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Make: Getting Started with 3D Printing by Liza Wallach Kloski and Nick Kloski

Raspberry Pi Electronics Projects for the Evil Genius by Donald Norris

Unscrewed: Salvage and Reuse Motors, Gears, Switches, and More from Your Old Electronics by Ed Sobey

The library is chock full of excitement this May.  In addition to preparations for our move to the new building, we are gearing up for the annual summer reading program.  This year’s summer reading slogan is “Build A Better World” highlighting design, construction, and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities—a great match with the opening of the new facility.  All ages are welcome to participate in the reading program or events or both.  Stay tuned to the library’s website http://joplinpubliclibrary.org/ and Facebook page for details about summer reading and the move.

Summer reading fervor has prompted me to explore STEAM books at the library.  Here are a trio of teen and adult non-fiction titles written for novice-to-intermediate tinkerers interested in technology.  All of these books are informative, helpful, and designed to support project-based creative endeavors.

Make: Getting Started with 3D Printing by Liza Wallach Kloski and Nick Kloski comes from Maker Media, the publisher of Make: magazine and creator of the Maker Faire events showcasing innovations in the maker movement.  The publisher defines the maker movement as a grassroots, “tech influenced DIY community” of “hobbyists, enthusiasts or students” creating, innovating, and “producing value in the community”.  In general, makers are people who engage in hands-on learning through tinkering.  Their creative explorations may lead to innovations or new understanding of the world around them and may involve new technologies or low-tech tools and equipment.  This particular book focuses on 3D printing, the process of building a three-dimensional object by a machine adding layers of material from the object’s bottom to its top.  Getting Started offers a nice introduction to the 3D printing process.  It is less an in-depth history or background of 3D printing than it is an overview with specific tips for project development.  The authors discuss basic “hows” and “whys” of the process then move on to examine different printers and filament.  There are helpful chapters describing the process of choosing an object to print, creating a virtual model of it, and preparing the model for printing.  Additional chapters outline working with specific modeling software—some big names are mentioned, but the offerings are narrowed to a few.  Full-color illustrations throughout are an asset.

For something a bit different, the Raspberry Pi is an accessible entry to computer coding and electronics.  About the size of a library card, the Pi is a fully-functioning computer (albeit with a smaller memory than a laptop) complete with ports for accessories and portable file storage.  Some models have Wi-Fi capability.  Raspberry Pi Electronics Projects for the Evil Genius by Donald Norris presents ideas for activities starting at the intermediate level.  Although there is a brief introduction to the technology, the book is written for those with some background knowledge or experience in computers or electronics.  Project directions and discussion are clear, concise, and direct.  Like the writing style, the black-and-white illustrations are serviceable and relevant.  Snippets of computer code are included where needed.  The author offers two approaches to exploring the Raspberry Pi—discovering a concept or component related to the Pi and implementing a project designed around it (adding a touchscreen and creating a demo of the screen) and building a specific project (create a nighttime monitor for your garden).

My favorite book in this trio is Unscrewed: Salvage and Reuse Motors, Gears, Switches, and More from Your Old Electronics by Ed Sobey.  Tinkering is a key component of the maker movement, and Unscrewed is the road map to tinkering for the uninitiated.  The book’s premise is that inoperative or unwanted gadgets are a treasure trove of hands-on learning.  The author presents basic instructions for dismantling 53 items ranging from a hair dryer to a VCR to an electric toothbrush to a bar code scanner.  Each chapter includes a list of the tools required for the job and a “Treasure Cache” detailing the particularly useful pieces of the gadget.  In “What Now?” the author suggests uses for parts of each device.  Useful safety tips and black-and-white illustrations are used throughout.

Whether you are new to the maker movement or are an expert in the world of STEAM, the library has titles for you.  Join us this summer for loads of fun and a wealth of information!

If youWires and Nerve’ve been anywhere near fiction written for teens in the past few years, then you are aware of Marissa Meyer’s highly popular series, The Lunar Chronicles, where fairy tales meet science fiction.  If you haven’t heard of The Lunar Chronicles, then go check them out.  Right now.  You’ll be glad you did.  They’re deliciously addictive and easily devoured.

The series is set in a distant future where the moon is populated with telepaths ruled by a vicious queen bent on taking over Earth.  Cars levitate magnetically, space travel is commonplace, ID chips are implanted into humans, and robots are ubiquitous.  Four familiar fairy tale characters are introduced over the course of as many novels, each named for one of these heroines—Cinder (a cyborg mechanic living in China), Scarlet (a French farm girl who sports her favorite red hoodie and lives with her grandmother), Cress (an extraordinarily skilled computer hacker with extraordinarily long hair who has been locked away since childhood), and Winter (a telepathic Lunar who refuses to use her powers and happens to be the evil queen’s stepdaughter).  Meyer adds a compelling, rounded cast of strong secondary characters to her sci-fi/fantasy mix then throws in plenty of adventure and a dash of romance to create an amazing epic.

Just when you think she’s finished her tales, Meyer plucks a secondary character—one of the ubiquitous robots—to headline a graphic novel series set in the Lunar universe.  Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 seamlessly picks up where the adventures in the Lunar Chronicles stopped.  But before we continue, if you are currently reading the Lunar Chronicles or plan to do so for the first time in the near future please note that this next chapter lies in spoiler territory.  The beginning pages of Wires and Nerve introduce the leads of the original series and continue its plotline—details of which will disappoint readers who have yet to complete (much less begin) the series.

If that’s not a concern to you, then Wire and Nerves is a great read all on its own—no Lunar backstory is necessary to follow and enjoy Meyer’s first graphic novel (an item checked off her bucket list, according to her website).  She focuses on Cinder’s android pal, Iko, for this book to great effect.  An important character in the original series, Iko sometimes took a back seat to the humans.  Here, Meyer places Iko front and center.  Although the other characters are featured, it’s Iko’s story from the start.  She has been assigned to round up packs of rogue, engineered, wolf-Lunar hybrids from their hideouts on Earth and deliver them back to Luna for trial.  Because she’s an android, she can complete the job quicker, easier, and with fewer injuries than her Earthen and Lunar colleagues.  However, Iko’s personality chip has become more human over the years (a version of Pinocchio’s inward journey to becoming a real boy) which has left her delightfully sassy although vulnerable to vanity, jealousy, and doubt.  Iko gives her best effort to the mission, but will it be enough?  After some entertaining fight scenes and witty dialogue plus suspense (Ambush! Kidnappers!), Marissa Meyer leaves Iko and readers dangling with an ominously-toned cliffhanger.  I wanted a sequel the minute I turned the final page.

Iko’s outward journey is as captivating and action-packed as anything in the Lunar Chronicles.  Her inward journey makes the story even more appealing.  Within that quickly-moving plot, Meyer sets up an exploration of the price of fame as well as what makes us human.  She started the exploration in Cinder, considering the outcome of mixing mechanical and electronic parts with human flesh; here, Meyer takes the idea further by encasing human emotions in an android.  Don’t worry—the author doesn’t spoil the fun.  All of these Big Thoughts are kept palatable and entertaining although no less thought-provoking.

The graphic novel’s somewhat cartoony art—closer to Lumberjanes than to Peanuts—helps keep the Big Thoughts grounded and accessible.  The action moves beyond the limitations set by drawing the story in panel format.  The characters appear expressive, particularly in their facial expressions.  The entire book is done in bluetone (think sepia tone but using a few shades of blue), and the cumulative effect of it reminded me of blue-screened, backlight electronics.  Characters are drawn lively, vibrant, and engaging; they drew me in from the start.  Yet, they don’t look like the ones I pictured as I read the original series.  If that really bothers you, then definitely read the original books first and possibly think twice about the graphic novel.  Honestly, the art is so engaging that you can easily move past it.

You can find Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 in the library’s Teen Department along with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles.  I hope you enjoy it!

a-study-in-charlotte

     Are you Sherlocked?  The new season of the PBS show, Sherlock, has sent me down a Holmes and Watson rabbit hole.  Luckily, the popularity of the television shows Sherlock and Elementary on CBS along with the recent films starring Robert Downey, Jr., have inspired a rash of titles featuring the classic characters.  I’ve found radio plays, comics, stories imagining Holmes solving crimes without Watson or the other way ‘round, tales riffing on the original canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, books attempting to tie Holmes to Jack the Ripper or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a series depicting Sherlock in middle school, novellas featuring Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, adventures of Sherlock’s purported vampire twin, retellings from the perspective of Professor Moriarty, countless puzzle books, numerous “how to” titles for the art of deduction, and—believe it or not—a board book for infants entitled Little Master Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer.   (On a side note, the last entry is part of a board book series that includes baby versions of Moby Dick and Anna Karenina in addition to the Pride and Prejudice parody, Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.)

     An interesting newcomer to the mountain of Holmes titles is last year’s A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.  I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s tagline, “You’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before.”  Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are 21st-century descendants of John and Sherlock—both Londoners dropped into an upper-crust Connecticut boarding school for reasons I cannot relate due to massive spoilers.  (Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of this plot I cannot reveal due to spoilers, massive or moderate.)  Watson and Holmes are atypical teens leading atypical lives trying to balance homework assignments, dances, and rugby practices with extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

     James “Jamie” Watson meets Charlotte Holmes at Sherringford, the posh school he attends on a rugby scholarship.  Jamie secretly wants to be a writer, an aspiration he cultivates out of the public eye as he navigates his new surroundings.  He has grown up in the U.S. and, most recently, London which he misses desperately.  Jamie’s estranged father and his new family live only an hour away, another sore point.  Charlotte, as you can imagine, has been busy with other activities.  Her upbringing reflects the family business—training in observation, deduction, the sciences (yes, all the sciences) sprinkled with lessons in lock picking, computer hacking, and wiretapping.  Jamie first spies Charlotte at the weekly poker game she runs in her dormitory’s basement.  A few days later, they officially meet and have the awkward conversation about their ancestors; a few weeks later, they are becoming crime solving colleagues bonding over clues in Charlotte’s personal laboratory.  By the end of the semester, they are fighting for each others’ lives.

     This book is really about relationships—between Charlotte and Jamie, Charlotte and her family, Jamie and his family, Charlotte and her past, the main characters and the school, Charlotte and…wait a minute, can’t tell you that one another spoiler (a HUGE one, trust me).  Certainly there is plenty of action-filled plot; by finals week, this Holmes and Watson duo unravel the mystery behind an assault, a poisoning, a deadly snake, eerie recreations of the original Holmes stories, an attempted murder, blackmail, clandestine surveillance, and a school-shuttering explosion.  This doesn’t even count the roller coaster ride occurring in the last few chapters of the book!

     Brittany Cavallaro successfully translates the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for a current audience.  Her main characters are interesting, three-dimensional blends of wit, intelligence, generosity, loneliness, adventure, and heart.  Her secondary characters are fleshed out as needed for the story, appearing when needed to further the plot then receding into the background until their next task; they aren’t necessarily flat or uninteresting just not as rounded as Holmes and Watson throughout the book.  Instead of directly translating Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories point by point into Sherringford, Cavallaro blends elements from several of them to create her mystery.  Some elements are more obvious—an exasperated-yet-grudgingly-respectful detective, Mycroft Holmes becomes Charlotte’s brother Milo, Jamie’s solicitous dorm mother, a murder weapon purposefully copied from The Blue Carbuncle (among others).  Charlotte displays the distinctive personality traits of the original Holmes, including an opiate habit which sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book—Jamie nursing Charlotte through an overdose attempt and its aftermath.

     A Study in Charlotte is an entertaining romp of adventure and mystery (with a dash of romance) that incorporates realistic situations and a serious topic or two along the way.  It’s a fun read, well-suited to high schoolers and teen lit. lovers looking for a quick book.  Due to some mature language and topics, it may not be to everyone’s taste.  You can find this book (and a variety of others) in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.  Hope to see you soon!

studs-terkel-chicagothe-world-series-curse

One of the things I love about libraries is their propensity for serendipity.  There’s just something marvelous about browsing the shelves and running across an unexpected delight or clicking links in the electronic catalog and falling down a rabbit hole of an interesting tidbits only to climb out and tumble into another one.  That’s exactly what happened when I ran across this week’s titles.

By the time this review appears in the paper, autumn will have truly arrived and the 2016 World Series will have receded behind other headlines.  Even so, the Cubs’ victory remains memorable, and the entire series offered some outstanding baseball.  I was riding the wave of excitement after Game 7 when I started combing the library’s catalog for books about baseball, curses, Cleveland, and Chicago.  Forty-five minutes later I climbed out of the rabbit hole with two widely different reads tied together by happenstance.

First item up to bat is The World Series Curse by David A. Kelly which popped up while looking at books about baseball curses and the Cubs.  Written for children, The World Series Curse is the first in a spinoff series of baseball mysteries featuring major league teams and their stadiums.  Cousins Kate and Mike are baseball fans and accidental, amateur detectives—the perfect mix for sniffing out and solving predicaments at the ballpark.  Here they find themselves in the midst of a potential scandal affecting the outcome of a hotly contested World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox.  Cubs players have been accused of cheating on the road and at home, including corking a bat.  Kate and Mike happen to know the right people and be in the right place at the right time to solve the mystery and prove the Cubs’ fair play.  Throw in lively illustrations, a bitter sportswriter, and a red herring disguised as a goat, and you have an interesting, light read for elementary-age readers.  Give this one to reluctant readers who enjoy sports stories or to mystery fans seeking a less-than-intense book.

Second in the lineup is a book by one of my favorite authors, Studs Terkel.  A true son of Chicago, Terkel spent the bulk of his life and his career immersed in the city.  Although known for his radio interviews and oral histories, Terkel’s own voice is front-and-center in this title.  Studs Terkel’s Chicago (a no-nonsense name reflecting a no-nonsense author) is a love letter to his hometown.  It’s a loose, almost sloppy love letter though—more stream-of-consciousness conversation or storytelling than formal declaration.  That’s part of its charm.  Terkel travels his own path through the streets of Chicago, linking historical events and figures, personalities from the varied neighborhoods, and vignettes from his youth.  He strings together these gems as he meanders through the physical landscape and his mental path.  Terkel’s voice is all but literally present—if you’ve ever heard an interview with him, you can hear his gravelly voice as you read the book.  In fact, it would be just as good or better as an audiobook; the downside would be the loss of the fantastic black and white photographs depicting life on the streets of Chicago.  Studs Terkel’s Chicago is a fantastic journey through one man’s experience with one of the great cities of the world.  It’s charming and gritty and delightful, but it’s not the easiest read out there.  If you are unfamiliar with Studs Terkel or passingly familiar with his well-known works, this is not the place to get acquainted.  Try one of his books of oral histories first—the library has several.

Both of the books I’ve mentioned happen to be available in electronic book format from the library’s Overdrive service.  You can access hundreds of e-books and electronic audio books at no extra charge with a Joplin Public Library card.  Overdrive is available on home computers or as an app for cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices.  These electronic titles can be checked out and put on hold just like physical versions although borrowing times may differ.  The titles disappear when they are due, so there aren’t any overdue fines.  The Overdrive app also includes features which help ease eye fatigue while reading on a screen.  If you would like to know more about Overdrive and how to access it, stop by or call the library at (417) 623-7953.  Our staff at the Reference, Children’s, and Teen Departments are happy to answer questions about Overdrive or to help you use this handy resource.  Give it a try!

bloody-jack

Ahoy, mateys!  Although International Talk Like A Pirate Day was officially observed on September 19, it’s never too late to celebrate life on the high seas.  (No kidding, it’s an actual parody holiday originated by two guys known as “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy”; see http://talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/ for details.)  I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to tell you about the title which led me to a life of piracy.  Author L.A. Meyer provides a rollicking introduction to nautical fiction for teen readers in his book Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy.

We meet Mary Faber as a child standing on the street outside her apartment watching the bodies of her parents and sister, who had died in an epidemic, being carted away for disposal.  From That Dark Day (as Mary calls it), she is forced to survive by her wits.  She is taken in by a gang of urchins who are no strangers to Mary’s predicament; they fight to survive on the mean streets of early 19th century London, no easy task indeed.  When disaster strikes the group, Mary jumps at the chance to create her own place in the world.  She disguises herself, hiding her “true nature”, and joins the Royal Navy as a ship’s boy.  Adopting the name “Jacky”, Mary joins in the ship’s adventures of storms, hunger, backbreaking work, pirates, and liberty trips on shore.  She learns how to tie knots, climb rigging, splice line, beat to quarters, and keep accounts; more importantly, she learns how to think on her feet and to look out for herself in a rough, often hostile, environment.  Her biggest challenge is keeping up “The Deception” until she can come up with a plan and the means to survive on land.

Sounds familiar at this point—the author isn’t the first to come up with this plotline by any means.  However, it’s what he does with his plot and his characters which make the difference.  L.A. Meyer creates a vibrant, intelligent, plucky, engaging heroine in Jacky and drops her into a world set against her from the beginning.  He gives his readers a strong, compelling female character that is realistically portrayed—a feature of teen fiction which is growing but still not as prevalent as you might think.  Jacky shows her flaws and is forced to face them.  Meyer depicts his other characters as engagingly as he does Jacky.  He puts them in settings and situations vivid enough to seem as if you are right there.  More importantly, Meyer addresses some important, heavy duty topics within the historical context.  Meyer acknowledges his young characters’ journey through puberty in a respectful, concrete manner.  He shows all sides of living under harsh conditions in close quarters.  He also recognizes the ugly parts of history with accurate portrayals of class, economic, and racial differences.  Meyer has certainly done his historical research, and he pairs it with a sensitivity to the lives of and issues faced by his teen readers.

Bloody Jack is the first in a series of 12 books featuring the title character.  Each book holds as many madcap, death-defying adventures as the first, and each title builds on the tales told in its predecessor.  Meyer takes Jacky & Co. from one end of the Napoleonic-era world to the other.  By the end of the series, the plucky (or foolhardy, depending upon your point of view) heroine has danced the flamenco in Spain, been a privateer, run for her life from the British Navy, studied at a high-society finishing school, served in the French infantry, started a Boston fire brigade, attended the fiercest pirate in the South China Sea, and found herself in the hangman’s noose more than once.  The final book, Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life and Times of Jacky Faber, was published in 2014, a few months after the author’s death.

Jacky Faber’s adventures spurred me to explore new avenues of reading.  I had not read much about life on the high seas—no Treasure Island as a child—but Meyer’s lively descriptions and action scenes piqued my interest.  As a result, I’ve enjoyed nautical fiction (the Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower series) as well as several histories of the Napoleonic era.  Sometimes, the story itself is half the fun of reading; there’s an excitement in falling down rabbit holes of discovery.

Book groups are a great way to fall down those rabbit holes, too.  The library’s Teen Book Club meets monthly, is open to 6th-12th graders, and is free—no registration necessary.  Participants read a book (or audiobook or graphic novel) of their choice relating to the monthly theme then come together to chat about their selections.  Our next meeting is Thursday, October 13, from 6:00-7:00 pm in the library’s Small Meeting Room; bring a brown bag dinner, and we’ll provide the dessert.  The theme of Teen Read Week, which we will be celebrating, is “Read for the fun of it.”  Come and tell us about a book you enjoyed reading—can’t wait to hear about it!  For more information about the Teen Book Club or other teen programs at the library, contact the Teen Department at (417) 623-7953 or teen@joplinpubliclibrary.org  See you soon!

 

dad-is-fat     When it comes to audiobooks, the reader makes all the difference. This maxim became crystal clear to me driving past the cornfields of downstate Illinois one hot, summer weekend. I had looked forward to listening to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (in part because I, too, traveled with an evil genius Standard Poodle) only to find myself beaten about the head and shoulders by the narrator’s flat, rock-hard voice. After an hour of aural assault, I had to stop the madness. It took a while to recover from that trip in more ways than one.

Fortunately, Jim Gaffigan came along with an antidote. Known for his self-deprecating, clean humor, comedian Gaffigan is, to put it mildly, a hoot. He is a Midwestern transplant to New York who riffs on everything from convenience food to domestic life to tourists to the Big Apple itself. You may recognize his “Hot Pockets” routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-i9GXbptog. (Mimic his “Hot Pockets” call in a full elevator or while standing in line and see what happens. Good times.) Wondering if his standup translated well to publication, I decided to try his book Dad Is Fat. I got lucky when the only available version was the audiobook.

     Dad Is Fat collects chapter after chapter of stories describing Gaffigan’s life in New York sharing space with his wife, Jeannie, and five children in a small, two-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup apartment. Amounting to mini-standup routines, each chapter offers a glimpse into the Gaffigan household while reminding the rest of us of the universal truths of family life such as “there is no difference between a four-year-old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”. Consider toddler safety, for example, “Once your baby starts to walk you’ll realize why cribs are designed like prisons from the early 1900s. This is clearly because toddlers are a danger to themselves…They have two goals: find poison and find something to destroy.”  Gaffigan’s observations are spot on—pointed, drawing a clear image, sometimes with a zinger thrown in—yet they do not spill over into meanness. That is one of the primary reasons I enjoyed Dad Is Fat. Gaffigan does not have to use rancor or to work “blue” to hold his audience; his storytelling ability, wit, and intelligence are more than up to the task.

As a librarian, I got a kick out of his analysis of children’s books, particularly this chestnut, “I’m not sure if Wheels on the Bus started as a book, as a song, or as a torture technique, but it sounds like it was a pretty annoying bus ride.” He also notes the Law of Unintended Consequences as it applies to Harold and the Purple Crayon, “Great book, but where do I send Crockett Johnson the bill for cleaning my walls?” The audiobook version of these book reviews mirrors Gaffigan’s standup delivery. I could picture him onstage with a mic dropping the punch lines found in every paragraph.  His tone and pacing sound on this recording—as in his comedy routines—sound as if a funny neighbor was chatting with me in the driveway. That’s the charm of Jim Gaffigan; he could be your funny neighbor or your friend or the guy from the drop off line at your child’s school. He’s an absolute riot who could be any one of us (and is).

I have a friend who likes to listen to audiobooks narrated by the author; she believes nothing compares to hearing the author’s interpretation of her or his work.  I agree to an extent.  Some authors are not born performers, and their work would be better served by a voice actor say, someone like Jim Dale of Harry Potter audiobook fame. However, this is not the case with Dad Is Fat. If anything, Jim Gaffigan’s reading was so lively it made me wish the book was available in video. Audiobooks are not always my format of choice—print is still my first love—and I’m glad to be pleasantly surprised this time out. Out of curiosity, I read the print version of Dad Is Fat after listening to it. It’s just as funny and has bonus photos illustrating several of the stories. The picture of Gaffigan reading to his children is absolutely charming.

If you’re looking for a fast, funny read (or listen) then look no further. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan is available from the Joplin Public Library in print format; it is also available in e-book and electronic audiobook formats from the library’s Missouri Libraries to Go service, molib2go.org.

Bond by Design: the Art of the James Bond Films by Meg Simmonds

Field Guide to Tools: How to Identify and Use Virtually Every Tool at the Hardware Store by John Kelsey

A History of Baseball in 100 Objects: a Tour through the Bats, Balls, Uniforms, Awards, Documents, and Other Artifacts that Tell the Story of the National Pastime by Josh Leventhal

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe

Happy Easter! I found all kinds of goodies in my Easter basket this morning. In addition to marshmallow poultry (future combatants in a microwave cage match), I found a sampler of new non-fiction titles. These books are visual treats—each one intertwines text and images so that they are equally important. Like picture books for children, the story (here, the informative text) is incomplete without the illustrations; every image holds details which open up the text. Likewise, the pictures rely on words to flesh out the scene. These books are not quite graphic novels where images play the starring role; it’s more a case of images and words working in partnership. I often hear non-fiction dismissed as boring or dry or dull. If that’s been your experience, try one of these titles. You may find this new approach to non-fiction refreshing.

Bond by Design: the Art of the James Bond Films by Meg Simmonds

What does the idea of a Bond film look like? Open this coffee table book, and you’ll see work from the pens, pencils, and computers of production designers from Dr. No to SPECTRE. Author Meg Simmonds has gathered many illustrations (and a few words) from Bond production designers Sir Ken Adam, Syd Cain, Peter Murton, Peter Lamont, Allan Cameron, and Dennis Gassner. While the formal text is kept scant to make room for the lavish images (including numerous two-page spreads), detailed, informative captions more than make up for it. The images are meant to be the stars of the book, and they certainly are! You will find production concept drawings, set layouts, storyboards, props illustrations with notes, gadget schematics, costume illustrations, studies for coats of arms, plus plans for steeplechase jumps. Two of my favorite images are the Skyfall digital schematic tracing the attack on Skyfall Lodge and detailed pencil sketches of fake gold ingots created for Goldfinger. Bond by Design is an accessible introduction to production design and art direction for films as well as a must for fans of the franchise. Portions of the book—just like the films illustrated—are for grownups.

Field Guide to Tools: How to Identify and Use Virtually Every Tool at the Hardware Store by John Kelsey

Recognizing my lack of DIY experience, I picked up this title hoping it would help me approach some projects at home. This pocket-sized reference packs a lot of information in a small space. At 300 pages, it will add a little weight to a pocket or a purse, but it is a fabulous introduction to a wide variety of power and hand tools. The entries are organized into chapters by the type of tool or the type of work it performs: “Shop Safety”, “Fasteners”, “Garden and Yard”, “Electrical and Electronic”, “Carpentry and Building”, etc. Each entry begins with the tool’s name, followed by either a line drawing or color photograph, a general description of it, and where it is used (its “Habitat”). Tool descriptions avoid jargon, making it much easier for the novice to identify them; a cordless drill is “a fat pistol made of colored plastic with a stubby barrel and an awkward, ungainly handle”. Additional helpful categories follow such as “Primary Uses”, “Secondary Uses”, “Operating Principle”, “Safety Note”. “How to Use” details exactly that in clear, short instructions numbered step-by-step. “Variations” outlines different types of the tool or, where applicable, descriptions of “old school” versions. My favorite heading is “Tool-Kit Minimum” which tells exactly how much is a useful amount to have on hand. The author, a former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, knows his material and clearly lays it out for the reader. This is a great home reference, particularly for newbies or those who think they aren’t but could use a little help anyway.

A History of Baseball in 100 Objects: a Tour through the Bats, Balls, Uniforms, Awards, Documents, and Other Artifacts that Tell the Story of the National Pastime by Josh Leventhal

 With Opening Day a week away and both the Cards and the Royals starting at home, I couldn’t wait to peek inside this book. Author Josh Leventhal attempts to find the origins of baseball then brings his history of the game up to include the 2013 World Baseball Classic Championship. At first glance, his choice of objects surprised me—a 14th century Flemish calendar, a 1910 Underwood typewriter, 1970s player Tommy John’s elbow—and concerned me. Would his definition of baseball’s history be a convoluted stretch? How many uniforms, bats, and balls could he include before things grew repetitious? Leventhal addresses these questions in his introduction to the book; take time to read this quick section as it clarifies his approach to the topic and adds to the reader’s experience. The hidden treasure of the book lies in Leventhal’s treatment and explanation of the objects. Tommy John’s elbow may have charms of its own (I’m sure the former L.A. Dodgers pitcher appreciates it); Leventhal introduces the joint to highlight the advent of a career-extending surgical technique (ulnar collateral ligament reconstructive surgery) used today, benefitting the likes of pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Each object is a springboard into a larger examination of a topic of historical significance to the game; for example, the Underwood typewriter traces the path of early-to-mid 20th century sports writing. Reading this book from beginning to end will likely appeal to hardcore baseball fans wanting to fill the long stretches of March Madness airtime. The real fun lies in reading smaller chunks—pick an object and see where it leads!

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe

Ever wonder exactly how a microwave works? Ever try to explain it to someone else? Randall Munroe set out to understand complicated objects and processes in the world around him and explain them to the rest of us using simple words and pictures. I promise this is more interesting than it sounds! Munroe specifically used only the 1000 most common words in English to explain microwaves (food-heating radio boxes), helicopters (sky boats with turning wings), the electromagnetic spectrum (colors of light), and the Large Hadron Collider (big tiny thing hitter), among other things. This results in simple explanations in short words which are easily understood. The text offers a brief overview at each entry’s beginning then becomes incorporated with the illustrations in labels, explanations, captions across the remainder of the page. Simple line drawings show objects in cutaway and demonstrate processes from beginning to end. Text and illustrations are printed in blue tones thus keeping a clean, orderly look throughout. The font is small to allow lots of information on the page. The page itself is taller, comparable to an art book. Even on the most tightly packed pages—dishwasher (box that cleans food holders), padlock (shape checker)—there is plenty of white space between captions and drawings to maintain an uncluttered look. Thing Explaineroffers a unique twist to visual dictionaries. Its minimalist, monochromatic look forces the reader to focus on the entry at hand without sacrificing visual appeal. This book has a lot to offer all but the very youngest of readers. Budding engineers and the curious will love it. Come down to the library and take a look—you’ll see what I mean.