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.

One Day, Daddy

Author: Frances Thomas

First line: "I've got this problem," said Little Monster

Why you should read this book: A charming little bedtime tale about a little monster torn between his aspirations to explore deep space and his love for his parents. With his father, he discusses the wonders and dangers of the universe, demonstrating a good knowledge of science. In the end, father and son understand that children must leave home to pursue their dreams, but they can always come back again.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not ready to contemplate your little one going to school, let alone outer space.

The Man Who Walked between the Towers

Author: Mordicai Gerstein

First line: Once there were two towers side by side.

Why you should read this book: In an incredibly powerful story that is still fully appropriate for young people, Gerstein tells the true story of tightrope walker Phillipe Petit, who, in 1974, looked at the space between the unfinished Twin Towers and thought, "what a wonderful place to stretch a rope." His preparations for the walk, his successful romp in the air a quarter of a mile above New York City, and the aftermath, are all faithfully recounted in clean prose and breathtaking illustrations. This is an amazing story about an amazing moment in time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not prepared to explain to your small child why the World Trade Center isn't there anymore.

Players in Pigtails

Author: Shana Corey

First line: Katie Casey wasn't good at being a girl...

Why you should read this book: Inspired the film A League of Their Own and by learning that the old ballpark favorite "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is actually about a girl named Katie Casey, the author embarked to reimagine this slice of history, the story of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Katie Casey loves baseball more than anything else, and with the boys at war, she finally gets her chance to be a star. The book includes historical information as well as the full lyrics to old baseball songs.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're busy practicing to join the WNBA.

A Lucky Dog: Owney, US Rail Mail Mascot

Author: Dirk Wales

First line: Nameless and homeless, the small dog shivered in the gloom.

Why you should read this book: A true story from the late nineteenth century, this is the tale of Owney, a stray dog who lucked onto a sweet job as the US Rail Mail Mascot. The scruffy dog rode with the mail wagons and protected mail that fell off the back until he decided he liked trains better, and started riding the rails all over the country, always returning to his home office in Albany, New York, bearing baggage tags that told the story of where he had been. This is an exciting and endearing slice of American history that will amaze young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those animal-haters who gets huffy when you see a service dog in the grocery store.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent

Author: Thomas Glave

First line: As we step from the car out onto the ground that is still muddy from last night's gentle rain, feeling it sucking at our feet as we imprint our soles on it, a light breath of spring blows the first scents of wildflowers to us: shovel in hand, I close my eyes and breathe in, deeply.

Why you should read this book: In this collection of short non-fiction essays, Glave dares ask the hard questions: "When will we stop hating each other based on race, gender, sexuality?" and "How would America and the Starr Report have been affected were the role of Monica Lewinsky played by a black man?" Using prose essentially poetic, he sheds brilliant light on the hidden corners of modern culture, particularly on the worlds of his two spiritual homes, the Bronx, New York and Kingston, Jamaica. A beautiful book willing to confront ugly things while honoring the often-silenced voice of the gay black male.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no imagination and you don't believe in dissent.

A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present

Author: Howard Zinn

First line: Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages on the island's big beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange boat.

Why you should read this book: One of the most important books ever written, A People's History seeks to correct the mistakes of official history by restoring the perspective of Native Americans, African-Americans, women, immigrants, pacifists, the working class, and all others (the vast majority of Americans) who are not represented by the wealthy, heterosexual, white men who have been running the show for five hundred plus years in a country where government policy caters to corporate greed, the almighty military-industrial complex, and the minuscule percentage of families controlling the majority of the nation's wealth. At seven hundred pages, it is densely packed with cases of outrageous class inequality as well as positive uprising in the name of social justice, and still, the author feels compelled to apologize, in the afterword, for those people whose points of view remain underrepresented in his massive history. This book ought to be required reading for every American.

Why you shouldn't read this book: As a single mother working eighty hours a week at minimum wage who still can't afford health care, you just don't have time to read.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Littlest Wolf

Author: Larry Dane Brimner

First line: It was a perfect summer morning.

Why you should read this book: It's a beautiful message of self-acceptance directed to children who may feel less gifted than their older siblings. The littlest wolf is sad when the other wolves criticize his playing, but his father reassures him over and over that his actions are just as they should be, and that more advanced ones "come later." Delightful illustrations by Jose Aruego and Arianne Dewey round out a fun book for small kids just aching to grow up.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You encourage competition among your children and hold them to accountable to official developmental benchmarks.

Trouble at Sugar Dip Well

Author: Esther Pearl Watson

First line: Out in the brown and dusty West lived a cowgirl names Jules, who was genuine like leather, strong like licorice.

Why you should read this book: A joyful take on the spaghetti Western, this book lets girls get in on the fun, with a heroine who's smart, strong, and generous, and a horse who can "sing, dance, cook, make a mean cup of coffee, multiply, divide, and speak three languages." Written in the cadence of the old West and drawing on every oater cliche imaginable, this story will enthrall both children and adults with its regional tale of good versus evil. Riding, roping, secret passages, exploding dynamite, and fresh lemonade fill a really well-written, entertaining story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't abide the bullying of buffaloes.

Clarence Goes Out West and Meets a Purple Horse

Author: Jean Eckman Adams

First line: Clarence is going on a trip.

Why you should read this book: Clarence is a little edgy about his trip to a dude ranch, but Smoky, his horse for the week, gives him plenty of confidence to ride, dance, gamble, and play the washtub in a cowboy band in this gorgeously and whimsically illustrated book. When Clarence learns that Smoky is getting long in the tooth and is about to be sent out to pasture, the little pig knows he must save his big friend. Sacrifice in the name of friendship makes perfect sense and changes Clarence's life for good.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd send an old horse to a glue factory.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania

Author: Laurie Krebs

First line: We all went on safari, when the day had just begun.

Why you should read this book: It's working on many levels: a rhyming book, a counting book (in two languages), an animal book, and a multicultural book. Every page features African animals, Swahili names and numbers, and children and adults in Maasai dress. The end of the book features multiple indexes, written for children: facts about Tanzanian animals along with their Swahili names, an introduction to the Maasia people, meanings of Tanzanian names, facts about Tanzania, a map of the country, and an extra counting page (all foreign words are also transliterated).

Why you shouldn't read this book: A lion ate someone you know.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Writing Fiction 5th Edition: A Guide to Narrative Craft

Author: Janet Burroway

First line: You want to write.

Why you should read this book: There are a lot of instructive manuals for fiction writers at different levels; this one is perfect for college-level writers who have a love of prose stories to tell but not a lot of experience in writing for an audience. Intended for use in conjunction with a workshop-style creative writing class, it's also useful on its own for experienced writers looking to jump start their muse. Each chapter provides definitions, exercises, discussion questions, examples of great fiction, along with detailed instructions for understanding and crafting good literature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Whenever someone criticizes your writing, you spend the next three days sitting in the dark composing stream-of-consciousness poetry about how nobody will ever understand you.