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Ready, Set, Cook: How to Make Good Food with What’s on Hand by Dawn Perry

I usually leave reviewing cookbooks to the talented Lisa Brown, who has a much more worldly palate than I, but I have checked out “READY, SET, COOK: HOW TO MAKE GOOD FOOD WITH WHAT’S ON HAND” at least once a month since we added it to the collection in December, so I just had to share my enthusiasm for it.

DAWN PERRY, the creator of this cookbook, is a genius. Simple, delicious foods that you can make with items you have on hand. I have found only one other cookbook that I think accomplishes this well. I am sure there are more, but my pantry and refrigerator staples are usually pretty limited. I hate finding a new recipe I want to try, but I need to buy two new sauces and five new ingredients, all of which will sit in my pantry or in my refrigerator after I have made the new dish and just take up space. Not the case with “Ready, Set, Cook.”

Easily laid out and not overwhelming to new or less than enthusiastic cooks like me, the book has three sections. Part One: What to Buy; Part Two: What to Make; and Part Three: What to Cook. They are each colorful, with many pictures and large clear fonts that help draw the reader in. Perry has a casual way of writing that includes loads of tips and tricks.

In part one, she talks about where to start, what to stock and how to organize it. I had most of the items that she recommends as cupboard staples — oils, rice, onions, garlic, pasta, beans, dried spices and honey — and all but a couple of the refrigerator staples. She finishes the chapter talking about organization and equipment.

In part two, her focus is building a collection of homemade staples for your pantry and refrigerator. This includes how to make meatballs, flatbreads, pie dough, sauces and cooked vegetables.

I did not spend much time here — just read through quickly, as I wanted to move on to part three to see what I could manage to whip up for breakfast or dinner.

Part three is mapped out in this order: breakfast, salads and veggies, starchy sides (my favorite kind), main things, afterthoughts, snacks and a couple of drinks, and sweets. I love the versatility of Perry’s recipes. She gives you a recipe for things such as muffins, yogurt parfaits, salad, bread and boiled potatoes, but then provides five variations for each one to easily mix it up.

The Afterthoughts section is devoted to lessening food waste. According to Perry, “leftovers need to be made over.” I love this idea. I made the “Office Bowls” from this section. They are, at their simplest, grain or rice bowls with a few veggies and dressing, but so easy to put together that most anyone can handle it using leftovers and pantry or refrigerator items. Plus, there are six variations and the photographs are so helpful in visualizing what you are making.

Speaking of the photographs, this is my favorite element of the book. Large, colorful images that showcase the food. But unlike some cookbooks they do not feel overly staged or complicated. A simple white plate with food on it, sometimes arranged less than neatly, is the highlight.

I highly recommend this cookbook. Especially to anyone who is busy but still wants to put together a home-cooked meal. Perry has done much of the heavy lifting here. She has created and shared 125 recipes that will hopefully make your mealtime more streamlined and your palette happier.

Find in the Library’s Catalog.

A Trio of Non-Fiction in Teen

The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds by David Zinn

Everything You Need to Ace…in One Big Fat Notebook series, various authors

The LEGO Castle Book: Build Your Own Mini Medieval World by Jeff Friesen

It’s spring!  Or, at least it finally feels like it.  Flowers and trees and shrubs are blooming around town, and possibility is in the air.  Here in the Library’s Teen Department, the latest crop of books has as much variety and promise as the flowers outside.  Take a look at these non-fiction titles just waiting to be discovered!

For middle school and high school students who are wrapping up the semester and preparing for finals, try a title in the Everything You Need to Ace…in One Big Fat Notebook series from Workman Publishing.  Created by the editors of the popular educational game Brain Quest and written by authors with experience in the given field, each book is like borrowing the notes of the organized, thorough student in class.  

Each title in the series breaks down key concepts into important, easily understood components covering the subject.  The books are laid out like school notebooks with lined pages, handwritten fonts, and color-coded highlighted sections.  Doodles illustrating complex topics are scattered throughout as are mnemonic devices, definitions of key terms, and quizzes for review.  Compact-yet-thick, these titles easily fit into a backpack and are far easier to carry than most textbooks.

Disclaimer: the Big Fat Notebook series, while an amazing resource, is not a substitute for actually paying attention in class!  It is fantastic for review, confidence building, and reinforcement of concepts before exams or in smaller bites during the semester.  The series covers major subjects–computer science/coding, math, science, world history, American history, English language arts for middle school and pre-algebra/algebra 1, chemistry, biology, and geometry for high school.  They are super helpful and accessible, great for middle school and high school students plus adults wanting to catch up on these subjects.  (Where were these when I was in eighth-grade algebra?!)

To let off steam after studying, break out some LEGOs and try The LEGO Castle Book: Build Your Own Mini Medieval World by Jeff Friesen.  Written for LEGO enthusiasts, this straightforward, concise title begins with a history of castles and a tour of their architecture then moves to building different types of castles and landscaping a medieval village from LEGOs, ending with instructions for 6 “master builds” (even a dragon).

The book’s layout is clean and clear, with color photos of completed and in-progress builds throughout.  The brief text provides just the right amount of context for background; text in the builds sections is designed to look like manuals from LEGO sets, showing important phases along the way.  Builds and book are designed for LEGO fans with some experience plus access to the variety of bricks listed (a few specialty ones).  I was pleased to see a quick guide to the variety of bricks used (including color photographs showing individual bricks/plates with their official numbers) and a discussion of economical sources for purchasing the bricks needed.

Also, I was excited that the builds were grounded in history.  Author Jeff Friesen identifies major types of medieval (European) castles with photos of completed LEGO versions and interesting text.  He also depicts the main parts of the castle and the community within its walls and how to construct them, tossing in handy tips along the way such as using minifigure accessories as turret finials.  He reminds readers that castle life was real life a thousand years ago, discussing topics like the role of castle builders, the cost and building process, and how castle architecture is tied to its defense.  The LEGO Castle Book is great for teens, adults, or upper elementary ages with a passion for LEGO; pair this with David Macaulay’s classic Castle for a fantastic dive into the subject.

Looking for a different creative outlet?  Try The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds by David Zinn for some outdoor fun.  Zinn has been creating delightful, amusing chalk drawings around his Michigan hometown for years and shares his enthusiasm and expertise in this guide to accessible outdoor art.

Zinn’s tone is warm and encouraging with a light sprinkling of dad humor.  He offers basic techniques and advice for drawing 2-D and 3-D illustrations on outdoor surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and brick.  Viewing this art form as both an opportunity to stretch skills and to bring joy to the community, he emphasizes a respectful approach (ask permission, use media that will wash away, etc.).  Color photos of his completed and in-process artwork illustrate his tips and techniques.  His advice is concrete (no pun intended) and accessible although geared toward teens who have some drawing experience and skill.  He assumes a base level of drawing knowledge which could be frustrating for someone trying it for the first time.  

He invites artists to consider basic creative components before starting–what will you draw?  How many?  How will your creature(s) move around?  What is happening in the picture?  Then he moves to more detailed information about dealing with the drawing surface at hand.  Zinn identifies various paved surfaces (concrete, macadam, paving stones, etc.) giving hints about turning their natural, imperfect states into part of the picture–pits and holes in concrete become the eyes and ears and nostrils of a hippo, a manhole cover becomes a cookie about to be eaten by a monster.  As he notes, art tells a story, and depicting emotion is key even if it’s a small component, “Eyebrows are powerful things. Always use them wisely, both in your drawings and on your own face.”

The Chalk Art Handbook is packed with tips for creating whimsical, thoughtful drawings to delight artist and neighborhood alike.  It serves as encouragement and inspiration to teens with drawing experience and/or an interest in sidewalk art, including 3-D illusion pictures.  Everybody can win when public art is shared because “More art in more places brings more people more joy”.

Stop by the Library for these and many more titles blooming this spring!

Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Pity Comic Sans, the font that people love to hate. Developed by Vincent Connare in the mid-1990s, Comic Sans is what author Simon Garfield describes as “type that has gone wrong” in his book Just My Type, an engaging history of type (which, these days, the average person refers to as a ‘font,’ but more on that later).

Connare designed Comic Sans as a reaction against the perceived formality of Times New Roman. Specifically, as a new typeface for Microsoft Bob, a user-friendly software program designed for people who didn’t use – or were frightened of – computers. Connare believed that Times New Roman didn’t mesh well with other elements of the software, such as its “accessible language and […] appealing illustrations.” Ultimately, Connare’s new type couldn’t be worked into the package. Guess what? Microsoft Bob failed. Not long afterward, Connare’s Comic Sans was released in another software package that indeed became popular.

Then, after being included in Windows 95, Comic Sans was everywhere. So much so that people got sick of it. Like, really sick of it. Garfield tells us of Holly and David Combs, a couple who made an anti-Comic Sans website and sold “Ban Comic Sans” merchandise. It’s not necessarily that the Combs thought Comic Sans had no place in the world, but that it needed to be put back in its place. This seemingly ubiquitous hatred of Comic Sans is not unlike how people love to hate Merlot–they know little about its complexities, nuances, and when it is, in fact, a smart, or dare I say the right, choice.

Not only does Garfield give us the history of type/fonts, but, in some cases, the histories of their creators. One such case is the grisly history (that I definitely won’t mention here) of Eric Gill, whose typeface Gill Sans appeared in 1928 as “one of the twentieth century’s earliest and classic sans serif fonts” and is still widely used today.

Speaking of Sans Serif fonts, what’s the difference between that and Serif? I’ll tell you, but Garfield will tell you better with one of the fantastic visuals that accompany the text throughout his book. Serif fonts have feet and tips, which are the serifs. Remove those and voila! You have Sans Serif.

So what about this whole typeface and type/font thing? While typeface is a certain style of lettering, fonts refer to variations of a typeface, including size, weight, and so on. Garfield writes: “Fonts were once known as founts. Fonts and founts weren’t the same as typefaces, and typefaces weren’t the same as type.” He highlights this and many other more technical aspects of typography that, admittedly, readers without a keen interest in type may not find interesting. For example, typographers once had typescales (depth scales) for measuring not only the type, but the space between it, both of which are referred to as the point size, or, for typographers (and printers, as in printing presses) these measurements are grouped into picas.

“DIY” is one of my favorite chapters because it introduced me to the John Bull Printing Outfit, a DIY typographic kit released in the 1930s. It was both creative and educational and, to me, looks and sounds like loads of fun (Hello, eBay!). Garfield goes on to discuss other methods of personal printing, from Letrasets to typewriters to floppy disks, ending the chapter saying that “well-printed” materials are “fast becoming heritage,” yet “typefaces – both their preponderance and ingenuity – have not suffered a similar decline in fortunes.” He writes further that perhaps we have too many.

I particularly appreciate how easy-reading this book is. Although I didn’t learn this till 250 pages in, the book is set in Sabon, which is known for its readability. Perhaps my sharing this with you is somewhat of a spoiler, but I have good reason for doing so. That I thought the book was easy-reading before knowing a particular font was chosen to achieve just that illustrates how much of a connection we have between text – not just what it says, but how it looks – and the way we process information and, more generally, the world.

Literally every printed word was someone’s decision to use a particular typeface or font. The newspaper (or screen, if that’s your style) that you’re holding in your hand to read this review is but one example. Whether we realize it or not – or like it or not – the way that things look impact the way that we interact with them and fonts are no exception. Have you ever been put off by some fonts and not others? Made choices as a consumer based on fonts and labels? Sure you have, as have I.

Garfield reminds us that, like anything else, fonts have rules. Though he’s not necessarily opposed, he wonders “to what extent do rules stifle individuality and creativity?” (Good question.) I’ll leave you with a few so-called rules mentioned by Garfield, though he attributes them to Paul Felton: “Thou shalt not apply more than three typefaces in a document;” “Remember that a typeface that is not legible is not truly a typeface;” and “Thou shalt not use only capitals when setting vast body copy.”

As always, happy reading.

Find in catalog.

The Midwest Survival Guide: How we Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat…Everything with Ranch by Charlie Berens

Oh, howdy. If you’re reading this, then you likely live in the American Midwest (or was forwarded this review by someone who does). Perhaps you recognize “Oh, howdy” as one of the myriad of ways we Midwesterners say hello. According to comedian and author Charlie Berens in his book The Midwest Survival Guide: How we Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat…Everything with Ranch, other informal greetings include “Mornin’,” Yallo,” “Beautiful day,” “How are ya,” and, one of my favorites, “Oh, hey there.” Uniquely Midwestern language is but one topic covered in Berens’ guidebook.

Before getting too far afield on the prairie, however, it’s worth noting which states are considered the American Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. This is not to say that a Minnesotan “Oh, howdy” will sound like a Missouri “Yallo,” or that anyone living outside of a particular region of Ohio will know what the heck a tree lawn is, but those 12 states make up what’s commonly known as the American Midwest (and what the United State Census Bureau refers to as Region Two).
Berens starts us off with a twelve-question “How Well Do You Know the Midwest?” test before getting into the basics. You needn’t worry about your results, though, as each score leads to “this is the right book for you”–you can’t go wrong! After the basics and language, we mosey along to the people, driving, setting, goings-on, college life, being there, food & drink, and junk drawer sections of the book. Also included you’ll find an intermission – that is, a Midwest Gallery – and exercises, bucket lists, recipes, sidenotes, how-tos, and more.

Need to know what to do when you hit a deer? See page 87. Curious about the difference between Deviled eggs and the Devil? See page 211. Pages 202-04 introduce us to over a dozen different types of “weenies” and their distinguishing features. Plan your monthly yardwork calendar with the help of pages 103-06. Learn all about “Midwest nice,” history, values, sports, drinking games, and, yup, you guessed it, more (than perhaps you’d ever thought you’d like to know, but you’d like to) about all-things Midwestern.

Throughout his book, Berens shares family memories with us – fishing trips, Grandpa Bob, Midwestern holidays, his first car, etc. – that are wonderful anecdotes to what seems a truly Midwestern upbringing and lifestyle. But he didn’t set out to be a comedic spokesperson for the United States’ middle child. Prior to pursuing comedy, he worked in journalism, and he’s also a musician and podcaster. It was on a comedy tour in LA that he realized his Midwestern shtick resonated with audiences from across the country. He posits that among the reasons why the Midwest resonates is “because the Midwest has largely been underrepresented, or falsely represented in pop culture” and that we’ve “been flown over culturally,” and, welp, I agree.

When I first plucked this book off of the library’s shelves, I didn’t know what to expect or whether I would, in fact, read it. Within minutes, I was sharing it with others. A colleague immediately put it on hold. I read a few pages to my (very Midwestern mother, who lives in Ohio) over the phone and we laughed so hard we cried, especially at “The 12 Steps to Saying Goodbye.” As it turns out, my 13-year-old stepson follows Berens’ Midwestern shenanigans on Youtube, which I learned only after he absconded with the book as soon as I brought it home. All of this to say that this is a hilarious read and, indeed, it resonates, seemingly regardless of age.

Having lived in the Midwest all of my adult life (and nearly all of my life, full stop), I realize that it’s too easy to take our uniqueness for granted. Greetings, sayings, long goodbyes, and the like that we Midwesterners hear on a daily basis, such as, “Ope, sorry,” “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” and “It’s not the cold, it’s the wind,” are, uniquely, us. Sure, I’m reminded of that any time that I step outside of my Midwestern comfort zone, but it’s nice to be reminded of home while at home.

Aside from making us laugh, Berens also gives us a sort of survey of Midwestern culture – books, fairs (county and state), films, food, museums, politics, and sites to see. Not to mention the entertaining cartoons, charts, illustrations, lexicon, and photographs. Check it out! And, as always, happy reading.

Find in catalog.

Reading for Change: Books by Black Authors

All of these titles can be found via the JPL catalog

Picture Books

M is for Melanin

Concepts ABC Rose

That is my dream! : A picture book of Langston Hughes’s “Dream variation”

People Diversity Hughes

What’s the Difference?: Being Different is Amazing

    People Diversity Richards

Saturday

    People Mom Mora

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

    Self Self Esteem Barnes

Just Like Me

Self Self Esteem Brantley-Newton

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration

    Self Self Esteem Doyon

I am Enough

Self Self Esteem Byers

Sulwe

    Self Self Esteem Nyong’o

Hey Black Child

    Self Self Esteem Perkins

You Matter

    Self Self Esteem Robinson

Freedom Soup

    Stories Food Charles

The Undefeated

Stories History Alexander

Let the Children March

    Stories History Clark-Robinson

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

    Stories History Hubbard

Before She Was Harriet

Stories History Ransome

Easy Fiction and Easy Nonfiction

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

    Easy Fic Grimes Nikki

Jada Jones series

    Easy Fic Lyons Kelly Starling

The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane

    Easy Fic Smith Nikki Shannon

Let’s Talk About Race

    Easy Nonfic 305.8 L56L c. 1

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

    Easy Nonfic 323.11 Sh4c

Trombone Shorty

    Easy Nonfic 788.9 An2t

The Stone Thrower

    Easy Nonfic 796.332 Ea5r

Juvenile Fiction and Juvenile Nonfiction

The Crossover

    J Fiction Alexander Kwame

Blended

    J Fiction Draper Sharon

The Parker Inheritance

    J Fiction Johnson Varian

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

    J Fiction Mbalia Kwame

Ghost Boys

    J Fiction Rhodes Jewell Parker

Betty Before X

    J Fiction Shabazz Ilyasah

Piecing Me Together & Ways to Make Sunshine

    J Fiction Watson Renee

Genesis Begins Again

    J Fiction Williams Alicia

Brown Girl Dreaming

    J Fiction Woodson Jacqueline

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

    J Fiction Zoboi Ibi

New Kid

    J Nonfic 741.5 C84n

We are the Ship: the story of Negro League Baseball

    J Nonfic 796.357 N33w

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

    J Nonfic 808.1 AL2o

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

    J Nonfic 817 H11w

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives

    J Nonfic 973.0496 G82w

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History 

    J Nonfic 973.0496 H24L

Teen Fiction

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

     Teen Coles Jay

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

     Teen Jackson Tiffany

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

     Teen Magoon Kekla

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

     Teen Reynolds Jason

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

     Teen Stone Nic

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

     Teen Thomas Angie

If You Come Softly and Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

     Teen Woodson Jacqueline

Teen Non-Fiction

Teen Graphic Novels

March, Books 1-3 by John Lewis

      Teengn Lewis John March

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

      Teengn Medina Tony I Am

Fiction

The Vanishing Half

    Fiction Bennett Brit

The Water Dancer

    Fiction Coates Ta-Nehisi

Homegoing

    Fiction Yaa Gyasi

The Broken Earth series

Fiction Jemisin N.K.

Such a Fun Age

    Fiction Reid Kiley

Real Life

    Fiction Taylor Brandon

Sing, Unburied, Sing

    Fiction Ward Jesmyn

The Nickel Boys

Fiction Whitehead Colin

Red at the Bone

    Fiction Woodson Jacqueline

Non-Fiction

Bad Feminist

    305.42 G25 2014

How to be an Antiracist

    305.8 K34h 2019

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

305.8 K34s 2016

Heavy: An American Memoir

    305.896 L45h 2018

How We Fight For Our Lives

    811 J71h 2019

The Yellow House

    921 B79y 2019

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!

Radius Books

A couple of times a year, we receive a box of free art books from Radius Books, a nonprofit publisher based out of Sante Fe, New Mexico, that aspires “to make a lasting impact through [their] Publishing and Donation programs.” Founded in 2007, Radius Books has published over 150 titles and donated – gifted, rather, as they say on their website – over 75,000 books to “libraries, schools, and arts programs in all 50 states.” Thanks to their generosity, we’re fortunate enough to have a small, though growing, collection of Radius Books in our library’s Post Reading Room.

Books by the same publisher tend to become formulaic, with look-alike layouts, consistent components, matching materials, and similar sizes and styles, even if and when they are not part of a series. Which, admittedly, is fine for most books, but for art books? …Radius Books are unique, wonderfully well-thought out, and beautiful. Although visual artwork is the mainstay, cultural, historical, informational, and social content is woven into the fabric of many of Radius’ titles and, when done, is done so in a manner that complements the visual artwork. What’s more, their offerings are diverse. Not only as diversity relates to art forms and mediums, but as it relates to the representation of a range of people. Time and again the result is stunning.

Perhaps I’ve only just now realized the challenge of relaying the uniqueness and beauty of these books to you. But I’ll do my best by discussing a few of the 35+ Radius Books that we have in our collection.

Masumi Hayashi: Panoramic Photo Collages, 1976-2006 does, in fact, take the shape of a panoramic photograph. Beginning with an essay penned by Barbara Tannenbaum, in which she describes Hayashi as using “art to awaken people gently but insistently to societal ills,” the book then moves into six sections of vivid, sometimes surreal, plates: Post-Industrial Landscapes; EPA Superfund Sites; Abandoned Prisons; Cities; Japanese American & Canadian Internment Camps; and Sacred Architectures. In this work, Hayashi creates individual panoramic photo collages by combining hundreds of still photos. Some of the already rectangular-shaped plates (i.e. pages) fold out into even larger panoramic collages.

Remnants: Photographs of the Lower East Side is a collection of photographs by Janet Russek & David Scheinbaum that documents the vibrant, yet vanishing, Jewish heritage of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which Amy Stein-Milford refers to as “a place of origin, a Plymouth Rock, the neighborhood where it all started” for many American Jews. Stein-Milford goes on to write that today, “that history is imperiled.” Publications such as this help to preserve that heritage. One of the many interesting stories within this book is one about Joel Russ. In 1907, he immigrated from what is now Poland and sold herring out of a barrel until, in 1914, he could build a brick and mortar store. In 1933, he renamed his business “Russ & Daughters,” making his daughters business partners. This is known as the first business in the United State with “& Daughters” in its name–quite a controversy at the time!

Interwoven is one of the most intriguing art books that I’ve come across, full stop. This title features the work of Kyle Meyer, an American Artist who spent extended periods of time in Swaziland, and raises awareness about the “hostility and brutal discrimination” faced by members of Eswatini LGBTQI community. In the book’s foreword, Todd J. Tubutis describes how Meyer makes his work: he “hand-shreds each photographic print and weaves it together with strips of fabric worn by the sitter, creating a series of larger-than-life portraits that are both flat and dimensional, both digital and handmade.” Meyer’s work is brilliant. Throughout the book are transcriptions of hand-written notes. Also, the book incorporates pages of fabric reproductions of the actual fabric woven into the works of art depicted in the plates.

The aforementioned titles focus on photography, or photography-related artworks, because that is a particular interest of mine. Our Radius Books collection does, however, include books about other art forms and mediums, such as the sculpture work of artist John McCracken, the recycled and embroidered textiles of Bengal in Kantha, the drawings of Linn Meyers, and much more.

Our Radius Books collection is an incredible resource for anyone and everyone interested in visual art. We are thankful to be on their mailing list and that their organization does the work that they do to amplify voices while making art more accessible. Although these books cannot be checked out, they are available for your in-house use and make for great fireside companions. So as the days get colder and winter approaches, I encourage you to carve out some time to visit the library’s Post Reading Room, peruse our Radius Books collection, and choose a few titles to enjoy by the fireside. As always, happy reading.

Find Masumi Hayashi:Panoramic Photo Collages, 1976-2006 in catalog.
Find Remnants: Photographs of the Lower East Side in catalog.

Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War by Jeff Shesol

Shared national narratives matter. They cohere generations around a belief system: that the country’s general purpose is, in a word, good. Such binary choices that reduce complex entities to either “good” or “bad” are often fraught with circumstance. But sometimes the circumstances ease the choice. Take the Cold War. Of course one could easily pierce the relative goodness and badness of the U.S. and the Soviet Union with specific examples. But if this same one had to choose between a liberal democracy that provides opportunities to correct injustices, or a totalitarian regime that summarily expends individuals for the regime’s sake, we should think it an easy choice.

Still, Americans in the mid-20th century actually needed to see, not just believe, that the Soviet experiment would eventually fail. Jeff Shesol, author of “Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War,” frames it more narrowly: Americans needed to see their country win the space race.

The term “existential threat” is probably overused. But an American at the end of 1957 could be forgiven for claiming it. That year, the Soviets launched both Sputnik and American dread. If the Soviets could launch a satellite into orbit, what else could they do? It didn’t help that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in his usual haranguing style, said that they were producing ICBMs “like sausages.” Inside the Pentagon and the Eisenhower administration, there wasn’t much regard for the R-7 Semyorka rocket the Soviets used to launch Sputnik. They thought it crude, good for only lifting heavy payload and not easily directed.

Nevertheless, questions of what the American’s were doing in space persisted, greatly annoying Eisenhower. At a news conference, he played down Sputnik. “They have put one small ball in the air.” Much later Eisenhower would nonchalantly say to reporters, “It’s not necessary to be first in everything.” While true, it’s hardly a sentiment to rally around. And as Shesol notes, many Americans thought being second in space meant being second in everything.

Under intense pressure, Eisenhower agreed to a space program. He believed that it had to be non-militaristic so as to make it less prone to the military-industrial complex. So he and Senator Lyndon Johnson, over drinks at the White House, finalized a bill that created NASA.

What followed was Project Mercury, the United States’ first man-in-space program. Shesol says it began as “a program in search of a purpose—beyond the obvious aim of ensuring that the man in question was American and not Russian.” There was already talk of landing a man on the moon, yet Eisenhower had little patience with such a fanciful thing. Plus, his Science Advisory Committee reported that the whole thoroughfare was an “emotional compulsion.” Eisenhower ultimately slashed Mercury’s budget.

James Webb, NASA’s administrator, hoped to have better luck with President Kennedy as his campaign rhetoric intimated some support. But when the Soviets sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit, there was growing worry that the U.S. would not catch up to, let alone surpass, the Soviets. Besides, Kennedy had more earthly concerns: Berlin, Cuba, Southeast Asia, and domestic civil rights abuses. In a meeting with Kennedy, Webb showed him a model of the Mercury spacecraft. Kennedy dismissed it, said it looked like something you would pick up at a toy store.

Interesting as this political history is, the book really thrums when it focuses on America’s first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, test pilots all. Because the space program was in its nascent stages, their roles were not clearly defined. The astronauts wanted spacecraft designs to allow for consistent pilot control. The engineers, however, sought to minimize the astronauts’ role in flight, seeing them more as backups for when the automatic functions failed.

NASA administrators had the Seven on a constant travel and training schedule. At times, they stood united, pushing back against such things as having to pay for their meals when on official trips. When they were in danger of losing their flight pay because they were unable to log enough flight hours, they went to the press to have their demands met. But they were a competitive group otherwise, settling into two factions. There was John Glenn (with Scott Carpenter, “Glenn’s only true friend among the astronauts”) and Alan Shepard (who had the rest).

It was an unexpected delight to read Glenn’s backstory. He grew up dreaming of flight, eventually earning his pilot’s license in college. As a Marine in World War II, he was assigned to fly transport planes. For Glenn, this would not do and lobbied for combat. It was granted and he more than relished it. He knew he was not invincible, but his confidence as a pilot was undoubtedly secure.

He continued in the Korean War, this time flying jets. “Glenn seemed to hurl himself at targets, flying too fast and too low through sheets of anti-aircraft fire, blasting his 20-millimeter cannons.” One of his wingmen, Ted Williams (yes, that Ted Williams, of the Boston Red Sox), would later say of Glenn: “The man is crazy.” Williams could be prickly, but he also had high praise for Glenn: “Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him.”

At war’s end (and disappointed that it ended), Glenn became a test pilot, where he earned the reputation as someone who engaged in what servicemen called “sniveling.” Glenn would go on to explain what this meant: It was “going around and getting what you want to get even if you’re not slated to get it. There’s nothing wrong with it—and I was superb at it.” After he flew the first supersonic transcontinental flight (a mission he devised), he gained some fame, even appearing on “Name That Tune.”

It wasn’t just the relative aw-shucks ease in which Glenn appeared before the cameras that irked most of the other astronauts. It was more that Glenn was not like them. Drinking and womanizing were common. Glenn partook in neither. (Glenn never knew life without his wife Annie. They grew up together, and Glenn would often shield her from situations where she would need to speak, her stutter having been rated at 80 percent.) Glenn saw their libertine activities as a liability to the program. They often saw him as a scold. (Glenn believed in the notion of astronaut-as-role-model. Some members of the press tried to apply this model to Shepard, inferring that he was from humble origins and a churchgoer. In reality he grew up wealthy and openly stated that he didn’t belong to any church.)

When NASA asked the astronauts to rank who should be assigned to the first mission, Glenn knew he was in trouble. Most of the country thought it would be Glenn. Many in NASA, however, believed that Shepard was the more talented pilot. The 1-2-3 mission order would be Shepard, Gus Grissom, and then Glenn. NASA announced that while a choice had been made, the astronaut’s name would be released later. Through all of this, a livid Glenn had to stand and smile.

Shepard’s successful suborbital flight bolstered the nation’s confidence in the program. But NASA was not satisfied with suborbital missions. They thought it akin to a circus act: throw a man up in the air and then watch him come down. Grissom went on his own suborbital flight, but to little fanfare.

It was actually fortuitous that Glenn was third in line. For now, the more powerful Atlas rocket was in use, ready to carry a capsule into orbit. Shesol builds the intensity by taking us through the numerous scrubbed launches that delayed Glenn’s liftoff, the issues either mechanical or weather related. When we reach February 20, 1962, we know this is the day. We know exactly how this turns out; but Shesol takes care to have us in the moment, on edge. Glenn rides the elevator to the top of the rocket and works his way into the Mercury capsule. It’s so small, in fact, Glenn says, “You don’t get in it, you put it on.”

There was a growing national sense that this was it, an American was about to orbit the earth. People lined up along the beaches near Cape Canaveral, Florida to witness the launch. It was becoming real for Glenn, too. He was strapped in, and it felt as though the booster below him “was alive. It screeched and growled. When he shifted back and forth, it moved, just slightly.”

While in the capsule, Glenn was able to speak to Annie via telephone one final time. Dangerous missions had long standing in their shared life together, but this one was spectacularly dangerous. He ended the conversation with the same sign-off he had used since World War II. “Remember, I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” Even though she was frightened, Annie repeated her part of the routine. “Well, don’t take too long.”

Americans were gathering around televisions and transistor radios. Schools would soon close for the day. Then the engines fired and the rocket ascended, arrowing and splitting the air into sound waves. And as long as it kept thrusting, there was a feeling that we were going to make it. In Grand Central Station a thousand or so people (eventually swelling to ten thousand) watched the big screen; someone in the crowd found the breath to yell, “Go, go, go!” President Kennedy, watching a TV in the White House, heard Walter Cronkite scream on-air, “Go, baby!”

Over the next five hours, Americans listened and waited. (Shesol points out that in 1962, 78 percent of Americans had not traveled by air.) Glenn completed his planned three orbits and returned safely. Within the same decade, Americans would behold the success of new rocketry and space exploration, culminating in the mighty Saturn V rocket and the moon landing. The technological achievements, along with the stunning visuals of space travel, were grand enough to speak for themselves. Yet, throughout—and even though it wasn’t always at the forefront of American consciousness—the space race was seen as a metaphor for the Cold War.

The Soviet Union collapsed and the Mercury astronauts are gone. If you tour the launch sites at the Cape today, you’ll see plenty of buildings marked “SpaceX,” not “NASA.” But you can still feel the history, a sense of believing in a shared endeavor. This is part of our narrative.

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DK’s Big Ideas Simply Explained Series

It’s likely that, at one time or another, you’ve perused a guide by DK, the British-based publisher of illustrated reference books in 60+ languages. This multinational publisher has numerous series that cover a seemingly endless list of topics, such as arts and culture, health and beauty, language learning, religions and ideas, transportation, and much more. Regardless of which series or topic, their books tend to be thorough (some would say dense), visual (some would say overstimulating), and full (some would say jam-packed). Generally, there’s a lot happening – text, charts, timelines, images/photos, quotes, illustrations, micro-bios, etc. – at once on any given page. In my experience, people either adore or abhor them, with little opinion in between. Me? I adore them!

My most recent DK adventure took me through three titles from their Big Ideas Simply Explained series: The Art Book, The Economics Book, and The Philosophy Book. Rather than discuss each book individually, I’ll treat them collectively. I might mention, too, that these are but three of 20+ topics covered in this series. Others include astronomy, business, history, literature, movies, politics, science, and more. Two people are covered so in-depth that entire volumes are dedicated to them—Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes.

Each of the three that I reviewed are around 350 pages, with similar layouts: a 3-4 page table of contents (which is itself illustrated); a 4-6 page introduction; six sections that cover the big ideas in that field; and, in the economics and philosophy books, a directory and glossary, while the art book contains a glossary and, rather than a directory, portfolio and quotation sources. The books are, as is typical of reference-style nonfiction, larger and somewhat heavy, thus more of a coffee table or lap book than one you’d want to accidentally drop on your face when holding it above, reading before bedtime. They are textbook-ish (which I like).

This series lends itself well to either reading the whole book (though I did not read each from cover to cover), reading bits and pieces here and there, or reading section by section (and not necessarily in the order that they are presented). Of the three, I spent the most time with The Art Book. Like in the other books, each section begins with an introduction that includes a timeline through a particular period in that subject. For example, the “Romanticism to symbolism” timeline spans 1800-1893, beginning with Francisco de Goya’s The Naked Maja (which he got into trouble for) and ending with Edvard Munch’s ubiquitous The Scream.

Unique to The Art Book, however, is the “Portfolio” at the end of each section, which lists influential artists/works for that period. The “Portfolio” equivalent in The Economics Book and The Philosophy Book is the “Directory” at the end of the books that list people important to those fields. Additionally, “See also” cross-references are listed, which helps connect theorists and philosophers not only to one another, but to other aspects of the ideas that they represent in a manner that’s different than how they’re contextualized within the text proper. You could, if you wanted to, just read the directory listings and their associated “See also” pages to learn about certain people or theories somewhat thematically (rather than chronologically).

DK promotes this series as a “graphic and quote-led approach.” Indeed, it is. What I like about this approach is that the graphics and quotes – some of which take up whole pages – break up the text nicely while vividly illustrating the points discussed. The “In context” text boxes, which are found throughout the series, are especially helpful, as are the biographical text boxes, which offer a short list of key works.

I realize that I’m writing more about how the books may be used than how they read. For me, usability is part of what makes books like these good. If the organization of information within is not approachable, or accessible in different ways, then the book is less usable. Although I haven’t thumbed through all the books in the Big Ideas Simply Explained series, I assume that they’re comparably organized. Sure, there’s a lot going on from cover to cover – illustrations, graphics, photographs, quotes, asides, and such – and, I admit, that may become distracting, overwhelming even, but, overall, I find the books in this series very usable. And I look forward to more!

As always, happy reading.

Mend! : A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto by Kate Sekules

Over the last couple of years there has been a movement back toward mending. Rather than getting rid of old clothes, you can grab a needle and thread and give them a new life with a few simple techniques. And if the techniques are simple, they can be made complicated – that is where visible mending comes in.

Rather than mending to hide holes and tears, visible mending seeks to celebrate them. Using contrasting fabrics for patches and bold thread colors for seams and darns, visible menders draw attention to their work. They also turn their mass-produced wardrobe into a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces.

Have you ever had to throw out your favorite sweater just because it had a small hole? Visible mending may be for you!

At Joplin Public Library, we have a few books about visible mending – in fact, three have been added in the past year – but my favorite is MEND! : A REFASHIONING MANUAL AND MANIFESTO by KATE SEKULES.

Kate Sekules is a writer, clothes historian, mender, and mending educator; and in Mend! she brings all of these skills to the table. Her book delves into the history of mending worldwide, and into the current renaissance it is having today.

The book is organized into seven chapters that tell the story of mending: What, Why, When, Who, Where, How, and Which. “What” provides a brief introduction to the concept of visible mending.

In “Why,” Sekules talks about the cost of manufactured clothing on the planet, from poor working conditions in factories to the piles of clothing that end up in our landfills.

“When” examines the history of visible mending – starting with the Copper Age patchwork fur pants of Otzi the Iceman and ending with the psychedelic color palettes of 1970s hippie couture.

Sekules showcases the other artists currently making waves in the visible mending movement in the fourth chapter, “Who.”

“Where” discusses storage of your mending materials and organization plans for your wardrobe. Just because you haven’t worn an old skirt in the past year doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out. Maybe you should add some embellishments and give it a whole new style!

Mend! turns its attention to methods in chapter six, “How.” This chapter provides new menders with a vocabulary to get started, as well as illustrated techniques for basic stitches. Sekules also offers advice for dealing with specific fabric, and finding time for mending.

“Which” follows up with project examples. Since every tear is different, Sekules does not give step-by-step instructions for a project. She gives examples of damage and provides readers with a suggestion for a mending technique.

This book is not a craft project book. There are not any patterns to cut out or numbered instructions to follow. It is a book of ideas; a place to find inspiration. Flip through it just out of curiosity, and when you splatter paint on your best jeans, check this book out again to remember how you do a satin stitch, or what kind of patch fabric works best with denim.

Mend! is full of useful graphs and charts, but it also has its fair share of photographs. And don’t forget that Kate Sekules is a clothes historian – she has a picture of King Tut’s 3,350-year-old mended kerchief, and lots of stories to tell about clothing.

My favorite anecdote from this book has to do with what Sekules calls “the opposite of mending.” In the late 1300s, people were shredding their clothes on purpose. Hoods, gowns, and doublets all received intricate, decorative slashes – probably to mimic the way a knight’s clothes would become slashed in battle.

So whether you’re wearing a punk rock shirt with the sleeves torn off, or pre-ripped jeans you bought at the store, you have these fashion rebels from the 1300s to thank.

As the pages of this book will tell you, visible mending is nothing new. It used to be a necessity to look after the few clothes you were able to afford. Although clothing is much easier to come by these days, we can still choose to be more careful with the clothes we have.

With inspiration from Mend!, and a few basic tools, you can revolutionize your wardrobe and make it as individual as you. But be careful, you may find yourself starting to wish that your clothes would fall apart!

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