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.