Top Picks: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, country musician Kathy Mattea's new album, and more

Time answers classic childhood questions, PBS's 'American Masters' examines the life of Carl Sandburg, and more top picks.

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Childhood wonder

Why are bloodhounds such excellent sniffers? What fills the dark spaces between stars and planets? What's a dust devil? Time for Kids Big Book of What? digs into classic childhood questions with 175 pages of fascinating, fully illustrated explanations. This tome of trivia also comes with several "Try It" activities so that kids – and adults – can test their new knowledge, such as how to construct a boomerang out of a cereal box and staples.

Cross-border compositions

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Calexico,the Tucson-based band named after the Californian town on the Mexican border, recorded its eighth album, Algiers, in New Orleans. Confused? The album's musical geography is easier to map. "Algiers" exemplifies Calexico's Southwestern rock sound, anchored in nourishing guitars, deep-cavern Latin rhythms, and mariachi trumpets. Calexico specializes in panoramic vistas such as "Epic" and "Para." On "Puerto," a poignant tale of a migrant worker, the thrilling chorus emerges from a blind curve. "Algiers" is an exotic holiday for the ears.

Pack your bags for India

A gift-pack assortment of world-class British actors, including Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Judi Dench, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 18 as the cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The characters all navigate personal crises as they arrive for a stay in a run-down hotel in India. It will come as no surprise that everybody's life issues get smoothed out, but some of the buffing and polishing is magnificent.

Home sweet sound

Kathy Mattea has always had the best mezzo-soprano in the country-music business, and with Calling Me Home, she brings deep emotions into the hard-life stories of the coal-mining communities of her native Appalachia. With Mattea is a who's who list of Americana musicians, including guitar wunderkind Bryan Sutton, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and vocalists Tim O'Brien, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Aoife O'Donovan.

Lessons from the grave

The premise of Death and the Civil War, airing on PBS's "American Experience" Sept. 18, reveals how that war forced the nation to accept its responsibility to those who perished in its name. Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries or military funerals, no Red Cross, no systematic accounting for war dead. All these institutions emerged in its aftermath, alongside a maturing understanding of the lasting consequences of war itself.

The people's poet

If all you know of Carl Sandburg is a high school reading of the poem "Chicago," PBS's "American Masters" is offering a great opportunity to become further acquainted with this three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet on Sept. 24, the 45th anniversary his passing. The Day Carl Sandburg Died features rarely seen film clips and photographs as the backdrop for candid interviews with scholars, friends, and family in an expansive view of this controversial populist known as a "poet of the people."

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