Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground: Book Review

Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground, by Richard Bak, was a fortuitous grab off the new book shelf at the Ann Arbor District Library.

From a recent MetroParent article on libraries I learned the shocking news that the public library in Troy, Michigan will be closing at the end of the April. Troy is not a poor suburb, nor a particularly small one. But its voters turned down a couple of millage increases that would have kept the city library running, and then the city government didn't allocate the necessary funds. I hope that the Troy library doesn't end up like the Mark Twain branch of the Detroit Public Library.

Anyway, I never would have found this book without the AADL, which has such a fabulous library that I couldn't give it up when I moved out of the city to an exurb. I now pay for the privilege of being able to check books out of it. It's not that my local library isn't good - I'm often surprised by just how good the Saline District Library is (sometimes they even have books the AADL doesn't have!), and they're open to suggestions - but Ann Arbor is a much bigger city, and it has a library to match.*  Then again, Troy isn't all that small, and look what happened there. I like the comment on dETROITfUNK under the pictures of the Twain branch noting that this abandoned library is a "mind cemetery".

Which brings us back to graveyards, the subject of Richard Bak's new book. I never would have found this browsing on my new nook, as much as I've found love the immediacy and portability of e-books. Boneyards is the kind of book that really doesn't work well on an e-reader, anyway - the beautiful black & white photographs are a huge part of this book, and the main reason I grabbed it off the new book shelf and stuck it in my bag with the romance, fantasy, mysteries, and memoirs that came up on my request list.

I was thrilled to find that the text - the historic snapshots of a major midwestern city that it provides, both in the introduction ("Here and Gone") and on the pages facing over one hundred of these amazing photographs - was as well-done as the photographs.  Many of these photos are historic, and others are striking or evocative artistic works. Taken together, they provide one of the most unique perspectives Michigan history that I've seen. 

In Boneyards, I learned about Hazen Pingree, the Detroit mayor during the depression at the end of the 19th century who created plans for unemployed workers to grow vegetables on vacant lots. "Potato Patch" Pingee became governor, died suddenly of peritonitis in England in 1901, and the Detroit City Hall was draped in elaborate mourning buntings with an enormous black-rimmed portrait. (Many of the historic photographs of funerals and cemeteries show mourning decorations that appear bizarre and extravagant to 21st century sensibilities).

Then there was Benedetto Evangelista, the creator of his own religion, who provided celestial services in his basement, found beheaded in the same basement in 1929. His family - a wife and four young children - were slain upstairs, and no one was ever convicted of the murders.

Native peoples and burial mounds, the deaths and graves of French and British soldiers, Greek, Polish, Italian, and Romanian immigrants, convicts buried in prison cemeteries, the Purple Gang, drug dealers in the 1980's, racial segregation in cemeteries, Henry Ford, Walter Reuther, the Dodge Brothers (Bak notes that the workers on the main Dodge line were permitted to drink beer while working), union protesters killed by the police and Ford security personnel in 1932, and unclaimed cremations are all the subjects of short but eloquent essays. The photographs alone would have made Boneyards a beautiful coffee table book, but Bak's research and insightful narrative make this something more.

*Too bad you can't check books out of the University of Michigan libraries without paying a small fortune. You think they'd have some kind of special deal for alumni or local residents or both, like many other state universities, but nooo. Instead, I get some of the books I need for writing jobs from inter-library loan from EMU or MSU - or in one strange instance, a city library in Bezonia, Michigan - even though the same material is sitting unused on a shelf in the Hatcher library just six miles away.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention: Book Review

I read Katherine Ellison's article - Doing Battle with the ADHD-Industrial Complex - when it was published a few months ago. I thought it was an interesting and insightful piece, and promptly put her new book on my to-read list. I wasn't really looking forward to reading Buzz, though.

I've read a lot of books on ADHD, OCD, and Tourette's Syndrome and related disorders (including autism spectrum disorders) over the past ten years. You can see some of these books on the disability shelf in my goodreads account here, and some information on Tourette's and Tourette's Syndrome Plus (TS+) here and here

The books I've read include memoirs, parenting and teacher advice, therapeutic manuals, and fiction aimed at all ages. Some of these books were enlightening, some were depressing, and some should be required reading for anyone dealing with these issues. I wish I had enough money to buy copies of Ross W. Greene's The Explosive Child for every parent who would benefit from it, and enough copies of Lost at School and Challenging Kids, Challenged Teachers for every administrator, teacher, and paraprofessional (i.e., teacher's aide) who needs to read these books.

Anyway, I thought Katherine Ellison would be preaching to the choir in Buzz, and that it was unlikely she would tell me anything new, or describe any personal experiences I hadn't already lived myself. Then the book became available on my library request list. Even though the cover gave me a headache with its vibrating-look title (and the library's fluorescent ID sticker went right through the middle of the legs in the center, making them look like some weird butterfly wearing Converse high tops), I gave it a try. 

I was hooked by the first chapter. Ellison describes her "bad mom moments" in unflinching detail, along with graphic descriptions of her son's defiance, anger, and confusion. After one particularly memorable incident, Ellison resolves to turn her attention and considerable skills at investigative journalism to ADHD in general, and to her son (who goes by the nickname "Buzz") in particular, for the next year.

Her account of her year of research, experimentation, expense, family life, and community is fascinating. She examines medication, therapy, support groups, neurofeedback, meditation, and several other approaches to dealing with ADHD. There's a bit about the history of most of these ideas, interviews with mental health professionals and other practitioners, and interesting accounts of her experiences and her son's.  I'd heard of many of these approaches - but reading about the details of the practices was cool in a whole different way. It reminded me of Mary Roach's popular science books (like Stiff), actually. And I really appreciated the detailed end notes (complete with references), and a useful index.  

When I read about the meditation technique of mindfulness that Nirbhay Singh recommends for defusing anger, for instance, I was able to turn to the research in the endnotes, and then look Singh's articles up online. My son and I both read Singh et al.'s Meditation on the Soles of the Feet Training, and though he didn't particularly like thinking about his feet, he was able to focus his concentration on something else in a similar manner to help calm himself the other day. This is an approach I hadn't ever seriously considered.

Ellison's descriptions of her family's ordeals and triumphs during this year is equally engaging, and adds a certain (sometimes dark) humor to the narrative that kept me reading. I did wish that there was more about schools and educational advocacy in Buzz, and Ellison mentions that she became aware of this lack when it was too late for her to use the information effectively (in the epilogue). 

One work that complements Buzz particularly well is Judith Warner's recent book on children and mental health: We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication

In short - it's definitely worth turning your attention to Buzz, whether you have to deal with attention deficits and/or hyperactivity or not.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Every Bone Tells a Story: Book Review

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates, by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw

In general, archaeologists and paleoanthropologists don't do a great job of telling the public about their work. Their studies are so technologically and theoretically specialized today that it's difficult to convey all the relevant information to even a fairly well-read person, unless these people are willing to sit through several introductory lectures or classes in anthropology. And even then it can still be hard to describe the subtleties of current anthropological debates and translate the latest jargon (like hominin!*) to, the general reader. It doesn't help that anthropologists aren't generally rewarded for making their passions clear to the public. It doesn't get them tenure, advance their research, or bring in grants, and writing for non-specialists is very, very different from the type of writing that anthropologists are trained to do in graduate school. Sadly, grad students and most anthropologists aren't awarded any points for creative writing, compelling dialogue, or evocative descriptions - or any of the other things that keep readers (especially children) turning the pages of a book.

Explaining anthropological research to the public is crucial if the field is going to continue to exist in times of economic hardship, however. Which partially explains why I was so excited to learn about Rubalcaba and Robertshaw's latest book when it was mentioned in the comments at Heavy Medal, the School Library Journal's blog on the current contenders for the Newbery.

Sadly, I had to request Every Bone Tells a Story from inter-library loan to read it. Only ten or so libraries in Michigan currently have it in their catalogs (and Ann Arbor isn't one of them! I suggested that they buy it). Maybe if it wins some more awards it will find its way to more libraries and into the hands of more kids and adults.

It's written for older kids through young adults, but like some of the other nonfiction contenders for this year's Newbery prize (such as Sugar Changed the World, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, and They Called Themselves the KKK, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti), Every Bone is suitable for adults as well as kids. The writing style is simple and usually clear without being simplistic (with the exception of the section on the genetics of speech, and let's face it, mitochrondial DNA is difficult to explain clearly), and much of the information presented will be new and interesting to anyone interested in human evolution. Four sets of skeletal remains from different time periods are presented, with wonderful descriptions of their discovery, some good summaries of the deductions scientists have made that are based on these remains, and lively looks at the current debates swirling around them.

Because Every Bone Tells a Story is very well-written, I found myself wondering which author wrote which parts, but it was all very seamless, without any discernible differences in style. Perhaps Peter Robertshaw is one of those rare archaeologists with a gift for popular as well as academic prose, or maybe Jill Rubalcaba has the (also fairly rare) ability to imbue scientific discourse with human interest. At any rate, it was an enjoyable read, reminding me a lot of Mary Roach's nonfiction books (Stiff, Bonk, Spook, and Packing for Mars), which are funny, informative, compelling and memorable. It's a hard balance to find.

My only criticisms of this book are minor ones (i.e., not enough to warrant taking a star away from the 5 out of 5 I gave it on I wish that one of the skeletons that they had featured was distinctively female, so prehistoric gender roles could have been addressed. Lapedo child could have been a girl, but we really can't tell. I think the Time Line at the back of the book should have been put in the front - it would help readers put the Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and the Iceman in an temporal/evolutionary context as the reader encountered each of them, instead of trying to fit them all together at the end.

Unfortunately, Every Bone was written and published right before Svanto Pååbo completed the latest  reconstruction and analysis of the Neandertal genome, which reversed earlier conclusions about ancient humans and Neandertals gene-mixing. The latest genetic analysis suggests that Euro-Asian populations may have interbred with Neandertals between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago, probably in the Middle East (see Nicholas Wade's article in the NYT from May 2010). It must have been frustrating for the authors to see this research appear so soon after their book came out, with its debate section on Lapedo Child that cited Pååbo's earlier suggestion that "Neandertals went extinct without contributing to our gene pool" (p. 79), yet their conclusion notes that research continues, and the bones' stories have just begun.

* Hominin is the new, rather unwieldy term used to classify humans, their ancestors, and closely related species, including the genus Homo and the genus Australopithecus. The Tribe Hominini does not include chimpanzees or gorillas. Hominid, which anthropologists previously used to describe humans and their ancestors, now includes chimpanzees and gorillas as part of the family Hominidae. Got it?

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Start

Well, it's time to pull this old blog out of the basement, take it out of its box (luckily a waterproof one, or it would be moldy from all the puddles spreading out from the wall-floor joint every time it rains more than a half inch or it gets above freezing in the winter here), and use it again.

It's been an eventful year and half since I've posted. I don't want to post anything personal about my family, though. I do have the urge to post some book reviews that are a little more detailed than the ones I've been doing on my goodreads account, so you can expect some of those soon.

I don't have a real writing job at the moment. I've enjoyed the last few opportunities, writing about cannibalism and mad cow disease and orthorexia and global warming and prehistoric tobacco, but since that's done I can think about blogging again. Even though it doesn't pay as well.

PS If you're a friend or family member, don't feel bad because you didn't get a holiday card. No one did this year, though I may send out Groundhog Day or Candlemas cards in early February.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground

Here's the last book review that I've done in the last few years for a website that is no longer maintained (but that can still be accessed via the Wayback machine). The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) holds fascinating conferences and publishes an incredible diversity of books on motherhood (this year's on blogging).

"Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground”: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth, edited by D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, is an eye-opening and diverse collection of papers published by Demeter Press, the publishing division of York University's Association for Research on Mothering.

The book's title comes from a Cheyenne proverb:

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors nor how strong their weapons.”

Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground's diversity is both its strength and a minor drawback. The multiple voices, different indigenous peoples, varied histories, and the personal experiences of motherhood that Lavell-Harvard and Lavell (mother and daughter editors) bring together are amazing, but the diversity is sometimes overwhelming. It can be difficult to switch gears between the different topics and styles of writing in the contributions. Lavell-Harvard and Lavell acknowledge this in the first paper ("Thunder Spirits: Reclaiming the Power of Our Grandmothers"), noting that "There is such a range of Aboriginal women's experiences existing somewhere between "traditional" and "modernized" that perhaps the only thing we do share is what Mihesuah calls a 'commonality of difference'"(p. 2).

They go on to eloquently and convincingly explain how:

"the historical persistence of our cultural difference generation after generation (despite the best assimilative efforts of both Church and State) is a sign of our strength and our resistance. That we have historically, and continually, mothered in a way that is "different" from the dominant culture, is not only empowering for our women, but is potentially empowering for all women (p. 3)."

Lavell and Lavell-Harvard do a skillful job of organizing the diverse works into four sections: one on pregnancy and becoming a mother, the ideology and practice of motherhood, the state's influence on motherhood, and literary representations of motherhood.. And the references and the endnotes are remarkable - there are scads of wonderful, intriguing sounding articles, books, and papers from the most obscure places in each article's references.

A few of the papers are written in an academic style that can be off-putting for those not accustomed to it. If you persevere, however, the insights into different cultures and social groups, and the historical understandings gained, are definitely worth a few obtuse paragraphs of sociology, medical anthropology, ethnohistory, or literary analysis. I learned something, or was moved, or came to a new appreciation for the strength that the mothers portrayed have shown in the face of incredible hardship in every single one of the papers in this book.

The seventeen papers include reflections on motherhood amongst the Anishnaabe (Ojibway) of Canada, cultural and personal implications of the medicalization of birth (among Anishnaabe and Mi'kmaq communities), a fascinating look at historic Haudenosaunee (Iroqouis) mothering (especially interesting for those studying non-patriarchal societies and/or gender equality) , and one Metis mother's powerful account of how traditional parenting skills programs made a difference in her life.

“Back to Basics” describes mothering, and the impact that grandmothers and aunts - also prominent in several of the earlier papers on Canada - have on children’s survival (especially from kwashiorkor) in urban Ghana. On my first look at the book, I thought that Africa was a far cry from Canada, and wondered how this piece could possibly fit in with the other papers, but the authors do show how colonization and various forms of oppression have had a similar effect on motherhood in many areas of Africa, North America, and Australia. Similarly, three papers on Aboriginal mothers in literature, including works by authors Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Nugi Garimara (aka Doris Pilkington, the author of Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence) fit well in this book.

"Aboriginal Mothering: An Australian Perspective" provides an important look at "the Stolen Generation" (which many North Americans first heard about in the movie The Rabbit-Proof Fence), focusing on how women and families are re-connecting after the long period of cultural genocide that happened when children were taken by the Australian government in the years between 1905-1970. This paper is fittingly followed by a couple of papers on Canadian state child protection policies and indigenous mothers, the history and lingering effects of Canada's residential schools, and a short but revealing look at the impact of Canada's Indian Act and its context in colonization and oppression, authored by the editors.

As described on page 188, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell (one of the editors and co-author of "Aboriginal Women vs. Canada" ) was the first woman to challenge the section of the Indian Act's Section 12(1)(b), which was finally amended by Bill C-31 in 1985. As an American, I had heard the Canadian term "status Indian", but I was unfamiliar with the implications of how the Canadian Indian Act worked (and continues to work with its 1985 modifications). As Lavell and Lavell-Harvard describe,

"For well over a hundred years, beginning in the 1870s and continuing until as recently as 1985, under the provisions of section 12(1)(b), upon their entrance into marriage with a man not possessing Indian Status, the Canadian government stripped tens of thousands of Aboriginal women (and any subsequent children) of their Indian Status, and all the rights such status entailed including access to health care, education, and perhaps most importantly the right to live in their own homes and communities. Conversely, under the Act, not only did Indian men not lose status upon marriage to a non-aboriginal, their spouses gained status as did their children...Furthermore, since the extinguishment of Indian Status was irrevocable, many Aboriginal women were left without recourse in the even of domestic violence, divorce, or widowhood (p. 187)."

As Lavell and Lavell-Harvard point out, Bill C-31 (which restored Indian status to over 100,000 people)

"has simply created several new categories of Indian and only postponed the extinguishment of Indian status a couple of generations. While Lavell, and many other women like her, were reinstated as 6(1) Indians, her three children were classified as 6(2) Indians, which means their children, her grandchildren, will only be considered Indians should her children marry status Indians. Should her children marry non-Indians, her grandchildren will automatically be considered non-Indian. In a sad twist of fate, or perhaps a particularly ingenious governmental trick, Lavell's struggle for the right to marry whomever she pleases and still remain an Indian is currently being relived by her children" (p. 191).

This papers in this part of the book - the section titled "'Big Mother': The Role of the State in the Performance of Mothering" - are the most disturbing to read, but also the most illuminating.

I believe that most readers will come away from Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground with a deeper understanding of how history (and current government policies) affect families through their actions on mothers and mothering, as well an enduring admiration for the women who showed such strength in the past, and who continue to fight for their rights today. Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground also demonstrates the richness and diversity of Aboriginal motherhood, and should lay the idea that there is "one right way to mother" permanently to rest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Perfect Madness: Book Review

Again, a couple of book reviews from 2005 that were lost in the ether, retrieved by the magic of the Wayback machine. I fixed a couple of spelling errors, love that Firefox add-on.

Perfect Madness or Localized Insanity?

Well, I finished reading Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, by Judith Warner today.

I was very disappointed. The reviews were better than the book (and a lot more coherent). She totally disses Mothers & More and other similar groups, by the way, as:

“utterly corrupted by the competing religions of the American left and right”….(they) “purport to unite working and nonworking mothers alike in an ecumenical, pro-family social agenda. Their organizers, I found, were committed to this vision, and strove to make it a reality. But their membership, carried over from their pre-name-change days, was another story. Once you scratched the surface of their pro-unity slogans, all too often, something quite different emerged. Competition. Intolerance. And a big dose of sanctimony. Coming, most notably, from stay-at-home mothers seeking validation for the “sacrifices” they’d made in the name of motherly virtue” (p. 265-266).

It’s possible that other chapters are a lot different from mine. Do any of us seem sanctimonious here? I’m just not getting that vibe. But more on Warner’s book later, I have to go eat lunch with my daughter. She’s done drawing dinosaurs.


Imperfect Madness

Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety is first and foremost an opinion piece on “the current culture of motherhood” - it should not be taken as sociological or cultural analysis of even the most rudimentary kind.

I liked Miriam Peskowitz’s The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars a lot more for its examination of the work/family/time issues facing American mothers, and Douglas and Michael’s The Mommy Myth for its historical analysis of the media and its influence on modern parenting. Strangely, and very obviously leaving a gaping hole, Warner makes absolutely no mention of Douglas & Michael’s book, even though she covers a lot of the same issues (Peskowitz’s was published close to the same time as Warner’s).

Warner’s book strikes me as sloppy in terms of research, logic and presentation. Her endnotes are not presented in the text of the book, but arranged by page number in the back, so when you want to check the basis for a given statement, you have to turn to the back to see if it is endnoted. Almost every time I did this, I found Warner’s statement was based on a secondary source - a newspaper article or a magazine article usually. Very rarely was any scientific data (even from soft sciences, like sociology, psychology, or anthropology!) cited. For instance, her statement that today’s children display more anxiety, throw more tantrums, behave more disrespectfully, and are just overprotected brats is based on an article from Better Homes & Gardens.

Warner makes some sweeping (and unfounded and just plain inaccurate) generalizations about kid’s food allergies and the use of medication for ADHD & other behavioral problems that are sure to piss off many parents who deal with children with real problems of this nature.

And “Attachment Parenting” - even a middle class watered down version gets given extremely short shrift as just an example of the bad side of over-parenting: “baby-wearing, co-sleeping, long-term breast-feeding and the rest of it — cruelly insensitive to mothers’ needs as adult women”. According to Warner, co-sleeping makes for unhinged, sleep deprived mothers. Funny, everyone I know that co-slept did it because it enabled them to get more sleep.

Some other things that bothered me were the chapters on how this socio-cultural phenomenon that she calls “The Mess” is a personal psychological failing, like bulimia or anorexia, caused by mothers:

1. trying to capture their own idyllic childhoods (repressed overworked mothers & all)

2. trying to compensate for horrible childhoods and neglectful mothers

3. trying above all to gain CONTROL

But then she implies it’s a cultural thing, a mass hysteria, or a cultural OCD where the compulsions include making cupcakes, arranging birthday parties, etc. , and the obsessions are “perfect” children.

My main problem, though, is just with Warner’s basic premise: that the majority of mothers today have this “widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret…poisoning motherhood for American women today”. Maybe it’s just her wacko friends and the women (about 150 of them, selected how?) that she interviewed in Washington, D.C.? Do I just live in a small bubble of sanity? Ann Arbor is a relatively wealthy (but too idealistic and activist oriented?) place, and I’m just not seeing this compulsive over-parenting and cult of hyper-motherhood she describes in sometimes hilarious detail.

The sad thing is that I agree with many of the (politically liberal) solutions that Warner proposes that would help American mothers. But this material is tacked onto the next to last chapter, “For a Politics of a Quality of Life”, and hardly given the emphasis or the detail invested in the preceding ten chapters. And Warner completely ignores all of the other people who’ve already called for these changes, making it sound like the solutions are something new and innovative she discovered after she returned from France and discovered a lack of affordable childcare and a bunch of DC area neurotic mothers (not unlike those portrayed in Danielle Crittendon’s Amanda Bright@Home, or perhaps in Desperate Housewives? I need to watch Desperate Housewives). Also, it is hard to see how these laudable structural changes would actually improve “The Mess”, which is supposedly self-imposed, all-encompassing, and inextricably intertwined with our American lifestyle and identities as mothers.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine

I've retrieved a book review that I did for Mothers & More for their "Mothers at Work" blog campaign in 2005. Since you can't access it anymore through regular avenues, I didn't think they'd mind if I put it on my personal blog, so all of my book review links work.

It Really Is All About Time...

….according to Miriam Peskowitz in The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother?

What a great book. Here’s my review from my personal book log:

A really good, thoughtful, well-written book. I don’t know why it hasn’t been reviewed anywhere but a couple of blogs, when Judith Warner’s book (which I haven’t read yet, so no comparisons) is all over the place.

Peskowitz looks at SAH moms, moms who work PT, and WOH moms, and every permutation of work/childcare and “sequencing” you can imagine. She examines the stereotypes, politcal manipulation, media & marketing, and what women (and some men) really do, and how women’s “personal choices” (as in “opting out”) may actually be more being “squeezed” by culture, companies, and just the time crunch that being a parent entails. She looks at feminism’s role in this and in motherhood.

This book was a huge breath of common sense. Peskowitz doesn’t rant, she doesn’t tell gut-wrenching personal stories (or especially hilarious ones), and she doesn’t over-simplify the issues. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been a big hit? It’s too reasonable? I dunno.

One thing lacking: an index. There are good footnotes, and you can tell that her statements are backed up by fact (and you can check the facts yourself via the footnotes), but an index would help you when you think, hmm, what did she say about FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act)? What chapter was that in again?

Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “With the kids interrupting and needing attention, who can finish a setence, let along organize a piece of a revolution?” (p. 173).

I don't even feel the need to change anything I wrote over four years ago! The book is still a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Busy Tree: Book Review

I got two review offers a couple weeks ago. I turned down the offer for Tucks Pads (I'm not sure what I would say about them....maybe I could have looked at the medicinal uses of witch hazel? Hemorrhoids in history?), but I happily accepted a free copy of The Busy Tree, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern.

My seven year old nature lover mostly picks chapter books for herself now, but luckily (for me, because I love them, too) she still enjoys picture books. She agreed to review The Busy Tree with me, to give everyone a kid's perspective.

Here's her comments:

"I like the cover.

It's really realistic! It shows underground! And it shows animals there."

Basically, she raved about the artwork and the progression of the story, and happily read the simple rhymes.

I enjoyed The Busy Tree a lot, too. It's nice to be able to give such a positive review to a book. The last free book I got I hated (but luckily only had to discuss in an online salon), and I was critical enough of Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports to enrage a few tween readers who couldn't stand seeing their favorite book series criticized. They were downright polite compared to Darla Shine's fans, though.

Anyway, The Busy Tree made me mourn the loss of the giant elm tree in our back yard, and long for a big old oak tree. The kind that takes about a hundred years to mature, unfortunately.

Like my daughter, I loved Falkenstern's illustrations, and all of the different aspects of the single tree that the authors brought forth for us.

When I first saw the cover, I was afraid the book was going to be too precious and and/or overly cute, but as my daughter pointed out, the cover is just a clever collection of many of the different creatures shown in the book. She noted that the moth there was probably the result of the bagworm cocoon pictured on one of her favorite pages. There's nothing terribly cute about bagworms, though they are definitely an interesting and common tree dweller. My son actually actually considered some of the bagworm caterpillars on our pin cherry tree as pets one year (then again, he also wanted to keep maggots as pets).

The graphics I found of the cover online were kind of dark, so I took the pictures here so you can get a better feel for the book. Which I happily recommend for kids and adults who like gorgeously illustrated picture books featuring realistic natural settings, or trees (especially oak trees), or who may be interested in the ecology of a single tree.