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Leo Bretholz, 1921-2014

Leo Bretholz, 1921-2014

posted by:
March 10, 2014 - 2:32pm

Cover art for Leap into DarknessHolocaust survivor and author Leo Bretholz passed away Saturday at his home in Pikesville at the age of 93. Bretholz was imprisoned numerous times as he sought to escape Nazi-occupied Europe for seven years. Bretholz escaped seven times during his harrowing ordeal, including a 1942 jump from a train headed for Auschwitz.

 

Bretholz immigrated to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in Baltimore. Upon receipt of the death notifications of his mother and sisters in 1962, Bretholz began publicly sharing his story. In 1998, his gripping memoir of his experiences during this time, Leap into Darkness, was published and remains a riveting documentary of survival. Until his death, Bretholz remained dedicated to ensuring that new generations of school children were aware of his story and the history of the Holocaust and was tireless in his work as an advocate.

Maureen

 
 

ALA Awards Announced

ALA Awards Announced

posted by:
January 27, 2014 - 1:40pm

LocomotiveMidwinter BloodFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresThe most prestigious annual awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association in Philadelphia today. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. A complete list of awards, winners and honorees can be found here.

 

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Locomotive by Brian Floca, an exploration of America’s early railroads. Stunning, detailed illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page.

 

The oldest of the medals awarded, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Kate DiCamillo for Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, the story of a cynical girl and an ordinary squirrel. DiCamillo, a previous Newbery Medal winner, was recently inaugurated to serve a two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.  

 

The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.  Readers will be hooked by the masterful storytelling that links seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined.

 

The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values. Bryan Collier received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his magnificent watercolor and collage art in Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty. Rita Williams-Garcia was awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award for P.S. Be Eleven, the continuing coming-of-age stories of the Gaither sisters, first introduced in One Crazy Summer.

Maureen

 
 

Keys to the Castle

Outrageous  Fortune by Anthony RussellA dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.

 

For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.

 

The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.

 

Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.

Cynthia

 
 

An Interview with Baltimore's Native Son

Cover art for Tales from the Holy LandBaltimore author Rafael Alvarez discusses his new book, Tales from the Holy Land, on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and writer for The Wire recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his latest collection of short stories on the magic of old Baltimore.

 

Q. Your new collection of short stories, Tales from the Holy Land, comes out this month. If you had to choose one story that epitomizes the gritty resolve of your hometown, what would it be?

A. "Junie Bug," in which a man spends his life digging in Leakin Park for the body of his father; and "The Sacred Heart of Ruthie," in which an orphan raised by the Oblate Sisters of Providence grows up to be a heart surgeon.

 

Q. This is your third collection of short fiction. What makes you favor short stories as your literary medium? How did this latest book come about?

A. I write fiction every day – about a half hour to an hour a day – in between the journalism and screenwriting I have to do to make a living. When I have enough for a new book I string them together and because I always use the same cast of "Holy Land" characters – Basilio, Grandpop, Nieves, Orlo and Leini, Miss Bonnie – it reads more like a novelized "mural" than stand alone short stories. [As a] side note, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, works exclusively in the short story genre.

 

Q. As a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and former writer for the HBO cop drama, The Wire, you have witnessed a lot of Baltimore's heartbreak. How do you keep cynicism from overtaking your writing?

A. There are two, maybe three Baltimores within the city. I have lived in Baltimore for all of my 55 years – was educated here, raised my children here – and have never been the victim of a crime. I am thankful for that, but I'm not ignorant of how fortunate I am to have been born into the 1960s middle-class and not the entrenched underclass. I keep cynicism away from my art and my soul by means of hope, which I incorporate into both, by believing that the more you give away the more hopeful you become.

 

Q. Talk a little bit about your family background and its influence on your fiction writing.

A. The best answer to this question is found in the story The Fountain of Highlandtown, which won the 1994 Baltimore City Artscape fiction award and is included in Tales from the Holy Land.  The story was my first real success in the world of fiction and, in many ways, is the provenance for all of the stories to come.

Cynthia

 
 

Ned Vizzini, 1981 - 2013

Ned Vizzini, 1981 - 2013

posted by:
December 20, 2013 - 4:18pm

Cover art for It's Kind of a Funny StoryAcclaimed writer Ned Vizzini died Thursday at age 32 in Brooklyn. Vizzini was a successful young adult author, television screenwriter and essayist. His first novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, was published in 2006 and is the semi-autobiographical account of a high school student dealing with depression. Vizzini’s account of this high achiever who spends time in a mental hospital following a suicide attempt has become a contemporary classic in teen literature. In 2010, it was adapted for the big screen as a feature film starring Zach Galifianakis.

 

Vizzini’s other novels include Be More Chill and The Other Normals which also focus on outsiders and their struggles. His most recent project was a middle-grade series he co-authored with film director Chris Columbus. House of Secrets, an electrifying adventure, is the first in this series which reads like a movie. Vizzini also wrote for television, including the shows The Last Resort, Teen Wolf and Believe, the new show from J.J. Abrams premiering in March. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of outlets such as The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Daily Beast.
 

Maureen

 
 

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

Cover art for Mary Poppins, She WroteMary Poppins, Julie Andrews and Walt Disney: for most of us, the three are linked together with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, tea parties on the ceiling and Jane and Michael Banks of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The name P.L. Travers, however, is recognizable by only the most diehard of Poppins fans, as she is the author of the Mary Poppins children’s book series, as well as the subject of the biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson.

 

P.L. Travers was born in Australia and christened Helen Lyndon Goff; she later adopted Pamela Lyndon Travers as a pseudonym. Travers valued her privacy, and felt protective of the Mary Poppins characters and stories. Lawson explains that each contained elements of Travers’ own rather peripatetic and often difficult life. Initially, Walt Disney encountered resistance from Travers when he approached her about adapting her Poppins books to a film version. The “real” nanny is sharp-tongued, mysterious, controlling and a bit vain. Travers felt Disney would “replace truth with false sentimentality” and called Disney’s movie-making “vulgar.” In the end, Disney’s coffers trumped Travers’ misgivings, and the Julie Andrews version of Mary triumphed on the silver screen.

 

Expect to hear more about P.L. Travers after the  December release of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks which follows Disney as he woos Travers for the film rights to the now-classic movie Mary Poppins.   
 

Lori

 
 

Barbara Park, 1947-2013

Barbara Park, 1947-2013

posted by:
November 18, 2013 - 11:36am

Cover art for Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly BusBarbara Park, bestselling author of the beloved Junie B. Jones series, among other children’s books, passed away on Friday at the age of 66 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. The series Park was best known for followed the irrepressible Junie B. and her kindergarten (and later first grade) classmates as they encountered everyday situations that vex the average 5- or 6-year-old. Starting with Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, these books have entertained countless first-time readers. Aside from activity books and other related Junie B. material, Park published 28 Junie B. Jones titles.

 

Beyond Junie B., Park also excelled at writing other children’s books. Two of her best-known have been contemporary classics since their publication. Skinnybones follows the smallest kid on his baseball team who unfortunately also has the biggest mouth. For older kids, the tragic story Mick Harte Was Here covers the aftermath of a sister coping with the biking death of her brother. Acclaimed author Judy Blume was among the many who, over the weekend, spoke about Park’s enduring legacy, stating that some of Junie B.’s admirers confused the two: "I'd always say, 'I didn't write them, but I wish I had."

Todd

 
 

Dutch Invasion

Dutch Invasion

posted by:
November 14, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Girl With a Pearl EarringCover art for The GoldfinchLiterary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.  

 

Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.

 

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.

 

Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
 

Cynthia

 
 

To Turn a Blind Eye

To Turn a Blind Eye

posted by:
November 4, 2013 - 7:00am

Witnesses. Accomplices. Killers. One thing is clear from Wendy Lower’s chilling new book Hitler’Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fieldss Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Regardless of the prism through which German women viewed the Third Reich’s maddening quest for racial purity few escape Lower’s dogged search for the answer to “why?”  Why did this “darkest side of female activism” rear its head and consume a generation of women that found themselves thrust into a war they did not want but nonetheless embraced for their own selfishness and ambition.

 

For the thousands of women coming of age in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the dividing line between home front and battlefront was practically nonexistent.  While most women found ways to distance themselves from the violence of the war, a third of the female population was actively engaged in a Nazi Party organization. Many volunteered to be sent to the Eastern Front where some of the worst atrocities against Jews were documented. Clerical, teaching and nursing jobs became the sinister underpinnings of the Nazi machine, where new career tracks beckoned young women seeking a steady paycheck. How these women, some barely out of their teens, others young mothers, evolved into indifferent bystanders or cold-blooded killers, is the thrust of Lower's dramatic account.

 

Lower sorts her 13 "main characters" into three categories: witnesses, accomplices and killers. It is the latter perpetrators of genocide that evoke the most study. Women like Johanna Altvater, a secretary  who lures Jewish children with candy only to shoot them, or Liesel Willhaus, wife of an SS commander who shoots Jewish slave workers from her balcony with her child in tow, are impossible to fathom. Lower, who is a Holocaust historian, explores shocking behaviors like these in this 68-year-old story of one of the most disturbing puzzles of women's behavior. Hitler's Furies has recently been named a finalist for the National Book Award.

Cynthia

 
 

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

Michael Palmer 1942-2013

posted by:
October 31, 2013 - 3:43pm

Cover art for The SisterhoodCover art for ResistantBest-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.

 

Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
 

Todd