Monday, March 31, 2008

Mammoths on the Move

Author: Lisa Wheeler

First line: Fourteen thousand years ago the north was mostly ice and snow.

Why you should read this book: In rollicking rhyme, we learn about the annual migration of the woolly mammoth as it moved through the frozen landscape in search of vegetation. Based on recent scientific evidence and some speculation, the story portrays the huge creatures in family groups, protecting their young, tromping through snow. A great book for curious-minded kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know the earth is 6000 years old, period.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

Author: Walt Whitman

First line: When I heard the learn'd astronomer...

Why you should read this book: Following the theme suggested by this small bit of poetry, Illustrator Loren Long uses pictures to tell the story of a small boy dragged to an adult lecture on astrophysics. Although he is inspired by the topic, he is bored by the speeches, and eventually, as Whitman's poem suggests, forsakes the auditorium to experience firsthand the thrill of communing with the night sky. A beautiful perspective on both poem and a young child's view of the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like charts, diagrams, addition, division, measurements, and lectures.


Author: Leslea Newman

First line: Greenwood. What a stupid name. First of all, wood is brown, not green, and second of all, who makes up these dumb names anyway?

Why you should read this book: Set in the early 70s, it tells the story of Andrea, an early bloomer adolescent who feels ostracized from her peers until she meets Frank, a man twice her age, who tells her she is beautiful and makes her feel good. Their relationship progresses in secrecy, and though Frank is clearly unbalanced from an adult standpoint, Andrea believes herself in love and does everything she can think of to make him happy. This is a realistic story with well-drawn characters; Andrea's family dynamic helps to explain her actions, and Frank's behavior, though unfortunately, is also believable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Abstinence-only education worked for you!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crafting the Very Short Story: An Anthology of 100 Masterpieces

Editor: Mark Mills

First line: "I suspect," critic Charles Baxter has said, "that [the very short story] appeals to readers so much now because they are on so many thresholds."

Why you should read this book: This anthology gathers very short stories, usually under five pages, from ancient, modern, and post-modern sources, along with literary criticism and first-person author interpretations of their own work. It's a great book for readers and for writers, and provides a wonderful overview of the work of great writers, along with much useful information on crafting the very short story. For busy people who can't string more than ten minutes together for reading, very short stories are a perfect solution.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're ready to cozy up to a nice, long novel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Baby

Author: Jeanette Winter

First line: Whoosh! The hot wind blows across the savanna to my village.

Why you should read this book: This is a heartwarming, lovely, cozy story about a woman anticipating the birth of her first child. Inspired by the real-life art of Nakunte Diarra of Mali, it discusses the tradition of bogolan, mud-dyed cloth, an art handed down from mother to daughter. In this book, the young African woman learns to paint the most beautiful bogolan in the village, and when she prepares for her own baby, she frames her months of waiting with the act of creating the perfect cloth for the child.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think pregnancy is a dirty word, or you just can't handle the thought of a woman sitting on the ground when there are snakes, scorpions, and crocodiles crawling all over the place.

Five for a Little One

Author: Chris Raschka

First line: Smell is 1.

Why you should read this book: Raschka is the master of lively, rhythmic prose for youngsters, and this book tackles plenty of topics for little kids. It's a counting, book, a rhyming book, a book about senses, and a book about rabbits, full of rich descriptive language and funny, mixed-media illustrations. Observant kids will also note the little protagonist, a black and white bunny, is a perfect amalgam of its parents, one black and one white.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You just checked the menu, and it's rabbit stew tonight.


Author: Chris Van Allsburg

First line: "Now remember," Mother said, "your father and I are bringing some guests by after the opera, so please keep the house neat."

Why you should read this book: Chris Van Allsburg changed the fact of children's literature with sumptuous, detailed, realistic black-and-white illustration and an inventive perspective on a world both familiar and fantastic. Like so many awesome children's books, this one begins with siblings left home alone and bored out of their minds, until they find a mysterious board game, Jumanji, that brings all the excitement and terror of darkest Africa into the confines of their living room. Earning a Caldecott medal and inspiring a motion picture, this is an enduring classic.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Having recently been bitten by a tsetse fly, you are feeling very, very sleepy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Eyewitness: Epidemic

Author: Brian Ward

First line: Infectious disease has always existed around both humans and animals.

Why you should read this book: Like all Dorling Kindersley titles, this book is full of surprising, colorful photographs, in this case, representations of viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and protozoa. Each two-page spread comprises a chapter, with short, informative blurbs giving an overview of the subtopic and further information for each of the numerous pictures. Great material for curious kids looking to learn about disease.

Why you shouldn't read this book: E-coli is not a pretty thing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Plague and Pestilence: A History of Infectious Disease

Author: Linda Jacobs Altman

First line: March 10, 1997, started out as a typical Monday at Del Campo High School near Sacramento, Californa; busy teachers, crowded hallways, the bray of the morning bell.

Why you should read this book: This is a straightforward overview of infectious diseases with both a historical and modern perspective, written for adolescent readers. Text explains the evolution of medical understanding as well as the physical and social toll of deadly diseases. Includes an intelligent discussion of the real killers, those diseases against which we have neither immunity nor vaccination, and the constant possibility that some microbe will mutate just enough to destroy the human race.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Hypochondria.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cliff Hanger

Author: Jean Craighead George

First line: Axel washed his tin cup at the hand pump outside the Teton Mountains Climbing School hut and looked up.

Why you should read this book: Newbery-winning author George is known for her sensitive depictions of children and their interaction with animals and the environment, and this book paints a masterful picture of a long moment in the life of a child who loves both. Axel, whose father runs the climbing school, is chagrined to learn that his dog, Grits, has been left on the mountain as a terrible electrical storm approaches. What follows is both a display of courage, love, and determination as well as a great technical description of a challenging climb under less-than-optimal circumstance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Even the mere suggestion of height in an illustration gives you vertigo.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Boy

Author: Julian Houston

First line: "It won't be easy, you know," said Cousin Gwen.

Why you should read this book: Rob Garrett is heading up north to integrate a snooty Connecticut prep school where prejudice takes on strange new forms, but back home in Virginia, his friends are fighting segregation on the front lines, and Rob is torn, trying to find his place in the struggle. On vacation in New York, he comes to understand a world view different from any he's known before, and when his friends organize a sit-in at the "Whites Only" Woolworth's lunch counter, he cannot stand on the sidelines. An interesting perspective on the civil rights movement of the late 50s.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like easy endings that wrap all the details up in a pretty ribbon.

Follow the Leader

Author: Erica Silverman

First line: Follow the leader. Who should it be? I'm older. I'm bigger. You follow me.

Why you should read this book: Exuberant rhymes and amusing pictures detail the adventures of two young brothers. Although the older brother's imagination is thrilling at first, his bossiness soon drives a wedge into the relationship, until, at last, the younger brother discovers how he can assert himself. A nice solution to sibling rivalry and teaching the concepts of equality and sharing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe firmly in teaching children to follow orders without question.

How Can You Dance?

Author: Rick Walton

First line: How can you dance when Spring is in your shoes?

Why you should read this book: With equal parts joy and good humor, the author presents various scenarios in which a child may desire to dance, and then uses different similes to illustrate how emotions can be expressed through movement. Lyrical text and entertaining illustrations amuse young readers. This book is particularly effective if your young person has enough room to emulate the children in the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are very, very tired.

Chato's Kitchen

Author: Gary Soto

First line: Chato, a low-riding cat with six stripes, was slinking toward a sparrow when he heard the scrape of tiny feet coming from the yard next door.

Why you should read this book: A light-hearted romp following the attempts of a cool cat to devour a family of mice, infused with the flavor of the barrio. Chato thinks his plan to invite the tasty mice to dinner is foolproof, but he doesn't count on little ratoncitos having big friends. With warm, intriguing illustrations that create a concrete sense of place and character.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Mice give you heartburn.

Nino's Mask

Author: Jeanette Winter

First line: Every year I dream of wearing a mask in the FIESTA - of being something else for just one day.

Why you should read this book: Little Nino is tired of being told he is too young to wear a mask and a costume in his village's yearly planting festival, so he takes matters into his own hands. After watching the mask maker carefully, he cuts his own wood and carves the face of Perro, the dog who catches the despicable Tigre that wants to destroy the village's corn crop. For one day, Nino learns how it feels to be something else, and to contribute to the well-being of his community and his culture.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Masks creep you out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

George's Secret Key to the Universe

Authors: Lucy and Stephen Hawking

First line: Pigs don't just vanish, thought George as he stood staring into the depths of the very obviously empty pigsty.

Why you should read this book: When one of the world's most brilliant living theoretical physicists teams up with his novelist daughter to pen the science-fiction response to Harry Potter, anyone with an interest in science or speculative fiction has got to take notice. The story follows George, the son of Luddite eco-warriors, as he follows his wayward pig, Freddy, into the forbidden house next door, where he meets absent minded scientist, Eric, his fanciful daughter, Annie, and his mind-bogglingly useful laptop, Cosmos, which allows good-hearted users to travel through space without mucking around with rocketry or wasting time getting from place to place. When Eric's former colleague, G. Reeper, discovers the computer's existence, his dastardly plan sends Eric hurtling toward a black hole, and it's up to George to unlock the secrets of the universe and save his friend.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't believe Hawking changed his mind about that whole "no escape from a black hole" thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Author: Barack Obama

First line: It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office.

Why you should read this book: In language precise and sincere, Obama details his understanding of the American political process and the dreams of the American nation, laying out all the problems facing the American people and outlining potential solutions to those problem. Those who accuse the candidate of having little experience or understanding of politics must read this book to understand his wealth of knowledge, not just about the Constitution, the legislature, our history, the economy, morality, and foreign affairs, but also his in-depth comprehension of diplomacy, compromise, and ways to unite a divided nation. This is clear-headed doctrine that ought to hit the reading list of anyone (regardless of affiliation) who senses that America could be a healthier country than it is, and anyone who is ready to bring their nation into the twenty-first century with honor.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Neither the outcome of the 2008 American presidential election nor the position of the US in global policy have any bearing on your life.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business

Author: Esphyr Slobodkina

First line: Once there was a peddler who sold caps.

Why you should read this book: It's the classic tale of monkey-see, monkey-do, and it's one of the very few children's books written prior to The Cat in the Hat that continues to hold the attention of our digital age offspring. In simple, repetitive prose, we learn the story of a tired, hungry peddler wearing an improbably stack of hats on his head, and the monkeys who love him, or at least, love to do what he does. Sixty-eight years after its original publication, this book still has kids shaking their hands, stamping their feet, and scolding like monkeys.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're recovering from a vicious monkey bite.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cast upon the Breakers

Author: Horatio Alger

First line: "Well, good by, Rodney! I leave school tomorrow. I am going to learn a trade."

Why you should read this book: When the orphan heir, young Rodney Ropes, loses his entire fortune at the hands of his careless guardian, he is turned out of school, nearly penniless, but determined to support himself in the big city. Through setbacks with con men and complications with women who carelessly drop valuable packages outside of Tiffany's, he maintains his perfect air of self-confidence and self-reliance, riding the waves of fortune, making friends and enemies as he acts with gentlemanly aplomb. In the end, as in all of Alger's novels, a good character and work ethic are sufficient to return the young heir to his rightful position in society.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You dislike the taste of saccharine. You demand some kind of suspension of disbelief from literature. You can't read a novel comprised almost entirely of dialog without tags. You don't believe in coincidences.