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A Trio of Space Non-Fiction Titles

The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA, text by Nirmala Nataraj

The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration: From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future by Roger D. Launius

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew

 

Temperatures have been chilly and, by the time you see these words in print, winter weather may have made its mark on the Four States.  What better time to think ahead to summer reading! I’ve spent the recent grey days anticipating sunshine and combing through titles for next year’s summer reading program.

Space is the theme for 2019’s summer reading fun, and the library is preparing to share “A Universe of Stories” with everyone.  It’s a rich topic: mechanical space exploration continues with the recent InSight lander on Mars plus next July will mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.  Publishers have noticed, and many interesting books featuring space and astronomy are out there. Take a look at these featured titles for engaging non-fiction with adult and teen appeal.

If you like space exploration but aren’t ready to commit to astronaut life, try The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration: From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future by Roger D. Launius.  Don’t let the long title deter you from the interesting content.  Chock full of illuminating text and a variety of illustrations, this selection provides a broad look at mechanical and human space endeavors.  The book follows chronological order with the first chapter an overview of astronomy and rocketry from ancient Egypt to World War II–a tall order for a single chapter.  The rest of the nearly 400-page tome brings space flight from the 1940s to the present encompassing lunar expeditions (the Apollo program), orbital systems (Space Shuttle, International Space Station), and observational voyages in and beyond our solar system (Voyager, Pioneer, Cassini).  The book ends with chapters featuring current efforts (Mars, space tourism) and speculating about future possibilities (lunar colonization, interstellar exploration). It’s a lot of ground to cover, but it’s done broadly and serviceably. This title is packed with fantastic illustrations–photographs, diagrams, charts, posters–plenty of engaging eye candy.  There are sidebars on various topics scattered throughout along with sections highlighting outer space in pop culture. Offer this book to teens with a passion for space exploration, aeronautics, or innovation history and to adults with broader interests. Approach this book over multiple, short visits for maximum enjoyment; don’t take on the entire universe all at once.

Picture books can be tons of fun for all ages.  The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA is a fantastic example for the 12-and-older crowd.  With text by Nirmala Nataraj and a preface by Bill Nye (the Science Guy), the content pairs perfectly with the rich photographs.  Concise, informative captions pack facts with just the right amount of detail plus an observational tone, resulting in readable paragraphs that leave you eager for more without feeling overwhelmed.  It’s easy to linger over the amazing photography, enjoying the book in small portions and coming back to it again and again. There is definitely something new to see each time. Or, equally rewarding, indulge in all 251 pages at one sitting.  The book is versatile enough to handle either approach. Arranged in solar system order with a chapter for each planet, The Planets includes Pluto in the chapter “Other Bodies of the Solar System” along with the sun, various moons, a comet, and an asteroid.  However, NASA’s stunning photography is the real star here. Whether color or black-and-white, the images range from intriguing (“Martian Dust Devil”, page 107) to spectacular (“Venus Transit”, page 34) to achingly beautiful (solar images, pages 208-9).  The spread “A Backlit View of Saturn” (pages 150-51) alone is worth picking up the book.

Even if you love NASA photography, there’s something to be said for personally viewing the night sky.  The Practical Astronomer (2nd edition) by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew is a handy tool for doing just that.  Published by Dorling Kindersley, this book offers the usual DK goodness–clear illustrations, clean layout, bite-sized informative text, helpful sidebars–albeit in a compact package compared to their children’s titles.  The photographs, diagrams, drawings, and artworks shine without overpowering the factual content. Topics include an introduction to celestial bodies, star charts for both hemispheres year round, tips for viewing and recording the heavens, plus valuable reference tables of star stats to aid viewing.  My favorite section is “Pathfinders” which introduces constellations from around the globe; each two-page spread shows how to find the sequence in the sky, the location of major stars or objects within it, and the story behind its name. This title begs to be used rather than merely read; it’s a fantastic resource for casual stargazers, budding astronomers, family entertainment, Scout badges, or homeschool coursework.

Whether you’re an enthusiast or a dabbler when it comes to outer space, there are plenty of good books on the subject.  You can find these and many more at the Joplin Public Library–stop by and try one today!

Resources for Teen Drivers and Their Parents

Working in the library’s Teen Department, I frequently hear from teens (and their parents) about the quest to obtain a driver’s permit.  It can be an exciting and anxiety-ridden time for everyone involved. Unfortunately, formal, school-based driver education programs are virtually non-existent these days.  Fear not–helpful resources are at hand! Even if there isn’t a formal driver education program near you, there are some options for parents and guardians to get teens off to a good start behind the wheel.

Crash-Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen A Safer, Smarter Driver by Timothy C. Smith is a solid, no-frills tool for adults teaching teens to drive.  Smith arranges the book using the same philosophy as the graduated driver license, each section introducing new skills building on previous mastery and experience.  All of the basics are covered–car care, safety of all sorts, fundamental driving skills, awareness, emergencies, road conditions, residential and highway driving, etc.  The text is clear, concrete, and friendly as is the approach. Smith also addresses parental driving habits and outlines a contract between new drivers and their adults. There are no illustrations, so use this book with other resources for complete instruction.  Whether used in whole or in part, this is a useful option.

Rules of the Road offers, in DVD format, valuable information for teen drivers and their parents.  The factual content is spot on–clear directions and explanations, helpful footage and illustrations, sound reasoning–directly and concisely communicated.  However, the presentation is pure cheesiness–a super duper block of it, in fact. This DVD is an excellent resource though. How then to use it without the trappings overwhelming the message?

One way is to focus on the DVD’s “Special Features” content instead of the main portion of the video.  This supplemental section consolidates key information with clear camera work minus the banter. The chapters “Basic Maintenance”, “In Case of Emergency”, “Signs Index”, and “3D Illustrations” are particularly useful.  “3D Illustrations” is excellent as it offers computer-animated instruction with some multi-angle viewing options. The “Special Features” alone make Rules of the Road a valuable resource.

Another option is to embrace the cheese.  Watch the full DVD together with a lighthearted approach, tongue-in-cheek; it’s a great opportunity to show a sense of humor and to start a conversation.  The main content provides important instruction in basic vehicle operation, city and highway driving, safety under normal and hazardous road conditions, and expectations for the driver’s license exam.  There is also an thorough discussion of the dangers of impaired driving. Throughout, there are opportunities to jump to related topics in “Special Features” and to take practice quizzes.

A point to consider regarding both the book and the DVD…these tools, while valuable and sound, are a decade old and do not offer the in-depth coverage needed of cell phones as a cause of distracted driving.  Be sure to supplement information on this important topic.

Need to study for Missouri’s written driver permit/license exam?  We have a resource for that, too! Driving-Tests.org is a one-stop study spot.  Among its many treasures is the latest version of the Missouri Driver Guide: A Guide to Understanding Missouri Motor Vehicle Laws and Licensing Requirements, the official handbook for driver license information.  Available in PDF, it can be read online or downloaded to an electronic device.  The site’s FAQs are well organized, concise, easy to read, and address the basic questions expected.  But, the practice tests are what make this tool amazing. Questions are arranged in batches according to difficulty and cover material on the actual exam with a separate section for road sign identification.  You can access this tool from the library’s website or directly at https://joplinpl.driving-tests.org/missouri/.

In addition to the previous resources, the library’s Teen Department has partnered with safety organization First Impact to provide a free program for the Joplin area.  First Impact is a statewide initiative of Think First Missouri, part of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, working with trainers from across the state to equip parents and guardians of teens taking the wheel.  First Impact’s presentation is designed to “teach parents about Missouri’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law” and to “provide them with the tools they need to monitor, coach, and support their new teen driver”. Although the information is tailored for adults, teens are welcome to come along.

First Impact’s presentation will be held at the Joplin Public Library on Tuesday, November 27, from 6:00-7:30 pm.  Speakers will be Sgt. John Lueckenhoff of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Deana Tucker Dothage, Director of First Impact.  There is no charge to attend, but registration is required.  Register by calling First Impact at (573) 884-3463 or online at https://firstimpact.missouri.edu/events/first-impact-traffic-safety-parent-program-at-joplin-public-library/  For more information, email firstimpact@health.missouri.edu  The event is free, no library card needed.  Register soon to save a seat!