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Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman

Full disclosure: I chose to review this book because author Sara Dykman is visiting the library. Better yet, you’re invited! Join us at the library on Tuesday, September 27th for Dykman’s presentation about her new book, Bicycling with Butterflies, which, plainly stated, recounts “[her] 10,201-mile journey following the monarch migration.”

Seriously, she rode 10,000+ miles on a bicycle from Mexico to Canada and back to travel with the beautiful, threatened monarchs. Further interesting is that she’s headed back to Mexico, though on motorcycle this time, stopping here in Joplin (among other places) along the way, to again follow the monarch butterflies to Canada and back.

Sara Dykman works in amphibian research, is an outdoor educator, and, as a handful of her trips illustrate, an adventurer. She’s walked from Mexico to Canada, canoed the Missouri River from source to sea, and cycled over 80,000 miles across North and South America. She founded beyondabook.org, “an adventure-linked education project that connects real-time adventures to classrooms [that creates] opportunities for real-life learning [that] inspires students to push their limits and explore the planet.” Through her adventures and projects, Dykman hopes “to empower young and old to dream big.”

Dykman begins by sharing how her idea of cycling the monarch migration came about. Like most ideas, it started as a seed that sprouted into something much larger and full of life. A simple desire to visit the butterflies at their overwintering grounds (in Mexico) morphed into a full-fledged plan to accompany them on their migration, via bicycle. But she didn’t just hop on a bike and go. She spent a year planning, researching, and otherwise preparing for the adventure. As she wrote in the first pages of her book, “Eventually, there was nothing left to do but start.” And start she did.

Like the monarchs, Dykman’s journey began and ended in El Rosario, Mexico. She arrived there in January 2017, though she (and the butterflies) did not head north until March. A wonderful map illustrates the basics of their route. March, April, and May took them up north through Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. June carried them farther north, then eastward across Michigan and Canada, reentering the United States on the east coast in July. Late July through August took them westward then south, crossing New York, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, then down into Kentucky. September swept them westward across Illinois and Missouri, then started them on their homestretch south. October and November took them farther south, through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico, back to their starting point in El Rosario.

Dykman’s upcoming visit will not be her first stop in Joplin. She stopped here, as did some of the monarch butterflies, in October 2017, on her way back south to the starting point. She pedaled into Joplin under cover of night and stayed over at local master naturalist Val Frankoski’s house. Like Dykman, Val cares deeply for the monarchs and has worked tirelessly, alongside others in our community, to plant milkweed and otherwise provide a habitat for and raise awareness about the monarchs and their migration, as well as their importance. This work, along with Dykman’s visit, culminated in a mayoral pledge, which declared April through October 2017 as the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge Days in Joplin (http://joplinmo.org/1001/Mayors-Monarch-Pledge).

While here, Dykman presented to 1,000 enthusiastic school children, as she describes in her book: “Val saw me hopeful, telling kids about the joy of monarchs, adventure, and science, and how everyone can be a part of the solution.” After Joplin, Dykman pedaled off to nearby Neosho, Missouri, before heading farther south. She wrote that she “left Joplin just as [she] had arrived, in the cover of night.”

Now, about the book’s arrangement and layout (which is one of my favorite things to include in reviews, as I think it’s important, particularly in nonfiction). As one might expect, this book is organized chronologically, recounting Dykman’s journey starting in January 2017 through November of that same year. Each chapter begins with the number of days it is during the migration, as well as the dates and the miles covered. For example: Days 142-153 / July 31-August 11, Miles 5518-6005. For this particular stretch, that’s about 40 miles a day, which, to my surprise, takes cyclists about 4 hours to complete (according to Google, that is). Still, that’s a lot of mileage, especially day after day after day.

Bicycling with Butterflies is as much a 10,000+ mile memoir as it is an account of the monarchs’ migration. In addition to recounting the actions and observations of, as well as her interactions with, the butterflies, Dykman describes her exchanges with those she meets along the way, some more positive and inspiring than others. I like that she doesn’t hold back, that she doesn’t weed out the less-than positive aspects of the narrative. Moreover, I appreciate her social commentary.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in adventure stories, the environment (specifically, saving it), the monarch butterflies, and memoir. A word on Dykman’s writing: excellent. She has a keen eye for drawing parallels between us and the world in which we live. If you’re not able to join us for her upcoming author visit, then I encourage you to check out her book–literally!

As always, happy reading.

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The Happy Inbox by Maura Nevel Thomas

I have over 3,000 emails in one (of four) of my work-related inboxes, with at least a few hundred of those being unread. An informal, off-the-cuff poll of sorts of a handful of colleagues and friends revealed inboxes that ranged from containing only 17 emails (Congratulations!) to 20,000+, with 39, upwards of 6,000, and 10,000+ being the in-between numbers. That’s a lot of emails, folks. And most folks, like me and the majority I “polled,” have inboxes full of oodles of emails. 

It’s no wonder then – regardless of whether the amount of emails in your inbox falls in the tens or tens of thousands range – that exorbitant time is spent on reading, writing, and sorting electronic correspondence. Frankly, it’s overwhelming! Fortunately, practical advice is offered in Maura Nevel Thomas’ The Happy Inbox: How to Have a Stress-free Relationship with Your Email and Overcome Your Communication Clutter, a book that’s part of her Empowered Productivity series.

Before getting practical about cutting the email clutter, a word about the publisher. Published by Simple Truths, this book, like other of their IGNITE READS titles, is meant to be read in an hour or less. An hour or less for what’s essentially an email self-help book is just about right, especially when considering time spent reading this book is less time spent contending with the inbox. All books in the IGNITE series, including the three Empowered Productivity titles, are readable in less than an hour, written by an expert, and fall into the “trending business and personal growth” categories. 

Now, let’s talk about email! Arranged with an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion, Thomas starts by saying that “our biggest productivity hurdle today might just be our communication–our crazy inboxes, our constant phone notifications.” She goes on to discuss how today’s professionals are in a constant state of “task switching” due to being tethered to our emails, phones, and social media. 

Imagine: You’re working on a project that requires lengthy, in-depth attention. Your computer starts to “ping” with incoming emails. Your phone starts buzzing with work-related text messages. Your (work-related) Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts blow up with likes, comments, and messages. Perhaps you don’t have to imagine. Thomas describes this as “communication overload” that leads to what entrepreneur Henry Poydar dubbed “communication debt.” 

According to Thomas, the first step of getting out of communication debt and regaining control, while being active and intentional rather than reactive, is to get your email under control. It’s helpful to have an understanding of how our inboxes impact our productivity (“attacks” is the word she uses), as well as the different types of emails we receive, before assessing our habits. Thomas describes a “skim and skip” behavior that is, admittedly, how I (and likely most people I know) check email. Then she tells us why that’s not effective. Foremost, “your inbox is for receiving messages, not storing them.” She further discusses how to make use of filters, unsubscribing from unwanted robomail, and how to create controls in your email application that would better help you stay on top of things (e.g. emails from certain domains could be automatically filtered to your trash folder). 

Most of us tend to think of email as an in-between task, something that takes time away from “real work.” But, Thomas argues, email is real work. It’s not meant to be something we give partial focus to, but something that we have to allow time for and address in a thoughtful manner. Afterall, our board members, bosses, colleagues, customers, friends, etc. took the time to craft the email. The least we could do is give it our focused attention so that we may keep and/or strengthen our commitments. This is, however, easier said than done, especially on a jam-packed schedule and, these days, it seems everyone’s schedules are jam-packed. Nonetheless, I think recognizing email as real work is an accurate, if interesting, perspective.

In chapter two, “Being Reactive vs. Being Responsive,” Thomas discusses what we shouldn’t do with email, such as marking or flagging messages to come back to: “It’s not efficient to read the same email more than once.” Another tactic to avoid is leaving your inbox open so that new messages distract you from what you’re working on. She admits that if you’re accustomed to constantly checking your email – and many of us are – that it’ll be challenging to break that habit, especially if we’ve trained people to believe they’ll get an immediate response from us. (And if we have, then Thomas suggests we retrain them.) She offers advice on “reviewing” email, how often to review, and how to avoid getting stuck in “review mode.”

Chapter three discusses processing email in “done for now” fashion, meaning you don’t have to do all of the tasks associated with your emails, but take the steps to get them out of your inbox. Thomas outlines the specific steps necessary to process your email effectively–the TESST method: “Take immediate action; Empower others and yourself (delegate); Suspend it to your task list to take the required action later; Store it for future reference; or Trash it.” She describes each step in detail and includes a flowchart to better illustrate how to “Put [Your Emails] To The TESST.”

Chapter four offers advice for how to manage specific types of communication, such as email vs. text, team communication, phone, etc. and when to handle them (i.e. during business hours vs. outside of business hours). This chapter also touches on email composition and best practices. 

Rather than deal with email management, chapter five discusses another drain on most professionals’ productivity: meetings. Thomas offers advice on how to kindly decline meetings that are not necessary, better prepare for meetings that are, setting goals and agendas, and choosing the right time of day, deciding who should attend, honoring the clock, and post-meeting tactics. 

Although this is not typically the type of book I would read, I thought it could prove helpful in my professional life. Although I think that putting these tactics into practice would, in fact, be helpful, I wonder whether it’s practical – possible even – to take the time necessary to implement them. Thomas promises us, however, that the time it takes to implement is well worth the more efficient productivity level and, perhaps most importantly, a largely stress-free relationship with communication overload that betters the work/life balance. If you’re a professional experiencing communication overload, perhaps even burnout, then I recommend this title, especially since it’s not a lengthy read. Speaking of, I better get back to my emails. 

As always, happy reading.         

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The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World by Riley Black

It’s something we know without recalling perhaps when and where we learned it: The dinosaurs were taken out by an asteroid. (Well, the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct. The avian dinosaurs—birds—made it.) The most famous of the Earth’s mass extinction events (its fifth), it happened around 66 million years ago. Without it, this very day could very easily still be in the age of the dinosaurs.
In “The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World,” Riley Black not only takes us back to the impact event but also briskly carries us forward, from the first hour after the asteroid slammed into what is now known as the Yucatán Peninsula to one million years later. She shows us just what exactly the earth’s flora and fauna experienced, and would continue to experience, during this cataclysm. While other mass extinctions may have eliminated a higher percentage of the earth’s species, it took much longer (millions of years) to do so. The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction that Black details happened remarkably fast. It’s about as wild a ride as you can imagine: millions of years of evolution “undone in mere moments.”
Black notes that it’s important to understand the role the phenomenon known as contingency played. “Not all impacts are equal,” she says. The asteroid that smacked into Siberia about 35 million years ago was larger than the one from K-Pg. Yet it didn’t spur world-wide devastation. Impact angle and the type of rock receiving the space-punch mattered. So had the dinosaur-killing asteroid landed somewhere else on earth, conceivably the opportunities for mammals to climb atop the evolutionary ladder would not have materialized.
But it landed where it did. A “deadly crag,” it spanned about 7.5 miles across. And, traveling in excess of 44,000 mph, it was exceptionally fast. “If we were to stand at a single point and try to watch its passage, we would feel it rather than see it,” states Black. To make matters worse, it landed at a lethal 45-degree angle. There was instant vaporization where it hit coastal water. Tsunamis resulted, hundreds of feet high. Earthquakes spread. In present day Montana, dinosaurs there would have felt the impact in about fifteen minutes.
The earth, so violently shook, tossed up unfathomable amounts of dust and debris, darkening the sky. Billions of tons of sulfur and carbon dioxide were flung into the atmosphere. Then the debris started its descent, igniting fires. Any animal that could take shelter did of course. And if it could burrow, all the better. Climate change was almost immediate. Within the first day, fires engulfed the earth, a pure hellscape.
Already, just finding shelter above ground was proving futile. If an animal couldn’t dive into soil or water, it was in desperate straits. Temperatures climbed. This was a big problem for the gargantuan non-avian dinosaurs who were already prone to overheating. Black says it well and succinctly: “Evolution prepared them for the world of tomorrow, and perhaps the day after, but not for this.”
As the world burned, the debris created “a vast dome over the atmosphere.” Sunlight became scarce. This was the “impact winter,” a period of endless night. The days turned into years and then the acid rain started, slowly degrading the nutrients vegetation needs to grow.
One thousand years later the earth’s biodiversity was (surprise) greatly compromised, “shot through with gaps.” However, this created opportunities for the surviving organisms clinging to the happenstances they were dealt. Here’s one: Algae kept the oceans alive. Another one, going back to the first days after impact: The first primates could have perished (but did not of course) in the ubiquitous tree fires. (Black also notes that ferns, “a disaster taxon,” did very well during the recovery.)
One hundred thousand years after impact the earth was shaking off the coldness of winter, the forests growing higher. As we move to one million years, flowering plants proliferated, which in turn burgeoned insects. And as Black points out, such insects were a boon to primates, as they provided a source of nourishment.
Throughout the book, Black’s fascination with dinosaurs is palpable. She strikes me as a dinosaur-loving kid who grew up never having lost her wonder. And it’s as though she feels guilty they had to perish in order for her to exist and subsequently long for them. While most of us stop short of such longing, she does explain our collective intrigue of dinosaurs very well. We try to wrap our minds around the fact that such colossal creatures once ruled the earth and for such a long period of time. Whether gazing at their remains in a museum or watching a T-Rex redux chase down some poor human on screen, we can’t get enough. And to Black, it’s more than that. “Dinosaurs live again where our imagination touches bone, the consequences of impact creating a great, constantly unfolding puzzle in which the discovery of every new fossil feels like a victory. Against the odds, this creature was fossilized. And against the odds, we found it.”
Black soberly reminds us that, in the end, “extinction comes for all species,” the dinosaur fossils a “memento mori.” Dinosaurs were on earth for over 165 million years, yet they are long gone. And as we gaze up at their erected fossils, it’s natural to wonder what will become of us. Will we end by chance or by our own undoing? Either way, we know life, some form of life, will persist. Here’s Black, once again sharing her awe: “From the time life originated on our planet over 3.6 billion years ago, it has never been extinguished. Think about that for a moment.”

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The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life by J. A. Jacobs

In a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle, the clue “A.J. ___________, author of The Know-It-All” was the greatest moment in the answer’s life. That is until his brother-in-law pointed out that it was the Saturday puzzle – the hardest one of the week with the most obscure clues. So maybe it wasn’t the greatest moment in Jacobs’ life but it was still pretty cool and it reignited his love of crosswords.

That love turned into a passion, not just for crosswords but all kinds of puzzles, and to the book “The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life”.

The author explores all kinds of puzzles beginning with crosswords. From interviewing The New York Times puzzle creator Peter Gordon to the surprisingly recent history of the form, Jacobs not only informs but challenges you with crosswords you can solve.  The first wordcross (crossword), published in the New York World in 1913, is included. The puzzle quickly gained in popularity and was picked up by numerous publications. However The New York Times, now famed for their puzzles, considered the form too lowbrow and frivolous for publication.

As with most of the puzzle forms explored, an appendix is included to the chapter with puzzles for you to try (solutions are in the last part of the book). Also included are puzzles created for this title by Greg Pliska, founder of the Exaltation of Larks puzzle company. Twenty puzzles are included plus if you find the secret passcode in the introduction you can unlock more puzzles at thepuzzlebook.com.

The Rubik’s Cube and its 43 quintillion possible arrangements came along much later than the crossword, 1974. Jacobs’ parents bought him one but he didn’t get more than one side done. Determined to rectify this gap in his puzzle resume, he spends a Saturday determined to finish and 41 years after his first attempt he completes the cube. Of course Yusheng Du who can complete the puzzle in 3.47 seconds would not be impressed with Jacobs’ time.

Anagrams, rebuses, and all manner of word games are explored.  Then it’s on to jigsaws. Jacobs admits he wasn’t a fan of this particular puzzle. During his research he discovered jigsaw fans included Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, and Hugh Jackman. He also found the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. It was to be held in Spain with 40 countries represented, one of which was not the U.S. Thinking he would surely be turned down, Jacobs filled out the entry form. Alas, a day later he was confirmed as Team USA. Now he just needs 3 teammates and to actually finish a jigsaw puzzle.

He recruits his family and they begin training. It is satisfying to put pieces together and get that aha moment when things fit – when chaos becomes order. On the day of the competition they find themselves led to 1 of 86 tables which contains 4 unpublished 1000-2000 piece puzzles.  They have 8 hours to complete all 4 puzzles. Team USA goal? Don’t finish last!

Mazes, math and logic puzzles have the author tackling puzzles that require you to think outside the box and sometimes to reverse your thinking to find a solution. Next is ciphers and secret codes. Jacobs was granted permission to enter the CIA headquarters to view a famous unsolved puzzle, Kryptos. Jim Sanborn was commissioned to create a sculpture for the expanded headquarters in 1988. The wavy wall of copper contains a secret message. It’s been over 30 years and Sanborn is still the only one with the solution.

Jacobs also covers visual puzzles (Where’s Waldo), Sudukos, KenKen and chess problems which includes an entertaining interview with Garry Kasparov. His coverage of Riddles starts with Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll who was a big fan.  He touches on historical riddles and riddles in other works of literature including the Book of Exeter. Created by monks the book is famous for having some really naughty riddles and for having no answer key.

Japanese puzzles boxes, cryptics, scavenger hunts (including the MIT Mystery Hunt) and infinite puzzles round out Jacobs puzzle journey. Along with those aha moments when a solution was found or 2 pieces fit, Jacobs found that we can all learn some lessons from puzzle solving.

This is a fun, informative read you’ll find on the New Nonfiction shelves in the lobby. Just one caveat – if you want to try solving any of the puzzles please make photocopies. We don’t one to deprive the next reader of their own aha moment.

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K Barnett

I had the pleasure of getting to hear lawyer, criminal justice reform advocate, and author Brittany K. Barnett speak at the 2022 Public Library Association Conference in Portland, Oregon, in March.  She was one of the conference’s “Big Ideas” speakers.  Speakers that were invited to share information and ideas that would take the 4,000+ conference members outside of their comfort zones.  

I had not heard of Barnett before, but after her noteworthy, moving speech, I will not soon forget her.  I was so inspired by the content of her talk that I just finished reading her book, A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT

A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT is Barnett’s story, but also one of others who have greatly impacted her life. Barnett grew up in Texas, the daughter of a loving mother, but one that struggled with addiction. Struggled so much that she ended up going to prison because of it.  Barnett uses the first part of the book to share this deeply personal story and the lasting effect that it has had on her and her family.   

Despite her mother’s addiction, or maybe because of the trials associated with it, Barnett had big dreams. Since childhood she dreamed of being a lawyer, like Clair Huxtable, the only lawyer she “knew” who looked like her, but her path took her to the world of banking and finance first, but eventually, she attended law school.  

Her plan was to become a corporate lawyer; however, while in law school she took a class where she studied legal injustices, and became familiar with the Sharanda Jones case.

Sharanda Jones was a young entrepreneur, in her early twenties, when she became a casualty of America’s War on Drugs campaign and sentencing disparities. In what she and her attorney, thought was an easily won case, due to a lack of evidence, she was convicted to serve life in prison without parole. 

In researching Jones’ case, Barnett saw herself in the young woman. In fact, if circumstances were different, she thought she could have been Jones.  It soon became her mission to do everything she could to get Jones released from prison.  So in addition to working as a busy corporate lawyer during the day, she started working tirelessly on Jones’ case, pro bono, in her limited free time.

And soon, it was not only Jones that Barnett was trying to help; she had a group of people who had been harshly or wrongly convicted of drug-related offenses. All of which involved sentencing disparities. 

Barnett’s book is a powerful work. Devastating and difficult to read, because it is told in such a manner that readers get to intimately know Barnett and the individuals that she works with so closely. These individuals become just more than names on a page or numbers assigned to a prison system. They become someone’s parent, someone’s child, or someone’s friend.  And if like me,  readers will be shocked upon understanding the sentencing disparity between those individuals sentenced for crack cocaine and powder cocaine drug offenses. Barnett’s debut memoir is a must read.

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A Trio of Oceanic Fun for All Ages

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

Kraken Me Up by Jeffrey Ebbeler

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

This year’s summer reading theme is “Oceans of Possibilities”, and it is loads of fun! Whether it’s the great activities or whimsical decor or the nifty reading challenges, there’s something for everyone here at the Joplin Public Library!

As a longtime fan of seafaring novels and fly fishing nonfiction (L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian, ocean fishing accounts by Thomas McGuane and Randy Wayne White, to name a few), I’ve loved this summer’s deep dive into books about waterways, sea life, and boat travel. I’m excited to share a trio of gorgeously illustrated children’s books with all-ages appeal that tie into the summer reading theme. I accessed electronic versions of these titles through the Libby app offered by the Library.

First up is the hilarious Kraken Me Up by Jeffrey Ebbeler. A graphic novel for early readers, it employs expanded visual supports to strengthen reading comprehension. With a mix of traditional comics panels and two-page spreads, the layout invites readers into the charming story of a little girl and her pet sea monster. There’s a pet show at the county fair, and you can see where that’s headed…

Kraken Me Up is a story of acceptance and understanding peppered with visual jokes in squid ink. Our mackintosh-clad heroine convinces her fellow contestants that there is more to each of us than assumptions based on outward appearances. The kraken’s huge eyes reflect its equally large emotions, including devotion to its tiny friend and sorrow at being misunderstood. Author/illustrator Ebbeler uses digital art to great effect adding nuance to accessible vocabulary for budding readers. Kraken Me Up is also available at the Library in print format.

Next up is a picture book biography of an unsung zoologist and shark specialist. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist, written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens, also tells a story of understanding as well as persistence. At a time when few women entered STEM fields, Eugenie Clark followed her lifelong interest in sharks (a misunderstood species in her opinion) to a career as research scientist advocating for them. She was the first to train sharks as well as to study caves of still, resting sharks (debunking the myth that they must keep moving to stay alive). Clark was a prolific author who also developed a shark repellent and explored the ocean through scuba and submersible dives.

Jess Keating conveys the facts of Clark’s life and highlights her tenacity with language that is accessible to young readers while creating vivid imagery, “Eugenie’s notebooks filled with sharks. They swam in her daydreams and on the margins of her pages.” Keating adds engaging, helpful sections after the main story. “Shark Bites” introduces nifty facts about the creatures in a colorful, two-page spread sprinkled with accent illustrations while “Eugenie Clark Timeline” offers a similar treatment of the scientist’s career. Throughout the book, Marta Alvarez Miguens masterfully uses color to create a little girl’s dream come true. From young Eugenie at an aquarium imagining herself to be one of the fish to adult Professor Clark studying sharks in their natural habitat, Alvarez Miguens brings them alive with vibrant hues conveying both motion and emotion as clearly as if readers were inside the pictures. Shark Lady is also available at the Library as an animated story on DVD.

A book that I would love to see as an animated story is The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. A nonfiction title that looks and reads like a picture book, it packages information about coral reef restoration in absolutely stunning artwork.

Ken Nedimyer’s love of the ocean began as a child watching Jacques Cousteau on TV and snorkeling along the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. He studied biology and, as an adult, worked in aquaculture operating a live rock farm where rocks are placed on the ocean floor to provide habitat for mollusks, algae, sponges, and other invertebrates. While working with the live rocks, he noticed that portions of the coral were bleached and devoid of fish and sea urchins. A coral colony near the live rock farm spawned, leading to a growth of coral on it. Ken attached pieces of the new coral to various rocks producing more coral colonies. He eventually started a volunteer group, the Coral Restoration Foundation, to plant the new colonies on reefs around the Keys. The foundation now has an international scope.

Author Kate Messner’s concise, straightforward language incorporates relatable concepts such as describing attaching coral “with a careful dab of epoxy–just the size of a Hershey’s Kiss” or sea urchins as “the gardeners of the reef, tiny groundskeepers who control the algae”. Messner concludes her book with useful resources about coral reef death and restoration plus an immensely helpful illustrated glossary of coral reef structures. Messner’s text creates mental images that are the foundation for the gorgeous art of Matthew Forsythe who opens The Brilliant Deep with a mind-blowing two-page spread of pink and turquoise sea turtles, fishes, and sea stars swimming toward a tiny coral in the distance, haloed by white, resting underneath the words, “It starts with one.” Each page that follows is a treat of color and composition. Deep green ocean flanked with schools of fish and a crab peeking out in the foreground sparkles with a stream of multicolored gametes floating from a reef. A young Nedimyer glows green in the light of rows of fish tanks so lively you can almost hear their hum. Volunteer divers swirl upward through shifting blue as they hang coral on underwater “trees” of metal bars; Forsythe expertly uses texture to create their motion along with that of the water and fish surrounding them. The closing spread ends with the same words as the first, this time printed out on the bay where an older Ken Nedimyer looks out with hope to a yellow-pink sea and sky. Grab this book now and see the brilliant art for yourself!

I hope you have a chance to find these and other amazing ocean titles at the Joplin Public Library this summer!  Happy reading!

A Culinary History of Missouri by Suzanne Corbett and Deborah Reinhardt

One of my favorite things about traveling is experiencing the unique food and drink of the places I visit. To be honest, I like that as much, in some cases more, than site-seeing. In Missouri, you don’t have to go far before coming across breweries, distilleries, Kansas City barbeque, St. Louis Italian, Sedalia’s State Fair food, wineries, and much, much more. Although it’s less of a “where to eat travelogue” and more of a history proper, authors Suzanne Corbett and Deborah Reinhardt take us on quite the journey in A Culinary History of Missouri: Foodways & Iconic Dishes of the Show-Me-State.

We begin in colonial Missouri with our first European settlers—the French. According to the authors, “Unlike other American Colonial groups, Missouri’s French defined themselves through their food ways.” They made mud ovens in which to bake bread from wheat they grew and milled. The enslaved Africans who arrived with them introduced okra and gumbos into their food culture.

Food itself aside, it was important to Missouri’s French colonists to maintain their food customs, including table settings and cookware. The table was always set! And cookware was largely the same in poor and wealthy households, featuring kettles, pots (iron, tin, copper, wood), baking pans, pudding molds, pepper mills, utensils, etc.

To grow food, they created common fields, which were not unlike today’s community gardens, though a bit more involved. In these fields, people cultivated a variety of row crops. Some of the fields, such as the one in Ste. Genevieve, are still visible today.

Food was very much tied to holidays and tradition. For example, the King’s Cake, “a fanciful cake enriched with butter, incorporating aromatic spices, ground nuts, and fruit glaze” was baked to celebrate Twelfth Night. As it goes, a bean was placed in the batter before the cake was baked. During the Twelfth Night Ball, the King’s Cake was served to all the gentlemen and whoever found the bean in their cake was proclaimed king and got to choose a queen. This celebration is carried on today at the Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis. Each year, they welcome the public to their annual Twelfth Night Ball.

Another food-related holiday event takes place annually in Ste. Genevieve. La Guignolee, “Missouri’s original New Year’s Eve,” is a celebration in the streets, taverns, and cafes of the Historic District that features dancing, singing, food, and drink. Like the Twelfth Night Ball in St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve’s La Guignolee is open to the public—ring in the New Year like it’s 1769!

The authors take us linear from the 1700s into 1800s Missouri, when the English and Scotch-Irish, and their enslaved African Americans, “arrived from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Illinois.” Their specialty? Curing and smoking hams. In fact, they were so good at curing and smoking hams that “Missouri became and remains one of the few states included in the American Ham Belt.” Yes, that’s a thing—the American Ham Belt. Portable soup, a sort of predecessor to bouillon, is also of this era. It was a bone broth boiled down to a gelatinous paste then dried and cut and could be reconstituted with water.

We visit Arrow Rock Tavern, which was established in 1834 and is the oldest continually operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Soups and stews were its most common fare, with occasional special dishes, such as fried chicken. Fantastically, Arrow Rock Tavern still serves fried chicken daily.

The authors bring to light how food and the introduction of new food to an area can change, or re-establish, food production. For example, when Turkey Red wheat was introduced to Missouri by Russian immigrants in the 1870s, it “revitalized milling operations” when two men bought the old community mill, rebuilt it, and produced “Queen of the Pantry Flour,” which became very popular. It’s interesting to think that if Turkey Red wheat hadn’t been introduced to that area, the mill would have, like so many others, fallen into disrepair and likely eventually been torn down.

I didn’t realize Missouri is home to big-name food brands, such as Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix (which began as Pearl Milling Company Pancake Mix, the namesake which it returned to in 2021 “in an effort to make positive progress for racial equality”) and Saltines. Also, the Golden Delicious apple was discovered and developed in Louisiana, Missouri. Other food discoveries originated in Missouri, too, such as burnt ends in Kansas City, and the first bread slicing machine in St. Joseph.

The railroad had a tremendous impact on food, helping to overcome “regional limitations” by significantly reducing the time it takes to move food, thereby “making more food accessible and affordable.” Moreover, as passenger service increased, so did the demand to dine while in transit. Hence, the dining car (which was preceded by buffet/refreshments cars, not unlike those used by airlines today, though they failed to appease travelers’ appetites).

The Rockcliffe and Garth Woodside mansions, both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places in Hannibal, Missouri, offer a sort of breakfast reenactment in honor of Mark Twain: “Elegant breakfast served in a style that Twain would have approved.” Visitors may also dine at the Mark Twain Dinette, a circa 1940s diner near his boyhood home.

Interestingly, we learn about much more than the history of food in Missouri. We learn, too, about the history of our culture and our people. Take, for example, Crown Candy in north St. Louis. Opened in 1913 by best friends who emigrated from Greece, Crown Candy Kitchen is the city’s oldest operating soda fountain. (And, though it’s not mentioned in the book, I hear they have good BLTs!) Jazz, politics, and sports are among the cultural aspects discussed by the authors.

A culinary history of Missouri would not be complete without touching on Missouri’s breweries and wineries, of which Missouri has (and has had) plenty. The authors discuss German settlement of central Missouri and the “grape lots” that came to be in that area, which lead to the establishment of Missouri wineries. Breweries in St. Louis, as well as other areas, are highlighted, as well as the impact of prohibition on alcohol-related establishments throughout the state.

Not only does this book serve as a culinary history of Missouri, but a cookbook, too. At the end of each chapter, you’ll find the recipes referenced. Here are some that caught my eye: 1830 Chicken Pie, Cowboy Beef and Beans, Saltine Cracker Pie, Fred Harvey Railroad Cole Slaw, and Pioneer Chili.

As always, happy reading and, in this case, happy eating.

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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.