Friday, July 13, 2012


Ruurs, Margriet. Illus. W. Allan Hancock. Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things that Creatures Do. New York: Tundra Books, 2011. ISBN:9780887769733. $19.99 

Amazing Animals shares facts and information about members of the animal kingdom. The categories it addresses are Size and Strength, Reproduction, Communication, Homebuilding, Migration and Navigation, Diet, Hunting, and Defense. Margriet Ruurs selected a variety of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that, when combined with beautiful oil paintings by W. Allan Hancock, encourages readers to pay just a bit more attention to the world around them. Ruurs states that her hope in compiling the book was that “it will urge [readers] to research and explore the animal world for [themselves],” and her careful selection of beautifully illustrated creatures succeeded in piquing my interest.

Here are some of the things I didn’t know:

1. A black ant can carry ten to twenty times its own weight—this would be like a human carrying a horse. Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that if every insect in the world was weighed all at once on a scale, they would weigh more than all the other animals.

2. A sturgeon can grow over 16 feet long and live over a century.

3. A coconut crab is a land dweller, and it's gigantic—stretching 1½ feet. Not only that, it can open up coconuts with its pincers. Just hearing this made me squirm.

There were many more things I learned (such as that a slug has three noses) that you will enjoy finding out, too. Along the lines of learning, a reading of Amazing Animals provides a bit of a vocabulary review. Fortunately, there is a glossary at the end of the book that helped me remember that “spiracles” are small breathing holes.

Stephanie Ashley

Thursday, July 12, 2012

RAIN by Peter Spier

Spier, Peter. Rain. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1982. ISBN 0-385-24105-4.

What a gorgeous, sigh-inducing book! Peter Spier’s Rain follows two children on their adventures during a rainy day, starting with them rushing inside when the rain begins and illustrating their day all the way through to bedtime and the next morning.

The brother and sister don galoshes, raincoats, and a giant umbrella and trot off into their neighborhood for a day of exploration in the rain. They stand below overflowing gutters, put their hands under drain pipes, and squish their fingers through the mess in a wet sandbox. They splash through puddles, admire a glistening spider web, and dump a wheelbarrow full of water. During their exploits they encounter numerous animals, from squirrels to cardinals to mice to raccoons. They watch ducks swimming in a rain-drenched pond, they find a cat curled up under a parked truck for shelter from the wet, and they see a neighbor’s dog watching the rain from his doghouse.

Back at home, the siblings remove their wet clothes and pass them into their mother’s waiting hands. After a bath and dry clothes, they play with a block set in the living room while waiting for dinner with their parents. The family dog and cat are always nearby. Nighttime brings sleeping and a clearing sky. Brother and sister awaken to a sun-drenched morning and a backyard alight with water reflecting the sun.

For an adult, this book is a sumptuous trip down memory lane, bringing to mind the simpler days of the early 1980s, when children went outside in the rain and played with blocks instead of video games. For a child, the book is a awash with visual delight and the innocence of childhood. Spier’s illustrations are gorgeous and intricate, with numerous little touches that show dozens of aspects of a life. In the children’s backyard alone, the pages ramble with garden flowers and birds, a sandbox, an errant hose, a woodpile, a playful dog and cat, a full shed, and pet rabbits with their snack of lettuce and carrots. Almost every page is alight with detailed drawings, and in the more simple illustrations, Spier manages to evoke the precise way rain pools on the ground and the way the background of trees and homes turns gray in a deluge. The story is told entirely with pictures, and every detail makes each moment something worth poring over.

In addition to a childlike sense of wonder at a rain-soaked world, Spier’s work elicits moments of vivid childhood memory, like the feeling of standing in a rainy street as water surges past your feet to make its escape down the drain, With moments like that in this book, Spier creates more than a story about two kids playing in the rain; he creates an emotional response to a universal experience.

Jill Coste

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TOSS OF A LEMON by Padma Viswanathan

Viswanathan, Padma. The Toss of a Lemon. Canada: Random House Canada, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-15-101533-7.

To begin, I would not necessarily consider The Toss of a Lemon a young adult novel. I don’t believe that was the author’s intention, nor would it be appropriate for most high school students. As a former teacher, I can think of a select few girls who would absolutely love it, and many more for whom it would be obtuse, irrelevant, and difficult to engage.

The third-person-omniscient narrative style initially seems detached, as if I, the reader, am too far away, too far removed, from the action. The book is 640 pages, so if the action is slow to start, I suppose I can forgive! By the end, I felt like the characters were part of my own family, and I certainly stopped feeling so far away from the action on the pages.

At heart, the story is a generational saga. Sivikami, a young Brahmin girl, is married at 10, widowed at 18, and spends the rest of her life as an orthodox Brahmin widow: wearing only two white saris, shaving her head, and not appearing in public from dawn to dusk. She raises her two children, then her daughter’s brood of six children, who bear their own children by the end of the novel. Born in 1896, Sivikami deals with the problem of changing times in India, particularly Indian independence and the end of Brahmin social prominence.

The Toss of a Lemon will disappoint those looking for fast-paced narration, a quick-moving story, or suspense. But for readers looking for an experience, a way to immerse themselves in a different culture, The Toss of a Lemon is an excellent read. The meandering narrative, rich in cultural information, characterization, and description, is easy to put down, but just as easy to pick up again. It’s an ideal bedtime read.

Reviewed by Marisa Behan

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Gonyea, Mark. A Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Good. New York: Henry Hold & Company, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-8050-7575-5. $21.95.

On one hand, this is a children’s nonfiction book. Gonyea takes complicated ideas of design and uses simple shapes, bold colors, and humorous layouts to explain graphic design to children. He addresses the relationship between objects, diagonal versus straight lines, contrast, usage of letters, color, and balance.

On the other hand, this book makes a fabulous joke gift for adult designers, who would more acutely appreciate the humor Gonyea weaves into his deceptively simple narration. An (adult) freelance web designer friend to whom I read this book remarked, “That would make a great Christmas gift” for our mutual friend, another web designer who majored in graphic design.

While still remaining entirely appropriate for children, Gonyea subtly pokes fun at every poorly-designed poster that filled its free space with complicated funky fonts, WordArt and clip art pictures.

Reviewed by Marisa Behan