Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Riddance

Happy New Years! It's time once again for Dragon's Library year in review.

Picture Books 15
Novels 11
Nonfiction 11
YA/juvenile fiction 49
Memoir/biography 7
Short fiction collection 5
Reference 9
Mythology 7
Graphic novels 3
Poetry 2

Total 119

My lowest count yet :( I could make excuses, but there it is. On the plus side, unless I spend part of 2010 in a coma, I doubt the numbers could get any lower.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lincoln: A Photobiography

Author: Russell Freedman

First line: Abraham Lincoln wasn't the sort of man who could lose himself in a crowd.

Why you should read this book: Still the definitive work for young people on the subject of our sixteenth president two decades after its original publication, this Newbery-winning biography collects all the meaningful facts of Lincoln's life along with copious illustrations, photographic and otherwise, from the great president's time. The writing is never condescending, preachy, or effusive, but rather, allows readers to draw their own conclusions based on demonstrable facts, painting an accurate portrait of the intelligence, wit, and drive that propelled a humble farm boy to become the most celebrated of all American statesmen. A truly engaging biography, which skillfully allows for the reconciliation in the reader's mind of Lincoln, the man, and Lincoln, the hero for the ages.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still flying the Confederate flag and teaching your kids that all men aren't created equal.

The Stress-Proof Child: A Loving Parent's Guide

Authors: Antoinette Saunders, Ph.D. and Bonnie Remsberg

First line: You know what kind of child you want to raise.

Why you should read this book: Basing their method on years of research, the authors teach parents to recognize the stressors in their children's lives, identify how the children respond to problems, and how they, as adults, respond to their children. Once the reader has determined the scope and basis of the trouble, the book goes on to provide techniques, games, and insights for turning vulnerable kids into capable ones. With quotes from young people who have learned from the author, checklists for adults to help categorize psychological and behavioral issues, and suggestions for how to take action in many difficult situations, it's a wonderful companion for parents who are about to throw up their hands in frustration and their kids' perplexing, negative, or withdrawn behavior.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like whiny kids.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil

Author: Wiley Miller

First line: It was snowing again.

Why you should read this book: Twelve-year-old Basil Pepperell lives in a lighthouse on the coast of Maine and can't imagine a more boring life than his own, until the day a man in an airship hears his idle whistle and takes him to visit Helios, a remarkable city in the sky. Helios is an ancient civilization where arts and technology thrive, little girls ride pteranodons, and warfare is unknown, but when Basil takes a joyride on a flying dinosaur with his new friend, Louise, the children learn that an evil genius has set his sights on conquering Helios, as the first step in his master plan to take over the world. Award-winning cartoonist, Wiley, writes and illustrates this book with his usual whimsy and just a hint of irony, in the grand old tradition of children's classics such as The Phantom Tollbooth and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you knew the exact location of the lost city of Atlantis, you'd grab a shovel and start looting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Farm Town

Editor: Grant Heilman

First line: On the farm, spring's a time of coming alive.

Why you should read this book: Comprising dozens of black and white photographs shot by J. W. McManigal in the small town of Horton, Kansas in the late 30s, along with commentary from locals who recalled those images forty years later, this book provides a window onto a vanishing world: one in which everyone knows everyone, and crops and livestock are central to ones day-to-day existence. As the family farm vanishes across America, pictures like these remind us of the days of simpler machines and hard work, of family and friends who gather face to face across kitchen tables or at county fairs, and of the innovations that slowly changed our reality. Nostalgic but saccharine, this book reminds us of both the rewards and the sacrifices our nation has left behind in its quest for modern efficiency.

Why you shouldn't read this book: When it comes to technology, you're only interested in the future. When it comes to land, you're only interested in development. When it comes to family and friends, you prefer email.

Jacob Have I Loved

Author: Katherine Paterson

First line: As soon as the snow melts, I will go to Rass and fetch my mother.

Why you should read this book: Having lived her entire life in the shadow of her beautiful, delicate, talented twin sister Caroline, the long suffering Sara Louise is not surprised to discover, according to her grandmother's reading of the Bible, that God has hated her all along. She longs only to work like a man on a crab boat alongside her father and escape the world of women in her isolated island home, until the day a mysterious stranger moves into an abandoned house nearby. Once again, Wheeze wants something she can never have, and every day, the things she does have slip further and further from her grasp.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate your siblings.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

Authors: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

First line: Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.

Why you should read this book: The proud descendant of innovators, storytellers, and hard workers, young Willian Kamkwamba is well-positioned to share his journey: disheartened by crippling famine in his country, Malawi, forced to drop out of school, and inspired by an illustration of a windmill in a science text, Kamkwamba sets about to build his own electric wind machine, so that he can read at night and pump well water, allowing his family to grow a second crop and never starve again. Called crazy by his village and even accused of witchcraft, he perseveres, making do with scraps from a junkyard and inventing his own tools, circuit breaker, and light switches from whatever he can find, until finally he theories are proved correct, his home is lighted at night, and, eventually, his work is noticed by those with power and money. A powerful, moving, and inspiring story that opens windows not only into the world of science and invention, but also into the reality of Kamkwamba's Africa.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In fact, this book should be required reading for anyone accustomed to walking into their home, touching the wall, and experiencing instant illumination.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Secret of the Sabbath Fish

Author: Ben Aronin

First line: Tante Mashe lived in the little village of Barisev almost two hundred years ago.

Why you should read this book: Simple text and illustrations tell the story of a poor, childless widow who, despite her own poverty, devotes herself to helping the less fortunate. When a mysterious fish seller offers her a beautiful fish and advises her to consider the plight of the Jewish people as she prepares Sabbath food for the needy, she falls into a strange trance, her symbolic journey translating into a meal that no one has ever seen or smelled before, a feast to uplift the spirits of the entire village. A fairy tale in the mystic Jewish tradition, this book presents hope and despair in terms understandable to children, while celebrating the glorious tradition of gefilte fish.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Eliahu HaNavi, dressed as a simple peddler, has just visited your humble home, and you're busy reaping the rewards.

Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It

Author: Sundee T. Frazier

First line: It was the first Sunday of summer break, and I was in a hurry to finish my dusting chores fast so I could call Khalfani to ride bikes.

Why you should read this book: Ever since his paternal grandfather died, aspiring scientist and Tae Kwon Do blue belt, ten-year-old Brendan Buckley, has missed their weekly outings, and all his life, Brendan has wondered what happened to his maternal grandfather who is, in his mother’s words, "gone." But a chance meeting at the mall leads Brendan to discover that his grandfather is not gone; he lives only eight miles away but hasn’t spoken to his parents since the wedding because Ed DeBose does not believe white people and black people should get married or have children. Now Brendan’s book of questions about the universe is filling up quickly, and it’s up to him to learn the truth about race, family, and integrity, and maybe, just maybe, bring Grandpa Ed back into his family.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You believe that, when black people and white people procreate, the children always suffer.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Author: Gail Carson Levine

First line: I was born singing.

Why you should read this book: A completely fresh and gripping reimagining of the Snow White myth, this engrossing novel describes a land where singing is both a high form of expression and a way of life, and a heroine who, while surprisingly ugly by her cultural standards, possesses the most remarkably and beautiful voice. Aza has spent her life behind the scenes at her adoptive parents' inn, but when she is chosen to attend the King's wedding as the companion to a Duchess, she and her amazing voice are thrust center stage into a world of handsome princes, narcissistic queens, intriguing gnomes, and terrible ogres. Throw out all your preconceived notions about beauty, love, and evil, and join Aza on her brilliant journey to self-actuation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Wherever you go, you need to be the fairest of them all.

Hey, Little Ant

Authors: Phillip and Hannah Hoose

First line: Hey, little ant down in the crack, Can you hear me?

Why you should read this book: A rhyming dialog in heroic couplets between a child and the ant he intends to squish, this picture book seeks to teach empathy to the very young while giving a voice to the mute. Addressing the hatred of insects, the fear of peer pressure, and the native self-centeredness of childhood, it makes a case for the karma-free high ground while leaving the ultimate decision up to the reader. Includes simple musical notation to sing the book as a melody.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Extermination is the family business.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Author: David Pesci

First line: A cold touch woke him from a dreamless sleep.

Why you should read this book: Singbe was just going to the next village to see about some livestock he might want to buy when he was set upon by thugs, sold into slavery, and shipped across the ocean by men who would steal his humanity, beat his independence out of him, and offer him up as an animal to the highest bidder. But Singbe turns the tables on his oppressors, overtaking the Amistad and its crew, using every resource in his arsenal to point the ship in the direction of his wife and children, and eventually bringing his case to the highest court in the United States, forcing those who interpret the laws to confront the racism and hypocrisy inherent in a system that purports to value equality but only offers true rights to those who already control all the power. A pulse-pounding account of the struggle for liberty and human rights, the back-room machinations of the nineteenth century's political-economic machine, and the true meaning of freedom in a world of limited choices.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're always in secret meetings with judges to ensure rulings favorable to your industry.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an UNPLEASANT AGE

Editor: Ariel Schrag

First line: Rebecca Ziff and I were best friends.

Why you should read this book: Ah, junior high, middle school, the early teens: whatever you call it, it's the time period when you're most likely to feel self-conscious, most likely to lose your friends, most likely to wander about in a state of perpetual loneliness with the feeling that everybody hates you and you're growing either too fast or too slow. Seventeen self-contained comics by various artists fill this volume with all the pain, suffering, and humiliation of seventh grade, ripe with humor, young love, shocking reality, social isolation, zits, and a young girl's first period. Somewhere in this book, you'll recognize the person you used to be (and still are, deep down inside, most likely).

Why you shouldn't read this book: It still hurts too much.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Heavenly Village

Author: Cynthia Rylant

First line: It is said that when people die, they travel to a place of Perfect Happiness, a place of Complete Ecstasy, a place called Heaven.

Why you should read this book: A strange little novel-in-short-stories, it describes the beautiful existence of angels-in-waiting in the Heavenly Village, a place halfway between heaven and earth where those not ready to move on can continue participating in human behavior. They may be waiting for those they left behind, atoning for mistakes of the past, or simply working to please their creator. Short, sweet, and non-denominationally Judeo-Christian, with uplifting bible quotes introducing each chapter.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You find nothing less inspirational than bible quotes.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train

Author: Kazu Kibuishi

First line: Old habits die hard, don’t they?

Why you should read this book: The artwork is lovely and expressive, a perfect blend of the gritty old West the a gleaming mechanized future, and the story perfectly encapsulates the spirit of both genres. Daisy Kutter, formerly the greatest train robber in the world, has retired from the life only to find herself sick with boredom as the proprietor of a dry goods shop, while her ex-partner, Tom, has found satisfaction as the sheriff. When she’s tempted to get back in the game for one last score, she and Tom get more in the giant-robot-and-flying-bullets department than they ever bargained for.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re still in deep mourning over the cancellation of Firefly.

The Friendship & The Gold Cadillac

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

First line: “Now don’t y’all go touchin’ nothin’,” Stacey warned as we stepped onto the porch of the Wallace store.

Why you should read this book: Two stories by an award-winning author depict a moment in American history when civil rights in the deep south existed only as a dream that could scarcely be expressed aloud. In “The Friendship,” Cassie and her brothers witness the hypocrisy of a white man who owes everything to the black man who saved his life but cannot express his gratitude for fear of the repercussions from his community. In “The Gold Cadillac,” two little girls delight when their father brings home a symbol of their prosperity, but only gradually understand why their mother objects to his pride.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You always do what you want, and damn the consequences.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Editors: Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

First line: it didn't matter which one of us had married a rival Dungeon Master (that would be Holly) or lived for six weeks in the line for Star Wars (that would be Cecil), the moment that we met one another, we knew instantly that we were of the same tribe.

Why you should read this book: This collection of modern short fiction focuses on the multifaceted and often overlooked world of the geek (that segment of social outcast deeply involved in the practice and trivia of particular areas, such as theater, comic books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, RPGs, speculative fiction, and music), edging into the territory of nerd (that segment of social outcast deeply involved in knowledge, education, and facts). From LARPing, Quizbowl, and character orientation to Internet relationships, astronomy, and sex, this book reveals the full range of loserdom to reveal that we are all geeks, and none of us are alone. A fun selection of fast reads, interspersed with page-long comics illustrating the finer points of geekspeak.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The painful wounds of public school are still too fresh, and you're furiously engaged in hiding your inner geek from the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Author: Jeff Kinney

First line: You know how you’re supposed to come up with a list of “resolutions” at the beginning of the year to try to make yourself a better person?

Why you should read this book: Making resolutions is pretty pointless when you’re the best person you know, constantly foiled by a dad who steals your sugary snacks and wants you to be an athlete, a mom who’s even more embarrassing and makes you do your own laundry, and two brothers who know just how to ruin your life. All Greg wants to do is play video games and get Holly Hills to notice him, but that’s not likely with a best friend who just doesn’t know how to act, and the threat of military school hanging over his head. Will he ever catch a break, or will an epidemic of dirty pants and underwear exposition ruin his life?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You think people who send videos of their kids to reality TV shows should go to jail.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Author: Jeff Kinney

First line: First of all, let me get something straight: this is a JOURNAL, not a diary.

Why you should read this book: Greg Heffley has middle school all figured out: keep your head down when there are bullies around, don’t get caught in the middle of a group of girls no matter how hot they are, and don’t get stuck with the cheese touch. Greg knows he’s much cooler than his parents, his brothers, or his best friend, and now he just has to wait for the rest of the world to understand that, too. If it weren’t for all the moron kids, clueless relatives, mean teenagers, and unfair teachers, Greg would be a lot happier, but things aren't always fair in this popular novel-in-cartoons.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Honesty is your benchmark.


Author: Cynthia Kadohata

First line: My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira.

Why you should read this book: Third-generation Japanese-American Katie Takeshima loves nothing so much as she loves her wonderful, talented, creative, inspirational big sister, Lynn. Even the discrimination they face in their new home in the deep south can’t put a dent in Katie’s joy in the most important part of life, playing with Lynn and their baby brother Sammy, while their parents work long hours in various chicken-processing plants, so they can afford their very own home. And once they get their wonderful house, Lynn’s hospital bills mount, because Katie’s amazing, glittering sister is very, very sick, and it’s hard to imagine how average, uninspired Katie can ever hold things together without her.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: It’s very, very sad.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Breaking Dawn

Author: Stephenie Meyer

First line: I'd had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn't something you ever really got used to.

Why you should read this book: If you've come this far in the Twilight series, you really don't have any other choice, do you? While the first quarter of the book basically comprises a lot of trite teenage wish-fulfillment, and the second quarter of the book is completely superfluous to the story and something of a literary offense, the second half of this book is easily the best part of the series. Bella comes into her own, substantially less annoying once her unending self-sacrifice has a focus and some muscle to back it up, characterization becomes integral to the plot, and even though you know a happy ending is in the cards, there's at least some suspense regarding who's going to die (not Bella).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear the unknown and believe it should be destroyed. Or you have anything better to do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Food of the Gods: the Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge a Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

Author: Terence McKenna

First line: A specter is haunting planetary culture--the specter of drugs.

Why you should read this book: Provocative, controversial, and iconoclast, this book makes a compelling argument, based on detailed historic, anthropological, and archeological evidence, that ritual, ecstatic, and communal use of psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, was the primary catalyst in the transformation of human beings from mere animals to creatures capable of higher thought and complex art, culture, language, religion, and civilization. This proto-civilization edenic past for which we still yearn, a matri-focused partnership society with a direct and respectful relationship to the vegetable world, was destroyed as alcohol and other intoxicants further removed and refined from the source enabled dominator societies to quash shamanic systems and place control of the world into the hands of a small, male ruling class. The progression of human society is presented as a progression of consciousness-altering substances, each one taking us further from paradise, and the book concludes with a plea to a return to ecstatic shamanic tradition, beginning with deregulation of all plant-based substances.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a stodgy old fundamentalist who fears that a global embrace of consciousness-expanding will wrench from you your death grip on the world's power and resources.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Author: Ingrid Law

First line: When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.

Why you should read this book: When you're a Beaumont, thirteen is a very special birthday, because that is the day when you first experience your savvy--a remarkable, unpredictable, and often violent power that may take years to control--so when Mibs' dad has a car wreck and ends up in a coma the day before she turns thirteen, she knows the trouble's only starting. Next thing she knows, the well-meaning but meddling preacher's wife determines that Mibs must have a big, public party, despite the family's tragedy, and Mibs decides it's time to stowaway on a bible-delivery bus and get to her father's side in the hospital. Accompanied by two of her brothers, and the preacher's two kids, she sets out on a magical ride through the midwest, destined to learn more about herself and the people around her than she ever wanted to know.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In your opinion, all tattoos are trashy, and writing on your skin is both wrong and dangerous.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Man's Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor E. Frankl

First line: This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.

Why you should read this book: In this classic, seminal, and controversial volume, the author relates his experience as a prisoner in various Nazi Concentration Camps during World War II, focusing on the psychology of the prisoner, the perspectives that allowed individuals to survive suffering and seeming hopelessness, and the basis for logotherapy, which he developed before the war and honed while interned. Modern editions include a chapter outlining the framework of logotherapy, which insists that humans must create their own meaning, whether they do so through action, experience, or dignity in the face of suffering, along with a final chapter which speaks to modern maladies resulting from the enforced ideal that one must "be happy." This book ought to be required reading for anyone over the age of fourteen, but especially for those who have ever suffered from depression or a sense of meaninglessness in life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find nihilism warm, cozy, and comforting.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Author: Judy Blume

First line: My best friend, Tracy Wu, says I'm really tough on people.

Why you should read this book: Jill Brenner doesn't think there's anything wrong with teasing Linda Fischer, because Linda is a fat, smelly whale who probably doesn't have any feelings anyway, and besides, it was Wendy's idea, and you don't cross Wendy, ever. Jill thinks a lot of people probably deserve to be punished, like her annoying little brother, and the mean old man who doesn't give out Halloween candy, so why shouldn't she mete out justice? When the whole class calls Linda, "Blubber," it's true and funny, but what happens when an entire fifth grade class turns against a single individual?

Why you shouldn't read this book: This year, you're going to catch those meddling kids who dare to look at your property on October 31st.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hannah and Cyclops

Author: Steven Schnur

First line: My friend Judge Gilbert told me that if I was going to write about what happened to Rafi, I should tell the whole story from the beginning—not just the part about how we helped save him, but also how long it took everyone to realize that Rafi was in serious trouble in the first place.

Why you should read this book: Most of the kids in Hannah’s class don’t like Rafi, because he’s a new kid who doesn’t try to make friends, and he’s sloppy and accident-prone and he can’t read, but Hannah feels sorry for him. Soon, Hannah begins to realize that Rafi isn’t as clumsy as he says, and there’s another reason that he’s in and out of the hospital, and always showing up to school with new bruises. But what happens when the truth is so terrible that not even the adults she trusts most want to believe the evidence?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Some graphic discussion of child abuse.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Cuckoo Sister

Author: Vivien Alcock

First line: The first day of August had always been a bad day for us.

Why you should read this book: All of Kate Seton's life, her family has suffered from an unspoken absence: the void left after her sister, Emma, was kidnapped from her baby carriage as her mother went dress shopping. Kate has long dreamed of this unknown sister, but when an angry teenager with too much makeup and low-class diction turns up on the doorstep with a note claiming she is the long-lost Emma, no one knows what to think. Even Emma swears her name is Rosie and she doesn't want to have anything to do with this well-to-do family, except the woman she thought was her mother is gone, and now the Setons must determine how to welcome--or reject--this difficult surprise.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The first thing you'd do is go for genetic testing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Other Bells for Us to Ring

Author: Robert Cormier

First line: Everybody in those days was singing “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” and “Mairzy Doats” to keep their spirits up because the war was still going on and our soldiers were fighting all over Europe and in places like Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, and here at home you needed ration stamps to buy meat and even shoes, and little children saved up money to buy U.S. War Bonds.

Why you should read this book: Darcy has never had a friend like Mary Kathleen, and in fact, she never had a friend at all before she had Mary Kathleen, so even though Darcy is Unitarian and Mary Kathleen is Catholic, the two find that there is adventure all over their small town. Their religious differences and the differences between Darcy’s small family and Mary Kathleen’s large one can be perplexing, but Darcy does her best to understand, until her father disappears in the war and Mary Kathleen disappears at home. Do miracles really happen, Darcy wonders, and, if so, does God care what religion you are?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You know very well that God cares what religion you are, and if you don’t get it right, you’re damned.

But Excuse Me That Is My Book

Author: Lauren Child

First line: I have this little sister, Lola.

Why you should read this book: When Lola determines that she must go to the library immediately in order to check out the best book in the world, Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies, Charlie finds himself in the unenviable position of explaining to her the reality of the library system, from being quiet inside to understanding that Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is not her book and that other children have the right to check it out too. With patience and humor, Charlie helps Lola expand her reading horizons.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve checked out the same library book every week for the last five years and you don’t care who else might want to read it.

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School

Author: Lauren Child

First line: I have this little sister, Lola.

Why you should read this book: Modern siblings Charlie and Lola are headed to school, but little sister Lola feels that she may be “too extremely busy doing important things at home” to venture into the unknown. Charlie persuades her that reading, writing, and counting above ten are useful skills, but Lola still worries about leaving her invisible friend, Soren Lorensen, who is cleverly rendered in semi-invisible ink and can only be seen clearly when the light hits the illustration just so. Of course, in the end, chatty and personal Lola finds that school is pretty interesting after all.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You usually go to school dressed as an alligator.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Author: Judi Barrett

First line: We were all sitting around the big kitchen table.

Why you should read this book: Let’s set the record straight--Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was originally published in 1978, back when it was understood that healthy children should exercise their imaginations, rather than having their fantasies computer-generated and spoon fed to them while they sat motionless, with their jaws hanging slack. This book is a story-within-a-story, in which a funny breakfast mishap inspires a loving grandfather to create his own fantastic bedtime-story world for his grandkids. The delicious and dangerous world of Chewandswallow, where food falls from the sky, is both magical and prosaic, a story that, hopefully, will never lose its timelessness, or be overshadowed by flashy adaptations.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Flat, motionless, two-dimensional drawings are too old-school for you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sarah and the Dragon

Author: Bruce Coville

First line: Sarah was friends with a unicorn.

Why you should read this book: Oakhorn the unicorn and Mrs. Bunjy the ladybug are great friends to Sarah, but she can’t help but wishing for a little adventure now and then, especially when Oakhorn gets grumpy. What she doesn’t count on is being kidnapped by a lonely, enchanted dragon and hidden in a castle in the sky. The dragon is not a bad companion, but Sarah misses her Aunt Mag and Oakhorn, and they all must plot her escape.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: If you had a unicorn companion, you’d be content to do nothing more than frolic in the meadow and brush the unicorn’s tangled white mane.

I Remember Miss Perry

Author: Pat Brisson

First line: When my dad got a new job, we had to move.

Why you should read this book: Stevie’s nervousness about attending a new school evaporates when the delightful Miss Perry tells him of her fondest wish. In fact, Miss Perry has a new fondest wish every day, and her attitude makes her classroom a most magical one for her charges, until the sad day that Miss Perry does not come to school and the principal must explain that the wonderful Miss Perry has died in a car accident. This sad but loving book helps children learn that it’s all right to grieve, but that life goes on, even in the face of loss.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t think your children would be too upset if their less-than-magical teacher stopped showing up for school.

Marianthe’s Story: Painted Works/Spoken Memories

First line: Marianthe knew this day would come.

Why you should read this book: Told in two parts, with half the pages printed upside down, this is the tale of a little girl who is born in one country, and then finds herself transplanted into a strange new country. In “Painted Works,” Marianthe begins school in America, and while she cannot speak or understand English, she can express herself through painting until she picks up the language. In “Spoken Memories,” Marianthe has learned enough English to tell her classmates about life in her home country, the family in her small village, and being sent to school in a time and place where educating girls was considered unnecessary.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You harbor a fierce anti-immigration stance.

My Uncle Emily

Author: Jane Yolen

First line: One day when we were in the garden, choosing flowers for the table, my Uncle Emily gave me a dead bee and a poem for my teacher.

Why you should read this book: Delightfully written historical fiction uses the poetic voice to focus on the relationship between the poet Emily Dickinson and her beloved nephew, Gilbert, who shared secret messages in the passing of dead bees. When the famously reclusive Dickinson gives Gilbert a poem to bring to his schoolteacher, the young boy finds that not everyone understands poetry, but decides that he must uphold his Uncle Emily’s honor. When violence ensues, Gilbert learns a lesson about poetry’s place in the world, and truth’s place in storytelling.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Never been inspired by the ineffable glory, spiritual splendor, and raw, universal power of the natural world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fire and Wings: Dragon Tales from East and West

Editor: Marianne Carus

First line: Oh, how I wish dragons roamed the Earth today, fire-belching monsters a hundred and fifty feet long with hard green scales and long serpentine tails.

Why you should read this book: With an introduction by Jane Yolen, this fifteen dragon stories cover the tradition, east and west, ancient and modern. There are good dragons, evil dragons, misunderstood dragons, and there are brave boys and girls who face them. The theme of faithful love for ones family runs through the collection of delightful and appropriate tales, all illustrated with charming black and white drawings.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're more of a realist.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Guide to Self-Sufficiency

Author: John Seymour

First line: In the lives we lead today, we take much for granted, and few of us indeed remember why so many so-called advanced civilizations of the past simply disappeared.

Why you should read this book: If you've ever seriously considered living off the fat of the land, generating the necessary provisions for your family by the sweat of your brow through the earth's natural bounty while forsaking the materialistic trappings of the modern world, this is your guide. Every page brims with step-by-step instructions for those essential arts that are often forgotten in our society: farming, animal husbandry, brewing, baking, canning, building fences, weaving baskets, even plans for simple, effective natural energy from sun, water, and air. Reprinted many times since its first run in 1976, some version of this book is invaluable for anyone who senses that toiling for ones own survival and creating even the smallest sense of self-sufficiency in a world run by corporations can be joyful, liberating, and perhaps the greatest adventure upon which one can embark.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather spend your life in a cubicle and buy things wrapped in plastic when you feel sad.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Old Yeller

Author: Fred Gipson

First line: We called him Old Yeller.

Why you should read this book: With Papa and the other men off on a cattle drive to Kansas, it's up to 14-year-old Travis to take care of Mama, Little Arliss, and their Texas homestead, and even though he never did like that funny-looking, yellow-haired, supper-stealing dog, Old Yeller is a smart one, and soon enough he makes himself indispensably useful. A good dog is just the thing for chasing hogs, keeping milk cows in line, rescuing Little Arliss from angry bears, and saving the corn crop, and Travis will do anything to protect his faithful dog along with the rest of the family. The true meaning of love shines through in this classic story of devotion and sacrifice.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd never kill another living thing. You'd let it kill you first.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Freak the Mighty

Author: Rodman Philbrick

First line: I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that's the truth, the whole truth.

Why you should read this book: Max is the giant, and still growing, son of convicted felon Killer Kane, content to sit quietly in his L.D. classes, and Kevin is the frail, stunted genius in leg braces who waits for medical science to perfect his robot body, but together, they are Freak the Mighty, nine feet tall and more than equal to the task of slaying any dragons that come along. As Kevin draws Max out of his shell, onward into a life of glory and adventure and the occasional gang of thugs, Max begins to find the voice he lost so many years ago, while his friend grows bolder, more brazen, and more colorful in his scheming. This excellent, unusual, and moving story draws the reader in with surprise after surprise, delivering a fresh wallop of power and heart with every page.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have decided to testify against your own parent.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dani Noir

Author: Nova Ren Suma

First line: A slow fade-in on my life: There's this little mountain town, smack between two long highways that go nowhere in either direction.

Why you should read this book: Were she a femme fatale in an old black-and-white movie, Danielle Callanzano knows exactly how the light would hit her face and how her stiletto heels would echo in the darkness, but the unfortunate truth is that Dani's a lonely teenager in platform sneakers who can't get any bars on her cell phone, and doesn't get calls or even texts when she does manage to find a signal. Her father lied and cheated and left her mother for another woman, so she's never going to forgive him, and when she suspects her old babysitter's new boyfriend of subterfuge, she's determined to investigate. In her bright, modern debut novel, the author makes deep cuts into the meat of her heroine's motivations, demanding, finally, honesty and compassion in a world filled with selfish deception.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've learned it's best to mind your own business.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inside Out: The Best of National Geographic Diagrams and Cutaways

Published by: The National Geographic Society

First line: The diagram artwork of the National Geographic Society serves as a lens and a mirror.

Why you should read this book: Celebrating the genius of the unsung artists who create detailed diagrams illustrating complicated concepts in the Society's monthly periodical, this book offers an in-depth look at plants, animals, buildings, microorganisms, heavenly bodies, and more. Divorced from the articles that inspired them, the illustrations take on new meaning, celebrated for their own ingenuity as well as the concepts they elucidate. While this book may not work as a reference, it's a stunning overview of how the designs are created, as well as a whirlwind tour of cultural, biological, geographical, and astral systems.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not a visual learner.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Author: Stephanie Meyer

First line: All our attempts at subterfuge had been in vain.

Why you should read this book: It's vampire versus werewolf versus vampire in a battle royale for the body, heart, soul, and life of klutzy, self-deprecating, would-be martyr Bella Swan. Bella's love for the cold, marble constant known as Edward Cullen is undiminished, but hotter- and taller-than-average werewolf Jacob Black runs a close second in the race, and meanwhile, an unknown entity is creating an army of out-of-control baby vampires, so it's only a matter of time before someone tries to eat Bella. Again. Can the Cullens and the Quileutes reach a truce long enough to defeat a common enemy, can Edward convince Bella to marry him before Bella convinces Edward to compromise his virtue with premarital sex, will Bella's sheriff father ever figure out that the town he is sworn to protect is crawling with supernatural killing machines, and would you keep reading if these kids had got it on in book one?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You figured out the entire plot of this one somewhere in the middle of the second book.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What the World Eats

Author: Peter Menzel

First line: Imagine for a moment that it is early Saturday morning in the United States.

Why you should read this book: Seeking to answer the question of what the world eats, this book centers around its food portraits--photographs of twenty-six families from twenty-one countries, posed in their kitchens with a week's worth of food, with the grocery list and budget on the facing page--along with several pages of accompanying text for each family, describing their lives, their relationship to food, and some cultural details, as well as a few recipes. Interspersed among the food portraits are graphs with data about obesity, fast food, literacy, meat consumption, access to drinking water, and more, plus photo collages creating a snapshot of how we eat. Although intended for a younger audience, this well-written and provocative book is appropriate for anyone with an interest in food, nutrition, global economy, and world culture.

Why you should read this book: You're on the supersize-me diet.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hundred Dresses

Author: Eleanor Estes

First line: Today, Monday, Wanda Petronski was not in her seat.

Why you should read this book: Wanda is a little girl who wears the same shabby dress to school every day, so Maddie and Peggy cannot understand why she would claim to own a hundred dresses, silk and velvet, every color of the rainbow, all lined up in her closet. While Maddie likes to have fun at Wanda’s expense, Peggy feels badly about the teasing, but keeps quiet and feels ashamed of her behavior. Only when it is too late are the girls able to recognize Wanda’s genius, put themselves in her shoes, and find love in their hearts for someone whose circumstances are different, but who is still a little girl just like them.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You believe everyone should pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and ridiculing people, particularly poor immigrant, for their differences is the best way to encourage them to do so.

Ruby Gloom's Guide to Friendship

Author: Matt Riser

First line: Hello friend, it’s always a pleasure to see you.

Why you should read this book: This picture book is not merely an advertisement for children’s programming and baby goth apparel, but a legitimate attempt to discuss acceptance and the importance of having a variety of friends in ones life. In fact, the basic theme of the main character (a sort of modern day Pollyanna in black) and the entire series is that it is best not to judge on appearances, but rather on the heart inside those you meet. Fun, gloomy illustrations for kids who like creepy stuff, along with ironic messages promoting tolerance, love, and friendship.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You believe that an admiration of goth style leads to Satanism, and you don't want your children associating with anyone who is different.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eighty Acres: Elegy for a Family Farm

Author: Ronald Jager

First line: When we walked barefoot through the puddles in the driveway, it was nice to feel the mud between our toes.

Why you should read this book: With quiet humor and warm nostalgia, the author recounts his early years as the middle child in a vibrant Dutch-American farming family. His youthful exuberance and love of farming run through a story redolent with newly harvested potatoes, barns full of hay, and his mother's canned fruits, boiled and fried meat, and joyful pies. This is a story of a bygone era, an elegy and a eulogy, as the child unfolds the details of his early love of farming, the gentle sparring between his own desire to become a modern farmer and his father's insistence on clinging to the old ways, and the simple pleasures of an era that ended, suddenly, and finally, as he came of age.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were a real estate speculator in the 70s and 80s, and you were delighted to buy up huge tracts of farmland, dirt cheap, and transform them into vast tracts of suburbia.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Indie Kidd 3: Being Grown Up Is Cool (Not!)

Author: Karen McCombie

First line: I was a bit bored.

Why you should read this book: Since her mother is overinvolved in animal rescue and their 19-year-old boarder is so laid-back, Indie decides that being an adult is much better than being a child, and starts to work on her list of reasons why Being Grown Up Is Cool. But Indie's fascination with adulthood doesn't always translate into grown-up behavior, and her family and peers are starting to worry about her. Will Indie have to give up doughnuts forever just to get a little respect?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd like to be able to watch TV and eat crisps without having to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from.

How Is a Crayon Made

Author: Oz Charles

First line: It's hard to imagine a world without crayons.

Why you should read this book: Venture inside the Crayola factory for a firsthand glimpse of the crayon creation process, from pigmentation to wrapping. Children will enjoy the colorful photographs of various machines, including the "crayon eater" that tests a crayon's strength. A nice overview for young children with curiosity about the world around them.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're strictly into black ink.

The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read

Author: Irma Simonton Black

First line: Once there was a little old man who could not read.

Why you should read this book: This little old man is only interested in making toys and doesn't want to learn to read, even though he get a lot of fan mail from children who loves his toys. One day his wife goes out of town and he must do his own shopping, with hilarious and pathetic results. Finally, the little old man has a reason to learn to read.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You already know how to read.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Zen Shorts

Author: John J Muth

First line: "Michael! There's a bear outside!" said Karl.

Why you should read this book: A delightful frame story introduces three average American kids to a panda names Stillwater, who has moved in up the hill and whose umbrella has blown into the kids' yard. Each child then visits Stillwater in his home, where the bear imparts a thought-provoking Zen parable in the form of a fairy tale, according the child's inclination and temperament. East meets West in a wonderful Buddhist format that teaches acceptance, generosity, and inner peace.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're instilling greed, selfishness, and agitation in your progeny.

A Russian Moment

Editor: Bill Harris

First line: The United Nations does its work in six different languages, and in the nearly fifty years since it began helping to make the world smaller hundreds of words have become interchangeable in all of them.

Why you should read this book: The moment referred to in the title turns out to be the very last moment of the Soviet Union, a historical snapshot the creators of this book probably did not anticipate as it was conceived. Following a short synopsis of Russian history, beginning with Peter the Great and ending with the new concept of perestroika, the book presents a series of lovely photographs, including vast, sweeping panoramas and small, posed portraits, with the intention of creating an accessible picture of the large and multifarious nation. With a coffee-table sensibility, this book seeks to project only the most beautiful depiction of the country, although Communist restrictions probably prevented the photographers from revealing anything less than picturesque.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're looking for hard facts, not pretty pictures.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Moon

Author: Stephenie Meyer

First line: I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough.

Why you should read this book: Overwrought teenager Bella Swan is back, but as her eighteenth birthday rolls around, she realizes she won't be a teenager much longer, while her darling Edward, who refuses to turn her into a vampire for fear of harming her immortal soul, will never age. Instead, Edward abandons her for her own protection, leaving Bella to the mercy of the bad vampires who want to eat her in revenge for the myriad offenses of the previous novel. Bella does what any hapless, accident-prone, lovestruck girl would do: sink into a zombie-like depression, seek out dangerous situations so she can imagine Edward worrying about her, and become best friends with a werewolf who counts himself among the vampires' ancestral enemies.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were hoping someone would eat her in the first book.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Boy's Life

Author: Robert R. McCammon

First line: I want to tell you some important things before we start our journey.

Why you should read this book: It's 1964, and Cory Mackenson's small southern hometown is full of magic: the dark, frightening magic of a monster that comes up out of the river; the bright sparkling magic of used typewriters and brand new bicycles; the in-between magic of well-intentioned ghosts who haunt the places they haunted in life. Cory and his father witness the corpse of a murdered man disappear into a dark lake, and Cory's journey begins, a whirlwind sojourn through the wrath of nature, the deadly plots of racists and moonshiners, the brutality of the schoolyard, the thrills of childhood, the specter of death, and always, humming at the edge of everything, Cory's quest to learn the identity of the corpse and the identity of the murderer. A colorful cast of characters and a non-stop sense of wonder and excitement propel this gem of storytelling, which inhabits the scary and amazing territory that lies between Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't hold with any of that pagan claptrap and you'd let a river monster eat your firstborn before you fed it steak.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life is Funny

Author: E. R. Frank

First line: At first Ebony and I don't want to, but then her mom, Ms. Giles, says she'll pay us, and we say okay because Ebony's twin sisters' day care isn't that far, plus it's across the street from McDonald's.

Why you should read this book: A series of interconnected stories told from the perspectives of a loosely connected group of teenagers follows their joys and sorrows, frustrations and solutions, over a span of seven years. Themes of drug abuse, self-harm, sexuality, physical violence, and the strand of hope that keeps them living to fight another day weave themselves through the book, as each character becomes fully realized through their own account and their friends' descriptions of them. Each life is unique, and while the characters may not always recognize their own strengths or understand their choices, the reader can also take away a message of determination and perseverance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe that sex, drugs, and violence are appropriate subjects for adolescents, who must be protected from knowledge of these distant concepts, which they will never encounter in their everyday lives.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Author: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby hoped that her parents would forget to give her a little talking-to.

Why you should read this book: Incorrigible, exuberant Ramona is back, and now that she's in third grade and her father is in school to be a teacher, there are more obstacles than ever. Can she get along with her sister, best the class bully, learn to cook, and impress her teacher without looking like a show-off? The Quimby family must work to overcome the hundreds of little stressors that threaten to turn them from a nice family into a not-so-nice one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your teacher has already assigned you another, less interesting book on which to write your book report.

The Secret Life of the Underwear Champ

Author: Betty Miles

First line: The whole thing began on a street corner in New York City.

Why you should read this book: Larry Pryor is minding his own business after an unpleasant dental appointment when he gets discovered by a big modeling agency. Since he is a fifth-grade boy, he could care less about this development and is irritated with anything that interferes with baseball practice, but his family could use the money, so he agrees to film some commercials. Only too late does he learn that the commercials are for underwear, and the whole world is going to see him on TV without his clothes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't see anything funny about underwear.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author: Mark Haddon

First line: It was 7 minutes after midnight.

Why you should read this book: Christopher Boone is gifted in math but crippled by severe autism: he cannot be touched, he cannot understand facial expressions, and he cannot abide anything yellow. He does like walking around in the dark, and when he finds his neighbor's dog stabbed to death with a garden fork one night, he undertakes a project to catch the killer and detail his findings as a mystery novel. The investigation carries him to places and revelations that he never thought possible and provides a reader with an intimate glimpse into the world of the autistic teen as well as an inspiring account of overcoming obstacles.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only like proper novels with lots of complex metaphors and no tangents.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Author: Stephenie Meyer

First line: I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Why you should read this book: Described in some literary circles as “abstinence porn,” this book is the perfect companion for the lonely teen who believes herself less pretty, less graceful, less interesting than other girls and dreams of a handsome, dangerous, mysterious man to validate her in his eyes and set her above, rather than apart from, the rest of her high school world. Bella is the perpetual martyr who exiles herself to the rainy Pacific Northwest so her mother can travel the country with her pro athlete boyfriend; Edward is the achingly beautiful vampire who cannot stay away from the hapless heroine, his supernatural and immortal love trumping his immediate, omnipresent, and almost overwhelming desire to kill her and drink her blood. Their love defies the expectations of family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies, as Edward spends well over four hundred pages not biting the most delicious thing he has ever smelled.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: If you had eternal youth and beauty, the last place you’d sequester yourself would be a small-town high school, or any locale where human teenagers are known to congregate. This book also suffers from a surfeit of adverbs, adjectives, repetition, and overblown adolescent emotions and dialog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Waldo & Magic, Inc.

Author: Robert A. Heinlein

First line: The act was billed as ballet tap--which does not describe it.

Why you should read this book: Two novellas examining the unlikely but entertaining intersection of magic, science, and bureaucracy. In "Waldo" a brilliant but disabled and antisocial sociopath is presented with the problem of technology that refuses to work according to the laws of nature, technology upon which the human race depends. In "Magic, Inc." an unassuming but hard-headed building supplies salesman refuses to be bullied by a consortium of magicians and initiates the mother of all anti-trust investigations, taking his case right to hell when the state legislature fails him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You demand technical purity from your speculative fiction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pippi in the South Seas

Author: Astrid Lindgren

First line: The little Swedish town was very picturesque, with its cobblestone streets, its tiny houses and the gardens that surrounded them.

Why you should read this book: Pippi's back, and her irrepressible charm and joie de vivre cannot be mitigated. Following some of her typical antics (lying to property investors, perplexing adults, undermining the natural order), she receives a letter from her beloved papa, King Ephraim I Longstocking, demanding her presence on his island in the south seas. Along with her companions Tommy and Annika, Pippi charms the native children, fights sharks, and foils a pair of incompetent criminals before returning safe and sound to Villa Villekulla.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You expect children to be seen and not heard, and to obey without question.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Author: Peter Dickinson

First line: Eva was lying on her back.

Why you should read this book: With a primatologist for a father, Eva was raised in close proximity with some of the few remaining chimpanzees on a crowded, paved-over planet, so when a terrible accident leaves her human body broken and persuades her parents to approve a risky procedure that implants her consciousness into the body of a chimp named Kelly, Eva decides to make the best of the situation. Embracing the part of her that will remain Kelly, Eva tries to balance the mundane human activities of going to school and making friends with her need for chimp socialization, while coping with the distressing fact that the media owns her body. When she makes friends with a jet-setting socialite whose radical ideas seem to predict some hope for the future on a distressed world, Eva must begin making decisions that could spell the difference between life and death for sentient creatures on Earth.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're reckon that what the world needs is a couple more strip malls and a lot more parking spaces.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Barefoot Serpent

Author: Scott Morse

First line: He cam from an old samurai family, but Akira liked to paint.

Why you should read this book: A children's biography of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa frames a story about a little girl coping with the death of her brother in a tale that is all at once dark, mystical, and uplifting. Kurosawa's life story, told in simple sentences with colorful images, bookends the black and white drawings of a child whose broken family has traveled to Hawaii in an effort to heal from a child's untimely death. When the little girl hears ghostly drummers haunting the coast, she embarks on a day-long adventure with a young mask-maker that helps to exorcise her own ghosts.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't confront death; you simply ignore it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Author: Eleanor H. Porter

First line: Miss Polly Harrington entered her kitchen a little hurriedly this June morning.

Why you should read this book: Nearly a hundred years old, this optimistic novel challenges the most cynical among us to circumvent fatalistic thinking and find ways to be grateful for what we have. Although she is newly orphaned and sent to live with her strict and humorless aunt, Pollyanna continues to play "the glad game," in which one seeks out reasons to feel glad despite the blackest circumstances. Gradually, her optimism infects the entire town, including its most pessimistic citizens, until the rays of sunshine spread by Pollyanna's attitude are reflected back into her own darkened bedroom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The glass is always half empty. Always. No exception. Unless it's completely empty.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ballet Shoes

Author: Noel Streatfeild

First line: Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil are not really sisters, but they have been brought up together like one family.

Why you should read this book: An enduring tale, written and set before World War II, this is the story of three orphan girls adopted by an eccentric collector who has disappeared on a voyage to strange, uncharted islands. With no money to speak of, they are sent to an academy that trains young children to appear on stage, where Pauline becomes an accomplished actress, Posy develops into a promising ballerina, and Petrova dreams of nothing but motorcars and aeroplanes. The adventures of this intentional family as the girls struggle to support themselves and enjoy a few pleasures of a simple life have inspired generations of children interested in taking charge of their own future.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are traveling to strange islands in search of exotic curios and you have quite lost track of time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now and Forever

Author: Ray Bradbury

First line: There was a desert prairie filled with wind and sun and sagebrush and a silence that grew sweetly up in wildflowers.

Why you should read this book: Bradbury beats a new path through a forest of familiar old tropes in a pair of novellas that parse time and desire. In "Somewhere a Band Is Playing," a reporter travels to a desert oasis of small town fantasy where he uncovers a true understanding of youth, aging, and drinking deep from the cup of miraculous life. In "Leviathan '99," an ambitious astronaut named Ishmael is tossed through an updated reimagining of Moby Dick as his mad captain drags the crew across the universe in pursuit of the great, white comet.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer love stories with more sweat and space operas with more blood.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Long Goodbye

Author: Raymond Chandler

First line: The first time I ever laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.

Why you should read this book: In meaty metaphor and knife-sharp prose, Chandler sends his hard boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, on a convoluted ride through the lifestyle and death throes of the rich and inebriated. Marlowe's casual friendship with harmless-seeming alcoholic goes south when his friend's wealthy wife is found beaten to death. A simple kindness embroils him in a world of angry cops, angrier gangstera, a string of beautiful and occasionally nymphomaniac women, and one millionaire recluse determined to get his way, any of whom may be guilty of murder, but Marlowe, propelled by Chandler's astoundingly rich and precise storytelling, rises time and again to the occasion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've ever lost someone terribly dear to you, only to find that they weren't really gone, but had merely become someone you didn't like.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Author: Avi

First line: Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.

Why you should read this book: Since her hard-nosed father won't let her leave school in the middle of the semester to travel to America with the rest of the family, proper young lady Charlotte Doyle must sail unaccompanied across the Atlantic on one of her father's ship, the Seahawk, under the care of Captain Jaggery. But Jaggery is a twisted and perhaps insane sadist who has cut off a sailor's arm, and Charlotte finds herself the only passenger on a ship manned by an angry, beaten-down, and mutinous crew, torn between her upbringing as an obedient child subservient to authority and a courageous young woman with a stake in equality. A glorious page-turner, this award-winning novel submerges the reader in a nineteenth-century world of murder, hurricanes, lies, and redemption.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a very rigid definition of natural behavior for girls.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Author: Carl Sagan

First line: In these lectures I would like, following the wording of the Gifford Trust, to tell you something of my views on what at least used to be natural theology, which, as I understand it, is everything about the world not supplied by revelation.

Why you should read this book: In an accessible, cumulative argument, Sagan lays out his natural theology, an examination of scientific and spiritual truth based entirely on observable phenomena. His perspective encompasses all that is known of the universe as he takes the reader on a journey through space and time, examining human prejudice and possibility. UFOs, evolution, nuclear war, and the very existence of God are among the gripping subjects held up for impassioned and intelligent scrutiny.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You theology does not allow for quantitative analysis.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Many Dragons Are behind the Door?

Author: Virginia Kahl

First line: Long ago, in a castle, far, far away, A Duke and a Duchess were living and they Had a family of daughters whom they loves dearly.

Why you should read this book: It's a story told in romping rhyme revolving around the discovery of a pregnant dragon by the youngest daughter. Hidden away in the castle's tower, the mother dragon broods away, much to the Duchess's eventual dismay. Is there any way to remove the massive creature from the tower?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You pray the answer to the titular question is zero.

Swimming Pools and Spas

Author: Sunset

First line: For anyone who has taken a refreshing dip in a pool on a hot summer's eve, a soothing soak in a hot tub after a tension-filled day at the office, or a cleansing bath in the relaxed heat of a sauna, it's not hard to understand why these facilities--once aristocratic luxuries--have become common features in the landscape of many backyards today.

Water Gardens

Author: Sunset

First line: Whether it takes the form of a simple stone fountain bubbling peacefully in the corner of a patio or a full-fledged natural pond, stocked with colorful koi carp and a plethora of plants, a water garden is a dramatic addition to any space--indoors or out.

Diet for a Small Planet

Author: Frances Moore Lappe

First line: In 1971 my book began: "When your mother told you to eat everything on your plate because people were starving in India, you thought it was pretty silly."

Why you should read this book: This is the classic text on the topic of complementary proteins, a reference that vegetarians new and old have turned to for almost four decades. Although my edition is somewhat dated, the text explains how the consumption of meat taxes the environment and why meat is an inefficient protein source. Important information is expressed in easy-to-read charts and multiple appendices, while the bulk of the book contains interesting recipes for delicious, healthy, meatless meals.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live in a hunter-gatherer society where you must harvest all your food from the bounty of nature, and you count yourself lucky to eat meat once or twice a month.

When Debbie Dared

Author: Kathleen Robinson

First line: Debbie Robyne counted the money for the third time.


I'm well aware that it looks like I didn't read any books in the month of June. Clearly, this is not the case, and while I certainly spent far too much time playing with Facebook applications, they are not to blame for my lack of blogging. As a freelancer with a large family, I find these two areas of my life sometimes collide. Last month, I had to work double time in order to devote the end of the month to my adorable nephews. I did read books. I just didn't have a space in which to blog them.

Unfortunately, I don't have copies of some of the great children's books I read, and I still don't have time for real blogging at the moment. In the interest of keeping it real, I am going to add the links for a few books. With any luck, I'll get to write the reviews later.

Keep reading!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Brief Bedford Reader 10th Edition

Editors: XJ Kennedy, Dorothy M Kennedy, Jane E Aaron

First line: "A writer," says Saul Bellow, "is a reader moved to emulate."

Why you should read this book: This book, full of essays, stories, and advice from a diverse group of authors--Dave Barry, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Sandra Cisneros, among many, many others--seeks to instruct the college student in how to communicate in print. The collection places great emphasis on achieving purpose, the "why" of writing along with the "how", and provide many exercises and suggestions for understanding the selections and moving forward with ones own writing. A perfectly suitable and useful resource for the freshman composition set, or anyone looking to improve their writing in short lessons.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If your attention span is longer than the average college freshman's, you may prefer to read some of these works in their larger context.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

First line: I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Why you should read this book: Calliope Stephanides's story is a sweeping epic, germinated by a mild little chromosomal mutation centuries before her birth, muddied by the close relationships of her immediate ancestors, and protecting, as the shell of the bivalve encloses the muscle, Callie's remarkable, ambiguous genitals. From her grandparents' fiery escape from the old country to her upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she recounts in remarkable detail the factors that formed her mind, her body, and her spirit, touching on the finer points of silkworm farming, rum running, and franchising hot dog stands while creeping closer and closer to the heart of gender identity. A completely gripping novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your own ambiguous genitals were mutilated by the acolytes of Dr. John Money in the 1970s.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

Author: Judy Blume

First line: "Can I have another jelly sandwich?" Sally asked her grandmother.

Why you should read this book: Imaginative child Sally J. Freedman likes to makes up stories, to amuse herself in her own head, or to be acted out by her friends. When her brother's medical condition sends the family, without her father, to Florida for a year, she has to rely on her imagination to help her make sense of the sometimes frightening world around her. Whether she's dreaming of assassinating Adolph Hitler or meeting her Latin lover, Sally's enthusiasm and burgeoning understanding of her American childhood in the days immediately following the end of WWII make for engaging reading.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You insist that reading the classics and sewing clothes helps children grow up faster than playing make-believe.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural

Author: Howard Schwartz

First line: One day a boy playing hide-and-seek sees a finger in the hollow trunk of a tree.

Why you should read this book: One of several of the author's excellent collections of little-known Jewish folklore, this book offers a wide panorama of tales of the fabulous, with an inimitable helping of Yiddishkeit and a liberal sprinkling of Kabbalistic influence. Demons, witches, werewolves, corpse brides, and wizards run rampant through the stories of pious Jews at the mercy of the hidden world, while wise rabbis administer justice and (usually) save the day. A scholarly introductions and plenty of notes and commentary elevate this from a joyful book of magical fairy tales to an important literary and historical reference.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't stomach the occasional triumph of evil.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Planet of the Dogs

Author: Robert J. McCarty

First line: Our story begins long, long ago, before there were dogs on Planet Earth.

Why you should read this book: When the Stone City warriors overstep their boundaries and decide to make war on the peaceful farmers of Green Valley, the denizens of the Planet of the Dogs decide to lend their paws to the cause of peace. Beginning with two lucky children, they begin to share their message of love and loyalty with the people of earth, eventually even overcoming the Stone City warriors' greed and ambition. A short, simplistic, moral tale, which reads like the serial bedtime story told by an ambitious father to his canine-loving kids.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The $64 Tomato

Author: William Alexander

First line: "Why can't Dad be more like other dads?" Katie asked my wife recently.

Why you should read this book: If you've ever invested hours of backbreaking labor and hundreds of dollars of dirt into a backyard garden with produce yields that represent a fraction of your investment, you've glimpsed the world of William Alexander, Gentleman Farmer. With tragicomic honesty, he relates his odyssey, doing battle with a 2000 square foot kitchen garden, along with a planned meadow, small orchard, other assorted gardens, and the creatures that love to munch on the fruits of his labor. Heirloom brandywine tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, winter herbs, super-intelligent groundhogs, sarcastic teenagers, and wave after wave of insect invader turn an idyllic pastime into a fast-paced amusement park ride through the understanding of man's place in nature and his relationship to food.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Pesticides help you feel safe.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

First line: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Why you should read this book: In a fast-paced, page-turner of a novel, young Nobody Owens escapes death at the hand of the strange man who killed his family by taking refuge in a graveyard, where he is adopted by ghosts and protected by supernatural creatures. There are mysteries and adventures in the land of the dead, there are mysteries and adventures in the land of the living, and there is the ominous specter of the killer who still searches for the boy, desperate to finish the job. A gripping, beautiful journey through the joyful and dangerous realms of the imagination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still hold your breath passing the cemetery.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

101 Training Tips for Your Cat

Author: Carina Smith, DVM

First line: My first cat, Charlie, was a gray-and-white tabby that I got at ten years of age--several years after I'd decided to become a veterinarian.

Why you should read this book: It's an easy-to-use reference to understanding, caring for, communicating with, and getting along with your feline companion. Organized alphabetically, with one hundred and one categories, this book allows you to quickly research particular concerns, although it's written in a style that makes reading straight through a pleasant experience as well. Have no fear: despite popular opinion, you can train your cat, and this book offers you plenty of guidance.

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

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fortune's Magic Farm

Author: Suzanne Selfors

First line: Isabelle stood beneath a sky as gray as a pair of filthy socks.

Why you should read this book: In Runny Cove, where it rains all day, every day, orphan Isabelle and everyone else in town toil long hours at the Magnificently Supreme Umbrella Factory and come home to abusive landladies who feed them cabbage soup and force them to wash dishes. That all changes the day Isabelle’s secret errand to gather saltwater for her pet barnacle ends with an elephant seal sneezing a love apple onto her, for Isabelle is the sole heir to Fortune’s Magic Farm, a wonderful, sunny land where all magic is cultivated. Isabelle journeys across the ocean to claim her birthright, but all is not well on the farm, not since Isabelle’s mother left, and unless Isabelle can help her grandfather see the light, the farm and all of Runny Cove, possibly the entire world, is doomed.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t believe slugs, mushrooms, or moss have a right to live.