Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three Books for Fearful Kids

There's a Nightmare in My Closet
There's an Alligator under My Bed
There Are Monsters Everywhere

Author: Mercer Mayer

Quote: "Dad said there weren't any monsters. But he was wrong!"

Why you should read these books: Written over the space of five decades (one in the 60s, one in the 80s, and one in the new millennium) this trio of books tackles the problems faced by children with overactive imaginations and extremely literal parents. In each story, a young boy, plagued by terrifying creatures who are very real to him, uses his own wits to overcome the threat and make himself a stronger and more self-actualized child. Enduring, crowd-pleasing picture books with excellent messages of self-reliance that still honor the reality of the creative child.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like your kids clingy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity

Author: Eugene Linden

First line: As I sit here, poised to write an amusing story about ape intelligence, a squirrel peers down at me from a branch in the oak tree growing in my backyard outside my office window.

Why you should read this book: In his second book about animal intelligence, journalist Eugene Linden brings together a thought-provoking collection of anecdotes contributed by zookeepers, researchers, and animal lovers, coupled with hard scientific fact, to create a picture of how and why smart animals think. From octopuses communicating their disdain for spoiled shrimp to orangutans with a happy talent for escape artistry, the creatures in this book all appear to use reason and emotion, to communicate with humans, their own species, and other species they come across, and to satisfy their own needs via their own brains. Despite the caution that none of this evidence can satisfy the stringent requirements of modern scientists, this book makes a stunning argument for the belief that humans are not alone in the ability to think, lie, use language and tools, or empathize with the less fortunate.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe you have a divine right of dominion over creatures, which are put on earth to feed, serve, or amuse you.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Author: Carson McCullers

First line: In this town there were two mutes, and they were always together

Why you should read this book: In a small town in the deep south, sometime before America’s entry in World War II, John Singer, a deaf-mute, is separated from his best friend and finds himself the object of love and curiosity from town that imbues his confused silence with pithy understanding and imparts to him the secrets of its heart. The characters who attach themselves to him, financially impoverished but spiritually brimming over with dreams and passion, are all outcasts in their own way, and yet set firmly in their own roles within the community. This intense novel weaves a tapestry of fine threads, pulled taut, to create a complete, complex picture of men and women moving through an exterior world they cannot control while carrying almost unbearably heavy inner worlds along with them.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You expect everyone to live happily ever after.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?

Author: Carmela LaVigra Coyle

First line: Mommy, do princesses wear hiking boots?

Why you should read this book: In rhyming couples, a girl asks her mother about princesses and receives positive, affirming answers with no gender expectations. An excellent book for a generation of girls caught between the conflicting messages of girl power and princess culture, the story demonstrates that a girl's inherent feminity is in no way compromised by being active, helpful, and human. The final page's mirrored surface confirms that princess is a place within us all.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a member of the British Royal family and you're sick and tired of having your personal life scrutizined by tabloids.

I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem

Author: Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell

First line: I'm gonna like me when I jump out of bed, from my giant big toe to the braids on my head.

Why you should read this book: One of the few celebrity-authors who actually writes book that would be published were she not a movie star, Curtis has penned another fabulous picture book that speaks to kids in a respectful and intelligent way, but remains playful and silly as it instructs. The book advocates maintaining positive feelings whether or not a kid has succeeded, and paints pictures of experiences that kids can understand and relate to. The message is strong and accessible, the pictures cute and whimsical.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your precious little snowflakes already have so much self-esteem that they dictate the dinner menu, dominate the television remote, choose your family vacation destinations, and throw public temper tantrums when they are denied anything.

Strega Nona

Author: Tomie DePaola

First line: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant "Grandma Witch."

Why you should read this book: The 1975 Caldecott winner, this enticing tale is a riff off the Sorcerer's Apprentic theme, in which the kind Strega Nona, who uses her magic to cure warts and find husbands, hires a new assistant: Big Anthony, who doesn't listen. When Big Anthony discovers the secret of Strega Nona's magic pasta pot, he can't wait to use it to elevate his own status, but his plan backfires, covering the village in an edible avalanche. As always, DePaola's illustrations are sensational, with lovely details like tiled roofs, authentic costumes, and expressive faces, and the story is an enduring one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You see the scaly hand of Satan in the first line.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Princess of Mars

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: I am a very old man; how old I do not know.

Why you should read this book: Almost a hundred years ago, Burroughs, best known as the author of the Tarzan books, penned the story of John Carter, a gentleman of Virginia, transported by unknown means to the red planet, where men are men, women are women, and ferocious, green, fifteen-foot tall, six-limbed alien monsters are ferocious, green, fifteen-foot tall, six-limbed alien monsters. Making use of his natural martial skill and buoyed by the lesser Martian gravity as well as his pure devotion to the incomparable Dejah Thoris, princess of Mars, Carter fights his way across the dying, arid planet, uniting warring tribes, flouting convention, and generally pouring the foundation for the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the twentieth century. Although Burroughs's inherent racism and bellicose predilections are evident in the construction of his world, this is a joyous story of love and honor, hung with the trappings of ancient artifacts from our own world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Knowing Mars to be a lifeless planet, you refuse to suspend disbelief long enough to immerse yourself in the book's rich landscape.

Friday, November 9, 2007

She's Always Liked the Girls Best: Lesbian plays

Author: Claudia Allen

Quote: God forbid something should happen in your life. Trust me, kiddo, you can "what if" yourself into a pretty boring life.

Why you should read this book: Collected here are four different plays tied together by the theme of women loving women in a world that insists their natural feelings must be hidden away. Around the country, but mostly in small Michigan towns, characters struggle with the issues of their own identities in the face of disapproval from their friends, families, and neighbors. In Allen's world, love always wins out in the end, and every obstacle can be overcome by tough chicks who refuse to give up on their hearts' desire and their right to happiness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still wondering what lesbians find to do together in bed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Curious George

Author: H. A. Rey

First line: This is George.

Why you should read this book: Over sixty-five years ago, Margaret and H. A. Rey escaped Nazi Germany carrying the manuscript for their enduring children's classic about George, who was a good little monkey, but always very curious. In his literary debut, George tries to fly, is arrested for making a spurious call to the fire department, and conducts a first-hand study of the properties of helium. Kids never get tired of his antics, and this story is as fresh as it was six decades ago, with the possible exception of the image of George smoking a pipe before bed.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're vehemently opposed to the idea of taking wild animals from their natural environment and imprisoning them in zoos.

The Little Stone Lion

Author: Kim Xiong

First line: I am the guardian spirit of the village.

Why you should read this book: A short, lyrical, comforting first-person story written from the point of view of a small stone lion attached to a post in a Chinese village. Time moves on, but the lion remains the same, keeping its memories of all the people who have ever lived there, as it provides comfort for the children still growing up. Lovely illustrations and a hopeful tone.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Animism upsets you.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teacher, and Practitioners

Author: H. David Coulter

First line: A comprehensive statement on the anatomy and physiology of hatha yoga ought to have been written a long time ago.

Why you should read this book: It really is comprehensive, and you actually don't have to read it at all; just looking at the illustrations should give you a strong understanding of how human anatomy works and how to channel this knowledge into healthy movement. In fact, the text tends to be dense and complicated, but at the same time, its level of detail answers all sorts of questions that a standard anatomy book does not, particularly for those whose knowledge of physiology informs their exercise practice. Just a great, detailed, interesting reference book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider getting up to look for the remote too much aerobic exercise.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Author: Judith Viorst

First line: I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Why you should read this book: After getting up on the wrong side of the bed, the young protagonist proceeds to have the most miserable day of his short life. Some of the troubles are of his own making, others small slights blown out of proportion, with a few insults that are simply not his fault, but every unhappy incident only compounds the boy's temper. There is no resolution to this story, merely the insinuation that "some days are like that," with the accompanying hope that other days aren't, making it a realistic portrayal of a child's internal world from an author who understands how kids think.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never had a bad day.