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Capes Optional – Does Not Compute

posted: , by Thaddeus Moriarty
tags: Programs & Events | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens

cyborgWelcome back to Capes Optional, dear eyeballers of the blogosphere, where we, for one library, welcome our new robotic overlords. It’s Maker Fair time again at PPL, and tomorrow our halls and meeting rooms will be filled with exhibits and demonstrations of all genres and interests: book coloring, lock picking, coffee brewing, duct tape crafting, candle making, and absolutely everything in between. It’s a perfect day to spelunk into the bottomless depths of creativity or to discover a new hobby.

In keeping with the Maker spirit, I have found an arms-full of books that you can find on our shelves based around robotics and the sciences, and I think you’ll find something of interest no matter who you might be. Allons-y!


Chobits, Vol.1
by Clamp

chobitsChobits can be found in our Teen section, and is a popular manga and anime from Japan of the “ecchi” style, meaning playfully sexual without being explicit or adult-only. In Chobits, there exist what are called “persocoms,” computers that can do everything your smartphone can except look like people and walk around with you while they do it. The story is about Hideki, a young man who can’t hold a job, can’t get into school, and certainly can’t afford a persocom, who stumbles upon one of the robots in a trash heap. The beautiful persocom is named Chi, and as Hideki finds out, is more than just a regular computer-girl.


Rust: Visitor in the Field
by Royden Lepp

rustRust: Visitor in the Field, as well as other books in the Rust series, is set on a small farm that could fit onto any Central- to Northern-Maine hillside…until Jet Jones flies through the barn, a jetpack on his back and being chased by a 30-foot-tall robot killing-machine that the country had used to fight a war with decades earlier. From there, the action and intrigue never stop. Lepp’s illustrations are, aptly, all the color of rust, but are wide and expressive, telling the story of a farmer, his family, and the robotic war that won’t ease its grip on humanity, with marvelous success. Rust can be found in the children’s section at PPL.


The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science. Bad.
written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Pitarra

mp1Are you as much a fan of alternate histories as I am? Then The Manhattan Projects will be right up your alley. Set in an alternate World War II, the graphic novel series follows Joseph Oppenheimer, evil twin of real-life American scientist Robert Oppenheimer, conducting secret military science experiments under the titular “Manhattan Projects.” Any follower of history will recognize the project as that which developed the atomic bomb, but would probably not be familiar with FDR being artificial intelligence, Japan having teleporting robot soldiers, Doctor Einstein being an alcoholic sadist, and aliens being eaten by the Army to gain knowledge of space travel. Sound interesting? Pick up The Manhattan Projects.


Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars
written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen

descenderJeff Lemire, writer of DC Comics’ critically acclaimed Animal Man and Marvel’s Old Man Logan, brings us Descender, a creator-owned comic about a young android trying to find where he fits in a big universe. TIM-21, or TIM for short, is a robot created to “entertain, protect, and assist in the education” of his human friend Andy. But TIM wakes up after ten years to find Andy missing and robots outlawed throughout the solar system; robotic, planet-sized monstrosities called Harvesters attacked the galaxy and destroyed entire civilizations, and a fearful population banned any mechanical intelligence as a result. But TIM isn’t a monster…is he? Descenders was just picked up by Sony Pictures to become a blockbuster movie, and you can read all about TIM and his robot dog Bandit right at the library before anyone else.


WWR, World War Robot
written by Ashley Wood and TP Louise, illustrated by Ashley Wood

wwrIt’s difficult for me to tell you the plot of World War Robot…because that plot is entirely up to you. World War Robot is a series of journal entries, letters, transcripts, and diaries of a fictional Great War that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, accompanied by beautifully rendered paintings by Ashley Wood. In the timeline of WWR, a group of fanatically-religious humans took over Earth, and those seeking refuge from the violent cult fled the planet to colonize Mars. Earth retaliated, and the Terrans and Martians, as they are called, go to war with robots at their sides. The story is beautifully left with gaps in the narration and told only through “primary documents” of the time, and the paintings are breathtaking. A look back at a tragic time in one version of our past, and one not impossible to see in our future.


iron manThese are just the beginning! For superheroes that tie-in to our Maker theme, be sure to go look up DC’s Cyborg and Firestorm, and, of course, Marvel’s Iron Man.

Science and robotics are all the rage in 2016, with new advancements in artificial intelligence and the newest iGadget always front-page news, and what better way to immerse yourself in the spirit of creation than to go to the Maker Fair on April 23rd? I’ll be there, and I hope that you will too. Until next month, chums, may your screens of death never be blue and may your Roomba not try to take over the world.






Capes Optional – The World’s Finest

posted: , by Thaddeus Moriarty
tags: Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens


It’s a bird! It’s a plane!


Nope, just Capes Optional (sorry).

This week we are all jazzed up about two of the greatest comic book super heroes ever drawn: Batman and Superman.Regardless of who you think would win in a fight (which is totally Batman because, let’s face it, even though Superman could rip Batman in half he wouldn’t – and the Dark Knight would never let a weakness such as morality hinder him. But I digress…), Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and their dynamic alter-egos have been wowing us for over 80 years, and now meet in a blockbuster movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The movie hits theaters today, but what if a movie’s not your thing? Do you prefer to read about your heroes on paper? Here are some wonderful graphic novels from the shelves of PPL that explore the unbreakable (if not sometimes volatile) relationship between the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader, and not always in ways that you would expect.


51WJHLSFePL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Batman-Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World
written by Greg Pak, illustrated by Jae Lee

This graphic novel is a collection of DC Comics’ monthly publication Batman-Superman, which focuses on the adventures of the titular heroes without the rest of the Justice League interfering. This first volume tells a version of the two meeting for the first time (while Superman is still wearing a T-shirt and jeans) and getting whisked away to Earth-2 where they meet fully established and heroic versions of themselves. The story is a little strange (as alternate universes are wont to be), but Jae Lee’s iconic artwork, as seen on the cover, is a joyous adventure to explore in itself.


51N6dG-Ok2L__SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1
written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Jheremy Raapack

This dark series of graphic novels (as well as the accompanying video game of the same name) is one of the more amazing alternate Batman/Superman relationships to have come out in recent memory. In the universe of Injustice, Superman is tricked by the Joker into destroying that which matters most to him: his wife Lois Lane, their unborn child, and Metropolis itself. Driven to inexorable suffering, Superman declares that crime will no longer be tolerated anywhere in the world, and appoints himself a de facto emperor with a super-powered police force. And who could possibly stand up against this tyrannical, unstoppable dictator? Batman, of course!


61hYGO3Y0sL__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin
written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Jim Lee

Bylined by two of the most experienced and beloved writers and artists in comics, Justice League, Vol. 1 was the flagship graphic novel of DC Comics’ 2011 “The New 52” re-launch, and doesn’t disappoint in any way. Telling the story of how the Justice League was formed, the heroes were remade hipper and younger for a  younger, hipper generation of comic readers (for better or for worse). Young Superman is brash and overconfident; his first words to the ever-grizzled Batman after throwing the Green Lantern through a wall: “So…what can you do?” The pencil work by Jim Lee is exquisite.


51fK4C0c73L__SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Kingdom Come
written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Alex Ross

Kingdom Come is on this humble blog-writer’s short list of the greatest graphic novels ever written. The story tells of the next generation of superheroes who fill the void left behind by the retirement of the Justice League, and the catastrophic events that pit old against young, mentor against pupil, hero against hero. Superman, grey haired and living as an outcast on a Midwestern farm, and Batman, crippled and broken (both mentally and physically) from his decades of violence, are fleshed out beautifully by the all-time writer Waid, and Alex Ross’ illustrations are so full of “Easter eggs” and homages to past comics that the book actually has a list of his allusions in the back. A true masterpiece, and a must-own for any graphic novel lover.


61fbfTYqVCL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood
written by Brian Azzarello, illustrated by Cliff Chiang

What, you thought that I would ignore the amazing Gal-Gadot-as-Wonder-Woman cameo in the new movie? Wonder Woman, the feminist icon and heroic equal to Batman and Superman, has had myriad accomplished writers over the years, but few have left her with the critical acclaim as has veteran scribe Brian Azzarello. In this version of Wondy, she discovers that her birth has been obfuscated from her entire life: she is actually the daughter of a god, and not just any god, but Zeus himself. As the ramifications of her divine discovery threaten to shatter her reality, Diana Prince also has outside troubles to worry about: not all the gods are pleased with her newly-uncovered lineage.


I, for one, cannot wait to see Batman v Superman in theaters. But there is so much more to Bruce, Clark, and Diana than what you can find in a 3-hour film. Check out these books at PPL, and for some more alternate-universe adventures outside the library’s Fortress of Solitude, be sure to look up Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Batman: In Darkest Knight by Mike W. Barr. It’s been more than 80 years since Bob Kane and Bill Finger brought us Batman, and Siegel and Shuster invented the Man of Steel, yet their legacies continue to shine on today. It’s the perfect time to pick up a good graphic novel and get lost in the adventures.

Up, up, and away!

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).


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