Book bits

Three books about animals, review of "Love, Stargirl," readers' picks, paperback bestseller list.

Three books about animals

"Kangaroos are, in my opinion, the most interesting animals that ever lived," writes Australian scientist Tim Flannery, who then goes on to attempt to prove that statement in Chasing Kangaroos, his comprehensive love-letter of a book to the animal that fascinates him. Flannery (author of "The Weather Makers") casts his net so wide in his research and travel across five continents that at times this book can be exhausting, although at the same time it remains engaging.

Anyone who ever loved a dog will find something to enjoy in Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote. Kerasote found Merle, a lab mix and apparently a stray, while on a camping trip. He took the dog home and life was never again the same. Kerasote writes well about their rich 13-year relationship.

Xeno Atlas was a lonely boy who became intrigued with animals, both real and fictional. The Bestiary, the captivating sixth novel of Nicholas Christopher, tells the story of Atlas who ends up traveling around the world as he searches for the Caravan Bestiary, a mythic list of all the animals not included on Noah's Ark.

– Marjorie Kehe

Love, Stargirl

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Unlike J.K. Rowling's He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Susan Caraway – better known as Stargirl – is The Girl Who Names Herself.

She has returned in Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli's sequel Love, Stargirl. After a difficult year at Mica High where she struggled with popularity and conformity, Stargirl and her parents have left Arizona and she is blazing her own trail once again.

Home schooled now, she enjoys a curriculum that includes the Principles of Swooning, Life Under Rocks, and the Elements of Nothingness. Her pet rat, Cinnamon, accompanies her as she collects oddballs and friends the way the Pied Piper collects children. But she misses Archie, her professor friend with his wise old cactus, Señor Saguaro, and she especially misses her former boyfriend, Leo. In a word, she's pining.

Stargirl's field trips to enchanted places, from an abandoned hilltop to the town cemetery or an old cement plant, are both her meditation sites and the subject of assigned poems. She details these in her journal, written in the form of letters to Leo over the course of a calendar year. But will he ever get to read them?

No spoiler here, but there is the complication of Perry Dellophane, a blue-eyed petty thief who sucks on lemons, reads Ondine, and sleeps on the roof. Stargirl plays hard to get, but her desire to fix him is strong.

In fact, Stargirl wants to fix many people she encounters, from the agoraphobic Betty Lou, to the angry Alvina to grief-stricken old Charlie and little Dootsie, the escape artist who doesn't understand "no."

Her tendency to become a magnet for misfits would drive most parents to distraction and, indeed, Stargirl's mother and neighbors are working overtime to safeguard her predawn wanderings. Spinelli gives a nod to the potential dangers when Stargirl has a brush with disaster, but otherwise she walks a fine line between model tolerance of others and extreme naiveté.

Aside from that, parents and young readers alike will find much to enjoy in this imaginative sequel. My 14-year-old daughter loved the earlier "Stargirl" and was equally enchanted by the sequel, especially because of the letter format. Young readers who are fans of Spinelli's numerous other children's books (including the award-winning "Maniac Magee" and "Wringer") will be particularly eager to encounter Stargirl.

Asked whether she was cheering for Leo or Perry, my daughter chose Perry, hands-down, but former fans will expect Stargirl's path to be always a little different.

– Martha White

Man Booker Prize

The judges for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction have announced their long list of books in the running for the prize this year. The short list will be announced in September.
Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Self Help by Edward Docx
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
The Gathering by Anne Enright
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn
Consolation by Michael Redhill
Animal's People by Indra Sinha
Winnie & Wolf by A.N.Wilson

Readers' picks

I just read Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Gruen makes the 1930s-era circus come to life, and in Jacob has a main character we care about. I just didn't want the book to end. It harkened back to that mythical, simpler, more honest America where good seemed to prevail even against evil. C'mon, Sarah, do a sequel!
– David Faucheux, Lafayette, La.

I'm reading God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time by Desmond Tutu. I teach in a high school and need to recharge on all levels over the summer. This book is giving me courage , hope, and inspiration to begin again in the fall. – Peggy Hartzell, Nantmeal Village, Pa.

I have just finished Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. Someone from my current events discussion group suggested it. Very good! Perkins has another book I am going to read "The Secret History of The American Empire."– Toni Beach, Port Richey, Fla.

Back to Wando Passo by David Payne provides an insightful look at relations between races in the 1860s and in the early 2000s, and how the two eras may still be connected.– David J. Irvine, Henderson, N.C.

I have just finished Elissa's Quest by Erica Verrillo, an intelligent and highly entertaining book for girls in the 10-13 age range. In short, in a story of mystery, magic, danger, beauty, and humor, the young Elissa learns her true identity, becomes a woman, and discovers her inner wisdom.– Jane Johnson, Austin, Texas.

Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh is the best book I have read recently. I have been familiar with the Middle East for 60 years, thought I had read just about everything, but this brought fresh information. – Bernice L. Youtz, Tacoma, Wash.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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