Monday, March 13, 2017

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Written by: Eleanor Cameron

First line: One night after dinner when David was reading Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, and his father was reading the newspaper, and his mother was darning socks, his father suddenly exclaimed: "Well, now, that's very odd."

Why you should read this book: The 1950s were a simpler time, one in which parents could happily grant their pre-adolescent sons to fly to other planets in homemade rockets on missions for local eccentrics; at least, that's what happens in this magical, charming, and wish-fulfilling tale for adventurous boys who weren't quite ready for Ray Bradbury. David and Chuck, the only two boys who see the strange notice in the newspaper, happily build their own rocket ship with scrap metal and then blast off on a mission to save a race of simple fungoid folks on an invisible planet that orbits the earth inside the moon's orbit. Despite their lack of characterization, education, or ability to prize any of their benefactor's admonishments above their own hunger, they enjoy a successful adventure in which no one dies in the vacuum of space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like your science fiction a little harder than a boiled egg.



The Wide Window

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you didn't know much about the Baudelaire orphans, and you saw them sitting on their suitcases at Damocles Dock, you might think that they were bound for an exciting adventure.

Why you should read this book: Following the untimely death of their previous guardian, the hapless Baudelaires find themselves installed in a rickety house (foreshadowing) overlooking Lachrymose Lake (foreshadowing) in the care of a loving but phobia-infested aunt whose terror of doorknobs, telephones, radiators, stoves, realtors, and various other mundane things (foreshadowing) makes her a poor choice for a guardian of children. The execrable Count Olaf, in the guise of an execrable sea captain, turns up to make the children's lives more terrible, until they are racing against the clock to find a hidden message in a suicide note during a hurricane before they're all murdered, execrably. Terribly good fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This one could use a bit of editing in the middle; there's too much down time before things get really unfortunate.


The Wing Shop

Written by: Elvira Woodruff and Stephen Gammell

First line: Matthew and his family had just moved from Main Street to Finley Street.

Why you should read this book: Matthew wants to get back to his old neighborhood, but he's not allowed to walk that far, so buying a pair of wings from a little girl so he can fly there seems like a great idea. However, every pair of wings obeys its original owner's proclivities instead of Matthew's: the seagull wings take him to the ocean; the bat wings want to hang upside down in a barn. Eventually Matthew realizes that you can't go to your old home again; you can only make your new home the place you want to be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you can fly.


The Boy Who Swallowed Snakes

Written by: Laurence Yep and Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng

First line: A long time ago in southern China, forests still covered the hills.

Why you should read this book: An honest little boy tries to return a wealthy man's silver only to inadvertently take on the man's curse instead. Being pure of heart, little Chou enjoys the curse with a grain of salt (literally) and benefits materially from his afflictions. The curse catches up with the rich man, while the poor boy becomes wealthy but content.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think there's any situation where eating a raw snake could be a good idea.


Monster Slayer

Retold by: Vee Browne and Baje Whitethorne

First line: In the beginning there was Changing Woman and her sons, the Twins.

Why you should read this book: Focusing on a short portion of the longer Monster Slayer story cycle of the Navajo people, this book tells of the heroic Twins, Child Born of Water and Monster Slayer. Gifted with the affection and weapon of their father, the Sun, the Twins set out to save the villagers from the Walking Giant. Bonus points for a Navajo story written and illustrated by Navajo people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always shoot first.


A Japanese Fairy Tale

Written by: Jane Hori Iké, Baruch Zimmerman

First line: Long ago in the Land of the Rising Sun, there lived a woman who was called Kyoko.

Why you should read this book: An incredibly ugly man and an incredibly beautiful woman seem to have a happy marriage, and this can only be explained through through a fairy tale about sacrifice and divine intervention. As an unborn soul in heaven, Munakata learns that his bride-to-be on earth is destined to be hideous in the superlative, and pleads with god to make him he ugly one, apparently so he doesn't have to look at her, or maybe because it's OK for nasty dudes to marry hot chicks, but not vice versa. Kyoko is suitably impressed with his martyrdom and compelled to fall in love with him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a tendency to dig too deep. On the one hand, it's kind of sweet. On the other hand, it's kind of sad.


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Reptile Room

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world.

Why you should read this book: In the second of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves in the charge of their ebullient Uncle Montgomery Montgomery, a renowned expert in reptiles but, sadly, not an expert in recognizing that his new assistant is actually a money-hungry alcoholic psychopath intent on stealing the children's money and murdering them, in that order. While the Baudelaires read, invent, and bite their way out of various unpleasant situations, the wicked Count Olaf perpetrates his bad disguise and evil threats and the adults who should take care of the orphans remain oblivious.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't read the first one yet.


Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Somewhere in rural Connecticut—I wonder how long it will be before going to the P.O. Box every morning becomes a bygone ritual of pre-robotic times—

Why you should read this book: Surreal comic creator Bill Griffith begins to investigate the life of his great-grandfather, a famous photographer, and finds himself falling into a rabbit hole of Google pages, old letters, unpublished novels, and the ephemera of his mother's hidden reality. His mother, Barbara, carried on a seventeen-year affair with a popular cartoonist, keeping her love life all but secret from her family for most of her life. Griffith digs deep to uncover the full story of those facets of his mother he never knew, including what influence the man who might have been his stepfather could have had on his own career.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're worried about infidelity.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Million-Dollar Bear

Written by: William Kotzwinkle and David Catrow

First line: Argyle Oldhouse was a grouchy old millionaire.

Why you should read this book: There is something hilarious and sweet about this story of two millionaires who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The Million-Dollar bear lives unhappily in a dark and lonely vault, because he is the world's first teddy and extremely valuable. As a result of a robbery and an incompetent cleaner, the Million-Dollar Bear finally gets out of the vault and finds the true place of a teddy bear in this world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still have mint in box Star Wars action figures from the seventies, and no one can ever play with them because they're worth so much money.


The Bad Beginning

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.

Why you should read this book: In book one of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, lose their parents, home, and possessions in a terribly fire, and become wards of the bank that houses their late parents' fortune. Placed in the custody of an evil and terrible actor called Count Olaf, they suffer through various physical and emotional punishments. With their intelligence, determination, and quick-thinking, they escape a very terrible fate, but their story is just beginning. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.