Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 recap

Admittedly, my count is down from last year and the books I did read were a little lighter. Blame it on...boys. Yeah. That's it. Boys.

Well, OK, one boy. But he's a good one.

151 total books reviewed

60 picture books
11 novels
15 nonfiction
23 YA/juvenile literature
3 plays
9 memoir/biography
6 short story collections
2 reference books
1 collection of mythology/legend
18 graphic novels
1 poetry
1 book I just can't classify

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Promethea Book 5

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: I think she said she was going to end the world.

Why you should read this book: It's the Apocalypse, and everyone is going to be there as Promethea brings light to the world, opens the doors between realities, and compresses all of time and space to a single point, a single moment, illustrating the taut connection among every aspect of the universe. All plot lines are braided together, all lovers reunited, all disbelievers shown the true path. Issue 32 ties it all up with Moore's notes on language, consciousness, magic, and the eternal dance of spirit and matter (the original issue 32 was meant to be disassembled and reconstructed like a jigsaw puzzle into a large poster, which is also reproduced in miniature).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not going to be present for the Apocalypse, on account of going up to heaven in your physical body during the Rapture.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Promethea Book 4

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: This isn't another one of those where I can just order the baby cut in half, is it?

Why you should read this book: Sophie and Barbara, accompanied by Barb's guardian angel, Boo-Boo, continue to travel through the highest sephirot, communing with the gods and unraveling the symbols of each realm until they reach the first sphere, after which, accompanied by Barb's husband, they take the fast way back down the tree of life. Back home, Stacie and Grace have fallen in love and refuse to give up being Promethea, leading to a trial in the Immateria to determine who keeps the job. Aleister Crowley, spectacular and varied artwork, and deep spiritual revelations proliferate in this penultimate volume.

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

Promethea Book 3

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: All of us, we can only see in others what we recognize in ourselves, OK? Now, I'm an angel. We look at life, an' that's all we see, man. Angels.

Why you should read this book: Sophie continues her sojourn into knowledge when she decides to travel up the tree of life to heaven, following the Kabbalistic path and moving from the mortal to divine realms, so she can rescue the most recent Promethea, Barbara Shelley, from death. Back on Earth, an earlier, tougher incarnation of Promethea cleans up the town, according to her own morality, manifesting in the vessel of Sophie's best friend, Stacia. Lot of brilliant exposition helping the reader to understand the essence of human drives and human spirituality, topped with amazing visuals that churn tangibles out of ineffables.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know it's your holy duty to do battle with evil in all its forms.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Promethea Book 2

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: All myths are true, Sophie. Given that they last longer, they're even truer than the so-called "real world."

Why you should read this book: Moore continues Sophie's journey along the illuminated path as he more fully brings to light the meanings of symbols and the symbols of meanings in a giddy primer of basic magic disguised as a humble comic book. This volume combines superhero action and madcap Y2K mayhem with the skeleton map of human consciousness and imagination, including his revised major arcana (after Crowley) glossed in rhyming poetry with clever mnemonic anagrams and a repeated message about the limitless power of the mind. The theme continues to highlight the potential of imagination to summon forth something from nothing, effect change, and inspire positive momentum in a stagnating culture.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're too busy casting spells to check out a refresher course.

Promethea Book 1

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: Because Promethea is imagination...and because war, all war and conflict, is naught but the failure of imagination.

Why you should read this book: Unassuming and flat-chested college student Sophie Bangs gets far more than she bargained for when her term paper research into old folklore transforms her into the latest incarnation of Promethea, spirit of the imagination, larger than life and twice as beautiful, a powerful myth with some powerful enemies. Sophie battles demons, bumps elbows with magicians and science heroes, travels to the Immateria, and begins her spiritual education with the Prometheas of time past. In the land of imagination, Sophie and the reader begin to glean the limitless power of the mind, and its limitless potential for good, evil, change, and chaos.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in positive change and actively work to make sure the status quo is maintained.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2

Author: Alan Moore

First line: July, 1898.

Why you should read this book: Picking up where he left off in volume one, Moore pits his literary heroes against an alien menace that combines the best of HG Wells and HP Lovecraft, with a little Edgar Rice Burroughs thrown in for misdirection. The characters are explored in greater human depth, and the danger to Victorian England is ever more inhumanly despicable. This book surpasses the first volume, not only in detail and cohesion, but also in number of graphic sex scenes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think biological warfare is keen and a great idea for the future of the Empire.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. Thundermug

Author: Cornelius Medvei

First line: One rainy night not long ago, a curious report appeared in the late edition of our city's evening newspaper.

Why you should read this book: In the deep spirit of magical realism, Medvei creates a tangible world of decay and rebirth, fallen straight from the pages of Italo Calvino and peopled with willfully ignorant humans, then drops a sentient, eloquent baboon onto its streets. The travails of Mr. Thundermug as he does battle with the council for the right to inhabit his own peculiar niche between animal and human (or perhaps, a step above either) are set down with quiet humor and extremely graceful prose. Whether this is a love story, a tale about freedom of expression in an oppression society, or a commentary on the follies of humanity, it's a delicious modern fairy tale.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your job entails harassing squatters.

Bat Boy Lives: The Weekly World News Guide to Politics, Culture, Celebrities, Alien Abductions, and the Mutant Freaks that Shape Our World

Author: David Perl

First line: There are two types of people who faithfully flip through the pages of the Weekly World News each week.

Why you should read this book: WWN, long considered the only source for fresh, hard-hitting journalistic reports about Bigfoot prostitutes, amorous space aliens, Elvis sightings, and haunted outhouses, is no more, but you can still get a powerhouse punch of the stories other papers are afraid to print in this big compendium of unbelievable news from the pages of the defunct weekly. Along with reports of the difficulties faced by vampires, werewolves, mermaids, zombies, ghosts, clones, and extraterrestrials living in this modern world, you'll find celebrity gossip, human oddities, and photographic evidence of sublime religious concepts. Of course, the ubiquitous Bat Boy, himself the subject of a Broadway musical, is represented is loving details throughout the book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think the photos at are pandering to the intellectually lazy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Close to Spider Man

Author: Ivan E. Coyote

First line: Everyone on our street had kids.

Why you should read this book: With brief, poetic brush strokes, the author sketches the bare bone lines of her childhood in the Yukon and her burgeoning understanding of herself as an individual whose insides do not match, quite, her outsides. It's a small book, packed with surprises and pain, pierced with flashes of beauty of hope. There is rage and acceptance, love and rejection, colorful characters and scarcely expressible heartbreak.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want to know all the details of every story and relationship; you hate to be left hanging as to motivation and resolution.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Loose End

Author: Ivan E. Coyote

First line: Every Saturday morning all summer long, the parking lot across the street from me is transformed.

Why you should read this book: Coyote is a consummate storyteller, and this book presents a series of short slice-of-life vignettes, recalling her experiences as a gender-fluid, chain-smoking writer in Vancouver, through quiet, humorous prose. Whether she's recovering from a gay-bashing, applauding her godson for his taste in fancy dresses, or untangling family dynamics from her Yukon upbringing, her sense of observation remains keen and uplifting, revelatory without hitting the reader in the head with a moral. Fast, easy, brilliant stories to open your eyes and your heart.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I really liked this one. Nobody gets a pass.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Andromeda Strain

Author: Michael Crichton

First line: A man with binoculars.

Why you should read this book: Crichton's classic novel is a prescient look at a topic that is of great concern to us today, but scarcely registered on the consciousness of readers in 1969: biological destruction through microorganisms. When a government program to develop bacteriological warfare through extraterrestrial agents actually results in the recovery of lethal alien organisms, a team of very human men leap into action in an underground research facility, where theories are created, experiments performed, and mistakes made. As with all of Crichton's work, there is no happy ending, just a cautionary message for those who would meddle with forces beyond human control.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Hypochondria.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Stories

Translated by: Erik Cristian Haugaard

First line: A soldier came marching down the road: Left...right! Left...right!

Why you should read this book: Andersen wrote his fanciful tales with an idiosyncratic mix of Christian morality and magical pagan whimsy. Love features prominently as the major theme of these complex and detailed stories, where animals, inanimate objects, and forces of nature are just as likely as human beings to experience intense emotions and sacrifice themselves for others. Classic tales for perceptive children, provided they have decent attention spans and the ability to follow Andersen's sometimes convoluted style.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't taught your children about Christianity and you don't want to start now.

Freight Train

Author: Donald Crews

First line: A train runs along these tracks.

Why you should read this book: Glancing at this deceptively simple concept book, adults may not immediately grasp the brilliance of a story that earns its Caldecott Honor through an intense appeal to children's love of machines, color, and movement. Using few words, Crews provides readers with a basic glance at a short freight train, ingeniously painted like a rainbow, as it speeds through cities and over trestles. This book never fails to elicit enthralled reactions from children, who can see supersonic movement and a vast, continental scope in the bright, clean artwork.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like the sounds of happy children.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia

Author: Katherine Paterson

First line: Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity--Good. His dad had the pickup going.

Why you should read this book: A brilliant and gripping story about fear and fearlessness, and the power of imagination to recreate reality. Jesse Aarons is the weird boy who draws funny pictures and dreams of being the fastest kid in fifth grade, a dream that is shattered by the arrival of newcomer Leslie Burke, a strange girl who upends his flat and joyless life and delivers him into a world of fantasy and magic. In the poetry of their young friendship, Jess comes alive to love and possibility through a story that touches readers in the deepest seat of emotion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Like life, it will make you cry.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson

Edited and with Commentary by: Sidney Rosen

First line: "What you don't realize, Sid, is that most of your life is unconsciously determined."

Why you should read this book: Milton Erickson was a brilliant therapist who effected widespread change in many of his clients through hypnosis, reframing, startling powers of observation, reverse psychology, and other methods of delving into the psyche to diagnose, confront, and disperse the cause and symptoms of neurosis. This book presents many of his "teaching tales," small stories from real life that serve as uplifting instructional tales, hypnotic inductions, post-hypnotic suggestions, and persuasive reasoning that work on conscious and subconscious levels, along commentary categorizing the tales based on types of problems and solutions and explains how and why each method was effective for the client. Erickson's stories are uplifting, entertaining, funny, touching, and profound, presenting one message that is easily heard and other messages that burrow into the mind and create mental health stability from the inside out.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're busy coddling your neuroses.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Lump of Coal

Author: Lemony Snicket

First line: The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.

Why you should read this book: The author best known for his thirteen part chronicle on the most miserable perils that could possibly befall to a trio of hapless orphans turns in an uplifting miracle story comprising equal parts sarcasm and wide-eyed wonder. The eponymous lump of coal who, "like many people who dress in black...was interested in becoming an artist," sets out to seek his fortune in a world of facade and artifice. A treatise on creating joy and small miracles in a harsh, uncaring universe.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've ever received a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Alien Sex

Edited by: Ellen Datlow

First line: This far into the twentieth century, writing science fiction or horror about sex is a tricky proposition.

Why you should read this book: A wide-ranging anthology by a wide range of authors, comprising stories whose themes are sexual, although not necessarily sensual or explicit in nature. Bestiality, xenophilia, and supernatural creatures are represented among the stories. Of note are Larry Niven's cult favorite, "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," a non-fiction style essay about the difficulties inherent in Superman procreating, and Harlan Ellison's tongue-in-cheek, "How's the Night Life on Cissalda," about interdimensional sex, but all the stories in this collection achieve their own level of unique and creative success.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe sex should only occur between one man and one women under the auspices of the church.

Monday, October 13, 2008

No Dessert Forever!

Author: George Ella Lyon

First line: Boo!

Why you should read this book: When a little girl is unfairly chastised for her brother's misbehavior, she exacts her vengeance on a rag doll. Imagining herself in her mother's place, she lays upon dolly all the unfair punishments in the world until her adopted power trip culminates in justice and forgiveness. A nice look at perspective and redemption from a position of powerlessness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would never punish your child unfairly.

Keeping up with Grandma

Author: John Winch

First line: My grandma and grandpa were always busy with their hobbies.

Why you should read this book: Here's a story whose ridiculousness will appeal to children while its reality will speak to adults. Grandma, tired of baking cakes, decides to drag Grandpa, kicking and screaming into a life of extreme adventure. Grandpa, however, has difficulty with mountain climbing, bronco busting, and bobsledding.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your spouse is starting to bore you. Or scare you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlan

First line: "Did Mama sing every day?" asked Caleb.

Why you should read this book: Anna remembers the mother who died bringing her little brother, but when her father announces that Sarah is coming, Anna's only concern is enticing this new potential mother to stay. Anna and Caleb fall in love with Sarah, but they worry that their flat, prairie home is not lovely enough, and that Sarah will pack up her cat, Seal, and her seashells, and return to the ocean instead of marrying their father and staying with them forever. This classic, award winning volume is a fast read about the forms that love takes and the intersection of family, place, and identity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You had a recent bad experience with a mail order bride.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Carolinda Clatter

Author: Mordicai Gerstein

First line: Once there was a lonely giant who fell in love with the moon.

Why you should read this book: Gorgeous, lyrical, and romantic (in every sense of the word) this is a satisfying tale in the realm of legend, encompassing the adoration of a Titan for a heavenly body and that of a small child for loud noises. In desperation at unrequited love, the giant sleeps so long and so soundly that plants, animals, and human take him for a mountain, albeit one that is shaped exactly like a giant. The people who live on his stomach are superstitiously careful not to wake him until the birth of Carolinda Clatter, whose propensity for noise first imperils and then saves the town.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe children should be seen and not heard.

The Giant Ball of String

Author: Arthur Geisert

First line: For generations, the youngsters of Rumpus Ridge had collected string.

Why you should read this book: This book has it all: theft, revenge, remarkable feats of engineering, incredibly intelligent porcine children, and a giant ball of string. When their town's one claim to fame is washed away in a storm and appropriated by the folks downstream, the piglets set about to recovering their stolen property. With a plan that would make Rube Goldberg sit up and smile, they infiltrate the enemy encampment and reverse an act of municipal espionage.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe strongly in the doctrine of "finders keepers" and you're gearing up to celebrate Columbus Day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yertle the Turtle

Author: Dr. Seuss

First line: In the faraway island of Salamasond Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond.

Why you should read this book: Seuss's elementary primer on the horrors of fascism and the power of grassroot revolt against tyranny is a taut drama depicting the battle against ego-maniacal power-mongering and the need of turtles--and all creatures--to be free. Children eagerly embrace the thesis of this book and embrace its message of justice and equality for all. Children seem to get it just fine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Nobody gets a pass on this one. If you don't like this book you're a sociopath.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This Crowded Earth

Author: Robert Bloch

First line: The telescreen lit up promptly at eight a.m.

Why you should read this book: Harry Collins lives in an untenable future, one where overcrowding threatens the very structure of society and government cover-ups hide the extent of the damage from clueless citizens. But when Harry can't take the pressure anymore, his attempt to escape leads him to the heart of the biggest conspiracy the world has ever known, or else the most radical solution it could imagine. Spanning decades and multiple points of view, Bloch works out his future history for a human race that needs a bridge between rampant consumerism and growth and unchecked destruction and degradation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't wrap your head around the idea of 1997 being a futuristic time, and even if you can, you can't wrap your head around a future Earth where women are seen as breeding sows.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tunnel Kids

Author: Lawrence J. Taylor

First line: The noon skies turned midnight black and cracked open, roaring with lightning.

Why you should read this book: They are street kids--cholos--who run with gangs, huff spray paint from old soda cans, and lie in wait amidst the filth of the tunnels that run under Ambros Nogales, ambushing the pollos trying to cross secretly into America, robbing them of their money, and sometimes worse. Yet they are still children, and human beings with intelligence, ambition, and emotion, as Lawrence and his partner, photographer Maeve Hickey learn over several summers spent volunteering at Mi Nueva Casa, a shelter for street kids on the Mexican side of the border. With Hickey's stark portraits of the children brought to life through Taylor's prose, this is part-documentary, part-ethnography, an outsider's peek into a dark, frightening, and often forgotten world of poverty and desperation at the US-Mexico border.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your hobby is patrolling the border with a shotgun and you have INS on speed dial.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Never Too Little to Love

Author: Jeanne Willis

First line: This is Tiny Too-Little. He loves somebody.

Why you should read this book: A cumulative poem, a lesson on perseverance, and a pop-up book. A small mouse sets his sights high and uses all his resources to achieve his goal, but ultimately finds that he cannot get there on his own. Fortunately, the giraffe object of his affections is willing to meet him a little more than halfway.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Sizeism.

The Sneetches and Other Stories

Author: Dr. Seuss

First line: Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches Had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.

Why you should read this book: Four classic Seuss tales brought together in a single binding, including the title story, Seuss’s intelligent and compelling anti-racism opus, in which the reader learns that outward physical appearance has no bearing on an organism’s inherent value. “What Was I Scared of?” is another story about the follies of making judgments based on appearance, as well as a balm against irrational fear; “The Zax” confronts stubborn dogmatism and its effect on personal and social progress. “Too Many Daves” asks the reader to think before making a commitment and provides a bit of amusing foolishness and a palette for Suess to unload a bunch of hysterical names.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You are teaching your children that your value system must never be questioned or compromised, and to fear and deride people who look different.

Dragon's Fat Cat

Author: Dav Pilkey

First line: One snowy day in January, Dragon heard a funny noise.

Why you should read this book: Upon rescuing a large and tragically pathetic kitty cat from a snow drift, Dragon finds himself an eager, if completely clueless, pet owner. This early reader is arranged into short chapters in which Pilkey allows his words and pictures to work together to comedic purpose, for instance, when Dragon goes to great effort to build a bed for the cat, which then falls asleep in Dragon’s bed, leaving the large and unwieldy Dragon to martyr himself by sleeping in the tiny cat bed. Of course the ending, which explains the reasons (five of them) for Cat’s rotund stature, is sure to delight young readers.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: They first thing you’d do would be to have the cat neutered.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The October Country

Author: Ray Bradbury

First line: May I die before my voices

Why you should read this book: Welcome to the world of crinkling dead leaves, early dusk, and a blurring between worlds--this is the October Country. Often cold, sometimes cruel, frequently murderous, but never dull, these eighteen stories drag the reader through a chilling constellation of lovely corpses and beautiful fear, crafted with love and devotion. A stunning collection for Halloween or any time you seek the icy fingers of delightful terror to run down your spine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've ever suspected your infant of attempted matricide.

I Sing the Body Electric

Author: Ray Bradbury

First line: I arrived in the truck very early in the morning.

Why you should read this book: Sixty years after its original publication, the science fiction themes of this classic collection still ring true. Beginning with a story that uses a time-traveling pickup truck to provide Ernest Hemingway with the death he deserves, and running the gamut from prophetic chickens to kindly electrical grandmothers to madness that activates sanity, Bradbury takes us on a journey to strange islands, deserted Martian landscapes, and improbable dimensions. Fresh, joyful, and full of hope, this is the foundation of speculative fiction.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't muster any sympathy for the Irish Republican Army.


Author: Donna Jo Napoli

First line: Xing Xing squatted by the water, silent and unmoving.

Why you should read this book: Another remarkably successful historical novelization of a fairy tale from celebrated children's author Napoli. This time around, she tackles Cinderella, drawing on Chinese sources and setting the tale in the Ming dynasty, where she can make use of the foot-binding theme, add a blind demon raccoon, and transform the dead mother's benevolent spirit into a giant koi. Although we know how the story ends, the journey there is joyous, poignant, and amazing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your fairy godmother has to say, "bippity boppity boo," and wave a magic wand.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Mephisto Waltz

Author: Fred Mustard Stewart

First line: The call from Duncan Ely had come at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, which was Paula Clarkson's morning to sleep.

Why you should read this book: Since her husband's failure to make it big as a concert pianist, Paula has been encouraging Myles to succeed as a writer, and the interview with the famous Duncan Ely seems like a great boon, until the celebrated musician begins to exhibit a creepy interest in the entire Clarkson family. While Myles is seduced by the rich old man's favors, Paula grows more and more suspicious of his intention, until she uncovers his true, shocking motive. A classic work of horror literature with an amusing satanic riff.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know that messing with satanic forces, even in jest, gives great power to the Evil One.

Half and Half

Author: Lensey Namioka

First line: "Your form isn't complete, Fiona," said the recreations director.

Why you should read this book: Fiona Cheng, born to a Scottish-American mother and Chinese-American father, isn't sure what box to check for race, and worse yet, she isn't sure how to be her authentic sense and please both sides of her family. Things come to a head when both sets of grandparents show up for a big cultural festival, with her Scottish side wanting her to dance in a kilt at the same time that the Chinese side expects her make an appearance in a gorgeous hand-made silk outfit. Fiona must learn that her identity is comprised of many parts, and that her family only wants her to be herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've ever accidentally dyed your hair to look like a Halloween wig.

Clementine's Letter

Author: Sara Pennypacker

First line: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of...ouch!"

Why you should read this book: Third in the award-winning series about the fidgety, impulsive, and intelligent eponymous character, this book sees Clementine in trouble at school and at home as she tries to please her family and keep her favorite teacher from winning a trip that would take him away from the classroom. The characters are smart and realistic, with clever dialog and situations. Really charming and delightful modern children's literature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your mother insisted you'd die of blood poisoning if you wrote on your arm.

Tommysaurus Rex

Author: Doug TenNapel

First line: Good coffee, babe.

Why you should read this book: Ely is the ultimate outsider, a little boy whose only friend is a disobedient dog who gets run over by a car on page 12. Sent to his grandfather's farm to recuperate from his loss, Ely discovers and befriends a real live Tyrannosaurus Rex. In his efforts to teach the community to love and accept his new pet as he does, Ely must develop self-confidence and self-respect, as well as learn to see things from other people's point of views.

Why you should read this book: You're one of those people who get so irritated by an unrealistic depiction of humans and dinosaurs in the same picture that you'll never get into the story.

Precious and the Boo Hag

Authors: Patricia C. McKissack and Onawumi Jean Moss

Author: Precious had been up all night with a stomachache.

Why you should read this book: Part folklore, part cautionary tale, and part scary campfire story, this book tell of Precious's battle of wits with Pruella, the hideous, shape-shifting Boo Hag of the prairie. Pruella works her magic, but Precious remembers her mother's warning not to invite anyone into the house. A great story of self-reliance as well as guarding against malevolent strangers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've been leading the fight to end discrimination against witches.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Courage in Patience

Author: Beth Fehlbaum

First line: My name is Ashley Asher.

Why you should read this book: This book offers two taglines -- "It may not seem like it now, but you are not alone" and "A story of hope for those who have endured abuse" -- to sum up its therapeutic perspective. Ashley's story is a heartbreaking marathon race to an optimistic finish from six years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse whose effects keep her living in fear long after she escapes the stepfather who traumatized her. Struggling to protect herself while adjusting to a new loving family she never knew she had, Ashley and a group of other teenagers wrestling with explosive personal issues gradually band together to confront the hatred and intolerance that diminishes them all.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You worry that reading books will give children ideas from which they must be protected.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Raisin in the Sun

Author: Lorraine Vivian Hansberry

First line: Come on now, boy, it's seven thirty.

Why you should read this book: The three generations of Youngers living in the old two-bedroom apartment all dream of material success, and now that the insurance money is about to come through, their dreams could be realized, but they all have different definitions of success. This play is a realistic portrait of an African-American family struggling to get ahead in the early days of the civil rights movement, resonant with issues of racism, classism, and infighting. A powerful play with a surprisingly optimistic conclusion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get the big deal about the American Dream, since your parents gave you everything you ever wanted and it's always been easy for you to succeed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Criss Cross

Author: Lynn Rae Perkins

First line: She wished something would happen.

Why you should read this book: Debbie's dream of something happening is realized in a series of revelations, some true, some illusory, that form the scaffolding of understanding. Her story is interwoven with those of the other people in her small community, told in a playful, deconstructionist style that reimagines the roles of text, illustration, point of view, and theme. It's a book that reminds the reader that something is always happening, but the viewer's burden is to open the eyes and look.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe clear-cut conflict is the cornerstone of literature.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Author: Karen Cushman

First line: On a cold Monday morning in March, when a weak, pale sun struggled to shine and ice glistened in the cracks of the wooden street, a company of some twenty-two orphan children with stiff new clothes and little cardboard suitcases boarded a special railway car at the station near the Chicago River.

Why you should read this book: Karen Cushman does it again, with another enchanting work of historical fiction featuring a strong-willed young girl at odds with the unfairness of her world but intent on writing her own happy ending. This time, we follow twelve-year-old Rodzina, whose loving family is only recently deceased, as she is put against her will on an orphan train out west where, she is certain, she will be sold as a slave and cruelly worked, beaten, and starved. Along the way, Rodzina develops a new view of America, of herself, and of the concepts of family and happiness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe all orphans turn out bad.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Tell a Lie Every So Often

Author: Bruce Clements

First line: I tell a lie every so often, and almost always nothing happens, but last spring I told a lie that carried me five hundred miles and made a lot of things happen.

Why you should read this book: It's a story of discovery set in the nineteenth century, told in the voice of fourteen year-old-boy who's honest enough to admit that he doesn't always tell the truth. Following a series of lies told by various people, Henry and his older brother Clayton embark on a quest to rescue their cousin, who may or may not have been kidnapped by Indians years earlier. Their journey up the Missouri reveals to Henry who is he in relation to himself and others.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never, ever told a lie.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Author: Peter Metthiessen

First line: In the jungle, during one night in each month, the moths did not come to lanterns; through the black reaches of the outer night, so it was said, they flew toward the full moon.

Why you should read this book: It's a brilliantly rendered, sobering dose of reality sprung forth from superstition, delivered in an escalating series of kicks to the head. When missionary Mart Quarrier brings his wife and child to the Amazon to convert Niaruna Indians, he enters a dangerous new world where Catholics and Protestants wage a sad battle for unwinnable souls against a backdrop of barely restrained wilderness. It's a gripping story of passion and lust, hypocrisy and fear, myopic bullheadedness, reckless ignorance, the occasional good intention, and the truths that can obscured but never refuted.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd martyr yourself a thousand times to save one soul for your lord.

Juliet Dove, Queen of Love

Author: Bruce Coville

First line: "Hey, Killer! How's your boyfriend?"

Why you should read this book: It's a clever reimagining of Greek mythology merged into a young adult novel. Juliet Dove is a shy girl whose temper sometimes gets the better of her, but when she blunders into a magic shop during its owner's absence, she is transformed into the most popular girl in town, a pivotal axis in a supernatural plot to bring ultimate discord to the realm of men. Dodging crowds of boys who follow her everywhere, Juliet navigates the rocky realm of Greek goddesses along with the complex world of her own family and peers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Fear of flying rats.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tales of the Golden Corpse: Tibetan Folk Tales

Translator: Sandra Benson

First line: Once upon a time in a small village in Tibet there were seven brothers.

Why you should read this book: This new translation of an ancient collection of Tibetan folklore tells of the hapless boy, Daychodsangbo, charged with bringing a gold and turquoise corpse home to his master, who can use it to redeem the boy's sins and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity, if only the boy can make the journey home without speaking. Unfortunately, the corpse, Ro Ngoedrup Chen, is a trickster and a storyteller, and every time it fools its captor into responding to a wonderful and magical story, its flies away back to the graveyard. Using this frame device, the book recounts the twenty-five astounding tales the corpse uses to distract the boy until he finally reaches the end of his journey.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a member of the Chinese communist party actively seeking to stamp out every vestige of Tibetan culture.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Doorways in the Sand

Author: Roger Zelazny

First line: Lying, left hand for a pillow, on the shingled slant of the roof, there in the shade of the gable, staring at the cloud-curdles in the afternoon's blue pool, I seemed to see, between blinks, above the campus and myself, an instant piece of sky-writing.

Why you should read this book: In this classically perfect work of speculative fiction, professional dilettante Fred Cassidy finds his idyllic life as perpetual undergrad by day, acrophiliac by night, disrupted by someone else's quest for an ancient alien artifact. Set upon by thugs, rescued by inscrutable extra-terrestrials disguised as marsupials, assaulted by a well-meaning telepathic tree, reversed by alien technology, shot repeatedly, and just generally dragged around the globe in pursuit of a mysterious crystal whose disappearance could threaten the future of mankind, Fred is a reluctant hero on a journey into the bizarre. Just a wonderful piece of science fiction with spaceships, guns, technology, and elements of mystery, drama, comedy, espionage, and action-adventure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're stuck in Amber.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body

Author: Courtney E. Martin

First line: Eating disorders affect more than 7 million American girls and women, and up to 70 million people worldwide.

Why you should read this book: Examining the intersection between third-wave feminism and ideals of beauty in popular culture, Martin produces a chatty, personable account of how the beauty myth continues to affect American women of all ages, races, and socio-economic background. The narrative is not primarily about eating disorders, but rather the influences that lead otherwise strong and healthy girls and women to adopt unhealthy patterns of self-talk and behavior in response to unmet needs and unrealistic expectations of achievement. From family messages, sexual awakenings, and popular music to pornography, Title IX athletics, and the college experience, this book confronts the false messages of modern life and suggests new ways of looking at the self.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're pretty satisfied with your looks, and so are all the women you know.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pippi Longstocking

Author: Astrid Lindgren

First line: On the outskirts of a tiny little town was a neglected garden.

Why you should read this book: For over sixty years, children have delighted in the antics of the independent redhead who wears mismatched stockings, throws policemen off her porch before lifting her horse onto it, and keeps a monkey for a companion. Whether grown-ups are failing to throw her out of school, the circus, or an elegant coffee party, the boundless optimism of a little girl raised by pirates at sea offers the perfect antidote to the rigid world of rules and inhibition. This link goes to a newly translated edition that feature delightful new illustrations that toy with language just as Pippi does and bring an updated look to a classic text.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider instructional manuals, moral tales, and the occasional bible story acceptable forms of children's literature

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Clan Apis

Author: Jay Hosler

First line: Once upon a long, long time ago, there was a whole lot of nothing.

Why you should read this book: With buoyant, modern humor, the author puts a anthropomorphic face on the life of the honeybee while using his scientific knowledge to illustrate all facets of the creature's life cycle and behaviors. Nyuki is a bit of a smartass worker bee, thoughtful and sensitive, who eventually grows up, like all her sisters, to be a great boon to the community. The story's ending demonstrates the interconnectedness of all things and asks us to reexamine what it means to contribute to our own society.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're too busy researching Colony Collapse Disorder or battling with bee mite infestations in your own hives.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Author: Jeff Wiltse

First line: In 1898 Boston's mayor Josiah Quincy send Daniel Kearns, secretary of the city's bath commission, to study Philadelphia's bathing pools.

Why you should read this book: The history of municipal swimming pools in America is the history of struggling intersections in race, class, and gender relations. Beginning with bath houses, segregated by gender but mixed by race, installed for the purpose cleansing the working class, moving through an era in which American women expressed greater social freedom through the shrinking of the bathing suit, and exploding in the 60s, as swimming pools become another battleground in the war between racial hostility and the drive toward equality, the narrative unfolds with a kind of clarity available only to historians in hindsight. While the author has a tendency to repeat himself, in general the narrative moves at a good pace, with plenty of statistics, quotes, and historical documentation to demonstrate the function played by swimming pools at different points in the last 120 years and their importance to our American ideals of prosperity, integration, leisure, cleanliness, and social space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Hydrophobia.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

Authors: James Sturm and Rich Tommaso

First line: Ain't easy leavin' your wife and child, but you can't be a ballplayer unless you willin' to travel.

Why you should read this book: Told from the point of view of a black athlete who once faced off against the great Satchel Paige and came out on top, if only for a moment, this graphic novel offers slices from a time before Jackie Robinson, when Paige, who was widely considered the greatest pitcher of his day, was not allowed to try out for the major leagues due to racial discrimination. The story gives a good picture of life in the Negro League, prejudice and racially-motivated violence in the South in the era of Jim Crow, and the sense of humor necessary to survive and thrive in the midst of all these factors. The story also offers a wonderful sense of narrative redemption as the narrator, whose head-to-head with Paige left him unable to play ball, jumps fourteen years into the future to the day when he and his young son witness Paige's humiliation of the most hostile white men in their town.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're all for civil rights; you just can't stomach play-by-play descriptions of sporting events.


Author: Joe Kubert

First line: I am going to die here.

Why you should read this book: A graphic novel comprised of brutal descriptions and stripped-down but powerful illustrations, this is a faithful but fictional documentation of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, nominated for several prestigious awards. Yossel is an alternate-reality version of the author, whose real-life family escaped Europe prior to the war, but Yossel's family stayed in Poland, and it is only his exceptional ability to draw figures in the American comic book style that sustains the boy through the horror of his experience. Compelled to illustrate the world as it is revealed to him even as he escapes into fantasies of dinosaurs, Vikings, and superheros, Yossel testifies to the inhumanity of Nazi brutality and the courage of the rebels in a book that does not end happily, but does end truthfully, as a testament to the human spirit.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't stomach any graphic terror right now.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Praying at the Sweetwater Motel

Author: April Young Fritz

First line: Hello, God, it's me, Sarah Jane Otis.

Why you should read this book: When she helps her mother and little sister escape from her abusive, alcoholic father, Sarah Jane doesn't bank on ending up in the run-down Sweetwater Motel in Dublin, Ohio, the last place in the world her father will ever look for them. Now they're broke and alone and Sarah Jane has to start school, make friends, and hide her situation from the wealthy kids around her while coping with the grief of losing her father, her grandmother, her home, her best friend, and also her grandmother's horse. An uplifting story about the power to write your own narrative and make your own mistakes, knowing that there are always loving adults ready to catch you when you stumble.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe a marriage is an iron-clad contract between men and god and therefore shouldn't be broken for any reason.

It's a Bird

Author: Steven T. Seagle

First line: It didn't look like the rest of the letters on the report.

Why you should read this book: If it's a superhero comic, it transcends the boundaries of the medium in the same way that Superman transcends the limitations of mere mortals. Steve is a comic book writer who's been offered the sweetest cherry in the industry-- the chance to write the man of steel--but the dark secrets in his family's closet sour him on fantasy and inspire only the most cynical and bleak reimaginings of the hero from Krypton. With growing anger toward his editor, his girlfriend, his family, and the legions of men, young and old, who still cling to the idealized perfection of the four-color Superman of their dreams, Steve deconstructs the myth of Kal-el and finallly confronts the lies of his family's past.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You figure criticizing Superman is just plain unamerican.

Leap Years

Author: Ian Bennett

First line: Hi. I'm Jake.

Why you should read this book: Freshman year, Jake's life is so pathetic that even the bullies don't notice him, but that all changes when a six-foot tall frog named Wilbur enters into his life and persuades him to shake things up. Under the tutelage of his imaginary friend, Jake begins to break out of his self-imposed boredom, playing pranks at school, going out with girls, becoming a basketball star, and, eventually, senior class president. For all its fantasy, it's a fairly realistic portrait of how to be a happy teenager.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think high school is meant to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Books of Magic

Author: Neil Gaiman

First line: "I don't want anything to do with it."

Why you should read this book: Young Timothy Hunter is on the cusp of the most important decision of his life, whether or not to study ars magica and become the greatest magician of his generation. With pretty much every mystical character in the DC Universe popping up to offer help or menace, Tim journeys through worlds to learn the costs and benefits of the practice. Kind of a dense work for a graphic novel, packed with equal parts information and action.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've got the complete run of Promethea lined up on your bed table.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins

Author: Marion Dane Bauer

First line: I still remember the exact color of the sky the day I saw Dorinda for the first time.

Why you should read this book: In a series of five connected short stories and one stream of brutally honest prose, perennial outsider Claire Davis stumbles through adolescence trying to uncover the truth about race, religion, death, and sexuality. Bauer mixes seemingly equal parts fiction with real-life recollection from her own uncertain childhood. Tight, powerful, explosive, raw, and tangible, this book plunges into the intricacies of right and wrong with adolescent abandon and swims with broad strokes toward adulthood.

Why you shouldn't read this book: God already told you what was right and what was wrong.


Author: Nick Abadzis

First line: I am a man of destiny...I will not die...I am a man of destiny...I will not die...

Why you should read this book: Remarkably researched, this fast-paced graphic novel reveals the story of Sputnik II, focusing on the satellite's occupant, a lovable little mutt with a curly tail, destined to be the first Earthling in space. Although some elements are fictionalized, the overall writing does an excellent job of illuminating the culture of the Soviet space program in the 50s, the personalities involved, and the way Laika inspired the world. Smart, heartfelt, informational, and gripping, this is a wonderful story about human and animal determination, the mistakes of the past and the hope for the future.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are too busy breaking into cosmetic labs to free bunny rabbits with your PETA pals.

Efrain of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard's Life among the Seri Indians

Author: Amalia Astorga as told to Gary Paul Nabhan

First line: As I pulled my kayak up onto the beach below the Seri village--before any of the girls and boys ran up to greet me--I spotted a zebra-tailed lizard lounging in the sun.

Why you should read this book: A brilliant lens on an endangered indigenous culture, this book is broken into three rough parts: Nabhan's two experiences as a visitor to the Seri people; Astorga's story about the intelligent sand-dwelling lizard who became her friend; and supplemental information about the Seri, other endangered cultures, Sonoran lizards, and conservation. Each section is delightful, but the central story about Efraim, who is as faithful to Astorga "as any husband could be," is a true gem. This book functions on many levels and is appropriate for very young children (provided they are capable of surviving the death of a beloved creature in a story) as well as older children and adults.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get the big deal about some endangered reptiles dying in the desert.

M.C. Higgins, the Great

Author: Virginia Hamilton

First line: Mayo Cornelius Higgins raised his arms high to the sky and spread them wide.

Why you should read this book: M.C. Higgins, famed for swimming, pole climbing, and tracking, knows two things for certain: that Sarah's Mountain, his family's land since his great-grandmother escaped there from slavery, is his birthright, where he will live out the rest of his life; and also, that he must move his family far from the path of the huge spoil heap left behind when the machines cut off thirty feet of mountain for ten feel of coal before the dreadful pile of rock and earth cascades down the hillside and crushes them all to death. That summer, two strangers come to Sarah's Mountain, a dude with a tape recorder who could make his mother into a famous singer, and a girl traveling on her own with a hunting knife. This exceptional story shows M.C. learning to use his strength, brains, and heritage to forge his own path into adulthood.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Just not into great literature.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

Author: Jeremy Narby

First line: The first time an Ashaninca man told me that he had learned the medicinal properties of plants by drinking a hallucinogenic brew, I thought he was joking.

Why you should read this book: After drinking the hallucinogenic ayahuasca as a young grad student learning from indigenous peoples in South America in the 80s, Narby spent years coming to grips with the meaning of his visions, and more importantly, with the shamanic tradition providing detailed, effective medico-biologic knowledge that can't be explained by Western thought, although it can be exploited by Western pharmaceutical companies. A long-term inquiry into the roots of anthropology, biology, neurology, mythology, and other diverse fields leads him to the intuitive jump that DNA, the source of all life, is capable of both sending and receiving information, and certain chemicals occurring naturally within the brain as well as within the forest, allow the human mind to perceive these communications and view reality without the distorting focal lens of science. Narby's journey is both personal and well-documented (for 162 pages of text, 60 pages of footnotes and 20 pages of bibliography) and, while he acknowledges that objective science can neither confirm nor deny his hypothesis, his book is a wonderful drawing together of ancient and modern world traditions seeking to demonstrate the cosmic connections among all life and environments on this world or any other.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If it transcends quantitative analysis, you don't see how it can have meaning, value, or validity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Wind in the Door

Author: Madeleine L'Engle

First line: "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden."

Why you should read this book: Meg Murphy and her interesting brother Charles Wallace, are back in Part 2 of the Time Quartet, and this time it is Charles Wallace's life that is in mortal, and cosmic, danger. While her parents explore the theoretical aspect of mitochondria, Meg, her friend Calvin, and a cherubim called Proginoskes must battle the forces of war and emptiness within the galaxy of cells that is Charles Wallace's body. In a story that illustrates the interconnectedness of all things, L'Engle proves the power of love and the strength of life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If someone invited you to visit another galaxy, you wouldn't want to go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Baa! The Most Interesting Book You'll Ever Read about Genes and Cloning

Author: Cynthia Pratt Nelson

Why you should read this book: To be fair, it's definitely not the most interesting book I've ever read about genes and cloning, and furthermore, it's not really about cloning, which is only discussed in the last chapter, but it is a nice introduction to genetics for young children who may not be particularly science-minded. With wacky cartoon illustrations, plenty of real-world examples, and sidebars on every page, it's a good reference for grade school kids. From Gregor Mendel to Dolly the sheep, the author covers the whole spectrum of modern understanding of genetics, and she does it all in forty pages.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe cloning is an evil way to tamper with god's plan.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Breaking Up

Author: Aimee Friedman

First line: There's a fine line between a friend and an enemy.

Why you should read this book: Chloe, Mackenzie, Erika, and Isabel have been friends forever, but junior year, everything seems to change. Mackenzie becomes a social climber, while Chloe falls for the dorkiest guy at their status-conscious art magnet school. A realistic story about friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd do anything to be popular.

The Plain Janes

Authors: Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

First line: Metro City. Last spring. When it happened, I fell.

Why you should read this book: Following another terrorist attack in the big City, Jane's parents ship her out to the suburbs, where there's no culture, but Jane, who was injured in the attack herself, has decided to live. Inspired by the notebook of John Doe, a comatose man she rescued after the explosion, and recruiting the help of the school's biggest rejects--Jane, Jayne, and Polly Jane--she forms a girl art gang, P.L.A.I.N, or People Loving Art In Neighborhoods, and commits stealth acts of random beauty throughout the town. Art Saves, Jane realizes, and soon enough the other kids do too, but the adults brand their acts as terrorist attacks, and everyone must decide for themselves what it means to live.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe curfews were made to be respected and art belongs in museums.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast

Author: Jane Yolen

First line: The pig fell down the rabbit-hole, turning snout over tail and squealing as it went.

Why you should read this book: Forget its designation as a children's book; this is a simply perfect collection of speculative fiction, touching on several subgenres and hitting a perfect mark with every story. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between comprise the territory where a haunted house can save a babysitter's life, love conquers vampires, and dried berries and a rubber band form the decisive weapon in the war between fairies and ants. Every story is a gem in its own right, and the novella, "Lost Girls," a pro-labor, feminist revisiting of Neverland in which the girls go on strike for equal rights to adventures, is of special note.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer the reality-based world of Sweet Valley, which depicts real people living real lives.

If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries

Author: Judith Viorst

First line: If I were in charge of the world, I'd cancel oatmeal, Monday mornings, Allergy shots, and also Sara Steinberg.

Why you should read this book: It's smart and funny, tackling topics such as young love, childhood fears, fairy tales, and friendship. Viorst's rapport with young readers is evident in her subject matter and her delivery, and her offbeat rhymes invite reading and rereading aloud. Great for bedtimes, and Lynne Cherry's pen and ink illustrations are a bonus.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe kids feel strong emotions.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Had Seen Castles

Author: Cynthia Rylant

First line: Pittsburgh was darkness.

Why you should read this book: Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, seventeen-year-old John Dante falls off a bus and in love with Ginny Burton, who objects to war on principle, while John knows that enlisting is the only way to prove that he is a man, rather than a coward. His father is sent to California to work on what eventually becomes the atomic bomb, his mother becomes Rosy the Riveter, his sister becomes a soldier's girl and ends up shipped off to Ohio to have a soldier's child, and John and Ginny must fumble with their love and their differences in the face of a war that sees one part of the country sacrificing their lives, while another part grows rich off the profits. What John learns in the theater of war will teach him to love Ginny all the more, even as it erects a barrier between John and the rest of America.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think war is great for the economy.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball

Author: Paul Zindel

First line: "Marsh" Mellow was fifteen years old and hated almost everything about Curtis Lee High School.

Why you should read this book: In a story that doesn't seem to have lost any of its power or relevancy in the thirty years since its original publication, we meet Marsh and Edna, two outcasts from the society of Curtis Lee High, placed in a special class of kids with social difficulties. Edna, always on the defensive, can't seem to stop crying, while Marsh is a compulsive liar who carries a live baby raccoon in his pocket wherever he goes. Drawn to one another, they have the chance to change their lives, if they can only drop their defense mechanisms long enough to be honest with themselves.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you can prevent teen drinking, drug use, and sexual behavior by preventing teens from reading about drinking, drugs, and sex.

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

First line: There was always the Hocking River running a red mud trail through Chauncy, Ohio.

Why you should read this book: In a hard, sad, coming-of-age piece, Marie, a well-off, popular girl in a predominantly black suburb, is drawn to Lena, a poor white girl who lives by the dump. The girls share the common sorrows of absent mothers (Lena's dead and Marie's on permanent "walkabout") and secret disappointment in their fathers (Marie's father hasn't touched her since the night her mother left; Lena's father touches her in ways she can't discuss). In the face of racial and class discrimination, Marie tries to ease Lena's pain and understand a world larger than her insulated middle-class community.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe father always knows best.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Andrew's Loose Tooth

Author: Robert Munsch

First line: When Andrew came downstairs there were three big red apples in the middle of the table.

Why you should read this book: Andrew's loose tooth prevents him from eating apples without excruciating pain, but neither his mother's hands, nor his father's pliers, his dentist's car, or the tooth fairy's hammer can remove the stubborn thing from his face. Kids like the wild solutions and cartoonish illustrations, as well as the ultimate finale. A silly, accessible book on a topic close to every little kid's heart.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a dentist.

Missing Abby

Author: Lee Weatherly

First line: The Force is strong in this one.

Why you should read this book: Emma's managed to shake off the stigma of her junior high reputation as a freak by transferring to a private school, making new "normal" friends, and cutting off her best friend from childhood, Abby. When Abby's disappearance makes front page news, Emma realizes she was the last to see her former friend alive, and joins the effort to learn Abby's fate, despite her misgivings about Abby's weird proclivities. A story about identity and truth, this book doesn't offer easy answers or sugarcoat the pain of reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still think D&D leads to ritual Satanic abuse, every time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Man Who Caught Fish

Author: Walter Lyon Krudop

First line: One day, a stranger came to the village carrying only a pole with a string attached.

Why you should read this book: Most of the city is pleased with the odd charity of a strange man who catches a fish every time his line falls into water, distributing them evenly with the motto, "One person, one fish," but the king feels it's his divine right to receive more fish than anyone else. No matter what he does, he cannot persuade the stranger to pay him his due, until everyone learns a lesson in greed. An original fairy tale, set in Thailand, that appeals to a child's sense of fairness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Possessed by the ghost of Joseph McCarthy, you fear any philosophy that advocates equal distribution of resources.

Odd Velvet

Author: Mary E. Whitcomb

First line: On the first day of schook, Velvet's classmates brought their teacher cinnamon tea, lace handkerchiefs, and heart-shaped boxes of potpourri.

Why you should read this book: A loving and believable examination of conformity and acceptance. Velvet is an odd girl who dresses, thinks, and talks differently from the rest of the class, but her words and imagination end up inspiring the other kids. By the end of the year, her classmates find themselves becoming a little more like odd Velvet.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You sent your kid to an exclusive boarding school with a dress code for a reason.

Today I Will Fly

Author: Mo Willems

First line: Today I will fly!

Why you should read this book: Accessible to any reading level, it's a simple conversation between a pig determined to conquer gravity and the reality-based elephant determined to destroy her fantasies. The pig makes several attempts to achieve lift-off before persuading her elephant friend that dreams can come true. A real crowd-pleaser.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It chafes you to see folks with unbounded hope.

Alec's Primer

Author: Mildred Pitts Walter

First line: Near the Rappahannock River in Port Royal, Virginia, the Gouldin tobacco plantation spread over many acres.

Why you should read this book: Born into slavery, Alec tries to keep his head down and follow the rules, but the Mistress's rebellious granddaughter insists on teaching him to read, and Alec begins to dream of freedom. Saving his pennies in a secret jar and studying from the primer she gives him, he protects his knowledge and imagines life in Vermont, until he can join the Northern soldiers and fight in the civil war. A true story, based on Alec's daughter's recollections, this book features a short historical blurb, as well as a photograph of the real Alec at his wedding.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're waiting for the South to rise again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

First line: How do you do. My name is Penelope Ryan. This is a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing--and those who don't.

Why you should read this book: Balancing on the razor's edge between comedy and tragedy, in Vonnegut's inimitable way, this play pitches readers into the dark world of Harold Ryan, a man who makes killing both his business and his pleasure. Declared dead after eight years in Africa, he returns home to find his wife engaged to one of her two suitors, a peace-loving doctor. With darkest humor, Harold's journey takes him from volatile expression of aggressive machismo to an anachronism unfit for the modern world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Nothing makes you feel manlier than taking the life of a creature weaker than yourself, preferably with your bare hands.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Author: Gina Wilson

First line: Ignis lived with his sister, Flamma, and Grandragon.

Why you should read this book: Here's your standard finding-your-talent, heading-onto-the-open-road, making-new-friends, coming-of-age story, with the title role played by a dragon, supported by a cast of dragons, one hippopotamus, one parrot, and one little girl. Little Ignis, who can't breathe fire, feels like he's not a real dragon, so he leaves Dragonland to find himself, trying out the lifestyles of other creatures before returning home, an integrated and fully flammable dragon. With luscious, breathtaking artwork that almost overshadows the somewhat loquacious text.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The combination of fire and the young of any species makes you nervous.

Lucky Socks

Author: Carrie Weston

Title: On Monday morning, Kevin put on his red socks.

Why you should read this book: An upbeat little tale about childhood superstition made more enticing to the young through the plot device of a pair of yellow underpants. Kevin's apparently natural clumsiness appears to diminish when he wears his yellow socks, but he can't find the auspicious garments on Field Day, and has to make do with yellow underpants instead. Although he fumbles and bumbles his way through the games, he still comes out ahead, attributing his success to his underwear.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a professional skeptic who has spent years browbeating children out of their bizarre delusions.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Becoming a Woman: A Biography of Christine Jorgensen

Author: Richard F. Docter

First line: On February 27, 1988, 150 cross dressers, many of them in shimmering floor-length formals, downed a cocktail or two in the gilded banquet room of Chicago's Ramada O'Hare Hotel awaiting Miss Christine Jorgensen, indisputably the world's most celebrated transsexual.

Why you should read this book: Although not the first person to use hormone therapy and surgery to effect a transformation of gender, in 1952 Jorgensen was the first to go public with her story, to insist upon a medical model for her experience, to provide material for voluminous newspaper articles and press conferences, or to take her act around the world with nightclub booking where she sang, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," and bantered with the audience. From her childhood as the lanky George Jorgensen through her transformation in Denmark, her career as an entertainer and the final years of her life, Docter takes the reader on an honest journey, acknowledging Christine's foibles as well as her triumphs. An interesting, easy-to-read academic-quality biography, with bibliography and many source notes as well as details from personal interviews and old documents.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't hold with any of those newfangled perversions in the pursuit of happiness and just assume that your creator wants people to be miserable.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Author: Brenda Maddox

First line: The family into which Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born on 25 July 1920, stood high in Anglo-Jewry.

Why you should read this book: Intensely researched and details, this book recounts the life of the extraordinary scientist, Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray evidence formed the basis of Watson and Crick's discovery of the shape of the DNA molecule, and whose other research into coal and viruses advanced the understanding of many other molecules. From her childhood as an "alarmingly clever" girl who did math problems for fun, to her war work on coal and carbon, her two-year stint working on DNA at King's College, her later work on viruses, and her untimely death from cancer at thirty-seven years old, Maddox paints a clear picture of Franklin's strengths, weaknesses, joys, and defeats. This is an intelligent, uncompromising biography that seeks to build on facts to dispel the positive and negative mythmaking that has transformed Rosalind into a caricature for some and a goddess for others.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You make a practice of borrowing others' research without their knowledge or consent.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Make Way for Ducklings

Author: Robert McCloskey

First line: Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live.

Why you should read this book: The original children's classic, this was one of the first Caldecott Medal books, and still the most popular of the early winners. Like many intellectuals, the Mallards decide to settle in Boston, laying their eggs on the banks of the Charles River. When Mrs. Mallard decides to take her brood to the Public Gardens, no thoroughfare is too busy for a determined waterfowl, and with the help of Boston's finest, Mrs. Mallard, along with Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack are able to safely cross the street.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't even brake for pedestrians.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Promise Is a Promise

Authors: Robert Munsch & Michael Kusugak

First line: On the very first nice day of spring Allashua said, "I'm going to go fishing. I'm going to go fishing in the ocean. I'm going to go fishing in the cracks in the ice."

Why you should read this book: For children who love creepy morality tales, this is story about a girl who breaks one promise and finds she has to keep another, much more terrible, promise. Allashua, a little Inuit girl, lies to her mother and falls under the power of the Qallupilluit, hideous child-stealing monsters who live under the cracks in the sea ice. When she sells out her siblings to save her life, her mother must outwit the creatures to save her family.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your precious muffins would never tell a lie, and you don't want them to get any ideas, either.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Night Shift

Author: Stephen King

First line: Let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about fear.

Why you should read this book: Twenty classic King stories, many of which were made into movies, some of which didn't even suck. A few of these pieces are literary, without a hint of voodoo, psychosis, monsters, demons, or inanimate objects coming to life for horrific purpose, and the rest of them contain some combination of the above. By turns creepy and comedic, this book showcases the author's ability to construct well-drawn, interesting characters and then turn their lives into the ninth circle of Hell.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You accidentally saw thirty seconds of The Shining and you're still having nightmares twenty years later.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

Author: James Watson

First line: I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.

Why you should read this book: Chief among the earliest works of science as dramatic thriller, Watson's story of his youthful pursuit of fame in the form of a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA is a fast-paced tumble seen through the eyes of an energetic and self-confident American enthralled with the culture of Cambridge and its profusion of pretty girls as well as his own burgeoning understanding of life. Acknowledging the contributions of his partner, Francis Crick, as well as their colleagues Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, and their great rival, the famous Linus Pauling, Watson illustrates every step in the furious race to the prize. Although Watson is opinionated and often critical of ideas, individuals, and attitudes that rub him the wrong way on a personal or scientific level, his voice is honest in that it reflects the prejudices and beliefs of the man he was in the 1950s, when he conducted the research.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Delicate readers may feel the weight of Watson's prodigious ego crushing their very souls as they read.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Letters of a Woman Homesteader

Author: Elinore Pruitt Stewart

First line: Dear Mrs. Coney,--Are you thinking I am lost, like the Babes in the woods?

Why you should read this book: In 1909, a young, widowed single mother, seeking a cure for the grippe and the rigors of city life, relocates to Wyoming intent on demonstrating that women can homestead. With a clear head and a joyful heart, she throws herself into the rigors of country life, delighting in the natural beauty that surrounds her, while endearing herself to every sort of neighbor. Her letters to an old friend back home are written with spectacular description, fine humor, and an overall sense of the pioneer spirit that drives Stewart to overcome hardship and embrace love as she follows her dreams.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You belong to an outlaw polygamist Mormon sect. Also, some casual use of the n-word along with a few playful stereotypes of different European peoples.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dreams from My Father

Author: Barack Obama

First line: A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news.

Why you should read this book: The author, raised by his white mother and grandparents in Hawaii and Indonesia, spends his life searching for his identity and chasing the shadow of his black father, with whom he spent only a single month in his childhood and then scarcely reconnected with shortly before the Old Man’s death. Through angry adolescence to his determined years as a community organizer in Chicago, he offers a thoughtful, optimistic, and realistic view of race, family, and society, picking up pieces of his own beliefs and history as he goes. Finally, on a trip to his father’s native Kenya, he meets his extended family, learns to reconstruct his father’s story, and comes to understand the trials of his past, joy in his present, and hope for his future.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t enjoy intelligent, finely-crafted memoirs that speak with warm candor about the structure of society and the construction of identity in an world of inequality and greed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

365 Penguins

Author: Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet

First line: On New Year's Day, at nine o-clock in the morning, a delivery man rang our doorbell.

Why you should read this book: An unknown person with a very strange sense of humor begins to send the family penguins, one every day, for an entire year. In all the craziness of a house full of penguins, young people probably won't even notice that they're actually getting a full lesson in multiplication as the penguins add up to larger and larger numbers. This is an adorable, engaging story with a satisfying, happy ending and an ecological message tacked on to a great math book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would have refused delivery.