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Top Picks: PBS's series of Shakespeare's history plays, Larry Kane's Beatles book, and more

The game 'Plants vs. Zombies 2' is fun and creative, Rokia Traoré's new album 'Beautiful Africa' is a colorful, joyful work, and more top picks.

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Malian Rokia Traoré's release Beautiful Africa

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Africa’s queen of pop

A world that has grown weary of bad news from war-torn Africa ought to listen to Mali’s Rokia Traoré. On the title track of Beautiful Africa, Traoré hails the wisdom and integrity growing in the hearts of the continent’s children. “Lord, give us wisdom, give us foresight,” she concludes. Traoré’s pop music bursts with color. When she isn’t plucking an African lute or strumming electric guitar over rivet-shaking grooves, Traoré and her vocalists evoke the joy of birds at dawn.

Kings of England

Despots, dukes, and double-dealing – nothing passes the test of time like the Bard. PBS brings the history plays of Shakespeare to vivid life with a new four-part series, The Hollow Crown, about the famous and infamous kings of England he put in his plays. The series launches with “Richard II,” starring Ben Whishaw, Patrick Stewart, and David Suchet. Intrigue, infighting, and insurrection – these works are as good as any political thriller Hollywood can pen today. The series begins on “Great Performances” Friday, Sept. 20. “Henry IV” (Parts 1 and 2) and “Henry V” will air in subsequent weeks.

Latino history

Latinos may be the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States, but that doesn’t mean the population is new. Latinos have a rich and diverse history in the US – something PBS explores in its new series Latino Americans, airing in three parts on Sept. 17 and 24, and Oct. 1. Covering the 1500s to the present via historical footage and interviews with scholars and Latino leaders, “Latino Americans” is an engaging way to learn about a robust aspect of US history. The series will also be available on DVD Oct. 1.

Colliding worlds

The world’s largest democracy is a land of astonishing timelessness in the midst of rapid modernization. The World Before Her explores the contrasting lives of two women in modern India: an aspiring beauty contestant and a traditional – and militant – Hindu, holding fast to old ways. The film is a fascinating study of the forces at work in a vast, complex country struggling to straddle modern and ancient values in the 21st century. It airs Monday, Sept. 16, on PBS.

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Zombies in the garden

The charmingly zany Plants vs. Zombies 2 pits you against an encroaching horde. Your only defense: wall-nut fortifications, peashooters, and cabbage-pult artillery. The free-to-play iPhone/iPad game offers power-ups and additional fierce flora for real money. We found ourselves buying a few just to reward the designers for crafting such a fun experience.

Before Beatlemania

Larry Kane was the only broadcast journalist to travel with the Beatles on their triumphant 1964 and ’65 North American tours. He chronicled those heady experiences in his 2003 book, “Ticket to Ride.” Now he’s back with When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles’ Rise to the Top. Combining the results of some deep digging and revealing interviews with those who knew them best, Kane unearths fascinating details from the earliest days of the boys’ growing up in hardscrabble Liverpool in the 1950s to the eve of their world conquest in 1964.


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