Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: Earth Before Us: Dinosaur Empire! by Abby Howard

Abby Howard has been one of my favorite web-comic artists for a long time. I discovered her on tumblr where she publishes short autobiographical comics. (Warning: some of her autobiographical comics are definitely for mature audiences.) From there I fell in love with her ongoing web comic Junior Scientist Power Hour. When I saw that she was releasing a science comic about dinosaurs for kids, I was psyched!

Earth Before Us: Dinosaur Empire! is delightful. Howard frames the information with a narrative about Ronnie, a little girl who flunked her dinosaur quiz at school. Ronnie needs to learn everything about dinosaurs so she can get 100% when she retakes the quiz - TOMORROW MORNING?! Luckily for Ronnie, her weird neighbor Ms. Lernin (recognizable to Howard's fans as herself) used to be a paleontologist. They travel back in time in Ms. Lernin's magical recycling bin through the power of SCIENCE MAGIC to learn everything there is to know about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.

This is very much in the vein of the Magic School Bus, but Howard's humor is dry in a way that older kids and parents will appreciate. Fans of dinosaurs, funny comics, and learning will love this graphic novel. You can find it in the kids graphic novel section here at the library.

- Libby, Youth Services

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Staff Review: The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams stands a very good chance of being my 2017 best book of the year. I loved it so much I'm about to read it all over again. The book combines all my favorite genres: history, nature writing, memoir, travel. Published in 2016 to coincide with the National Park Service's centennial celebrations, The Hour of Land is a very personal tour, conducted by Williams herself, through a dozen of the nation's 58 national parks.

And what a tour guide she is. A naturalist, writer, and native of Utah, Williams is probably best known for her 1992 memoir Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place about losing her mother to cancer just as the Great Salt Lake floods, threatening the migratory birds Williams treasures. She's extremely knowledgeable, she loves wild places with a passion, and she possesses what I can only call a beautiful spirit: generous, gentle, peace-loving, compassionate. Plus, she's a terrific and highly poetic writer.

It's a pleasure to tour the country in her company, even when she's surveying wrenching scenes like the damage inflicted on Gulf Islands National Seashore by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 or the encroachments of the Bakken oil fields on Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. More often what she surveys is sublime, from Alaska's Gates of the Arctic and Wyoming's Grand Teton to Acadia National Park in Maine. She even makes a stop at Effigy Mounds National Monument here in Iowa.

Particularly pleasurable is the variety of approaches Williams takes to her park descriptions, focusing closely at times on ecology or American history, then shifting her lens to her own life and family. She includes letters, emails, and journal entries to fine effect and provides a wonderful personal anecdote about Lady Bird Johnson. Modern readers, who may be unaware of how our great park system got started, learn about the unflagging philanthropic and environmental efforts of such National Park greats as Laurence Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, Stewart Udall, and many others. This book's a lavish banquet of luscious park detail and I, for one, could not get enough of it. How I wish Williams had visited all 58.

~Ann, Adult Services

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag

Sometimes it pays to take a chance on a book based entirely on the cover art or a clever title. Jumping into a story blindly with no real expectations can be a great way to break a reading slump by taking all the pressure off of yourself. Plus, there's a chance you'll discover a really great book you probably wouldn't've encountered otherwise.

I knew nothing about Strong Female Protagonist by writer Brennan Lee Mulligan and artist Molly Ostertag before I checked it out from the library, and I am so glad that I did. Like many of my favorite comics, it started life as a webcomic, and if you don't want to wait for the library's print copy, you can read it immediately on their website.

Strong Female Protagonist is a superhero story about a young woman who doesn't want to be a superhero but who finds it equally hard to stand silent in the face of injustice. When young teens started developing superpowers, Alison Green discovered she had some incredible powers. The government provided guidance, support, and merchandising opportunities, and Alison became Mega Girl. Until the day she discovered that maybe the world isn't cut into clear divisions of good & evil, and maybe the world shouldn't be turning to teenagers for saving. So Alison took off the mask and enrolled in college, but her life will never be normal.

This is a character-driven and thoughtful take on the superhero story that incorporates real world challenges and issues between the superpowered battles. There's an intriguing conspiracy that propels the plot, but the real focus is on Alison's struggles to adjust to adulthood. The art is less typical superhero comic, and has more of the feel of a cartoon, but with some incredibly detailed backgrounds. One of my favorite parts of reading a long running webcomic is watching the way that an artist's style changes over time. Not that you'll notice any sudden shifts (except for the addition of color in the most recent chapters), Ostertag's art is remarkably consistent.

~Sarah, Adult Services

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Staff Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

The recent explosion of diversity in YA books has given me heart. When I saw a contemporary romance featuring first-generation Indian-American kids, I knew I had to read it. I feel like I say that about lots of books, but I do read lots of books. If you're looking for something to satisfy that rom-com sweet tooth, look no further than When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

All Dimple wants in life is to go to school, code an app, and get her parents to see her for the independent American girl that she is. All Rishi wants in life is to do right by his parents, even if that means he goes to school for computer science and has an arranged marriage. Their parents didn't intend to tell them about this arrangement until they were older, but since Dimple and Rishi are headed to the same summer program, they might as well meet, right?

A true comedy of errors and romance, When Dimple Met Rishi is one of the best books I read this past summer. It was well-written, funny, diverse, and surprisingly realistic. Menon grew up in India and now lives in Colorado. She has captured the voice of a generation in this novel - first generation Indian-American kids who struggle between their identity as a normal American kid and as the traditional Indian kid their parents expect them to be. I can't wait for Menon's next YA novel, From Twinkle, With Love, out in 2018.

You can check out When Dimple Met Rishi through the library's OverDrive as an eBook or audiobook. I highly recommend that you do.

- Libby, Youth Services

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Eclipse Mania

In case you hadn't heard, the United States will be treated to a front row viewing of a Total Solar Eclipse on Monday, August 21. Here in Dubuque, we'll be a bit too far north to see the full eclipse, but the show should still be impressive (weather permitting). The eclipse will begin around 11:48 a.m., reach its peak around 1:13 p.m., and end by 2:37 p.m.

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to the eclipse is that you should NEVER look directly at the sun as this can cause irreparable damage to your eyes. Unfortunately, the library does not have any eclipse glasses available, and while many local retailers had pairs for sale, it sounds like many locations are currently sold out. If you've already purchased a pair of eclipse glasses, you can make sure that they are reputable and learn more about eclipse viewing safety from NASA:

If  you happen to have an empty cereal box, you can bring it into the Maker Space here at Carnegie-Stout and staff will show you how to create your own pinhole viewer for the eclipse. You can also watch a live stream of the eclipse in the Maker Space starting at noon on Monday, August 21.

We've put together a few links below with more tips and tricks to enjoy the eclipse and to learn more about astronomy.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Staff Review: Cat Castles: 20 cardboard habitats you can build yourself by Carin Oliver

Gathering Materials

When I saw Cat Castles: 20 cardboard habitats you can build yourself by Carin Oliver on the cart of new books, I knew I needed to check it out immediately.

"Look at how happy that cat in an airplane is!" I thought. "Obviously my kitty Dexter needs a cat castle to be truly happy."

Dexter selects a box.
Luckily, my boyfriend was in agreement and had a stash of cardboard boxes waiting for recycling day. We looked through the projects in the book, which vary from fairly simple reinforced and decorated boxes for your cat to hide in to elaborate designs like trains and even the castle of the title. I asked Dexter for his opinion, but he was busy napping on a tote bag we'd left on a kitchen chair. Instead we decided to wait until we were babysitting my boyfriend's niece and asked for her help. She decided that we would make Dexter the largest cat castle we possibly could.

User Testing
The first step was to gather our supplies: cardboard boxes, hot glue gun and glue, box cutter, ruler, twine, and decorations. Unlike the designs in the book, we did not plan on elaborate painting or carefully applied craft paper. Dexter loves to destroy cardboard boxes, so we wanted the design to be something that he could enjoy chewing into little pieces. So we put our elementary student in charge of interior decorating and design elements, while the grown-ups took care of cutting and gluing. We found that the hot glue gun did not have enough power to hold the larger boxes together and ended up using non-toxic wood glue.

One of the best design elements are two cat toys attached from high points of the castle with twine for Dexter to attack (though my favorite is probably Dexter's name spelled out in felt letters on one of the towers). This gives us a way to interact with Dexter and the castle and has encouraged him to engage in active play in his new castle, rather than just napping (although he is definitely getting some good naps). Overall, this was a fun and easily customizable project that I can recommend as an entertaining weekend activity for cat lovers of all ages.
King of the Castle
~Sarah, Adult Services