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Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France.

Rockliff, Mara (author). Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.
Feb. 2015. 48p. Candlewick, hardcover, $17.99 (9780763663513). Grades 1-3. 973.3.
REVIEW. First published December 1, 2014 (Booklist).

On brilliantly illustrated pages full of rococo details and beautifully calligraphed text, Rockliff tells the story of how Benjamin Franklin debunked Dr. Mesmer’s magical cure-all. As scientific innovation swept France in the eighteenth century, Mesmer decided to bring his own discovery to the mix—animal magnetism, an invisible force responsible for remarkable, seemingly spontaneous healing. Dubious of the true benefits of being mesmerized, King Louis XVI called on the most popular man of science, Ben Franklin, to help investigate. With a heavy emphasis on his use of the scientific method, Rockliff shows how Franklin’s experiment—blindfolding subjects so that they don’t know they’re being mesmerized—led to the discovery of the placebo effect, a vital component of medical testing to this day. Her dramatic text is perfectly complemented by Bruno’s lush, full-color illustrations, stuffed with period detail and sweeping ribbons and curlicues. Each page is teeming with personality, from the font choice to the layout to the expressive figures to the decorative details surrounding a name—on one spread, Franklin is in a tidy serif, while Mesmer is nearly choked by flourishes. Together, Rockliff and Bruno make the scientific method seem exciting, and kids interested in science and history will likely be, well, mesmerized.

— Sarah Hunter

School Library Journal

Ferguson Library Provides Calm Refuge for a Torn Community
On November 24 a grand jury in Ferguson, MO, delivered its verdict on the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a Ferguson police officer. The St. Louis County grand jury chose not to bring criminal charges against the officer, Darren Wilson; the decision, which was announced just after 8 p.m. CST, set off a night of protests and civil unrest, the most violent including arson, shattered windows, injuries, and, as of press time, a possible murder.

Sir David Attenborough investigates “Fabulous Frogs”| DVD Pick

Fabulous Frogs. (Nature). 60 min. Dist. by PBS. 2014. DVD $19.99. Blu-ray $24.99. ISBN 9781627890731. Gr 4 Up–Presenter Sir David Attenborough states, “There’s more to frogs than you might suppose,” and this film has the quality sound and visuals viewers expect from this series, in addition to Attenborough’s charming, conversational approach. He clearly loves these creatures. An abundance of interesting facts concerning the 5,000 species of frogs and toads that share our planet will captivate viewers, along with explanations and discussions [...]

Bilingual and Spanish-language titles that celebrate family ties | Libro por libro
Give thanks and celebrate family this season with these warm tales in Spanish and English.

Library Journal

Kent Haruf, Erika Johansen, Stephen King, Milan Kundera, S.J. Watson | Barbara’s Fiction Picks, Jun. 2015, Pt. 1
Haruf, Kent. Our Souls at Night. Knopf. Jun. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9781101875896. $23.95. LITERARY/FAMILY LIFE Haruf lays claim to impressive awards (e.g., Whiting Writers’ Award, the Wallace Stegner Award) and nominations (the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and his Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction have sold 1.4 million copies combined. But the […]

Brands on Reagan, Laqueur on Putin, plus Kozol, Schickel, & Vargas Llosa | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Jun. 2015, Pt. 1
Brands, H.W. Reagan: The Life. Doubleday. Jun. 2015. 816p. ISBN 9780385536394. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385536400. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY A New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist for The First American and Traitor to His Class, Brands is both a serious academic (he holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at […]

Greek Crisis, Baby vs. CEO, & a Surprising Double Agent | Nonfiction Previews, Jun. 2015, Pt. 1
Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins. Crown. Jun. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780385346481. $27. POLITICAL SCIENCE/WORLD A freelance journalist and former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal with expertise on the European debt crisis, Angelos has been covering Greece for a decade and finally moved there in 2013. He’s well primed, […]

Kirkus Reviews

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In her valuable new biography, Shapira (Emerita, Humanities/Tel Aviv Univ.; Israel: A History, 2012) provides a concise appraisal of a founding father of the nation that was once only the dream of generations.

More than anyone, it was David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) who forged the state of Israel into a homeland and an independent democracy in an inhospitable Middle East. However, Israel’s first prime minister and first minister of defense wasn’t an easy man to deal with. Born in Poland, he arrived in Palestine at age 20 imbued with Zionistic zeal and ready to assume an agricultural life, but the study of law seemed more suited to his vision of a Jewish homeland. So, supported by his father and without knowledge of Arabic or Turkish, he went to Istanbul to learn Ottoman law. He also traveled to London and New York. Returning to Palestine, he became leader of Mapai, the workers’ party, and spokesman for the Yishuv, the community of Jews during the British Mandate. Shapira reports the workings of his convoluted dealings with the formidable leaders of the nascent state during the Yishuv—these convoluted goings-on may confound readers not well-versed in the subject. After World War II and the Shoah, Ben-Gurion managed the influx of survivors fighting against British forces for admission to the Holy Land. When the U.N. voted for partition, Ben-Gurion was quick to announce the declaration of statehood and the birth of the new nation. Father of Israel’s Defense Forces, he knew there would be a war for survival with every surrounding Arab nation. In the end, he achieved his abiding goals: a return to the land, a social framework and Hebrew as the language of Israel. The old lion’s powers eventually faded. He lived out his life, among his books, in a kibbutz in the Negev desert.

A brief but full-color biography of an essential leader.

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In this engrossing mashup of chick lit, mystery and romance, Hurley (The Prodigal, 2013, etc.) conjures up experiences that provoke three beautiful young women marred by failure and disappointment to question traditional values (church and family).

Once on Martha’s Vineyard, mystical, life-altering events (as well as sexual encounters) come to the three friends in rapid succession. Sweet, 32-year old, suicidal Charlotte Harris arrives via ferry, and she carries an urn with her daughter’s ashes. She’s ostensibly there to indulge in a reunion with her old college pals, the glamorous sexpot Turner Graham and the single, athletic and free-spirited Dory Delano (who welcomes both as guests in her elegant Edgartown home). Dory immediately asks Charlotte (who is ready to slip off and kill herself) to find Enoch, a soft-spoken man known as “the fisherman.” When she accidentally hands him her suicide note instead of Dory’s shopping list, he reads it. His advice? Swim off Gay Head where currents are strongest. While readers may suspect Charlotte’s efforts to drown herself will fail, her implausible, nearly miraculous rescue, not to mention Dory’s own subsequent experience with the miraculous, and Enoch’s unselfish, peaceful behavior create a riptide of curiosity. While not philosophically deep, the novel is addictive, escapist reading that features stock figures such as Dory’s beau, Trafalgar “Tripp” Wallace the Third, who squanders his family’s old money, and Father Tommy Vecchio, who gives priests a bad name. Some facile generalizations about Roman Catholicism weaken the story, but clever biblical parallels and metaphors that run underneath the surface add intrigue. The skippable final chapters offer a secular explanation of Enoch, which seems unnecessary to all but the most literal-minded readers. Readers may want to stop reading after the deliriously satisfying conclusion and just enjoy a peek into the lives of the filthy rich.

A real sense of place makes this recommended read almost as much fun as the Vineyard in July.

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A gardening competition leads to sounds of snipping in the backyard.

Blistering and broiling in a steam room someone forgot to properly calibrate, Jasper Burdick, owner of suburban Livia’s most prestigious garden center, dreams of a landscape bursting with enormous flowers of every ilk—all purchased at Burdick’s Plant World, of course—but each bloom has a human face. Burdick’s Best Yard Contest is born. Rumors of the competition and its prize money spread throughout Livia, a town riddled with more than its fair share of plant lovers. Draper carefully arranges his cast of loopy characters, turning the town of Livia into a living garden. Dr. Phyllis Sproot plays the villain. After completing a mail-order course from the Honey Larson-Bayles School of Agronomy, the previously merely pushy Sproot blooms into a domineering, manipulative know-it-all. Utterly cowed by Sproot’s expertise, Marta Poppendauber worries that her own gardens will fall short. Once Sproot hears about the contest, though, she abandons her vicious pruning of Marta’s gardens in favor of espionage. She sends Marta (in various ridiculous disguises) to snoop among the competitors’ plants, quickly discovering that the Fremonts are her natural enemies. Oblivious to Sproot’s villainous machinations, George and Nan Fremont have created a marvelous garden in their backyard, nearly bankrupting themselves in the process. Sproot is stunned to discover the Fremonts have defied all horticultural sanity by planting beautiful but hallucinogenic angel’s trumpets. Debut novelist Draper lavishly describes the gardens of Livia, lingering on begonias and lilacs, clematis and monarda, not to mention Sproot’s original blend of yuccas and a coreopsis-salvia-hollyhock blend. With so much detail, it’s sometimes hard to see the gardens for the plants, but the silly shenanigans keep the pace speedy.

A light tale of suburban warfare waged by the gardening elite.

<November 2014>