Little Starlings

I am a deep introvert. I’m perfectly fine talking only to the cat or TV. Hence, when my son was born, I figured if I didn’t start talking to him, he’d never learn to talk (my first mistake), and thus began thirty years of talking to myself and narrating what I’m doing.

Research published in the book Meaningful Differences, by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, showed a direct link between the number of words a child heard at home by the age of three, and their academic performance in Grade 3 (the age of 8). Children in poor/welfare homes heard, on average, 600 words an hour. Children of working-class homes heard 1200, and children of professional parents heard 2100. That racked up to children of professional parents hearing 30 million more words by the age of three than a poor child. So?

Exposure becomes verbal fluency. Verbal fluency is required for reading proficiency, and reading proficiency is required for academic proficiency.  The child who has minimal language is going to lag far behind on reading and academics.

How many words is your child really hearing?

Based on these studies, along comes VersaMe’s Starling, a handy-dandy little device that tracks just how many words your baby hears during the day.  It’s just a little clip-on star that records the number of words a baby hears, not the actual words (no one will hunt you down because of what you said when that [jerk] cut you off ). It’s convenient, easily rechargeable, and holds a charge for up to three days, so you don’t have to worry about plugging it in every night. It uses Bluetooth technology to report in real time to your smartphone, so you can track as you go. The clip is rather strong – the first day, it took my 14 month old 4 hours to wrestle it free, and by the next day, she wasn’t paying it any attention. It is fully waterproof, drool proof, and not particularly chewable, which was nice.

The first day we broke 10,000 words, the second day 11,000, and the third day for some reason, even though we went to a party with lots of people talking to her, it didn’t record, which was disappointing. Our best was 16,000.

Per day, 11,000 words seems like a lot, but when you figure the child is only awake 12-14 hours, and take out an average of three hours for naps, we didn’t even hit Middle-Class. Yet, I have a toddler who is off the charts in vocabulary and language skills.  Even the authors of the original study admit that quantity is nothing in the face of quality. Ten minutes spent reading a book with your child will go farther than three hours of TV.  And no, Starling can’t differentiate between people and TV.

Should you try Starling?

If you are a new parent with questions, if you’re the parent of a developmentally delayed child, if you’re just curious about yourself, then by all means give the Starling a try. It’s easy, it’s fun, and interesting to see the results. But remember, worrying about arbitrary marks isn’t good. Children, toddlers, babies all need critical down time to process all that information they’re learning.  Imagine someone following you around talking to you every waking second. You’d lock yourself in the bathroom for just 5 minutes of quiet. Your baby is no different. Language is important, but so is quiet alone time.

Starling is fun. It’s informative. Use it as an investigative tool, maybe increase some quality time or have an extra imaginary conversation on a play phone. If you want to try out a Starling, you can borrow one from the library.

For a helpful look on the making of brilliance and achievement, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. For a fascinating look on the importance of auditory language, check out I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the science of Sound and Language (it’s not as sciency as it sounds), by Lydia Denworth. It’s awesome!

18 Books Hitting the Big Screen in 2018

Film adaptations of books have hit the ground running in 2018, with bestsellers Horse Soldiers, The Death Cure, and Fifty Shades Freed released in theaters already, and we’re barely into the year. Here’s some of what’s in store for the rest of 2018 (release dates may be subject to change), if you want to read them before you see them:

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  1. Every Day by David Levithan (release date Feb. 23). A 16-year-old girl falls in love with a spirit named “A”, a traveling soul who wakes each morning in a different body.
  2. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (release date Feb. 23).  A group of female scientists undertakes an expedition to “Area X”, a portion of land in the United States that has been secretly quarantined due to abnormal activity.
  3. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (release date Mar. 2).  Ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited to ‘Sparrow School’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon.
  4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (release date Mar. 9). After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend across the barriers of space and time to find him. The all-star cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Pine.
  5. The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian (release date Mar. 9). An elderly couple suffering from cancer and Alzheimer’s decide to sneak away from their doctors for one last hurrah and escape on a cross-country trip.
  6. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli (release date Mar. 16).  Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it’s a little more complicated. He hasn’t told his family or friends that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he’s fallen for online.
  7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (release date Mar. 30). The buzz about this film adaptation began almost before the book was even published.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, this dystopian thriller takes place in a future where more and more people are escaping into a virtual reality world that’s more bearable than the real one. Expect a kind of Matrix-y vibe with a bunch of 80’s pop culture references.
  8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows (release date Apr. 19).  A writer doing research learns about a unique book club that the residents of Guernsey formed as a front during German occupation in WWII.
  9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (release date May 11). after her eccentric, agoraphobic mother disappears, 15-year-old Bee does everything she can to track her down, discovering her troubled past in the process. Starring Cate Blanchett in the title role.
  10. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (release date Aug. 17).  American-born Chinese economics professor Rachel Chu  accompanies her boyfriend to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding only to get thrust into the lives of Asia’s rich and famous.
  11. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (release date Aug. 31). After being summoned to treat a patient at dilapidated Hundreds Hall, Dr. Faraday finds himself becoming entangled in the lives of the owners, and the supernatural presences in the house in this horror-thriller.
  12. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (release date Sep. 14). In this sci-fi thriller, sixteen-year-old Ruby breaks out of a government-run “rehabilitation camp” for teens who acquired dangerous powers after surviving a virus that wiped out most American children.
  13. The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (release date Sep. 21). A young orphan aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world. Starring Cate Blanchett (again), Jack Black, and Kyle MacLachlan.
  14. Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (release date Sep. 28).  In the film adaptation of thie memoir, the son of a baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program. Starring Lucas Hedges in the title role, with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as his parents.
  15. First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen (release date Oct. 12). Ryan Gosling stars in the title role in this true story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961–1969.
  16. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (release date Oct. 19). Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.
  17. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (release date Oct. 19). Young and adventurous Mowgli meets Bagheera (Christian Bale), Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and other animals while growing up in the jungle.
  18. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (release date Dec. 14). Millennia after much of the world was destroyed in a cataclysmic event,  cities survive a now desolate Earth by moving around on giant wheels attacking and devouring smaller towns to replenish their resources.

Checking Your Flu

It’s almost impossible to get through the winter without hearing about the flu. While we often use the word flu to describe any miserable feverish head cold, a cold (rhinovirus) is NOT the same as the flu (influenza). A head cold is 10 days of misery. Flu will disable you for weeks, if not outright kill you.

Flu shots are a government conspiracy. I got the shot and still got the flu.

Preventing death and permanent disability is not a conspiracy. Complications of a cold include sinus and ear infections, asthma, or rarely pneumonia. The most common complication of the flu is pneumonia – the #4 killer world-wide, but can also leave you with organ damage or failure,  encephalitis, and even sepsis. If you get the flu shot and then feel lousy, it’s not flu; it’s your body charging up its antibodies. If you get a flu shot and then get a cold, it’s not the flu. Recombinant flu vaccines don’t even contain flu. CAN you get the flu after getting a flu shot? Of course you can, the same way you seem to get the same cold every year. Here’s why:

Is there more than one type of flu?

There are actually three flu viruses, A, B, and C. A is common, B less so, C mild and rare. Each type has two parts: the hemaglutinin protein (the H) and an enzyme to let it reproduce (the N, for neuraminidase). There are 18 types of H’s and 11 types of N’s – thousands of combinations of H1N1’s, H2N3’s, H6N4’s. Now, not all of these can be caught by people (some are limited to animals), but viruses can mutate and change very rapidly. With all those combinations, the Centers for Disease Control have to make a best guess at what flu will prevail that winter, and make enough vaccine a year in advance. If your shot is for N1H1, and you catch H2N3 – you’ve got flu. Better flu shots (called trivalent or quadravalent) will give you immunity to the top three or four likely flus, quadrupling your chances of staying healthy. Even if you do manage to get a flu, your partial immunity will give you a much milder case.

What are the odds I will get the flu?

What are your chances? In the winter of 2016-17, more than 2500 Connecticut residents showed up at the Emergency Department for flu-like illnesses. 80% of those were type A, and of those , 98% of them were of the H3N2 variety (the others were the old H1N1). Sixty-five of them died. That’s not a total of reported cases; that’s just how many wound up hospitalized. If you have diabetes, heart problems, take immune suppressors, pregnant, sickle cell disease, cancer treatment, are over 65 or under 2, you are considered high risk. If someone in your family or workplace fits these categories, you are placing them at risk.

Now, of course, some years are worse for flu than others. The biggie was 1918, when the H1N1 (yes, that same one you’re getting vaccinated for right now) had a new mutation to a form no one had ever had before, and it became a world-wide pandemic for two years, killing as many as 50 million people. Fifty. 5-0. Million. The next major flu was 1957 Asian flu (H2N2), which killed two million people. The 1968 Hong Kong flu (H3N2) killed more than a million. That’s not counting disabled, or lost 30 days from work, or sick as a dog. That’s the number dead.

Why do so many flus start in Asia?

Many flu strains are animal-only. They’re limited to birds, or horses, or pigs. In Asia, people, chickens, and pigs are often living in close or crowded conditions, and many Asian cities are very densely populated. Pigs are very similar to people in their genetic makeup (surgeons can use pig organs in people for short times). A bird flu can mutate and jump to pigs, and from pigs it doesn’t take a lot of mutation to become a Human flu. This is why scientists worry every time there’s a breakout of swine flu or bird flu, and millions of animals may be slaughtered to keep it from spreading. All it takes is a new mutation to start a mega-deadly 1918-style pandemic.

Should everyone get a flu shot?

So who should NOT get a flu shot? Check with your doctor first if you’ve got Guillain-Barre Syndrome, if you have immune disorders such as HIV, children on aspirin therapy, severe egg allergies, people with certain metabolic disorders, if you have kidney disease or severe respiratory issues. Sometimes it’s worth the risk, sometimes it’s not, depending on the year.

Washing your hands constantly remains the next-best flu preventative. And while you’re avoiding the flu, or perhaps recovering from it, check out these really awesome books on the flu (I’ve read them!) – and some excellent (scary) novels on flu (check for movie versions, too!) :




Our staff’s favorite books of 2017

What was the best book you read in 2017? This is the question I posed to my fellow staff members at CPL. Interestingly, I got no duplicate answers! We have a wide variety of reading preferences among our staff, which means there’s something for everyone in this list. Maybe your next great read is below:

Our Library Director Ramona  picked the audiobook edition of  News of the World by Paulette Jiles, read by Grover Gardner. In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction.

Teen Librarian Kelley really liked Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. In this urban fantasy, Jenna, who died  too soon, works to regain the years that were lost to her. But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Bill is our Head of Adult Services, and he picked the Bruce Springsteen autobiography Born to Run as his favorite read of 2017. In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s half-time show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it, which is how this extraordinary autobiography began. Springsteen traces his life from his childhood in a Catholic New Jersey family and the musical experiences that prompted his career to the rise of the E Street Band and the stories behind some of his most famous songs.

Children’s Librarian Lauren went with The Sun is Also a Star, a young adult novel by Nicola Yoon.  In this story Natasha, whose family is hours away from being deported, and Daniel, a first generation Korean American on his way to a prestigious college admissions interview, cross paths in New York. They unexpectedly fall in love during an intense day in the city.


More books our staff loved last year:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas,  Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Illusion Town by Jayne Castle,  The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, Border Child by Michael Stone, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, Glass Houses by Louise Penny

More Wine!

I’m a wine novice. Or whatever comes below novice on the scale. I have no concept of what constitutes a good wine or a bad wine, as I rarely drink it myself. But with the holiday season zooming in, a bottle of wine is often a go-to for party contributions and gift-giving.  Very challenging for a wine neophyte.

While I’ll never be an oenophile (vocabulary points!), I’ve decided that maybe it’s time to learn a little about the nectar of the gods, the venerable vintage, the glorious grape. With a literal library of information at my fingertips, heading over to 641.22 seemed like the smart way to begin. How pleasantly surprised I was to find that there were plenty of books (eBooks & audiobooks, too) for newbies like myself!  Maybe the next time I’m in the wine aisle of my local liquor store, I’ll be able to do more than stare vaguely at the bottles and count off “eenie-meenie-minie-moe”.

Wine : an introduction by Joanna Simon 

The Everything Wine Book by Barbara Nowak

Wine Isn’t Rocket Science : a quick & easy guide to understanding, buying, tasting, & pairing every type of wine by Ophélie Neiman

Winewise : your complete guide to understanding, selecting, and enjoying wine by Steven Kolpan, Brian Smith, and Michael Weiss, the Culinary Institute of America

Wine All the Time : the casual guide to confident drinking by Marissa A. Ross