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December 19, 2007 > Footnotes


Dec 2007

"Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?" by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle. Henry Holt hardback, $16.95 (2007)

This is the final collaboration from Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, the creators of the 40 year old classic "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" Young readers will relate to Baby Bear's quest to find Mama as they learn to identify ten familiar North American animals. With short, page-turning text and brightly colored pictures, this book will be enjoyed by children, parents and teachers for generations.

Reviewed by JP.

"Charlie's Raven" by Jean Craighead George, Puffin paperback, $5.99. (2007)

Charlie's grandfather is ill. Hearing that a raven might cure him, Charlie sets out to bring one to him. He steals a nestling from its parents and carefully brings it home. This starts him on a journey he never expected. His grandfather used to be a naturalist, and has Charlie set up a journal of observations. "Write it down!" he tells Charlie.

Ravens have very distinct personalities. His raven, Blue Sky, has a dance he does every morning with Grandfather, and a series of calls and attitude that he shows the other people in his life. He soon learns to fly, and attracts other ravens to Charlie's home as well. When someone moves into the neighborhood who wants to get rid of all the ravens, Blue Sky manages to communicate the danger to his human and avian friends. But can he stay out of harm's way?

There is so much raven magic in this story I couldn't put it down. Blue Sky's character throughout his adventures is charming and witty. The book is written with such realism I keep wondering if Jean George raised one or two or twelve ravens of her own. Sprinkled with Native American folklore about ravens, this book will appeal to animal lovers of all ages.

Recommended for 6th grade. Reviewed by dh.

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, Algonquin paperback, $13.95. (2007)

"Water for Elephants" begins with the elderly Jacob Jankowski, who lives in assisted living. Hearing that the circus is coming to town, another resident brags about carrying water for elephants which Jacob knows to be a lie. Jacob is determined to set the record straight and see a circus one last time.

The reader is taken back to the Great Depression where homeless men were willing to work for just a hot meal and a place to sleep. Jacob, then an idealistic young man, has just lost his parents and his prospects for a veterinary career. He lands a job as the veterinarian on the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a Ringling Brothers want-to-be. Uncle Al, the imperious and sleazy circus owner, is known for picking up acts and animals cheap from other circuses that have gone bankrupt.

The author certainly takes the romance out of circus life. Circus trains brought wild animals, daring acts, freaks, comedy and carnal thrills to far-flung audiences but it was a huge logistical undertaking. Circus people worked hard traveling with animals and big tops by train from town to town, setting up for one night stands and then packing everything back on the train. Workmen and performers were definitely in a hierarchy where the performers were on top. On this train, being fired didn't mean just losing your livelihood, it could be life-threatening. It was a dangerous, demeaning world with lots of glitter.

Later, Jacob becomes entangled with the beautiful Marlena, the cruel animal trainer August, and an amazing elephant, Rosie. This is an enjoyable quick-moving historical novel. Readers can disagree about the ending - unbelievable or a nice neat package. Either way, Jacob is winning as the young, na•ve circus vet or the cantankerous 93 year old trying to fit into his new life in assisted living. "Water for Elephants" is a love story and a murder mystery. There is bravery and treachery; cruelty and humanity. How does Jacob survive the circus? And will Jacob the elder see the circus again?

Recommended for teens and adults. Reviewed by JP

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