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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Paula Gallagher

A former middle school English teacher, hotel concierge, and freelance food writer, Paula Gallagher reads widely across many genres. Whether you favor intriguing memoirs, literary fiction, or books about pop culture, you can count on her to hand you a compelling read at the Pikesville branch. Paula depends on her daughter to help her critique graphic novels, children's books and teen reads. In addition to Between the Covers, Paula reviews for the Adult Books 4 Teens blog for School Library Journal.

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The Wild Blue Yonder

The Wild Blue Yonder

posted by:
February 4, 2013 - 9:01am

 

The Aviator's WifeFrom the time he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Charles Lindbergh has been a source of national fascination. In her new book, The Aviator’s Wife, historical novelist Melanie Benjamin turns the spotlight on the woman behind the man. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a fascinating persona in her own right, the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot’s license, in order to become her husband’s co-pilot and navigator. Told in the first person, the novel begins with the couple’s brief, whirlwind courtship—romantic to Anne but perfunctory to Charles.

 

Anne is immediately smitten, and although he is less than attentive to her emotional needs, Charles’ prowess in the bedroom keeps her interest. She respects his keen intellect and career ambitions, while all the while wishing he was less distant. The Aviator’s Wife follows the couple through the highs and lows of their complicated marriage. Benjamin chronicles in detail perhaps their greatest tragedy, the infamous kidnapping of their firstborn, Charlie. She captures Anne’s paralyzing grief at the loss of her beloved son, and her sense of hope and helplessness as investigators attempted to find the boy.

 

Love, determination, convention, and duty ultimately fueled their marriage for 45 years. Although first and foremost a wife and mother of five more children, Anne managed to carve her own identity as a writer and feminist. Benjamin also illustrates Anne’s affair with her physician, sparked when she was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. Charles never visited his lonely, ailing wife during this difficult time. And although Anne found her own respite, she is shocked and saddened to learn of her husband’s own indiscretions over the years. Well-written and engrossing, this historical novel proves to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Paula G.

 
 

Award-Winning Choices for Beginning Readers

 

Up, Tall and High!The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, named for beloved children's author/illustrator Dr. Seuss, is given by the American Library Association to the author and illustrator of the “most distinguished American book for beginning readers.” The 2013 medal winner is Up, Tall and High, written and illustrated by Ethan Long. Silly, brightly colored cartoon birds are the stars of this trio of brief stories that use broad humor to get across the meanings of the words up, down, tall, small, and high. Fold-out pages and flaps to lift make this a fun book for brand new readers, who will gain confidence as they quickly master basic sight words deftly illustrated with visual cues.

 

Three honor books have also been named. Well known author/illustrator Mo Willems was given the accolade for Let’s Go For a Drive!, starring his wildly popular characters Elephant and Piggie. Simple yet expressive cartoon drawings, color-coded speech bubbles, and an imaginative, laugh-out-loud storyline make this honor book a perfect choice for emerging readers. “Buttons come, and buttons go” in Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by illustrator James Dean, and author Eric Litwin, allowing for a counting down opportunity and a reminder to look on the bright side. Repetition, rhyme, bold colors, and a familiar feline character add to the appeal of this picture book.

 

Rounding out the list is Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, written and illustrated by Cece Bell. Following in the grand tradition of comically mismatched friends, this duo must find a way to compromise and give-and-take to get through their get-together. Bell’s humorous cartoon illustrations will engage new readers as they make their way through this dialogue-driven book, a great choice for children who have mastered the basics but are not yet ready for easy chapter books.

 

Let's Go For a Drive!Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

 

Paula G.

 
 

Applegate Takes the 2013 Newbery Medal

 

The One and Only IvanThe Newbery award, given for “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature” by the American Library Association, was announced yesterday. The 2013 medal winner is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, a book narrated by an artistic silverback gorilla who has spent the majority of his life on display at a circus-themed shopping mall. Ivan never questions his life in captivity, until the arrival of Ruby, a young elephant who has been taken from her family. Applegate’s award-winning novel explores themes of friendship, humanity and the idea that it’s never too late to become the person—or gorilla—you’re meant to be.

 

The Newbery committee also named three honor books for 2013. Baltimorean Laura Amy Schlitz, librarian at The Park School, was given the nod for her complex, suspenseful Dickensian tale, Splendors and Glooms. Orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, assistants to an evil puppeteer, Grisini, must clear their names when they are all implicated in the disappearance of Clara, the only daughter of a wealthy doctor. The children must escape not only Grisini, but his longtime rival, a powerful witch. Schlitz was the winner of the 2008 Newbery medal for Good Masters!, Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village.

 

A second honor novel is Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky, set in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.Told in a distinctly Southern voice, this character-rich novel follows strong-willed sixth grader Mo LoBeau as she and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, attempt to find out the truth behind a murder. Rounding out the list of Newbery honor books is a nonfiction title, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. A well-written, true historical thriller, Shienkin’s book provides an in-depth exploration of the scientists, politicians, and spies involved in the creation of the devastating atomic bomb. While written for a teen audience, Bomb will appeal to older history buffs as well.

 

Splendors and GloomsThree Times LuckyBomb

Paula G.

 
 

Caldecott Winners Revealed

 

This is Not my HatPicture book author and illustrator Jon Klassen, known for his wry illustrations rendered in a muted color palette, was honored today by the American Library Association with the Randolph Caldecott Medal for This is Not my Hat. The book follows a sly minnow who has purloined a hat from a much larger fish and is certain he will get away with his petty crime. The illustrations, however, tell a different story. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the illustrator of “the most distinguished picture book for children.”

 

Five Caldecott Honor Books were also named, including Extra Yarn, another book illustrated by Klassen, written by Mac Barnett. Extra Yarn shows the power of one young girl to change her town through kindness and generosity. Rounding out the list are the boy-and-his-penguin tale One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo, and illustrated by David Small; Green, a meditation on the color, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; the Twilight Zone-inspired Creepy Carrots!, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown; and the lyrical bedtime story Sleep Like a Tiger, written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.

 

Extra YarnGreenCreepy Carrots!Sleep Like a TigerOne Cool Friend

Paula G.

 
 

Sea Swept

Sea Swept

posted by:
January 22, 2013 - 8:01am

The Brides of Rollrock IslandPrimarily found in Scottish and Irish folklore, Selkies are seals who have shed their skin to reveal an enigmatic human form. Australian author Margo Lanagan makes the Selkie myth her own in the transporting novel The Brides of Rollrock Island. The youngest of seven, Misskaella Prout is clearly a different kind of child. Her dying grandmother warns that with her unusual looks, she “harks back” and will be difficult to marry. As she becomes a young woman, Misskaella discovers she has the unique power to draw handsome men and beautiful women from out of the seals that come up on the rocks at the base of the cliff at Crescent Corner.

 

The men of the remote Rollrock Island are eager to pay a high price for one of sea witch Misskaella’s attractive, eligible women. Obedient, devoted, and servile, they make excellent wives and mothers. But these brides suffer a deep melancholy, as they long to return to the sea and take their true form. The author tells her story from the points of view of five different characters over the course of several decades, and each has been affected in their own way by the introduction of the Selkie wives.

 

A two-time recipient of the Printz honor medal for excellence in young adult literature, Lanagan is known for her evocative, poetic language and her ability to bring a foreign setting alive through vivid detail. The Brides of Rollrock Island is a standout novel for teens that should find crossover appeal for adults who enjoy a rich, well-crafted story with familiar folkloric roots.

Paula G.

 
 

A Thousand Words

A Thousand Words

posted by:
January 9, 2013 - 8:55am

Red Knit Cap GirlThis Is Not My HatTwo of last year’s most critically acclaimed picture books happen to be titles featuring headwear. Naoko Stoop’s Red Knit Cap Girl is a gentle, imaginative tale of a young girl who wants to get close enough to the moon to have a conversation. Following the sage advice of Mr. Owl, she enlists the help of her woodland animal friends to send a signal. Bunny, bear, squirrel and hedgehog assist in the hanging of Red Knit Cap Girl’s paper lanterns, made for a special full moon celebration. They sing together, but Moon is absent from the party. Then Red Knit Cap Girl has an epiphany—a quiet, dark forest is most inviting. Stoop’s charmingly old-fashioned illustrations are rendered in pencil, ink and acrylic on plywood. The wood grain adds an appropriately naturalistic element, each page’s background carefully selected to enhance the overall effect. Stoop is also a master at conveying darkness and light, and the subtle shades between.

 

The minnow protagonist of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat introduces himself to the reader by boldly announcing that his newly acquired chapeau is stolen property. In fact, he himself is the one who snatched it. Rich digital illustrations enhanced by Chinese ink portray a deep black ocean, rife with various hues of brown sea plants. The pictures here tell a story that contradicts the text, leaving observant readers to delight in the thought of what might come next when the hat’s owner, an enormous, no-nonsense fish, discovers it missing. Much like Klassen’s enormously popular I Want my Hat Back, this picture book is driven by wry humor and the power of inference.

Paula G.

 
 

This Little Piggy Cried Ki-ya!

The Three Ninja PigsThe porcine heroes of The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz have finally had enough of the wolf bully terrorizing their Japanese mountain village, so off to the dojo they go. Told in snappy limerick verse, this modern retelling follows the sibling pigs as each trains in a different martial art. But one brother is quickly bored with aikido, while the second defies his sensei by cockily refusing to study past his yellow belt in jujitsu. Their sister, however, is a testament to the power of dedication and determination. She studies karate for months (perfecting a perfect pork-chop!) in preparation for her showdown with the big bad wolf.

 

The Three Ninja Pigs is an action-packed story that begs to be read aloud, preferably not at bedtime. Half the fun of reading this thrilling picture book is taking in its cinematic illustrations, courtesy of the talented Dan Santat, a dad himself to two spirited boys. To add an authentic Japanese feel, he rendered the background art (plenty of cherry blossoms, bamboo and pagodas in the shadow of Mount Fuji) using traditional sumi ink brushwork on rice paper. The characters themselves show off their moves in Santat’s signature comically expressive Photoshop illustrations. Panels mimic the best action scenes from Bruce Lee martial arts movies; a Japanese glossary at the end rounds out the experience.  Be prepared to watch your young readers reenact the pigs’ moves all around the living room.

Paula G.

 
 

Myth No More

Myth No More

posted by:
November 7, 2012 - 9:01am

LarfDon't Squish the Sasquatch!Who would have thought that Bigfoot would make such an engaging picture book protagonist? Two recent tales put this elusive hairy man-beast at the forefront of literature for young readers. In Ashley Spires’ charming Larf, the title character leads a solitary but fulfilling life in a cabin in the woods, save for his pet bunny Eric. He worries that if people found out he was real, he would attract the wrong kind of prying attention. But one morning’s newspaper article proves life changing when he finds out he may not be the only sasquatch in the world. Larf knows he must travel to town to find out. But what if the other sasquatch doesn’t like him? What if he eats meat instead of vegetables? And worst of all, what if he is a she? Spires’ watercolor and ink illustrations lend a gentle, quirky and humorous tone to a story that ultimately explores what it means to open yourself to the possibilities of friendship.

 

Kent Redeker’s Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! is a raucous ride on a city bus where the first passenger to be picked up is Señor Sasquatch. Boldly colored digital art with a retro feel by illustrator/graphic designer Bob Staake completes a picture book chock full of absurd creatures and sly humor. Each new rider to enter the bus (including Mr. Octo-Rhino) receives the same direction from the driver, Mr. Blobule. “Don’t Squish the Sasquatch!” Of course, the bow-tied bright green Sasquatch, all gangly spiky arms and long legs, can’t avoid being crowded out, which leads to a horrible crash and a surprise ending. Expect this winning read aloud to become a family and storytime favorite.

Paula G.

 
 

Departures and Arrivals

Departures and Arrivals

posted by:
November 6, 2012 - 9:11am

Ask the PassengersAsk the Passengers, by A.S. King, is a unique, yet highly relatable coming-of-age story set in a small Pennsylvania town. Astrid Jones’ life is complicated, to say the least. She may very well be the most responsible member of a household that includes a dad with substance abuse issues, an overbearing mom who only sees things her way, and a popular younger sister who teeters on the edge of perfect. Astrid’s holding down a job at the local Mexican restaurant, while navigating the demands of high school academia and the social scene as defined by her particular group of friends. She’s trying to come to terms with her own secret--she is increasingly attracted to a girl at work. She keeps her clandestine encounters with Dee hidden from everyone.

 

Who can Astrid open up to? As strange as it may seem, she sends her thoughts and love to the people on the airplanes that pass over. Surely they won’t share the same small-minded attitudes of everyone around her. Astrid lies on the picnic table in her yard in an almost meditative state, telepathically communicating with the passengers. King intersperses their stories throughout the narrative, making this novel an especially intriguing read. Teens will be instantly drawn to the acerbic Astrid, an immensely likable character surrounded by more than her share of drama. Known for her Printz- honor book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and the critically-acclaimed Everybody Sees the Ants, King has become a favorite go-to author for well written, insightful realistic teen fiction.

Paula G.

 
 

Vampires at the Barn Raising

Vampires at the Barn Raising

posted by:
October 23, 2012 - 7:44am

The Hallowed OnesJust when you think you’ve read every possible permutation of the teen vampire trope, along comes an author to prove you wrong. Laura Bickle’s entrancing coming of age novel The Hallowed Ones follows Amish teen Katie as she contemplates marriage to Elijah. As one of the Plain folk, Katie knows she must follow the tenets of the Ordnung with unquestioning devotion. But Katie wants more from life than chores and family. She looks forward to her Rumspringa, a time when Amish youth are allowed a taste of the outside world before being baptized and fully committing to the church.

 

Bickle has created a believable, likable heroine. Abundant details of cloistered Amish life are smoothly woven into the narrative, making for a fascinating read. The author slowly builds suspense, as limited knowledge of something terribly wrong in the outside world filters into the sect. Soon, no one is allowed in or out of the fenced community. Some type of biological weapon has infected men, turning them into insatiable, flesh-tearing vampires. Only sanctified ground is safe.

 

When Katie offers asylum in her family’s dog barn to a badly injured young man, she knows it is the ultimate act of rebellion. Their relationship grows as she nurtures him back to health. Alex admires her for her intelligence and resourcefulness, rather than gentleness of word and deed. A rift grows between Katie and Elijah, as she resists committing to both him and the church. As the novel draws to a close, it becomes apparent that there are vampires within the gates. Katie’s resolve is put to the test. She has an ally in elderly Mr. Stoltz, the community’s Hexenmeister. He alone understands the true nature of the invasive evil. Vampires blanch at the sight of his protective hex signs and missives to heaven. How can they eradicate the evil within? Readers will be riveted by this uniquely told novel that skillfully blends bucolic realism with unspeakable horror.

Paula G.