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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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Living Large

Living Large

posted by:
May 8, 2013 - 8:05am

The 13-story TreehouseWhat would your dream house look like? If you’re Andy and Terry, you live in The 13-Story Treehouse, a marvel of backyard architecture with limitless possibilities for fun. Besides the usual bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms, it’s got a game room, a theater, a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of man-eating sharks, and for good measure, a secret underground laboratory. In other words, paradise.  Penned by perennial favorite Andy Griffiths and liberally illustrated by his usual partner-in-laughs Terry Denton, this fast-paced slapstick book for middle graders marks the beginning of a hysterical new series.

 

The author and illustrator have made themselves the protagonists of the beyond-silly story. The action begins when Terry inexplicably paints the neighbor’s cat with yellow paint and drops it over the edge of the deck. The feline sprouts wings and flies off, now transformed into a “catnary.” Meanwhile, the pair has missed the deadline to send a new book to their publisher, Mr. Big Nose. How will they come up with something overnight, especially when Andy insists on beginning the story “Once UPOM a time”?

 

Middle grade readers, particularly boys, will find the combination of wacky plotlines and simple black and white cartoon drawings irresistible. Give The 13-Story Treehouse to fans of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and Dan Gutman’s My Weird School First Chapter books.

Paula G.

 
 

Just Add Preschooler

Instant MomActress Nia Vardalos won seemingly overnight stardom and acclaim with her first movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which she also wrote. Although she seemed on top of the world, there was one thing missing from her life—a child. Married to fellow comedic actor Ian Gomez, Vardalos tried for over a decade to become a mother. In the funny and touching new memoir Instant Mom, she chronicles the journey that led the pair to the adoption of their daughter, and shares with the reader the transformative experience that is motherhood.

 

Despite the title, there was nothing “instant” about Vardalos’ becoming a mother. Much of her professional success in life, she admits, is due to her stubborn nature and her refusal to take “no” for an answer. She admits to translating the meaning of the word as “try a different way.” Five years of devastating miscarriages led her to many more years of IVF treatments and even attempts with a surrogate. She kept this personal heartbreak hidden from the media even as millions embraced her as an actress they could immediately relate to, a Greek-Canadian girl next door.

 

Vardalos’ humorous, approachable tone makes Instant Mom a page-turning read, and when she decides to explore adoption via foster care, you know that this will finally be the answer. When she receives the phone call confirming that they have been approved to adopt a three-year-old little girl, she and her husband have just fourteen hours to prepare for her arrival. From this point, the book becomes a love story, one filled with trial and error as well as joy and frustration as the family gets to know one another and settles into the routines of everyday life. Instant Mom is a memoir of hard-earned motherhood with just a dash of Hollywood name-dropping, a book with wide general appeal.

Paula G.

 
 

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me

posted by:
April 9, 2013 - 8:49am

Also Known AsMaggie Silver (at least that’s her name for this go-round) is a born and bred spy, part of a group of undercover operatives known as the Collective. Her areas of expertise, honed since childhood, are lock-picking and safecracking. Maggie has always been a part of her parents’ missions, but this time she has an assignment all her own in Robin Benway’s snappy, fast-paced Also Known As.

 

Whisked from the 24-hour sunlight of Iceland, the "Silvers" find themselves ensconced in a SoHo loft apartment. It seems Manhattan-based magazine editor Armand Oliver is working on an exposé that threatens the identities and very existence of the Collective, and sixteen year-old Maggie has been tasked with gaining access to his computer and e-mails. She’s been enrolled at the exclusive Harper School for the express purpose of befriending Armand’s son, Jesse. Used to international capers in the company of adults, Maggie’s forced to navigate intricacies of high school, from the importance of properly accessorizing the mandatory uniform to surviving the oral French exams to making a friend or two. Luckily for her, there’s Roux, a girl known for wearing her plaid skirt and accompanying blouse inside out as an act of rebellion. Ostracized by the rest of the student body for a certain poor choice, Roux happens to be a longtime friend of Jesse’s.

 

But what happens when the object of your spy mission is handsome, funny, and even romantic and vulnerable? And what if someone you trusted with your life was ready to sell you out? Also Known As is an engaging, entertaining, dialogue-driven read that quickly grabs your attention, defying you to put it down before you’re finished. Consider it the perfect summer teen read, or a novel for a spring day that feels like summer.

Paula G.

 
 

Don't Know Much about History

What was the Gold Rush?What was the March on Washington?What was the Battle of Gettysburg?Engaging nonfiction chapter books intended for middle grade children are few and far between. A new series from Grosset & Dunlap succeeds in making history interesting, with titles that read with the ease of a novel. What Was the Gold Rush? by Joan Holub, brings to life the excitement of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, and the migration of fortune seekers westward, beginning in 1849. She delves into the science of gold (How can you tell it’s the real thing?) as well as the reasons behind its worth. Readers learn about how the gold rush led to the buildup of major cities, and how Native Americans were affected by the influx of prospectors.

 

Kathleen Krull tackles such weighty topics as racism, slavery, and Jim Crow laws in What Was the March on Washington? This book explains civil rights in an easily accessible way, and introduces the concept of peaceful protests. Readers meet A. Philip Randolph, the civil rights activist who had the idea for a national march, and “organizing genius” Bayard Rustin, who brought the whole thing together in only two months. Jim O’Connor takes on the Civil War in What Was the Battle of Gettysburg?, a book that begins by explaining the unrest between the Northern and Southern states, details the strategies and battle maneuvers, and ends with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Readers will enjoy a plethora of interesting asides, including an explanation of why a Sharps carbine rifle is far superior to a musket, and the story of the Union general who donated the bones of his amputated leg to a museum following the war.

 

Each What Was? title is liberally illustrated with relevant drawings, diagrams, and even photos designed to complement the text. One timeline at the end of each book provides a snapshot of important events related to the topic, while a second shows what was happening in the world at large during the same time period. Parents and librarians have a reason to rejoice, as the books all weigh in at 105 pages each, satisfying those teachers who tell students that the nonfiction titles they choose for book reports must be at least one hundred pages long. Also available is What Was the Boston Tea Party?, with more titles to come.

Paula G.

 
 

A Tangled Web

A Tangled Web

posted by:
March 12, 2013 - 8:05am

PeanutChanging schools can be a stressful experience, especially when you are in high school. There are so many things to navigate—teachers, classes, building, and students—not to mention the social cliques. New sophomore Sadie Wildhack welcomes the chance to reinvent herself, and maybe this time be a part of the popular crowd in Ayun Halliday’s graphic novel Peanut, illustrated by Paul Hoppe.

 

Somehow Sadie has decided that having a peanut allergy will give her special attention, and increased social status. She orders a medic alert bracelet online, and writes her required introductory essay on the perils of having a life-threatening condition. Sure enough, Sadie’s “peanut allergy” is enough of an icebreaker to earn her some new friends, a spot at a lunchroom table, and even a boyfriend. Christopher Suzuki, “Zoo”, christens her “Peanut”, writing her adorable, origami-folded notes since he avoids communicating through modern technology.

 

But faking a peanut allergy requires much more vigilance than Sadie bargained for, especially since her mom is not in on the ruse. Author Halliday has created a likable, angsty protagonist whom teens can readily identify with, even as they shake their heads at the problems her deception creates. And Zoo is the understanding, thoughtful, cute and attentive boyfriend girls wish they had. Halliday perfectly captures teen banter, as well as the dialogue of the adults that populate this graphic novel.  Paul Hoppe’s line illustrations evoke not only the nuances of the characters, but also the classrooms, cafeteria, and locker-lined hallways of a high school that could be any high school. Hoppe’s art is rendered in grayscale, with the notable exception of Sadie’s shirt (and a single rose provided by Zoo), always a bright red hue. Peanut is highly recommended for teen readers and adults who remember the struggle to both fit in and stand out.

Paula G.

 
 

Sheinkin Wins 2013 Sibert Medal

BombThe 2013 Sibert Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished informational book for children,” was given to Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin. This narrative nonfiction book is a compelling historical thriller that follows the behind the scenes science and political intrigue involved in developing and building the world’s first atomic bomb.

 

Bomb has also been recognized with two other prestigious 2013 Youth Media awards from the ALA. It was named as the only nonfiction Newbery honor book. In addition, it was selected as the winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, the first national award that honors the best nonfiction books for teens.

 

The Sibert Medal Committee also named three Honor Books. Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, written by Phillip M. Hoose, follows one individual migratory shorebird, a rufa red knot, as scientists gather data in an attempt to understand how he has survived for nearly 20 years. Numerous photographs, maps, and informational sidebars help to draw the reader into this story of science, ecology and conservation as related to this four-once avian.

 

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, written by Robert Byrd, uses a picture book format to deliver both detailed, colorful illustrations of his subject’s colonial life along with a rich narrative. Although Electric Ben makes a good research source, children with an interest in history will be drawn to it as a book to simply enjoy. Titanic:  Voices from the Disaster, written by Deborah Hopkinson, provides a fresh look at a topic that never seems to lose appeal. The author engages readers with detailed accounts of the tragedy told in the voices of actual survivors. Historic photographs and copies of primary source materials like a distress telegram sent by the ship’s wireless operator, and the front page of The New York Times from the day following the sinking enhance the narrative.

 

MoonbirdElectric BenTitanic:  Voices from the Disaster

Paula G.

 
 

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.