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Monday, March 21, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (29): Animals

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

I have way too many books, and I need to read more books I own, and weed out ones I don't want anymore, and this post is part of my effort to do that. I own so many of these old books that I need to really look at why I'm holding onto. And I can't read things and not talk about them on my blog. So here goes!

Morgan's Zoo by James Howe

Published: Originally published in 1984, my copy is from 1986 by Avon Camelot
Genre: Contemporary MG... you know, the kind of contemporary where animals can talk to each other and are really smart, but can't talk to people. That's a thing.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 179 plus some really amusing old advertisements for other books.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: A library sale. It's a withdrawn library copy.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): The Chelsea Park Zoo is a small zoo, and a slightly run down one at that. But to twins Andrew and Allison, it's their favorite place in the world. To the animals who live there, it's their home. And to the kindly, gentle zookeeper, Morgan, it's his life. So when the city announces the zoo will be shut down and the animals shipped to zoos all over the country, the twins-- and the animals-- spring into action to save Morgan's Zoo. But closing the zoo isn't the only danger afoot. The animals soon discover they have a chance to do more than save their home-- they have a chance to become heroes.

Thoughts: There's nothing wrong with this one. It was cute, and while it's dated, there was nothing offensive about it. Not even a fat joke, which is kind of amazing for books of that this time period. I just don't love it. I'm not the biggest animal person in the world, honestly, so I could totally see how kids would like reading about zoo animals and seeing things from their POV and everything, especially kids who love animals

I just think there are better James Howe books to take up my shelf space (I love Bunnicula), and although I certainly didn't mind this one, it's just not worth sticking around. It's a little dated, although not the worst of anything I've read, and very predictable. Goodreads says I've read this, but it must have been at least a decade ago. Maybe I remembered the ending, but honestly? I didn't remember anything else about the book, and I think it truly was just that predictable. Again, it's not bad, but I don't think I would ever reread this, and if I was looking for something for a kid, I think there are better things out there. I liked Taking Care of Terrific more, which had a similar theme (kids saving stuff, big stunts, parks). Perhaps a more modern alternative for kids looking for this sort of animal theme could be something like Saving Mr. Nibbles or other Elliot's Park books from Patrick Carman?

Not that I would say don't let kids read this or anything, but it might be a bit hard to find as it's older, and I don't know how much appeal it has to kids today. I'm going to pass this one along, and hope it finds a home where someone enjoys it a lot more than I would.

Also, my copy is the one to the right, and yellow books age so strangely. This is another one that has turned pink as it's gotten old. They really lose a lot of the yellow from both the frame surrounding it, and the cover illustration.

Misty and Me by Barbara Girion

Published: May 21st, 1979 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 171
Part of a series? I don't believe so.
Got via: I'm thinking a yard sale, because there are no library marks, and it's in pretty good shape. Not sure, though, honestly.

Summary (from goodreads): Kim thinks her parents are crazy! If she's not too young to take care of her six year old brother, Willie the Whiner, how can she be too young to have a puppy?!

So Kim decides to take matters into her own hands. She'll get a puppy anyways! She finds Misty at the animal shelter - a mutt with the silkiest, softest coat and the brightest, biggest brown eyes ever. Then with her baby-sitting money she hires a kind old lady to take care of Misty till Kim can break the news to her parents. But Kim forgets about paying for dog food, shots, a collar and heaven knows what else. Soon, her life is one big financial disaster!

How can she keep paying the bills til Misty's ready to come home with her? And what if her parents find out? Kim can't imagine anything worse in the whole world than having to give up her Misty.

Thoughts: This is dated, but ultimately harmless. If you updated this with something other than disco dancing and updated the money situation, you could probably get it pretty modern pretty easily. The biggest things, I think, are the money and the attitude about the mother working. It's not disapproved of by pretty much anyone except Kim, and she's not meant to be in the right about that, but it is seen as something a little unusual. The author has several characters speak very positively about it, and I liked that, considering it was 1979 when this was published.

The other big thing is the money. For example, Kim's parents pay her 3 dollars a week for baby-sitting her brother, which equals about 10 dollars a week in 2015 US dollars. That's still a really good deal for them! Even when they up her to a dollar a day, or 5 dollars a week, that's less than 18 a week in 2015 US dollars. Younger readers may not realize how hard it would be for Kim and Willie to get the amount of money that they spend, but honestly? It's not that big of a deal to me. It's amusing, not harmful. It also made me laugh when Kim said she wouldn't pay everything off until the year 2002!

The last big thing dating this? Kim takes disco lessons in school, and the idea is that they'll learn the latest dances. It is described, and it is hilarious. Especially the guy teaching it, who is described exactly as you think he would be, including open satin shirt and toupee. I almost peed.

There's a good little story here about responsibility, kindness, growing up, money responsibility. It's obviously old and it is dated, but there's nothing offensive in it, no casual racism, no fat jokes, not even really any sexism besides, like, Kim's best friend Lisa becoming a little more interested in boys than Kim/before her, and Kim being dismissive of that. That happens so much in books, and I don't even think it's done in a way that's particularly bad. They are only eleven, and Lisa is gently reminded that boys should come after other things by a character who isn't Kim.

All in all, even though this is pretty dated, I think the voice is really good. It's funny, and a little sarcastic at times. There's a good message at the end, and a fairly deep ending, and I think that you could really just talk about the money thing very easily, and the rest of the book would hold up okay.

Except maybe the disco dancing.

But otherwise? I'm gonna keep this one. It's cute, I enjoyed reading it, and it's ultimately harmlessly sweet, if you know what I mean.

Cat Attack! by Tim Schoch

Published: December 1st, 1988 by Avon Camelot
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Binding
Page Count: 134 plus a few book advertisement pages
Part of a series? Apparently there's a book before it, but it works as a standalone, and I don't care enough to search out the first one.
Got via: It's a library reject.

Summary (from goodreads): What's a dog to do? Flash Fry, Private Eye, is my master and I really think he's the greatest, even if he is human. But as a detective, he'd be nowhere without his very cute and smart sidekick -- me. I'm Scratch, Private Nose.

This time Flash is up to his big green hat in a mystery involving baseball, picnic tables, and cats. Lots of cats. And if Flash can't find three special missing cats known as the Three Stooges, he and eight other kid are going to be in big, big trouble. Arooo! And it's up to me to save them. Double Arooo!

So come on inside. There's going to be lots of furry fun and more surprises than you can shake your tail at!

Thoughts: This has such a weird cover. It fits the story, but it's so weird. It's very dated, and the colours they chose are odd in contrast to each other. The book itself... it's old. It's not so terribly dated that it's offensive or anything, but that's probably because it's very bland. The detective/mystery plot is realistic (a kid finding another kid's lost cats, sure), but boring. The dog POV is kind of weird, like it's trying too hard, and doesn't really add anything.

Frankly, some of the subplot of the mystery is really irritating. Spoilers, but do you really care? Like, the kid who loses the cats, her mother blames her for letting them out. But then after they've been rescued, the dog goes by the next day, and they're outside! If you have outdoor cats, you don't get to yell at your kid and ban her from playing baseball for letting them out! The same mother says that cats don't just run away on their own. Yes, they do, they're cats! And then at the end of the book, the mother just gives the cats away. She's a terrible pet owner! If you don't want your cats to run away when they're outside, keep them inside. It's better for them anyways.

That part made me angry, there were weirdly dark moments for a book that was so light otherwise, and the rest of it was just bland. I've read better kids' mystery books, I've read better dog POVs, and I just can't see myself recommending this to a kid or rereading it. It's just not that fun, or deep, or anything. The only part I really liked was it showed a young boy character crying... not in the "I like to see kids cry" way, but the "boys get told they shouldn't cry" way... you know? Like it's important for boys to be able to cry in books. But even that didn't save it. I'm going to be passing this one along for the shelf space.

Socks by Beverly Cleary

Published: Originally published in 1973, this edition was released in 2001 with a reprint in 2015.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 156 plus a bunch of blurbs for other books by the author.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think I bought it at an elementary school that was selling things to raise money.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Socks is a young tabby cat with four white paws, and he lives happily with a young married couple, Marilyn and Bill Bricker. The center of the Bricker household, Socks rules it affectionately but firmly.

Into this loving home, however, comes another pet. This creature has a small, wrinkled, furless face, and Mr. and Mrs. Bricker spend an inordinate amount of time trying to burp it. Its arrival fills Socks with jealousy and a terrible anxiety. How the rivalry between Socks and Charles William, the Bricker baby, turns into an alliance makes a domestic drama both touching and funny.

Thoughts: I love Beverly Cleary, guys. I really, really do. But this one just did not live up to my expectations. It is very cute, and her writing is lovely throughout it, but there are parts I really dislike. First of all, if you've ever seen Lady and the Tramp, this is basically that but with a cat instead. Okay, not exactly, but there are a lot of similarities. And many of the things I greatly dislike from that movie are the same thing that irritate me in this.

I believe that when you get an animal, you make a commitment to care for and love that animal, and that doesn't change because you have a baby. Animals need love and attention, and if you neglect your pet and then get angry that that pet acts out, you are a bad pet owner. These people basically ignored their cats for months besides to feed it, and then they get upset when it acts out. This book could almost be a metaphor for an older child getting a new sibling, but that is a terrible message to send when they literally neglect their cat. Socks practically ends up with depression before the baby gets old enough to give him attention.

Second, a big part of the book is that, while the parents are ignoring the cat and never playing with him, and the only attention they give him is when they give him leftover baby formula (And can you tell this book is dated? That stuff is expensive, man), Socks gains weight. When someone ELSE notices - not them, they don't pay that much attention to him - they put the cat on a diet. The mother also mentions that she's going to diet as well as her pants don't zip up anymore. As in her pre-pregnancy pants. When the baby is only a few months old. Because how dare a woman's body change after pregnancy.

Way too much of the book is spent talking about dieting, or with poor Socks talking about how hungry he is. There's comments about how everyone in the Bricker household must be "fit", and talk about "overweight" people (and cats) having problems with their hearts. Fat people can be fit, and fat people can be perfectly healthy. What message are we sending to fat kids reading this when the book insults the cat so much for being fat?

I'm actually kind of glad I didn't read this as a kid. I read enough terrible books with fat hate and dieting in them. The cat care in this one is outdated, and so is the baby care. The diet stuff is hugely annoying, and a lot of the characters are really mean. While I will probably be ordering other Cleary books for the kid I give books to (likely the Ralph books), this will not be one of them, and I think I will be passing this one on. The beginning and the ending are really cute, but all the dieting and fatshaming kind of ruins it for me. Disappointing for sure. I wanted to love this one!

So now that I'm done ranting... what have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

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