31 August 2019

Books Completed Since August 1

Much of this month is devoted to a perennial grade school favorite, Lois Lenski! Found a bunch of her books, including ones I had never read, on archive.org and Kindle Unlimited.

book icon  Journey Into Childhood, Lois Lenski
This is Lenski's autobiography (much of which she fictionalized in her first two books, Skipping Village and A Little Girl of Nineteen Hundred), which includes the backgrounds of how she wrote some of her books (the Davy books, for instance, were inspired by a small boy named Davy, and the Mr. Small books were written for her son). I wish she had talked about how she researched all of them. She did reveal that A'Going to the Westward was inspired by the true experiences of her German ancestors, and that there really was a little girl left behind like Betsy Bartlett!

The first part of the book is rather fun, where she talks about growing up in Ohio, her loving but stern minister father, and the rest of her family. She goes off to study art, and then suddenly she is marrying Arthur Covey, a fellow artist (a muralist) and a widower with two children. This portion of the text seems rather stilted and dry; she uses the old-fashioned reference of referring to her husband as "Mr.Covey" and while I can see that as an older woman not into "kiss and tell" she would not get deeply into her relationship with him, the descriptions of their relationship seems rather loveless. She seems much more taken with her stepchildren Margaret and Laird, and with their child together, Stephen.

book icon  The Outermost House, Henry Beston
This is a nature classic, published originally in 1928. Beston, the owner of a small cottage called the Foc'sle near Easton on Cape Cod, visits the cottage one August, and, instead of leaving after two weeks, he decides to stay the winter. Laying in supplies and wood, Beston settles in for a serene autumn, a wild winter, and the beauty of spring, observing the birds and animals of the shoreline, the fierce nor'easters, the spreading beauty of the night sky, the call of the gulls, the yearly migration of birds, the running of the alewife, the dying of the year and then the birth of the following one. Of wonderful interest is his chronicling of the courageous work of the coast guardsmen who patrolled the beach nightly, and went out to shipwrecks in roiling waves and blinding lightning to remove survivors from the ships.

Beston's beautiful prose is poetic and evocative, bringing to mind the crash of the surf, the mewling of the gulls, the endless swish of the grasses in the ocean breeze. You can smell the salt air and the fish, the tang of his wood fire, the scent of his coffee percolating on the stove. For anyone who wants  to know what it's like to live in close harmony with the sea.

(Alas, the little "outermost house," which survived the frightening storms Beston described, the whirlwind that was the Hurricane of 1938 and many hurricanes thereafter, was felled by the deadly winds and tides of the Blizzard of 1978. It lives on in this book.)

book icon  Underland, Robert MacFarlane
"Underground." It's always been a mysterious word in the English language. Underground can mean a root cellar, but it also calls up visions of caves, of tunnels, of hasty escapes, of the unknown and of mystery.

MacFarlane investigates all these aspects of "underland," from Bronze Age graves in Somerset, England, to an observatory for Dark Matter deep underground (where particles from Dark Matter are best distinguishable) to funghi on the forest floor. He also visits the underground labyrinth of sewers and rooms below Paris, where explorers find new levels all the time and tours exist, the underground Timavo River, caves in Slovenia in which hundreds of victims of the Nazis were interred, a dangerous journey into Norwegian caves to see prehistoric cave paintings, another Norwegian sojourn visiting a traditional fisherman and his wife, a visit to a glacier and a dangerous moulin (a vertical shaft within a glacier) in Greenland, and finally a radioactive materials' burial site in Finland.

I love reading MacFarlane's books. His words in Underland fit the mood he is trying to create: dark, mysterious, primal, evocative of the mood that deep darkness engenders. He makes you chill in the narrow moulin, feel the squeeze of a particularly tight passage in a cave, gape with wonder in the rooms under Paris. I was so sorry when the book was finished.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach, Jerry West
The Hollister children's Uncle Russ begins their next adventure by writing to them from a place called Sea Gull Beach. He's there making sketches for his cartoon work, but lets the Hollisters know there will be a kite-flying contest there soon and tells them about a pirate ship, the Mystery, supposedly lost in the sands. Then a lighthouse lamp Uncle Russ sends them is accidentally broken, and an emerald falls out!

This is only the beginning of the Hollisters' adventures as the family travels to Sea Gull Beach, where they make a new friend in a girl named Rachel who happens to be the granddaughter of the woman who made the lighthouse. A troublesome boy, Homer, who's like the Hollisters' neighborhood bully Joey Brill, also causes excitement, and the family befriends an old beachcomber named Scowbanger, who's also looking for the Mystery.

As always, the kids go from one breathless adventure to another, finding and then losing clues, competing with Homer, and having enough adventures in one week to last all summer. These books are so much fun to read and the author, Andrew Swenson, a.k.a. Jerry West, kept the usual 1950s sexist boys and girls stuff to a minimum, so the books are still very readable today, although today's kids used to organized activities and helicopter parents may gape at the freedom the Hollister kids have. They may end up wishing they were back in the 1950s!

book icon  We Live in the North, Lois Lenski
Lenski was most known for her regional book series, but she also did a series for younger children, Roundabout America, most of which are comprised of three short stories with a common theme. This volume takes place in Michigan, the first tale about a family of Polish-Americans whose father works in an auto plant in Detroit, the second relates the tale of a widowed woman of Finnish extraction who tries to make extra money as a cherry picker in Traverse City, and the final story is about a Christmas tree farm in Muskegon Heights. Wondering what today's kids would make of the hobby of the kids in the Detroit story: they have founded an animal cemetery where they hold funerals for both wild animals and pets. A subplot concerns the kids' Uncle Eddie, who won't settle down to a job and who's considering changing his name to sound more American. The Johnson kids in the cherry story have various adventures as their mom and their aunt pick cherries that reminds one of Judy's Journey. The last tale is just a year in the life of a Christmas tree farm family, and one of the daughters saving up the money she earns to buy a horse. Cute for the younger kids, but lacks the meat of the regionals.

book icon  Corn-Farm Boy, Lois Lenski
Well, I always wanted to read these when I was at school, so I might as well now that they're online. This is the story of Dick Hoffman, who lives on an Iowa farm where his father grows corn and they raise some cattle but more hogs. Dick is good with animals and is always either raising a runt farm animal or nursing a wild one who is hurt, and he hates when neighbor boy Elmer kills for fun, but what he wants most is to drive the new tractor his Uncle (who is half-partners in the farm with his father) Henry has bought; however, he's still sickly due to a bout with rheumatic fever. The story follows the spring and summer activities of the family, including wearying-sounding chores like getting cockleburrs out of the cornfields and de-tasseling corn (which is what Dick's older sister does during the summer to earn money for clothes). It chronicles all the fun—raising animals, summer picnics, playing with friends—and the trials—a farm injury, Dick's health problems, a little sister lost while playing hide'n'seek—of living on a farm. Not Lenski's most interesting, but definitely all true teaching children what hard labor goes into raising their breakfast foods.

book icon  Coal Camp Girl, Lois Lenski
Of all the Lenski books I have read, this has come the closest to touching me personally.

Christina Wilson and her family live in West Virginia, where her father is a coal miner. The children manage to have fun despite the ugliness of their landscape: the hills of discarded slate everywhere, the dirty air (the kids have to pull Mom's laundry off the clothesline every time a train comes by), Dad coming home black with coal and having to take a bath before he can even eat dinner. Tina would just like to have one of the pit ponies as her own, but her brother constantly gets in trouble trying to sneak into abandoned mines with his friends. They quarrel with one contentious neighbor kid, but otherwise manage to have fun—at least when their daddy is working and they have enough food.

My mom would have been born in and lived her early years in a place like this, only in Ohio. When my maternal grandparents came over from Italy with their young son Tommaso, my grandfather found work as a coal miner, and my uncle Tommy worked in the mine once he was old enough. Mom talked about her father having to wash up in a shed before he could come in the house, since he didn't want to dirty the inside with coal dust. They would have burned coal in their stoves, used scrip at the company store, and mom and her older brothers would have gone barefoot in summer and had to wash their feet before coming inside. What would Mom's life had been like if Grandma had not come down with "coal dust lungs"? Would she have also grown up to marry a coal miner and had her heart in her throat every time the whistle from the mine blared in a long, steady wail, signifying trouble?

Needless to say, among the other troubles the Wilsons endure in the book, there is a mine cave in. I cried at the outcome, thinking of Mom and of Grandpa.

book icon  Flood Friday, Lois Lenski
I grew up on the stories of the granddaddy of all New England hurricanes, the one in 1938, and its destructive 1954 successor, Hurricane Carol, but I had never heard of the horrifying flooding that occurred in Connecticut in August 1955 after not one, but two hurricanes within a week, Connie and Diane, caused rivers to overflow. Sally Graham lives in Farmington, Connecticut, with her family, and when the ground becomes saturated, her neighborhood, then her home, begins to flood. Sally and her friends and neighbors head to a school which is on high ground, and for days they must camp out on the floor, eat communal meals, and hear terrifying stories of homes swept away. Eventually they grow restless and wonder if they'll ever make it back to their homes.

Lenski paints a very realistic view of a natural disaster from a child's point of view, from seeing your home engulfed by water to living for days at close quarters with hundreds of people to returning home to find it filthy with mud. This is an unusual Regional as it deals with an event rather than a way of life.

book icon  Mama Hattie's Girl, Lois Lenski
This is probably the rarest of Lenski's regionals and one I didn't know existed for many years. Lula Bell is an African-American girl living in the south with her mother Imogene, a talented seamstress, and her grandmother, known to everyone in the Hibiscus Street neighborhood as "Mama Hattie." Imogene is tired of living in a small town where everyone knows her business, and longs to be up north with her husband. She's also frustrated with her mother falling for every slick salesman who comes around and buying yet something else "on time," and not taking care of her health (she has high blood pressure and insists on eating fattening foods with lots of salt).

To everyone on Hibiscus Street, "up north" is a wonderful place where good jobs are to be had and people have lots of fine clothes and furniture. So when Imogene finally gets fed up after a neighbor poisons Mama Hattie's plum tree and the local grocer won't give them any more credit, Lula Bell is torn: she wants to go "up north" where living is golden, but is going to miss her grandmother. She soon finds out "up north" is no prize either: the city streets are crowded and full of garbage, the kids in her new neighborhood bully her, and the landlord won't let her family stay with her aunt and uncle.

Lenski states in her introduction that she researched this book among children in both Northern and Southern schools, so I am guessing that the portrait she paints of both African-American experiences are authentic. However, the main problem with this book is that Lula Bell isn't really all that likeable. She brags to her friends on Hibiscus Street about going north, but misses them when she actually goes there. Once she finally finds friends in New Jersey, she's happy—but then when she goes back to Mama Hattie's home for a visit she is critical of everything: her grandma taking in boarders to make ends meet, the shabby old house she grew up in, and even her friends whom she formerly loved, and she snubs a little girl named Myrtle, forgetting how badly she was treated up north. It takes a series of disasters to make her realize how she's been acting. Lenski's leading girl characters are usually strong and speak for themselves, especially the pugnacious Judy Drummond, sometimes to the point of being occasionally rude, but Lula Bell is continually grumpy when things don't go her way. Maybe she was so contentious in order to learn a lesson about getting along with others, or a point is being made that she's not being set a good example by her mother, but it certainly doesn't endear anyone to her.

Really, the hero of this book is Mama Hattie, despite her personal weaknesses (and Imogene's perceived weaknesses of her mother). She's doing her best to keep a household together and provide a loving upbringing for her granddaughter.

book icon  The Holyday Book, Francis X. Weiser
Having procured Weiser's other two holiday books about Christmas and Easter, I thought I might complete the trifecta. The Holyday Book covers all those Christian holidays not covered by the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany season and by Lent and Eastertide: Sundays themselves, then the church calendar beginning at Pentecost. He also covers (though not a Christian holy day) Thanksgiving, and the holydays of Corpus Christi, Candlemas, All Saints and All Souls, the "Mary holidays" like the Annunciation and Assumption, and also various saints' days by season. Traditional customs all over the world are chronicled, including processions on certain saints' days, fasting, and feasting, and there are also profiles of saints such as St. John,  St. Catherine, St. Andrew, etc. For anyone looking for Catholic celebrations and traditions.

book icon  Joy of Nature, Reader's Digest Books
This is a big oversized volume from Reader's Digest books about enjoying nature. There are a few pages about animals, but most of it involves the earth itself: its climates, land areas (woodlands, deserts, rain forests, etc.), plants, topography, weather. There are chapters about trees, plants, mountains, deserts, tundra, geology, climate change, volcanoes and earthquakes, clouds, bird watching, butterfly study, and more, with multiple colorful photographs, maps, charts, and tables illustrating anything you need to know about the natural world. Each chapter is only two facing pages (crammed with small print), so this is perfect as a coffee table or bathroom book.

book icon  Memory of Water, Brian Eastman/Rebecca Tope
This is the final novelization of one of the stories from Eastman's Rosemary and Thyme mystery television series starring Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris. Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme have been hired to restore an Elizabethan garden at an old country estate. The estate belongs to the Frazer family, but, because of the family setup, while Martin Frazer and his family live there in relative wealth, Martin's estranged cousin Jim lives in a old cottage in a corner of the estate. Rosemary is overlooking the river one morning when, to her horror, she sees Jim Frazer commit suicide by drowning himself. The body is later found, Jim identified and buried—then Rosemary sees the man she thought was Jim in the next town! Is Jim dead or not? And who was the man she saw fall in the river? Does Jim's death have anything to do with one of the convicts who are providing labor to restore the garden?

A humorous subplot has Laura trying to save money by having them camp in a tent on the estate. Rosemary is horrified at first, but comes to like it, while Laura, who was so enthusiastic, begins to hate it.

Tope adds many little details to what we saw on television: Rosemary making an enemy of Martin's boss, a disdainful QC, more scenes with the Frazer sons Toby and Timmy, and more scenes with Martin and his ever-patient wife Suzanne. If you enjoyed the series, you'll probably enjoy the books based upon the episodes.

book icon  Little Sioux Girl, Lois Lenski
This is another entry in Lenski's Roundabout America series for younger readers. Instead of being divided into smaller short stories as in We Live in the North, the entire book is a year in the life of Eva White Bird, a Dakota Sioux girl living at the Standing Rock Reservation with her family. Eva's winter home is in the hills, but during the summer the whole family moves to a small house they own near the river with the rest of the tribe, where the families fish and enjoy the foods of the fields. Eva enjoys being in school during the winter, but looks forward to the summer when she can run wild after completing her chores. However, rising waters cause a flood in the area and the family barely gets out ahead of the water, with many of their possessions missing. Once Christmas rolls around, there are new surprises for Eva and her family.

Again, not as compelling as the regionals, but a good portrait of Native American life in the 1940s.

book icon  St. Nicholas, Scribners (January - December 1880 (September missing)
Alas, I didn't notice years ago when I bought this that September was missing. Good thing there is a scan of it somewhere on Google. Otherwise this collection of "St. Nicholas" marks the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott's Jack and Jill. The usual collection of fascinating articles about child-life in 19th century America, with projects for children (usually boys) that would take the breath away from adults today, involving knives, saws, etc. But children in those days were brought up to be self-reliant. The 19th century travel articles are the most fascinating, seeing cultures that are untouched by American merchandising (foreign businesspeople often in American or British dress, but the average Joe in that country still in traditional garb living in traditional homes, alas, with snobbish opinions attached). Humorous but a bit sad to see them still decrying children who are "overscheduled" back then, enticed by societal influences like "big city lights" and alcohol, wondrous to read about great tracts of wilderness unspoilt by civilization.

book icon  Boom Town Boy, Lois Lenski
This has to be the saddest Lenski book I ever read.

The Robinsons live in Oklahoma on a farm that was part of the original Cherokee Strip. Work on the farm is hard, and a drought isn't making it any easier. It's the early 1920s, and oil has been discovered near their property. Grandpa Robinson is sure there is oil on their land as well and options the land to an oil company. Meanwhile, people begin to move into the area to work on the nearby oil wells. A shanty town explodes overnight, then even a town.

The story is told from the point of view of 11-year-old "Orvie" (Orville), and through his eyes we see the placid family farm which his older brother really loves working on and the creek bed where Orvie and his little sister play, sometimes alone and sometimes with their Native American friends on the nearby Reservation. As the oil men and workers move in, the wells despoil the countryside and the peripatetic oil workers strew trash, steal, and bring alcohol into the formerly "dry" countryside, and Orvie even learns the meaning of murder. Around the Robinsons, some of their neighbors "strike it rich," and the new "boom town" of Whizzbang seem exciting to Orvie. But he has hard truths to learn, and so do the members of his family, as the oil boom continues.

The Robinsons live a hard life without electricity or indoor plumbing, but the whole oil boom coming to town is like a trainwreck. Well-meaning wildcatters ruin the peaceful countryside and turn previously happy neighbors into rivals. Thankfully there's a ray of hope at the end.

book icon  My Love Affair With England, Susan Allen Toth
This is the first of three books Toth wrote about traveling in England. She became an Anglophile at an early age, and has retained a love of the country that continues into the present, despite the protestations of her daughter, who doesn't understand what Mom sees in the country. (Of course, as you read, you'll discover Jenny had a very different first experience in England, living as a student with a very odd family.) This is not a tourguide or a biography, but just a series of essays by Toth talking about various memorable visits to "old Blighty," including her first trip in the 1970s with a post airline flight complete with a hot meal, daytripping with the old London A-Z guide, and going to the theatre; a trip where she visited supposedly haunted homes; showing her husband the English countryside she loved for the first time; attending a real sheepdog trial (not watching it on the telly); the story of how she took students to England one year, beset by one problem after the other; walking the myriad walking paths through the countryside, and more. It's her love letter to England, and I truly loved it myself.

book icon  Re-read: The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
I went to put this Tasha-Tudor-illustrated hardback downstairs, and after reading the Toth book couldn't resist re-reading it first. Willows was another one of those children's classics that I never read as a child, since I preferred books about real animals (Call of the Wild, the Silver Chief books, Big Red and sequels, etc.) even if the animals talked among themselves as in Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. Of course I'd seen Disney's Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but Toad always got on my nerves.

Well, Toad still gets on my nerves. I'm sure the naughty Toad is someone small children can identify with, but I find him very annoying, and think Rat, Mole, and Badger are very patient in trying to reform him. The only Toad adventure I find tolerable is the first one with the gypsy caravan (until Toad spoils it). My favorite chapters are about Rat and Mole's friendship and adventures, such as when the Water Rat follows the imprudent Mole into the Wild Wood, the lovely "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" story, the temptation of poor Rat by the seafaring rat (O I understand that call of travel!), and my favorite of all, "Dulce Domum," about Rat and Mole's Christmas. The little mouse carolers get me every time.

Best of all are Grahame's lovely descriptions of the countryside, and the darling little English cottage fixings in the animals' burrows. When I read these things I want to grab all my money and go find one, which is ridiculous because they're not owned by poor people anymore and I wouldn't have a tenth of the money I need. But they're sure pretty to read about, and Willows has lyrical, dreamy descriptions of animals, seasons, and nature that make you feel as if you are there. 

book icon  Dead Blow, Lisa Preston
Second in the "horseshoer mystery" story series, featuring Rainy Dale, the daughter of a rancher and a narcissistic actress who has worked through personal problems to become a skilled farrier, and who now lives and works in Oregon, where she's engaged to chef and foodie Guy. In Dead Blow, Rainy is hoping to get a new account at the ranch of Donna Chevigny, who has just become a widow; her husband Cameron (who had a roving eye) died recently after his tractor tilted and then rolled over him, an event originally considered an accident. As she helps Donna get her horses shod, Rainy finds an odd aluminum shoe on the land where Cameron died, and then Donna's goofy dog turns up a riding glove with a human hand in it. Soon a police officer named Melinda Kellan is sniffing outside Rainy and Guy's door, wondering if Rainy was one of Cameron Chevigny's conquests, and if she had anything to do with Cam's death. And then there's the crazy bull, Dragoon, who's on rangeland bordering the ranch. If Cam's death wasn't an accident, how did someone get past the bull?

I still like Rainy and her unorthodox narration and ways, but I have to admit this was not as compelling as the first book, where her history is peeled back little by little to show you why she is as she is. So while I still enjoyed the mystery, there was a little less meat to the characterization. In fact, she seems to have become more "country" since the original book. The mystery is reasonably perplexing, and you get a lot of the feel for ranching people rather than the urban Oregon denizens you usually see in the media, and of course there's Rainy's wry, often amusing commentary, which is a big plus to the narrative.

book icon  About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 2008-2009, Series 4, the 2009 Specials, Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail
This covers the rest of David Tennant's tenure as Doctor #10 including the three "gap year" extended episodes, his appearance on the BBC "proms" concert, and even his guest appearance on The Sarah Jane Adventures, from "Partners in Crime" wherein the Doctor is reunited with runaway bride Donna Noble, to "The End of Time." As always, Wood and Ail supply a summary, a cast list and where you've seen the guest performers, the ratings, notes upon filming, and then long, long notes about episode events, inconsistencies, questions, etc. It's the most thorough dissection of Who ever, and each chapter also contains an essay about questions raised by the series and by individual episodes, like "What Constitutes a Fixed Point [in Time]?", "What Happened to UNIT?", "Why Can't Anyone Just Die?",  "What Were the Strangest Online Theories?", and the question that's been on every classic Doctor Who fan's mind for years: "Where's Susan?"

For the devoted Doctor Who fan, perhaps not always, but you definitely have to be interested in the series and know its past and its stories to truly appreciate these books.

book icon  The Secret Life of Movies, Simon Brew
A chill-out summer-read of a book about Easter eggs and other trivia about movie scenes. Was the big shocker in the Star Wars franchise hiding in plain sight? Sure was. In The Winter Soldier, what events did Steve Rogers miss while he was out of circulation? Depends on what country you watched the film in. What films were pioneers in CGI? The results may surprise you. What's the clue to the theme of Inside Out? Watch the physical features of the emotional characters!

There are interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) tidbits like that for films that range from the silent era all the way to Bohemian Rhapsody. Along the way you'll discover the story of a piece of rare artwork that turned up as a set decoration in a family film, what films surreptitiously photographed at places they weren't supposed to, the rather extensive changes a Disney animated film incurred before release, how a popular crime film features a Christ figure, how a spectacular action shot in the early war film Hell's Angels was filmed, and more.

Most of the info is taken from websites, so if you're a movie geek and particularly read many sites that feature this type of info, you'll probably know all these. Otherwise, it's a relaxing way to kill an afternoon.

Note to the publisher: Enjoyed the colorful look of the pages! But the ones with black type on dark purple backgrounds? Uh...no.

book icon  One Giant Leap, Charles Fishman
I missed reading this one in July because James bought it and had to finish it first, so it was at the tail-end of my other reading and I wondered what it might have to say that the other seven nonfiction books about the space program that I read last month didn't.

Surprisingly, I didn't find it all that repetitive. One chapter, for instance, delves into the "fourth crew member" of the Apollo missions, the spacecraft computer. There was nothing like it at that time: other computers were no smaller than refrigerators and took punch cards to program them. The Apollo computer was a new small design about the size of a big suitcase, and it took commands through keys punched and buttons that told the computer whether the operation was a "noun" or a "verb." He devotes another chapter to Bill Tindall, the man who thought of everything that could go wrong and then challenged the software and hardware people to make certain the astronauts could recover from all of those errors, in big long memos known to NASA as "Tindallgrams." Yet another chapter addresses the long debate about how to get to the moon and the final decision to use lunar orbit rendezvous, and a fourth talks about the decision to put the American flag on the moon (an idea very contested back then). But most of all Fishman talks about the "cost" of the space program, and how, based on what was budgeted for other things, it really cost very little and brought some startling developments to technology that we still benefit from today. If you use a cell phone, get satellite television, use a personal computer, depend on GPS, and many other technologies, you are using devices that were born from all the research put in and the technology developed for the moon landing.

Very much worth reading "yet another moon book."

book icon  Where the Lost Dogs Go, Susannah Charleson
In Scent of the Missing, Charleson told us of working with search and rescue dogs, including the training of her own dog Puzzle, a Golden retriever, and in The Possibility Dogs, we learned about her mission to turn shelter rescues into therapy dogs for anxiety sufferers. In this newest book, urged on by her father, Charleson adopts a sick, bedraggled Maltese dog before he's euthanized, and in trying to find little Ace's original owner, she delves into the world of lost pets: how your totally predictable dog may become unpredictable once thrust into unfamiliar situations, strategies for finding lost dogs, and her own stories of searching for, and mostly finding, missing animals.

Along the way, Charleson also tells us the story of her childhood with two parents who were loving of her and raised her to respect and love animals and abused or lost children, but who were both emotionally unstable. They moved house often to get away from debts, her mother suffered from panic attacks, her father was chronically insecure. She parallels her stories of growing up with her search for Ace's past, for it is obvious after a week that he was once a well-loved pet, probably owned by an elderly person, and her present-day dealings with both her parents, now divorced but still fiercely devoted to the saving of stray animals.

There's a nice balance of animal stories, biography, and "how to" in this book that I really enjoyed. A few other reviews said they wished there had not been so much of her past personal stuff and more about lost animals, but I enjoyed understanding what gives Charleson her drive to find the missing, whether human or animal, and see the past events that brought her to her present. Warning: there are many times you will tear up during this book. Have tissues handy.

book icon  Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place Names, Derek Nelson
I picked up this slim volume at the library book sale because I've always loved maps and dreamed about being a cartographer (among other things) when I was a kid. Place names are fascinating. Some are just plain: Johnstown or Johnston, of course, was founded by someone named John; some are named by where they are (Avonlea = a "lea" is a meadown, so Avonlea is the meadow by the river Avon), and some get very descriptive. Take Dublin, Ireland: its full name is Baile Atha Cliath Dubh Lind or "town on the ford of hurdles on the black water"—the hurdles were wooden boards put in the river to help cattle cross. Some names are even insults! Inuits prefer being called that instead of "Eskimos" because the latter is an Algonquin pejorative for the tribe. The Sioux tribe prefers their own name, "Dakotah," because rival tribes called them "Nadowessioux": "little snakes"! The Mohawks called the Adirondak tribes "Hatirontaks," or "they eat trees," an insult that meant they were terrible hunters.

Nelson relays these facts and more, about explorers giving one place a name which already has another name (or places like the Falkland Islands, which is known as that by the British, but another by the Spanish) and the naming of places yet to be explored. An interesting little volume if you have a hankering for geography or names.

book icon  Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, Julie Zickefoose
This book made me cry.

Zickefoose, a licensed bird rehabilitator and artist, had always wanted to raise a baby blue jay. When one was found, dehydrated and near death, under a tree, Zickefoose and her family (husband Bill, daughter Phoebe, and son Liam) pitch in to save the little mite, who has an infection contracted in the egg. Once little Jemima begins getting well, she becomes a part of the family. The Zickefooses allows Jemima to see birds like herself every day, but pretty much raise her like a tame bird rather than trying to deliberately avoid having her tainted by human contact: she interacts with the kids, teases the family dog, flies around rooms and perches on furniture. In return the family learns how really intelligent a blue jay is. But they always raise her with the intention of freeing her to the wild once she learns how to survive outside.

Life isn't always kind to Jemima: she contracts a second illness about the time she's being prepped for going into the wild, and Zickefoose must figure out how to medicate her without throwing off her timeline. One day she turns up bald! But the days are coming closer when Jemima must migrate or prepare to endure a long Ohio winter.

This is a book filled with love without being sloppily sentimental. The Zickefooses obviously adore Jemima, but want her to live a wild life. They all endure trials before their avian charge is free, including the breaking up of Julie and Bill's marriage. On their journey you will learn much about blue jays (and other birds) and their habits, and how one rehabilitates a wild creature. The book is liberally illustrated with photographs as well as Julie's lovely pieces of artwork that begin each chapter. Recommended for any animal lover, but warning that there are bird deaths/having to put sick birds down in the volume.

book icon  To Be a Logger, Lois Lenski
As the book opens, Little Joe wants, as he always had, "calk boots" like his logger dad; as he grows to be twelve and called "Joel," he still wants to be a logger more than anything. His dad begins taking him on the job in the forests of Oregon, where he and his companions work in a National Forest, but are often at odds with the forest rangers—the loggers think they know the forests better than the college-educated men running the tree harvests. The book chronicles Joel's (and his little sister Jinx's) adventures in the Oregon woods, where various experiences make Joel question his plans for the future. And then a disaster happens to his family.

Lenski has always done her best to describe in her books the occupations of the parents of the children who are her protagonists, but I find she almost does too much description in this, the next-to-last of her regional volumes. Some pages are nothing but chronicling how "Big Joe" Bartlett and his fellow workers operate construction equipment. It gets a bit tiresome. Better are the passages where Joel wrestles with his love of nature vs. his love of machinery, and his reaction when a fearsome thing happens to him. Jinx, his mischievous sister, also adds some levity to the story: she runs away from a chore, and does other funny things that liven up the text. The next-to-last chapter is a big commercial for the Forest Service, just like a mid-1960s Lassie episode.