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Book Review: Back from the Brink by Nancy F. Castaldo

Back from the Brink, by Nancy F. Castaldo, is a collection of stories for older kids (10 – 12 years old) about animals that have come very close to extinction.  Due to efforts from conservation researchers and passionate individuals who want to see these species survive, their populations have increased again.  I recommend this book for students who are interested in conservation and learning about how researchers help save species that are on the verge of extinction.  It would make an excellent addition to a school library.

The book starts with an introduction to the legislation that helps protect species, including the Endangered Species Act.  It is then divided into chapters that cover seven different species that have faced extinction: whooping cranes, wolves, bald eagles, Galapagos tortoises, California condors, American alligators, and American bison. The chapters discuss causes of population decline from issues such as hunting, poisoning, habitat loss, and competition from invasive species.  Castaldo follows that with information on how the populations were turned around and brought back from the brink through hard work by passionate individuals. The book ends with child-appropriate ideas to help save species.

The beginning and ending of each chapter is written in first person, recounting Castaldo’s visit to see the species of focus and where they live now.  The use of first person was an interesting choice. I think it will help students get the feel for actually being there and seeing these species.

The book is also filled with a lot of wonderful pictures of the animals.  Images that help support the information discussed in the text are also included, such as what a hacking tower looks like, which is used to fledge bald eagles, and what crane puppets look like, which are used to prevent chicks from imprinting on humans.

The book has a lot of detail, so it is long, as would be expected for older kids.  I do not recommend it for bedtime reading. The longest chapter is 30 pages. It is ideal for independent reading, reading for research projects, and for stretches of time when you can sit down for a while to read a chapter with your child.  I read this book with my daughter during the time between her brother’s bedtime and when she goes to bed about an hour later, reading just one chapter each night. It led to some great discussions about conservation. One night after we finished the chapter on whooping cranes I told her I was excited because the chapter the next night was going to be on wolves.  She was not happy. She told me she did not like wolves, but couldn’t elaborate on why. I pulled out my phone and showed her the video by Sustainable Human about how wolf reintroduction has had a wonderful impact on the environment in Yellowstone National Park.  She seemed more interested after watching it. When we went to read that chapter the following night she was excited and really engaged in the story of the wolves and the pictures in the chapter. I was glad to see her more interested in wolves and why it is important to save them.

Overall, I thought this was a great book to help students understand how species conservation has worked for these species, and the hard work involved in conserving a species.  Hearing these stories may help budding conservationists envision a future where they could do the same.

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Book Review: I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer has written a child-friendly account of Dr. Jane Goodall as she grew up and began her research on chimpanzees in I am Jane Goodall.  I recommend this book for budding environmentalists.  It shows kids the importance of caring for the Earth and the need to work with others to advance conservation efforts.  It also demonstrates that passions can turn into careers. If you have a young environmentalist in your home this could be a good addition to their library.

The book starts with Jane’s first birthday, then gives a humorous glimpse of trouble she got into as a child due to her curiosity and passion for nature.  All kids experience this type of youthful naivete as they explore their world that would cause parents to want to pull their hair out, like Jane providing worms a cozy home on her bed.

As Jane grows up, the importance of hard work to achieve a goal is demonstrated.  She surmounted obstacles to get to Africa. She overcame discrimination as a woman in a male-dominated field.  Then, finally, with a lot of patience she was able to get close to chimpanzees in the wild. She was able to observe them for extended periods of time noticing their individual behaviors, and the similarities to human behavior.   

My kids, ages four and six, were not initially interested in the book.  As I began reading they were quickly drawn into the life of Jane Goodall as a child, from her attachment to her stuffed chimpanzee toy Jubilee, to the games she played, her innocent mischievousness, and her excitement for animals and reading.  These are common elements in their daily lives. By the end of the book my kids were glad we read it. We had a passionate discussion about threatened animals and what they could do to help.

I found the book entertaining and inspiring.  It is intriguing to hear how prominent figures in conservation discovered their field.  It is also useful to see an example of how they overcame obstacles that people in conservation still face today – lack of money, controversy about the way to do research, etc.

The illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulous are cute.  They have a comic feel with text bubbles depicting what Jane would have said in different situations.  Jane is depicted as a short girl throughout the book that does not appear to age though, which led to questions from my daughter about why she wasn’t getting older as she started doing research on chimpanzees.  

The book ends with pictures of Jane through the years, and a timeline of major events in her life.  She continues to be an inspiration to care for the Earth through her work at the Jane Goodall Institute.  The book mentions her Roots & Shoots program as well, which connects kids around the world and engages them in projects to help save the Earth, animals, and people in need.  It is a good reminder of all the ways we can help, and can be a discussion stimulus to encourage kids to relate their own actions to conservation efforts.

This book is from a series of books Meltzer and Eliopoulous are creating for Scholastic called Ordinary People Change the World.  If you enjoy this one, check out some of the other ones in the series too.

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Book Review: Moto and Me by Suzi Eszterhas

When Suzi Eszterhas was a kid, she told her mom that when she grew up, she was going to live in a tent in Africa. And she did. She became a wildlife photographer and spent three years living in a tent on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. While there, a park ranger asked if she would help raise an orphaned serval. (Servals are mid-sized, spotted wildcats found in Africa, and they are considered at risk in some regions, due to habitat loss and hunting.)

The serval kitten was just two weeks old when she got him. She named him Moto, and he needed a lot of care—she bottle fed him, groomed him with a toothbrush, and carried him around in a cloth pouch when he was too young to be left alone. As he grew, she helped him learn the skills he would need to survive in the wild.

Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom is one of my top three favorite books from 2017. Written for second to fifth graders, the narrative of the text is compelling, and at the same time manages to share a lot of information about servals, animal rescue efforts, and conservation work in East Africa.

And that kitten is just so dang cute. I’ve booktalked this title in dozens of fourth and fifth grade classes as part of my library outreach work, and the photos never fail to elicit a crooning “awwwwwwhhh” from the kids.

Suzi Eszterhas is author/photographer of several other children’s books about wildlife and animal rescue efforts, including Orangutan Orphanage, Koala Hospital, and Baby Animals Playing.


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The best environmental books we’ve read in 2017

It’s that time of year again, a time to reflect on the books that have left their mark on us.

Books that will, over time and with luck, leave their mark on society as well.

I polled our contributors to see what books they’ll remember best from 2017. And here we have it — a selection of children’s books and adult fiction and nonfiction — some of which we’ve reviewed and some of which we hope to still.

A word of thanks — to our contributors, for reading and reviewing books that make a difference; to the authors of these books that inspire us to make the world a better place; and to the readers who make what we do worthwhile.

See you in 2018…


Anna Monders

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King. 2017.

Obe Devlin is a sixth grader who loves being out in the woods, identifying animal tracks, and cleaning up the creek. But housing developments are going in where there used to be fields and trees. When Obe discovers a new animal by the creek—one that eats only plastic—he wants to keep it safe from the new neighbors and his former-best-friend-turned-bully. (Middle-grade fiction)

Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas. 2017.

Author and wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas spent three years living on the Masai Mara wildlife reserve in Kenya. While there, she was foster mom for an orphaned serval kitten, raising him until he could survive on his own in the wild. Splendid photographs and good conservation information. (Nonfiction, grades 2-5.)

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of by Martin Brown. 2017.

This is not an animal book about elephants, tigers, giraffes, or pandas. Instead, readers are introduced to zorillas (stinkier than skunks), banded linsangs (slinky like snakes), sand cats (cats that like…sand), and gaurs (twice the size of an average cow), among others. An unusual—and funny—biodiversity book with great illustrations. (Nonfiction, grades 2-5.)


Midge Raymond 

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe

It’s difficult to think of a title more important to the oceans—and therefore to the earth’s entire ecosystem—than Jonathan Balcombe’s New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows. Not only does Balcombe introduce us to the fascinating, complex lives of these sentient creatures, he shows us how devastatingly we are treating them, to the point of endangerment and extinction. Each section in this book is more interesting and engaging than the last, with information on the habits, abilities, and perceptions of many of the 30,000 species of fishes in our waters. What a Fish Knows is a powerful, accessible book that will ensure that we never look at a fish the same way again.


Jacki Skole

What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience by Gregory Berns
At the heart of neuroscientist Gregory Berns’ newest book is this question: Do animals experience emotions like people do? The answer, garnered through ground-breaking studies of the brains of domestic and wild animals, should fundamentally reshape how we think about—and treat—animals.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby
If you felt like your life was breaking apart, where would you go to try to put it back together?
If you’re thirty-year-old Cooper Gosling, you’d go to the South Pole. For a year. Gosling is the central character in this wry, compelling story of relationships, art, science, climate change, and life at the bottom of the earth.


John Yunker

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Peter Godfrey-Smith has a passion for cephalopods, And by the end of this book I suspect most readers will as well.

The Dig Tree: A True Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia’s Wild Frontier by Sarah Murgatroyd

The tragic true story of early Australian hubris and the outback. Spoiler alert: The outback wins.



Center for Humans and Nature

Best Books of 2017

Wildness: Relations of People and Place coedited by Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdoerffer, University of Chicago Press

Published in association with the Center for Humans and Nature, this collection of essays explores how people can become attuned to the wild community of life and also contribute to the well-being of the wild places in which we live, work, and play. With this book, we gain insight into what wildness is and could be, as well as how it might be recovered in our lives—and with it, how we might unearth a more profound, wilder understanding of what it means to be human.

The Driftless Reader coedited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, University of Wisconsin Press

The Driftless Reader gathers writings, paintings, photographs, and maps that highlight the unique natural and cultural history, landscape, and literature of the Driftless Area—a region that encompasses southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Through texts by Black Hawk, Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frank Lloyd Wright, Aldo Leopold, and many others, the book reveals the transformative power of the land and its capacity to make our lives more meaningful.

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, W.W. Norton & Company

For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods. Intrigued by our storied renewal in the natural world, Florence Williams sets out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships.

Henry David Thoreau:  A Life by Laura Dassow Walls, University of Chicago Press

Thoreau has long needed a fresh portrait that looks beyond both mythology and simplistic myth-bashing and recontextualizes him for our time.  Walls, a former fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and one of our finest interdisciplinary scholars, provides it in this meticulously researched biography.

Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming by Benjamin R. Barber, Yale University Press

A follow-up to his earlier book, If Mayors Ruled the World, Barber’s proposals for transnational governance of climate change have taken on a new importance and urgency now that the American national government is under the control of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. Responsible action now falls to other levels of government and to the private sector. Acting in concert, cities can have global leverage.

Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming by William E. Connolly, Duke University Press

A wide-ranging discussion of advanced thinking in ontology, ecology, evolutionary theory, and more by a noted political theorist. What Blake referred to as “Newton’s sleep” is over. Connolly is a demanding but rewarding guide to the new age.

Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene by Clive Hamilton, Polity Press

Vintage Hamilton. Trenchant, widely-informed, unconcerned about stepping on toes. This book shows the danger of interpreting the Human Epoch once more in anthropocentric terms.

Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity by Jeremy J. Schmidt, New York University Press

An original and sophisticated study of how thinking about water as a resource to be managed was constructed by the disciplines of geology and anthropology beginning in the nineteenth century. His critique offers a new philosophy of water and a rich way of understanding the formation of knowledge-systems more generally as well.

Arts of Living on A Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene coedited by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Nils Bubandt, Elaine Gan, University of Minnesota Press

There are many ways to read this graphically and intellectually innovative book. It offers creative tools for living in a more-than-human Anthropocene. One half is devoted to landscapes injured by humans in the modern age—Ghosts of the Anthropocene. One half is devoted to essays on interspecies and intraspecies entanglements—Monsters of the Anthropocene.


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Looking for a new ecolit book to read? Here are 20 from which to choose…

I’m happy to be participating on a unique promotion, organized by Margi Prideaux, that showcases 20 environmentally themed eBooks on Instafreebie.

And, yes, these book are free to download. All you have to do is sign up for the author’s email list.

To see the full list of books, click here.

The promotion goes from today until June 15th.

And I think I speak for all authors by saying that if you enjoy the book we welcome your reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. These reviews really do matter — and not just to our egos.


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A Q&A with author Jennifer Longo

Jennifer Longo is the author of the novel Up to this Pointe (learn more about the book here). Thanks to Jennifer for chatting with me about her wonderful book!

Q: Your author bio refers to your “obsessive love of Antarctica” — what led to this obsession?

A: Oh, my favorite topic! In 1998 I was in grad school doing research for a play about the history of photography, and I went to the Kodak website (on the new-fangled Interwebs). The entire site was devoted to Frank Hurley, Ernest Shackleton’s expedition photographer. All the plate glass negatives and photographs were there, and the images were just unbelievable – Antarctica was another planet. Those images led straight into my obsession. I read everything I could get my hands on about the Age of Exploration, Shackleton, and Antarctica in general. I’m just completely taken with the beauty and savage existence the animals, microorganisms, and people experience there, and how it all kind of exemplifies our lives on Earth in one beautiful continent. The sky and the water and the ice and the volcanoes are indescribably beautiful, it’s Nature basically showing off: Look how badass I can be!


Q:  From the first lines of the book (“The thing about Antarctica that surprises me the most? The condoms. They’re absolutely everywhere.”) and throughout, you capture life at McMurdo Station so well, including not only all the natural beauty of winter in Antarctica but the quirky and often challenging reality of overwintering. What was your research process like, and did it include a visit to Antarctica?

A:  I am so sad to say I have not been to Antarctica; it remains a dream of mine. I did apply for the NSF Artists’ grant twice, but have not yet been accepted. So the research I did was relegated to the many excellent books, memoirs of scientists and artists living at the stations there, and talking with Winter Over-ers via Twitter and email. There are a ton of really wonderful documentaries, of course, about living at the stations during winter, and about the natural world there in all seasons. And I have a good friend who Wintered-Over twice – he was there as a civilian – and he provided that first line! He’d called me from McMurdo, I said, “I can’t believe you’re there, how is it?” and he’s all, “There are so many condoms – they’re everywhere!” This was like, fifteen years ago, and I thought “Huh. Well, there’s a story.”

Q: In your author’s note, you mention the difference between facts and truth in fiction, and how in reality, a teenager wouldn’t be allowed to overwinter in Antarctica. Were there any other facts you had to overlook or stretch in order to tell the truths of this story?

A: Oh my gosh, I love author’s notes! Some examples of truth-stretching involve the ballet world, like the students not knowing the status of the YAGP results and their teacher keeping it a mystery – with the internet that’s basically impossible! And I’m sure the day-to-day activities in Antarctica (could a brand-new arrival really be taken on a snow-mobile to a rookery right off the bat?) are not exactly as they occur. Having never been to Antarctica, I used the real details I got from interviews and books and documentaries, but a fiction writer, even a contemporary one, is still world-building, still storytelling with specific narrative structural building blocks, and so it will never be completely one hundred percent accurate. And it’s not supposed to be, so long as there’s no pretense that it isn’t fiction.

I wrote this Author’s Note specifically (in case anyone was interested) because of responses I got from my first book (Six Feet Over It). Some readers will take issue with contemporary books if the events in the plot don’t ring absolutely true to real life, or at least, real life as each individual reader understands it. (Oddly, the things in SFOI that some readers scoffed at the most were always the parts that were actually true, so that was funny.) I wanted to acknowledge and kind of get in front of people discrediting the story just because everything in it isn’t completely modeling real life – because, again, this is fiction. And I was also aware that citizens and scientists of Antarctica and people who dance for a living get (justifiably) mad when people write books about their home and take lazy, dumb liberties. So the note was really all about sharing the resources I used for research, so people could explore the actual truth of a life in Antarctica and in ballet, and still enjoy this fiction story based on those truths.

Q: This novel has such strong senses of place, both in San Francisco and Antarctica. What is it about these two places that made you choose them for the settings of this book?

A: I’ve begun every play and book I’ve ever written with place. These two places both spoke the same story to me – two different plots, same story, if that makes sense? Surviving after failure, thriving because of failure, exemplifies the story of both San Francisco and Antarctica. Both are incredibly beautiful, both demand a punishing amount of effort to live in their beauty, both have, and continue to, survive human destruction of their natural state, both are home to some of the planet’s most unique and striking creatures on the planet, and the people and animals who do thrive there are ones who are devoted to, and changed by them, for life.


Q: I loved the structure of this novel—the story of Harper’s arrival in Antarctica alternating with the slow reveal of what happened to inspire her to go south. How did you decide to tell the story this way?

A: I’m so glad you liked it! When we began telling the story in straight liner narrative, it felt stagnant; it didn’t move the way we wanted (“we” meaning my editor, agent, and I). We played around with past-tense reversed plot, and holding out with the mystery of the end of Harper’s career but in the end, we realized the mystery, or the fact of or reason why her dancing career did not happen, was totally beside the point. The story was how she accepted and lived with the the failure, and learned to let it change her. When we focused on that, the structure kind of revealed itself. It was so fun to write, good hard work to get there.

Q: Cam you tell us about what you’re working on now?

A: I am loving working on my new book! This one I’m writing for my daughter, and for my new home, the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. It involves adoption, thru-hiking, and holding on to who you know you are, no matter what people (even those who love you) try to make you mistrust about yourself. I am so grateful my editor lets me write these stories, which are not so typical, and that readers have found some comfort and humor and exploration in them, too. Thank you so much for having me today!

Visit Jennifer Longo’s website to learn more…and don’t miss Up to this Pointe!


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Book Review: Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo

Jennifer Longo’s Up to This Pointe is a delightful, wholly original novel that brings YA readers to territory not often visited in this genre: Antarctica.


Seventeen-year-old Harper Scott is a relative of Antarctica explorer Robert Falcon Scott (“He is our third cousin’s aunt’s great-grandfather. Or something.”), but she’s not interested in science. She and her best friend, Kate, have been planning their entire lives to graduate early from high school, join the San Francisco Ballet, and live together in the city.

But when Harper’s dreams fall into jeopardy, turning her world upside down and leaving her with the desire to escape it all, she uses her family history to finagle a coveted spot in a program to overwinter in Antarctica at McMurdo Station. As one of only three teenagers in the program, she is fully immersed in an adult world — and a strange one at that — not only due to her presence at the station but also the very grown-up decisions she now faces about her own future.

Jennifer Longo deftly alternates the storyline between Harper’s arrival in Antarctica and the San Francisco backstory that draws here there, creating a suspenseful, page-turning plot. The dramas in both stories mirror one another in that both deal with themes of belonging, love and friendship, and how to deal with the unexpected.

Early in the story, Charlotte, Harper’s supervisor and mentor, paraphrases one of the survivors of Robert Scott’s party: “‘For scientific research, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.’” And indeed, Antarctica’s most famous survivor becomes the inspiration for Harper as she fights through a fog of depression and the long Antarctic night to accept the changes in her life and move forward.

While Up to This Pointe deals with disappointment, heartbreak and other mature themes, it is an upbeat, lively tale sprinkled with wonderful humor throughout. The novel never gets bogged down even in its weighty moments but rather evokes hope and perseverance, much like the real-life Shackleton story that is revealed in its pages. And while the novel doesn’t tackle environmental issues head-on, its glimpses of Antarctica’s natural beauty, Charlotte’s research in eco-marine biology, and the fact that Harper is a vegetarian all subtly link this novel with environmental awareness.

Learn more about Up to this Pointe in our Q&A with Jennifer Longo, and visit her online at

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Book Review: Whippoorwill

whippoorwillWhen sixteen-year-old Clair Taylor’s neighbors get a dog and leave him staked in the yard in freezing weather, she tries to ignore the whimpers and cries—the clear neglect—that is going on outside her window. The dog is none of her business, and Mr. Stewart, the neighbor, is a rude and abusive man.

Eventually the dog’s suffering becomes too much for Clair, and she begins visiting him. His name is Wally. His neck is chafed raw. He’s covered in mud and poop. And he goes crazy for attention. Clair wishes she hadn’t closed her eyes to the situation for so long.

Through the dog, Clair gets to know the neighbor’s son Danny, a boy her age she has lived next to her whole life but never really talked to before. A bit like the dog, Danny is starving for kindness. As they spend time together trying to train Wally, it seems that Danny likes her. The heart of the story is Clair feeling her way through changing relationships—with the dog, with her father, and with Danny.

Whippoorwill is beautifully written. The rural working-class setting is vivid, and the story not only shows how an animal can bring people together, but also how deserving of love unwanted canines (and humans) really are. I highly recommend Joseph Monninger’s book for teens and adults who like thought-provoking dog stories—and underdog stories.

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Book Review: Rescued

RescuedRescued, Eliot Schrefer’s third entry in his anticipated quartet of ape novels published by Scholastic, represents a departure in many ways from the first two books in the series. Endangered and Threatened both took place in Africa and featured early teen narrators fighting to survive alongside bonobos and chimpanzees. In Rescued, Schrefer brings his series to the United States and introduces us to John, a sixteen-year-old football player who is the product of a broken home, and Raja, the orangutan his father smuggled into the country to become the family’s pet.

We first meet these two as they are separated, Raja banished to the backyard and a younger John bedridden with a pneumonia that may have been contracted from Raja. They communicate by a homemade sign language through John’s bedroom window and eventually Raja becomes desperate to reunite, breaking the window frame and ultimately wounding John. Fast forward four years and John is living across the country with his mother while Raja has stayed behind with John’s unemployed father. Unable to keep Raja or his foreclosed house, John’s father contacts a place called Friendly Land—a tourist attraction with rides and exotic animals—that John begins to suspect will not provide a good home for Raja. He flies across the country to say goodbye to his childhood best friend, but as the reality of what’s happening sinks in, John makes the impulsive decision to rescue Raja and try to deliver him to a better life.

The first two books in this series felt like twins. Their adolescent narrators were thrown into extraordinary, life threatening situations where humans were the enemy and the animal world was their only chance for survival. This book feels like the older sibling to the first two, still family, but navigating on an entirely different plane of existence. We are in the U.S. now, where no apes live free, and our late-teen narrator must deal with the less exciting adult world of animal rights issues like property laws, court cases, and political bureaucracy. It probably reflects poorly on my worldview that I was more skeptical about a senator amending an animal transfer order than I was about a boy living alone in the jungle with a troop of chimpanzees.

Schrefer embraces the adult tone in Rescued by spotlighting many animal rights issues throughout the narrative and he’s not shy about making his point. He dives into the ethics and politics of the palm oil plantations that are destroying orangutan habitat. Through John’s father, he shows how orangutans are orphaned or killed and as Raja ages, we understand all too clearly what happens to exotic pets when they’ve outgrown their cute infant phase. Schrefer even takes time to call out Air France as the only commercial airline still willing to transport kidnapped animals used in research facilities in the United States.

In all three of his ape novels Schrefer does an outstanding job creating vibrant, true-to-life animal characters and passing a wealth of knowledge about their species to his audience. The series is worth reading for the education alone, but the fast-paced plots and sympathetic human characters will keep you spellbound until the last page. A solid entry in Schrefer’s ape quartet as we wait for the final book and think about the gorillas to come.

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Do Unto Animals: A Guide to Raising a More Compassionate Family


I grew up around cats, so it always struck me as odd when people didn’t understand what a cat’s purr signified.

Then again, I did not grow up around cows or goats or sheep and don’t understand their behaviors.

You have to learn how to live among animals. How to read the languages they speak through their body language and the noises they make. And since not all of us were raised in households with pets or by outdoorsy parents, how do we learn how to peacefully coexist with animals when we don’t have much practice?

This book provides a great start.

What I liked about this book:

  • Stewart advocates for adopting dogs from shelters and not buying them (Adopt Don’t Shop).
  • She sings the praises of pit bull and black cats (black cats are considered lucky in countries like Italy and England).
  • She encourages readers to support the wildlife they share their yards with — and not just bees and butterflies, but snakes and spiders. Even the much-derided mole gets some compassion.
  • She includes plenty of craft ideas for getting your kids involved in interacting with your pets and exploring the nature outside.
  • I appreciated “The Hurtless Hunt” – a section on naturing that doesn’t require killing nature to take it back home with you.
  • Stewart is an active supporter of animal sanctuaries and provides ways to help that go behind simply writing a check.

The most significant section is about farm animals. I was impressed to see Stewart explain why she doesn’t eat meat — and then explain just how special cows (and all farm animals) are: The sorrowful sounds a cow will make when separated from her calf. The personalities of each of her adopted flock of sheep, with accompanying illustrations. For Stewart, dogs and cats are not any more deserving of affection than goats and sheep and pigs; they all are equally deserving.

Stewart writes that she and her husband have a mixed marriage — he eats meat and she does not, and the children get to choose their diets. But much has changed since this chapter was written — her husband, Jon Stewart, no longer eats meat.

Despite the strong messages included in this book, it is by no means preachy. Stewart has a warm, welcoming voice that encourages all readers to simply take a moment to see the world through the eyes of animals.

The book is loaded with illustrations and interesting asides. It’s a fun read and can be reused by readers referring to the numerous craft ideas they can put to use with their children.

If your family plans to adopt animals or simply wants to better appreciate the nature outside your front door, I recommend this book.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the title of the book derives from the golden rule — a rule that we should apply not only to how we treat our own species but all species. The world will be a far better place when we do.

Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better
Artisan Books

Further endorsement of this book comes from Leon, pictured below, a Maine coon mix who is currently up for adoption at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Southern Oregon.