Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

A look at soaring Islamic architecture, clever animated poetry, the latest family-friendly online game, and more.

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Spiritual architecture

Islam from its inception inspired extraordinary architecture, and an engaging introduction is offered by Henri Stierlin in Islam: From Baghdad to Cordoba, Early Architecture From the 7th to 13th Century (Taschen). Concentrating on mosques, palaces, and monuments, Stierlin brings a connoisseur's curiosity to his commentary, interspersed with inspiring photography of glittering mosaics, majestic arches, and stylized geometric ornamentation. This concise yet comprehensive overview invites travel to these sites as well as spiritual meditation at home.

Poetic visuals

Recommended: 4 bestselling poetry books to celebrate National Poetry Month

Animated poetry might seem an unusual pairing, but PBS's Poetry Everywhere website (www.pbs.org/poetry) has a fresh round of poems this month, including 13 classics with original animated interpretations. Other short films feature poets reading their own poems, celebrities intoning their favorites, and now Garrison Keillor as series narrator. Stop by for a little Billy Collins humor or Robert Frost footage.

High-Flying sound

Los Angeles indie band The Airborne Toxic Event was started by a writer of fiction, a classical cellist, and a keyboard player who wanted to play lead guitar instead. Does it sound a little different? You bet. Lead singer/lyricist Mike Jollett's clever song stories and dramatic vocals on their new CD grab you by the ears and won't let go. The band's unusual textures of chiming guitars over sawing strings and swirling keyboards creates a majestic noise. Plus, you can dance to it!

Riveting

Adapted from a prize-winning play, Doubt hangs on Sister Aloysius's suspicions about a parish priest's relations with a young boy at the school where she is principal. Out on DVD, the movie's dramatic tension is brilliantly calibrated by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in this uneasy exploration of the unknowability of truth.

A native Story

At once spiritually minded, militaristic, and political, the native American tribes both welcomed and battled the early pilgrims. In a five-part series beginning April 13 on PBS, the signature umbrella program "American Experience" explores the struggles, tragedies, and endurance of the native American people. We Shall Remain includes reenactments from the so-called first Thanksgiving to Geronimo to the American Indian movement's devastating stand at the Pine Ridge reservation in 1973.

Travel the free realms

After launching "EverQuest," the genre-defining online game a decade ago, Sony is back with family-friendly Free Realms. Sign up this week to be part of the game's final testing phase, known as "open beta," at www.freerealms.com and help iron out the wrinkles in this world of social interaction, competitions, community building, and more.

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