Monday, September 28, 2020

Julie of the Wolves

Written by: Jean Craighead George 

 First line: Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic sun. 

Why you should read this book: This intense classic survival story about a girl who lives alone in the artic tundra with only a family of wolves for companionship and protection is the latest of my COVID reads: books that I probably should have read in the '80s or '90s but, for whatever reason, never got to. Julie is a determined heroine, mourning what she's lost but intent on hanging on to her life, so she uses the knowledge passed down to her by her father to observe and befriend a pack of wolves who eventually accept her and help her to live another day. Beautifully written and full of accurate descriptions of the natural world. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a classic and you should read it, although George seems to favor the word "Eskimo," and uses it interchangably with Inuit, which may be insensitive to Inuits, and some people (the librarian who I discussed it with when I decided to read it) may take offense at the implication of rape in a children's novel (to which I say—kids are aware of horrible crimes, and those who have been the victims of them or are at risk of becoming victims probably need to see their lives reflected in literature, while other kids needs to know that these crimes exist and hurt people." 

Penny from Heaven

Written by: Jennifer L. Holm

First line: Me-me says that Heaven is full of fluffy white clouds and angels.

Why you should read this book: Penny lives with her mother and her grandparents, who are quiet and normal and plain American, but she loves her late father's boisterous and noisy extended Italian family, who treat her like a princess even though the two sides of her family don't get along at all. But Penny has all kind of questions that no one really wants to answer, like why does her uncle live in his car, and why does her cousin Frankie have so many good ideas that turns out badly, and how did her father really die? This complex, moving story about a girl caught between two worlds in the 1950s is a quiet but gripping tale that draws the reader in to Penny's experience as she moves around the town she's always known, but is still discovering.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in telling kids the truth about things that make you sad.


Written by: Cynthia Lord

First line: "Come on, David."

Why you should read this book: Like many siblings of special needs kids, Catherine wishes her autistic brother could just be normal, or at least quiet about his weirdness, and she's devoted a lot of her life to teaching him the rules that other people intuitively understand, like not taking your pants off in public and not throwing toys in the fish tank. When a new girl moved into her neighborhood, Catherine just hopes David won't drive off her cool new friend. Meanwhile, in the waiting room at David's occupational therapy, she becomes friends with an older boy who is completely non-verbal and wheelchair-bound, and what would the the other kids say if they knew who she was spending her time with?

" Why you shouldn't read this book: If you want the alternate perspective from the point of view of the non-verbal kid stuck in the wheelchair, you might try Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

Fortunately, the Milk

Written by: Neil Gaiman

First line: There was only orange juice in the fridge.

Why you should read this book: Oh, no! There's no milk for the breakfast cereal and Mom's going out of town and Dad is probably a bit scattered and not to be depended on, even though he does promise to get the milk. It just takes him an extraordinarily long time, and when the kids demand his excuse for the delay, it takes many, many pages for Dad to spin a ridiculous yarn featuring pirates, aliens, vampires, sentient, time-traveling dinosaurs, an angry volcano god, a hot air balloon, and numerous other outlandish obstacles to breakfast.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's incredibly silly.


Searching for David's Heart

Written by: Cherie Bennett

First line: "I don't see why Mrs. Pricher is making us give stupid speeches in front of the entire class," I groaned to my big brother, David, and my best friend, Sam Weiss. 

Why you should read this book: Darcy's brother David has always been her rock, especially since her dad has gotten all weird and depressed and racist, but when she and David have a fight that doesn't get resolved before David's untimely death, Darcy can't forgive herself, or face what's left of her life. Her only hope comes when she realizes that David was an organ donor, and as long as a person's heart is beating, they can't really be dead. With Sam in tow, Darcy sets out on an epic journey to meet the recipient of her brother's heart, and try to make peace with her own.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Oh, man what a tearjerker! I cried. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Cats of Roxville Station


Written by: Jean Craighead George 

First line: A lady in a fur coat threw a fighting, hissing cat off a bridge, got back into her car, and sped into the night. 

Why you should read this book: It illuminates the normally invisible lives of the feral cats that live all around us, in a narrative made vibrant and believable by the careful research and observation of a noted naturalist writer with a unique perspective on the behavior of humans and animals. Ratchet, a young cat with nothing but her instincts to fall back on, makes a new life for herself among a loose group of wild cats that live near an old railway station. With precise language and a keen eye, the story follows the cats through a year as they struggle to survive and thrive. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: George's opinions about human beings in relation to animals is no secret, and she depicts man's casual cruelty to cats, kids, and other creaturs with a deft hand; some readers may find descriptions of abuse upsetting, but that said, it has a happy ending.

Catherine, Called Birdy

Written by: Karen Cushman 

First line: I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family.

Why you should read this book: Catherine, called Birdy due to her love of birds, feels put upon by her life as the only daughter of a landed knight, her station too high to allow her to run wild and free, but too low to avoid onerous tasks and live a life of leisure. And now that she's coming of age, her father is doing his utmost to make a profit by marrying her to a wealthy man, and he doesn't seem to care which wealthy man it is, or that Birdy doesn't want to get married at all. Birdy has to work overtime to run off the line of unsuitable suitors, but a girl of her position cannot avoid the inevitable indefinitely, can she?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've been recently forced into a very unhappy arranged marriage.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Taste of Colored Water

Written by: Matt Faulkner 

First line: It was Abby Finch who started it all. 

Why you should read this book: It's an introduction to the concepts of Jim Crow, segregation, racism, and the civil rights movement for very young readers. When small town kids Lulu and her cousin Jelly hear that the water fountains in the city dispense "colored water," they imagine rainbow streams of candy-flavored drinks, but when they finally finagle their way to the city, they receive a rude awakening; not only is colored water plain old water from an old fountain, racism, which apparently does not exist in their small town, creates a sad ending to their adventure. Includes a nice appendix in which the author discusses Jim Crow laws at greater length. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a decent book and I enjoyed it, but as much as I'm a huge fan of Matt Faulkner, there's a much better book called White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman that covers this same territory from the perspective of a Black child and is slightly less circumspect and slightly more self aware. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Horns and Wrinkles

Written by: Joseph Helgerson 

First line: My cousin Duke's troubles on the river started on the day he dangled me off the wagon wheel bridge. 

Why you should read this book: Claire's stretch of the Mississippi River has also been rumored to be a little strange (even the adults know about the mysterious goings-on, which is pretty rare in a children's book) but Claire doesn't realize how strange until her bully cousin Duke falls in with a trio of river trolls with a mission. Against her will, Claire is dragged into all kinds of troll nonsense involving humans being turned to stone, fairies in bright orange tennis shoes, compulsively lying crickets, shooting stars, rhinoceroses, missing fathers, and a tyrant rock troll with an army of slaves. Things are so crazy Claire begins to question her own humanity, but maybe she's just been hanging around with trolls a little too long. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: While it's engaging, inventive, and well-written, it's the sort of story that probably appeals more to younger readers.

Amina's Voice

Written by: Hena Khan First line: Something sharp pokes me in the rib. Why you should read this book: Amina is terrified of singing (or speaking) in public, even though she has a beautiful voice, and when her best friend Soojin wants to hang out with a popular white girl, Amina doesn't know what to say (and when she does say something, it turns out to be the exact wrong thing). Now she's afraid her best friend hates her, while at home she's terrified of upsetting her uncle and being pressured to participate in a Koran-recitation contest. Singing in public is the scariest thing she can imagine, until something that truly rocks the community gives Amina the courage to use her voice. Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never been afraid to speak up.