Getting Ready For School? We’re Ready to Help! (Part 1)

First and foremost, our apologies for the deafening silence on this blog in the past few days.  We were getting over a bit of summer sickness, and appreciate your patience with us a great deal.

We’re back, and, no doubt like many of you, getting ready for the all the back-to-school fun.  There’s no joy quite like a new box of crayons for the first day of school–but there’s also a lot of stress and anxiety around heading back to school, too.  That’s true no matter how old you are, how long you have been a student, or where you go to class.

The good news is that, as with nearly all things, the Library is here to help!

We’ve already mentioned the Library’s subscription to, which provides on-demand, one-to-one tutoring in an online classroom for students in kindergarten through college in over 60 academic subjects and test preparation areas, including the ACT and SAT.  It’s a phenomenal resource that can help students in any grade.  Today, we’re eager to feature a class that might very well prove helpful to those who may be writing research papers in the coming school year, and would like to learn more about the process and the resources available to you as Library patrons.  Here’s the course description:

Intro to Research and Writing

Writing a research paper can feel feel scary and overwhelming, but having the right tools and skills at your disposal can help make the process clear, and aid you in making the grade with confidence.  

This 2-week class is for students of all ages who are looking to acquire or enhance their research and academic writing skills for any class or academic program.

We will begin by looking at the physical and digital resources available through the library to help you assemble the facts, data, and sources necessary to write a strong paper.  We will then discuss how to construct a research paper, including building a strong thesis statement, crafting a persuasive argument, and citing your sources correctly. We will also brainstorm some effective writing strategies and support methods for students to help make the research and writing process as easy and low-stress as possible.

This course will be held at the Main Library on Monday, September 17 & 24, from 6:00 – 7:30pm.  As mentioned in the description, students of all ages and from any academic discipline are welcome–as are patrons looking to brush up on the research and writing skills.  Registration is now open on our website, or you can call us are (978) 531-0100 to register by phone.

We hope this class, and the other resources that we’ll be featuring in the coming weeks will prove useful to those of you heading back to school, supporting a student, or looking to learn more for yourself alone.  Please let us know what else we can do to make your academic life more easy, too!

Living (Not) Fossils: Part III

Greetings again, good readers! It’s time for the next entry in my ever-lengthening series on creatures that have been described as “living fossils”, despite that this term isn’t terribly accurate literally, figuratively and in implication. Initially I was going to post about reptiles, amphibians and some fish today, but I instead decided to veer off towards mammals. Do not worry, these beasties’ time will come.

It’s not a mouse, it’s not a deer, it’s a chevrotain (or popularly, a mouse-deer), a primitive ruminant! Photo credit:

Despite mammals’ overwhelming popularity in terms of the Charismatic Fauna Olympics, they’re not as well-represented in the various lists of living fossils that are floating around, perhaps because they are by and large an evolutionarily “younger” group than say, fish or reptiles, or perhaps because the average person isn’t trained to necessarily identify what features in mammals are basal re: mammal evolution. Need an accessible primer on mammal evolution? National Geographic will help us today.

Alternatively, some of these animals are so obscure in the popular imagination (or are simply rare) as to make finding reliable information on them difficult. For example, consider the shrew-like venomous solenodon:

A Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) Photo Credit: Jose Nunez-Mino.

I very much want to bring you accurate, hard-hitting information on this odd little fellow, but it’s hard to find much beyond people waxing on its living fossilness,repeated declarations of extinction and rediscovery of living examples on both Hispaniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, the fact that it’s a venomous mammal that injects its venom through grooved teeth (like a snake), how rarely it is sighted, it’s awkward gait, and how endangered it is.

The case is the similar for many of these creatures, but I’ll do my best to inform in an entertaining fashion. In addition to the solenodon and the hastily-mentioned chevrotain, did you know that the star of the beginning of the alphabet, the insectivorous aardvark, is the last living species of its order (Tubulidentata)?

An aardvark at night. Eats ants but isn’t an anteater. Photo credit: J. Dennis.

Despite some similarity in their appearance and even their popular names at times, aardvarks (meaning “earth pig” in Afrikaans), while they do eat ants, they are not anteaters, nor are they closely related to anteaters, which are native to South America (aardvarks are native to Africa).

A majestic giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. Is not an aardvark nor really related to them. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Malene Thyssen.

In terms of relatives, aardvarks are more closely related to elephant shrews (which are not true shrews, naturally) and their kin. They belong to a fascinating clade called Afrotheria, which includes (among others) elephants, manatees and dugongs (the sirenians), tenrecs and another creature that I’ll address shortly, the rock hyrax.

Like echidnas, aardvarks suffer (?) from having a  character be much more popular (and much more available in terms of works produced about them) than the actual creature. In this case, it’s Arthur the Aardvark from the Arthur series of books and PBS animation series, brainchild of Marc Tolon Brown. Still, it’s decent publicity, and by virtue of Arthur, aardvarks could be considered to have had some hand in the developing literacy of millions of children.

Arthur Timothy Read, the 8-year-old star of numerous children’s books by Marc Brown and a PBS television series. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Next, we come to the hyraxes, the only living member of the order Hyracoidea. Despite their small size and their superficial resemblance to rodents, they are not rodents – hyraxes are just hyraxes, with their closest living kin being elephants, manatees and dugongs. Like the aardvark, the hyraxes also belong to clade Afrotheria and are the remaining members of a much more populous group.

A family of rock hyraxes, creatures of little power. Photo credit: The San Diego Zoo.

Despite not being so famous in popular culture, hyraxes (also known as “dassies”) do have a bit of cachet in certain circles from being mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament of the Bible. Perhaps most famously, they are referred to in Proverbs 30:26:

…hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags…

There are several other mentions of hyraxes in the Bible as well, mostly in reference to dietary laws. If you look up the above verse from Proverbs using a web tool that displays multiple translations, you soon find that hyraxes are also referred to as “rock badgers”, “conies”, “rabbits”, or as non-rock “badgers” in the Bible. Additionally, some of the verses regarding the dietary cleanliness of hyraxes as a food source indicate that they chew the cud (and do not have split hooves), which they do not in fact do, as they are not ruminants.

The toothy grin of a rock hyrax.

This is a translation error – early translators of the Bible into English were not knowledgeable about Middle Eastern fauna and thus shoehorned the Hebrew terms for this animal or animals like it into animals that they were familiar with. If you have any interest in Biblical translation history and challenges, you will know this is not the first time this has happened.

As for cud chewing, it has been suggested that perhaps the writers were describing the hyrax in the act of chewing (which it does do, it is not a snake) and mistook its mastication for the act of cud-chewing.

Cave painting of an aurochs at Lascaux, which certainly chewed the cud. Photo credit: History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

In the modern time, hyraxes still live in the lands where the action of the Bible takes, and in fact are contributing to climate research by virtue of their habits of urinating in the same place every day (a site called a “midden”). In some locations, local hyrax colonies have been doing this for tens of thousands of years, creating a record of climatological data that can be derived from the contents of their urine.

According to this news piece from 2011, these adorable rock-dwellers have also been nuisances to their urban human neighbors in some locations. Can humans and hyraxes live together in harmony? STAY TUNED.

The Amami rabbit, also known as the Ryukyuan rabbit. Photo credit:

While there are other creatures to discuss (in particular, the Amami rabbit and the Laotian rock rat, both of which are visually distinct among their relatives), I’ll devote this last section to a mammal that is charismatic even among other charismatic mammals: the red panda (Ailurus fulgens).

A red panda, also called the “lesser panda”. Photo credit: DLILLC/Corbis,

Despite sharing a name with much-larger giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), red pandas are not bears, foxes, cats, raccoons, otters, dogs, or anything else that they may share visual traits with (pointed ears, ringed tail, etc).

Like a number of other creatures I’ve discussed, they existed in an ever-changing state of taxonomic limbo for quite a while; at one point, this limbo involved theorizing that they were related to the giant panda and other bears. Currently the red panda (and its extinct brethren) is the sole living member of family Ailuridae, which is itself part of the superfamily Musteloidea; members of this superfamily are called “musteloids”. Other members of Musteloidea include skunks, raccoons and weasels.

A fisher (Pekania pennanti), also known as a fisher cat, is not a cat, but an example of a musteloid (distantly related to the red panda) native to New England. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Troy and Rusty Lilly.

So how is a red panda like a giant panda? Well, they both live in China, though red pandas’ range stretches across the Himalayas; giant pandas are restricted to Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces (more information on giant pandas’ current and historical ranges can be found here); both have bamboo-dependent diets (though red pandas enjoy a more varied diet than giant pandas); and they both have modified wrist bones that function as a sixth finger. Unfortunately, both have spots on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, with red pandas listed as “endangered” and giant pandas listed as “vulnerable”.

The artist formerly known as the “parti-colored bear”. Photo credit: The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

So which panda was called a panda (in English) first? According to linguist Susan Harvey, it was the red panda. Giant pandas came to be called pandas (in English) because of the mistaken belief that they were related to red pandas that seems to have surfaced in the early 1900s. Prior to their association with the red panda, giant pandas were called “parti-colored bears” or “mottled bears”. The word “panda” itself in English is thought to be of Nepali extraction, via French.

Because I seem to be linking these creatures with popular culture relatively often, red pandas recently acquired their own popular character in the form of Sanrio’s (the makers of Hello Kitty) Aggretsuko the Red Panda, who had an animation series of her own released on Netflix in April 2018.

And that concludes this portion of today’s presentation! Unfortunately, my attempts to compile a reasonably-fleshed out reading list for this entry turned out a bit meager. Regardless, please take a look at the below offerings and consider them for your future reading choices:

Arthur’s Nose (An Arthur Adventure), by Marc Brown.

Since I mentioned the Arthur books, I figured I should provide a little bit of attention to the book series. Those of you who are more familiar with Arthur’s more recent incarnations will notice that our friend has gone through some character design changes since the first book was released in 1976. As of August 2018, there are 45 books in the Arthur Adventure series, along with a number of spin-off series for different reading levels (easy readers, chapter books and audio books).

Aard-vark to Axolotl: Pictures from my Grandfather’s Dictionary, by Karen Donovan

Aard-vark to Axolotl, an eclectic series of tiny essays, is a collection of prose poems disguised as imaginary definitions, and a collaboration of text + image based on a set of illustrations from an old dictionary. Sometimes sneaky mysterious, sometimes downright weird, these small stories work on the reader like alternative definitions for items drawn from a cabinet of curiosities.

If you’re interested in checking out this item, please speak to a librarian.

Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda, edited by Angela R. Glatston

Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda provides a broad-based overview of the biology of the red panda, Ailurus fulgens. A carnivore that feeds almost entirely on vegetable material and is colored chestnut red, chocolate brown and cream rather than the expected black and white. This book gathers all the information that is available on the red panda both from the field and captivity as well as from cultural aspects, and attempts to answer that most fundamental of questions, “What is a red panda?” Scientists have long focused on the red panda’s controversial taxonomy. Is it in fact an Old World procyonid, a very strange bear or simply a panda? All of these hypotheses are addressed in an attempt to classify a unique species and provide an in-depth look at the scientific and conservation-based issues urgently facing the red panda today.

Red Panda not only presents an overview of the current state of our knowledge about this intriguing species but it is also intended to bring the red panda out of obscurity and into the spotlight of public attention.

  • Wide-ranging account of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) covers all the information that is available on this species both in and ex situ
  • Discusses the status of the species in the wild, examines how human activities impact on their habitat, and develops projections to translate this in terms of overall panda numbers
  • Reports on status in the wild, looks at conservation issues and considers the future of this unique species
  • Includes contributions from long-standing red panda experts as well as those specializing in fields involving cutting-edge red panda research.

If you’re interested in checking out this item, please speak to a librarian.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

While not technically about platypuses, it mentions platypuses in the title so I’m going to count it. Everyone likes accessible philosophy texts, right?

Outrageously funny, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… has been a breakout bestseller ever since authors—and born vaudevillians—Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein did their schtick on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Lively, original, and powerfully informative, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar… is a not-so-reverent crash course through the great philosophical thinkers and traditions, from Existentialism (What do Hegel and Bette Midler have in common?) to Logic (Sherlock Holmes never deduced anything). Philosophy 101 for those who like to take the heavy stuff lightly, this is a joy to read—and finally, it all makes sense!

Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Cathcart and Klein are clearly fond of putting creatures described as “living fossils” in the titles of their books. If you enjoyed their philosophy text, why not branch out to political rhetoric via philosophy and humor?

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of the national bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, aren’t falling for any election year claptrap—and they don’t want their readers to either! In Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington, our two favorite philosopher-comedians return just in time to save us from the double-speak, flim-flam, and alternate reality of politics in America.

Deploying jokes and cartoon as well as the occasional insight from Aristotle and his peers, Cathcart and Klein explain what politicos are up to when they state: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” (Donald Rumsfeld), “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (Bill Clinton), or even, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” (Thomas Jefferson, et al).

Drawing from the pronouncements of everyone from Caesar to Condoleeza Rice, Genghis Kahn to Hillary Clinton, and Adolf Hitler to Al Sharpton. Cathcart and Klein help us learn to identify tricks such as “The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy” (non causa pro causa) and the “The Fallacy Fallacy” (argumentum and logicam). Aristotle and an Aardvark is for anyone who ever felt like the politicos and pundits were speaking Greek. At least Cathcart and Klein provide the Latin name for it (raudatio publica)!

Until next time, dear readers! As always, feel free to comment if you find any of the entries here at the Free-for-All particularly edifying, wish to share your thoughts and suggestions, or find that any information I’ve presented is incorrect. Constructive feedback is welcomed!, or Yes! You can do that with your Library Card!

It’s That Time of year, dear readers, when the back-to-school-scramble begins.  The rush to finish summer reading or assignments, find school supplies, and mentally prepare for the coming school year.  For some, it’s exciting–and rightfully so!  But it can also be a very stressful time of year–which is also completely valid.  Trying to anticipate all the coming school year might have in store isn’t easy.

Fortunately, as in so many other matters, the Library is here to help.

We’ve recently added to our collection of digital resources. provides on-demand, one-to-one tutoring in an online classroom for students in kindergarten through college in over 60 academic subjects and test preparation areas, including the ACT and SAT.  The Learning Suite also includes practice quizzes, skills drills, video lessons and The Princeton Review Essentials test preparation. Tutors are available Monday-Friday 2-10 pm and Saturday & Sunday 9 am – 10 pm.

This resource is available to Peabody residents with Peabody library cards.  For those of you lovely people who aren’t Peabody residents, please check with your home library for further information and resources.

In order to access from our website, please use the following steps (you can click on the pictures to enlarge them, too).

Go to and hover over the “eLibrary” tab.  Click on “Articles/Databases”

Scroll down through our list of databases until you see (this list is in alphabetical order):

This will open a screen that will prompt you to enter your Peabody Library Card number:

You will be brought to the homepage.  From here, you can chose a number of options, from submitting a paper for review to asking for help with a math problem, to preparing for the SAT and ACT tests.  

We hope that this resource helps make your school year a stress-free and successful one.  Please let us know how we can better help you, or if we can answer any questions you might have about!

Living (Not) Fossils: Part II

Welcome again to the land of Living (Not) Fossils, dear readers! Last week we stopped in our brief survey of things labeled “living fossils” with trees; this week I’m happy to introduce you to more mobile organisms. Let’s start with:

Tachyglossus aculeatus, the short-beaked echidna. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens,

MONOTREMES (Platypuses & Echidnas)

Everyone’s favorite mashed-together looking creatures! There is currently a single extant species of platypus and four species of echidnas (also known as “spiny anteaters”). They come by their “living fossil” status because they’re the survivors of a larger group(s) that used to include many other living members that have since become extinct.

Famously, when presented with a preserved platypus, 19th century European naturalists believed they were victims of a hoax, given the creature has the bill of duck, the tail of a beaver, the legs of an otter, lays eggs like a bird or reptile, but also nurse their young with milk (though not from teats, but specialized skin patches). They then proceeded to argue about its taxonomic placement for over 80 years.

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).
A platypus swims or maybe lounges. Photo credit: Hans and Judy Besage—Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd/age fotostock.

Speaking of platypus milk, it has certain antibacterial properties that may figure in the future development of developing antibiotic drugs that are useful against superbugs.

Platypus are one of the few venomous mammals – the males have venom-inflicting spurs on the back of their hind legs that are used for defense. Echidnas also have these non-venomous spurs on their legs, but they lose them as they mature.

DEFINITION CHECK: “Venomous” vs. “poisonous”

Hydrophis belcheri, also known as Belcher’s sea snake or the faint-banded sea snake, is extremely venomous. Photo Credit: Ocean Treasures Memorial Library,

While often used interchangeably, these words do not mean the same thing. If something is venomous, it can inflict venom on other things, generally as a defense mechanism. In contrast, poisonous things are only poisonous if you ingest them. A good example that I’ve seen given are rattlesnakes: they are venomous (if they bite you), but they are not poisonous, e.g. you will not be poisoned if you eat the non-venomous parts of a rattlesnake.

Image result for pitohui
The hooded pitohui’s flesh and feathers are poisonous, a trait it acquires due to its diet of particular frogs. Photo credit: Jack Dumbacher,

While platypuses get the most attention of the monotremes (and I’ll admit, they’re adorable), I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about echidnas a bit. Thanks to Sega and the mid-1990s, probably the most famous echidna in popular culture is Knuckles the Echidna, who originated in 1994’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles.

Sega’s Knuckles the Echidna, who aside from having hair spines, does not look/behave much like an echidna at all. Photo credit:

Before echidnas (the creature) became known to European naturalists and/or the founding of Sega, there was their namesake – the Greek half-maiden/half-snake Echidna, consort of Typhon and Mother of Monsters: offspring attributed to her include the two-headed dog Orthrus, multi-headed dog Cerberus, many-headed serpent Hydra, lion-bodied/woman-headed Sphinx, the Chimera and other creatures who figure in Greek mythology (answers depend on sources consulted).

Statue of Echidna in the Park of the Monsters at the Gardens of Bomarzo in Lazio, Italy. Monstrous though she may be, she doesn’t look much like the monotremes named after her. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Echidna is many things, but she doesn’t really look like our fine spiny friends. The Online Etymyology Dictionary posits that Europeans may have chosen the name “echidna” for it because it’s a creature of mixed attributes, similar to the mythological figure.

Let’s see echidnas (or echidnae for the Grecophilic pedants in the back) in action, slouching spikefully towards Bethlehem:


While perhaps not as visually spectacular or as weird as some of the other creatures on this list, there are a number of birds that have been categorized as “living fossils” due to assorted reasons, which I detailed in the first entry in this series. The bird that I’m profiling today may surprise you: pelicans.

Brown pelican eating a fish. Photo credit:

The official bird of my home state, (as well as being symbols of Romania, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Sint Maarten) pelicans are large waterfowl that are visually distinct due to their size and their large expandable throat (gular) pouches. This trait has occasionally been used as a device in film or children’s books. Their “living fossil” status is due to them closely resembling (especially in terms of their specialized bills) their early relatives who lived 30 million years ago in the Oligocene epoch.

Here’s what their fabulous gular pouch looks like in action:

Pelicans have historically figured into Christian and heraldry iconography as models of self-sacrifice and resurrection, due to beliefs about mother pelicans piercing their own breasts to feed their blood to the children (“the pelican in her piety”) for nourishment or alternatively, using blood from their self-inflicted wounds to resurrect their dead offspring. This can be seen in the posture of the pelican and her young on the seal of the state of Louisiana, which is also depicted on the state flag.

Being seabirds, pelicans’ diet is typically fish-heavy, but they have  been known to eat birds and other creatures at times. Also due to being seabirds, pelicans are highly vulnerable to water-specific environmental disturbances, such as oil spills.

Pelicans who became covered in oil due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Photo credit: Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune

Curious about how seabirds that have been covered in oil are rescued and rehabilitated? The Audubon Society has you covered. NOAA also provides instructions for a hands-on experiment for kids to see how cooking oil affects feathers and how the cleaning process works.

I’d also like to take this time to mention that the pelican’s closest relatives are the hamerkop and the glorious photogenic shoebill.

A shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) moving a duck at an animal park in San Diego. Photo credit: Mark Kay Solent.

BONUS LINKS: Have you ever wondered what pretty much any bird sounds like? The Internet Bird Collection is here to provide those sounds for you (may I recommend the Great Potoo?). Have you ever wanted your ringtone to sound like the vocalizations of an endangered creature? The Center for Biological Diversity’s RareEarthTones ring tone collection can make your phone sound like a loon like mine.

With that, let’s conclude today’s entry. Future entries will introduce reptiles, fish and invertebrates that have been categorized as living fossils. As always, remember that my entries are not exhaustive – there are other animals that I have not mentioned (the hoatzin! Magpie geese!). But before then I’ll leave you with some topical reading recommendations:

Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World, by Ann Moyal

This is the enigmatic story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years, challenging theories of creationism, evolution, and classification of species along the way. Secretive, elusive, and beguiling, the platypus has continued to captivate public and scientific attention to the present day.

When the first platypus specimen reached England from Australia in 1799, the scientific community claimed that it was a hoax. On closer investigation, dubious European naturalists eventually declared it to be real, though in an age obsessed with classification, the category-defying platypus sparked heated debates across Europe for a century. In Platypus, Ann Moyal provides a unique biography of one of the world’s most famously strange creatures and tells the incredible story of how it became the focus of the great scientific debates of the nineteenth century. Eloquent and concise, Platypus uncovers the earliest theories and latest discoveries about this delightfully odd member of the animal kingdom.

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma, by Peggy Rismiller

The oldest surviving mammal on the planet is also one of the most intriguing. Peggy Rismiller, the world’s foremost echidna expert, traces the history of this fascinating animal that is native to Australia and New Guinea. A combination of mammal, reptile, and marsupial, echidnas produce milk, but unlike mammals, they are egg-laying creatures and, like marsupials, they have a modified pouch for nurturing their young. This odd animal has two backward-facing appendages and two forward-facing ones. These and other bizarre biological traits are discussed in detail in this thorough guide.

Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, by Ted Floyd

Do you need a book about all the birds of North America, including our pelicans? Enjoy birding like never before. A complete guide to birds with superb color photography, up-to-date and detailed range maps, clear and concise text, and a DVD of birdsongs. 528 pages and 2.2 lbs of birdbook!

The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts, Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century, made and edited by T.H. White

NOTE: I own a copy of this and it’s one of the most entertaining re-readable things in my collection. If you’ve never experienced the wording and illustrations of medieval bestiaries and have an interest in antiquarian texts, you must check this out.
If a serpent swallows the spittle of a fasting man, it dies. Trees felled in the wrong season breed termites. If eels are drowned in wine, those who drink it get a loathing for liquor.
These and similar flights of fancy were articles of faith in the twelfth century — the era of the fascinating Latin prose bestiary translated in this volume. The translator is T. H. White, author of The Once and Future King and outstanding medievalist. Of The Book of Beasts, White writes: “No Latin prose bestiary has ever before been printed, even in Latin. This is the first and only English translation in print.”
The bestiary was a bestseller in the Middle Ages, a kind of natural history cum-zoological survey that presumed to describe the animals of the world and to point out the human traits they exemplified. Combining the surprisingly accurate with the endearingly phantasmagorical, the bestiarists came up with a bewildering array of real and exotic creatures. The behavior or attributes of the animals often functioned as a metaphor for teaching religious, moral, and political precepts.
In addition to a multitude of real mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, described here with varying degrees of zoological accuracy, the bestiarist introduces a swarm of fanciful denizens thought to haunt the Dark Ages: manticore, a creature with a man’s face, a lion’s body, and a ravenous appetite for human flesh; dragon or draco, the biggest serpent and the embodiment of the Devil; amphivia, a fish that could walk on land and swim in the sea; jaculus, a flying serpent; the familiar phoenix; the griffin; and other exotic fauna.
Much of the charm of this edition lies in the copious footnotes compiled by T. H. White. With immense erudition, wit, grace, and a singular lack of condescension, the author illuminates literary, scientific, historical, linguistic, and other aspects of the bestiarist’s catalog. He further enhances the volume with informative discussions of the history of the bestiary from its origins in remote oral traditions; through Herodotus, Pliny and Aristotle; during the medieval period and the Renaissance; and up to Sir Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors (1646). Both amusing and amazing, The Book of Beasts is not only a rich survey of the proto-zoology on which much of our later science is based, but also a revealing, illustrated examination of how pre-scientific man perceived the earth’s creatures.
Until then, dear readers!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy August to all of you, beloved patrons!

I think it’s very safe to say that we are in the midst of the “Dog Days of Summer”, that period of hot, sultry weather that are frankly, perfect for little else but finding a good book to read and trying to move as little as possible.  But what does the phrase actually mean?

According to National Geographic, Greeks and Romans of ancient times coined the phrase, “dog days”to refer to the period of time when Sirius, the dog star, appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe.  In ancient Egyptian culture, the star we know as Sirius was associated with the Egyptian god Osiris, the god of life, death, fertility, and rebirth, and Sopdet, the embodiment of the star, who is pictured as a goddess who is pictured with a five-pointed star above her head (see left).  Star-gazers noted that Sirius rose just before the sun each year immediately prior to the annual flooding of the Nile River.  Although the floods had the potential to bring destruction, they also encouraged new soil and new life.  The Egyptian new year was celebrated with a festival known as The Coming of Sopdet.

So if you have a view of the night sky where you are, beloved patrons, have a look up and see if you can spot Sirius.  The image at the top of this post provides a map to help you.  Either way, you can celebrate a time of rejuvenation with a new book!  Here are just a few of the titles that have spread out on our shelves to savor the air conditioning–and to meet you!

The Seas: Samantha Hunt is a writer with one powerful imagination, and in this slim volume, she weaves one heck of a tale that blends myth, romance, and grim reality in a way that will leave you spellbound.  Moored in a coastal fishing town so far north that the highways only run south, the unnamed narrator of this tale is a misfit, and the subject of cruel local gossip. Her father, a sailor, walked into the ocean eleven years earlier and never returned, leaving his wife and daughter to keep a forlorn vigil. Surrounded by water and beckoned by the sea, she clings to what her father once told her: that she is a mermaid.  True to myth, she finds herself in hard love with a land-bound man, an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior.The mesmerizing, fevered coming-of-age tale that follows will land her in jail. Her otherworldly escape will become the stuff of legend.  This is an inventive, creative, and startling insightful work that has critics and fellow writers dazzled.  The Chicago Review of Books put it well in its review when it noted, “It’s hard to imagine that a book so brief could tackle the Iraq war, grief over the loss of a parent, the longing for freedom, an enthrallment with the ocean, loneliness, sexual awakening, faith, and etymology, all in less than 200 pages, but Samantha Hunt has done it, and done it well.”

Jar of Hearts: Those of you looking for a twisty, turny thriller to pass the summer days should look no further than Jennifer Hillier’s latest page-turner.  When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way.  Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.  Now, fourteen years later, Kaiser, a detective with Seattle PD, unearths a fresh–and shocking–lead: Angela was a victim of serial killer Calvin James.  But Calvin James was also Georgina’s first love .  And as a result, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death, until the day Geo was arrested and sent to prison.  While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong, it seems the past and present are about to collide in terrible ways.  Hillier is known for her surprising, emotional plots, and this book promises to show her talents off to their very best advantage.  Publisher’s Weekly praised it as “Engrossing…there’s no denying her page-turner’s grab-you-by-the-throat power.”

BelleweatherSusanna Kearsley has earned a devoted following for her stirring historical fiction, and this book offers readers the chance to explore a house with a legend of romance and tragedy, all stemming back to the summer of 1759, when the American colonies were embroiled in the Seven Years War (also known, not very accurately, as the French and Indian War).  In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.  Kearsley apparently based this novel on her own family history, and Library Journal rewarded her efforts with a starred review,  saying in part,  “Rich characterizations and vivid historical flavor will keep readers enthralled in both past and present story lines. Highly recommended for Kearsley’s many admirers and fans of romantic dual-time historical fiction.”

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border: The United States’ northern border is the world’s longest international boundary, yet it’s a rarely discussed, and seldom explored area, but to the tens of millions who live and work near the line, the region even has its own name: the northland.  Travel writer Porter Fox spent three years exploring 4,000 miles of the border between Maine and Washington, traveling by canoe, freighter, car, and foot.  This book is the record of his journey, the history he learned on his trek, and the people he encountered on the way.  Setting out from the easternmost point in the mainland United States, Fox follows explorer Samuel de Champlain’s adventures across the Northeast; recounts the rise and fall of the timber, iron, and rail industries; crosses the Great Lakes on a freighter; tracks America’s fur traders through the Boundary Waters; and traces the forty-ninth parallel from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean.   A marvelous, thoughtful work that explores the economy, ecology, people, politics, and history of the United States, Canada, and all those who have had dealing therein.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, hailing, “Richly populated with fascinating northlanders, Native Americans, and many border patrol agents, this is highly entertaining and informative travel literature.”

The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies: From such illustrious titles do fascinating books emerge!  Dawn Raffel’s book tells the story of a sideshow presenter, the titular Dr. Couney, who discovered that he could use incubators (and very careful medical care) to save the lives of babies who were born prematurely.   How this turn-of-the-twentieth-century émigré became the savior to families with premature infants, known then as “weaklings”–while ignoring the scorn of the medical establishment and fighting the climate of eugenics–is a wonderfully intriguing and woefully under-explored story.  Raffel emphasized that Dr. Couney, for all his opportunistic entrepreneurial gusto, and the skeletons in his personal closet, genuinely cared for the well-being of his tiny patients, and whose work and insight continues to offer hope to families around the world.  As Publisher’s Weekly notes, “With colorful descriptions of the carnival world and the medical marvels of early neonatalogy, Raffel makes a fascinating case for this unusual pioneer’s rightful place in medical history.” 

Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

The Romance Garden!

Did you know that August is “Read A Romance Month”?  Neither did we!  But it is, so we are more than happy to celebrate anything and everything book related.

RARM 2016 square

Read A Romance Month” was conceived and launched in 2013 by freelance writer and romance advocate Bobbi Dumas, after she realized there was no one place where the community celebrated romance all together, at one time, in a concentrated way.  So why not enjoy these sweltering, sizzling summer days with a few good, steamy romance?  Check out the display in the Main Library for some titles, and be sure to check out our genre experts monthly selections below!

Bridget: The Bride Who Got Lucky by Janna McGregor

This is one of those rare books that are almost betrayed by their descriptions, because, while the plot of this book is interesting, the real joy comes from the interactions between the protagonists between the action.  Their chemistry is tangible, and I adored the way their connection helped them evolve and redeem themselves, and each other.

Lady Emma Cavensham is on a mission, determined to prove that her beloved friend’s death came at the hands of her ruthless husband.  Naturally, because this is a romance, her quest is foiled by a compromising moment with a long-time acquaintance…who may just be the perfect partner for all her live’s adventures.  Nicholas St. Mauer learned the hard way not to put faith in any relationship.  Having been raised by a genuinely unloving and unlovable father, Nick doesn’t know how to be lovable, or how to properly show love to others, even though Emma once tried.  Now that their names and reputations have been linked inextricably together, Nick realizes that he has no choice but to make Emma his bride.  But can he ever make her happy?  And how on earth can he keep her safe in the bargain?

As I mentioned, McGregor is a master of the little details, and this book is proof.  Emma’s relationship with Nick grows through small shared moments of laughter and honest that make the bond between them something unique and wonderfully powerful.  I loved how she and Nick found healing and acceptance together, and gave each other hope that their future together would be better than their pasts alone.  I was also generally impressed with the way Emma’s quest turned out.  This isn’t a simple comparison where the hero and villain are identical foils to each other, and the result is a thought-provoking plot line that adds, rather than distracts from the romance between Emma and Nick.  While this is the second book in the Cavensham Heiress series, new readers won’t have any trouble jumping into this series from here.

Gladiolus is one of August’s birthday flower. Image Credit: Eden Brothers

Kelley: Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James

When I’m looking for a romance that I know without question will be a good one, Eloisa James is one of my go-to authors. Her story lines are unique, her characters both main and secondary are people worth getting to know, and she always manages to slip in some Shakespeare references for good measure. Born to be Wilde is the third in James’ “The WIldes of Lindow Castle” series, and it’s every bit as good as the first two books.

The eccentric Wilde family is as much a force of nature as the bog that abuts their castle. Alaric is a world adventurer and writer who inspired the prints that made the family into reluctant celebrities; North is a former dandy turned rakish war veteran; and Parth Sterling, the hero of this book, is the honorary Wilde, the brother adopted when his parents died in India and the one who is now the most successful and wealthy bachelor in England. The brothers are lovingly guided by their stubborn and big-hearted Aunt Knowe who helped their father raise them after their mother died, and Lindow Castle is also full of energetic younger Wildes from the dukes second marriage.

As a cousin to North’s fiance, Diana, and close friend of Alaric’s wife, WIlla, Lavinia Gray finds herself a part of the boisterous Wilde clan frequently. Lavinia is smart, fashionable, and gets along well with everyone. With the exception of Parth. When Parth and Lavinia come together, every conversation turns to needling and ends in an argument, but when Lavinia finds that her mother has entirely lost her dowry and their fortune, she is forced to propose marriage to the man she has called “Appalling Parth” for years. More mortifying still, he says no. Protective by nature and a top-notch problem solver, although Parth refuses to marry Lavinia, he does agree to help her find a husband. But once he does, can he live with the idea of Lavinia marrying another man? It could just turn out that the sparks that fly between them might be something more.

Lavinia’s character is one of the greatest strengths of this book. Watching her come to respect and love the things that she once condemned about herself, and then to settle for no less than a man who will do the same, will have readers cheering for her. Eloisa James has done it again. Happy reading, romance lovers!


Until next month, beloved patrons–we hope you find plenty of romances to enjoy for “Read a Romance Month”!

Teen Room Takeover! Where to go for Summer Fun!

During the summertime it can be easy to fall into a rut of sitting on the couch, eating fritos, and watching bad daytime television. One of the easiest ways to get up and have fun is to check out local spots in your area that are cheap or even free of charge! Check out some of the recommendations from our teen room staff and teen volunteers.

Pick Your Own Strawberries at Brooksby Farm
Tis the season to pick succulent summer fruits like strawberries and blueberries at Brooksby Farm! Afterwards you can visit the farm store or meet the barnyard animals and while away the hours.

Cool Off with Treadwell’s Ice Cream
 One of the hottest spots to be in Peabody! The lines can get long sometimes but the huge sundaes and frappes are worth the wait. Treadwell’s has been around for over 70 years and they’re still going strong, how can you turn down a visit?

Come to be an activist!
You can join the fun in our Activism Boot Camp and help make the world a better place! Learn how to participate in your community and help build a Little Free Library! Sign up here!


Stay safe and have a fun summer!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass