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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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Skullbania is Not a City in New Jersey

Fangbone! Third-grade BarbarianFangbone! Third-grade Barbarian: The Egg of MiseryEastwood Elementary has a new third grade student, a young warrior who hails from the faraway land of Skullbania. Clad in raggedy homemade boots, a cape, horned helmet and what the other students interpret as “fur underwear,” Fangbone tumbles though a portal into a garbage dump on the hillside overlooking the school. He’s been entrusted with protecting the big toe of Drool, which will keep evil from his land. But strange new challenges (like the concept of toilets) lie ahead for Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian, the engaging hero of Michael Rex’s silly new graphic novel series for elementary school readers.

 

The first book introduces Fangbone as he attempts to assimilate into class 3G. Soon he’s made a new best friend, Bill, while gathering the whole class as his army of minions. His clueless principal thinks it’s all an exercise in appreciating other cultures. Soon Fangbone leads the losing 3G Extreme Attack Unicorns through a victory in the beanball games, and his classmates come through for him when evil strikes from his homeland. Rendered in simple comic book style line drawings, Fangbone! holds special appeal for young boys who appreciate an abundance of goofy, mildly gross humor and plenty of battle action.  

 

The adventures continue in Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian: The Egg of Misery, as a strange oversized egg appears, sent from Skullbania by the warrior’s clan. The class works hard to hatch this bizarre, spotted egg, believing it contains a baby dragon. Meanwhile, they must all work together to present their assigned animal, the dodo, for the third grade’s Extinction Pageant. Craziness and danger ensue, as Fangbone wields his sword against Skullbanian evil and the trials of a group project.

 

Known for his popular parodies of classic children’s picture books such as Goodnight Goon and Furious George Goes Bananas, Michael Rex has found a new niche in graphic novels. Young fans of Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants series will quickly devour these adventures. Look for a third Fangbone! title, The Birthday Party of Dread, to debut in August.

Paula G.

 
 

The Wild Rumpus Falls Silent

Where the Wild Things AreLittle Bear AudioBumble-ArdyMaurice Sendak, beloved children’s book author and illustrator, died Tuesday as the result of complications from a recent stroke. A prolific creator of picture books that have become part of the American psyche, Sendak is perhaps most widely remembered for his groundbreaking classic, Where the Wild Things Are, which delved into the imagination of young Max, escaping from punishment in his room to a land populated by monsters who welcome chaos. Sendak was awarded the Caldecott medal in 1964 for this groundbreaking book.

 

His career began as an illustrator of others' work, most notably the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik. Sendak’s carefully detailed, expressive animal characters are an integral part of the success of those titles, beginning with the original Little Bear in 1957. Still popular with children today, Sendak’s illustrations were brought to life as an animated series.

 

Sendak’s most recent picture book, Bumble-Ardy, was the first both written and illustrated by him since 1981. Bumble-Ardy began life as an original "Sesame Street" animated segment, also by Sendak, centering around a nine year-old pig who had never been given a birthday party. According to the storyteller of the book, “Bumble-Ardy had no party when he turned one (his immediate family frowned on fun).” He decides to make up for this grievous neglect by throwing his own raucous event (which quickly gets out of hand) at his aunt’s house while she’s away. Like most of Sendak’s work, this acknowledges a dark side to childhood.

 

Visit a Baltimore County Public Library branch to explore more of this beloved author’s body of work.

Paula G.

 
 

Kitchen Focus

Kitchen Focus

posted by:
May 3, 2012 - 1:11am

My Family TableIn My Family Table, A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, famed New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh shares his philosophy for putting together simple, delicious meals on a regular basis at home. Besh emphasizes the importance of what he calls Kitchen Focus: creating simple, refined dishes using just a handful of the best quality ingredients.  He recommends stocking your pantry in a strategic way in order to be able to bring meals together without a need for last-minute runs to the grocery store. Many of Besh’s suggested pantry items reflect the multicultural way modern cooks approach the kitchen, listing ingredients such as rice noodles, risotto rice, Israeli couscous, stone-ground grits and sambal chili paste. Fresh produce and meats complete the flavorful recipes.

 

Casual home cooks will appreciate Besh’s clear explanations and easy to follow directions for what he terms “master recipes,” easily customizable recipes for things like risottos, frittatas, and fruit crumbles. Narrative passages instruct on practical topics such as one-pot meals, braising meats, cooking fish, and planning ahead in order to pull together quick weekday meals for families. True to his promise, recipes throughout this approachable cookbook are uncomplicated yet interesting and delicious.

 

Designed in an oversized format, My Family Table is rife with inviting photos of ingredients, finished dishes, and Besh and his family, clearly enjoying these home-cooked recipes in their daily lives. This volume has all of the hallmarks of a cookbook you will return to again and again. My Family Table has been nominated for a 2012 James Beard Foundation cookbook award in the general cooking category.

Paula G.

 
 

One Cool Book

One Cool Book

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:32am

One Cool FriendQuality picture books have the ability to engage both the youngest and oldest of readers with stories and illustrations that work together to capture the imagination. One Cool Friend, by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by David Small, falls into that elite category of books we return to again and again. Tuxedo-clad Elliot is a “proper young man,” a boy who prefers quiet, solitary pursuits. When his scientist father proposes a trip to the aquarium, Elliot is unsure. He’s quickly enchanted by the penguins, asking his distracted father if he might have one. A misunderstanding leads a confident Elliot to pop the smallest Magellanic bird into his backpack for the journey back to their spacious, well-appointed home. His new friend proves to be a delight, if not a bit of a challenge.

Small works in pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor, and colored pencil, rendering charmingly witty pictures that add a surprising amount of humor and depth to the story. Readers will delight at the details Small works in to give depth to the character of Elliot’s father, details that begin to hint at the surprise that reveals itself as the story progresses. This is a sophisticated, nuanced book that demands multiple readings in order to fully appreciate the interdependence of Buzzeo’s highly original plot and Small’s clever illustrations.

 

Paula G.

 
 

Make the Popcorn, Buy the Potato Chips

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

More and more home cooks are getting their due, thanks in part to blogging. Writer and mom Jennifer Reese, known for the popular, humor-laced site The Tipsy Baker (tipsybaker.com) shares insights from her kitchen as she works her way through recipes in her vast cookbook collection. The blog led her to pen her own tome, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch --Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods, a guide for those tempted by the cook-it-yourself trends. Published in October, Reese’s book was named a notable cookbook of 2011 by the The New York Times, and with good reason.

 

Those of us who enjoy reading cookbooks can attest not only to the accessible, practical nature of the recipes, but to the page-turning quality of the prose. Reese’s personality shines through as she recounts her honest, insightful attempts at making such family kitchen staples as peanut butter and vanilla extract. Like a best girlfriend, she tells it like it is, advising whether it’s worth your time and energy to make homemade marshmallows (it is!) or if you should spend hours crafting hotdogs (don’t even think about it). Recipes for those items Reese deems worth making are clear, simple and easy to execute.

 

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is the quintessential how-to, why-to, when-to manual for home cooks looking to save money, improve flavor, and avoid artificial ingredients.

Paula G.