Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Molly's Pilgrim

Author: Barbara Cohen

First line: I didn’t like the school in Winter Hill.

Why you should read this book: Molly’s immigrant family fled the Cossacks in Russia, and then left the melting pot of New York City for a peaceful suburb, where the children make fun of her old country accent and clothes until Molly wishes they could live anywhere else. When Molly’s teacher asks the girls to make Pilgrim dolls for their Thanksgiving display, her mother helps her to understand the importance of religious freedom and the true meaning of Thanksgiving. In the end, Molly’s Pilgrim, while different from the Pilgrims created by her classmates, turns out to be the best.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You demand that everyone enjoy the freedom to be exactly like you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Magic Man: The Life of Robert-Houdin

Author: I. G. Edmonds

First line: Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin was a little sick from the tossing of the ship as it crossed the Mediterranean from France to Algeria, but he was even more sick of the jokes his fellow passengers made about his upset stomach.

Why you should read this book: In simple but descriptive language, it recounts the life of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the greatest magician of his age (Houdini took his stage name from his inspiration), whose life as a magician was full of triumph as well as failure, synchronicity and circumstance, and culminated with a series of magic tricks largely credited with heading off a revolt against the French colonial government in Algeria. Young readers may be especially interested in the details of Robert-Houdin’s early years, wherein his craftsman father was determined to see his son become a lawyer, while the boy was equally determined to work with his hands and become a craftsman. Includes descriptions of how to perform some of the magician’s most wonderful tricks along with the story of a life filled with both determination and self-doubt.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t want to know how it’s done; you prefer the illusion.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jack and the Fire Dragon

Author: Gail E. Haley

First line: Almost any evening there’ll be some young’uns at Poppyseed’s house.

Why you should read this book: The spirit of Appalachia shines through the dialect and linocut illustrations in this story of the well-known fairy tale scamp, Jack. When Old Fire Dragaman, a sometimes-giant, sometimes-dragon, commences to stealing food from Jack’s brothers, Jack stands his ground and overcomes the giant, but when his brothers decide they’ve had enough of Jack’s success, they trick him into entering the Old Fire Dragaman’s lair, where they expect the monster will soon finish him off. But Jack triumphs, coming out ahead when he not only slays the dragon, but gains the creature’s wealth, along with the prettiest wife in the world.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve ever considered offing your siblings, or you’ve ever suspected your siblings of attempted fratricide.

Porch Lies: Tales of Slickster, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters

Author: Patricia C. McKissack

First line: Mis Martha June was a person I thought incapable of telling a porch lie.

Why you should read this book: Author McKissack remembers the glee and reverence with which she and her family listened to older community members telling “porch lies”: tall tales about clever tricksters overcoming the odds and outwitting the powerful through the strength of their own wits, and she recreates that mood in Porch Lies, summoning not only a series of her own trickster tales, but also a cast of characters to tell the stories: in a nice meta turn, some of the stories feature stories-within-the-stories-within-the-stories. In nine fascinating tales, African American characters young and old match their wills against their friends, strangers, outlaws, and the devil himself, mixing the scarcely plausible with the fantastically impossible, for a rich mix of stories just ripe for telling. Providing a sense of empowerment along with a sense of history and community, this is a noteworthy book by an award-winning author.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve never told a lie in all your life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Author: Donna Jo Napoli

First line: Albert sat at his table and drank tomato juice and listened to the noises of the morning.

Why you should read this book: Agoraphobic and possibly autistic adult Albert listens to the noises of the city and checks the weather out his window, but always find some sounds and atmospheric conditions unacceptable, so he never leaves his apartment. One day, when he sticks his hand outside to learn the temperature, a pair of cardinals begins to build a nest in his palm. Through the weeks it takes the eggs to hatch, he develops an intense relationship with the birds. When the last fledgling has trouble leaving the nest, Albert’s tender understanding helps both of them venture into the outside world without fear.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You like wide open spaces but fear being trapped in an elevator.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Matilda Bone

Author: Karen Cushman

First line: Matilda stood before the scarred wooden door and stared at the bright-yellow bone painted there.

Why you should read this book: Cushman returns to the Middle Ages with the story of a young orphan raised by an indifferent priest to read and write Latin, equate enjoyment with sin, depend on hagiography for life lessons, exhibit obnoxious piousness, and consider herself above the gross material world. When she is dropped off, more or less without explanation, and forced to become an apprentice to Red Peg the Bonesetter, Matilda finds herself woefully unprepared to function in the real world or accept the friendly overtures of the common, sausage-eating people she meets. The young girl must shake off her elitist upbringing and discover who she really is, or doom herself to a life of painful isolation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You require a houseful of servants to attend to worldly concerns like laundry and marketing so that you can devote yourself entirely to higher callings.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Gruesome Guide to World Monsters

Author: Judy Sierra

First line: There are many good books about restaurants, museums, hotels, and interesting sights, but until now there has never been a guide to the monsters that live throughout the world.

Why you should read this book: Take a terrible trip across six continents and become conversant with the local blood-sucking, flesh-eating, life-stealing population, with a strong emphasis on the ones that look like babies before they devour you and the ones that specialize in devouring naughty children. Along the way, you’ll learn how to identify these creatures, along with how to escape them (if possible), and, occasionally, their redeeming characteristics. Global teratology has never been so much fun.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You never go anywhere for fear of the local fauna.

The Badger and the Magic Fan

Author: Tony Johnston

First line: Tengu are the goblins of Japan.

Why you should read this book: A wonderful example of the “trickster tricked” subgenre, this old Japanese story comes to life through Johnston’s retelling and the lovely illustrations of Tomie dePaola. Badger steals a magic fan from the tengu children and, with the power to make people’s noses grow and shrink, he uses it to create mischief and derive personal gain. The tengu have the last laugh, though, as will young readers who enjoy nonsense, cabbage-throwing, and cosmic justice.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You are a great thinker, and you never have silly thoughts.

The King of the Cats

Author: Paul Galdone

First line: One October evening the gravedigger’s wife was sitting by the fireside with her big black cat, Old Tom.

Why you should read this book: With equal parts creepiness and humor, the old tale of the feline funeral procession is retold for the youngest listeners. Children will enjoy meowing along with the kitties as much as they like the surprising ending. A classic story with an authentic voice and entertaining illustrations.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Cemeteries and black cats give you the heebie-jeebies.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Davy Jones' Haunted Locker: Great Ghost Stories of the Sea

Editor: Robert Arthur

First line: A few months ago, as I was working on this book, two ships collided in the fog outside New York Harbor.

Why you should read this book: Sea monsters, ghost ships, hidden treasure, and creeping monsters haunt the pages of this well-rounded collection of spooky stories of ship wrecks, pirates, damned vessels, and courageous sailors. Stories like "The Stone Ship" and "Fire in the Galley Stove" create a sense of horror completely within the realm of possibility, while other pieces drag the willing reader through magical realms. The tale of the Flying Dutchman is represented in two stories, while Davy Jones himself comes to life in an imaginative piece written by the collection's editor, and a number of nautical poems fill in the gaps.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You get seasick.