Month: June 2019

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Start Off with a Bang

Start Off with a Bang

By John Pecoraro, Associate Director

    This summer we commemorate the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first steps on the moon. We plan to reach the moon again by 2028, and even Mars by 2033. The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt earlier this year, 4 billion miles from Earth. Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is 12 billion miles from Earth. As immense as these distances seem, there are right next door when you realize that the closest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light years from Earth, nearly 26 trillion miles.

The universe is a big place, and ever expanding. The expanding universe is just one of the concepts considered in the science of cosmology, the study of the origin and development of the universe. The library has a wide selection of books for the amateur cosmologist.

The Unknown Universe: A New Exploration of Time, Space, and Cosmology,” by Stuart Clark is a groundbreaking guide to the universe and what we know and don’t know about it. In 2013 the European Space Agency published an image of the universe as it was 13.7 billion years ago. That image has sparked ongoing questions and debate about the nature of the universe. Stuart explores these arguments, whittling complex topics into clear ideas.

In “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” celebrity scientist and best-selling author, Neil deGrasse Tyson, attempts to explain some of the most complex concepts in terms non-scientists can understand.  He provides an introduction and overview of astrophysics. What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? These are some of the questions Tyson seeks to answer in layman’s terms.

Tyson repeats his performance for younger readers in “Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry.” With characteristic wit, he describes the fundamental rules and unknowns of the universe, introducing an exciting field and the principles of scientific inquiry to young readers

Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” originally published in 1988, was on the cutting edge of what was then known about the nature of the universe. Since that time, advances in technology have confirmed many of Hawking’s theoretical predictions made in his book.  “The Illustrated Brief History of Time,” updates and expands Hawking’s classic work. This edition is enhanced with hundreds of full-color illustrations, including satellite images, and photographs made possible with the Hubble Space Telescope.

When Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 1963 at age 21, he wasn’t expected to live more than 2 years. Hawking died in 2018 at age 76 while writing “Brief Answers to the Big Questions.” This book is Hawking’s parting gift to humanity in which he presents his answers to some big questions. What are black holes? Where did the universe come from? Will humanity survive?

The Big Picture,” by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, discusses the origins of life, meaning, and the universe.  Carroll presents an impressive display of scientific information with the goal of convincing readers that the universe and everything in it can be explained by science. He uses analogies and thought experiments, as well as familiar references to explain complex topics. Though sometimes highly technical, this book is for a general audience.

In one of the bestselling science books of all times, “Cosmos,” Carl Sagan, traces fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution that have transformed matter into consciousness. Sagan explores a broad range of topics including the origin of life, the human brain, the death of the Sun, and the evolution of galaxies. The book consists of Sagan’s reflections on anthropological, cosmological, biological, historical, and astronomical matters stretching from antiquity to contemporary times.

We Have No Idea,” by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson, is both the title of their book and their premise that our knowledge of what makes up the stars, planets, and galaxies represent only five percent of what the universe is made of. When it comes to the remaining 95 percent, we have no idea. Cartoonist and animator Cham, along with physicist Whiteson, offer a lighthearted approach to explaining concepts such as dark matter, dark energy, mass, gravity, space, time, dimensions, the big bang, and the possibility of a theory of everything.

Don’t forget to participate in the library’s summer reading program, A Universe of Stories, waiting for you at the library.

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Hank the Cowdog

Hank the Cowdog

By Bryan McBride, Learning and Information Services Librarian

“It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog.” These words begin every book in the Hank the Cowdog series, followed closely by “Head of Ranch Security.” There are currently 73 volumes in this series, and they do not need to be read in order. Hank can be found on the shelves of the children’s library, and these books are fun! He has a sidekick named Drover, whose “bum leg” seems to act up any time there’s trouble on the ranch and Hank needs help with security. Hank’s nemesis, Pete the Barncat, shows up to keep him in line when he gets a little too big for his britches. Also present to keep Hank in his place is the ranch hand, Slim Chance, and Slim’s boss, Loper.

Other characters who are present from time to time include a lazy, no-account bird dog named Plato, as well as Beulah, the canine of Hank’s dreams. Hank also thinks highly of Missy Coyote, but her brothers, Rip and Snort, are not the kind of running mates that Hank wants helping with security. There would be concerns about his own safety as well as that of the henhouse. Then there are the two vultures, Wallace and Junior, always looking for their next meal.

The suggested reading level for Hank the Cowdog is ages 8 – 12 years, but here’s the thing: they are terrific read-aloud books for all ages. I started reading these books to my boys when my youngest was four years old, and he was far too young to understand much of what was happening in the stories. For me, it was fun to do the voices, and the boys enjoyed my efforts, so we kept at it. And kept at it, until my oldest was about sixteen years old, by which time they fully understood what was happening and we laughed and laughed and laughed at the adventures of ol’ Hank the Cowdog, Head of Ranch Security. We must have read at least 40 books in all. I just can’t overemphasize what an important bonding experience it was. As an alternative to reading aloud as children grow into teens, some parents find value in reading the same books as their kids as a way to connect.

We don’t often consider the social aspect of reading, although there was a time in our history when people discussed books they were reading rather than the current television shows of today. Thank goodness for book discussion groups, like our TALK series. If you enjoy book discussion groups, inquire at the library’s reference desk about the TALK series. They meet monthly in the spring and fall, and you can pick and choose which discussions interest you.

The aspect of social reading we are most likely to consider is the art and science of teaching children to read by reading aloud to them. There is research that backs up the adage: “Through third grade, kids learn to read. After third grade, kids read to learn.” An Annie E. Casey Foundation report summarizes: “The ability to read by third grade is critical to a child’s success in school, life-long earning potential and their ability to contribute to the nation’s economy and its security.”

The most effective way to teach reading to children is to read aloud to them. This practice will help ensure that when they reach the fourth grade, they will be reading to learn. Formal literacy programs like our summer reading and 1000 Books before Kindergarten programs are important steps in learning to read. For more than 100 years, education researchers have been studying the phenomenon that has various names, including summer learning loss, summer setback, or summer slide. The skills of children who are not engaged in summer reading digress, or slide, from the end of the last school year to the beginning of the next school year. Summer reading programs combat this by encouraging kids to practice reading.

Know this. It’s not too late to sign up for the library’s summer reading program. This can be done by visiting our website or stopping in to the library. The library’s summer reading program encourages reading for all ages. Plus, adults reading to children counts as minutes read for both the adult’s and the child’s reading log.

If you need a recommendation, don’t forget about ol’ Hank the Cowdog. After a decade of getting to know Hank, I know he’d love to tell you about his successes in keeping ranch headquarters secure. Even without Drover’s help.

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Reflecting on David McCullough’s “The Pioneers”

Reflecting on David McCullough’s “The Pioneers”

By Marcia Allen, Collections Manager

No book written by historian David McCullough has failed to fascinate readers.  “John Adams” and “Truman” not only merited bestseller status, but each also earned the Pulitzer Prize. “The Path between the Seas” and “Mornings on Horseback” were recipients of the National Book Award.  And McCullough has received some fifty-six honorary degrees for his extensive writing about American history.

McCullough’s latest book, “The Pioneers,” is no exception to that long list of excellent titles. The book traces the settlement of what was the Northwest Territory during the late 18th century.  In particular, it follows the exploration and the creation of communities along the Ohio River.  While reading of such endeavors could be very dry, McCullough magically brings the era to life, and we readers are a part of the long ago struggle.

The major personalities of the adventure were remarkable.  Manasseh Cutler, who became the spokesperson for the Ohio effort, was a pastor who never lost a passion for learning.  Fascinated with anything that had to do with science, he studied medicine, astronomy, botany and any other scientific pursuit that aroused his curiosity.  He work tirelessly with members of Congress to establish a territory that espoused education, freedom of religion and an end to slavery.  Because of his work, Congress agreed to form the Northwest Ordinance, thus laying the groundwork for government and land for the Ohio Company.

An equally talented leader, General Rufus Putnam, was chosen to lead the first pioneers to their new home.  Putnam, who suffered a grim childhood and a limited education, caught the attention of General George Washington when he masterfully designed American fortifications that helped defend Dorchester Heights during the Revolutionary War.  Recognizing great capabilities, Washington appointed Putnam chief engineer of the army.  Thus, his creativity and determination made him an ideal candidate for leadership.

And so the adventure began.  A small party of surveyors, carpenters and other tradesmen set off near the last day of the year in 1787.  Early on, they ran into horrendous storms that closed a road that was a mere trail cutting through the wilderness.  Along the way, they had to stop to build boats to carry supplies.  When they finally arrived at their destination, they began plotting streets for a city and felling trees to build both cabins and an immense fort for safety. Fertile land and plentiful game made life a little easier.

Of course, there were obstacles, some recognized and dealt with by careful planning.  Hard work, sturdy shelters, and dedicated planting of crops helped to avert some hardships.  There were other threats, however, that were carelessly overlooked.

Initially, encounters with tribal leaders were respectful and peaceful.  During the next couple of years, increasing encroachment on traditional hunting and sheltering lands angered the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes.  A couple of their raids on homes of settlers ended with casualties, and so plans were made by Congress and President Washington to raise an army for defense in the wilderness.

General Arthur St. Clair was chosen for leadership of that army.  Ranks were composed of unemployed men selected from larger towns.  They were poorly paid, poorly outfitted and poorly trained for their arduous assignment.  Desertions along the route were common.  St. Clair’s attitude as they advanced into the wilderness was nonchalant.  Despite sightings of tribal groups, he ignored warnings and continued his advance.  When an attack took place one early November morning in 1790, troops became easy targets.  Of the 1400 Americans making that trek, some 1000 plus were brutally killed and mutilated.  The massacre led to the very first congressional investigation into events of American history.

So, what makes this an exceptional book?  A combination of many well-planned features.  McCullough is a careful researcher, so much of his book is based on journals and letters rarely seen.  The combination of those eyewitness descriptions and McCullough’s talented writing brings a little-known American history to life.  And the courage and determination of those early explorers were incredible.  “The Pioneers” is yet another outstanding treasure of American experience, one you won’t regret reading.

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A Universe of Stories for Kids at the Library

A Universe of Stories for Kids at the Library

By Jennifer Bergen, Program & Children’s Services Manager

This summer, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and our summer reading program is on board with an exciting space theme. Storytimes and clubs kick-off tomorrow, and we have events for all ages related to space, lunar explorations, and even cheese-making (since the moon is made of cheese, of course).

Children’s books are a great place to look if you want to travel the universe. We will be featuring these titles and more during our summer programs:

In the PreK Storytime Stars programs, Miss Gretchen will read Tiny Little Rocket by Richard Collingridge. It’s an exciting, intergalactic adventure that zips the reader through our solar system with beautiful illustrations and poetic text.

Even our littlest storytimers attending Baby Rhyme Time will get a dose of science with the board book Baby Loves Thermo-Dynamics. No, we’re not kidding: it is a real thing. Ruth Spiro’s “Baby Loves” series takes science down to the simplest level with engaging illustrations that even your pre-walker, pre-talker will love. There’s also Baby Loves Quantum Physics, Baby Loves Quarks, and more.

Kids going into kindergarten and 1st grade can join our Sensational Supernovas summer club on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon for some super silly space stories that are sure to leave them giggling all day. Green Wilma: Frog in Space, Aliens Love Underpants and There Was an Old Martian Who Swallowed the Moon are just a few from Miss Chelsea’s LOL list of titles.

Older students will be exposed to fascinating space facts, activities and crafts with Miss Rachel, as well as some really cool books. Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum explains the mission of this robotic spacecraft, which is still out there roaming around the red planet. Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone conveys the “profound effect” this incredible 1968 photo had on the astronauts who captured the earth in color rising above the darkness, and the impact the photo had when it was published.

For the Nifty Nebulas (2nd-3rd graders) and Quizzical Quasars (4th-6th graders), these books will be interspersed with short videos from Science Crash Course and some high energy activities, like astronaut training in agility and coordination. Facts from The Space Adventurer’s Guide: Your Passport to the Coolest Things to See and Do in the Universe by Peter McMahon and Josh Holinaty, and National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas, will open their brains to a universe of wonder. Some of the take-homes they will create include a star clock and an orrery, a model of the solar system to show revolution and rotation.

The anniversary of Apollo 11’s mission has sparked the publication of many new space books. Just browse the new science books and you will likely find several. Try Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler, or the kids’ version of Douglas Brinkley’s American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, to up your knowledge. These are written as children’s nonfiction but easily cross over as adult reading for those of us too short on time to take up a hefty volume.

A new Space backpack kit has been added to our Discovery Packs collection for young readers. It contains several new books like Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon by Suzanne Slade, and Counting on Katherine, a short biography of Katherine Johnson and her accomplishments working for NASA, as well as a space card game and a planisphere to locate objects in the night sky. Discovery Packs can be checked out for 3 weeks, just like books.

Younger kids will love Dogs in Space by Vix Southgate, which illustrates the “amazing true story of Belka and Strelka,” two stray dogs in Moscow who orbited the earth in 1960 and returned healthy and fine. Young scientists will be inspired by Alice B. McGinty’s picture book biography, The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney, and the power of sharing a good idea!

Join us on June 14 for a fascinating program, “Astronomy for Everyone: Size and Scale of the Universe” from 7:00-9:00 p.m., presented by Kevin Manning from Look Up to the Stars. It will be a virtual journey throughout the cosmos. Weather permitting, we will venture outdoors around 8:30 to view celestial objects, such as the ice crystal rings of Saturn and craters on the moon, through a powerful, hand-crafted telescope. Suggested for ages 8 and up. Check the library’s webpage for more details at


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