Friday, December 31, 2010

An entire year?

Man, another year has gone by, which means it's time for another year in review at Dragon's Library!

Although I beat my count (barely) from last year, it still felt like a lot of stuff prevented me from reading all I wanted. There are *piles* of unread books on my desk, and I'm still plowing through Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule along with the massive Natural History of the Sonoran Desert and some other stuff as well. However, this was the year that I first sold a short story (available this January in Bards and Sages, which you can purchase at Barnes and Noble, I've been told. Also the year that my leveled reader, Rosalind Franklin's Beautiful Twist was made available from Reading A-Z. Also this year, I was invited to review books at Steve Barancik's Best Children's Books. And, of course, I continue to make bank as a freelance writer.

My categories here leave something to be desired, I guess. Should Confessions of an Economic Hit Man go under "memoir" or "non-fiction"? Where do I draw the line between adult novels and YA novels? Ah, it's all arbitrary. Books are books. Here's a rough accounting.

Picture books: 48
Adult novels: 7
Nonfiction: 12
YA/juvie fiction: 40
Memoir/biography: 4
Short story collections: 4
Reference: 1
Myth/fairy tale collection: 4
Graphic novel: 2
Poetry: 1

Total Books Reviewed: 123

Happy New Year

The Nature of Arizona

Edited by: James Kavanagh

First line: James C. Rettie wrote the following essay while working for the National Forest Service in 1948. In a flash of brilliance, he converted the statistics from an existing government pamphlet on soil erosion into an analogy for the ages.

Why you should read this book: A handy little overview, this guide begins with a great description of the history of life in earth, then discusses evolution in general before delving into the specifics of the region's land and climate. The bulk of the book is color coded and divided by groups: mammals; birds; reptiles and amphibians; fishes; invertebrates; trees, shrubs, and cacti; and wildflowers, with short descriptive blurbs and color drawings of each species. Multiple appendices list attractions by region of the state, popular hikes, desert survival information, and more, making it a useful reference for tourists or newcomers to the state.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The size and scope of this book means that there is no depth to any entry, and that many species are omitted entirely.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Foreskin's Lament

Written by: Shalom Auslander

First line: When I was a child, my parents and teachers told me about a man who was very strong.

Why you should read this book: Although he has left the values of his ultra-orthodox Jewish upbringing far behind him, the author still believes in god: to wit, he believes that god is a colossal asshole just lying in wait to screw with him, and the occasion of his wife's pregnancy leaves him vulnerable to a wide variety of painful retribution by this vindictive deity. Integrating the story of his childhood, trapped by the restraining rituals of his community, his father's violent anger, his mother's impossible expectations; and the increasing dilemma that he faces as he determines whether or not to circumcise his unborn son to appease a family from which he is largely estranged, this memoir covers all the personal and painful ground that draws him forward. Guilt over sins real and imagined, an obsession with sex, pornography, masturbation, drugs, non-kosher food, and pretty much everything forbidden to him in his childhood forges an angry and humorous retrospective of the author's journey toward fatherhood and professional success.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always know the right brachot.

Ritual No. 3: For the Exorcism of Ghosts

Written by: Amanda Rachelle Warren

First line: My brother is a variegated trillium and I am dying of beauty.

Why you should read this book: Running through the poems in this chapbook is the knowledge of palpable loss: a much-loved body missing from the poet's life, its essence lingering, coloring tone and word choice. At times, the poet's longing focuses the language up to the sky; at times, it summons the Appalachian dialect of her youth. There is beauty in the tension between the author's desire to hold on to the memory of something beautiful and the need to progress beyond a finality that pursues her even as it ties her to her own history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've already successfully exorcised all your ghosts employing rituals no. 1 and 2.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women

Written by: Katrin Tchana

First line: Where do fairy tales come from?

Why you should read this book: Accompanied by detailed, moving illustrations from her award-winning mother's pen, the author retells eighteen fairy tales from all around the world featuring powerful, self-reliant girls and women. The stories are funny, scary, dramatic, and romantic, with protagonists of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages, and there is love, betrayal, transformation, and action along with tricksters, cross-dressers, devils, and killers. Great for bedtime stories or your Women's Studies final, this is a superb addition to your home library.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still waiting for your prince to come.

Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood

Written by: Veronica Chambers

First line: Anyone who has witnessed double Dutch knows that to be a part of the double-Dutch game means that you belong to a special group.

Why you should read this book: Combining the author's own narrative recollections of her youth as a jump rope master, action photography of girls in the rope, traditional jumping rhymes, a history of the sport, an overview of modern double Dutch competitions, and quotes from lovers of double Dutch, this is the definitive reference for those who want to know more about the history and culture of this often-overlooked sport. There is much joy in the retelling, along with the idea that double Dutch is an activity that brings people (not just young black girls, but people of all ages, races, and genders) together and empowers them to work toward a common goal. A nice reference that covers oral, personal, and cultural history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The only thing this book doesn't explain is how you get into that eggbeater rope! If, like me, you've been whipped in the face every time you tried, don't expect any help here.

Greg Hildebrandt's Book of Three-Dimensional Dragons

Written by: Gail Peterson

First line: Deep in a dripping cavern or mountain crap the fiercest of creatures real of imagines may be waiting for you, a hideous, stinking mass of volcanic fury.

Why you should read this book: A delicate but fearsome pop-up book, this large-format book is the perfect showcase for Hildebrandt's five three-dimensional dragons: the wyvern, the amphiptere, the lindworm, the dragon of Saint George, and the Chinese dragon. Each large paper dragon pops out from the page in a surprising and appealing way, accompanied by text explaining the basics. Although irresistible to children, this book is probably too nice for really young people, whose desire to touch these realistic and animated pieces of paper will soon destroy the artistry of the work.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a small, grabby toddler with grubby hands.

There's No Such Thing As a Dragon

Written by: Jack Kent

First line: Billy Bixby was rather surprised when he woke up one morning and found a dragon in his room.

Why you should read this book: Despite the presence of a very real dragon in the house, Billy's mother insists that there's no such thing as a dragon, and every times she makes this assertion, the dragon gets a little bit bigger. Even when the dragon is so large that it's wearing Billy's house like the shell on a snail, his mother continues to deny the existence of dragons. It's up to Billy to comment on the elephant (dragon) in the room and restore reason and sanity to their prosaic suburban lives.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're really good at ignoring things that clash with your worldview.

Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like

Written by: Jay Williams

First line: The city of Wu was perched on a hill between two mountains.

Why you should read this book: In a delightful modern classic, gorgeously illustrated by the ever-wonderful Mercer Mayer, a poor orphan named Han gets caught up in the middle of a local crisis when the Mongolian hordes sweep down on his tiny village and the Mandarin and his councilors all pray to the Great Cloud Dragon to save them. The short, fat, bald old man who appears does not match anyone's idea of what a dragon looks like, and despite his caution that, if you want a dragon to help you, you must give him something to eat, something to drink, and speak to him politely, the Mandarin tells him to get lost. However, Han is too polite to treat anyone rudely, and the short, fat, bald old man saves the city for his sake, revealing, once and for all, what a dragon actually looks like.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no time to talk politely.

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl

Written by: Rachel Renee Russell

First line: I can't believe this is happening to me!

Why you should read this book: MacKenzie Hollister continues her campaign to make Nikki's life as miserable as possible by not inviting her to her birthday party, and then inviting her and humiliating her, and then quitting as chairperson of the Halloween dance and telling everyone that it's Nikki's fault. But Nikki is ready to rise to the challenge, especially after Brandon asks her out; in fact, she's so enthusiastic about her plans for Halloween that she accidentally schedules herself for three different activities, involving three different costumes, at the same time. Tonight, though, Nikki is going to come out on top, and nothing MacKenzie does can possibly ruin this night!

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're having a secret conference in the janitor's closet.

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Written by: Rachel Renee Russell

First line: Sometimes I wonder if my mom is BRAIN DEAD.

Why you should read this book: Fourteen-year-old Nikki J Maxwell has a lot to contend with: a little sister who lives in mortal fear of the tooth fairy, a mom who refuses to buy her a cell phone, a dad who drives around in his exterminator van with a giant bug on the roof, an appalling lack of friends at her new school, and a vindictive locker neighbor who happens to be one of the CCPs (cute, cool & popular girls) and knows how to make a dork's life miserable. With a scholarship to a private school (courtesy of her dad's exterminating business), a few friends she made in the library, and a really remarkable talent for art, Nikki works to make her mark at Westchester Country Day, get the best of the glamorous, cruel, wealthy MacKenzie Hollister, and get her secret crush Brandon just to notice her. Although this book really seems to be piggybacking on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid aesthetic, Nikki is a great deal more likable than Greg Heffley, and has a lot more to recommend her to young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are too busy dying of embarrassment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Finkler Question

Written by: Howard Jacobson

First line: He should have seen it coming.

Why you should read this book: Julian Treslove has always been equally fascinated and frustrated by his rival, Sam Finkler, and attributes all his companion's strengths, quirks, and foibles to the other boy's Jewish ancestry, although Finkler is still very different from the other Jew in Treslove's life, their old teacher, Libor. Following an incident in which Treslove is mugged by a woman who may or may not have been committing a hate crime, Treslove decides that he himself is a Jew, and falls in love with Libor's niece, while his old school chum, Finkler, becomes a virulent anti-Zionist and trumpets his shame to the world. This award-winning novel examines antisemitism in all its facets, along with the human flaws of its characters, their dreams and confusion, loyalties and betrayals, hopes and fears.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're angry about your circumcision.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Of Thee I Sing

Written by: Barack Obama

First line: Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?

Why you should read this book: Our literary president does it again, writing another eminently readable book, this one for young children, honoring his daughters, a baker's dozen of American heroes, and all the children in this country, from coast to coast, "of all races, religions, and beliefs." Each of the thirteen inspirational heroes depicted in these pages embodies a positive quality we should all aspire to possess: the bravery of Jackie Robinson, the strength of Helen Keller, the kindness of Jane Addams, the tenacity of Martin Luther King, Jr. Includes a brief biological sketch of each of the heroes, along with wonderful illustrations showing Sasha and Malia, joined by multicultural cast of children that grows on every page, admiring the intelligent, uplifting, and clever portraits of the heroes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It made me cry a little.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Renegade History of the United States

Written by: Thaddeus Russell

First line: This is a new story.

Why you should read this book: This hugely controversial book reframes American history as the losing battle of the Puritan, socially conservative ruling class, epitomized by the work ethic and abnegation of men like John Adams, against the true authors of our beloved American freedoms: alcoholics, prostitutes, mobsters, gamblers, sexual deviants, people conforming to racist stereotypes, and those engaged in the production of music, movies, and comic books that failed to conform to a relentless Christian perspective. Dancing with abandon, mixing with other races, conspicuous material consumption, and other hallmarks of modern American freedom are examined with surprising candor from a historical perspective, as the author documents conservative resistance to equality, diversity, and open-mindedness. Although he selects his evidence carefully, in service of his thesis, the overall effect of the work is eye-opening, allowing the reader to appreciate the historical perspective and how little the doctrine of conformity, self-denial, and ceaseless work that supposedly defined the American citizen truly reflects the culture of our American character and opportunity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't consider "pursuit of happiness" a legitimate freedom.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Plain Girl

Written by: Virginia Sorensen

First line: "Esther!"

Why you should read this book: Ever since her big brother, Dan, ran away from their traditional Amish family, nothing has been the same at Esther's house, and now that the men from the county say she must attend public school with the rest of the children, her father's convinced she's going to turn her back on her traditions as well. Esther loves her father, and she loves being a Plain Girl, but in school she learns that the rest of the world is not so terrible, not if it's full of little girls who want to be her friends and teach her to play jacks and even, maybe, trade clothes. Will Esther follow in her brother's footsteps, or can she help to bring her brother back into the fold and make her family complete again?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to go back home.

Anything for a Friend

Written by: Ellen Conford

First line: The first time I saw Stafford W. Sternwood he was doing something weird with worms.

Why you should read this book: Saddled with a weird name for a girl and a father whose career ambitions have her changing schools every year, Wallis feels certain that she will never, ever have a real friend, let alone be part of the popular crowd. Her neighbor and classmate, Stafford W. "Stuffy" Sternwood, may be a bit of a con artist, but he promises that his schemes will propel her into the highest reaches of the social stratosphere. Wallis wants to get in with the in-crowd, but how long can she go along with Stuffy's plans, and how many people will get hurt on the way?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think friends are overrated.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales

Told by: Virginia Hamilton

First line: Little Girl was always home.

Why you should read this book: With African-American women and girls at its center, this award-winning collection brings together little-known stories of mothers, daughters, grandmothers, witches, vampiresses, fairies, and heroines, along with three true narratives of the lives of real women whose long life experiences become fascinating tales in their own right. Combating a world where men or white people often sought to dominate their bodies, these wonderful and unusual stories demonstrate the power of women and their spiritual triumphs. There is something for everyone, and much to love, along with scholarly and historical information, lovely illustrations, and a real sense of historical import in this book.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You would keep a mermaid in a bell jar.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Name Was Hussein

Written by: Hristo Kyuchukov

First line: My name was Hussein.

Why you should read this book: In spare, even prose, it tells children the story of a Roma boy's life in Bulgaria, including the joyful customs of his family's celebration of the Muslim holidays. Then the government sends tanks to the village, prevents them from practicing their culture, and finally forces them to choose Christian names. Based on the author's true life story, this book proclaims the right of every individual to their own identity, and helps readers see the importance of tolerance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've deliberately changed your name.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe and Other Stories of Women and Fatness

Edited by: Susan Koppelman

First line: On April 13, 1973, at 9 A.M. at the Atkinson Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana, I stood before a room filled with people, announced, "I am fat," and slowly peeled the wrapping off of a giant Baby Ruth candy bar and took a bite.

Why you should read this book: The twenty-five short stories in this anthology span one hundred years of portraits of and attitudes toward fat women, including women from many cultural and class backgrounds, and encompassing the full spectrum of emotions about fatness. From self-reliant side show fat ladies to high school students with low self-esteem, and touching on every form of eating disorder; physical, mental, and emotional abuse; the ups and downs of dieting and exercise; and the relationships between men and women, along with the relationship between women and women, the reader can discern a complete picture of size in modern American history. In addition to its proud, eye-opening feminist perspective, this is also a collection of great, readable, provocative short stories.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Typos galore. Seriously needs some proofreading.


Written by: Karen Lynn Williams

First line: Kondi opened an old shoe box and looked inside.

Why you should read this book: Determined and inventive, Kondi sets out in one morning to build his very own galimoto, a toy created by the children of Malawi, using spare bits of wire, and shaped like a motor vehicle. His quest is fraught with peril, as he braves the naysayers who tell him he is too young to collect enough wire or build such a complicated construct, or that his plan is a foolish one, or that he needs to stop trespassing as he goes about collecting enough wire to follow through. A wonderful story that opens a window onto another country and serves as a beacon for those self-reliant kids who know they can accomplish great things, if only other people would get out of their way.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re too busy chasing little kids out of your junkyard.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll

Retold by: Hiawyn Oram

First line: Once there was a witch called Baba Yaga.

Why you should read this book: The virtuous are rewarded and the wicked are punished in this Russian fairy tale about Too Nice Child and her terrible siblings, Horrid Child and Very Horrid Child. While the cruel brothers send their overly kind sister off to certain death at the hands of the witch, little Too Nice depends on the encouragement of the little doll her mother left her before she died and ends up impressing critical Baby Yaga. The surprising ending may horrify adults, but is sure to delight children.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've let your brothers walk all over you for far too long, and now you're plotting your revenge.

The Girl Who Wore Too Much: A Folktale from Thailand

Retold by: Margaret Read MacDonald

First line: Aree's parents gave that girl everything she wanted.

Why you should read this book: In this cautionary fairy tale, Aree is spoiled with more jewelry and clothing than anyone could possibly wear in a lifetime, and this fact affects her ability to dress appropriately for the big dance. Unable to decide which of her dresses and jewelry to show off, she chooses to simply wear everything, all at once, rendering her incapable of walking all the way to the dance under the crippling weight of her material wealth. Rewritten for modern audiences, this story features a happy ending, in which Aree learns her lesson about excessive possessions, and includes Thai text at the bottom of each page, along with an interesting afterword for those who care about the collecting of folktales or their adaptation for new listeners.

Why you should read this book: You can never have enough pretty dresses.

The Octopus's Garden: The Secret World Under the Sea

Written by: Dr. Mark Norman

First line: Octopuses and squid are like the wizards of the sea.

Why you should read this book: Featuring simple descriptions and glorious photographs, this book introduces young readers to the wonderful world of cephalopods, without ever mentioning the word "cephalopod." Big, sharp, full-color photographs of octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus are coupled with smaller inset photos and interesting facts written by an expert in the field. This thoroughly modern book also includes a DVD featuring lovely footage of said cephalopods in hypnotic action.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear tentacles.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And Condors Danced

Written by: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

First line: It was midafternoon on an unusually warm June day when Carly Hartwich made the following entry in her secret journal:

Why you should read this book: Growing up in California in the early 1900s, Carly has never known a time when her mother wasn't sick, her older sister wasn't the boss, and her father wasn't aloof and critical. She longs, equally, to be treated like an important member of her own family, and to return to the loving atmosphere of her Aunt M.'s estate, where she spent her first five years, and where her aunt, and her aunt's Chinese servant, Woo Ling, dote on her. Half the time she feels invisible, and the other half she's getting yelled at for not being ladylike, but it's just impossible to be prim and proper while at the same time solving mysteries and maybe, just maybe, fixing the long-standing rift between her family and their old enemies, the Quiqleys.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find the idea of driving a majestic creature to the brink of extinction sort of thrilling.

More of the Best: Stories for Girls

Edited by: N. Gretchen Greiner

First line: It takes all kinds of girls to make a book of stories for girls.

Why you should read this book: Take a whitewashed journey back to 1978, when girls could study genetics while dealing with timeless issues like boys, death, divorce, and popularity. In eleven stories, girls take their own journeys to awareness and self-understanding, learning to water ski, practicing voodoo, and helping their best friends elope. A somewhat dated but still entertaining collection.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The issues you're dealing with are a little more complicated than a bossy cousin telling you what to wear to her party.

Sister of the Quints

Written by: Stella Pevsner

First line: I don't know how Claudia does it.

Why you should read this book: Natalie Wentworth thought she was making the right decision when she chose to stay with her father and stepmom instead of moving across the country to live with her mother. What she didn't bargain on was the reality of being a big sister to quintuplets: five crawling babies who need constant attention, scare off nanny after nanny, and keep Natalie's dad from remembering her birthday or attending her soccer games. Should she run back to her mother's house, or stick around and become closer to the interesting new guy at school who, unlike everyone else, finds Natalie a lot more interesting than a bunch of babies?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't even want to know what life is like with one baby.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Lobotomy

Written by: Howard Dully and Charles Fleming

First line: This much I know for sure: I was born in Peralta Hospital in Oakland, California, on November 30, 1948.

Why you should read this book: For whatever reason, Howard Dully's stepmother never much liked him, and even though most of the doctors she consulted thought the problem was hers, not his, she kept searching for a final solution, until Dr. Walter Freeman suggested there was simply nothing like a nice, definitive lobotomy to permanently calm down a twelve-year-old boy. While his stepmother never allowed him back into the house, what followed for Howard was decades of a foggy, confusing, and seemingly perpetual childhood, until the day he awakened to himself and decided it was time to become an adult. This surprising memoir chronicles his journal from juvenile delinquent to inspirational public speaker, as he struggles to make his way in the world and try to understand what happened to him that day in the hospital, and how anyone could have ever made such permanent decisions regarding a young child.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're looking for a good way to get your stepkids out of the house.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Warlord of Mars

Written by: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: In the shadows of the forest that flanks the crimson plain by the side of the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor, beneath the hurtling moons of Mars, speeding their meteoric way close above the bosom of the dying planet, I crept stealthily along the trail of a shadowy form that hugged the darker places with a persistency that proclaimed the sinister nature of its errand.

Why you should read this book: The incomparable Dejah Thoris has been locked in a tower with one faithful friend and one self-centered psychopath, and John Carter finds himself always one step behind in his attempts to rescue his beloved. Coveted by a holy Thern, a First Born, and pretty much every powerful man who sees her, the princess is dragged from the forbidden south pole of Mars, from which no man has ever returned, to the forbidden north pole of Mars, from which no man has ever returned, with John Carter always following close behind, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Already a wanted man for his work discrediting the evil religion of Mars, he stands for truth (when it suits him), justice (when there's time), and the bloody overthrow of tyrants (always), and lets his martial instinct guide him as he saves everyone on Barsoon from ignorance and the sad state of not submitting to the will of John Carter.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a big advocate of democracy.

The Gods of Mars

Written by: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: As I stood upon the bluff before my cottage on that clear cold night in the early part of March, 1886, the noble Hudson flowing like the grey and silent spectre of a dead river below me, I felt again the strange, compelling influence of the mighty god of war, my beloved Mars, which for ten long and lonesome years I had implored with outstretched arms to carry me back to my lost love.

Why you should read this book: Returned after a ten-year absence to his beloved Barsoomian home, John Carter finds himself unfortunately deposited in the forbidden Valley Dor by the lost Sea of Korus, the promised paradise of the Martian religion, from which place it is forbidden to return. Rather than heaven on Mars, however, the Valley Dor is a flat-out horror-fest, where pilgrims are eaten by hideous plant men and white apes, or else forced into slavery under the immoral holy Therns, who themselves live under the brutal hand of the wicked firstborn. If you read the first book, you know that John Carter must battle his way through untold danger, accompanied by faithful companions new and old, to overthrow the tyrant, save the damsel in distress, and prove his own superiority as the universe's ultimate fighting champion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't stand cliffhanger endings.

The Gift of the Willows

Written by: Helena Clare Pittman

First line: Yukiyo Takasama of Shinjo was a potter.

Why you should read this book: A potter nurtures a pair of willow saplings he finds on the banks of the river where he gathers his clay. Thanks to his kindness, the trees grow strong, even through weather that kills other trees. When the weather turns dangerous and the potter, his wife, and his infant child must flee their home, the tenacious trees aid them in their escape.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're clear cutting your land to make a few bucks on lumber.

The Dragon Nanny

Written by: C.L.G. Martin

First line: Nightfall brought a chilly dampness to the forest.

Why you should read this book: Poor Nanny Nell Hannah: the king has fired her from her position as nanny to the royal children for the crime of being old, she's cold and tired, and now an irate and territorial mother dragon is going to eat her alive. But Nanny Nell Hannah is one step ahead of everyone else, and manages to secure a new nanny positive, to a pair of large but wonderful baby dragons. The only problem is that Nanny Nell Hannah is a kind and loving woman, and as nanny to a pair of baby dragons, she's charged with teaching them anger, an emotion she never feels.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe senior citizens belong in the workplace.

On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894

Written by: Laura Ingalls Wilder with a setting by Rose Wilder Lane

First line: For seven years there had been too little rain.

Why you should read this book: If you loved Wilder's Little House books, return to the world of the intrepid pioneer with this short diary, chronicling Laura, Manly, and Rose's five-week drive from drought-stricken South Dakota to prosperous Missouri. Along the way, Wilder describes the country she crosses, the people she meets, and the little adventures to be had in a caravan, in the focused and intelligent prose for which she's known. The forward and afterward, written by her daughter, who was seven at the time of the trip, paints a complete picture of life with the Wilder family, and the reality of the situation they left, and they one they came into.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're obsessed with the young Melissa Gilbert.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Shelter in Our Car

Written by : Monica Gunning

First line: Police cars are coming closer!

Why you should read this book: Zettie’s family had high hopes for a better life when they came to America, but now Zettie’s mom can’t find a good job, and they have to sleep in their old car and wash up in the park bathroom, because that's still better than staying at the homeless shelter. Boys at school tease her, and she dreams of her old life in warm Jamaica where her mother made real hot chocolate, or at least a warm shower and a real bed. This illuminating, heartbreaking, and hopeful story details the reality of homelessness among women and children in America.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve decided to tear down your starter mansion to build an even bigger mansion, and you call the police whenever you see a car that doesn't look nice enough for your neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland

Written by: Jim DeFede

First line: Where are you going?

Why you should read this book: As America reeled through the devastating events of September, 11 2001, thousands of international passengers bound for the States were rerouted to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, where the friendliest people you’ll ever meet pulled out all the stops to provide the waylaid travelers with food, shelter, companionship, and hope. Immigrants seeking US soil for the first time, Americans just trying to get home, and Europeans ready to turn around and haead back to the continent all found solace in the warm hospitality of the Newfies who cooked, cleaned, acted as tour guides, facilitated communication with loved ones, and opened their homes and hearts to the stranded group. A truly moving and heartwarming story about the small-town values that were in such high demand in those terrible and uncertain days.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re a terrorist.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Written by: John Perkins

First line: It began innocently enough.

Why you should read this book: Vetted by the NSA and recruited from the Peace Corps by a private corporation, the author spends the majority of his adult years as an economic hit man, his job to convince developing nations to take out massive loans for unnecessary infrastructure development, and pay the money to American firms intent on controlling oil and other resources, after which the small nations would necessarily default on their loans and thus become pawns of the US government, forced to favor US military, industrial, and political interests in exchange for financial leniency. In clear and honest prose, he describes how he accomplished this goal time and again in South America and the Middle East, and how he squashed his conscience time and again, as the financial and personal rewards of his work overwhelmed his moral compass. This chilling and important exposé diffuses the smoke of decades of sinister, secretive American Empire building, beginning with the American coup against Iran's democratically elected leader for the heinous crime of refusing to sell his country out to an oil company, and dramatically details the true forces of history that are relentless in their drive to transform the world into a corporatocracy in which the poorest peoples of the world become slaves to the desires of a small elite class.

Why you shouldn't read this book: On the one hand, if Perkins hadn't gotten quite so dirty, there would be no one to tell this important story, but on the other hand, at times it's hard to swallow his moral equivocation, as he assures the reader over and over than he knew his actions were wrong, but other factors tempted him to continue. But this is an important book, and if you think the war in Iraq is justified, or can't imagine why 9/11 happened, or drive a car that runs on gasoline, you should probably read this book.

When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry...

Written by: Molly Bang

First line: Sophie was busy playing when...her sister grabbed Gorilla.

Why you should read this book: This brightly-colored, high-interest book for small children perfectly captures the emotional intensity of a temper tantrum and its aftermath, and entirely captures the attention of young readers. Denied the right to play with the toy her sister wants, and further enraged by tripping over the toy that remains, Sophie explodes, the violence of her rage represented by giant red words cleverly worked into the pictures. While the aggression of the story gets readers worked up, the author takes her protagonist on a cool-down run through the woods, where Sophie cries out her pain, calms down, and lets the power of nature fill her with comfort.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You never lose your temper.

The Bat Boy and His Violin

Written by: Gavin Curtis

First line: I sashay my bow across the violin strings the way a mosquito skims a summer pond.

Why you should read this book: The year after Jackie Robinson breaks into the major leagues, Negro baseball is on a decline, but Reginald’s papa’s team, the Dukes, is doing worse than anyone else. All Reginald wants to do is practice his violin and get ready for a recital in the church basement, but Papa doesn’t understand his music and thinks he’d be better off working as a bat boy for the Dukes, since he can always practice in the dugout when he’s not working. It turns out that some soothing violin music is all the team needs to inspire them to make their last season the best season ever.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’d never bring your precious instrument onto a dirty baseball field.

Carol from the Country

Written by: Frieda Friedman

First line: Never, not once in her eleven and a half years, had Carol felt as unhappy as she did today, the first day in the new apartment.

Why you should read this book: Relocating from their big, beautiful farmhouse in the country to a loud, cramped New York tenement is definitely the worst thing that’s ever happened to Carol, and to add insult to injury, the twins think city living is great, and keep sending new kids upstairs to meet their big sister. But Carol doesn’t want to be friends with these overly-familiar children, especially not the janitor’s daughter, or the immigrant girl, or the kid whose dress is too small and too tight because her mom is too poor to buy a new one, and by the time she realizes that having some friends in her new neighborhood might not be such a bad idea, even the doctor’s daughter thinks she’s a stuck-up snob. It would take a major catastrophe to get back into their good graces now.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t associate with the unwashed masses.

Lizzie Lies a Lot

Written by: Elizabeth Levy

First line: Lizzie opened the door.

Why you should read this book: Lizzie’s Nana is the sort of woman who would never compliment a beloved granddaughter, but Lizzie can relieve the pressure of Nana’s constant criticism by making up stories in which she is the prettiest, most popular, most talented girl at school. Nana knows she lies, and so does her best friend, Sarah, but her mom and dad buy some pretty big whoppers, including her tall tale about being selected to dance the lead in the school recital. What happens when all those lies come crashing down around her head?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Lying is in your job description.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ringmaster’s Secret: A Nancy Drew Mystery Story

Written by: Carolyn Keene

First line: “Oh, Nancy, I worry so about your doing that trick riding,” remarked Hannah Gruen, looking fondly at the slender, attractive girl in jodhpurs and a tight-fitting coat.

Why you should read this book: Nancy’s immediate proficiency in circus riding leads her father to buy her an exquisite bracelet that features five gold horse charms and one platinum mystery. In her quest to understand what’s become of its former owner, the teenage super sleuth is soon in her element: getting strangled by mysterious strangers; ordering Bess, George, Ned, Hannah, her father, side show attractions, and police chiefs in the city and the suburbs around; and, of course, joining the circus, where she befriends a clown and an aerialist with their own secrets. Every step closer to the truth creates more enemies for the girl whose detective skills are legendary, and whose father is willing to drop everything and fly his kid to England to pursue a sketchy lead on a pro bono case that has already resulted in two attempts on her life.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You're a bad guy, and you would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids.

The Missing Mother Goose: Original Stories from Favorite Rhymes

Written by: Stephen Krensky

First line: Old King Cole was a merry old soul. And he had every reason to be.

Why you should read this book: If you’ve ever wondered what made Old King Cole so merry, or inspired a cow to jump over the moon or a boy named Jack to jump over a candlestick, these whimsical stories will answer all your questions and others it would never have occurred to you to ask. Did Little Miss Muffet really suffer from crippling arachnophobia, or did she have ulterior motives, and how do you grow pickled peppers, anyway? Includes a brief section with historical information about each of the included nursery rhymes.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve ever been compared to Humpty Dumpty or shot out of a cannon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

Written by: Danny Dreyer with Katherine Dreyer

First line: Not long ago I was running past a grade school

Why you should read this book: Using the cotton-and-steel principles of Tai Chi to emulate the perfect, unconscious running form of a child, this book promises to increase a runner's speed and stamina while reducing effort and eliminating injury, regardless of the runner's age or experience. With pages of detailed instructions on how to perceive and move each part of the body, checklists, and exercises, this book strives to be a substitute for the author's successful and sought-after running classes. In addition, there is much instruction on maintaining the mind-body connection along with a clear, open mind; training, eating, and choosing and tying your shoes properly; and identifying and overcoming specific complaints often suffered by runners.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In the event of the zombie apocalypse, you're planning on increasing your friends' odds of survival by being the one that's easy to catch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

Written By: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

First line: During the war, a colonel received a letter from his wife.

Why you should read this book: The scary fairy tales of this anthology are overcast, rather than dark, existing in a landscape that mirrors the shadowy reality of Soviet Russia, with its dearth, privation, and fear, but through which a single beam of hopeful sunlight may pierce. Through the collection, ghosts of dead loved ones appear in unexpected forms or places to offer succor to the living or easy passage to the next world, while soldiers and mothers struggle through confusing foreign regions that do not quite match up with their understanding of the shape of the universe. There is much beauty to be found in the gritty unreality and the bright passion of love that run through this translated collection.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You suspect your neighbor has been trying to kill your baby.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Written by: Robert J. Sawyer

First line: The control building for CERN's Large Hadron Collider was new: it had been authorized in A.D. 2004 and completed in 2006.

Why you should read this book: The search for the Higgs Boson goes horribly wrong, resulting in everyone on earth blacking out for almost two minutes; many people experience visions of themselves twenty-one years in the future, and many people die in the blackout. Scientists Llyod Simcoe and Theo Procopides need to contemplate the results of their experiment, including their own culpability in the deaths of millions and their beliefs in the immutability of the future: Theo must work to solve his own murder, while Lloyd worries incessantly about an impending divorce from a woman he hasn't even married yet. Some interesting discussion of free will and physics in a sort of light speculative novel that comes off as Michael Crichton on laughing gas.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The writing is pretty bad, with distracting and redundant exposition and stuffy dialog, and some of the science fiction elements have not held up over time. Occasionally, a passage which is clearly meant to demonstrate the author's efforts to embrace a multi-cultural perspective come off as racist. With the exception of a few themes and elements, this novel has almost nothing to do with the television show it inspired.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Written by: Carl Sagan

First line: It was a blustery fall day in 1939.

Why you should read this book: Popular and charismatic scientist, author, and television personality, Carl Sagan bemoans the gullibility of modern audiences and advocates greater funding for science education and experimentation as a bulwark against ignorance, superstitious hysteria, and pseudoscience. Along the way, he advocates for the scientific method, debunks most every popular belief about aliens, UFOs, and New Age thinking, and includes, for the reader's convenience, his "Baloney Detection" kit: a detailed explanation of various types of logical fallacies that impede intelligent thinking about the world. Advocating for equal parts wonder and skepticism, this book is a call for reason in an age where reason is increasingly held in disdain.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only need one book to tell you about the nature of reality, and you think it was written by an ephemeral, bearded old white guy who lives in the sky.

The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History

Written by: Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

First line: When I grow up, I want to be a detective, just like my dad.

Why you should read this book: The true story of the so-called Wolf Girls brought to an Indian orphanage in 1920 is dissected by an objective child searching for the truth. Each page contains some of three different elements: a yellow box telling the story as it is known, a white notebook page withe the child narrator's explanations, and a series of colored boxes containing definitions of unusual words. Were two children really raised by wolves until rescued by a kindly missionary? This book asks readers to examine the evidence and decide for themselves.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer legends.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Three-Martini Family Vacation: A Field Guide to Intrepid Parenting

Written by: Christie Mellor

First line: Raising children can be an incredibly time-consuming, often thankless pursuit, and although it is not without its rewards, we certainly could all use a little more time for ourselves.

Why you should read this book: With overt sarcasm, the author preaches to the choir in her castigation of overindulgent helicopter parenting, suggesting a return to intelligent limits on childish behavior and a refusal to hand children more power than their little minds can reasonably use. Targeting those adults who insist that every activity be child-friendly, that children be welcomed, regardless of behavior, into adult situations, that children's smallest whims be entertained at everyone else's expense, and that the child's world trumps any adult needs, this book offers a few sensible suggestions, couched in humorous garb, for reclaiming ones adulthood while teaching children not to whine, throw temper tantrums, or hijack the conversation when presented with unfamiliar foods or a few hours free from video technologies. Equally light-hearted and darkly ominous, this guide for those who need vacations from their children offers an interesting day trip far away from the world of juice boxes, baby sitters, and interrupted meals consisting of pizza, pasta, and white bread.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your world revolves around your precious offspring's every whim, and you can't imagine why your miraculous progeny should be denied any little thing its heart desires.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Star Wars: Spaceships

Written by: Anonymous (for a good reason, I bet)

First line: Imperial Star Destroyer. This Spaceship is big and has smaller spaceships inside.

Why you should read this book: I am someone incredulous that this book exists. It's a baby board book detailing different spacecraft from the Star Wars universe, and the noises they make. It has shiny illustrations, sturdy pages for your infant to chew on, and very little relevance in terms of useful concepts that are typically included in such early learning material.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you think this is appropriate reading material for your baby, you are an enormous geek, or George Lucas's personal yes man, or a slave to capitalism.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Good Do We Have to Be?

Written by: Harold S. Kushner

First lines: I have been thinking about the ideas expressed in this book for a long time. Even as a child, I was bothered by the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. A God who punished people so severely for breaking one arbitrary rule was not a God I wanted to believe in, especially since the story seemed to suggest that Adam and Eve had no knowledge of what good and bad meant before they broke the rule.

Why you should read this book: Drawing on biblical stories, classic literature, personal anecdotes, and other sources, the acclaimed rabbi confronts the persistent Judeo-Christian belief that human beings ought to shoulder the massive burdens of shame and guilt for the crime of being imperfect. Reframing the events in the Garden of Eden allows him to cast the divine creator as a loving and accepting being who wants humanity to rise to a level of consciousness beyond that of mere animals, and the taint of original sin as no more than the human belief that there is not enough love to go around. Instead of wallowing in shame and condemnation, he argues, we must accept that we, and those around us, can never be perfect, and should not be expected to live up to an unattainable standard, but rather can only do our best, with the understanding that we only have to be as good as we can be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Religious guilt got you where you are today.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Treasure Bath

Created by: Dan Andreasen

Why you should check out this book: It's a wordless journey for young readers that begins with an eager preschooler helping his mother bake a cake, which results in his chocolate-covered self being deposited, against his will, into a warm, bubbly bath, where he takes an underwater journey, culminating in an eventual and unexpected scrubbing by a variety of helpful sea creature. At the end of the story, despite his reluctance, the boy is clean, clad in pajamas with his hair combed, and, of course, there is cake. A perfect story for dirty boys and for pre-readers eager to enjoy books on their own.

Why you shouldn't check out this book: You know how to read and you enjoy bathing yourself.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Winne the Pooh

Written by: A.A. Milne

First line: Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

Why you should read this book: These are the original adventures of everyone's favorite bear of Very Little Brain but Very Large Heart with a Very Great Love of Hunny, along with his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, Rabbit, and all of Rabbit's Friends and Relations. Included here are Pooh's early adventures as a raincloud, his unfortunate sojourn in Rabbit's doorway, his discoveries of Eeyore's tail, the fearsome Heffalump, and the elusive North Pole, and his Daring and Praiseworthy Rescue of Piglet. Gentle, humorous, and loving stories appropriate for people of all ages, which have stood the test of time, despite the creative meddling of certain massive multinational conglomerates intent on Commodifying Culture for the purpose of Printing Licensed Characters on Cheap Merchandise for Profit.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're looking for Tigger, you won't find him here. This is not that kind of story.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh, What a Busy Day!

Written by: Gyo Fujikawa

First line: Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!

Why you should read this book: This high interest book for small children follows a group of multicultural kids through a busy day and a busy year, illustrating hundreds of ways for kids to play, eat, make friends, learn manners, and entertain themselves in every weather condition. Mixed in with the descriptions are bits of poetry, classic nursery rhymes, other tidbits of enduring oral tradition, a normalization of communal togetherness that transcends race, a combination of the fantastic and the mundane that forms the child's inner world, and a palpable joie de vivre that seems absent from kids who spend all their free time in the company of video technologies. Just a really great long-standing work for young people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You already know what you are going to be when you grow up.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Wind in the Willows

Written by: Kenneth Grahame

First line: The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.

Why you should read this book: Wisely deciding that spring cleaning is lame, the friendly and loyal Mole runs away from domestic responsibility and falls into company with the brave and gregarious Water Rat, who teaches him how to row a boat, pack a picnic basket, and plan a siege. Together, the two animals entertain themselves on the riverbank, along with the friendly Otter, the intelligent Badger, and the wholly irresponsible, shamefully boastful, criminally reckless, stupidly wealthy, and all around party guy, Mr. Toad. Whether they're getting lost in the Wild Wood, rescuing a baby otter with wanderlust, or defending their friend's home from stoats and weasels, these delightful characters continue to weave their spell of enchantment across the gulf of a century.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are currently in jail on a hit and run charge.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olypians Book Two: The Sea of Monsters

Written by: Rick Riordan

First line: My nightmare started like this.

Why you should read this book: Miraculously, Percy Jackson has almost made it through seventh grade without being attacked by a monster or expelled from school, until the very end of the year, when a very peculiar dodgeball game goes very, very wrong. Teamed up once again with the clever Annabeth, and befriended by a loving but immature Cyclopes, Percy returns to Camp Half-Blood to find the once safe haven a threatening, and threatened, place. Now the three are off on another quest, one which may decide the fate of western civilization.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've turned to the dark side.

Dave at Night

Written by: Gail Carson Levine

First line: From the start, I’ve always made trouble.

Why you should read this book: In a far cry from her fanciful princess stories, Levine recreates the grittier and more violent world of a boys’ orphanage in the roaring twenties, the place to which Dave Carom is sent after his father dies in a work-related accident and none of his relatives are willing to take in a known troublemaker. While the orphanage has its horrors, including lack of heat, an abusive, thieving headmaster, and a pack of food-stealing bullies, it also has a sense of camaraderie, as Dave finds all the boys his age look out for each other. By day he enjoys art lessons and plots to recover his stolen property; by night, he forges a secret new life, sneaking away from the home to rub shoulders with the gems of the Harlem Renaissance and an old Jewish gonif who knows a thing or two about getting the best of those with power.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don't feel that children should have property rights or any say in their environment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This Strange New Feeling

Written by: Julius Lester

First line: Jakes Brown didn’t know what to think that July morning when he saw the young black man waiting for him by the toolshed.

Why you should read this book: Based on actual historical accounts and fleshed out by the hand of the storyteller, this book describes the heartbreak, difficulty, and triumphs of young lovers who are also slaves in the antebellum American south. Of the three stories, two have happy endings, and the happiness of those endings seems dependent on the characters’ understanding that there can be no peace for a black person without a strong drive to renounce the entire institution of slavery and make ones way to the north. No mere romance novel, this book discusses the love of two people for one another against a backdrop of rape, violence, degradation, and socially acceptable abuse.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t get why your neighbors keep begging you to take down that Confederate flag.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Written by: Jeff Kinney

First line: For me, summer vacation is basically a three-month guilt trip.

Why you should read this book: Everyone’s favorite self-involved slacker is back, and Greg Heffley knows that his mother is out to ruin his perfect summer vacation, which would involve sleeping all day and playing video games all night. If she’s not forcing him to read the classics, pay off his debts, play with that really weird kid down the street, or dragging him to a baby water park, she’s back on her eternal crusade, encouraging him to have a relationship with his dad. The series that your kid who hates to read loves to read offers the perfect summer escape from the losers.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You only allow your children to read books that build character. Or you force your children to read books that build character.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Written by: Bill McKibben

First line: Imagine we live on a planet. Not our cozy, taken-for-granted earth, but a planet, a real one, with melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat. An inhospitable place.

Why you should read this book: Global warming, the author's data shows, is not a possible threat for our grandchildren, but a reality that has already begun transforming our lovely blue planet into a hot, dangerous, alien world. Climate change has been set into motion, and all calculations show that we have already surpassed the maximum level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (that would be 350 parts per million) necessary to keep thing comfy and verdant. After presenting pages and pages of chilling and disturbing evidence that we've screwed nature and she's going to screw us right back, McKibben describes what we need to do to survive on this new planet: cutting energy usage, investing in renewable, sustainable energy resources, and pulling back from unchecked and dangerous growth and globalization to create vibrant, functional, and self-reliant communities based agriculture, energy, and human networks (don't worry; we get to keep the Internet).

Why you shouldn't read this book: Possibly the most depressing work I have ever read; if you're enamored of your denial and think that oil and fossil fuels are the future, taking this book seriously could come as a real boot to the head.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe

Written by: Bette Greene

First line: Mama set my morning bowl of steaming grits on the flowered oilcloth.

Why you should read this book: Some local folks suspect that when God was handing out brains, Elizabeth Lorraine Lambert—Beth—stood around to take a second portion. She’s smart enough to outwit a gang of turkey thieves, get a refund from a miserly and cheating merchant, start earning money to go to college, and even figure out how to save her friend’s life. The only thing she can’t do, it seems, is get the best of Philip Hall, the cute boy who plays guitar and acts like a friend as long as the other boys aren’t around to see.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You reckon it’s OK to steal and rip people off so long as you’re smart enough not to get caught.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Different Kind of Friend

Written by: Vivian Schurfranz

First line: Leah Dvorak threw down her pen and stared out the window.

Why you should read this book: Leah thinks she’s academically hopeless, and has nothing to look forward to but a long year of being grounded for failing math quizzes, until she decides to interview the old Witch of Tall Tree Lane for his English assignment. It turns out Mrs. Fox is neither old, nor a witch, but a lovely woman whose tragic past has turned her into a recluse who spends all her time caring for sick animals. Now Leah’s grades are improving, and she’s learning to care for animals too, but the rest of the neighborhood, and Leah’s friends, still think Mrs. Fox is a witch.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You hate animals.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Written by: Roland Smith

First line: As far as I knew, Dad had never been hunting.

Why you should read this book: When Dylan’s mom goes to Egypt to finish her Ph.d., his dad unleashes what seems to be a full-fledged mania, becoming involved with a group of aggressive Bigfoot hunters determined to kill a cryptid and make their names and fortunes. His dad claims that he wants to stop them from hurting the gentle creature that once saved his life, and Dylan, who needs to know if his father is crazy, sneaks into the woods on the slopes of an active volcano with a reticent retired biologist to follow the group. Is there something amazing hiding in the woods, and will Dylan learn the truth and help his father before someone—or something—gets hurts?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re too busy shooting sonar into Loch Ness.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Five-Finger Discount

Written by: Barthe DeClements

First line: After Mom left for work, I finished emptying the packing boxes.

Why you should read this book: While Jerry's dad is in prison for stealing cars, he feels the stigma of being PK (a prisoner's kid) and strikes up an unlikely friendship with another PK: Grace, who suffers a different kind of stigma as a preacher's kid. While Jerry struggles to outwit a young extortionist who knows his secret, he and Grace form an uneasy understanding, but Jerry has learned things from his father that Grace cannot approve of. Is Jerry doomed to grow up a thief, too, or is there another way of getting what you want?

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some stealing with no consequences, some kid-on-kid violence.

Among the Dolls

Written by: William Sleator

First line: The poplar trees along the roadside shimmered in a light breeze, and there was hardly a nip in the autumn air.

Why you should read this book: Vicky acts out her frustrations in not receiving a ten-speed bike for her birthday on the occupants of the antique dollhouse she received in its place, and her home life degenerates until the day she wakes up a tiny doll trapped in that same doll house, now victim to the cruel patterns she has inflicted on the little dolls. Abused by the figurines that she once thoughtlessly abused, she comes to understand that her aggressive behavior has affected the world around her, and now she's trapped and likely to suffer even more unless she can figure out how to get back home. This short, kind of frothy kids' book does a good job of demonstrating the need for empathy, but does not delve too deeply into the psychology of its characters.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already scared of dolls.

Don't Hurt Laurie!

Written by: Willo Davis Roberts

First line: Laurie sat on the edge of the table, not looking around her because it always frightened her to see all of the emergency room equipment.

Why you should read this book: Even though it's thirty years old and not often discussed in literary circles, there seems to be an unwritten law that keeps this book in the collection of every single children's library everywhere. Eleven-year-old Laurie has suffered almost unspeakable abuse at the hands of her own mother for as long as she can remember, and even though her eight-year-old stepbrother has figured out what's going on, no one's going to listen to him, and Laurie's mom arranged it so that no one else can ever get close enough to Laurie to learn her terrible secrets. A sad, intimate story about a little girl suffering through the pain and her experience of a parent who is terribly mentally ill, but all the child has ever known.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Graphic descriptions of horrific child abuse.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Number Devil

Written by: Hans Magnus Enzenberger

First line: Robert was tired of dreaming.

Why you should read this book: Plagued by day by a math teacher who assigns meaningless story problems about pretzels and at night by dreams that make him feel even more foolish, Robert learns to welcome the intrusion of the Number Devil, a quizzical creature with a magic writing implement who shows Robert that numbers are fascinating, useful, and meaningful. With diagrams and humor, this book illustrates for children advanced concepts such as infinity, factorials, combinatorics, square roots, prime numbers, Fibonacci sequences, and more. A joyful romp through the world of mathematics, perfect for burgeoning mathematicians, as well as those who are plagued by story problems and unimaginative math teachers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always knew the devil was lurking in your children's textbooks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

When You Reach Me

Written by: Rebecca Stead

First line: So Mom got the postcard today.

Why you should read this book: Follow Miranda as she navigates the intricacies of her New York City neighborhood: the crazy man who sleeps under the mailbox, the naked weirdo whose appearance means no one can go out for lunch, the friends and enemies she's always making or losing. It's the cryptic notes that bother her, though, because how do they get into her things, and how are they able to predict the future so well, and what do they mean about saving her friend's life? This smart novel guides the reader with a candle in the distance, revealing truths that are hard to see clearly.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't read A Wrinkle in Time yet.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The People of Sparks

Written by: Jeanne DuPrau

First line: Torren was out at the edge of the cabbage field that day, the day the people came.

Why you should read this book: Lina and Doon, having led their people to the surface, have become the heroes of Ember, but in the strange new sunlight, they learn the unpleasant truth: that the builders sent them underground to avoid a great war, and the world above them was decimated in the fighting. The people of Sparks have worked hard to create a pleasant village from the ruins of the old world, albeit one without electricity or plumbing, and their kinder natures still tremble at the thought of feeding and housing the hundreds of strange, pale people who appear suddenly on the outskirts of their town, hungry and tired. They all know that war is terrible, and must never happen again, but tempers flare until once again, it's up to Lina and Doon to show others the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe might makes right, and ultimate weapons are made to be deployed.

The City of Ember

Written by Jeanne DuPrau

First line: When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.

Why you should read this book: Powered by a massive hydroelectric generator and peopled by earnest folks with only a sixth grade education, the city of Ember was meant to protect its citizens for only two hundred or so years, but now, at the two hundred forty year mark, the supplies are running low, the power is flickering off and on, and the people of Ember know their small village, surrounded by a dark expanse of nothingness, as the only place in the world. Twelve-year-old graduates choose their future jobs out of a hat, but Lina and Doon, dissatisfied with their choices, agree to trade, so that Lina can run around the city as a messenger and Doon can work underground, in the pipeworks, near the generator. When Lina stumbles upon a mysterious ancient note lost in her grandmother’s closet, she and Doon begin to embrace an idea that always existed in her imagination: perhaps Ember is not the only place in the world, and in that case, there must be a way out.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re already hoarding light bulbs and canned peaches in anticipation of the coming apocalypse.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls

Written by: Lynne Jonell

First line: Emmy Addison was an ordinary girl—almost.

Why you should read this book: After foiling the efforts of her evil nanny, Miss Barmy, to kill Emmy's parents, steal their fortune, and send Emmy off to the Home for Troubled Girls, all Emmy wants is to have a normal summer like other kids: swimming, sleepovers, and, above all, no talking rodents. Unfortunately, Emmy's efforts to ignore her ubiquitous talking rodent friends leads to one of them being critically injured, and all of them mad at her, and meanwhile, Miss Barmy, in rat form, is up to her same tricks, and then Emmy discovers what's really happened to the poor kids who've been sent to the Home for Trouble Girls, and it's nothing but constant peril and unusual adventure all over again. Will Emmy rise to the challenge, or is she even more selfish and disliked than Miss Barmy?

Why you shouldn't read this book: Rats creep you out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Written by: Lynee Jonell

First line: Emmy was a good girl.

Why you should read this book: An evil nanny, a lovesick junkshop proprietor, a pair of negligent, globe-trotting parents, a horde of sassy rodents with magical powers, enough shrinking and growing back to satisfy fans of Lewis Carroll, and, in the center of it all, a little girl who simply cannot catch a break no matter how good she is, form a happy confluence for those who love stories of fantasy set in the real world. When Emmy realizes she can talk to rats, she begins to question other aspects of her life, such as why no one in her school seems to know she exists, and why her parents hardly ever come home anymore, or why her nanny makes her eat, drink, and wear strange potions while overscheduling her afternoons with activities she doesn’t enjoy and forcing her to make up stories to satisfy the nosy school psychologist. A really wonderful, imaginative, satisfying, and gripping tale with a classic reluctant hero, set in a realistic modern world that modern kids can relate to.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re going to get your hands on the old man’s fortune if it’s the last thing you do, and no legitimate heirs are going to get in your way.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Thief and the Beanstalk

Written by: P. W. Catanese

First line: Nick opened his eyes and blinked.

Why you should read this book: This action-packed fantasy adventure story picks up many decades after the traditional tale of “Jack in the Beanstalk” and Jack is now a sad old man, wracked with guilt regarding the fate of the giant’s wife he betrayed and left behind. When Nick, a young boy caught in thrall of a merciless gang of thieves, shows up to rob him of his ill-gotten wealth, Jack gives Nick his own handful of beans, sending the boy on a dangerous mission back up the beanstalk into the clouds. What ensues is a fast-paced, white-knuckle journey through a land where death waits around every corner, but the promise of wealth, and maybe even redemption, spurs Nick on toward his ultimate goal.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You resent the unfair media portrayal of very tall people as heartless, bloodthirsty ogres who stink of rotting meat.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Written by: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

First line: Anyone living in the United States in the early 1990s and paying even a whisper of attention to the nightly news or a daily paper could be forgiven for having been scared out of his skin.

Why you should read this book: While some of the most controversial conclusions in this book (e.g. legalizing abortion leads to a drop in crime) have been widely publicized, this entire study of popular beliefs and the actual data that disproves them is eye-opening and frankly fascinating. From a dissection of incentives, to comparisons of disparate groups (sumo wrestlers and public school teachers; real estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan) this book asks you to question your conclusions and examine your reality. When you can use numbers to prove that the most honorable people are cheating or that the most overinvolved parents aren't giving their children a whit of advantage, economics stops being boring and starts describing our world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to know the truth if it means giving up your sacred cows.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Larry Marder's Beanworld (Book 2): A Gift Comes!

Written by: Larry Marder

First line: It's nighttime.

Why you should read this book: Return to Beanworld, where Professor Garbanzo, Mr. Spook, Beanish, the Boomers, and the rest of the impossibly innocent Beans are about to embrace the gift of life as Gran'Ma'Pa, in his/her infinite wisdom, sends them five Pod'l Pool Cuties, or baby Beans, to adore, teach, dance with, protect, depict in art, and generally ogle and make ridiculous noises at. With the new life comes the answers to old mysteries including character origins, the deal with that funny fork and the flying snakes wearing silly hats, what's going on in the Big-Big-Picture, and some tantalizing clues about the heavenly Dreamishness. There's something big going on, and the tiny Beans seem to have a place far out of proportion to their diminutive corner of the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you thought the first one was too weird...on the other hand, if you didn't read the first one, this one will seem really weird.

Larry Marder's Beanworld (Book 1): Wahoolazuma!

Written by: Larry Marder

First line: What you hold in your hands is an artifact of my life.

Why you should read this book: I like to say that every story ever written can be read, figuratively, as a map of the writer's psyche, and that the best stories are maps of the collective unconscious, or everyone's psyche; Beanworld appears to be, very literally, a map of the author's psyche, and his psyche is, apparently, a very, very strange place. In this first compendium, he lays down the design illustrating Beanworld, its environs, and the various creatures who live in, under, above, and around it, along with their customs, recreations, idioms, and spirituality. Ultimately, this story seeks to answer questions such as, "Who am I?" "What makes me happy?" "Why am I the only one who doesn't understand the appeal of pop art?" and "Why am I the only one who worries about all the dangerous stuff in the world?"

Why you shouldn't read this book: Given that it's pretty unusual, paints a picture of a world nothing like our own with many details hidden from the reader as well as the character, employs idiosyncratic words and spelling, and looks like it was drawn by a stoned ninth-grader on the back of a failing history test, it can be a little hard to get into at first.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Horton Hatches the Egg

Written by: Dr. Seuss

First line: Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg: “I’m tired and I’m bored And I’ve kinks in my leg From sitting, just sitting here day after day.”

Why you should read this book: Horton the faithful elephant gets suckered into sitting on Mayzie’s nest for the better part of the year, and “faithful, one hundred percent,” refuses to leave his precarious perch despite personal peril and intense humiliation. Nor does he fight for parental rights when the faithless Mayzie bird returns, but in the mother of all nature-versus-nurture controversies, the newborn’s features favor the one who did all the work. Written some time before the crystallization of our modern understanding of DNA, this story supposes that nature’s majesty (or perhaps the foster system) rewards the deserving and condemns the unfit.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Some allegations of misogyny have been made against this text. More importantly, you may be frustrated by the really silly assertion that all the hard work of child-rearing takes place during gestation.

Babushka's Doll

Written by: Patricia Polacco

First line: It wasn’t that Natasha was a truly naughty child.

Why you should read this book: A typically self-centered little girl, Natasha demands that Babushka satisfy all her demands right now and refuses to understand any delay, despite her grandmother’s long list of necessary chores. Then Babushka lets her play with an old doll that comes to life and runs the little girl ragged in just the same way that she treats her grandmother. This story is much more effective than a lecture in teaching empathy and helping children understand how their behavior affects adults.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You know that other people were put on this earth to serve you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Written by: Patrick Süskind

First line: In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.

Why you should read this book: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in a trash heap, raised under the indifferent supervision of series of uncommitted caregivers, and is interested in nothing but the ever-growing catalog of odors discovered by his prodigy olfactory organ. With his magnificent nose, he become a valuable apprentice perfumer, but lacking a scent of his own, or any connection to the human race, he grows into a single-minded psychopath, intent on distilling the most powerful essence in the world: the smell of a beautiful young girl. With great descriptive strokes, this novel seduces the reader into Grenouille’s dark inner world of intense and amoral drives, many-splendored scents, and single-minded devotion to a horrifying goal.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You reject the glorification of the criminally insane and refuse to feel sympathy or identification for an intricately written literary character who just happens to need to commit acts of hideous evil.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art

Written by: Lewis Hyde

First line: The first story I have to tell is not exactly true, but it isn't exactly false, either.

Why you should read this book: With intuitive insight and engaging prose, Hyde examines the archetype of the Trickster as a driving force in the creation of culture: crossing boundaries, destroying boundaries, resetting boundaries, existing at the crossroads, and, above all, creating a third category when faced with a dichotomy. Relying on traditional examples such as tales of Coyote, Krishna, Eshu, Hermes, Raven, and Monkey, along with modern day artists such as John Cage, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Marcel Duchamp (plus a surprising and eye-opening examination of Frederick Douglas), this book discusses how Tricksters (and humans) can transcend the primal state of being "mere bellies" by mastering base urges, playing with meaning on the meta level, and acting as agents of re-creation in the face of stubborn tradition. Harnessing the power of the Trickster can lead artists to the creations of something completely new, either for the sake of novelty, or to influence social change, and teach readers essential truths about their own perception of themselves, their assumptions, and their environment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You stand for establishment. In fact, you're so Apollonian that you don't even know what Appollonian means, because your culture doesn't endorse the reading of old myths.