed in his home when one new addition after another is introduced into his space.  Some of his new neighbors aren’t very friendly, either!  Goldfish is stressed with the overcrowding, and all he wants is some privacy.  But during a moment of quiet reflection, he realizes that being all alone in his bowl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

The story is light and humorous, and the art is a perfect fit.  Facial expressions make the book – poor Goldfish goes from content but bored to unhappy and even angry as his swimming area is reduced with every new arrival.  After he learns the importance of friends, and gets some bigger digs, he is one happy fish again.  The vivid illustrations pop off of the pages, and I can’t imagine anybody being able to resist Goldfish or his memoirs.  I was happy to see that both creators have an extensive backlist, which I will be exploring.  Soon!

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library

Picture Book Review: Rottweilers Are The Best!

 

Title: Rottweilers Are The Best!

Author:  Elaine Landau

Publisher: Lerner

ISBN: 978-0761350590

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

What’s that big dog with the powerful body and rusty orange markings? It’s the Rottweiler! Rottweilers are courageous dogs with an even temper and a great sense of humor. Their owners think they are the best dogs ever¯and it’s easy to see why. If you’re a Rotty fan, you’ll want to learn all about this breed, from its history as a working dog in the Roman Empire to its search and rescue service in World War I. You’ll also want to find out how to care for the Rottweiler. So check out this go-to guide for Rottweiler lovers¯and learn all about why Rottweilers are the best breed there is!

Review:

I saw this book at the library and promptly checked it out.  I didn’t even look at anything other than the puppy on the cover.  Yet again, my cover blinders dictated my reading material!  I wanted to see what the author had to say about Rotties, because I already know that they are the best dogs ever.  Even slightly socially awkward specimens like mine.  He has so many good qualities that I don’t mind occasionally overlooking the few bad ones when they rear their very ugly head.  But then again, I love my family dearly, and they aren’t always fun to hang out with, either!

This book covers basics about the breed; history, temperament, characteristics.  I agreed with everything mentioned, though I found that there is some information that is lacking.  Sadly lacking, in fact!  It brings up their thick double coats, but doesn’t mention how they slobber and drool on hot days, as they swelter in their fur.  We have to run the air conditioning when it gets too hot, because Buu becomes a moist ball of fur.  Especially around his neck.  If he leans on you and demands pets, you get soaked.  It’s kind of gross, but I must have gotten used to it, because I don’t even squirm when I end up with slobber pools on my clothes.  With that double coat, they also shed non-stop, even with frequent brushing. 

I like that the book stresses the importance of early training.  Every dog needs to learn basic commands, but it’s critical with larger breeds.  My Rottie is 120 pounds.  That’s a big, strong dog!  He needs to understand that he can’t just run around and do whatever he likes.  Getting tackled hurts.  Getting dragged across the lawn is embarrassing.  Buu has pretty good manners, but he gets a bit overprotective. Our house is his castle, too.  He hates when the UPS driver puts packages on the back deck.  That’s his deck!  How dare he put boxes on his deck!!  At least I always know when I’m getting a delivery.  Buu starts barking as soon as the truck stops.

The photographs are wonderful!  There are some great action shots, and some very cute cuddling shots.  For a big dog, Rotties love cuddles.  I don’t think people understand the awesomeness of Rottweiler cuddles.  This is a dog that is made to be hugged!  Solid, sturdy, just the right size for a hug and a kiss on the head.  Almost every picture portrays the dogs panting, with their tongues hanging out.  Yup, that is a Rottie, all right.  They are always panting, even with the A/C blasting solely for their benefit.

I enjoyed this book, but I am biased about the content. I believe that young readers who love dogs will most definitely like this book.  The page layouts are very attractive, it’s colorful, and the pictures are so engaging.  Read it, and you’ll agree that Rottweilers are the best dog ever!

Grade: A-

Review copy received from my local library

Review: Horse Show by Kate Hayden

 

Title: Horse Show

Author: Kate Hayden

Publisher: DK Readers

ISBN: 978-0789473714

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Lucy, Alice, and Jack are getting ready for the horse show. Whose horse will win the ribbon? Find out what happens when the big day arrives! Longer sentences and an expanded vocabulary make this series of 48-page books slightly more challenging: Level 2 is appropriate for children who have started to read but still need help. Information boxes full of background information will stimulate inquisitive minds. These books contain between 700 and 850 words, and they are approximately 70 percent pictures and 30 percent text. The Dorling Kindersley Readers combine an enticing visual layout with high-interest, easy-to-read stories to captivate and delight young bookworms who are just getting started. Written by leading children’s authors and compiled in consultation with literacy experts, these engaging books build reader confidence along with a lifelong appreciation for nonfiction, classic stories, and biographies. There is a DK Reader to interest every child at every level, from preschool to grade 4.

Review:

I’m at a horse show this week, so when I saw that one of the girls from my barn had this book, I asked if I could borrow it.  She was very happy to share it with me, and I have to say that I really enjoyed this beginning reader book.  I have never heard of publisher DK  before, but if all of their titles are as well written and interesting as this one, I will definitely be adding them to my list of pubs to further explore at the library.

Horse Show has a reading level of 2, which in the DK scheme of things means Beginning to Read Alone.  This book is packed with vivid photos of ponies, and each picture helps to provide a visual key to highlight the activity taking place on the page.  Three young riders are preparing for a horse show, and the book follows, with a great deal of accuracy, the steps involved.  You can’t just load your mount and go to the fairgrounds.  Nope!  There is tack to clean, ponies to wash, and a trailer to load.  Even the riders are expected to present themselves neatly and professionally.  I have helped with all of these pre-show chores, including tail washing.  Everything felt very familiar to me.

On show day, one of the young riders is challenged because his safe, comfortable mount has injured himself.  Instead, Tom must take the less reliable and more temperamental Chester to the show, and Chester is a handful! I could really relate to Tom!  Blondie can be a handful, too!  She gets all wound up getting ready for shows, and she is just as fussy as Chester!  It was fun reading along as Tom gained confidence with his difficult, but ultimately rewarding,  pony.

Horse Show is a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the steps necessary to get ready for a show.  The pictures add depth to the simple narrative, and as well as reinforce new terminology that is introduced throughout the text.  The language is easy to understand, and this book will appeal to young readers who love horses and animals.  I am glad I had the opportunity to borrow the book from my little horse loving friend.

Grade: A

Review copy borrowed from a friend

Picture Book Review: Chamelia by Ethan Long

 

Title: Chamelia

Author: Ethan Long

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316086127

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Meet Chamelia! Chamelia is a chameleon. Most chameleons like to blend in, but Chamelia prefers to stand out. She just loves being the center of attention. But when standing out means being left out, can Chamelia learn to share the spotlight?

Review:

Chamelia is a very fun and colorful picture book.  Chamelia is a chameleon, but contrary to the rest of her species, she doesn’t want to blend in, she wants to stand out.  After learning that standing out makes it hard to fit in, she learns to compromise but still be herself. 

I love the illustrations and the use of bright fabrics to make Chamelia pop off of each page.  The other chameleons are shades of a very pale green, but the title character is a darker, more vivid green.  The illustrations are muted shades of pastels, while Chamelia is a bright splash.  She is also an accessory queen, with tasteful shoes and purses to prove that she truly is a fashionesta. 

In her eagerness to stand out, though, she occasionally stumbles by being too different from her peers.  This gets poor Chamelia down in the dumps, and a brightly attired but very unhappy chameleon is a sad sight indeed.  With some help from her parents, Chamelia learns how to stand out, but still fit in at school.

I loved the message in Chamelia, and hope that it helps younger readers to find the courage to be themselves. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Saving Audie by Patent and Munoz

 

Title: Saving Audie

Author: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Photographs: William Munoz

Publisher: Walker Books

ISBN: 978-0802722720

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring was discovered, more than forty dogs were rescued. But their struggle was far from over. Most animal advocates believed the former fighting dogs were too damaged to save, but Audie and his kennel mates would prove them wrong when public outcry and the publicity surrounding Michael Vick’s punishment won them a chance at a happy life. Teaming up once again with William Muñoz, photo-essay veteran Dorothy Hinshaw Patent gives an emotional account of one dog’s heartwarming story, showing how Audie, who was only a puppy when he was rescued, was rehabilitated, adopted, and now enjoys the love he deserves.

Review:

This was a hard book for me to read, but not because of the writing.  The subject matter is very close to my heart, and I still remember the day that the news broke about Michael Vicks’ Bad Newz Kennels.  It horrified me, and it made me angry.  Why would such a successful and wealthy athlete, a sports ambassador, if you will, do something so cruel?  How could anyone do something like this to a bunch of helpless dogs?  Dogs are the one animal that will love you conditionally, and accept you for who you are.  If you can’t be nice to something as simple as a dog, how can you possible be nice to a fellow human being?  I don’t buy the argument that Vick’s upbringing makes killing defenseless animals acceptable, especially not when millions of kids look up to him and try to emulate him.  Ugh.

Audie is one lucky pit bull puppy.  Most of the Vick dogs are, really.  Due to Vick’s notoriety, these dogs were given a second chance at life, one that didn’t involve fighting.  Contrary to common practice, these dogs were spared, and after intensive behavioral research, most of them were given the go ahead to be fostered and adopted out instead of being euthanized.  Audie is one of those dogs that won the forever home lottery, and this picture book chronicles his new life as a pet.

Audie’s road to happiness wasn’t easy.  After being sheltered in a small cage months as the Vick investigation dragged out, he was considered evidence by the government.  After Vick’s trial and conviction, all of the Bad Newz dogs were supposed to be put down.  A few animal loving organizations stepped in and asked that they be spared, and because of the media coverage, the dogs were allowed to live.  They were finally seen as what they were – victims of a violent crime.  Audie was placed in a foster home, which turned out to be his forever home.  Now Audie is what Michael Vick should have been; an ambassador for other dogs like him, who deserve another chance at happiness.

I loved this book and the photographs, as well as all of the facts about the Michael Vick case.  Audie and his fellow canines from Bad Newz Kennels are very lucky dogs.  Many of them have found loving homes, and the ones that haven’t are being cared for with money Vick was ordered to pay to care for his former dogs.

Here is my second chance dog – he isn’t a Pit Bull, but his breed gets a bad rap, too.  He almost died in the shelter before he was rescued and placed into a foster home.  When we adopted him, he was 70 lbs, about 50 lbs underweight.  It took him a while to trust us, but now he is a big cuddle bug.  I love him dearly, and I’m not so sure if we rescued him or he rescued us.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher