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The Air We Breathe: Nature and Science Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Science & Technology | Readers Writers


In May our staff explores Nature and Science at the library—subjects that inspire wonder, attention, exploration, and care.  



Nora’s Picks 

Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, alternating between reflections on place and language and regional glossaries of natural phenomena in the British Isles, is a transformative look at human relationships with nature. Macfarlane offers gems like blinter (“dazzle, but with a particular sense of cold dazzle: winter stars or ice splinters catching low midwinter sunlight”) alongside crittlecronksfireflacht, and hundreds of other culturally specific words that fly off the tongue with delight to form visions. The foundation of Landmarks is one of reciprocity: our relationships with our landscapes are shaped by our language but, so too, our language is shaped by the earth, sea, sky, and land—by the particularities of the places where we rise, walk, settle, or gripe about geeve (“almost imperceptible fine rain that nevertheless gets you wet and cold quickly”). Within the treasure trove of reader-submitted words that end the book lies that which best sums up what happens when we attend to our natural surroundings: 

 cynefin   place of belonging  Welsh

 If Landmarks inspires you to engage in the act of noticing, Mary Holland’s Naturally Curious is the ultimate field guide to alert the inquisitive investigator to signs of seasonal change and natural life in New England. Maybe after some trips out with Holland’s month-by-month guide, you’ll feel attentive and empowered enough to compose your own glossary of the land. 



Marie’s Picks 

I’m grateful for the athletes and artists who capture the beauty of extreme mountain environments. Check out Meru and Free Solotwo breathtaking documentaries in the PPL collection, both co-directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. They could be seen as films about human accomplishments, but truly, they are odes to the mountains themselves, and to the unforgiving intensity of nature. 



Elizabeth’s Picks 

When I moved here, years ago, after a life in Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta—places I loved for many reasons, yet steeped in billboards, developments, malls, concrete and traffic—Maine’s coasts and forests, mountains and lakes, wildlife and wetlands felt precious and rare.  

My three picks are newer books that celebrate the ocean, relationships, and interconnectedness 

As an adult, I love children’s book author and illustrator Andrea Tsurumi’s candid, thoughtful gaze at life and her reflections in pen and ink and color and words. Her new picture book is a recent favorite, and, curious, I read about what inspired her. “Why did I make Crab Cake? A picture book about a cake-baking crab confronting a huge ecological disaster?” she reflects wryly, quietly. “As a kid, I [was often] overwhelmed by giant, complex and messy problems…but in the face of disaster, people can respond with love and action.” 

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s novel The Dragonfly Sea celebrates one woman’s relationship with the sea, her loved ones, and Pate, her island home off the Swahili Coast; in its lyricism Owuor’s work also carefully examines foreign states and the government in modern Kenya and their impacts on individuals, communities, and the environment. The story came to Owuor while “Loving the ocean, dreaming of its many lives…[and] the other question of what China’s return to Eastern Africa through the seas might imply for small intimate histories, and what the responses of the ‘ordinary people’ might be.” An engrossing, brilliant novel.  

Susan Hand Shetterly’s The Seaweed Chronicles is a must-read about seaweed in Maine (and beyond) and the many lives tied up in it—from phytoplankton to eider ducks to our own. 

See also: A Farewell to Ice, Chesapeake Requiem 



Becca’s Pick  

PBS American Experience’s Rachel Carson is a short and sweet introduction to the famous environmentalist. While it offers key biographical information around her education, career, and the writing of Silent Spring, much of the documentary is devoted to her time living on Southport Island. Her relationship with Dorothy Freeman takes center stage; while they were only neighbors during the summer, their relationship stretched throughout all seasons through their devotional letters. If you are a fan of Rachel Carson and enjoy stories of female friendship and romance – all set on the picturesque Maine seaside – this is a documentary for you.   



Gail’s Pick 

Do you love nature but aren’t good at remembering the names of any flora or fauna? In The Sense of Wonder, A Celebration of Nature for Parents and Children, Rachel Carson says, don’t worry about it! “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.” I loved this slim volume, with beautiful photos by Nick Kelsh, for its wisdom, encouragement and inspiration. 



Eileen’s Picks 

Cooking, gardening, home repair.  Birding, rock hounding, star gazing.  Trebuchets, parachutes, flight.  At the heart of it all, there is science.  There are explanations to be found, logic to be had.  We can find them by moving backward through the known or forward into the surprising inevitable. 

For me, understanding most often treads on the heels of words that I find beautiful, not a hallmark of most textbooks.  This precondition made me a disappointment to my longsuffering science and math teachers, and proved detrimental to my grade point average.  

Despite this, there are books that mark my place in comprehending small fractions of the world and the science that makes it tick.  Exhibit A in my continuing education is a mercilessly truncated list of titles that have eased me happily into relationship with the natural world.  What they have in common is that I engaged them willingly and they filled spaces in me that needed filling: gaps in knowledge, holes in holistic understanding, dark corners full of not much.  

A Sand County Almanacby Aldo Leopold (Just beautiful.) 

Hope is the Thing With Feathers: a Personal History of Vanished Birdsby Chris Cokinos (Transporting.  Gripping.  Heart breaking.) 

Ravens in Winterby Bernd Heinrich (Science as adventure.  So much tree climbing!) 

Reading the Forested Landscape: a Natural History of New Englandby Tom Wessels (Seeing the past hidden in plain sight.) 

Naturally Curiousby Mary Holland (Bite-sized pieces about so many things.) 

Exhibit B demonstrates that I am a sucker for the whimsical and possibly tasteless possibilities available.  Just one title here, not because I don’t tread the path of silliness with embarrassing regularity, but because it is my most recent random find.  It is light in tone and weight, informative and answers my favorite kind of question: the one I don’t know I have.  

Does It Fart?: the Definitive Guide to Animal Flatulence by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti.  I probably won’t be bulk buying it for gift giving, but it is fun.  Now I can respond with authority when someone asks me if cockroaches fart.  I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to read it.  By all means, do read it. 

My wish for everyone is that they find themselves comfortable with wondering how the natural world works.  Not with knowing, but with wondering.  And then I wish for them the time and will to assemble their own pile of books that make them forget that science isn’t their thing. 

Each book takes me by the hand and delivers me to the next.  Thank heaven for that.  It means this merry chase can go on forever, tumbling headlong through a world that is, after all, all about science. 


More Resources: Nature and Science Booklists


As always, thanks for reading. 

PPL Business: A Windfall for Small Businesses

posted: , by Williams Bandoma
tags: Programs & Events | Recommended Reads | Adults | College & Career | Seniors | Business | Government | News


When envisioning a public library, what one is likely to imagine are old books on shelves and old librarians with glasses. Libraries do have books; however, every book is not old, and every librarian does not wear glasses. Just like the weather in Maine, we are dynamic, and we continually evolve with new technology and new materials in order to support our growing communities.

In 2018 a total of 145,536 small businesses in Maine (99.3% of Maine businesses) employed a total of 284,658 employees (56.9% of Maine employees). The importance of small business’s contribution to the socio-economic development of Maine cannot be overemphasized.

As we celebrate Small Business Week during the month of May [5th – 11th ], it is helpful to know what PPL Business offers to assist small businesses in the Greater Portland Area. PPL Business focuses on three subject areas: books, databases, and events.

With a concise collection management policy, PPL Business offers a comprehensive collection of physical books covering all subject areas in business and business research. If you are thinking of starting, managing, restructuring, planning, or searching for ways to fund your business, look no further than PPL. We have access to the information and materials you need.

Starting a business can be complicated and PPL’s host of databases can help. Your library card number is your key to accessing all of our resources for your business information needs, from creating to running a business. Databases include but are not limited to: sample business plans, community demographic information, industry trends, competitive intelligence, detailed mailing lists of potential clients, and in-depth market research. You can also download and print legal forms, read full-text trade journals, and access popular magazines in the areas of business and industry.

PPL Business also offers an array of in-person events and programs to support small business owners. In partnership with the Small Business Administration Programs and Services, PPL will host Small Business Administration SBA 101 on May 8th, 2019 at 10 am – 12 pm. Entrepreneurs can also check out our monthly Business Data Workshops where businesses are introduced to the basic techniques on how to use and get the most out of our collection of online databases.

While at PPL, you will have unlimited access to affordable meeting spaces for group gatherings,  quiet (in some cases — virtually silent) and comfortable areas to read, space to do work or conduct research, free access to good quality high-speed wireless internet, Internet-enabled computers, faxes, and photocopiers. We can also refer you to useful community resources.

Portland Public Library’s Business offerings are a gold mine of information for small business-people – you just need to learn how to access our riches!

Happy Small Business Week and thank you to all the small businesses for their contribution to job creation and socio-economic development in the region.

And Then Our Singing: Poetry Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Readers Writers

Happy National Poetry Month!  Our library staff members reflect on poetry as we pause, take new stock, and read through April.



Carrie’s Picks 

As April springs into action, we celebrate National Poetry Month in the Children’s Library with book displays and at story time. I love poetry: it’s engaging and enjoyable for groups of toddler and preschoolers alike. Many of our picture books are written in rhyme (which counts as poetry in my book!) and are used regularly at story time.  

This month I wanted to share how I incorporate poetry into a story time, so here’s a snapshot of what Preschool Story Time looked like this week. I hope this gives you a few ideas for using poetry and song in your own story times.

  • Our Word of the Week was Imagine, so we began by singing “Come Under My Umbrella” while using the parachute to imagine that we were under an enormous umbrella.  
  • Bunny Day by Rick Walton is a telling time book with rhyming couplets, and we read the whole story.  
  • A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: A Forest of Poems by Deborah Ruddell is full of funny animal poems. We read “The Great Snail Race” and “Spring Welcome.” 
  • Ring of Earth by Jane Yolen has lovely seasonal poems including “Song of the Spring Peeper.” This longer poem has a refrain after every stanza, “Pe-ep. Pe-ep. Pe-ep. Pe-ep.”  The children and I practiced before we began the poem so they were able to “Pe-ep” along with me.  
  • Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies has detailed illustrations by Mark Herald, in paper-cut and collage, that fill the page and bring the poems to life. We read “Listen to the Pond” with the croaking sound of “Rrrrruurrrrp” repeated and the life cycle of the frog illustrated as well as “Nesting,” a poem that explains how birds build nests. The poems were written in free verse, so these were used to explain that not all poems rhyme.   
  • In addition to books, poems, and parachute songs we also used the flannel board with our “Five Little Bluebirds” to show how we can act out poems and rhymes. The rhyme begins: “One little bluebird up she flew, along comes another and that makes two. Two little bluebirds sitting in a tree, along comes another and that makes three.” 

Enjoy poetry with friends young and old this month and visit us at story time anytime! 



Elizabeth’s Picks 

Some of my favorite questions to help with at the library are searches for poetry. For example: someone is trying to thank someone they love dearly for existing. “Do you have love poems?” someone will ask (or, even better: “Do you have a love poem section?”) and I am filled with a geeky library-earnestness: “Oh yes! Yes we have love poems!” We have all kinds.  

The truth is we so often turn to poetry. At weddings. At funerals. When we feel raw, or distant. Elizabeth Alexander writes: “Poetry…/ is the human voice, / and are we not of interest to each other?” What does poetry say about this life—about how we lose and find ourselves, and lose and find each other? 

I search for poetry, too. This year I’ve been reading Poetry Rx, a sort of poetry advice column. People write in with their joys and sorrows. Three thoughtful poets (Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz) take turns responding with a “poetry prescription.” No one pretends any poem is a heal-all balm or remedy. It’s just that—as the people who continue to write in can attest—we’re all reaching for something. Sometimes a poem or even a line from a poem will bear us with it, to another place. 

I’ll often read through Poetry RX while checking the library’s catalog for the poets and poems I read about. Some favorites this year: Fatimah Asghar’s “If They Should Come For Us,” full of fiery life. Osip Mandelstam’s beautiful poem And I was Alive” from Stolen Air: “Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.” June Jordan’s love poem, spelling it out: “I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED / GENOCIDE TO STOP.” LiYoung Lee‘s “Folding a Five-Cornered Star So the Corners Meet,” with the haunting lines: “For so many years, I answered to a name, / and I can’t say who answered.” Rita Dove’s electric, magical “Happenstance.”  

 And you can find Hieu Minh Nguyen. And Eileen Myles. And Solmaz Sharif. All poets prescribed by poets. And: hundreds more 


Will you be electric sheep, electric ladies, will you sleep 

…My robot, my poet, ancient and erstwhile and now  

and f-ever,  

the best mischief: to be stranded in this electricity with you. 


Marie’s Pick 

 Please consider reading Oculus, a new collection of poems by Sally Wen Mao. They center around the idea of voyeurism in the age of social media, also touching on mental illness, family, love, and pop culture. She retells the history of anti-Asian racism in Hollywood while making allusions to Instagram, Pokémon, and a handful of legendary sci-fi writers. On the same page, often within the same verse, she moves effortlessly between these themes (and more); I finished the book in one sitting and am eager to read it again. Mao’s words shine: Oculus is brilliant, accessible, eclectic, provocative, and beautiful.  



Eileen’s Picks 

An English teacher once said that poetry was meant to be heard, not merely read with the eyes for express delivery to the brain.  I would like to add, if you can hum it, all the better. 

It’s not that I think a poem requires music to prop it up.  At least not always.  In the case of “Fly Me to the Moon” (1954) written by Bart Howard, perhaps its moon-June-spoon rhymery needs a melody.  In 1965, Frank Sinatra gave it a rascally, rat pack infused smugness that makes me purse my lips and resent enjoying it.  The same lightweight words coming from Joshua Radin on His Way, Our Way (2009) come across as a tentative, artlessly sweet reverie.  A different song. 

“Both Sides Now” written by Joni Mitchell changes direction between its first appearance on her 1969 album Clouds and 2000’s Both Sides Now.  Both versions are drenched with heart, but Mitchell’s voice and delivery are altered with and by time, her clear, young voice seemingly aged in oak in the 30 year interval.  Timbre and tempo morph.  The satisfaction of hearing her interpretations deepens.  A different song. 

“Downtown Train,” penned by Tom Waits and rubbed through the coarse sieve of his voice on Rain Dogs (1985) has been sung by countless others, but it is hard to top the writer’s own take on it.  Mary Chapin Carpenter’s track on 1987’s Hometown Girl was my first exposure to it, and I love it.  Rod Stewart made a couple of bucks with his recording, too.  They are just the tip of the cover version iceberg, every rendition different. 

While I’m on about trains, consider Jennifer Kimball and Tom Kimmel’s “The Blue Train,” soulfully sung by Irish singer Maura O’Connell on Blue Is the Colour of Hope (1992). There is a Transatlantic Sessions video with O’Connell, Nanci Griffith, James Grant, Jerry Douglass & co which left me weeping when I bumped into it while preparing to write this.  Wow. 

The wonder of it:  Words. Voices.  A pause, a breath taken.  Connection. 

Pure poetry. 


Nora’s Pick 

In her 2015 book My Shoes Are Killing Me, poet Robyn Sarah calls forth images that flirt with the familiar (autumn leaves) but are predominately more original (pennies taken out of circulation that now have currency only as a child’s discovery in a weedy backyard). The undercurrent of this collection is that our lives are happening and as much worthy of our notice right now as they were in the wonder years of childhood—before the “beginning of dwindle”—and as much as they are in the dreams we concoct for ourselves about the future. Sarah’s verse offers snippets and sentiments that serve as “wisps of well-being,” the grubby pennies we can dig up and let shine when we need to remember to be relish the present moment. As she best says herself, we can glory in the endless summers of the past but, “The truth of it: summers were never any longer / than they are now. 


As ever, thanks for reading! If you’re interested in poetry readings and discussion at the library, our April line-up of events can be found here.

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