Friday, May 19, 2017

May Flowers

We've got a grand total of 2 tulips in the backyard and 3 in the front, so we've hit our max flower potential this year. Amazing.
(One of the tulips in the back has already been bitten off by some backyard critter or another, though we have no idea why; it just left the flower there, intact, chewed off its stem.)
  1. The Mystery of Darwin's Frog by Marty Crump, illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Edel Rodriguez
    • Beautifully illustrated! For a children's book, I'm quite surprised at how much information there is, though the fact that it's an entire book on one species is probably the reason why. There's also extra information on Darwin's frog and its relative, the Chile Darwin's frog, at the back after the main text, and the body of the book is filled with clear photos and delightful illustrations.
    • It also mentions efforts to save Darwin's frogs by taking them from their environments (where they are threatened by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, a fungus that affects certain frogs in select areas) and breeding them in captivity in the hopes that one day they will be able to be re-released into the wild.
      • While I do agree that conservation is a boon, and I'm most certainly for protecting endangered animals, especially if they're at risk because of humans, I would really like to see an outline of the considerations taken before deciding to breed species in captivity for reintroduction into the wild. Species come and go, and that's perfectly natural! (Arguably, because humans are a part of nature, it's perfectly natural that our actions shouldn't be considered apart from it at all - but that's not what I'm arguing, and I feel like that's taking it a bit far.) What does interest me is whether Bd is a naturally occurring fungus, and whether they have been a threat to frogs all this time anyway, for example; or at least a small paragraph on why we should be reintroducing a species at all if it isn't fit enough to survive. Perhaps it will be fit enough to survive after the Bd moves on from that environment - who knows? But if it would not survive on its own, should we really be isolating it from that environment, or should nature just run its course and wipe out the species from that part of town? If at a certain point in time in the future there is no longer anywhere for the frogs to live but in the comfort of facilities, will there be any point in keeping them around anymore? (Except for research and education, because every species carries with it information that could help us understand more about nature, and the more isolated the species is from other branches of the phylogenetic tree, the more valuable, arguably, it is for researchers.)
      • Perhaps that's outside of the scope of this book, though, so I'm barking up the wrong tree altogether.
  2. Do Whales Get the Bends? by Tony Rice
    • I didn't finish this book, but not because I didn't enjoy it! Again, there's a surprising amount of information given in response to a number of questions where I had expected a perhaps oversimplified explanation, so I was quite pleasantly surprised. The only reason I didn't read it through was because I don't generally enjoy the way this book is split up. There are definitely interesting questions that I read the answers to (e.g. What is Coriolus force? I'm pretty sure we learned that at some point in school, but honestly, I don't remember it; and of course, the titular "Do whales get the bends?", to which the answer is yes, yes they do, though it appears that it's the accumulated effects that makes whales stiffer in old age rather than an immediate K.O.)
    • There's also a question about giant and colossal squids, and I'm quoting here because I remember reading in another book something along the same lines, which made me very suspicious about what the Palumbis had written in their sperm whale v. giant squid epic. And now it's more than just my own rather suspect memory that I can draw on, but also this book right in front of me:
      • "So what about the stories of life and death struggles between sperm whales and giant squid? Sorry, but that is also nonsense. It seems that no self-respecting sperm whale would come across a giant squid during its deep dives and look at it as anything other than a very tasty and totally harmless morsel to eat. A giant squid finding itself seized in the jaws of a sperm whale might well grab hold of its attacker with its arms and leave impressive scars on its skin with it suckers. But its efforts would be a lost cause, and no matter what the squid did its fate would be to end up in the stomach of the whale!" (p.61-62)
        • So the scars might reveal the desperate death throes of the giant squid rather than its epic battle on equal grounds with its attacker, as the Palumbis would have it.
      • I realize both of these opposing viewpoints come from published books, but I'm going to go with the story of the giant squids being quite easy prey, considering also their "not-very-muscular arms" (p.61) and that I remember reading elsewhere the same thing about the nonsensical epic battles that take place probably only in the imagination.
  3. Juste la Fin du Monde (2016)
    • Xavier Dolan.
    • I'm not sure whether Catherine figured it out - but either way, as she said, it's not her role to say. The family's inability to listen, their nervous rambling, does not give way to Louis, who is unable to interject, to tell them of his death. They are afraid of him, just as he is of them, and as he leaves, the tension having broken and everyone scattered, his mother says they'll be better prepared next time, which is such a sad thing to have to say: they cannot but hold up their expectations of him in their preparations, and in the end it will fall to pieces or, barring that, become a facade. The flashback to Pierre is rudely interrupted, as are all the momentary scenes of happiness among them, by one barbed comment or Louis drifting off, preoccupied. He lies, following his mother's advice, but is unable finally to become their ideal. And as he leaves, his mother is smoking: life goes on, with or without him.
  4. Upside-Down Magic #2 Sticks and Stones & #3 Showing Off by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
    • This series is getting better and better, and I'm pretty excited for the fourth one to come out, whenever it does! The beginning of each of the follow-ups to the first have been a little boring, to be honest, because it rehashes Nory's situation and sets the scene, but it's great for if you're starting out and can't get your hands on the first book (e.g. all the copies at your local library have been taken out and they've only got the second book available there that instant) so that you can technically start wherever, even though the books definitely build on what happened before.
    • UDM is unapologetically in your face with the "respect and celebrate differences" message, and somehow manages to not make you throw up in disgust at how sweet you would imagine that to be. It's a feat; trust me. Also, apology scenes finally make the cut in the third novel! (I think there might have been one in the second one as well, but the third one was a huge crossing over.) I love that all of the characters are so multi-dimensional and that Nory, who I'm going to confess had just about zero appeal to me at all in the first book, has started to grow and mature. The best friends tack that the authors are taking with Nory & Elliott doesn't really translate so much into the writing though, which is a bit confusing to me because I don't see why Nory & Elliott have to be best friends - nothing in their behaviour suggests a closeness beyond what they each share with their other classmates. In fact, I'd hazard a guess and say Nory's much more attached to Elliott than Elliott is to her (especially considering the novel is written in 3rd person from Nory's POV). Anyway, I'm interested to see whether this is a set-up for something in the future for the series, or simply something they wanted to set down for... no particular purpose.
  5. Why? by Nikolai Popov
    • I waited, and waited, and waited for this picture book to turn it all around, but DAMN. That was unrelenting and incredibly powerful. I almost want to say it was even more powerful than Eve Bunting's Terrible Things because of its paucity of text and lack of explanations - it's all accepted as just what happens - but perhaps it'd be better to simply say that both of them contain a necessary gravity that you can't turn away from, that I feel is also necessary sometimes even in children's literature. The illustrations are graphic and suggestive of even more destruction than what is pictured, and the parallel between the last page and the beginning is hard to miss. The two books would complement each other wonderfully.
  6. The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young
    • I've watched Blackfish before, so there was a lot here that was not entirely surprising. This would be a great first foray into the world of anti-captivity for orcas, though, and there's plenty of information here on how Greenpeace flourished after taking on the orca cause (after Spong, hired to study Skana, came to realize that orcas were much more intelligent and complex than he had ever known and defected to the other camp after his contract ended).
    • Probably the biggest takeaway for me is that there is some truth to all the stories and the fear that orcas instilled in fishermen and the general public as a whole; according to Bigg, there are two races of orcas: transient and resident. Transient orcas are most likely the cetaceans behind the stories, as they are the ones that eat other mammals, whereas resident orcas eat fish instead - there are more behavioural differences between the two groups that can easily be found in articles online (I just clicked on two of the top articles that popped up from a quick search, so there are plenty more that are available, also for free). Furthermore, Leiren-Young says that these two are distinct enough that they rarely ever mate and reproduce together in the wild, though they are capable of doing so and will do so if forced together in captivity. It seems like it could become a textbook example of one species branching off into two that will in the future no longer be able to reproduce at all or to create fertile offspring, which is pretty fascinating.
  7. Friend or Foe? by John Sobol, illustrated by Dasha Tolstikolva
    • A wonderful practice in changing perspectives and the fluidity of our roles throughout our lives! It also highlights the vague uncertainties of relationships - friend or foe? I'll never know. The story touches on stereotypes (the cat landing on its feet after jumping off, being a cat and all, y'know) while also subverting them altogether (the mouse scares the cat, though the cat is subsequently hired to rid the house of the mouse... of which it is afraid). They switch spots, but their spots don't really change at all. Even as they have switched their places, their roles, the mouse now in the luxurious castle and the cat in its humble home, they do not join hands now having understood the other, having lived in each other's homes. Rather, they both continue eyeing each other from their respective walls and are unable to let go of the Otherness. Add this to the Why? and Terrible Things list.
    • There's also a nod to the family living in the castle being a lesbian couple, which is great!
  8. Rotters by Daniel Kraus
    • I couldn't put this one down once I got started. There's one "you're" where it's supposed to be a "your", but that's really all I've got on it in terms of nitpickiness. Now, for the story. I really enjoyed all the religious references and how it blasphemes all over, as well as the character development, especially at the end when he is actually able to move on from being a Digger. We'll never know whether he's able to blend (back?) into Mere Reality, but the teacher who never gives up on him but is not actually overbearing was great as both Joey's anchor to normality, or at least life outside of the Digger life, as well as being a kind of father figure to the prodigal son. It is he who cries when Joey's fingers are cut off; he who hints he might know what Joey was doing and what he had done to Woody, Celeste and Gottschalk, and despite it all encouraging him to stay; he who helps get him into society.
    • As for how quickly Joey is able to get into digging, physically I don't think it quite works as easily as depicted, but I could be wrong. He doesn't strike me as a particularly fit or athletic boy when he first starts out, and just digging that first hole ought to have destroyed his body for a little bit at least. In addition to which his growth as a Digger struck me as too easy for him to achieve - of course, the main goal wasn't to portray his learning the trade so much, so this is fine.
    • Boggs as a character struck me much more as a specter of sorts, or one of those mythical beasts that might be told of in stories (alternatively, one that might appear in Supernatural), than a person. I suppose that was part of the point, though, to really drive home his inhumanity, the part of him that's a rotter rather than a person. And so as Boggs goes, the community of Diggers too.
  9. The Return by Circa
    • I've never seen a circus performance before, and while this is not quite a circus performance, or at least what one might expect when one says "circus", the acrobatics performed were amazing. The stiffness of the performers' stances and the sudden drops, the body that is no longer one's own to control - all these serve to create the disturbing atmosphere that brought the background theme to the fore. To be honest, if I had never read the program before seeing the show, I might have been pretty lost; I still would have understood the - I want to say ugliness - of contortion - what I'm pretty sure was a dislocated shoulder, possibly more, as well as walking in a semblance of en pointe without the pointe shoes - conveying torturous experiences. Having read the program before going in, it struck me that it seemed rather dismal (or at least, I viewed it in such a way): even returning from a 20-year journey or from the concentration camps, there is either nowhere to return to, or the return isn't quite what was expected, not quite the relief or the idyll dreamed of while away - nothing will ever be the same again.
    • As a whole, I couldn't help but feel there was some disconnect between the performers and the music. Well, that's not quite right. They fed into one another and it made sense, but it was more like I couldn't quite grasp when the music was going to change, when this scene would end and the next begin... I couldn't read it. You know sometimes you can walk into a play or listen to music and you just know, not what's going to happen, exactly, but the shape of events as they will be, so that even if there's going to be a twist somewhere, you still have some sort of unwritten script to follow? I'm not sure if it's simply the unpredictability of The Return or if it's because I'm unfamiliar with both circus performances and opera, but there was definitely no way I could zone out for even a second, because I had no bearings. (Not a bad thing, to be made to focus. Not that I don't usually focus, so much as I think I do rely to some extent on heuristics, so that I know how to watch the play, or listen to music, if that makes sense.)
      • Why were the changes in music when they were? From the discordant music to the singing, I couldn't make out what the changes signified, exactly. Unfortunately, I didn't get to stay for the post-show talkback, but I think it would have helped clear things up a little bit. Perhaps the unpredictability is part of the show.
    • There was also this odd feeling of the performers going through their actions, but again, in a disjointed fashion. There were routines that flowed into one another, and others that ended almost as abruptly as they began, and as parts they make sense, but once you join them all together, it was like flickering between different stories (I'm afraid I can't identify who's who since I couldn't see faces so well), first this pair; then the acrobat whose body betrays her, convulsing and leading her this way and that; the women hanging, balancing on edges so as not to fall; the men. Once you read them all separately to combine into a whole, it makes sense, but trying to read into The Return The Odyssey was rather fruitless, especially as I'm unfamiliar with Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, the opera that inspired The Return (and thus unfamiliar with the songs).
  10. Russell Howard at The Royal
  11. Triangle by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
    • What a duo. What a duo. Both the Triangle & Square as well as Barnett & Klassen. The book drags on for a bit longer than I expected, with a lot of movement scenes, although it was a nice save at the very end. Not as exciting as Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, but I think the target audience of this one might actually be a bit... younger? I don't even know, honestly. The slow pace is an interesting change, though it's something I do expect from both Barnett and Klassen (more so Klassen).
  12. McToad Mows Tiny Island by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by John Hendrix
    • Wow. So much work for one round on the lawnmower (almost literally just rotating on the spot in the middle of the island)! It's hilarious and ridiculous and makes you appreciate the little things in life (or perhaps not so little) that you enjoy, and demonstrates clearly how you shouldn't care how ridiculous it appears so long as you like what you're doing.
  13. Telephone by Mac Barnett and Jen Corace
    • The look Owl gives Peter is just priceless. Also, "he's too young to end up as somebody's dinner!" All the different birds have somewhat unpredictable personalities that keep you guessing and on your toes - what a gem.
  14. A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
    • I feel as though the rhythm, or perhaps the choice of some of the words, of the tongue-twisting could have been better, although I appreciate the experience. It's a very fun book to read aloud, and the illustrations are adorable!
  15. Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
    • Oooh! I love that it references Little Red Riding Hood without being a retelling of it, as well as helping redeem the wolves in children's literature. I'm not sure if it also has a slight nod to Julie of the Wolves, as I haven't read that one.
  16. The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin
    • Unexpectedly political. I mean, I knew it was going to be because I read something about it (I think it was a review, but I don't remember where), but it still surprised me when I read it. It's a bit stiff, the writing, and you know what's going to happen, but it's an important theme - having the will to fight against your oppressors and stand up for what you think is right - with bright colours contrasted against the plot.
  17. Dragon was Terrible by Kelly DiPuccio, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
    • Cute. And I guess it teaches children that force and violence don't solve everything.
  18. Gaston by Kelly DiPuccio illustrated by Christian Robinson
    • "Well... this is awkward." A heartwarming and absolutely adorable book that deals with growing up as an adopted child, though in this case it's quite inadvertent. And how the bonds you form with those you grow up or spend time with cannot be replaced so easily.
  19. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
    • This is a modern-day fairytale, complete with absent mothers, evil stepmothers, black-and-white judgments, a prince charming... except Oyeyemi turns everything on its head and questions it all. What a delightful read! I'm still kind of processing how to write about it, so this will have to be it for now. Definitely something I would recommend though.
Because the next one is going to have a pretty huge section all to itself (The Cultural Lives of  Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell), I'm cutting it off here for now.

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