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.