Nonfiction

Arctic Obsession: the lure of the Far North

ImageOne of the earliest historical reports of a far northern, snow-covered place was by Pytheas who sailed out of what is now Marseilles in 325 B.C., and discovered a place he called Ultima Thule, a six day journey north of Britain. No one knows exactly where his ship landed but people believe that it may have been Iceland, Greenland, Norway or the Shetlands.  Pytheas described the remarkable midnight sun and reported that the sea surrounding Thule was "neither sea nor air but a mixture like a sea-lung that binds everything together."

In the following centuries the Romans and medieval scholars called the Far North "the kingdom of the dead" where the Cyclops lived "in a place of chaos, the abysmal chasm." In those days scholars also believed that the North Pole was a "gigantic metallic rock rising out of the ocean." Read more »

London Under

London UnderAs someone who has explored sewers as a kid--they were in a new subdivision; it was on a dare--I totally understand the appeal of life underground. Who hasn't dug in their yard and hoped to find arrowheads or pottery from thousands of years ago?

Ackroyd, who wrote a book about the above-ground city several years ago, now dives underneath to recount the other world under busy streets, cathedrals, government buildings, and flats.

It's fascinating stuff. In the 19th century workmen excavating before constructing new buildings discovered huge chunks of the Roman wall that surrounded the city about two millenia ago. Other builders during that same time period found a stairway down to a brick-walled room with a spurting spring that they believed was used as a baptismal font during medieval times.
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The Sun's Heartbeat

Sun's HeartbeatBrowsing the new science books, I came across The Sun's Heartbeat. I picked it up expecting a rather dry collection of facts and was immediately engaged by a chapter titled "The Wild Science of the Bearded Men."

Not only can Bob Berman write but he also has that gift shared by all the best science writers: the ability to translate complex scientific terms into language that anyone can understand.

This book provides a compelling overview of several thousand years of sun research including the great sunspot controversy of the 17th century. The invention of the telescope in 1608 spurned a race to discover facts about the sun. Johannes Fabricius and his father discovered little spots on the sun and excitedly watched them for days until they burnt out their retinal cells. An English astronomer who had voyaged to Roanoke with the English explorers also began recording sunspots. And Galileo himself entered the fray. In fact, Galileo engaged in a decades-long fight with the German professor Christoph Scheiner over sunspots. Over who discovered them first--in fact, neither had, over whether the sun has an atmosphere, and many other topics.
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An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science

ImageWhile most books about the Arctic or Antarctic focus on just one thing--the indomitable quest to reach one of the poles--this book has a much broader canvas--it covers the equally arduous work of making new scientific discoveries during the age of great polar exploration.

This broader canvas allows the reader to learn about biological, geological, and meteorological phenomena but also about the cost of empire. England sponsored many of these expeditions while this country held political dominion over one quarter of the world. And as the twentieth century dawned, political power was changing rapidly. Britain had lost face in the Boer Wars in Africa and needed heroism and success to bolster its image abroad and its people's faith in the government and military as Germany, France, and the United States were becoming arch competitors.

But the book is mostly about science and adventure under the most brutal conditions. At one point Scott and Shackleton dock near an ice floe and decide it's time to use a hot-air balloon to get a better view of the landscape ahead. In this totally unpeopled land, Scott rides up into the air and views the vast white expanse. For most of us, such a view would provoke sheer terror. And Scott himself was a little nervous in the little bamboo basket. I kept thinking, what if he falls out.
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The Book of Songs & Rhymes with Beat Motions


Singing is one of the best activities children and caregivers can enjoy together. Singing promotes a love of music in young children and helps build early literacy skills by breaking words down into small pieces. The library is a great source of wonderful songs for early childhood in books, CDs, Books on CD, and DVDs. A particularly good source of engaging songs for preschool and young school-aged children are the materials by Dr. John Feierabend. Look for his books in the Parent-Teacher Resource Room. Adults who spend time with small children will love The Book of Songs & Rhymes with Beat Motions . Here you will find songs, rhymes, and games that encourage moving with the beat. These rhymes and songs have been passed along for generations and are full of magic and imagination. You will also find CDs of songs collected by Dr. Feierabend in the Children's Audio-Visual collection.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: A Civil War Hero

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. This isn't an anniversary to "celebrate", but such a pivotal conflict in our nation's history is certainly one to commemorate and learn more about through the amazing stories told by the people involved. Sarah Edmonds was one of those people.

In the picturebook biography Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero,
we learn that when she was just 16, Sarah disguised herself as a man and ran away from her home in Canada to escape an arranged marriage. She came to the United States and assumed the name Frank Thompson. When the call came in Michigan for young men to join the Union army, "Frank" wanted to sign up as a way to thank the country she had been living in for the last three years. While the other soldiers teased Frank about her small feet, no one ever guessed that Frank was actually a woman.
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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

Fire SeasonThis book describes my dream job, being a fire lookout out west. I could handle the wild creatures, the solitude, even the lightning strikes, but maybe not cleaning out the cistern after vandals pollute it. In the tradition of writers, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey and Norman Maclean. Philip Connors leaves his job as a Wall Street Journal editor and while on vacation signs up on the spot to detect fires for the National Forest Service, or as he jokingly calls it "The National Forest Circus."
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The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and Antarctic

Ends of the EarthOK, here's my technique to get through these incredibly hot days. Wet your hair--I mean really soak your mane without drying it, fill a huge glass with ice cubes and read a book about the arctic or antarctic. In five New Orleans' summers, I covered a lot of very northern and very southern territory including many of the authors represented in The Ends of the Earth.
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Queen of the Falls

In a couple weeks, I get to visit the Adirondack region of New York State. (Can't wait!) On the way, we plan to stop at Niagara Falls. When I get there, I'll be thinking of a woman named Annie Edson Taylor, who in 1901, on her 63rd birthday, dared to cram herself into a wooden barrel and go over Niagara Falls! I had never heard of Taylor, but author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg brings her back to life in Queen of the Falls, the fascinating tale of a determined ex-teacher who wanted to make her mark on the world. Watch Van Allsburg talk about how he created this carefully crafted book here. Recommended for grades 1 and up.

The Daring Book for Girls

I purchased a copy of The Daring Book for Girls for myself a couple years ago and was reminded of all the cool content it contains when I conducted a program this week featuring hopscotch games and jump rope rhymes. Perhaps I'm partial to this book since it was written by women who, like me, "were girls in the days before the Web, cell phones, or even voicemail. Telephones had cords and were dialed by, well, actually dialing."

Today, you may have your own cell phone, email account and iPod, but certainly a deck of cards and a good book should still be included on the list of "essential gear" you keep close at hand. In The Daring Book for Girls, you'll find the rules for playing card games like "Hearts" and "Gin" as well as the rules for outdoor games like Four Square, various games of tag and hopscotch - a game that was initially played by Roman soldiers and is now played in countries around the world.
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