Museum Book Club: Recommended Reading from Our Staff

Looking to curl up with a good book? Check out these recommendations from our staff.

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Kevin Kopchynski, Planetarium and STEM Educator, Science Museum

When I wanted to expand my knowledge in geology, I found a great resource in Dinosaurs, Dunes, and Drifting Continents by Richard Little. Professor Little taught at Greenfield Community College for many years and now offers geologic tours around the world. The book gives an overview of the geological past of our Connecticut River Valley, starting well before the time of the dinosaurs and continuing up to the present day. Our valley and the rocks we see are the products of several tectonic collisions and a great drop fault. And no, dinosaurs did not leave footprints on the shore of Lake Hitchcock. The lake is a much more recent feature. As you sort out the timeline along with Professor Little, you will also learn about some other local geological features such as the Holyoke Range. It is a small book but packs in a lot of learning between the covers and it has plenty of illustrations. Since writing the book, Professor Little collaborated with us here at the science museum as we developed our Mineral Hall and there is a video featuring him as well as a specimen he donated on display. The book is a fitting way to further your exposure to geology after visiting our exhibits.

Dinosaurs, Dunes, and Drifting Continents by Richard Little
© Earth View
Maggie North, Curator of Art

Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse is an absorbing account of the explosion of artistic activity and intriguing personalities that changed the cultural fabric of Paris between 1913 and the start of the Second World War. In the early 20th century, the city of Paris became a magnet for immigrant artists from across the continent including the Lithuanian artist Chaim Soutine, the Russian artist Marc Chagall, and the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. In the bohemian district of Montparnasse, these newcomers coalesced, creating works of art inspired by their homelands as well as by emerging styles such as Cubism and Fauvism. Many were Jewish émigrés who challenged the disturbing swell of anti-Semitism through their remarkable ingenuity and perseverance. Author Stanley Meisler, a diplomat and journalist, presents a well-researched and compelling description of this pivotal period in art history. As readers learn in the book’s introduction, Meisler’s connection to the story is personal: he is a distant relative of the tortured, yet bright expressionist painter Chaim Soutine around whom the narrative is configured. I came across this book while researching prints in the collection of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts for the exhibition Marc Chagall and Friends: The Salon des Indépendants, which was on view from July 2017 through January 2018. The book brought to life many of the artists about whom I was reading and informed the exhibition’s content. Shocking Paris will be a great companion to all those interested in modern history, art history, and stories creativity in times of adversity.

Shokcing Paris Book Cover
©St. Martin's Press, MacMillan Publishers
Linda Larrivee, History and Dr. Seuss Museum Docent
As a History and Dr. Seuss Museum docent, I was interested in reading and learning more about the life of Springfield’s native son in Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, the first comprehensive biography written about the author and illustrator in more than two decades. This new, hefty, and wonderfully readable biography goes into great detail about Geisel’s early childhood and adolescence growing up in Springfield, MA, shedding light on little known facts about his family, especially his beloved sister Marnie. As a docent, I found the book helped me place Geisel in historical context and gave me interesting references about Springfield to share with our visitors. Jones, the author of three other biographies of iconic Americans, details Geisel’s success as a cartoonist, his military career, and his association with publishing firms and movie moguls! All in all, I recommend this read for anyone who would like to learn more about the man who revolutionized learning to read by making it fun!
Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones
©Penguin Random House
James Cannon, Exhibit Preparator, Science Museum
Dinosaurs have always captured the imagination. You only have to think of the Jurassic Park films or our own Dinosaur Hall to see how popular dinosaurs are and always have been. But as fun as the Jurassic Park movies are, they pretty much get dinosaurs all wrong. Luckily, paleontologists like Steve Brusatte are around to explain just how awesome and terrifying and cool dinosaurs really were—and which dinosaurs had feathers.
Published two years ago and available as a hardcover or e-book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is an up-to-date chronological view of not only the evolution of the dinosaurs throughout the Mesozoic Era where they dominated the land, but also an overview of the men and women who have studied these fascinating beasts around the world. Brusatte visits Argentina, China, Scotland, India, the Sahara, and anywhere else dinosaur fossils have been found to create as full and complete a picture as he can of these fascinating creatures that we know only from fragmentary fossils. There is an excellent overview of the most famous dinosaur of all, and star attraction of the Science Museum’s Dinosaur Hall, Tyrannosaurus rex, that was so eye-opening and legitimately terrifying that, when I read it, I immediately had to share what I learned with my family. If you love dinosaurs or have someone in your life who loves dinosaurs, this is an excellent, well-researched, and delightfully written overview. Numerous illustrations and photographs of dinosaurs and paleontologists help bring the words to life, but the tone is down-to-earth and conversational, without too much scientific jargon beyond the wonderful names of the dinosaurs themselves.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
©Harper Collins Publishers
Margaret Humberston, Curator of Library & Archives
Wartime Sisters is the compelling story of two estranged sisters who reconnect at the Springfield Armory during WWII. I was interested to read it because of its location, but also because I knew the author had visited the Wood Museum Archives to do some research. I wondered what she’d do with it. Turns out she knew how to interject just enough information into her narrative to give a realistic sense of what the times were like. I enjoyed reading about the training process for female “Soldiers of Production” and about the day care facilities for working mothers provided at the High School of Commerce, across the street from the Armory. I also liked hearing about the different entertainment provided at the Armory and in the city, so I had a sense that daily life still offered something to look forward to, despite its production quotas. In preparation for an exhibit honoring a century of Springfield women I was looking through our collection of Armory items like recruitment pamphlets and photos of women workers from WWII and our manuscript materials of USO dances and events, and it made me realize how history can become so alive in the hands of a talented writer who takes a little time to get the details right.
Watertime Sisters: A Novel book cover