BOOKS FOR GIVING
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1995:
Really Radical Reptiles & Amphibians and
Mind-Blowing Mammals, both by Leslee
Elliott. Sterling Publishing Co. (387 Park Avenue
South, New York, NY 10016-8810), 1995. 64 pages
each, $9.95 paperback.
If it’s from Sterling, you can bet it’s fact-filled and
copiously illustrated. Really Radical Reptiles and M i n d –
Blowing Mammals, the lead titles in Sterling’s new Amazing
Animals series, are print peers of the acclaimed National
Geographic Really Wild Animals videos, sure to fascinate
adolescents because they’re as entertaining as they are authoritative.
My only complaint about the Amazing Animals series
concerns the titles––especially the conclusions that the folks
who censor school libraries may jump to upon seeing them
spelled out on catalog cards. The word “radical,” lately
associated with Mutant Ninja Turtles, has not otherwise been
linked with reptilians since the eastern timber rattler ornamented
the “Don’t Tread On Me!” flag during the American
Revolution. Even worse, the phrase Mind-Blowing Mammals
implies the silverback gorilla on the cover could be in a crack
rage, while the title page lemur’s eyes may be dialated from
smoking marijuana. What’s next, Frenzied Fish? Sexy
Insects? Or Rock-and-Rolling Robins & Other Weird Birds?
Birds & Bees: A sexual study, by Dugald
Stermer. Collins Publishers (1160 Battery St., San
Francisco, CA 94111-1213), 1995. 144 pages, 60 color
illustrations, $30.00 hardback.
Illustrating the unique procreative behavior of more
than 60 species without being either lewd or clinical would
seem an impossible order––but Dugald Stermer does it, no
doubt to the disappointment of the rubber raincoat crowd.
Don’t get the idea, either, that Birds & Bees is just about the
sex act. It also depicts courtship, birthing, nursing, and
play, in occasionally explicit yet always gentle watercolors,
accompanied by thorough and zoologically accurate explanatory
text. There is no bathroom wall-type scribbling whatsoever,
no separation of subject from social and ecological context,
and much emphasis on the attention animals give to
selecting sexual partners and meeting parental responsibilities.
I won’t have any qualms about my son Wolf, age 5,
opening Birds & Bees and asking, “Daddy, what are those
animals doing?” Fact is, I’d much rather he looked at
Stermer’s pictures and asked than at just about any depiction
of sex and sexuality I’ve seen on TV, magazine racks, or
Legacy of the Dog: the Ultimate Illustrated
Guide to Over 200 Breeds, by Tetsu
Yamazaki . Chronicle Books (275 Fifth St., San
Francisco, CA 94103), 1995. 344 pages, 900 color
photos, $45.00 hardcover or $24.95 paperback.
Produced for coffee tables, Legacy of the Dog
could also save a lot of lives as a desk reference at animal
shelters. Even experts will misidentify some of the rare purebreds
depicted as “mutts,” when in fact they are costly animals,
in demand, with active rescue groups. Many, moreover,
have registries independent of the American Kennel
Club, and therefore don’t appear on the familiar breed charts
most of us already have posted somewhere in our offices or
kennels. Get a donor to give your shelter Legacy of the Dog
for Christmas, designate a volunteer to cross-check dogs
received against the mugshots, and make contact with the
rescues. The latter will be the hard part: Legacy of the Dog
does not include rescue addresses, and the Project Breed
directories are now seriously out-of-date. But call us, in a
pinch, and we’ll try to help
Dolphin Man: Exploring the World of
Dolphins, by Laurence Pringle. Simon &
Schuster (1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
10020), 1995. 42 pages, $17.00 hardcover.
Late last summer, dolphin freedom advocate Ric
O’Barry led a protest against dolphin detentions and tooth
removals for counting purposes by marine mammologist
Randall Wells––at 42 not only one of the youngest and brightest
stars in dolphin research, but also the only person other
than O’Barry to have documentedly released longterm captive
dolphins successfully. Wells in late 1990 turned loose two
dolphins held captive for two years. Both are apparently still
at large and doing fine. Introducing the entire field of dolphin
study, with only a loose focus on Wells, author Laurence
Pringle covers that landmark release in a mere four pages.
Indeed Pringle ignores the many controversies involving dolphins
in general and Wells in particular, which makes
Dolphin Man much less valuable than it ought to be in introducing
a man sure to influence public attitudes and policy
toward dolphins for decades to come. One needn’t take sides,
always problematic in a book aimed at the school library market,
to explain that disagreements exist.
Dog People: Writers and Artists on Canine
Companionship, edited by Michael J. Rosen.
Artisan Books (708 Broadway, New York, NY 10003-
9555), 1995. 160 pages, illustrated, $25.00 hardcover.
Familiar essays chosen by the editor of T h e
Company of Dogs, The Company of Cats, and The Company
of Animals, Dog People is a great gift for someone who not
only loves dogs but still hasn’t had enough of them at bedtime.
My Dog’s The World’s Best Dog, by Suzy
Becker. Workman Publishing Co. (708 Broadway,
New York, NY 10003-9555), 1995. $6.95, paperback.
Whimsical watercolor cartoons and captions, from
the author/illustrator of All I Need To Know I Learned From
My Cat, celebrate canine nature. At times canine nature may
not inspire celebration––but cats are often master dog-trainers,
so perhaps Becker’s previous hit made this one possible.
5,001 Names For Your Pet, by Rita Blockton.
Avon Books (1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York,
NY), 1995. 283 pages, $4.99, paperback.
First thought: Rita Blockton must have some
vocabulary, because in addressing our hairy brigade I rarely
get past the drill sergeant’s dirty dozen. Then I remembered
my former San Jose neighbor, who named his dogs Off The
Pig and Smash the State. He loved to shout them in from the
yard for dinner. Then he got a third dog named F— Nixon,
and the cops nailed him for breaking the city pet limit. In all
seriousness, this title didn’t initially impress us, so we donated
the first of two review copies we received to a high-volume
adoption shelter. The staff told us their clients wore it to
tatters within about a week.
The ABC of CAT Trivia, by Rod L. Evans
and Irwin M. Berent, St. Martin’s Press (175 5th
Ave., New York, NY 10010), 1995. 218 pages,
My test of a trivia book is to see how many goofs I
find. I didn’t find many here, but there was one howler. On
page 37 of The ABC of Cat Trivia comes the statement that,
“The origin of the island in Mississippi called Cat Island actually
has nothing to do with cats. It seems that the
American/French word for ‘raccoon’ was ‘chat,’ which
sounded like ‘cat.'” Actually, “chat” is the French word for
“cat”; “raccoon,” however, is “chat sauvage,” which means
literally “feral cat,” and in turn makes the term “feral cat”
hopelessly confusing in Quebec, where many of the feral cats
are in fact Maine coons. I won’t hold similar confusion
against Evans and Berent, who have overall done a great job.
Titles to read aloud
Wild Fox: A True Story, by Cherie Mason,
illustrated by Jo Ellen McAllister Stammen.
Down East Books (POB 679, Camden, ME 04843),
1993. $15.95, hardcover.
Cherie Mason’s account of rescuing and rehabilitating
a fox who was injured in a leghold trap has become a
children’s classic. First published in the August 1988 edition
of Cricket, then expanded into book form, it was
named Smithsonian’s Outstanding Natural History Title of
1993––among a raft of other honors that should make it an
appreciated gift to any school library.
Washing The Willow Tree Loon, b y
Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by
Nancy Carpenter. Simon & Schuster (1230 Ave. of
the Americas, New York, NY 10020), 1995. 40
pages, $16.00, hardcover.
Children’s storybooks rarely take on such grim
subjects as oil spills, but this one does, describing and
depicting in paintings the rescue and recovery of a loon
after the wreck of a barge. Detailed how-to and background
are provided in a two-page “Note about bird rehabilitation”
at the end.
O Is For Orca: A Pacific Northwest
Alphabet Book. Photos by Art Wolfe; text
by Andrea Helman. Sasquatch Books (1008
Western Ave., Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98104), 1995.
Author Andrew Helman finds a few twists on an
old plot: “X is for Xerophyllum tenax,” a.k.a. bear grass.