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Todd

A native Midwesterner, Todd has lived in the Baltimore area for over seven years, and has quickly taken to Maryland's local history and cuisine. His reading interests are varied, though he has a soft spot for books for teens. From his desk in the Collection Development department, he sees many more titles and reviews of books than he is able to read, but tries to focus on some of his other favored topics: graphic novels, science & nature, history, and travel memoirs.

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Quiet Strength

Quiet Strength

posted by:
October 10, 2012 - 8:01am

HomerBear Has a Story to TellLIttle BirdThree picture books recently published use the power of simplicity and silence to communicate strong messages of warmth, friendship, and love. Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, is a sweet story of an older dog who prefers to spend his days just watching the world go by. When asked to join the others on a frolic on the beach, or a romp through the field, Homer is content to witness the proceedings from the comfort of the porch. Cooper’s illustrations are pitch-perfect, using watercolors in warm sunset tones to capture the satisfaction of a life well-lived.

 

Bear Has a Story to Tell, by the husband-and-wife Caldecott-winning team of Philip and Erin Stead, is an autumnal tale of a bear and his forest friends. When Bear wants to tell his story, his friends Mouse, Duck, and Frog each politely decline, as all have preparations they must finalize before winter sets in. With Bear’s help, each of them gratefully attain their goals. When Bear wakes from his hibernation, will he remember the story he wanted to tell months earlier? The Steads once again bring elegance and charm to each page. The illustrated expressions of the sleepy inhabitants of the woods are captured beautifully.

 

The Swiss import Little Bird is a fable of sorts. A man drives deep into a desert landscape to release the birds he carries in the back of his truck. All of them fly away, except for a little black bird. No amount of coaxing by the man seems to get this small bird to fly. With minimal text, a cinematic feel is portrayed. While having a very different tone and feel to most American picture books, this unusual but ultimately gratifying tale sends a message that should resonate with both kids and adults.

Todd

 
 

Is the Grass Always Greener?

Is the Grass Always Greener?

posted by:
October 3, 2012 - 8:01am

The Town Mouse and the Country MouseOne of Aesop’s simplest and most well-known fables is The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. This retelling by award-winning English illustrator Helen Ward begins with the Country Mouse and follows his serene, pastoral life as each season passes. His cousin, the worldly Town Mouse, comes to visit Country Mouse, and the city-dweller encounters life at a slower pace. Town Mouse voices his concerns about various differences from the life he knows, including mud and “dangerous” wild animals (in the form of a sleeping fawn). In a double-paged spread that evokes both pining and doubt, Country Mouse rethinks the pleasures of his home, and decides to visit the big city to see what Town Mouse’s grand life is like. As expected, while there are sumptuous treats to enjoy and amazing sights to behold, Country Mouse longs for the simple life he left behind.

 

The real treat is Helen Ward’s pen-and-watercolor illustrations. Flowers, fruits, trees, and animals are depicted in a stunning, naturalistic manner. The city portion of the tale takes place in 1930s New York at Christmas, with all the decorations and trimmings. The mice’s quick escape from a pug on a dessert table adds a touch of suspense. Each mouse’s personality is smartly represented in his actions and tiny changes in facial expression. Many pages have supplemental columns of artwork that add to the already splendid visuals. This is a wonder-filled version of the long-told tale.

Todd

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Reciprocal Awareness

Reciprocal Awareness

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:05am

Gifts of the CrowSeattle wildlife scientist John Marzluff partners with illustrator-naturalist Tony Angell to create Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. While absorbing and fascinating, this is not the usual natural history of another species that shares our environment. Instead, the authors take an approach that delves deep into the neurological similarities between crows and humans, and look at numerous studies of the birds’ behavior that show how our noisy neighbors have adapted to our lives.

 

These birds share many characteristics of humans. In a chapter that discusses the emotional lives of crows and ravens, anecdotes describe these birds’ approaches to injured comrades, and particularly their grieving rituals. While crows often eat the dead of other species, they rarely if ever even touch their own, but instead come close and linger in a sort of respect-paying process. Also considered in great detail is the way that crows approach play. Scientists consider species that have incorporated play into their lives as highly advanced. The “social brain network” of these evolved mammals and birds is shown to be complex, and indicates multifaceted consideration of decision and realization. Crows have been observed playing “ring-around-the-rosy” with themselves and with unwitting humans who suddenly realize they too are part of the bird’s game.

 

Humans and crows have been watching each other for generations: cultures that laud crows as our forebears are plentiful worldwide, from India, to the American Southwest, and most famously the Canadian Pacific coast.  While we have learned much about crows and their relatives through scientific and neurological study, there is still much more to understand. Our mutual ecologies and simultaneous evolution will continue to shape both our species moving forward.

Todd

 
 

Yes We Canada!

Yes We Canada!

posted by:
August 23, 2012 - 7:03am

America, But BetterIn these days of political polarization in the United States, an unlikely party has come to the rescue of our fractured populous. In America, But Better: The Canada Party Manifesto, humorists Chris Cannon and Brian Calvert lay out an “intervention from your continental BFF”. With the scantest of seriousness, the authors skewer American stereotypes on issues such as illegal immigration, gun control, obesity, and marriage equality. Starting with a cheeky foreword by none other than Abraham Lincoln, the witty and pointed observations about the direction of America are by turns hilarious and mildly shaming.

 

This is a quick read, peppered with sidebar promises of what will change if the Canada Party is elected to run the US: “We will continue building oil pipelines, but they will carry maple syrup. If there’s a spill, at least the animals will be tasty.” One chapter describes the benefits of combining similar cities within the two countries as a cost-saving measure, including Van Francisco, Queboston (two places where no visitors can understand the locals), and Dalgary. Another takes on corporations as people, use of the metric system, and of course, a primer on hockey. Wry, silly, and smart, America, But Better is a not-so-gentle nudge that pokes fun at American Exceptionalism, and the way the rest of the world views us as a nation.

Todd

 
 

Take a Moment

Take a Moment

posted by:
August 6, 2012 - 9:01am

WaitFrank Partnoy’s Wait: the Art and Science of Delay is a fascinating look into the various ways decisions are made. According to the author, the crux of delay is not only in deciding what we should do or how it should be done, but as importantly, when. This provides the thesis of this groundbreaking look into the timing of our decisions.

 

Partnoy frames the studies by first looking at decisions that must be made in a split-second, and as the book goes on, he looks at decisions that take longer and longer to make--some that could be termed procrastinations. Starting with athletes who must perform in what he calls “superfast sports”, the author breaks down the manner in which baseball and tennis players must react to a pitch or serve. These decisions are made in a matter of milliseconds. As fast as a tennis serve is hit, the returner’s preconscious skills kick in, combining visual and muscle acuity. The player who is able to wait the longest and still effectively return the serve has the greatest chance of success.

 

The decision-making of animals is also discussed. It was long thought that only humans could make future decisions. But recent studies have shown that many animals, including dogs, pigeons, monkeys, and rats have all shown that considering the future is within their abilities. Retaining a small bit of food knowing that they can trade it in for more in the future, storing food where it will be found later, and building tools not instantly needed are examples of how animals are aware of delay, and use it to their benefit. Wait is a thought-provoking yet accessible read, and is certain to be of interest to fans of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Dan Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.    

Todd

 
 

Is all publicity good publicity?

This Bright RiverThe CradleWithin the book industry, having a review of one's work published by the New York Times is a huge benefit that likely will increase any author's sales. It certainly adds to the author's visibility. That is, if the reviewer has fully understood the book published. Take, for example, the recent fiasco that befell novelist Patrick Somerville and his new work of fiction, This Bright River. A couple years back, his debut novel, The Cradle, was plucked from near-obscurity with glowing praise by well-respected Times book reviewer Janet Maslin. Lightning struck twice for Somerville, or so it seemed, when Maslin chose to review his current follow-up. But then the problems started.

 

Unfortunately, Maslin misread a crucial event in the prologue of the new novel that Somerville purposely left ambiguous. Because of her error, Maslin read the novel through the wrong lens, and her generally middling review refers to the book as having a "lack of focus" and is "sometimes foggy". The author's wife read the review aloud to Somerville, who "pressed [his] head deeper into the couch, trying to get to its springs and asphyxiate". This, among much more, he describes in a Salon essay published last week titled Thank You for Killing my Novel. Within it, we learn of the process that resulted in the Times publishing a correction, including the long, amusing email back-and-forth between the author and Ed Marks of the Times' Culture Desk.

 

All this leaves readers with an obvious conundrum. How much can we trust reviewers? When even someone as well-regarded as Janet Maslin can botch an assignment, it can be tricky. One solution is simply to take even the most well-read reviewer's opinion as simply that. Just one person's opinion.

Todd

 
 

City of Light and Transformation

Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me DownDreaming in FrenchAs a child, Rosecrans Baldwin went to Paris with his family and became transfixed by its beauty. Later, as a twenty-something, Baldwin uses a connection to secure a job at an ad agency in Paris in need of a native English speaker. In the humorous and breezy memoir Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, he moves himself and his wife Rachel to France, where initially all the brilliance and luster of the City of Light shines upon them. That is, until he realizes that his facility with French isn’t quite as strong as he thought. Too quickly, the countless hassles of daily life in another culture start to take their toll. Bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming. Despite these obstacles, the small joys of Parisian life constantly astound the young couple. Baldwin manages to write his debut novel (the since-published You Lost Me There), adding his name to the long list of Americans finding creative inspiration in Paris.

 

A very different look at the expatriate-in-Paris experience is Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Alice Kaplan describes post-war Paris and the many Americans who were inspired to travel to Paris for varying lengths of time. Each of the three women she focuses on came to Paris for a year to study abroad. The city made an indelible impression on their futures, whether it was the “Frenchness” Jackie Kennedy later brought to the office of First Lady, or how the intellectualism of the city reinvigorated Susan Sontag’s writing and sense of purpose. The political upheaval Angela Davis witnessed in France inspired her to play an integral role in the Civil Rights movement back home. The transformative power of place is clearly displayed in this look at the ways we can become products of our environment.

Todd

 
 

Father of Mine

A Good ManA Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, is a love letter to a man who was constantly referred to as “A Good Man” at the time of his funeral in 2011. His son Mark Shriver wanted to explore what made so many friends, journalists, and family members talk about his father in those terms. This memoir brings Sargent Shriver to light through episodic remembrances. Mark Shriver freely admits that he needed a village of former colleagues as well as his own family and friends to unearth the memories that he didn’t realize were still buried in his mind. While the list is long, this is largely a son’s fond thoughts about the man who made him who he is today. This is a personal look into the man who worked hard for what he believed in, yet remained a humble, beloved father to his five children.

 

Founder of the Peace Corps, Head Start, and along with his wife Eunice, the Special Olympics, Sargent Shriver was one of the larger-than-life figures of the last century. His accomplishments are legion. Jacqueline Kennedy even asked him to take responsibility for planning JFK’s funeral.

 

Documented with two inserts that include many Shriver and Kennedy family photos, the book is a nice addition to the canon of books that explore what many consider “America’s Royalty”. Particularly moving is the sad decline into dementia and Alzheimer’s that felled Sargent Shriver, and the situation his wife and children dealt with in its wake. But this is mostly a celebration of a good man and a good father, well told by a son who is rightfully proud of his dad.

Todd

 
 

Quack Open a Good Book

Quack Open a Good Book

posted by:
June 13, 2012 - 9:30am

Duck Sock HopKaty Duck Makes a FriendJust Ducks!Ducks have always entertained us, and in these three new books featuring our avian friends, the reader encounters more feathers, more webbed feet, and even more quacking! Duck Sock Hop, by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Jane Porter, is a musical, rhyming cacophony. The ducks of various colors and varieties (fancifully patterned in ways never seen in the wild) come together in their love of fancy socks and energetic dancing. When their socks begin to unravel from overuse, it’s not a problem, as the Duck Sock Shop is just down the road to obtain new footwear. This will soon become a story time favorite.

 

For children just starting to read, the Katy Duck series is a good place to begin. Her latest adventure, Katy Duck Makes a Friend, features Katy needing a new partner to dance with when it’s time for her little brother to nap. Fortunately Katy’s new dog neighbor Ralph soon appears, but his interests don’t initially match Katy’s. Henry Cole’s sweet illustrations of duck and dog in motion make this entry in the series likely to be as popular as the previous installments.

 

A newly popular concept is the hybrid fiction/nonfiction picture book. Not all are successful, but Nicola Davies’ Just Ducks! works beautifully. Mallards, often the first wild ducks children recognize, are featured. The story of a young girl viewing and noting the habits of a duck pair is counterpointed (in a different font) with notable facts about mallards and ducks in general. Salvatore Rubbino’s soft watercolors portray the ducks accessibly and accurately. Particularly well-illustrated and amusing are the renderings of the mallards in a favorite position: heads underwater, tails up!

Todd

 
 

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.

Todd