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Todd

A native Midwesterner, Todd has lived in the Baltimore area for over seven years, and has quickly taken to Maryland's local history and cuisine. His reading interests are varied, though he has a soft spot for books for teens. From his desk in the Collection Development department, he sees many more titles and reviews of books than he is able to read, but tries to focus on some of his other favored topics: graphic novels, science & nature, history, and travel memoirs.

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Bloggers

 

A Hammer and a Nail

A Hammer and a Nail

posted by:
March 13, 2013 - 8:05am

Building Our HouseWhile most picture books tell a story, few cover the expanse of time of Building Our House, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Based on Bean’s own childhood experiences, the book details, step-by-step, the process his family embarked upon to build their home in the countryside. There are no shortcuts here – this is not a book about moving where boxes are suddenly unpacked and the finished home unveiled in a final two-page spread. Instead, the toil and trouble of moving and living in a temporary shelter is detailed. Similarly, the arduous progression of leveling the earth, creating a foundation, constructing a framework, and finishing the outside of the structure are all included. It is all worth it, of course, and the helping hands described bring a smile to the reader.

 

This is a joyful, fast-paced book, celebrating immediate and external family and the community at large. The subtle passing and order of the seasons is an added learning benefit for readers. The excitement of the large machinery, warm feelings of being able to pitch in (even as a small boy) and the sense of accomplishment at the finished product, is all palpable. An author’s note at the end describes his memories of the eighteen-month process. It also outlines how he received recollection assistance from his family and their photos of the worksite as it went from empty site to the family’s new home. Construction-, tool-, and machinery-loving kids will enjoy Building Our House, and demand many rereads as they find additional objects and activities in each illustration.

Todd

 
 

Handicapping the Randolph Caldecott and John Newbery Medals

Step Gently OutTitanic: Voices from the DisasterSplendors and GloomsThe most prestigious awards for children's literature will be announced by the American Library Association at the Midwinter meeting in Seattle next Monday. A longstanding tradition of fans of literature for young people is guessing which titles will receive these prizes, which guarantee a sort of immortality for the books. "Honor" books, or runners-up, will also be announced for each category. The Randolph Caldecott Medal goes to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The previous year has seen a bevy of potential, worthy titles for the Caldecott Medal, among them three books by Philip and Erin Stead (who won a Caldecott Medal in 2011). Philip has two strong candidates in two sweet animal stories, A Home for Bird and Bear Has a Story to Tell, while Erin's homage to the end of winter And Then It's Spring could be named. More strong possibilities are Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which covers the many shades of the verdant world; Paul Zelinsky's wacky alphabet book Z Is For Moose; and Step Gently Out, featuring close-up pictures of the insect world taken by Rick Lieber. It could receive the first Caldecott Medal given for photography. These, and many others, could win the big prize or be recognized as an honor book, in a wide open field.

 

The John Newbery Award goes to the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". Last year also brought a number of worthy and likely candidates, including two recent medalists. Local author Laura Amy Schlitz is once again a front runner with Splendors and Glooms, a glimpse inside the world of puppetry, while Rebecca Stead could take a prize for the artful and concise Liar and Spy. Katherine Applegate's tale of a lonely, long-suffering gorilla, The One and Only Ivan, receives a lot of mentions, as does R.A. Palacio's popular (too popular?) Wonder, the story of a boy with a facial deformity. In a strong year for nonfiction, Philip Hoose's Moonbird: a Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, Steve Sheinkin's Bomb: the Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, Deborah Hopkinson's Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, and We've Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson all have reasonable hopes to receive notice from the committee. Stay tuned until Monday at 11:00am ET, when you can watch all of the awards given live from Seattle. 

Todd

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Handicapping the Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King Awards

Code Name VerityThe Mighty Miss MaloneI Have a DreamThe most prestigious awards for children's literature, and literature for teens, will be announced by the American Library Association at the Midwinter meeting in Seattle next Monday. A longstanding tradition of fans of literature for young people is guessing which titles will receive these prizes, which guarantee a sort of immortality for the books. "Honor" books, or runners-up, will also be announced for each category. One of these is the Michael L. Printz Award, given for literary excellence in the field of books published for teens aged 12-18. Some of the top contenders for the Printz Award include Elizabeth Wein's tour de force, Code Name Verity, a historical novel set in the World War II era; Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King, which infuses elements of magical realism into a story of a teen girl coming to terms with her sexuality; Steve Sheinkin's Bomb, an engrossing history of the development of the atomic bomb; and The Fault in Our Stars, John Green's popular novel about two teens with cancer forging a friendship and romance against difficult odds.

 

Another is the Coretta Scott King awards, given to African-American authors and illustrators for excellence in the field. Front runners for the author award include Newbery Award winner Christopher Paul Curtis' The Mighty Miss Malone, the Depression-era story of a 12-year-old girl's family facing tough times; Pinned, about the first girl on the school's wrestling team, by Sharon Flake; No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, an autobiographical novel about a famous Harlem bookseller, and Brian F. Walker's look into the pros and cons of scholarship and diversity in Black Boy White School. Kadir Nelson, a previous Coretta Scott King award winner, is again a leading contender in the illustrator category for I Have a Dream, a rendition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial; E.B. Lewis' haunting illustrations of passive bullying in Each Kindness; Shane W. Evans for We March, also about the March on Washington in 1963; and Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington, covering his journey to learn to read and eventually become a scientist, illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Todd

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A Carnival of Words

A Carnival of Words

posted by:
January 16, 2013 - 8:45am

Leave Your SleepSinger/songwriter Natalie Merchant wanted to share child-friendly works of the oral tradition with her young daughter, delighting in the gift of words and speech that was featured in poems and stories. The result was a twenty-six song, two-CD set of poems that Merchant set to music. Released in 2010, it also included biographical sketches and a photograph of each poet. Now, paired with well-regarded illustrator Barbara McClintock, many of the poems from that endeavor come to life in the picture book Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry.

 

Transforming a musical package to a picture book isn’t altogether unknown, but a book of poems is less common. Covering many famous poets, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, e.e. cummings, and Ogden Nash, the collection varies in tone and level. From Jack Prelutsky’s breezy and fun “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” to Laurence Alma-Tadema’s poignant “If No One Ever Marries Me”, the works focus on language and the way a few choice words coming together can create a memorable portrait. Take “Equestrienne”, by Rachel Field; McClintock’s exquisite illustrations of a rider and her milk-white horse perfectly capture the tone of the poem. Listen to Merchant’s interpretation on the accompanying CD, and the whole package comes together beautifully. The music styles range from Klezmer to jazz to string arrangements.

 

McClintock’s illustrations of “I Saw A Ship A-Sailing” epitomize her style, with a duck captain and mice sailors simultaneously working an old vessel but also juggling, playing with puppets, and riding a hobby horse. The whole package will bring a smile to both children and adults reading and listening along.

Todd

 
 

The River of Life

The River of Life

posted by:
January 2, 2013 - 8:45am

The Book of BloodBlood is something we all know exists from infancy on, but few of us really examine that which carries oxygen to our various body parts and keeps us alive. Whether it is our inability to fully understand the intricacies of the substance flowing through our veins and arteries, or our collective squeamishness at the sight of it, blood remains largely a mystery to the masses. In The Book of Blood: from Legends to Leeches to Vampires and Veins, author HP Newquist examines this mystical fluid, our literal lifeblood.

 

Many hematological topics are covered and well-explained, such as the various blood cells, the makeup of plasma, and diseases involving blood, such as leukemia and hemophilia. Illustrated using digital imagery, photography and reproductions of blood-related ephemera, The Book of Blood could go for the jugular in terms of gore and unpleasantness, but instead uses appropriate restraint in portraying the substance. The various bloods of animals are discussed, too, whether it be the differences between warm- and cold-blooded beings, or those animals that have blood in colors other than red, such as blue blood of many mollusks.

 

Titles such as this, covering one commonly known subject, give readers the ability to focus on a topic and better understand the ways blood works and how it is an unspoken part of everyone’s life. The cultural meanings of blood are also touched upon, with references to mosquitoes, leeches, and bats, and of course, vampires. The book closes with a chapter that reminds us of the long way we still have to go in medicine. Blood donations remain critical because, despite so many other medical advances, we have not yet been able to create blood in a laboratory.

Todd

 
 

Start Spreadin' the News

Start Spreadin' the News

posted by:
December 26, 2012 - 9:01am

One Times Square Book CoverOne Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World, written and impressively illustrated by Joe McKendry, is the history of one building and the surrounding neighborhood situated at one of the planet’s most well-known intersections. The “bow tie” confluence of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in New York City has attracted millions to gaze at its lights, and one night a year, the dropping of an illuminated ball that marks the end of one year and the beginning of another.

 

Given the varied phases that Times Square has gone through in just the past fifty or so years, it can be hard to imagine that in the 19th century the area was a rural pasture. Later in the 1800s it became a manufacturing center, particularly for carriage builders. Only in the end of that century did the first theatres move into the area. The name “Times Square” first came into being in 1904 when the New York Times constructed the building whose address would become One Times Square. Although the newspaper quickly outgrew the tall, thin, ornate structure, and moved to a nearby street off the square, the name for the area stuck.

 

McKendry does an amazing job with vivid watercolors that match the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Pages are filled with signs, lights, and advertisements that place the reader into the pages’ chronology. Line drawings and illustrations in sepia hues mark earlier eras. Even the cover imagery is chosen smartly, with a depiction of the intersection closely resembling the stage lights of Broadway theatres. Fascinating details about the history and engineering of the lights, marquées, and the “zipper” news bulletin that wraps around buildings is included. For those who are preparing for their first visit to the heart of Manhattan, or for those who have walked through the area on countless occasions, One Times Square is a visual and historical treat.

Todd

 
 

Every Dog Has His Day

Every Dog Has His Day

posted by:
December 12, 2012 - 9:01am

Just a DogWritten in short, episodic passages by a boy as a memorial to his beloved friend, Michael Gerard Bauer’s short novel Just a Dog is a contemporary elegy, ably covering a rite of passage that many children must face. Corey’s uncle is a breeder of Dalmatians. The breeder loses track of one of his females, who later has a litter of puppies that are clearly not 100% Dalmatian. Most of the pups are given away to strangers, but 3-year-old Corey chooses and names Mister Mosely. He is a gangly, mostly white puppy with enormous paws, and just a few black patches here and there, including a heart shape on his chest. Each vignette that now 11-year-old Corey writes in his journal describes his memories of incidences with the lovable Moe, the family’s nickname for the dog.

 

An Australian import, the novel includes some terminology that will have kids learning new Down Under vocabulary, but context clues allow for full understanding. The familiar story of the relationship between a family and a pet is deepened by the serious issues that Corey’s parents must deal with when they become financially strapped. Corey’s little sister Amelia provides comic relief. Her relationship with the enormous yet gentle Mister Mosely includes episodes of dressing him up in various outfits, and using permanent markers to create a constant surprised look on his face.

 

Corey and the rest of his family face true, difficult emotions at the end of Mister Mosely’s short life. It is unlikely that most readers both young and old will be able to get through the novel without shedding a tear for Mister Mosely, as Bauer concisely and accurately depicts the loyalty, love, and pure heart a beloved pet provides to humans. All told, he's much more than “just a dog”.

Todd

 
 

A Dream Delayed

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauA painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.

 

Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.

 

While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.

Todd

 
 

Flour Power

Flour Power

posted by:
November 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Simply Sensational CookiesJames Beard-nominated author, columnist, blogger, and dessert expert Nancy Baggett is back with a well-timed compendium of America’s favorite baked goods: Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors & Easy, Streamlined Techniques. Baggett, who has been cooking and baking from her Maryland farmhouse for many years, explains her purposes for writing this cookbook and how cookies have changed over the past few decades. No longer are people satisfied with one-note flavors or simple textures. The demands for the freshest spices and chocolates, unusual infusions, and above all, natural ingredients, have made the home baker of the 21st century reconsider many tried and true methods. Even savory ingredients, such as chiles, lavender, and cheese varieties have made their way into some of her new recipes. Purists need not despair, as there is a bounty of well-known favorites that have been improved for the contemporary baker.

 

After covering the basics of choosing the best ingredients, equipment, and baking methods, Baggett answers a Cookie FAQ, and then gets down to the business of the appealing recipes. She is dogged in her insistence that the ingredients should be easy to obtain, and the amount of time to create the cookies and to clean up is reasonable. Each recipe clearly indicates the ease or difficulty of the cookie, and how to best store them. While not all cookies are photographed, the pictures that are included are attractive and highlight the finished products delectably. With cookie swaps and the holiday season fast approaching, this contemporary collection of recipes is sure to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth, and those who bake for them.

Todd

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Like a Rainbow

Cyndi Lauper: A MemoirCyndi Lauper: A Memoir, is a satisfying and poignant account of the girl who just wanted to have fun. But as she writes in this account of her rise to superstardom and ongoing fame, her life has been more than the image she portrayed when she burst onto the international scene in the mid-1980s. Her music, outrageous style, and love of family and friends are represented in a conversational manner. The use of many asides, and the return to topics she had seemingly dropped earlier in chapters makes for a memoir that could be the transcription of a long, chatty visit across a kitchen table with an old friend.

 

From her beginnings in Queens, New York and the early bands that she sang with, Lauper’s path to stardom began gradually. But when her album “She’s So Unusual” struck a chord with the MTV generation, her stratospheric rise to the top of the pop charts was ensured. A string of hits were powered by memorable videos that seemed inescapable to MTV viewers, and her unmistakable voice made even the casual radio listener take notice. While never again matching the commercial success of her breakthrough album, more hits followed, including “True Colors”. The song later became an anthem for the GLBT community that Lauper has long associated herself with. She does not hesitate to discuss her personal life in detail, including her fond relationships with her family, the heartache of a long-term but eventually ill-fated romance with her one-time manager, and a path to find happiness. Lauper touches on the rivalry that never really existed with Madonna, and wonders how her life would have turned out had she permanently relocated to Australia after a tour there. Frankly written, this memoir shines a light on a celebrity everyone knows superficially but few know well.

Todd