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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Meghan Menon

Meghan Menon has the happy fortune to work at the Cockeysville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library in the capacity of librarian. Her reading interests are tremendously varied and are influenced by patron recommendations. Among the genres she holds dearest to her literary heart are children's fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery and meticulously well-researched historical fiction. When not tucking into the latest children's fiction or a well-thumbed copy of Pratchett, Fforde or Wodehouse, Meghan indulges other interests such as a hopeless obsession with ancestry.com, hunting for additions to her art collection, and improvising (mostly) delicious recipes with her husband. Her career as a librarian is the culmination of one of her greatest wishes and she takes joy in providing readers' advisory to patrons from toddlers to adults, in person and through "Between the Covers."

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A New Beginning for Old Friends

The Boxcar Children BeginningFor over seven decades, generations of young readers have delighted in the stories of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, known collectively as The Boxcar Children. But before four orphans found their way from an abandoned boxcar to a new life with their loving grandfather, they had another life and adventures yet untold. In The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Meadow Fair Farm, Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan offers a new beginning to a classic series.

 

The Alden family of Meadow Fair Farm is not wealthy, but they have always managed. What they lack in economy they balance with the support of strong family ties and good humor. Readers will be charmed by the gentle tone and tranquil setting of the farm life and the new friends encountered as the Alden children enjoy their last season at home before embarking on a more challenging journey. MacLachlan possesses an uncanny gift for mirroring the voice of Gertrude Chandler Warner. Her narration and characterizations strongly reflect the simple, straightforward and unassuming style of the original. Those who have read any of the nineteen volumes of The Boxcar Children will be struck by the similarity of style between the two authors.

 

Her ability to engage young readers without overwhelming them is particularly evident in this story. The Boxcar Children Beginning prequel serves as a wonderful introduction to the rich and bountiful series, while neatly avoiding the hazard of saddening young readers when it comes to the reason for their leaving the farm. The transition from life on the farm to life in the boxcar is made all the smoother by MacLachlan’s inclusion of a continuation teaser, borrowed from the original first volume. This prequel is recommended both for younger readers who have yet to enjoy the beloved series, and for current fans curious about the children’s life before the boxcar.

Meghan

 
 

Revisiting a Classic

Revisiting a Classic

posted by:
February 20, 2013 - 7:45am

Return to the WillowsChildren’s literature is a booming business, and with good reason. As a genre, it is among the most densely populated with high quality, richly developed stories – new classics in the making. And yet, amidst this abundance of new literary treasures, have you found yourself pining for the pastoral tales of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame? Do you fear that children’s classics of a bygone era are in danger of becoming bygone themselves? Newbery Honoree Jacqueline Kelly and illustrator Clint Young put such fears to rest in a new masterpiece: Return to the Willows.

 

Both a sequel and homage to Grahame’s time-honored The Wind in the Willows, author Kelly has created a joyful continuance to the collective adventures of the original author’s beloved characters, Toad, Mole, Ratty, and others. Demonstrating a keen sense of Grahame’s voice and whimsical style, Kelly succeeds in deftly merging Grahame’s attractive setting and fanciful characters with her own conversational and lively style of narration. The result is a jubilant new adventure in the style of the original, rendered uniquely accessible to a 21st-century audience.

 

Because of its playful tone and engaging language, Kelly’s Return to the Willows shines as a read-aloud and is best enjoyed as shared reading. Some of the words may be challenging for younger readers, who may wish to follow along looking at the lush pictures as an adult reads aloud. Recommended for fans of pastoral, anthropomorphic tales, in the tradition of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame. Longing for read-alikes? Kelly is not the only author revisiting the classics. Readers who find they are craving similar titles will also enjoy Emma Thompson’s tribute to Beatrix Potter in The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Meghan

 
 

Lord of the Bikes

Lord of the Bikes

posted by:
February 6, 2013 - 7:55am

Hokey PokeyWhen was the day? Most grownups can hardly remember. There is a day for each of us when playing with dolls becomes babyish; when windwhooshing down a hill on your bike – your faithful steed! – can’t offer the mad thrill it used to do; a day when, inexplicably, you seem to outgrow your best friends. For Jack, that day is today.

 

Newbery Award winner Jerry Spinelli has written an unusual love story. Not a tale of boy and girl, but a tale of Kid and Kid-dom; of Jack and Hokey Pokey. In Hokey Pokey, there are no adults and there are no babies – there are only Kids and all the delicious experiences of being a Kid. For the littlest Newbies and Snotsippers all the way up to Groundhog Chasers and Big Kids, Hokey Pokey brims with the best that childhood has to offer. There, bikes roam wild until caught and tamed by a daring Kid. Boys and girls are mortal enemies, but mortality only extends as far as playing dead. Cartoons can be watched at any time of day and Jack and his amigos share the stuckfast bond of brotherhood. And until today, until things were different, Jack has relished it all.

 

Bittersweet and oddly restorative, Hokey Pokey will have fully as much as appeal for adults as for its intended middle grade audience. The thoughtful, almost metaphysical chapters will selectively draw in readers who are ready – those readers who are just reaching the outer limits of Kid-dom and those who have traveled far enough beyond to enjoy  looking backward. It is a story of remembering what it was all about. It is a story about embracing what comes next.

Meghan

 
 

“Restorative”…a Word Which Here Describes a Book That Clears the Brain and Makes the Heart Happy

Who Could That Be at This Hour?Welcome, fellow members of the VFD and other esteemed colleagues of Lemony Snicket. You are apologetically invited to endure the somber account of a celebrated member’s decidedly inauspicious apprenticeship: Who Could That Be at This Hour?  All other readers are invited to stop reading right now. 

 

Oh, all right, tag along if you absolutely must.   

 

By his own account, Lemony Snicket’s education was an unusual one.  Just how unusual?  Well, that would certainly be the wrong question, but since you’re new at this, we’ll indulge your overdeveloped sense of curiosity – a phrase which here is the polite substitution for "nosiness". Suffice to say that Snicket’s education supplied him with the skills necessary to escape drugging by tea; send secret messages through library loans; free-fall, and other similarly uncomfortable exploits encountered in this book.

 

What strange sort of book is this? Call it a prequel to unfortunate events, call it a nod to the noir; whatever the classification, Snicket’s latest is most certainly a restorative. Who Could That Be at This Hour? is the first in the intended four-volume series, All the Wrong Questions. Chronicling the latter days of his uncommonly strange childhood and early career, the authorized autobiography of the dear and drear Snicket is at turns gloomy and startling, but always entertaining. Readers who have enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events will not be disappointed. Staples of Snicket’s style – clever wordplay and melancholic narration – are abundant in this new venture, accompanied by superb woodcut illustrations.

Meghan

 
 

Little Brothers Can Be Real Monsters

Little Brothers Can Be Real Monsters

posted by:
December 19, 2012 - 7:45am

Always OctoberProlific children’s author Bruce Coville is back with a fresh serving of the deliciously weird. Welcome to Always October, where the weather is always autumnal and monsters abound. It is a world separate from our own, yet woven into the essential fabric of human dreams and fears. Now the links between these worlds are in danger of unraveling, and the fate of each hangs by a thread. 

 

Sixth grader Jake Doolittle isn’t fond of surprises. In the second grade, his best friend Lily nearly mucked up their friendship by proposing to him in front of the entire class (True story!) In the fourth grade, his adored dad disappeared under mysterious circumstances. So when Jake opens the door one stormy night to find a baby swaddled in black on the front porch, he’s more than a little uneasy. A note left with the baby urges the family to protect Little Dumpling until his guardian can return. Jake’s mother falls in love with the baby immediately, and it isn’t long before Jake himself falls for the smiles and gurgles of his new little brother. But when the light of a full moon hits Little Dumpling, it reveals a bright green furry little monster! 

 

Little Dumpling may be a little monster at times, but he’s still Jake’s brother now and he’s determined to protect LD and get to the bottom of the baby’s transformation. Jake turns to Lily and together the two seek to solve the puzzle of Little Dumpling’s transformation, his unusual ancestry, and the curious link between the baby monster and Jake’s father. Alternating point-of-view narration, snappy dialogue, and quirky characters keep readers on their toes as they follow Jake, Lily and Little Dumpling on their adventure.

Meghan

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It is Not in the Stars to Hold Our Destiny, But in Ourselves

Jepp, Who Defied the StarsFor almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.

 

Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood.  As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.

 

Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike. 

Meghan

 
 

Hogwarts Dropout (Or... She Who Must Bake)

The Power of Poppy PendleFirst time author Natasha Lowe delivers a heartwarming tale of magic, baking and the recipe for happiness in The Power of Poppy Pendle. Born amongst warm, spicy scents on the floor of a French bakery in Potts Bottom, Poppy Pendle came into the world destined for Great Things. From her parents’ point of view, the path to Great Things should spiral tightly around Poppy’s extraordinary magical gifts.  From her earliest days it’s been obvious that Poppy has inherited the special talents of her Great Grandmother Mabel, a famous witch and the pride of the family.

 

From Poppy’s point of view, Great Things lie down another path entirely. For Poppy has another, altogether more precious gift – or at least, more precious to her – and that is her talent for baking. When she was seven, her parents enrolled her at Ruthersfield, Potts Bottom’s premier school for aspiring witches. Now, three years later, 10-year-old Poppy is at the top of her class, yet she could hardly be more bored. She dreams of having a normal life with non-magical friends and of someday opening her own bakery to share her gift with the world. When her parents place a moratorium on her baking, Poppy decides to take destiny into her own hands and runs away. Finding shelter at Patisserie Marie Claire, a local bakery that seems strangely familiar, Poppy finds friendship and purpose beyond the ideals her parents have constructed for her. But can this idyll last?

 

Lowe’s inviting narrative explores the nature of independence, friendship, child-parent conflicts and the importance of following one’s passion. At the close of the story, children and adults alike may enjoy creating such treats as coffee cupcakes or lemon bars from a collection of Poppy’s own favorite recipes.

Meghan

 
 

Eight Degrees of Manipulation

The Stockholm OctavoSome novels seem designed for escape, others for amusement, and yet others to satisfy an intellectual craving. Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo fits into none of these particular niches yet embodies the characteristics of them all by simply engulfing the reader. With each passing scene, Engelmann sweeps the reader further into to a richly-detailed hybrid of 18th century Swedish politics and mysticism.

 

Emil Larsson has fared well for himself in this world. A rising sekretaire, skillful gamer and thoroughly contented bachelor, Larsson is a man immersed in the pleasures and glory of Stockholm’s Golden Age.  However, destiny is about to deal Emil an altogether new hand. One night, shortly after learning he must give up bachelorhood to maintain his prestigious government post, Emil is approached by Mrs. Sparrow, the proprietress of his favorite gaming house. A known seer, Mrs. Sparrow tells him she has had a startling vision of his future and invites him to undergo the cartomancy ritual known as the Octavo.

 

The Octavo is a rare and delicate reading – granted to few and successfully wielded by yet fewer. Revolving around a singular life-changing occurrence and the eight people who will bring the event to pass, the Octavo is no mere game. It is a chance meeting of known destiny and free will.  And as Emil is about to discover, he is not the only player.

 

The Stockholm Octavo will appeal to a wide range of readers. A wholly original and dazzling blend of historical events, personal fortune, political intrigue and mysticism awaits readers who dare to follow Emil on his perilous journey.

 

Meghan

 
 

Cornucopia of the Curious

History abounds with innovators, leaders, peacemakers and visionaries, men and women who have performed great deeds in the world and have earned their respective chapters in the history books.  Chris Mikul’s latest work is no such history book.  Instead, The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived is a delightful hodgepodge of 226 of history’s most unusual characters – charmers, madmen and ne’er-do-wells who are worthy of an amusing footnote, if not a chapter in the hallowed halls of history.

 

One such is Edward William Cole, who rose to become the most successful bookseller in Australia. Born in 1832, the son of a laborer, Cole possessed an extraordinary flair for advertising, which he utilized to found increasingly successful book arcades and even to find a wife.  More than an excellent businessman, Cole was a generous spirit, who would allow patrons to read in his arcades all day without purchase. He also vehemently opposed racism and published pamphlets expounding its absurdity.

 

Mikul’s book is peppered with similarly curious histories. He reveals the darker side of Bobby Fischer, the genius widely considered to be history’s finest chess player. He also delves into the history of Hetty Green, one of Wall Street’s savviest and wealthiest investors, whose investment acumen was matched only by her obsessive stinginess, a predilection which ultimately cost her son his leg. Mikul offers the compelling tale of Moondog, the blind street dweller with an extraordinary gift for music whose Norse-inspired apparel earned him the moniker “Viking of 6th Avenue.”  A celebration of nonconformists, mavericks, and the just plain bizarre, Mikul’s collection of character vignettes is broadly recommended for readers who seek to be immediately engaged by their reading material.  

Meghan

 
 

Read the Book, Play the Game, Save the Future

A Mutiny in TimeIn A Mutiny in Time, Book One of The Infinity Ring series, James Dashner delivers a strong opening to the latest multi-platform, clue-finding series for kids. Best friends Dak and Sera are unusual kids.  Dak is a self-professed history nerd (and cheese addict), while Sera’s fondness for quantum physics is incalculable. So when the best friends discover a time travel device--the Infinity Ring--in a secret lab belonging to Dak’s parents, they’re seriously excited.

 

They’re not the only ones anxious to get their hands on the Infinity Ring though, and soon the kids are recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society formed by Aristotle and maintained over generations and many centuries. From the Hystorians, Dak and Sera learn that there have been a number of Great Breaks in history--rifts in reality--that will eventually lead to the world’s destruction! The only way to save the world is to use the Infinity Ring to go back in time and mend each rift.

 

Dak and Sera agree to help the Hystorians, in exchange for help in finding Dak’s parents, who were lost in time during a test run of the Infinity Ring. Joined by Riq, an older boy and youngest member of the Hystorians, Dak and Sera travel to Spain in 1492 to stop a mutiny on Columbus’ fateful voyage. There are dangers though; for as long as the Hystorians society has existed, so too has another society, the SQ, which has benefited from the rifts in reality and will stop at nothing to keep the Great Breaks from being mended. For every Hystorian Guide they find in each era, they must also elude the SQ’s Time Wardens who seek to stop them.

 

The fun doesn’t end with the fast paced first adventure in the series. After completing A Mutiny in Time, readers are invited to play the game online. The reader becomes a player and can solve puzzles, navigate wormholes, and explore cities of the past while receiving a dash of real history with their entertainment. Fans of The 39 Clues series now have a new series to enjoy.

Meghan