Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ballad of the Pirate Queens

Author: Jane Yolen

First line: The autumn seas are dark and deep In Port Maria Bay: The tunney fish all leap and sport Around the bustling cay.

Why you should read this book: Based on the very true story of female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Reade, this tale of adventure, betrayal, and women in men's clothing relates the last days of the pirate ship, Vanity, which was taken down by the governor's ship, Albion. While the ten men of the crew gamble and drink below deck, the two women valiantly try to fight off the invaders, and while history is not completely agreed on the fate of the women, this story ends on a high note, with the two "pleading their bellies" and being spared the gallows for the sake of the pirates' children they will bear. Lush painted illustrations by David Shannon bring the world of the eighteenth century to life, with both light and dark moments.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're sailing off the coast of Somalia.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Fortune-Tellers

Author: Lloyd Alexander

First line: A young carpenter was unhappy in his trade.

Why you should read this book: When a Newbery-winning writer (Alexander) teams up with a Caldecott-winning illustrator (Trina Schart Hyman), you know it’s going to be good, and it is. This fanciful original story, in the style of a traditional African folktale, celebrates the power of positive thinking, as vague predictions and silly coincidences inspire the unhappy carpenter to create a new life for himself, while the luscious drawings pay homage to the landscape and people of Cameroon. Sharp children will enjoy dissecting the fortune-teller’s trickery and may even grasp the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy to their own advantage.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: A fortune-teller owes you a lot of back rent.

Space Monster

Author: David Ross

First line: Gorp was a lonely creature who lived in the empty blackness of space.

Why you should read this book: What might otherwise be categorized as an advanced early reader transcends the limitations of its genre to deliver a powerful message about loneliness, intelligence, and the thirst for knowledge. The brilliant and curious Brainos are on a constant quest for understanding, usually resulting in the dissection and subsequent destruction of the things they want to understand, while Gorp, a gentle planet-eating space monster, is simply too huge and powerful to be captured by their equipment or harmed by their projectiles, which he typically eats without realizing their significance. Eventually, one Braino named Twarp comes to grasp that he is dealing with an intelligent and undefeatable force, and finds a way to communicate friendship, resulting in a beneficial arrangement for both species.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’d give anything to see a real alien autopsy, and you figure if you can’t get inside of things, you might as well blow them off the map.

Uncle Andy's: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol

Author: James Warhola

First line: Looking back at those days, the thing I remember most is thinking my dad had the best darn job in the world.

Why you should read this book: Jamie’s uncle is the famous and unusual pop artist Andy Warhol and he, along with his parents and six siblings, loves visiting his uncle and his Bubba in New York City. With exuberant prose and illustrations, he creates both the world of his father (a junkman) along with Uncle Andy’s world (a six-story apartment building crammed full of found and created art), neither of whom are capable of throwing anything away. A nice story about family, the definition of art, and a child’s perspective on the world, with the added bonus of an illustration depicting an early-morning Warhol without his trademark wig.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t “get” modern art.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cassie Was Here

Author: Caroline Hickey

First line: "Alaskan husky, Beagle, Collie," I list.

Why you should read this book: Eleven-year-old Bree alarms her family when she begins to play with her old imaginary friend, Joey, after they've moved to a new town, but they really start to worry when she finds a real friend: thirteen-year-old Cassie. Cassie is a troubled child, but Bree, attracted to her daring, wants to appear as mature as the older girl, and suddenly Joey just isn't around anymore. This lovely debut novel examines the inner lives and secret pain of older kids and promises that change is possible, families really do love each other, and things that are broken can always be mended.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather play with your imaginary friend.

The Jade Dragon

Authors: Carolyn Marsden and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh

First line: "We go together.... Chang-chang changity-chang shoo-bop. That's the way it should be...." was playing from Robin's boom box.

Why you should read this book: Ginny was born in America, but her parents raised her with Chinese traditions, so she didn't learn English until she went to school, where she continues to feel like an outsider and long for a real best friend. Stephanie is the new girl in school, and she's Chinese-American too--she was even born in China--but she's been adopted by a white family and raised in a completely American way. Through their halting interactions, both girls come to understand the importance of their heritage and the meaning of true friendship.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never worried about fitting in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Unplugging the Plug-in Drug

Author: Marie Winn

First line: "My problem with television began when Max was born and David was three years old," says Mary Taylor.

Why you should read this book: If you are concerned with the effect of video technology on your child's development, your home's atmosphere, or your own productivity, this book encourages you and everyone around you to turn the television off for a week. Complete with arguments for reduction of viewing time and plans to persuade those around you to participate in a "Turn-Off" during which an individual, family, class, school, or community all take the pledge not to watch and support each other with alternate activities and parties. Many appendices with resources, testimonials, handouts, and other materials help administrators turn these plans to reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't even own a TV.

The Good Earth

Author: Pearl S. Buck

First line: It was Wang Lung’s marriage day.

Why you should read this book: The timeless story of the farmer, Wang Lung, who cherishes his land as the one thing that can never be stolen from a man, is also the story of his first wife, the silent, long-suffering O-lan, who supports him in everything and makes possible his prosperity and eventually wealth. Together, they toil without cease through peace, war, famine, and plenty, coaxing their fortune from their earth as they care for an ever-increasing household tied to the ever-increasing land holding that Wang Lung acquires with obsessive zeal. With prosperity comes all the ills of ostentatious wealth, anger, heartache, and, at times, understanding, and Wang Lung struggles to remain faithful to himself while doing his duty to his family and remembering always what he owes to the fertile dark soil.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You believe real estate is for wheeling and dealing, and houses are for flipping.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

First line: Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

Why you should read this book: This well-imagined and jovial story posits that the ancient Greek gods have followed the heart of Western civilization for thousands of years and are still up to their same old tricks, except now, Mt. Olympus hovers over the Empire State Building, and the entrance to Hades is a recording studio in LA. Percy Jackson, dyslexic, ADHD, and all-around delinquent, is not sure how to react when he realizes that all his past problems result from being the son of a god, and his future problems will be exacerbated by frequent monster attacks. With the help of Athena's angry but well-prepared daughter, along with a hapless satyr, Percy must answer the hero's call, travel across an America suddenly overrun with vengeful mythical creatures, and, against the odds, intervene to stave off a war among all the Olympians.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have ever suspected that you were not quite entirely mortal.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gypsy Girl

Author: Rumer Godden

First line: "If anyone," said the teacher, Mrs. Blount, in the classroom, "any one" and her eyes looked sternly along the lines of tables filled with boys and girls, "teases or bullies or jeers at Kizzy Lovell, they will answer for it to me."

Why you should read this book: This engaging story discusses the issue of Gypsies, now known as Travellers, living in England in the 1970s, glossing over civil rights for a more powerful examination of pure civility. When Kizzy's teacher uses threats to ask for more respect toward the unusual girl in her first grade class, others suggest she has made a mistake, and should have tried to romanticize the girl's life, but Kizzy cares nothing for their world, preferring the company of her great-great-grandmother and her geriatric horse, Joe, in the solitary caravan in the woods. When fate steal both Gram and the caravan away from her, Kizzy is forced to venture into the world she hates, teaching the people of the village to love her for her true self.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You continue your campaign to wipe those who refuse to conform off the face of the planet.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life

Author: The Dalai Lama

First line: I believe that every human being has an innate desire for happiness and does not want to suffer.

Why you should read this book: Comprising four days of teaching by his holiness in New York City in 1999, this book explains, to the Western reader, the basic tenets of Buddhism, along with increasingly complex instruction for setting oneself on the path to happiness and freedom from suffering. Beginning with the causes of suffering, he draws upon thousands of years of teaching to offer both secular and spiritual audiences a deeper understanding of meditation, clear thought, and compassion for all sentient beings. This book can be read on many levels, as a simple informational work about an ancient tradition, or a blueprint for ones own enlightenment, to be constructed within the framework of the modern world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You enjoy your suffering.