Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book Review: A Girl's Best Friend (puppy, American Girl)

A Girl’s Best Friend, by Catherine Stine (American Girl Publishing, 2010, 120 pages, $8.95, ages 8 and up, grades 3-4)

What did young girls (ages 8 and above) do before the exclusive American Girls products came on the scene? Truly an institution now, AG started as books about girls in history* like Kit Kittredge during the 30s
then morphed into contemporary book characters with themes like loyalty and doing what’s right, along with baby dolls, look-alike dolls, their pets, mysteries, doll clothes and equipment galore (young girls can even dress like their dolls in matching outfits).

A Girl’s Best Friend gives us a story (or more – with reader-selected options) about a puppy and places the reader into the heroine’s role to learn about loyalty and responsibility and trust and secrets and the limits of love along with eight of her best friends. The book stars You, the reader.

The young girls live on a university campus (Innerstar University), in single rooms, and eat in a cafeteria. Some also work shifts at Pet-Palooza (seemingly a puppy boarding kennel or day care) and there is a lot of hugging going on - girls hug dogs, and girls hug girls.

Pepper, a pup at P-P runs away from his family. You find him and want to protect him so you try to keep him in your dorm room but find it harder to care for a pup than you once thought. Will you return him? How will you explain what you tried to do as unsuccessfully as the pup’s family? What will the consequences be? Will your friends stick by you?

Surprising Interactive Options from American Girl

Remember books that let the reader choose what page to read next, e.g., “Go to page 34 if you think you will do thus and such,” ‘Go to page 61 if you think you will do something else.” A Girl’s Best Friend is interactive with has 20 endings and can be read time and again with different details, all related, and all coming to a good conclusions.

Hidden Education

The young reader will also learn a little about dog shelters and fund-raisers, and a little about dog training (the old fashioned way, however, so you can start conversations about why we don’t use traditional methods and terms like ‘commands’ and ‘obedience’ as much as in the past).

*Read our review of Kit Kittredge’s (The Great Depression) movie here.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

DVD Review: As Good as it Gets (dog, waitress, obsessive-compulsive author, comedy)

As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Cube Gooding (Jr.) and Greg Kinnear (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 1997, 139 minutes)

The Original Grumpy Old Man

It starts with a dog, an OC (Obsessive-Compulsive*) crotchety old man, and a New York City of diverse characters - and they’re all in As Good As It Gets! And of course the dog is a Brussels Griffon**, a brilliant lion-faced actor, in nearly every scene.

Can a dog (mostly one canine star but also on board are a couple of other Grifs as back-ups) and young Helen Hunt breathe life into Jack Nicholson, the man you love to hate? What if this is “as good as it gets”?

Melvin (Nicholson) is an extremely financially successful stay-at-home writer (60-some books).

How does he write women so well, you may ask? He thinks like a man and then takes away reason and accountability!

Is it Affection? Or, is it Bacon?

A Brussels Griffon with a Teddy Bear face and an unrecognizable little body (Having seen the movie many years ago, I mistakenly remembered the dog as a Jack Russell! Oops! It’s so much better the second time around though.), who is tossed down a garbage chute but lives to live temporarily with the person who did the vile deed (can you guess who?).

Although not primarily a dog flick, As Good features a dog as the impetus behind the beginning of change. But can change go far enough? When precisely does the change begin and, more importantly, why? Who does the dog eventually choose?

A Study in Facial Expressions

Facial expressions worthy of Academy Awards – one for Jack (later, The Joker), and one for Helen. You might want to watch As Good with the sound off. . . .

The Requisite Road Trip but no Car Chase

Baltimore, with a restaurant, 5-star hotel and hard shell crabs just south of The Charm City, is the goal in an unconventional road trip, in a convertible no less, near the end of the story. But our characters must, alas, return to The Big Apple and their lives.

Will Nicholson fulfill the words, “You make me want to be a better man”? Watch it again to find out.
*Obsessive-Compulsives do not step on cracks in the sidewalk or on square tiled floors. The do check that they have locked the door several times, never use the same bar of soap twice, . . . .
**think Ewok in Return of the Jedi

Monday, November 19, 2018

DVD Review: Because of Winn-Dixie (girl, dog, small southern town, summer)

DVD Review:  Because of Winn-Dixie with AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Eva Marie Saint, and Cicely Tyson (2011,106 minutes, PG), based on the book by Kate DiCamillo (review includes quotes from the movie)

Almost Every Kid in the World Needs a Dog

Especially a 10-year-old girl without a mother. . . .

A preacher father and his young girl move to a small Southern town where it’s hard to make friends in the summer. Winn-Dixie (named after the food market where they first met) is Opal’s only but constant friend and gets into one scrape after another to keep you laughing.

Blind Cicely Tyson – not a witch as the town kids believe but Cicely Tyson with a bottle tree that makes rainbows and music in the wind. She is befriended by Opal and her dog: “Would you like to be friends – you and me and Winn-Dixie?” (and the bunnies and the monkey and the goat and the chicken and the mice and the ducks and the birds who listen to folk songs).

A Children’s Film for Adults. . . .

Kate DiCamillo, transplanted from Florida to Minnesota and homesick in the cold and snow, turned to writing. This, her first novel, was recognized with a Newbery Honor (2001) for children’s literature and Winn-Dixie is now taught in schools across the nation.

The whole family enjoys several children’s books or movies but Winn-Dixie has layers upon layers for kids and for their grown-ups (note Opal’s drawing of the town at three different points in her story): not just a family film but a different kind of enjoyment and memories for both the young and the older – each time they view it.

The Dog who Always Smiles

That dog is magic! He slips and skids in the Winn-Dixie and in church, a convenience store (how convenient!)

You know how dogs are. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, a dog will always love you.

“Big, Furry, Stinky” as the “Found Dog” signs said (before Opal took them down, hoping nobody would claim Winn-Dixie so she could have him for her very own). He found her.

What on earth is a Picardy Shepherd?

A Berger Picard, of course. Five were imported from France for the movie since there were none in the US. The AKC recognized this breed for the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February of 2016.

“Ten things about my mother, before she left us.” Ten things about Winn-Dixie. Both of them leave. . . .

A Time When Kids Went Barefoot in the Summer

The music is reminiscent of the South, lazy South in the good old summertime, complete with single instrumentals (and crotchety old ladies). Winn-Dixie is slapstick, Winn-Dixie is southern – if you liked To Kill a Mockingbird, you will love Winn-Dixie, a new classic.

Little towns have big secrets. Naomi, Florida, used to have a candy factory but it was shut down. Each Littmus lozenge tastes different to different people – some said it tastes melancholy. Some said it tastes sad - or like music.

A coming of age story but the wise ones know you have to learn the most important thing on your own. Nobody can tell you things like you can’t hold onto something that wants to go. You just have to love him while he’s here.

Everything good that happened that summer, happened because of Winn-Dixie.

Was it really because of Winn-Dixie or was it because of Opal? She is like a butterfly, the special little girl who turns the whole town around and turns hatred into family as she discovers that sadness is for sharing but so is joy.

(And for the dog trainers, separation anxiety and thunderphobia.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: (OT) Working Stiff (forensic pathologist, medical examiner)

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell (Scribner, 2014, 258 pages, $25)

Have you read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers? Or sort of wanted to read it? Author Mary Roach* has written several lively books about rather dead subjects like Stiff (2004). She is such the gifted writer that she could even make the dictionary palatable!

Perhaps you’ve read one or all of the 24 Patricia Cornwall Kay Scarpetta, Medical Examiner, novels set in Richmond, Virginia? Do you watch Bones*? Have you read Kathy Reichs**?

In the vein of Stiff and mystery novels comes Working Stiff, just as non-put-downable, by Judy Melinek.

The Making of a Medical Examiner

Melinek is so very human in telling her story of two years (2001-2001) in New York on the way to becoming a board-certified forensic pathologist. She started out as a surgical resident and quickly became exhausted - to the point of exhaustion which could prove fatal for her patients.

Fortunately, she listened to her body, her husband and those who had previously offered her a different specialty – and it worked! Melinek became a happy doctor with time for her family plus the inborn excitement to solve medical-criminal problems.

If only more people could discover what she found in life, then we might contribute more to our own happiness and to moving society forward.

After finishing Working Stiff in just a few evenings, I so wanted to read what else Melink had written, but, alas, Working Stiff is it. (At this point, I should probably point out that it was written in conjunction with her husband, a stay-at-home dad and writer.)

What is a Forensic Pathologist?

Forensic pathologists discover why someone died. Usually employed by a county, and also known as medical examiners, they are the death investigators of sudden, violent or unexpected demises.

Working Stiff is a series of cases that are fascinating. Each chapter relates cases of a similar bent – accident or poison, e.g. However, after about a third of the way through, it seems to be just one case after another, filled fortunately with excellent writing. (I would recommend a few fewer cases so the read doesn’t become immune.)
The writing style is fast-paced and human-centered – both on the protagonist and the deceased, as well as on the family, court appearances, and relationships with detectives. A (well-rounded) tale (to keep you in suspense!). The micro-style is varied, from a break in the page to no break at all but just going directly into the next situation – a great method of keeping the reader hooked.

As I mentioned above, I wish the author(s) had written more, but I guess three children keeps a couple busy. I did, however, find the author’s blog, Forensic Pathology Forum.

Listen to Dr. Bones

To whet your appetite for reading, here is a preview you can listen to, an interview with the author, Dr. Judy and an interview you can read about a typical day in the life of a death investigator.

And, yes, she did help out on 911 and the following days and nights.

My father went into dermatology because those patients never die (and they never get better, either!). Dr. Judy has her favorite quotes about being a forensic pathologist, one of which is why it is a good choice for a woman: “There are no emergencies. Your patients never complain. They don’t page you during dinner and they’ll still be dead tomorrow.”

Bonus: the reader will learn about the causes and six manners of death and find out what a forensic anthropologist does – a cleaner occupation, on the whole.

Caveat: although Melinek’s book is not too grisly, it will help your appreciation if you have taken anatomy and physiology or know your bones and muscles. Nurses and others in the medical profession will not be grossed out. Teenage boys will also find the stories fascinating.

Also by Mary Roach:

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2006)

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2009)

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2011)

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2014)

My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places (2015)

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (2017)