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Spring into Nature! March Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture


An illustration

An illustration from “Up In the Garden and Down In the Dirt,” a March Staff Pick.


“The mountains are calling and I must go.” -John Muir.

On days we can’t muddy our boots or turn over logs to peer at what’s there, we’re glad we can grab a book or check out a great film to satisfy our curiosity about the great outdoors. In celebration of  Maine winging back into warm and light-filled days, these March staff picks focus on favorite spring and nature-related library materials.


Children’s Fiction and Nonfiction

Laura’s Pick

upanddownUp in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal

One of the most wonderful picture books I have encountered is Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal. It is the perfect companion to this Real and True Spring we are currently enjoying (none of the usual Mud Season nonsense, thank goodness). It reminds me of some marvelous advice I received while taking the Portland History Docents class a few years ago: when you stop at a corner or a traffic light, look up! The tops of old buildings are beautiful and fascinating but rarely enjoyed by anyone but the birds. This book reminds us to also look down and all around us. The world is so full of beauty and intricacy, awaiting discovery, if only we know where and when to look. Though this book starts in spring, it guides you through the rest of the seasons of the year with gentle words, great sounds and continually gorgeous art. It is also excellent preparation for our upcoming Summer Reading theme: Time of Wonder, all about exploring and observing the natural world around us. The back of the book contains descriptions and illustrations that could easily be used as a guide or textbook about all the participants in the ecosystem of our gardens. Enjoy and don’t forget to look up, down and all around you!


Carrie’s Pick

citizenscientistsCitizen Scientists: Be A Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard, by Loree Griffin Burns

Spring is a time for getting outside, digging in the dirt, watching for butterflies and birds return, and looking forward to Summer! Citizen Scientists not only watch what is happening around them, they also record what they see and share their findings so we can all have a better understanding of our changing world.

Loree Griffin Burns’ book, Citizen Scientists: Be A Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard, explains what a Citizen Scientist is and then shows you how you can be one yourself!

Using a seasonal approach, with detailed photography by Ellen Harasimowicz, the book moves you through the year with four Citizen Science projects that families can engage in in their own backyards and neighborhoods. Simple, straightforward, colorful, and accessible, this book is a great primer for any family looking to take their daily adventures and observations a step further.

Spring is here, so get out and explore! And why not share what you see and become a Citizen Scientist?


Brandie’s Pick

andthenAnd Then It’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead

Absolutely beautiful illustrations go along with a simple story about waiting for spring. A young boy and his dog (and a few animals all around them) decide that they’ve had it with all that brown and decide to plant a garden. Then they wait and wait and wait. They all start off wearing red knit caps and scarfs, including the turtle, and by the end they are barefoot and swinging.

I will read anything that Erin Stead illustrates. In all of her books she adds tiny details in her quiet way that requires several reads to notice (the birds that are drunk on seeds, the milk container that becomes a bird house). I wanted to cut the images from the book and hang them on the wall…alas, it was a library book.



An illustration from “And Then It’s Spring.”


Adult Fiction

Harper’s Pick

monstrouslittleMonstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World

In this new collection of fantasy stories inspired by Shakespeare, we are given a special glimpse at the nature of the world through the eyes of some of the bard’s favorite characters: fairies. One of my personal favorites, the mischievous Puck, makes this observation about the mutable nature of humanity that we often resist: “I see no reason why anyone should define themselves by a single flesh alone, when such seemings are always subject to alteration. As well to say a grown man is unnatural for cultivating the beard he lacked at birth as to call you anything ruder than your name for desiring what you weren’t born with. Why should one change be called natural, and the other not? Crowns and shoes don’t grow on trees, and yet we alter ourselves with the wearing of them.” To believe in our own changeability in this way is an inspiring thought, especially in spring when we can see the rest of the world beginning to change around us.


Wendy N’s Pick

comespringCome Spring by Ben Ames Williams

This is an older book which was forced on me by my mother when I was 17…I would like it, she said… well, she was wrong.  I loved it.  And I continue to love it, visiting with the Robbins family every couple of years since then.  In the words of the author, this is “the story of the founding of a small Maine town, by ordinary people, in what was then an ordinary way.”  It is the tale of Sterlingtown, now known as Union, Maine, in the 1700’s.  It is the story of the land and its peoples, of births and deaths, of hunger and feasts, of plantings and wars, of love and strength.  It is a book that speaks to you and stays with you and lets you know that “We’ll be fine, come spring.”




David Attenborough loves life on Earth.

David Attenborough loves life on Earth.

Patti’s Picks

I would recommend any dvd that features David Attenborough. He’ll go anywhere, do anything to uncover the most interesting facts about life on this planet.

Favorite Attenborough quote, from The Secret Life of Birds: “I’m standing in a cave in Venezuela…”


Adult Nonfiction











Ellen’s Pick

e.e.cummings’ poem “In Just…” has always been a favorite of mine, evoking as it does the childish delight of splashing in puddles (instead of cursing mud season)! You can read the poem at The Poetry Foundation here or check it out in cummings’ Complete Poems at PPL.


 Jerri’s Pick

handbookA book I’ve borrowed time and again from the library is Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study. PPL owns the twenty –third edition, published in 1935. It is still in print – the most recent edition being 2010!

Ann Botsford Comstock was a pioneer in nature education. She was the first female professor at Cornell University (1899) and wrote this book in 1911  to promote & inform teachers about the outdoors. An advocate teaching children the skills of observation and making the outdoors fun, her book is certainly of value (and beauty) 105 years later!


Emily’s Pick

knittersThe Knitter’s Book of Wool, by Clara Parkes

Do you remember the episode of Sherlock where Mycroft and Sherlock made deductions about a hat?  Sherlock says that alpaca fiber and Icelandic sheep wool are very similar.  Guess what? He’s wrong.*

Full of passion for the wide variety of magical creatures who turn grass into fiber, Parkes’ amazing book is both delightful and accessible for artists of all fibrous persuasions.  If you’ve ever felt like a kid looking from the outside in to a candy store when terms like “Icelandic,” “BFL,” or “Corregidale” come up, or had the desire to prove Sherlock wrong about the marvelous (but very different) alpaca fiber and Icelandic wool, this is the book for you.  Parkes will hold your hand through the hairiest of fiber festivals this Spring, explaining the nuances of kink, microns, and why a particular skein might be perfect for that one pattern you’ve saved and coveted….

And hey, who doesn’t love showing up a megalomaniac before breakfast while also helping protect nature by saving rare artisanal sheep with our discerning purchasing power?

*While your intrepid writer is underwhelmed by his knowledge of fiber, she is quite impressed by Cumberbatch’s learning to play the violin for this role.


Lisa’s Pick



Onward and Upward in the Garden, by Katherine S. White, edited by E.B. White

A compilation of columns Katherine White wrote during her years as Fiction Editor of the New Yorker.  One of the best stories White shares is when she compares the style of different seed catalogs—many of which I still get today.



Sonya’s Pick

sharingcitiesSpring and nature obviously bring to mind themes of sustainability. This month I would like to recommend Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities(Urban and Industrial Environments) by Duncan McLaren and Julian Agyeman, a title from the Library’s Choose Civility collection. This title is a deep and thoughtful guide to how the principles of the sharing economy (think AirBnB or Uber) will affect the spaces in which we live, work, and play. It was named one of the “Top 20 for 2015” by Nature magazine’s “Books and Arts” blog: “In  Sharing Cities, environmental consultant Duncan McLaren and urban-policy scholar Julian Agyeman lay out, with impressive depth, clarity and wisdom, a comprehensive prescription for a sharing paradigm….bottom-up ventures that are digital or based in communities, rather than commercial.”


Elizabeth’s Pick

labgirlLab Girl, by Hope Jahren (out in April 2016)

Strict science is tough for me. As a student, gently confounded by textbooks, equations, and formulas, I felt at home and happy in the writing of nature’s free-wheeling investigative reporters: Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, or Terry Tempest Williams. Now I’m apt to pick up any book with any thoughtful human mulling over any bird, bud, bug, beast, or melting ‘berg, and this winter I was glad to get a galley copy of Lab Girl.

Geochemist and geobiologist Hope Jahren’s tales of her work with trees, flowers, seeds, and soil (and her adventures with lab partner and dear friend, Bill Hagopian) cheerily greened up my winter world. Jahren’s writing is frank, humorous, and smart. She’s honest about the challenges that she’s faced as a female scientist, and she continues to write about those challenges in her field in other venues, most recently in The New York Times.

The arc of Jahren’s own story is woven through with brief, meditative chapters that explore specific ideas about plant life.  A curiosity-provoker, the book made me search for photographs of a tree at a specific intersection of two roads in Hawaii, reflect on the chemicals that flood our brains, wonder over a millions-of-years-old fossil forest buried in Canada (how did the forest, every year, survive three months of darkness?), and muse on how symbiotic relationships between trees and fungi may be like…my own relationships. Along the way, we also get a proper exploding beaker, the mystery of an opal at the center of a hackberry seed, and a love of science that is honed by years of Hope Jahren’s tenacity, individuality, wisdom, and profound care.

Jim’s Picks

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich


desert solitaire

Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire remains THE book on the experience of living in the American Southwestern desert (in my opinion).  If I’m suffering the midwinter new England blahs, I can always count on Desert Solitaire to take me virtually there.






I always think Ravens in Winter was the book that got people to take a closer look at this clever, funny bird.   All of Bernd Heinrich’s books are wonderfully written; you can have a tendency to forget he’s feeding you science.




Thaddeus’ Pick

thestarsMy book for Nature month is The Stars, A New Way to See Them by Curious George author H.A. Rey, and, naturally (pun intended) comes with an anecdote. When I was a wee lad, I was obsessed with the stars and constellations. I had a glow-in-the-dark star chart on the ceiling over my bed; I had myriad books and movies about astronomy, and I had this book: a wonderfully illustrated guide to the heavens.

However, the first night I stayed up late enough for my father to take me outside into the winter night to see the stars for real, I fell to my knees terrified. It was all just so big, Orion’s Belt and the other star shapes, when taken off the page, and it was dizzying and horrifying to a boy of barely five. I looked, truly looked, at the stars solely in books for months thereafter.

So here’s to spring, to stars, to Orion, and to H.A. Rey, for reminding us all that, while we all have so much to offer and learn and teach and love and give and lose, we are oh, so very, very small.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in more titles like these, click here for “Bird, Beast, and Beyond: Explorations in Nature,” a longer list of new and classic nature-related reads and resources at PPL. You can observe a snail’s life at bedside (The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating). Enjoy a closer look at animals (The Animal Dialogues). Go deep (Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves). Explore nature with kids (How to Raise a Wild Child), reignite your own love (The Curious Nature Guide), or consider the stories that come out of the science on climate change, extinction, and conservation (Half-earth, Betting the Farm on a Drought, After Preservation).


Movie of the Month: Looking for Richard

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture

Al Pacino Looking for RichardAl Pacino spent four years making this film, the purpose of which is to share his feelings about Shakespeare, and to make one of the Bard’s most difficult plays accessible to a modern audience.

And what are Pacino’s feelings about Shakespeare? He loves him, he’s passionate about him, because the plays are all about human emotions, which are the same no matter the time or place. Pacino believes the legacy of Shakespeare’s plays belongs to actors, who must find the feelings in the words of their characters and transmit them to the audience.

And so he assembles a troupe of American actors to discuss and parse and act out scenes from Richard III. He talks about the relationships among the characters–the Yorks, the Lancasters, the brothers and nephews and wives who all have their own ideas about who should wear the crown. He talks to British actors like Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh about whether Americans can do justice to Shakespeare, whether we have perhaps become estranged from the language, or lack the knowledge of British history. He does man-in-the-street interviews to find out whether people think Shakespeare is relevant to them, and why or why not. He explores various settings, and films scenes from the play, and the entire film becomes an experiment in Shakespeare.

Sometimes described as “video Cliff notes,” this film can reawaken a passion for Shakespeare, or introduce the reluctant student to his timeless revelations about the human condition.Al Pacino Cliff Notes

Highly recommended.

For more Shakespeare films and adaptations, click here.


PPL’s Choice Awards

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture


It’s Awards Season, culminating in the big Academy Awards ceremony on February 28th.

In keeping with the season, we at the Portland Public Library have put on our finest clothes, walked the orange carpet, and selected a few of our own favorites to receive the following awards:

Presenter: Elizabeth Hrickman


Winner: This award is presented posthumously to Alan Rickman. RIP


Presenter: Patti


Winner: The Madness of King George

This movie won three BAFTA awards (the British equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Picture and Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne as King George.) Videoport owned this as part of their collection, and soon it will be circulating at the Library.


Presenter: Thaddeus


Winner: “My prestigious award for “Best Thing In a Box” is from the 2008 movie Se7en, with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Pitt plays Detective Mills, a brash, passionate crimesolver who is roped into working on a serial se7enkiller case with weeks-from-retirement Detective Somerset, played by Freeman. Someone is killing people who have committed the Seven Deadly Sins, and is always one step ahead of Mills and Somerset as they follow his clues to an ultimate, gut-wrenching showdown. The brilliant movie is full of twists and turns and an intensity that has been lost on more modern thrillers, and comes to a heart-stopping climax when Mills, near the end of his sanity, screams to Somerset “What’s in the box?!” that the killer had delivered right to their feet. And what is in the box? Why, the winner of my award.”



Presenter: Mary

Category: DOGS

“The international film critics got it right when they began to award The Palm Dog Award during the Cannes Film trampFestival.  Begun in 2001, this award goes to the best performance by a canine (live or animated.)  Look at all of the great performances that came before that date!”


BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CANINE (live): Nikki in Nikki, Wild Dog of the North

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CANINE (animated):  Tramp in Lady and the Tramp

BEST DOG FILM (comedy):  Best in Show

BEST DOG FILM (drama):  Greyfriars Bobby


Truman ShowPresenter: Hazel


Winner: The Truman Show




skeleton-twins-dvd-cover-50Presenter: Patti


Winners: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins



Presenter: Kelley


Winner: Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)

As a Teen Librarian, I have heard many an adult dismiss works of young adult fiction without having read them. My hackles go up, my feathers get ruffled - how can you criticize something you haven’t taken the time to experience? So, it is with just a tiny bit of shame that I say to you that I have never and will never watch the movie City of Angles starring Nicholaswings of desire Cage and Meg Ryan BECAUSE IT SHOULD NOT EXIST. There should be a law about remaking films this good. You know you agree with me.

I have an undergraduate degree in German (long story). In 2001, I was going to school in Berlin, and there was a movie theater in the center of the city that played Wings of Desire on a continuous loop throughout the day. This made total sense since the film was shot in Berlin just a few short years before the Wall came down, and captures a divided city in flux and decay. What an amazing experience it was for me to (1) skip school and sit alone in a dark theater watching this masterpiece, and (2) then be able to walk through the historic and changed city I saw so beautifully captured on film.

One of my favorite scenes shows an elderly gentlemen, Homer, wandering through a deserted field on the site of Potsdamer Platz near the Brandenburg Gate. In 2001, Potsdamer Platz was once again a thriving, modern business and shopping center. In the film, it is an abandoned wasteland around the Wall. Through the medium of his guardian angel, we hear and see Homer’s stream-of-conscious thoughts and memories of this place. This and many other scenes in the film will leave you hollow and aching with the solitude of the human experience.

Bonus awards: as if this film isn’t excellent enough in it’s own right, Wings of Desire wins extra credit for featuring the following: Colombo (Peter Falk), Nick Cave (performing! hot!), a traveling French circus, and the amazing interiors of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (State Library), where every reader is watched over by invisible angels.




jaguar hearsePresenter: Raminta
Category: BEST CAR
Winner: The 1965 Jaguar XK-E hearse in Harold and Maude
“The car was a first in its stylishness and form, despite being dropped off a cliff.While these types of car mash-ups were happening across the globe, no movie has done it in a way with such class and style. Sadly the car truly was one of kind and was actually destroyed during filming.This car paved the way for all other car mash-ups including the whole fleet of mash-up cars in Mad Max: Fury Road, all of which had multiple clones as the cars kept getting destroyed during that movie’s filming.”



Presenter: PattiJulie and Julia


Winner:  Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie and Julia




United 93 Presenter: Patti


Winner: United 93

Paul Greengrass directed this account of the ill-fated flight of United 93, using people who were actually working at the National Air Traffic Control Center to reenact events as they happened. On the plane, there are no recognizable stars to root for, just ordinary-looking people who reenact events as best we can reconstruct them. What makes the film so compelling and heartbreaking is that we in the audience know how it will end, and the passengers don’t.


Presenters: Sonya and Patti


Winners: We have a tie!big blue bug

Sonya’s Choice: Big Blue Bug Solutions from Dumb and Dumber



what's love got to do with itPatti’s Choice: The Ramada Inn sign in What’s Love Got to Do With It





 Presenter: PattiFredo


Winner: John Cazale

You remember him as Fredo in The Godfather movies. You remember him from The Deer Hunter, and from Dog Day Afternoon. You remember him because every performance he gave was memorable. His friends remember him in I Knew It Was You.


That’s all for this year’s awards. Thank you to all our presenters, and we’ll see you at the after party.


For the latest Oscar news, click here.

For a list of Oscar winners from the Criterion Collection, click here.


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