Sometimes in life you find treasures where (or when) you least expect them — in a sock drawer, a box in the attic, a coat pocket (hello, $20 bill). I love those moments of serendipity, those little happy accidents that bring a surprise and brighten my day. On my way to this week’s book review, I happened upon some delightful gems tucked away on the library shelves, and I’m excited to share them with you.
I found this treat in the Children’s Department. “OH, NO! WHERE ARE MY PANTS? AND OTHER DISASTERS: POEMS” is a picture book of 14 poems just right for “one of those days.” In a year overflowing with those days, this book nails it. Editor Lee Bennett Hopkins gathers from a variety of poets verses designed to validate children’s feelings in situations that make a day one of those. Ranging across regret (cutting off your braids on dare), fear (being stuck alone at the top of the Ferris wheel), loneliness (watching your friend move away), stage fright (freezing up during your big debut), panic (being separated on the first day of school), embarrassment (giving the wrong answer during class), and more, the poems — some poignant, some humorous — allow readers to recognize and understand that life is a mix of the good and the not-so-much. Illustrator Wolf Erlbruch balances the potentially overwhelming feelings with warmth and humor. I chuckled and groaned at Kate McAllaster Weaver’s poem about disgust, “Oh, No!”: “Hello apple! / Shiny red. / CHOMP. CHOMP. / Hello worm. / Where’s your head?” The look Erlbruch drew on the boy’s face is priceless. Give this book to early elementary students and their grown-ups to read and discuss together.
I never thought I’d use the words “beauty” and “delight” to describe a book of insects, yet here I am applying them to the “SMITHSONIAN HANDBOOK OF INTERESTING INSECTS” by Gavin R. Broad, Blanca Huertas, Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs and Dmitry Telnov. Finding it was truly a happy accident. In my experience, insect books are for identifying recently-dispatched intruders. This is not a dry, clinical field guide to household pests; instead, it’s a gorgeous photography book. Thick yet compact in size, it is an easily portable and robust collection of striking beetles, flies, ants, moths, bees, wasps and butterflies. Each entry is a two-page, minimalist spread of a full-color photo on a white background accompanied by the specimen’s common name, scientific name, size, distribution (current range), and a paragraph of basic information or an interesting fact. Don’t look to this title for comprehensive coverage of the insect world; it is exactly what it advertises — a book of interesting insects, many of them not found in the American Midwest. Enjoy the photography that places their quirky natural beauty front and center. The specimens are truly a wonder. The purple shine of the darkling beetle’s shell is deep and radiant like a Siberian amethyst, and the orchid cuckoo bee’s blue-green iridescence is almost 3D in the way it pops from the page. The hairy patterns on the thistledown velvet ant surprisingly resemble a Halloween costume. This book is an eye-opening look at select insects (no murder hornets here, thankfully) and is guaranteed to spark the interest of nature lovers elementary age to adult.
And now for something completely different. From the 1940s until the late 1980s, the New York Public Library kept a file of intriguing reference questions written or typed on index cards. “PECULIAR QUESTIONS AND PRACTICAL ANSWERS: A LITTLE BOOK OF WHIMSY AND WISDOM FROM THE FILES OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY” brings highlights from those files to a Google-centric world. Compiled by a committee of New York Public Library staff and illustrated by Barry Blitt, this pocket/purse-sized title offers chuckles and makes you say, “Hmmm.” Some entries are dated, very much of their time, and some remain relevant today. Each entry consists of an original question from the files and its year asked followed by an answer as if it were being asked currently. Muted watercolor illustrations in a palette of blues, greens, browns, and reds are sprinkled throughout. One of my favorite questions was asked in 1983, “Is there a list of buildings that were designed and built in the shape of fruits and vegetables?” Across the page, King Kong sits atop a giant carrot swatting at airplanes. Someone in 1944 desperately needed to know, “Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?” Spoiler alert: be sure to keep a tight lid on the tank because they’re escape artists. If you’re an adult looking for a book that’s short and light and fun, try this one.
You never know what treasures you’ll find at the Joplin Public Library. Stop by its location at 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue, or call 417-623-7953 to find out more. See you soon.
Beth Snow is the teen services librarian for the Joplin Public Library.