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.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sleepers, Wake

Written by: Paul Samuel Jacobs

First line: Dody found himself watching the time, measuring it by the hour, by the minute, by the second all night long.

Why you should read this book: A programming glitch wakes nine-year-old Dody up from suspended animation fifty years into a hundred-year journey through space, and now that he’s an old man who’s spent nearly his entire life alone on a ship with only a condescending computer for company, the voyage is over and his family is finally going to wake up too. While they need to get used to seeing their baby walking around in his grandfather’s body, Dody needs to get used to being among other people in a very unusual family dynamic. A series of missteps lands Dody and his siblings alone on the surface of a possibly hostile planet, and it’s up to Dody to prove that he has some of the sense that his wrinkled face suggests, rescue his sister and brother, and get everyone back to their parents in one piece.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: The writing and storytelling are not quite as good as the premise.

Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones

Written by: Judy Schachner

First line: Skippyjon Jones was crazy about digging in Mrs. Doohiggy’s garden.

Why you should read this book: Kids are crazy about the Skippyjon Jones franchise and its revelations regarding the titular melon-headed Siamese cat with the enormous imagination to match, and his increasingly bizarre delusion regarding his secret identity as a Chihuahua. In this edition, Skippyjon walks the razor’s edge, stealing bones from Darwin the dozing bulldog two doors down and using them to reconstruct a dinosaur skeleton to stimulate the imagination of his paleontologist alter-ego. He then travels back to the Jurassic era to confront real imaginary dinosaurs before his final confrontation with Darwin.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: While kids adore the drawing, the rhythm, the songs, and the nonsense, this book, located in the imagination of a kitten, doesn’t really make a heck of a lot of sense.

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday

Written by: Judith Viorst

First line: It isn’t fair that my brother Anthony has two dollars and three quarter and one dime and seven nickels and eighteen pennies.

Why you should read this book: Alexander and his brothers like money; Alexander likes it a lot, so when his grandparents give each boy a dollar, the possibilities seem endless. However, impulse spending, money mismanagement, and unforeseen expenses (mostly in the form of fines for inappropriate behavior) take their toll on his accounts until he’s left with nothing. Between the thrill of buying and the puzzle of subtraction, there’s plenty going on in this enduring story of a young boy and his windfall.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: If inflation drives you crazy, steer clear; this book was published in 1978 and you wouldn’t believe what this kid gets out of a dollar.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Carry Me!

Author: Rosemary Wells

First line: Hold me up to the window/When Daddy comes down the street.

Why you should read this book: The ever-popular author of the Max and Ruby books presents the world of an even smaller bunny in three short poems: “Carry Me!”, “Talk to Me!”, and “Sing to Me!” With surprising rhyme schemes and the occasional splash of metallic silver highlighting the colorful drawings, Wells creates a safe and protected bunny world, full of wonder, excitement, and parental love. Toddler-centric and gentle, this is an excellent bedtime book.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re trying to discourage your growing kid from making constant demands to get picked up.

Oscar and Arabella

Author: Neal Layton

First line: Oscar was a woolly mammoth.

Why you should read this book: Oscar and Arabella are fun-loving woolly mammoths (Oscar wears a rainbow-striped ski cap) who probably have a lot in common with the small people in your life. They enjoy adventure but not danger and they play hard during the day so they can sleep hard at night. The comic-style story concludes with some (comic style) true facts about woolly mammoths.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You resent the implication that human beings are, in fact, wild and dangerous animals.

Oh, Look!

Written by: Patricia Polacco

First line: Oh, look, we see a fence.

Why you should read this book: A trio of delightful goats offer children an in-depth examination of prepositions as they escape the farmyard and determine how to best traverse a variety of landmarks and obstacles. The text uses repetition to create rhythm and movement and the illustrations are pure Polacco—joyous, messy, and brightly colored, with emotions clearly etched on the characters’ faces. Everyone wears a babushka and a happy ending is assured.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re extremely careful with your goats.

No Zombies Allowed

Written by: Matt Novak

First line: Witch Wizzle and Witch Woddle were getting ready for their annual monster party.

Why you should read this book: Through a comedic presentation of the antics of stereotypically scary characters such as zombies and werewolves, this book offers small children a basis for understanding the roots of intolerance and the need for tolerance. As the two witches clean for the upcoming event, they find photos of last year’s party, reminding them of the multiple infractions and party fouls committed by their friends, who they systemically delete from the guest list. In the end, they realize that they themselves are witches, equally guilty of mischief and mayhem, and that they need to be a little more accepting of the behavior of others.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re constantly adding larger and larger “No Trespassing” signs to your property.

Go to Bed, Monster!

Written by: Natasha Wing

First line: One night, Lucy tossed and turned.

Why you should read this book: Imagination turns the tables on a little girl who, having invented a monster companion to join her when she cannot sleep, finds that the monster refuses to dial it down when the little girl is finally ready for bed. Children identify with the crayon-drawing monster, the pair’s antics, and the monster’s endless list of before-bed demands. Also fun for parents of children who have trouble falling asleep.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: When you say, “lights out,” you mean LIGHT OUT!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Cow Tail Swich and Other West African Stories

Written by: Harold Courlander and George Herzog

First line: Africa is many things.

Why you should read this book: While some of the characters, like the trickster Anansi, may be familiar to modern western readers, other aspects of this folklore collection may provide an introduction to a new way of thinking. With names like “Time” and “Nothing,” or bottomless appetites and other forms of unchecked greed, the characters in these stories illustrate the expectations of social norms and the importance of honor between community members. Other tales explain the origins of things or the differences among cultures; some highlight the way to change ones fortune or the importance of accepting the natural order and ones place in society.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You really, really like princesses.