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A Few Good Books: April 2016

by Emily M | Apr 18, 2016
Looking for a book recommendation? Look no further!  Here’s a few good books I’ve enjoyed recently:

Last Child in the WoodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

The reasons behind why we choose to read the books we do are manifold: to be entertained, to escape reality, to challenge ourselves, to learn something new.  Sometimes, we choose a book not to be challenged or learn something new, but to validate what we already believe.  “I’m not the only one who thinks such-and-such!” we say.  “It’s right here in black and white, so it must be true!”  Now, obviously not everything in every book is true.  Walk into any public library and you’ll find books with opposing claims on any given topic, both claiming to be correct.  The wise reader uses careful discernment and, as a librarian, I know how important this is.  Nevertheless, sometimes I choose a book simply because I want validation for what I already believe, and I admit that was the case with Last Child in the Woods.

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv makes the claim that today’s American children do not spend enough time playing outside in nature.  Louv explores why playing in nature is important (for physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual reasons), why children today no longer play outside as much as previous generations, and what we can do within our own families, in our communities, and as a society to increase the amount of time children spend in nature.  Although Louv relies heavily on anecdotal evidence, he also includes a significant amount of scientific research to back his claims.  As the parent of two young children, making sure my children spend an adequate amount of time playing in nature is one of my goals, and Last Child in the Woods encouraged me in something that often feels counter-cultural. 

I do have two criticisms about Last Child in the Woods that I feel the need to share.  First, I dislike the author’s use of the term “nature-deficit disorder.”  Obviously, he is playing off of attention-deficit disorder, but attention-deficit disorder is a recognized medical condition, while nature-deficit disorder is definitely not.  In the text, Louv acknowledges that nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition, but the use of the term in the title seems like an unnecessary scare tactic to me, that could reflect on his integrity.  Second, at some points I felt Louv told too many stories and went into too much detail.  I feel this book could have been more tightly edited and a 25% reduction in word count would have created a book with more bang for its buck, and would have been less likely to turn off readers who approached the book with only a lukewarm interest.  Despite these concerns, I would highly recommend this book for parents and anyone who works with children (teachers, scout leaders, coaches, babysitters, etc.).

SymphonyfortheCityoftheDeadSymphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

The Siege of Leningrad was an 872 day siege of the city of Leningrad in the Soviet Union (now St. Petersburg, Russia) by German forces during World War II.  It was one of the longest and deadliest sieges in history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1.5 million people.  At the time of the siege, Dmitri Shostakovich was one of Russia’s most famous composers, and he and his family were residing in Leningrad.  Although Shostakovich and his family were safely evacuated from the city soon after the siege began, Symphony for the City of the Dead explores the ways in which the siege and Shostakovich impacted each other. 

Shostakovich wrote his seventh symphony while his country was being invaded, then while his hometown was under siege, and finally as a hastily evacuated refugee.  (Shostakovich actually lost his partially completed score during the chaos of the evacuation.  It was found four days later in a puddle on the bathroom floor of the train on which Shostakovich was evacuating.)  Once completed, Shostakovich’s seventh symphony, dedicated to the city of Leningrad, was performed in Leningrad, across the Soviet Union, and around the world.  Although it’s impossible to know with certainty what Shostakovich really meant for the music to “say” or represent, many claimed that it was about the German invasion of Russia and the symphony quickly became an anthem of sorts amongst the allied nations against Nazi totalitarianism.  Claims have been made that Shostakovich’s seventh symphony played a major role in the war effort, from lifting the morale of soldiers to convincing allied nations to send aid to the Soviet Union.  In Symphony for the City of the Dead, Anderson presents the facts, while also exploring the likelihood of the myths surrounding Shostakovich’s seventh symphony.  This is a great book for music lovers and history buffs alike.  


BeatrixPottersGardeningLifeBeatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was an English author and illustrator of children’s books, including her classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  McDowell’s biography of Potter is unique; it focuses most closely not on her writing career, but on her greatest love – gardening.  At age 40, Potter used the profits from her books to purchase a cottage on 34 acres.  This was the beginning of her life as a gentlewoman farmer, and for the rest of her life, her writing would provide the financial means to continually expand her acres of gardens, pastures, and orchards. 

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is divided into three sections.  The first section is a traditional biography, chronicling her life from birth to death, while paying close attention to the influences of gardens and gardening on her life, including her career.  The second section explores a year in Potter’s gardens, describing the plants she chose for her gardens, and the seasonal rhythms of work they required.  The final section describes a visit to Potter’s gardens today (She left most of her property to the National Trust and much of it can be viewed by tourists.) and gives tips on how to make the most of one’s trip there.  All of this is interesting in its own right, but what makes this book shine are the photographs and illustrations.  Nearly every page features photographs of Potter’s gardens (past and present) and watercolors done by Potter herself, with all of the charm and whimsy one would expect of her work, making this book a visual treat.       


EmilyLong before becoming a librarian, Emily was an avid library patron. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and classic children’s literature. Her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.


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