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

 
 

A Portrait of the President as a Depressed Young Man

The HypoCountless books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, some of which cover his mental health issues. In The Hypo: the Melancholic Young Lincoln, Noah van Sciver portrays Honest Abe’s depression in a way rarely seen so clearly. Starting from the point of Lincoln’s arrival in Springfield, Illinois, in 1837, van Sciver’s words and pictures bring to life the world of this place and time in American history. Lincoln comes to work as a lawyer with John Stuart, while also serving with the Illinois state legislature. Soon after getting to Springfield, he meets the philandering but good-hearted Joshua Speed with whom he shares an apartment and who becomes his closest confidant. Working at their two-person law firm, Lincoln meets Stuart’s cousin, Mary Todd, and is introduced to society life. Although Abe and Mary Todd quickly fall in love, her family disapproves of his low social standing, and each of their mental health issues hasten the dissolution of their engagement. Lincoln has a total breakdown, and is “nursed” back to health by a doctor using methods such as bloodletting and mercury treatments. Mary Todd’s own undiagnosed issues are manifested in debilitating migraines. With the help of Speed and other friends, they are eventually reunited, engaged again and married.

 

Completely rendered in black and white, Van Sciver’s pen-and-ink, crosshatch style is perfect in telling the story of our beloved sixteenth president’s pre-wedlock years. He captures Lincoln as often ill-at-ease, bumbling, and very much prone to sadness, but who is also occasionally able to command a room with amusing tales, poetic language, and political finesse. The frontier, with all its grime, poverty, and its class divide is also intensely illustrated, placing the reader directly into the setting. Readers of David Herbert Donald’s biography Lincoln, Joshua Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy, and those interested in the biopic of the legendary president (starring Daniel Day-Lewis) will find much to appreciate in this graphic presentation.

Todd

 
 

What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading?

posted by:
November 1, 2012 - 7:01am

 

The End of Your Life Book ClubA wonderful accolade to literature and a memorial to his incredibly gifted and generous mother, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club combines the two gracefully. From the title, it is clear that this book club eventually comes to a close. However, this is not a maudlin tale, but instead a celebration of a mother and son’s love.The book’s table of contents gives an immediate impression of some of what the book club covered; each chapter carries the title of the book that was discussed between the group’s two members. Schwalbe, a former editor at Hyperion, immediately sets the stage in the Sloan-Kettering care center where his mother, Mary Anne, receives chemotherapy for her advanced pancreatic cancer, and where many of their book discussions took place. Mary Anne has always been a dynamo, from her teaching days to doing aid work overseas (her passion is getting a national library built in Afghanistan), to the uncanny way she remembers everything. Each family member is well-described, from his younger sister, torn about moving to Geneva when she learns of her mother’s diagnosis, to Will’s older brother, a rock of support for the family. While the family has the means that many others may not, their situation, suffering, and grief is universal.

 

Books certainly play a major role in the text, and while there are many discussions about fictional works (titles by Wallace Stegner, Steig Larsson, and Alice Munro, among others), the most memorable passages come from books of poetry, self-help, and spirituality. Mary Anne and Will have differing views on matters of faith, but it is clear that each of them respects the other. This is a title that will resonate with many readers, especially those who were moved by memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home

 

Todd