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Fun in the Snow for All Ages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry by Kenneth Libbrecht and Rachel Wing

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.

The National Weather Service (NWS) defines a white Christmas as “having one inch or more of snow on the ground on Christmas morning”.  According to NWS climate information from 1981-2010, southwest Missouri has an 11%-25% chance of experiencing a white Christmas this year.  As I’m writing this (in mid-December), the temperature has broken the record high for this date, and the forecast so far points to above average temps for the holiday weekend even with Bing Crosby in heavy rotation on the radio.

On the chance that wintry fun appears in the near future, here are some titles tailor-made for snow days!  Try them for backyard STEM activities.  These illustrated non-fiction books are great for individuals and multi-generational groups wanting to discover more about snowy weather.

Natural history photographer Mark Cassino and physicist Jon Nelson have teamed up to create The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder, a closeup of the building blocks of winter fun.  Winter fun starts with snow, and this book starts with an introduction to snowflakes–how they are formed, how they grow (spoiler alert–water vapor is a key player in both processes), then on to their structure and how to identify them along with intriguing facts sprinkled throughout.  The authors also give tips on how to capture a snowflake yourself and view it before it melts.

The Story of Snow incorporates crisp, clear line drawings with actual photos of snowflakes, a particularly helpful effect for showing their growth cycle where enlarged photos detailing the snowflakes’ structure sit next to tiny dots indicating their actual size.  Almost mono-chromatic in a wash of blues and greys, the pages look icy and steely without dulling nature’s amazing variety.  Cassino’s photographs highlight their delicate specimens; the photos are sharp with the snowflakes appearing to be made of glass or metal.  Presented in picture book format, the text works well for early-to-middle-elementary readers (although it would benefit from a glossary); it lends itself well to read-alouds for the younger set or to being used in a group.  Nelson and Cassino have provided a book just the right length for a multigenerational activity inclusive to little ones.  You can find The Story of Snow in the easy non-fiction section of the Children’s Department.

In that same section, you can find a biography of the pioneer of snowflake photography.  Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian, won the 1999 Caldecott Medal recognizing the “most distinguished American picture book for children” for its lively, hand-colored woodcuts evoking the snowy outdoors of rural Vermont.  Flipping through the pages, you can feel the cold’s sting, smell the woodsmoke, see the detailed texture of woolen yarn balls rolling on wooden, farmhouse floorboards.  Each woodcut conveys motion and stimulates the senses.  Illustrator Mary Azarian lives not far from Bentley’s home and captures the essence of 19th century farm life in Vermont’s “snowbelt” where the annual snowfall is close to 120 inches.  Through her artistry, it’s easy to feel the beauty in winter that Bentley did.

Born in 1865, Wilson Alwyn “Snowflake” Bentley lived his life in snowy Vermont and was fascinated by nature, especially weather.  He was a home educated, citizen scientist who studied snowflakes for over 40 years.  He pioneered photomicrography (photographing through a microscope), producing the first successful photograph of a snowflake in 1885.  Bentley’s life is a study in perseverance, determination, and vision.  Starting as a teen, he drew and then photographed hundreds of snow crystals each winter persisting through failures until he succeeded in capturing the images and sharing them with others.  He would stand in the snow for hours at a time to catch snowflakes for his photos.  Bentley’s good cheer–his belief in natural beauty and his determination to share it with everyone–runs through the book and is infectious!  This charming title is a fun romp for independent readers or for read-alouds with all ages.  Pair it with a paper snowflake activity or actual snowflake spotting for fun over winter break!

The husband and wife team of Kenneth Libbrecht and Rachel Wing pick up where Wilson Bentley left off.  In their book, The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry, they blend art and science to create a gorgeous look at the life of snowflakes (technically known as snow crystals).  Libbrecht, a physics professor at Caltech who served as the official snowflake consultant on the movie Frozen, and Wing, a park ranger with a geology background, wanted to understand more about how snow crystals form.  The result is a family hobby that has taken them and their children snowflake hunting on three continents.  They even grow snow crystals in their own lab to study and photograph, creating shapes not found in nature!

Wing and Libbrecht have honed their photomicrography skills and sprinkle amazing closeups of snow crystals throughout their book.  Using different backgrounds and lighting techniques, they create spectacular works of art ranging from the iciest blue through the rosy shades of a winter sunrise.  The crystals’ intricate beauty is obvious in the photos, and it becomes clearer in the text.  The authors share their curiosity and excitement to discover how nature works in hope that it will inspire others to see nature’s beauty for themselves.  Book chapters divide that exploration into topics that are manageable for understanding–a brief history of snow crystal study, snow crystal formation and identification, weather needed for snowfall, snow crystal symmetry, etc.  Sidebars offer activity ideas such as “Snowflake Fossils” (preserving snow crystals in super glue on microscope slides) and designing a scientifically accurate paper snowflake.  Wing and Libbrecht use concrete descriptions to help readers understand how snowflakes are made and function.  The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry provides great accessible information for citizen scientists, nature enthusiasts, and families looking for a fun, outdoor adventure.  Not ready to commit to snow crystal hunts on three continents?  No worries–you can have a delightful time scouting for snowflakes at a level adapted to your situation.  You can find this adult non-fiction title as an ebook through the Library’s Hoopla service.

I hope you are able to enjoy some quality reading and listening time during the holiday season.  Come on over and check out a title (or 2 or 3).  Happy reading!

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!

written by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

You know the feeling you get when you hear the ice cream truck coming?  The anticipatory thrill, the bounce-on-the-balls-of-your-feet excitement when you hear the music from down the street?  That’s how I’ve felt while waiting to get my hands on this week’s book!

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!, written by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker, brings the vibrant boldness of its subject to every page.  Even the warm mustard endpapers signal the energy, the vitality of her story.  Chambers and Baker deliver a picture book biography of Shirley Chisholm that is every bit as action-oriented as she was.

The daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up to become the first Black woman to run for U.S. president.  Chisholm was a voracious reader who earned academic honors in high school as well as college scholarships.  She graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946 and earned a Master of Arts in education from Columbia University in 1952.  Chisholm, an early childhood educator, ran for a seat in the New York State Legislature in 1964 and won.  She served until 1968 when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and won, becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress.  Her campaign slogan in that race, “Unbought and Unbossed”, became the theme of her 1972 campaign seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  Chisholm served in Congress until her retirement in 1983 and was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Shirley Chisholm was a doer, an activist who broke barriers and sought to improve conditions for families and communities.  Veronica Chambers introduces Chisholm to new audiences by capitalizing on her life of action, “Some words, when they connect with the right people, become…magical.  That’s the way it was with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and verbs.  She understood, almost intuitively, how and why verbs are not just words about being, but doing.  Verbs are words that move the world forward.”

On each page, Chambers highlights a portion of Chisholm’s life, highlighting in color and capital letters a verb related to the brief text.  The verbs anchor each page’s main thought, illustrating its point as effectively and vibrantly as Rachelle Baker’s artwork does.  Chambers chooses her verbs carefully, and they offer a fantastic starting point for further conversation.  They follow Chisholm on her life’s journey and, in addition to obvious choices (dreamed, campaigned, represent, voted, announced, inspired) the verbs reflect her rich experience (honor, listen, earned, help, challenge, convince, planted, pave).  Chambers ends the book with a powerful two-page spread showing a portrait of Chisholm paired with a page full of verbs each in a different, brightly-colored font.  In it, she issues her readers a challenge, “Shirley Chisholm accomplished so much, because she chose her verbs carefully…It’s your turn now. What verbs will you choose?”

Rachelle Baker captures Shirley Chisholm’s energetic spirit in brightly colored illustrations which give off a feeling of motion on every page.  Rich browns and tans ranging from caramel to mahogany to ebony join with piercing blues, lush greens, mustard yellows, and lively oranges to form a palette of saturated colors bursting with activity.  Baker’s art pulls you in as you read.  On the page highlighting a famous Chisholm quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”, I could almost hear the chair dragging across the floor as she pulled it behind her.  I caught myself looking twice to see if her hand really did wave to her neighbors outside the corner store.  Baker created her art digitally on an iPad Pro with spectacular effect so that it lives and breathes and moves on the page.

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! opens the door to an unexplored chapter of American history.  It’s a catalyst for important conversations about representation, perseverance, service, and inspiration.  It would be a great read-aloud for pre- and early-readers while independent readers might enjoy it on their own.  I couldn’t wait to read this book, and it was well worth waiting for–I hope you have a chance to read it, too!

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter

If there’s one college course that seems to fall into the “liked it/hated it” dichotomy, it’s probably Macroeconomics. For every student who leans into studying the national economy, there’s another who will be just fine to never again read such phrases as “elasticity vs. inelasticity of demand.” There’s one man to credit (or blame) for this: John Maynard Keynes.

Keynesian economics (read: macroeconomics) has pulsed throughout our political economy since the New Deal. In short, some of its main tenets concern full employment, aggregate demand clearing supply, and inflation. Still, I knew very little about the British economist himself. “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes” by Zachary Carter certainly took care of that knowledge gap.

Mathematics, not economics, was Keynes’ University of Cambridge degree. After a brief stint as a civil servant, he returned to academic life at Cambridge, which was where the Exchequer’s office found him just prior to World War I. A banking crisis afoot, Keynes’ keen mind was known and needed. So he crammed his 6’7″ frame into a motorcycle sidecar and made his way to London.

The Great War and the British economy would engulf his life. He wouldn’t fight in the war, as he applied for conscientious objector status, a position he came by honestly. Keynes was part of the Bloomsbury Set, which included such notables as Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. Of the many things that formed their bond, with the arts at the pinnacle, pacifism was certainly a part. For some in the group, that Keynes would work for the government during wartime went beyond the pale.

The frustration was returned in kind by Keynes. Someone, he argued, had to address the awful reality and manage a wartime economy. This wouldn’t be last time there was tension within the group. Years later, Keynes fell for, and subsequently married, a Russian ballerina. This was contrary to the Keynes they knew. Bloomsbury Keynes was a homosexual.

At war’s end, Keynes vehemently opposed the Treaty of Versailles. Forever an enemy of austerity measures, he believed the harsh economic terms would destabilize a defeated Germany and potentially lead to another world war. The treaty put Keynes at war with himself. As a young man, obtaining a post at the esteemed British Treasury was his singular goal. Now, having seen firsthand how important the roil of politics is, he could not sit quietly as a future disaster was being orchestrated.

He penned “The Economic Consequences of Peace” which became a sensation in both Europe and the U.S. His intellectual might was on full display, doubtless, but so, too, was his acid tongue. Sparring no one also effectively ended his government career (at least until World War II). Keynes is famous today for his economic theories. In the early 1920s, however, his fame was as a polemicist.

Had a pre-war work—finally published in 1921—augured more than just an acknowledgement that it “made a contribution to the field,” Keynes may have swiftly returned to university life, but, this time, in the philosophy department. His “A Treatise on Probability” was overshadowed by one of his friendly rivals. For when Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” was published, the gravity shifted and all of academia fell in with the Austrian philosopher.

Keynes continued to publish on economics and, in so doing, challenged conventional (classical) economics. At the macro level, the study of economics was firmly entrenched in laissez-faire thinking: You let the business cycles work and equilibrium will be achieved. Keynes certainly agreed that supply/demand was the driving force. But what of those moments of disequilibrium? Laissez-faire’s response: It will won’t last; the market will stabilize in the long run. “In the long run,” Keynes returned, “we are all dead.” This rejoinder has been bandied about ever since and in a myriad of contexts. But here’s the rest of the quote: “Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

Keynes advocated what economists now call “demand management.” Demand did not always clear supply, especially during times of war and depression. To Keynes, government expenditures via fiscal policies would shift the demand curve. Such movements would have a positive multiplier effect on other areas of the economy. His multiplier theory argued that laissez-faire’s inaction was actually actionable in that it allowed economic distress to reverberate.

While Keynes’ work would be seen as “revolutionary,” the man behind it was somewhat uncomfortable with that adjective. In many ways, his worldview was formed as a Burkean conservative. But he also valued some of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s egalitarianism. Merging the two philosophies to thwart authoritarianism was, to Keynes, a laudable enterprise. He loved his posh Bloomsbury life too much to see it end. Plus, he wanted the rest of us to have a chance to live such a life as well. So he was no Marxist. In fact, he believed that Marx’s argument that capitalism would inherently fail was inherently wrong. At the same time, he didn’t believe that there was any natural law that destined capitalism’s success either.

Keynes taught his theories at Cambridge, yet, initially, they were not winning the day among graduate students. (Marxism was.) This began to change. Not only were these students beginning to embrace Keynesianism, some would travel down to the London School of Economics and provoke impromptu debates with the students still fixed in laissez-faire. Eventually, American economics students embarked to Cambridge to study under Keynes.

Still, Keynesianism was at the periphery. Keynes knew he needed to codify it into an esoteric work meant for academics. (In the world of academia, “you need a theory to kill a theory.”) This was realized in the “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.”

The Great Depression resulted in Keynes becoming Churchill’s de facto chancellor of the exchequer. Particular attention was given to the fiscal policies put in place in the United States, as they were seen as test cases for Keynesianism. The result: American economists who initially resisted Keynes became Keynesians in the same decade of his death.

According to Carter, “No European mind since Newton had impressed himself so profoundly on both the political and intellectual development of the world.” The revolution had come. And as happens with so many revolutions, so comes the counter-revolution.

In the U.S., the aristocracy saw Franklin Roosevelt as a traitor to his class. Riled moneyed men were willing to fund academics and publications willing to challenge Keynesianism. William F. Buckley Jr.’s “National Review” used Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” as its intellectual base and went to work. Keynesians were up for the fight. What left them reeling, however, was McCarthyism.

Keynesianism would have many morphisms throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. American Keynesians, at turns, embraced more corporate-influenced policies the British Keynesians found abhorrent. Another famous quote concerning Keynes came from President Richard Nixon: “I am now Keynesian in economics.”

Enter Milton Friedman’s monetarism and decades of strident debate concerning the size and role of government in fiscal and monetary policy, and here we are. (Economists can be an acerbic lot, where things get really personal, really fast.) And you don’t have to go back too far to see Keynesian fiscal initiatives at work, as in the 2008 financial dilemma.

Regardless of the modern relevance of Keynes, here’s what Carter wants us to take away from his astute book: Keynesianism isn’t so much about economic theory as it is about radical optimism. Keynes lived in a time of dire economic crises that gave rise to authoritarians who then took their respective countries off the cliff. For him, economics was the light by which we could find our way out. For us, Keynes was every bit a philosopher of war and peace.

Find in Catalog

A Pair of Infographic Eye Candies

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins

Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe by Iris Gottlieb

Summer’s heat and humidity have cooked my brain, and no matter how much I’d like to lounge around immersed in a giant, juicy, beach read I find myself unable to keep one going. Picture books to the rescue!  Adults need picture books, too, no matter their intended audience. Picture books for grown-ups are nothing new and are easy to find–titles about decorating, photography, travel, etc., in non-fiction plus loads of graphic novels and comics.

Book-length infographics are the new kids on the block. Like their stand-alone relatives, they primarily use images (charts, graphs, illustrations) to relay information and provide a digestible view of a complex topic. The images are often colorful and can be hand-drawn or computer-generated. Accompanying text can range from very light to paragraph-length captions. The visual presentation is as artistic as it is informative.

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins is a great example of this new-ish genre. It displays Jane Austen’s life and literary career in engaging, sometimes whimsical, pictures; it also places her in context with political, economic, social, and literary events of her day.  Collins skillfully uses contemporary typeface and design elements to pull back the curtain on Regency-era life. In “Who Drives What?”, she outlines horse-drawn transportation used by various Austen characters by brief definition and a comparison to automobiles. (No surprise that Sense and Sensibility’s Mr. Willoughby drove a single-seat curricle, “Like a Porsche!”). “Plots of Persuasion” is a jaunty flow chart in muted pinks and greens that follows the final chapters of Persuasion’s final version and first draft (now in the British Library) point by point. “Austen’s Laptop” shows writing tools she would have used–lap desk, quill pen, paper–including a recipe for homemade ink.

Give this visual biography of Jane Austen to a Janeite of your acquaintance or to someone just introduced to her novels; this is a book for older teens and adults or for younger teens who absolutely love the topic. Biographic Austen is part of the “Great Lives in Graphic Form” series of Ammonite Press–several of which the library owns (including Biographic Bowie, a must for David Bowie fans).

Iris Gottlieb puts a hand-drawn, text-laden twist on the infographic in her book, Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe. A citizen scientist, Gottlieb created her book “to open up the world of complex science with art and metaphor and storytelling”. She divides her work into sections focusing on life science, earth science, and physical science. Each section offers a variety of topics presented in two-page spreads. She serves whimsy at every turn from subject choice to section titles to illustrations. Her text is clear, concise, and solid.

In “How Food Is Preserved: Eight Ways to Eat Fish Later”, she straightforwardly presents the hows and whys of chemistry’s role in food preservation while she jazzes up the entry with colorful, amusing depictions of preserved fish. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but her drawings of a fish head in a Hoover (vacuum-sealed) and a fish lollipop (sugar-cured) are a hoot!  Gottlieb’s dry wit winds its way through the book as in “Vacuums: Creating Nothingness, Then Filling It With Dog Hair”, “Glaciation: As Explained By A Snickers”, and “Ferns: Introverts of the Forest Floor”. (Yes, it sounds odd. No, this is not a spoof. Read the book and see for yourself.) My favorite entry is “Measuring pH: In A Cabinet of Gross Liquids”. A drawing of shelves holding jars of different liquids sits on the right-hand page. The left-hand page holds the key to the mystery of the jars. Gottlieb defines pH and explains how the pH scale is structured. Along the top is a rainbow-colored pH scale. A box down the side of the page lists the contents of each jar in the previously-mentioned drawing with the contents color-coded according to the pH scale, so water appears in the bright green assigned to neutral pH while battery acid is written in the bright red reserved for the most acidic substances and drain cleaner shows the deep purple of the most basic end of the scale. She’s included illustrated definitions of the word “mole” at the end of the entry, thereby clearing up the perennial confusion around this chemistry term.

Seeing Science is loads of sassy, scientific fun. It’s a great way to dip into science basics or to clarify scientific principles muddied by confusing textbooks. High schoolers and adults are a great audience for this book; it’s also suitable for middle school science fans who have had “the talk” about reproduction. The author writes, “It is my hope that this book makes science more accessible, less intimidating, and more magical to anyone who has a sense of wonder–and a sense of humor.” She certainly hits the mark!