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.