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.