Voulez-vous voir un film ce soir?

The image says "How to use Mango Premiere: film-based language learning," with the Mango logo, an "M" comprised of multicolored squares and triangles in patterns red, blue, yellow, green, black, and white.

By Holly L.

Are you interested in learning French, or another language, but find traditional tutorials tedious?  

Consider Mango Premiere, an online language learning system that offers instruction through film for select languages. While enjoying a movie you can familiarize yourself with your chosen language by studying the dialogue while also focusing on grammar, vocabulary, phrases, and culture.

Customize your learning experience by viewing the film in “Movie mode,” in which you can view the movie with your choice of subtitles (English, the language you are learning, or both at the same time).

The still photograph from the film Around a Small Mountain is labeled "Scene Introduction" and depicts a man and woman standing next to a small convertible on a sunny street. The captions read, in French, "L'homme revient, et Kate l'invite á son spectacle de cirque ce soir-là gratuitement." This is followed by the English translation: "The man returns, and Kate invites him to her circus show that evening for free."s

Choose “Engage mode” for an in-depth scene exploration. In this mode, you begin with a Scene Introduction, an overview of what to expect in the coming scene. Next, you have the option of scrolling through Words You May Encounter and Cultural Notes. After viewing the scene you may click on to a Followup, a detailed breakdown of the scene with grammar and cultural notes. The subtitles are enhanced by phonetic pop-ups and Mango’s semantic color mapping, which demonstrates connections between the learner’s target and native language.

The illustration shows two translations from English to French: "I speak French very well" is translated to "Je, parle très bien français," and "Oh, good morning" is translated to "Tiens, bonjour." Each word is in a different color with a block underneath indicating Mango’s semantic color mapping, which demonstrates connections between the learner’s target and native language.
A visualization of Mango’s semantic color mapping.

While exploring the features of Mango Premiere, I watched Around a Small Mountain (or 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup), a 2009 French drama by director Jacques Rivette (one of the founders of the French New Wave) featuring Jane Birkin and Sergio Castellitto. With a cast of characters whose lives revolve around a travelling circus, the film is very dialogue-driven and I felt that the Engage Mode features helped me achieve a more nuanced understanding of the story.

There are more than 70 languages you can learn on Mango, with movies currently available for the following languages: 

English (for Spanish speakers) 

French 

Spanish (Latin America) 

Italian 

Chinese (Mandarin) 

German 

Hopefully Mango will expand its Premiere services to include films in more languages. I for one may be more motivated to brush up on my Korean language skills if I can do so while watching a fun K-drama

Access Mango and Mango Premiere for free with your HCLS library card.

Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting, preferably with a strong cup of tea and Downton Abbey in the queue.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

An indigo blue cover features paper cutout art of red flowers with dictionary pages folded in and the portrait of a young Black woman in profile, wearing a multi patterned top.

by Holly L.

So good. It’s so good.” This was the recommendation from my discriminating and well-read colleague at Miller Branch. I had already gravitated toward this novel based on the cover art alone. The royal blue background offsets bold canary yellow text: The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. The all caps letters hinting at what a “louding voice” might look like when spelled out. The artwork appears to be a collage, with red paper flowers adorned with petals cut from the pages of a book, what appears to be a dictionary. Trace the flowers down to their stems and they seem to be blooming from the silhouette of a young woman. We see little else but her elegant profile, pitch black but for some bursts of fuchsia and crimson highlighting her features and hair, her headband and clothing vivid strips resembling Ankara fabric. Her expression is unreadable. Studying this striking cover, I wondered what exactly this girl had to say.

Ready to listen, I donned my earbuds and became quickly engaged by the sonorous voice of the audiobook’s narrator Adjoa Andoh, a veteran of British stage and screen and narrator of many audiobooks. The prologue, an excerpt from the “The Book of Nigerian Facts,” highlights the persistence of widespread poverty in Nigeria despite being it the richest country in Africa due to being a major crude oil exporter. I continued to listen as the first chapter began and I was confronted with a different voice (though the same reader), that of the main character, Adunni. After her father beckons her to come close, the fourteen year-old reflects:

“I know he want to tell me something bad. I can see it inside his eyes; his eyesballs have the dull of a brown stone that been sitting inside hot sun for too long. He have the same eyes when he was telling me, three years ago, that I must stop my educations. That time, I was the most old of all in my class and all the childrens was always calling me “Aunty.” I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.”

Adunni speaks not in the pidgin English that is common in the author’s native Nigeria, but a broken English borne from Daré’s imagination. I admit that it took me several minutes to get used to this dialect but once I acclimated to Adunni’s voice I found myself enthralled by this tenacious and resilient young woman. Rich in determination but poor by birth and circumstance, she lacks what she most passionately desires—an education. 

When the story begins young Adunni learns that her poor father has sold her into marriage with a prosperous and wretched old taxi driver named Morufu. After a few agonizing months as Morufu’s third wife, Adunni flees after a tragic event. She finds her way to bustling Lagos, where she is placed as a maid for a wealthy business owner named Big Madam, an imposing woman whose laugh, “sound like a rumble, a big rock rolling down a mountain.” While she labors around the clock as a domestic servant to Big Madam and her predatory deadbeat husband, Big Daddy, Adunni looks for opportunity wherever she can find it. With the help of Ms. Tia, a kind and well-connected woman, Adunni’s vision of a path toward independence becomes clearer. She begins to stake a place for her own future while paving a way for other young women and girls from small villages like her own. As her mother insisted before passing away in her forties, “your schooling is your voice.” Adunni took this advice to heart, forever insisting on her right to an education. 

I found so much to admire in the character of Adunni, with her seemingly bottomless reserves of strength and optimism despite the ongoing trials that threaten to break her. This is a young woman whose dream of a better life will not be denied, her “louding voice” lifting not only herself up, but anyone willing to share in her story.

I’m so glad I took the time to listen.  

Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting, preferably with a strong cup of tea and Downton Abbey in the queue. 

Lawrence Lanahan and The Lines Between Us

Stylized black and white drawing of typical Baltimore rowhouses frame the title.

By Holly L.

Journalist Lawrence Lanahan’s 2019 book The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide opens with two epigraphs:

It’s in the way their curtains open and close.

“Respectable Street,” XTC

I don’t even have to do nothing to you.

“Big Brother,” Stevie Wonder

The first line comes from English post-punk band XTC’s 1981 song about what songwriter and frontman Andy Partridge considered “the hypocrisy of living in a so-called respectable neighborhood. It’s all talk behind twitching curtains.” The second lyric is from a track from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album Talking Book. In the song, Wonder takes the white establishment (Big Brother) to task for only coming to the ghetto “to visit me ‘round election time.” He continues his indictment – “I don’t even have to do nothin’ to you” because, from offenses ranging from criminal neglect of its black citizens to having “killed all our leaders…you’ll cause your own country to fall.”

It is fitting that Lanahan chose these words and these voices to begin this story, as his narrative weaves together multiple perspectives but most closely follows the criss-crossing threads of two individuals, one black and one white.

Nicole Smith is a young black woman living with her family in a West Baltimore rowhome owned by her mother, Melinda. When we meet Nicole, she is twenty-five and is contemplating the crossing of a line—leaving her neighborhood (and family and community) behind in search of security and opportunity for herself and her six-year-old son, Joe. Though she is enrolled in Baltimore City Community College and is on a waitlist for affordable housing in the city, Nicole seems to be on an existential treadmill, running but getting nowhere fast. She’s heard of a place called Columbia, a planned community in Howard County, with a reputation for good schools, plenty of jobs, and safe streets. Could she make it there?

Mark Lange is a white man raised in the Baltimore suburbs who, after a spiritual reckoning in his late teens, embarks on a path of service informed by the teachings of Mississippi civil rights activist and Christian minister John M. Perkins, who argued that those who wanted to help communities in need must live among them. As Mark’s story begins to be told, he feels a gravitational pull from his comfortable suburban life in Bel Air toward Sandtown, a West Baltimore neighborhood where his best friend Alan Tibbels, a like-minded white Christian with a mission of racial reconciliation, relocated with his family. If he moves, would Mark prove to be just another “white savior” looking to appease his own guilt? Or would be able to form meaningful relationships and help foster change in an impoverished community?

In this meticulously researched book, Lanahan alternates the fascinating tales of Nicole and Joe with the complicated history of Baltimore’s segregation and the resulting devastating impact on its black communities. Having its genesis as a year-long multi-media series on inequality in the Baltimore area broadcast from September 28, 2012 to October 4, 2013 on WYPR, Maryland Public Radio, the depth and breadth of Lanahan’s reporting is detailed to an almost dizzying degree. But just when a reader’s brain might start to get overwhelmed by the minutiae of historical detail (as mine sometimes did), my attention would come swiftly back into focus as the humanity of Nicole and Mark’s stories propelled me through the book. The Lines Between Us should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the institutional forces that shape inequality in our region and for those whose understanding of their neighbor might require them to cross a line. And isn’t that most of us?

Join us: Author Works with Lawrence Lanahan
Wednesday, January 12 from 7 – 8:30 pm
In person, HCLS Central Branch
Register at bit.ly/3pFTq3y

To learn more about the historical policies of redlining, visit the interactive exhibit currently at Central Branch. Undesign the Redline explores the history of structural racism and inequality, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today, and the national and local impacts. Join a guided tour on Wednesdays at 11 am and Saturdays at 2 pm.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

One Person’s Trash…

The picture us of a leaping reindeer made from colorful tubes of scrolled paper, against a lime green background.
Join us for a reindeer craft on Stress Free STEAM evening!

By Holly L.

One person’s trash….is another person’s CRAFT!

Holidays have you feeling stressed? Relieve some of that tension and join us for Stress Free STEAM for Adults on Thursday December 2 at 7 pm at HCLS Miller Branch. We will be making easy, seasonal upcycled crafts using everyday materials. Try your hand at some dazzling wall art, paper pillow boxes (perfect for small gifts), or a festive paper tree.

The picture is of two paper pillow box crafts made from recycled cardboard from a Chex box of cereal, both laying on an orange tablecover.
Paper pillow boxes like these made from recycled cardboard are the perfect container for small gifts.

All abilities welcome. Beginners and the non-crafty are encouraged to come. Materials provided.

Registration required. Register here or call 410.313.1950.

For further reading, check out our collection of books on upcycling.

Also, did you know that you can access several crafty magazines such as HGTV, Simply Knitting, and Family Handyman online for free using your library card? Visit Overdrive to browse our complete collection.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Stress-Free Steam for Adults

The picture of the craft is of a turkey made from beads, multicolored feathers in fall shades of brown, orange, and red, strips of brown leather for the legs and feet, with a walnut shell for the body.

By Holly L.

Does the prospect of a second pandemic holiday season already have you on edge? Did you feel a pang of sadness when your kids aged out of the family craft classes? Would you like to unwind in a relaxed setting with some calming hands-on fun? Are these questions getting tedious?

If you answered yes to any of the above, please join us on at the Miller Branch on Thursday, November 4 at 7 pm for Stress-Free S.T.E.A.M. for adults. We will provide materials for three fun fall-themed crafts, including a terrific turkey pin, an awesome autumn leaf placemat, and a brilliant beaded harvest corncob.

The fall placemat depicted is of various geometric shapes and fall leaves in different colors, cut and pasted onto a blue background and then laminated.

Focus on one project or make a few, it’s up to you! No prior craft experience needed and all abilities welcome.

Registration required. Please register by clicking here or call 410.313.1950.

The picture shows a craft of an ear of corn, made from beads in fall shades of red, orange, yellow, and white for the kernels, and brown pipe cleaners for the cob.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.


Eat Your Veggies! Cookbooks and a Class.

A pile of bell peppers from the Farmers Market, in greens, yellows, and purples.
Produce from weekly farmers market at HCLS Miller Branch.

By Holly L.

Low-Fat. Mediterranean. Atkins. Whole 30. Keto. Paleo. Vegan. Pegan. Pegan? (That’s paleo meets vegan.) While there is little consensus as to which diet is the best, there is near universal agreement that a healthy diet includes abundant produce – fruits and, especially, vegetables. But most of us still aren’t getting enough. According to the USDA’s most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 90 percent of the US population does not get its daily recommendation of vegetables.

Whether you are already getting your five servings a day, we have a cornucopia of titles in our cookbook collection to help you incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet.

Meera Sodha’s East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing is an inspired collection of vibrant recipes, many originally published in her Guardian food column,”The New Vegan.” In her introduction, Sodha recalls when she first agreed to write the column that not only was she not vegan, she was in the middle of a major life change, having recently given birth to her first child. Excited by the writing challenge when she was seeing the world anew through her daughter’s eyes, she embarked on a journey to discover vegan recipes that would satisfy not just vegans but meat-eaters like herself. With a culinary background (and two prior cookbooks) rooted in her Indian heritage, Sodha broadens her horizons in East, with vegetarian and vegan recipes inspired by her travels in East and South Asia. The book is divided into chapters such as Snacks & Small Things, Curries, Flour and Eggs, Legumes, and Sweets. A few pages of “alternative contents” are also helpful, with categories such as Quick Dinners and From the Pantry, in addition to seasonal categories for those who like to cook by the calendar. This fall, I am tempted by Autumn Pilau with squash, lacinato kale, and smoked garlic, perhaps followed by some Pineapple Love Cake or Salted miso brownies.

The title Mostly Plants echoes a line from author-journalist Michael Pollan’s 2008 book In Defense of Food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” While recognizing the nutritional and cultural value of meat, he champions a diet of moderation composed mostly of whole foods, with meat being demoted from star to supporting player. In Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family, Michael Pollan’s mother, Corky, and sisters Tracy, Dana, and Lori have created a cookbook full of healthy, flavorful recipes designed to be on the table in 35 minutes or less. Each Pollan has her own dietary preference, some eating meat and others not. Their goal with the book is not to promote one particular diet but rather to shift “the ratio from animals to plants.” Each recipe features easy-to-read icons indicating if it is vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and/or fast, as well as helpful hints for adaptations (to make a vegetarian recipe vegan, for example). Beautiful photos fill the pages, highlighting such recipes as Mesclun greens with persimmons and Manchego cheese and Udon Noodle Soup with miso-glazed vegetables and chicken. The book finishes with a chapter devoted to sweets, the Apple Galette Rustique with apricot glaze sounding to me like a perfect fall dessert.

Fans of chef-activist Bryant Terry may know him as the author of the celebrated 2014 cookbook Afro-Vegan: Farm-fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors Remixed. In his more recent book Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes, Terry explores the realm of vegetables in all their glorious parts, from seeds to roots. In his introduction, subtitled “Fennel for Zenzi,” Terry credits his two daughters as his inspiration. “I wrote this book to make a diversity of foods from the plant kingdom irresistible to them, to inspire their curiosity.” Even the structure of the book, with recipes sorted into chapters based on which part of the plant is used (flower, bulb, etc.) came from his older daughter Mila’s gardening class assignment. The recipes exhibit a further geographical reach than his previous books, with influences from East and Southeast Asia, reflective of his wife’s heritage. The book offers a feast for the senses, not just for the eyes and the palate, but for the ears, too. Terry includes a song pairing for each recipe. Before I prepare Dirty Cauliflower with tempeh, mushrooms, scallions, and parsley, I will be sure to queue up the suggested track, “Flat of the Blade” by Massive Attack. Terry does not include a chapter on sweets, but I imagine that he would approve of my default easy dessert—a few squares of dark chocolate which is, of course, vegan.

If you are interesting in healthy plant-based cooking, consider joining HCLS Elkridge Branch for Plant-Based Nutrition: Everything You Want to Know and More! on Thursday, October 7 at 6:30 pm. University of Maryland Extension teaches participants about plant-based nutrition, the benefits of a plant-based diet, and how to shop and plan meals using plant-based foods.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Talk Therapy

By Holly L.

When faced with a personal problem, some people will talk about it. Find a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear to fill. Others of us have a tendency to downplay it, to deny it, to avoid talking about it. This isn’t the healthiest coping method, bottling it all up inside and burying that bottle in the backyard behind the garden that really needs watering and….what was that? A problem? There’s no problem. It’s all….just…. FINE. 

(smiles sheepishly) 

Even though I sometimes — okay, often — have trouble talking about my problems, when I do let down my guard and confide to someone, I almost always feel miraculously better. The truth is that talking helps, and I find the same sort of comfort reading about the personal struggles of others and learning about how they’ve navigated their own difficult moments. Two recent nonfiction books recall this power of a good talk to bring peace to a troubled mind.

The cover shows a square, yellow tissue box with a white tissue coming out of the top of it, against a turquoise background with the title overlaid in black lettering.


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a fascinating and highly readable memoir by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb. In this 2019 book, she shares her experience as a therapist going to therapy following a devastating personal crisis. We are introduced to the character of Wendell, her quirky therapist with a shabby office and a straightforward but compassionate demeanor. During the author’s sessions with Wendell, we are allowed glimpses of the kinds of thoughts that run through a therapist’s mind when she herself is in therapy: Does he think my problems are trivial? Will he ever replace this old couch? Does he like me? Weaving the story of her own journey with those of her patients, Gottlieb offers up a humor-laced but empathetic glimpse into her own and her patients’ sessions, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at therapy from both sides of the therapist’s couch. As I followed Gottlieb and her patients’ struggles and successes, I saw parts of myself reflected in the characters and was prompted to examine my own relationship to therapy and the benefits of talking through problems. Also available as an eBook.

The book cover shows a pink rose with a thorny green stem, winding through the black lettering of the title against a cream-colored background. The author's name, Anna Sale, and "Host of the Podcast Death, Sex & Money" are written in cornflower blue.

I have been a fan of Anna Sale’s podcast Death, Sex, and Money for a few years and had been eagerly anticipating the release of Let’s Talk About Hard Things when it landed on our library shelves in May (also available as an eBook). This moving book continues the kinds of discussions that make her podcast so compelling, focusing on, “the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” Subjects ranging from, yes, death, sex, and money, but also family and identity. Sale opens the book by sharing some hard things from her own past, specifically the unraveling of her first marriage. Feeling utterly lost after her divorce, she began to find strength and clarity by talking to others about their own dark times and hearing how they found, or didn’t find, peace. Realizing how therapeutic these hard conversations can be, she was inspired to launch her podcast in 2014 on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. Let’s Talk About Hard Things serves as a companion piece to Death, Sex, and Money, and it contains some of the most crucial conversations and valuable lessons from Sale’s life. Fans of the podcast will be reassured to know that, although the book may include a few references to the podcast, the majority of the material comes from fresh interviews conducted for this project. Sale’s written tone is as warm and personal as the voice she brings to her podcast (for this reason, I highly recommend the eAudiobook). After finishing this book, I was left with a feeling of comfort, as if I had just had a conversation with a close friend. The kind of conversation that doesn’t always find answers but that deepens connections and speaks to the power of just talking. And being heard. 

If you need someone to talk to, please visit this HCLS page for local mental health resources.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Take a trip with National Geographic

An underwater shot of a raft of penguins with the National Geographic text and yellow frame setting off the image.

by Holly L.

As local Covid rates drop and vaccination numbers rise, some of you are embarking on long-anticipated journeys. Whether day-tripping down to the shore or jet-setting to a distant locale, the act of travel brings a sense of relief to many who are longing to break out of their quarantine bubbles and go – somewhere, anywhere!

For others of you the time for travel hasn’t yet arrived. Finances, health, or other constraints may limit your current trip planning to a run to the grocery store or a drive across town to check on a friend. Tropical oases may beckon, but for now you just need to let that call go to voicemail.

Wanderlust – a desire to travel or roam – is something we all feel, these post(?)-pandemic days more keenly than ever. Whether you are an actual or an armchair traveler this summer, let us broaden your horizons with a terrific eResource. National Geographic has partnered with Gale to deliver a virtual steamer trunk full of high-quality digital content that brings the world to your door. Your library card is your all-access pass to the National Geographic Virtual Library (search under Magazines & Newspapers), an extensive database that includes the National Geographic Magazine digital archive from 1888 to the present (new issues are added after a minimum 45-day embargo period), National Geographic: People, Animals, and the World, and National Geographic Kids

Since its launch in October 1888, National Geographic Magazine has been regarded for its in-depth reporting, innovative storytelling, and splendid photography. Complete digital issues of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, and National Geographic History are available for browsing, with audio options and search functions available. Citation tools are built in, making this database a great resource for historical, social, and scientific research.

National Geographic: People, Animals, and the World connects you with even more content, including full-text books on travel, science & technology, history, the environment, animals, photography, and peoples & cultures. Also included are cross-searchable videos, full-color maps, charts, graphs, and a wealth of National Geographic’s iconic photographs and digital images.

There is plenty to engage young students with National Geographic Kids. This database includes the complete archive of National Geographic Kids Magazine from 2009 to the present, as well as books, videos, and images galore. With an intuitive, visual interface, National Geographic Kids offers age-appropriate content that supports Common Core standards. Subject indexing and easy search features empower young explorers to embark on exciting learning adventures.

Expired passport? No problem. We can help with that, too, at the East Columbia Branch. Or, use your HCLS library card to book a virtual trip this summer via the National Geographic Virtual Library.

Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.