Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review: Boy's Best Friend (dogs, science)

Boy’s Best Friend, by Kate Banks and Rupert Sheldrake (Farrar Strauss Giroux Books, 2015, 213 pages, $15.99, grades 4-7)

Boy’s Best Friend, Dog’s Best Friend

What an intriguing idea! A book about science but the science sneaks into a kid’s novel* about boys and their dogs – a Border Collie on the front cover and a Golden Retriever on the back cover (a Golden named Bill Gates, as a matter of fact).

Enter Dr. Sheldrake

One boy moves from Denver to Cape Cod and must adjust even to sandwiches tasting different. The other boy misses his best friend, a girl, who moved to North Carolina. The two boys carry out a school science experiment together about their dogs knowing when they will return home from school.

Lester and George also email Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a British biochemist and TED presenter, who studies parapsychology and wrote eight books, co-authoring seven more. The science experiment about the dogs is taken from Dr. Sheldrake’s book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home.

 One boy practices virtues and both stare at the backs of people’s heads, trying to get them to turn around (like mothers seem to have eyes in the back of their heads), another idea of Dr. Sheldrake’s**. They are thinking about telepathy and discuss it with the scientist, who also manages to teach the boys about random sampling.

Science is Life (Especially Biology)

The 11-year-old boys learn that what they learn from science applies to life, too. Sometimes what they learn is unexpected so it pays to keep an open mind. For example, many birds have two homes: a summer home and a winter home. So, it is OK for Lester to begin to like Cape Cod and to still yearn for Denver – his two homes are east and west rather than north and south, like the birds. Birds come back, just like the boomerang that both boys have.

“Mysteries of Everyday Life”

Is Mrs. Robarts a criminal: what is she hiding in her shed? Why do some names have words inside them and does that mean anything (like Joyner contains ‘joy’)? How does this all connect together into one book?

Science is a mystery indeed, at least until you read about it and ponder questions and come up with gems like a mint: an entire winter day in a compact white candy.

Read All About It: Boys and Dogs Together Doing Science

Who knows? You may end up starting your own science experiment*** and emailing a famous author or scientist after reading Boy’s – and getting a reply!

*Or is this a science book disguised as a kid’s book?
**The Sense of Being Stared At: and other aspects of the extended mind, by Rupert Sheldrake

***For ideas, see Rupert Sheldrake’s Seven Experiments That Could Change the World: a do-it-yourself guide to revolutionary science

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Find Momo (border collie, find the dog, photography)

Find Momo: My Dog is Hiding in This Book. Can You Find Him? By Andrew Knapp (Quirk Books, 2014, 143 pages, $14.95)

Finding Nemo.
Where’s Elmo?
Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?
Where’s Waldo?
And a British book we had fun with in Afghanistan: Where’s Osama bin Laden?

But Find Momo is my current and forever favorite.

Who’s Momo? Where’s Momo? Find Momo.

Once there was a boy named Andrew who had a dog named Momo. Excuse me – a Border Collie named Momo, not just a dog. Andrew would throw a stick for Momo to fetch. Momo would get the stick but, instead of bringing it back to Andrew, Momo would hide. (Has this happened to you?) So, Andrew decided to turn his lemon into lemonade. . . .

Momo is a Canadian Border Collie who loves to hide in cityscapes and countryscapes.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find Momo amid more than 100 pages of photographs that are stunning in themselves but, with a dog like Momo, are unforgettably fun.

A Hide-and-Seek Photography Book* but Don’t Give Up!

Momo may be sticking his head out from behind a car or a building or a tree. He may be poking his head up from a ditch or a window. He may be peering out at you from who knows where, wherever he makes friends of the human or canine kind.

But you will stare and stare and stare until you do find him. And then you will go on to the next page and before you know it, an hour has passed.

When you finish the book, you will start the quest again and it will be easier but not easy.

You may have to cheat by using a magnifying glass. (I won’t tell on you if you don’t tell on me.)

Sometimes Momo is big. Sometimes he is small. Sometimes he is whole but most of the time he isn’t all there – look for his head in all the right places, though. He usually wears a red kerchief (bandana), too.

He won’t be in the top of a tree, however: he’s on Facebook. He’s on Instagram.

He rides around Canada (and the US) with his Andrew in a big yellow Volkswagen bus from another era.

Momo looks like a fun dog, a well-camouflaged five year-old pup. That is, if you can find him! Try it here. Check out his promo video here.

Everyone’s Favorite Border Collie is Back

Momo even has a sequel. More about that one later. First I have to rest my eyes and recover from my more or less successful quest.

Now, go find Momo!

*Answers (and location details) are found in the back of the book in the Answer Key, Here’s Momo!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: Eukarya (making taxonomy fun for big kids and little kids) (biology)

Eukarya: A Child’s Guide to Knowing Names of Nature, by Cole Williams (Burning Belly Press, 2015, 41 pages, $15.99)

Eureka! No, Eukarya!

Delightfully drawn, the plants and animals (and myriad other living things) of Eukarya illustrate their names and make learning so easy, logical and, yes, even fun with rhymes, from the exceptionally clever Table of Contents to the asterisked organisms with “fictitious names of creatures* created by children.”

Starting at the beginning with an excellent overview of taxonomy then traipsing through the Protists, Fungi, Plants and Animals, Cole Williams uses phrases and terms like ‘different bubbles housing different jobs’ to designate membrane-bound organelles, and ‘roommates’ to describe dinoflagellates living peacefully with corals.

“Amoebas have no true feet,
But are very famous blobs.
Paramecia are predators
Eating little gobs.”

Looks Like a Coloring Book but for Kids or Adults?

With pages between chapters left mostly blank, Eukarya simply begs for the reader to draw his/her own creatures, real or imagined, and to name them. Williams has even included an alphabet of plant names and adjectives.

So much is included in this unassuming little tome that it appeals to curious kids and to college students who need a short explanation of taxonomy with oodles of examples.


I might add a pronunciation guide to help non-biologist parents but I am still considering using this in the college biology classes that I teach.

Eukarya is bound to be your child’s new favorite word!

* like "horkey" and "froggert"

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: (OT) The Girl on the Train (England, suspense, terror, commuting by train, a death)

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (Penguin [Random House], $26.95, 2015, 323 pages). Recipient of the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award


The Girl on the Train starts out fairly slowly but gains momentum exponentially so that you simply can’t put it down. Suggestion: do not begin reading this book at 10 pm on a weeknight.

Think Spiral or Spiderweb

Like an accelerating train, you read faster and faster as the terror and suspense climb in this instant New York Times bestseller.  Lives spiral out of control.

Girl is perhaps the only book ever written where any one of four persons could have committed the crime very believably until the very end (of course, we also have Murder on the Orient Express [1974] by Dame Agatha Christie but that is a different case). Reminiscent of 12 Angry Men (1957) the reader soon comes to realize that Girl is a modern-day Rear Window, that classic 1954 Hitchcock tale of mounting terror (or overactive imagination?) with Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr and Wendell Corey.

I can’t wait to see the movie: I wonder if it will be set in the US or England where the story actually takes place.

Think Slinky

Remember slinkies, those expandable, levitatible precompressed helical springs that crawl down a staircase all by themselves if strategically set and sent on their way? Think slinky when reading Girl: the plots thicken, the plots interweave (think spiderweb even or a 4-year-old’s drawing) as the story is told by the three women over two years. Just as one woman’s diary-like entry seems to reach a climax, the author switches to another woman’s story, equally fascinating, equally boring (her life not the writing), equally crazy (why doesn’t she act? why doesn’t she see it coming? why doesn’t she go to the police?). However, enough chapters do advance the plot and the terror enough to whet your appetite to keep going. Like a slinky, the pace ebbs and flows.

Which Girl on Which Train?

First there was Girl on a Train by AJ Waines, a British author (2014), with 348 Amazon reviews - not bad. Then there was the best seller, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, a British author (2015), with 38,372 reviews. Fortunately I checked out the right one (the 2015 Girl) from my public library but now I am interested in 'the other girl on the other train,' too!

What’s it All About?

A commuter concocts stories about the people who live beside the train tracks whom she sees twice a day and into whose houses she peers from a safe distance. A divorcee cannot leave her ex-husband and new wife alone. An over-active imagination or someone who must meddle in others’ affairs (and affairs is the operative word here) to feel wanted and needed and in control? A missing married woman. Hiding one’s being fired from a job by going to town every day (on the train, of course) at the same time as before. Too much alcohol. Trying to get pregnant. Playing around.

If all this intrigues you, Girl is for you! Even if it doesn’t, if you just love a good thriller, Girl is for you!

Now I have just one question for you, Dear Reader: Did you see it coming? When?


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: All My Patients Have Tales (vet memoir, humor, MidWest)

All My Patients have Tales: Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice*, by Jeff Wells, DVM (St. Martin’s Press, 2009, 240 pages)

Hooked on This Book

I’m dog-centric: I usually want to skip over all the non-dog stories in veterinarian memoirs but Jeff Wells has me hooked on his book! I loved the non-dog chapters just as much as the dog chapters!

Too Entertaining to Put Down

Thirty-six stories about animals and their newly minted vet (who is only human) tell us more about the vet than the animals: each story begins with a couple of paragraphs about a fact of veterinary medicine or the practice thereof, jumps into a well-drawn event/incident/story in which our vet triumphs on the outside while questioning himself on the inside, and leaves us with a thought-provoking yet humorous few closing lines.  The new vet’s life is a trying life, trying to put on a knowing face and trying to convince the clients of the 75- year-old vet that you really are a vet,  even if you look like you are in junior high school.

As my readers might recall, I love a book with short chapters than can be read in any order. Tales almost fits the bill with short stories of varying length and only a few of which should be read in order (but not necessarily).

My Favorites?

Ah, that is a hard question. Looking over the table of contents to decide which stories I would read again first (I would read all of them again eventually), these jumped out at me (but it was a hard choice): The one about the Yak attack and the one about the biker chihuahua, and also the ones about hogs and cows and horses and dogs – oh my! And a few lovely charcoal drawings that just hit the spot.

Why a Vet?

From growing up and going to school in Iowa to a first practice in southeastern South Dakota to an equine practice in Colorado, Tales has it all – suspense, hilarity, and sensitivity.  One book I am glad to have read. This is a book that is not just about funny patients and funnier vets but also about being a vet and feeling fortunate to be outdoors at sunset. This is a book that not only tells you what it is like to be a mixed animal vet but shows you what it is like. If you don’t want to be a vet after reading Tales, I’ll eat my hat!

*I checked this book out of my public library – large print size was all they had, but that was perfect! For other vet memoirs see Tennessee Tails, Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow, Tails from the Tail End, and, of course, yesterday.