Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Paper Bag Princess

The Paper Bag Princess

Author: Robert Munsch

First line: Elizabeth was a beautiful princess.

Why you should read this book: Among the most classic of Munsch’s substantial contributions to children's literature, this is the story of Princess Elizabeth who, following an unfortunate dragon-related assault, is denuded of her royal finery and bereft of her handsome prince. Forced to don a paper bag, she sets out to outwit the dragon and rescue her sweetheart in this proto-feminist work of determination and self-respect. Both funny and thought-provoking, Elizabeth’s journey asks modern princesses to examine what qualities are important in an individual and in a potential life partner.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You've already eaten an entire castle today.

The Tunnel

Author: Anthony Browne

First line: Once upon a time there lived a sister and a brother who were not at all alike.

Why you should read this book: Sibling rivalry is overcome when a mother forces two antagonistic kids to spend the day together. The rambunctious brother ditches his sister and crawls through the eponymous tunnel, and the fearful sister gets tired of waiting and follows him into a magical and somewhat frightening world, where her tender, fraternal loves saves him from an eternity posed as a garden statue. Lovely drawings coupled with a lovely story.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You would knock over an army of obnoxious siblings to get to Narnia.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Strega Nona's Magic Lessons

Author: Tomie dePaola

First line: Bambolona, the baker’s daughter, was angry.

Why you should read this book: Ever-popular Grandmother Witch, Strega Nona, is back, and this time she has a new apprentice, the long-suffering but quick-to-catch-on Bambolona. Unfortunately, Strega Nona’s hapless helper, Big Anthony, is jealous of Bambolona and the attention she gets from his boss, so he tries his hand at baking for Bambolona’s father, with the expected disastrous results. When that doesn’t work out, he puts on a dress and attempts to make his mark as an apprentice strega, but in the end, Big Anthony must admit his deception and his mistakes until, once again, all is well with the world.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You only had children so you could pass the family business down to them and hang out in cafes with your friends while they toiled.

The Other Side

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

First line: That summer the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.

Why you should read this book: Clover’s mother forbids her to cross over the fence that divides the white neighborhoods from the black ones in her segregated town, so at first she tries to ignore the little white girl standing alone on the other side. Annie’s mother has told her not to cross the fence either, but neither girls’ mother ever said anything about sitting on the fence, and, despite the difference in their skin color, the two girls have too much in common to ignore each other all summer. Together, they begin to build a theoretical bridge between two separate worlds, culminating in the prediction that someday, someone will come along and tear that fence down once and for all.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t care what the kids look like, you just want them to get the heck off your land.

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Author: Dr. Seuss

First line: The still talk about it in the Kingdom of Didd as The-Year-the-King-Got-Angry-with-the-Sky.

Why you should read this book: Feeling haughty and in control, King Derwin summons up that which he cannot put down, commanding his royal magicians to create a completely new kind of weather to demonstrate his power, despite the unheard protestations of the amazingly competent pageboy, Bartholomew Cubbins. When the King’s wish is granted with the arrival of the terrible Oobleck, it is up to Bartholomew to try to save the kingdom from becoming complete bogged down in sticky, greenish goo. By turns chilling and amusing, this prose story from the master of rhyme illustrates the power of taking ownership of ones mistakes and the importance of apologizing when you’ve really, really screwed up.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You never say you’re sorry.


Author: Virginia Hamilton

First line: “You hear that?” Cammy asked Gram Tut.

Why you should read this book: Cammy hates her perfect first cousin, Patty Ann, who plays the piano, gets straight As, and sometimes sticks her finger down her throat to be skinny, but when Patty Ann insults Cammy’s beloved Grandmother, she says some things that shouldn’t be said. Now her aunt, her mother, and her brother know the whole story, and soon her third cousin, Elodie, gets caught up in the girls’ dispute. Cammy is never going to love Patty Ann, but sometimes things happen that can never be taken back, and regret starts to grow and grow within a young girl’s mind.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You can’t remember what you argued about twenty years ago, but you know you’ll never talk to a particular family member again because you just hate them so much.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Say You're One of Them

Author: Uwem Akpan

First line: Now that my oldest sister, Maisha, was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore.

Why you should read this book: Poverty, child slavery, ethnic violence, and sudden death frame the lives of African children in five powerful stories of varying lengths. The heroes and heroines of these tales share the determination to live in a world where mothers offer glue-sniffing in place of the food they cannot afford, uncles are compelled to sell their nieces and nephews to improve their lot in the world, and relatives turn against one another in bloody displays of faith or racial unity. Although heartbreaking, this book opens several windows across the continent, exposing the plight of those who suffer the most from social disparity and the ills of poverty and sectarian violence.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Physical and sexual violence, real-life horror, untimely death, no happy endings.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales

Authors: Ludwig Bemelmans and John Bemelmans Marciano

First Line: In an old house in Paris/That was covered with vines/Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines, Including Mademoiselle Madeline Fogg/and Genevieve, her beloved dog.

Why you should read this book: Madeline fans can rejoice in this posthumous collection of Christmas-themed stories, including the lost Madeline tale, in which the popular heroine inherits a Texas oil fortune and travels to America with her eleven roommates and their caretaker, Miss Clavel. Each of the stories in this book were created by Ludwig Bemelmas but either were not published in his lifetime, or were published in a different form, and all the stories have been brought back to life through the efforts of Bemelmans’ grandson, who perfectly captures the spirit of his grandfather’s art. Includes notes by John Bemelmans regarding his restoration of the work, and also by Ludwig Bemelmans’ daughter, Barbara, discussing her father’s love of Christmas and her favorite memories of the holiday with him.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Bah! Humbug!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Author: Rosemary Wells

First line: “What would you like for lunch today, my little cherry blossom?” asked Yoko’s mother.

Why you should read this book: Japanese-American girl-cat Yoko loves the traditional foods prepared by her mother, but her classmates turn their nose up at raw fish and seaweed packed in a bento box. Her intuitive teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, comes to the rescue with an International Food Festival where every child is required to try everything. Although love of sushi cannot be taught to every elementary child in a single day, Yoko begins to find acceptance with one open-minded classmate, and readers can acclimate to the possibility that new foods are good foods.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re the one responsible for the government warning against raw seafood on restaurant menus.

Things That Are Most in the World

Things That Are Most in the World

Author: Judi Barrett

First line: The wiggliest thing in the world is a snake ice-skating.

Why you should read this book: Sure to send small children into hysterics, this book of superlatives offers the silliest possible solutions to the question of what things are most in the world. In case you’ve ever wondered about the hottest, quietest, or longest things in the world, you can find the answers in this entertaining book. Add your own superlative on the last page, where the appropriate text and blanks are provided for that purpose.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You require very particular measurements before you accept any scientific conclusion.

The Paper Crane

Author: Molly Bang

First line: A man once owned a restaurant on a busy road.

Why you should read this book: Suffering the negative side-effects of progress, the poor restaurateur nevertheless provides his best hospitality for a mysterious and impoverished stranger, who, in grand fairy tale tradition, rewards him with an origami crane that comes to life and dances. Traditional themes spring from the page through the magic of Bang’s remarkable cut-paper art, providing stunning three-dimensional quality in a two-dimensional format. A lovely story, both visually and spiritually, reiterating themes of generosity that, for some people, seem to exist only in fairy tales.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t do anything for free.


Author: Robert Munsch

First line: Megan’s father asked her to feed the pigs on her way to school.

Why you should read this book: Although Megan is convinced that pigs are the stupidest-looking creatures she has ever seen, her father’s porcine charges prove far more self-actuated than anyone could predict. Hijinks include Megan being repeatedly run over by a pack of pigs, authority figures having their shoes defiled, and animals driving a school bus. An appealing comic romp that proves irresistible to young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In your line of work, livestock retention is nothing to laugh about.

Princess Aasta

Author: Stina Langlo Ørdal

First line: Once upon a time there was a little princess called Aasta, who wanted a bear to love.

Why you should read this book: An exuberant, apple-cheeked Norwegian princess dreams of a bear companion, so she places a personal ad and sorts through responses from bears all over the world. Although her father, the king, is apprehensive about her friendship with a large polar bear, Princess Aasta and Kvitebjørn (Ursus maritimus), play so well together that eventually he gives his consent for the two to travel to the North Pole, and in the end, the king not only hugs the large bear, but even invites his daughter’s friend to stay for supper. Based on a Norwegian fairy tale, this story is a simple and delightful narrative that articulates the fantasies of many small children.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t believe children should consort with members of other species.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Author: Orson Scott Card

First line: Nniv did not go to meet Mikal's starship.

Why you should read this book: This refreshing and often surprising story narrates the life of Ansset, a child whose voice commands the ability to manipulate any audience to whatever emotion he chooses to reflect. Sent from his sheltered home in the Songhouse to sing for the emperor at the imperial seat of power, Ansset becomes tangled in plots that threaten the stability of an empire encompassing countless planets. In episodes that are by turns joyful, heartbreaking, treacherous, and wonderful, his tale, his strength, and his sacrifices unfold to a satisfying and thoughtful conclusion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This book, more than anything else I've ever seen, pronounces Card's well-documented homophobia, and also, on close reading, seems to suggest the author is in the closet regarding one or two details of his personal life. The treatment of homosexuality in this book is disgusting and detracts from the power of the rest of the story.

Scurvy Goonda

Author: Chris McCoy

First line: On a black night, beneath a canopy of dense trees determines to prevent the moon from illuminating his route, Ted Merritt furiously pedaled his bike to his summer job at the local Stop to Shop supermarket.

Why you should read this book: In a really imaginative take on the kingdom of the imagination, this book posits the origins and conclusions of "abstract companions" or ab-coms, the really real imaginary friends of the world's children. At fourteen, Ted Merritt realizes that the bacon-eating pirate who follows him everywhere may be negatively impacting his social life, but when he agrees to let a psychiatrist cure him of his ab-com, Scurvy Goonda, he unearths a plot that threatens the very existence of creativity in human children along with the fate of a world he never expected. Along with a flawless ballerina, a talking Narwhal, an Olympic-medal wearing hamster, and an army of made-up creatures, Ted and Scurvy must outwit a giant, arrogant parrot skeleton in an endlessly inventive fantasy story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a programmer of violent, first-person shooter games or a publisher mindless celebrity tabloids.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Author: Roald Dahl

First line: Down in the valley there were three farms.

Why you should read this book: In the grand tradition of animal tricksters, the fantastic Mr. Fox pilfers food and escape punishment from a trio of increasingly buffoonish enemies, to the delight of his adoring family and grateful neighbors. Clad in a careless waistcoat, a jaunty scarf, and a wicked grin, Mr. Fox is shameless and unrepentant, a wild and free adversary of the tortured, twisted, and undeserving agents of civilization who scheme in vain to oppress nature with the instruments of technology. Enduring and satisfying work in Dahl's particularly irreverent idiom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've spent your life chasing the fox out of the chicken coop.