At the local -Books for a warm winter

In February, Preschool Story Times will continue at their regular time at the Capitol Hill Branch Library - every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. for a half-hour. Join us for stories, songs, play and fun!

As you settle into a winter routine, here are a few suggestions to brighten the days before spring.

'The Radioactive Boy Scout' by Ken Silverstein

On June 26, 1995, the tranquility of the Detroit suburb of Golf Manor was shattered by the arrival of a group of men in haz-mat suits, who proceeded to dismantle a small potting shed, and then remove it (and the ground beneath it) in containers stamped with radioactive-warning signs. Various theories as to what was going on spread among the frightened neighbors, but the truth was far more bizarre - and disturbing - than any of their conjectures. A boy scout had built a rudimentary nuclear breeder reactor in his backyard.

Young David Hahn, an affable, scholastically underachieving teen obsessed with chemistry, had been fascinated by the possibilities of nuclear science while pursuing an Atomic Energy merit badge. Not being one to do things in half-measures, and never overly concerned with safety (his own or others), David soon went far past the harmless, rather sophomoric activities required to earn the badge, and decided he would try to build his own breeder reactor.

Most of the materials required to build such a device, especially the radioactive components, should have been completely out of David's - or anyone else's - ability to procure.

Unfortunately David was both tireless and ingenious when it came to figuring out how to get the dangerous ingredients he needed - from mostly legitimate sources (such as laboriously prying tiny chips of americium from countless smoke detectors). In his homemade lab in the potting shed, with crude tools and only a tattered lead suit he had "borrowed" to protect him, David managed to enrich his radioactive materials with a homemade neutron gun, and then proceeded to assemble a tiny, rudimentary nuclear reactor.

When the reactor, which David had neglected to fit with any sort of off switch, began to get 'hot' (or produce too much radiation to control), he panicked and quickly disassembled it, putting the various components into shoe boxes, glass jars, and empty milk jugs, then storing some in the trunk of his car.

Only by sheer chance were David's activities brought to the attention of the authorities, triggering a chain of events that would result in the destruction and removal of his makeshift lab by the federal agents. Tragically, the most dangerously radioactive materials were never retrieved by the government, as the owner of the house where David built the reactor hastily and indiscriminately disposed of them, terrified that his home would suffer the same fate as the potting shed.

Concise, scary and fascinating, "The Radioactive Boy Scout" is an eye-opening account of how easy it is, despite numerous governmental safeguards, to obtain and combine extremely hazardous materials, with potentially devastating results. Silverstein skillfully interweaves easy-to-understand information about nuclear science and chemistry with David's story, providing a chilling reinforcement of the dangers that his actions frequently posed to his oblivious neighbors.

Ironically, David wound up enlisting in the navy, and was posted aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. His commanders, well informed about his nuclear ambitions, do not allow him anywhere near the reactors.

'Metro Girl' by Janet Evanovitch

When Alexandra "Barney" Barnaby gets an ominous phone call from her brother in the middle of the night, she does what any good sister would do - heads off to his city of residence, Miami, to see if he needs any help. When she arrives, her brother Bill is missing, his apartment has been trashed and an angry NASCAR driver, Sam Hooker, claims that Bill has stolen his boat.

After some investigation, Barney reluctantly admits that her brother did indeed "borrow" Sam's boat, and allows him to help her search for Bill, despite Sam's somewhat overactive libido. They aren't the only ones looking for Bill, who has gotten himself entangled with Cuban gangsters, sunken treasure, and even weapons of mass destruction. Will Barney and Sam find Bill, the gold and the chemical warhead before the bad guys do?

Though the plot is feather-light, "Metro Girl" is full of action, adventure and snappy dialogue. Fans of Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum series should feel right at home with Barney, and will love the cast of characters in this fast and fun book.

A great escapist read, and the story's tropical setting is a perfect antidote for a gray, rainy winter day.

Katie Hilles is a librarian at the Capitol Hill Branch Library. Her column appears regularly in the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at editor@capitolhill

[[In-content Ad]]