Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ellen Tebbits

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ellen Tebbits was in a hurry.

Why you should read this book: It's a quiet and sort of old-fashioned story about a girl with a terribly old-fashioned secret: in the winter, Ellen's neat and tidy mother forces her to wear long, high-necked, woolen underwear. Ellen assumes she's the only girl in the world trying to do ballet with a union suit under her dance costumes, but, in trying to hide her own secret, she learns that the new girl, Austine, shares the same terrible problem! Austine's friendship changes Ellen's life, until a bad reaction to a misunderstanding drives a terrible wedge between the two girls, leaving Ellen lonelier than ever, until she can figure out a way to make it up to her former best friend.

Why you should read this book: I'm not sure any kids today would have any idea what Ellen is talking about when she describes her winter underwear.

Ramona's World

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby was nine years old.

Why you should read this book: Finally, Ramona has a new friend, a girl who's just moved to town and likes the same shows and games as she does. Other things are changing too: she's getting used to her new baby sister, and she's watching her big sister navigate middle school. She even knows just how to deal with fourth grade romance, such as it is, and one of these days she'll even figure out spelling in this fitting end to the beloved series.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want it to be over.

Ramona Forever

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Guess what?" Ramona Quimby asked one Friday evening when her Aunt Beatrice dropped by to show off her new ski clothes and to stay for supper.

Why you should read this book: This is the one in which Ramona is mature enough to recognize that Howie's grandmother is a terribly babysitter and a reasonably third grader should not have to spend five afternoons a week with a caretaker who seriously dislikes her. With Howie's rich uncle Hobart in town and her newfound independence blossoming into a different kind of responsibility, Ramona deepens her relationship with Beezus and finds that sometimes change is good. Even if her mother is pregnant again and her aunt is getting married and moving to Alaska, Ramona can learn to adapt.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Poor Howie has to wear short pants and knee socks to the wedding.

Ramona and her Mother

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "When will they be here?" asked Ramona Quimby, who was supposed to be dusting the living room but instead was twirling around trying to make herself dizzy.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is getting bigger, which means more responsibility, and, maybe, less comfort. With her mother still working full time and her father stuck in a job he hates, it's up to Ramona to get along with the terrible Willa Jean, navigate a new classroom at school, and be the steady sister in the face of Beezus's adolescent worries and her parent's quarrels. All she really wants is to be loved, and, she finds, she is.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The violence of the pancake-slashing incident may forever scar you.

Ramona and Her Father

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Ye-e-ep!" sang Ramona one warm September afternoon, as she knelt on a chair at the kitchen table to make out her Christmas list.

Why you should read this book: A little older and little more amenable to accepting her big sister's wisdom, Ramona finds her world rearranged when her father loses his job and the family's financial situation depends on her mother working full-time. Initially excited to have her father around more, Ramona's optimism is crushed by her father's despair and the daily drudgery of giving up little luxuries that the family can no longer afford. Through the book, Ramona learns how to be a better friend to her sister and how to forge a stronger and more mature bond with her father, and how to be happy with what she has.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The scene where Ramona gets a million burrs stuck in her hair is pretty traumatic for people who like their hair.

Ramona the Brave

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is sure she's always occupying the higher ground, but people don't always seem to understand her actions when she jumps in to right perceived wrongs. Whether she's defending her sister from schoolyard bullying or defending herself from artistic plagiarism, she never seems to get the response or the accolades she wants. Still, even if it's scary to have her own room at last, think about a picture of an angry gorilla, or confront a barking dog, it turns out that Ramona really is a brave little girl.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Ramona's kind of lucky that she doesn't actually get eaten by that dog.

Ramona the Pest

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I am not a pest," Ramona told her big sister, Beezus.

Why you should read this book: This is the second book in the series, but the first told from the point of view of the creative, impulsive, emotional, and delightful little sister, Ramona. Five years old and ready for kindergarten, Ramona has a new degree of freedom that's sometimes just right for a little girl and sometimes might be a little too much. Timeless childhood adventure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Five-year-olds are encouraged to walk to school by themselves!

Just Ella

Written by: Margaret Peterson Haddix

First line: The fire had gone out, and I didn't know what to do.

Why you should read this book: After escaping the abusive situation of her wicked stepmother's household and moving to the royal palace to prepare for her wedding to Prince Charming, Ella assumed that all her problems had come to an end, but it feels like she just traded one form of domestic bondage for another. As a princess in training, she's not allowed to do or say what she feels, and her life is an endless procession of instruction and restriction, punctuated only by brief, chaperones moments of the prince telling her how beautiful she is. When Ella finds herself intellectually stimulated by a kind tutor who cares more for displaced refugees than court conventions, she has to decide how much she's willing to risk—and lose—to pursue a life of authentic freedom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sometimes it's hard to suspend disbelief of a world with such ridiculous restriction and anachronism.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

An American Marriage

Written by: Tayari Jones

First line: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home and those who don't.

Why you should read this book: Roy and Celestial, a young, professional, newlywed couple, have suffered a few setbacks in their first year of marriage, but when Roy is falsely accused and convicted of rape and sentenced to twelve years in prison for being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, their prospects appear truly bleak. The genius in this book, I think, is the author's use of voice: three separate character are portrayed through the use of first person narrative, with Roy and Celestial's voice changing and maturing over time, and an epistolary chapter comprising Roy's correspondence with his wife and family while incarcerated. In many ways it's an emotionally difficult story, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the payoff at the end, but it's incredibly well-written, provocative and realistic and heartbreaking.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't understand why anyone would ever leave home.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

James and the Giant Peach

Written by: Roald Dahl

First line: Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old.

Why you should read this book: Rollicking good fun for kids, this story is a tiny bit gentler than some of Dahl's other novels for young readers, full of invention and a touch of danger and just enough transformation to create a fairy tale sensibility. Orphaned at a young age, James escapes his abusive guardians with the help of a bag of magic, which he clumsily spills into the roots of a decrepit tree. Traveling in a giant peach, with the companionship of a group of giant, friendly insects, a little boy with no friends finds his way to a world with no lack of them.

Why you should read this book: Aside from a little sizeism directed at the terrible, abusive guardians, this book stands up pretty well for its age.