Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Written by: Lauray Yule

First line: You may smell them but never see them.

Why you should read this book: A delightful little book about some delightful little creatures, this undersized, square format volume provides a detailed overview of one of the southwest's most interesting characters, the peccary, specifically those known as javelinas. Sprinkled with amusing and adorable photographs, the book begins with a historical explanation of how peccaries split off from pigs many millions of years ago, how their massive ancestors lived in South America, and how these creatures have only recently made North America their home. Information about mating habits, feeding habits, life cycle, family units, behavior, and getting along with the javelinas in your back yard are all covered in this slim but informative book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You just want to keep them from eating your landscaping.

Monkey Business

Written by: Wallace Edwards

First line: IDIOM: a group of words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of the individual words; an expression, peculiar to a specific language, that cannot be translated literally.

Why you should read this book: Each page provides a lovely and literal illustration of an idiomatic expression: a tiger crawls out of a carpet bag when the cat is let out of the bag, a bulldog eats hot dogs while musing on a dog-eat-dog world. The colorful, animal-themed illustrations are lovingly painted, with a monkey hidden on every page. Laugh out loud fun for anyone old enough to understand the discrepancy between words and meaning.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You take everything literally.

The Purple Coat

Written by: Amy Hest

First line: Every fall, when the leaves start melting into pretty purples and reds and those bright golden shades of pumpkin, Mama says, “Coat time, Gabrielle.”

Why you should read this book: Every autumn, Gabrielle and Mama go downtown, to the shop where her grandfather makes coats, and Grampa measures Gabrielle for a new navy blue coat. This year, however, Gabrielle decides she wants a purple coat, and Mama’s insistence that she always has a classic blue one cannot change her mind. Can Grampa find a solution that will please Gabrielle and Mama?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t believe in trying new things.

Last Week My Brother Anthony Died

Written by: Martha Whitmore Hickman

First line: I am looking at my shoes.

Why you should read this book: A little girl gives an honest accounting of her reaction to the death of her baby brother, who only lived a few weeks. Despite their short acquaintance, she still misses him and feels as if her family is incomplete without him, and that no one else can really understand what she’s going through. However, she learns that her minister once lost a child, and he teaches her that sadness comes and goes, like clouds, and that one day, when she's ready, she can begin to feel better.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Too sad.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Written by: Brian Selznick

First line: The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris.

Why you should read this book: A wildly inventive marriage of words and images, this brilliant novel takes resourceful orphan Hugo Cabret on a journey through the streets of Paris and the history of magic, robotics, and cinema on his quest to solve the mystery of an automaton that was destroyed in the fire that killed his own father. Descended from a long line of clockmakers and armed with his father's notebook, Hugo is determined to repair the broken machine, but an angry toymaker is equally determined to foil his plans, for reason that Hugo cannot explain. When he becomes friends with the toymaker's goddaughter, the two begin to piece together the mystery, which unfolds with magical precision in words and illustrations.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've destroyed your life's work for reason you refuse to discuss.

Hummingbirds: A Portrait of the Animal World

Written by: Hal H. Wyss

First line: Most of the more remarkable physical characteristics of hummingbirds are in some way related to their small size.

Why you should read this book: If you're fascinated by the dazzling colors and zippy maneuverability of these living gems, you have something in common with the author of this text, who has compiled an accessible and informative coffee-table book on the subject of all things Apodiforme. Physiology, iridescence, mating habits, migration patterns, and feeding behaviors are all covered, with gorgeous, larger-than-life photographic illustrations and instructions for attracting more hummingbirds to your yard. All sixteen species commonly found in North America are described in the last chapter.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate beauty.

The Report Card

Written by: Andrew Clements

First line: There were only about fifteen kids on the late bus because it was Friday afternoon.

Why you should read this book: Nora has an eidetic memory, remarkable spatial awareness, and an uncanny ability to analyze data, but she long ago decided to turn her remarkable genius to the task of appearing perfectly normal and average. Now, in fifth grade, this C student is ready to take a stand against the endless round of standardized testing, spelling tests, and social studies quizzes with some carefully acquired zeros. Unfortunately, she may be an off-the-charts genius, but there's no way she can hide her secret from the world and make a statement at the same time, but the question is, does she really want to go on pretending that she's not the smartest person in the room?

Why you shouldn't read this book: If there's one thing you can't stand, it's a smart alec, know-it-all pre-pubescent kid.

The Wish

Written by: Gail Carson Levine

First line: The old lady looked wobbly and feeble.

Why you should read this book: After her two best friends leave the district her English teacher reads her extremely creative creative writing piece aloud to all her classes, Wilma Sturtz goes from being a regular kid to being one of the most unpopular people she knows, until the day she gives her subway seat up to a witch and is granted a single wish: to become the most popular person in her junior high. The charm works like a charm: suddenly everyone, boys and girls, adores Wilma, although most of them can’t explain why, and she is the recipient of forty invitations to the Grad Night dance, many of them from other girls’ boyfriends, in addition to sleepover party invitations from the most popular girls in school. Only too late does Wilma realize the implications of her wish, because middle school is ending in three short weeks, and what will happen to the most popular kid in junior high when they all move on to high school?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re always pandering to the popular kids.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book 6: The Burning

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

First line: "Night gathers and your time has come," intoned Barran the large Snowy Owl and monarch of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree.

Why you should read this book: The Chaw of Chaws heads to the Northern Kingdoms, charged with myriad, imperative tasks: they must escort Dewlap, the owl who betrayed them, to the care of the Glauxian Sisters on Elsemere Island; visit the Glauxian brothers, where they will study war strategy and replace the Fleckasia book destroyed by Dewlap; find a snake names Hoke of Hock and convince him to rally the Kielians to their cause; recruit more allies from among the Frost Beaks and Glauxspeed artillary on the Firth of Fangs; and finally, receive the ice weapons and training available only in the Northern Kingdom. The journey is dangerous and the timing difficult, since the clock is ticking toward winter's arrival and the Pure Ones' are fortifying their position in advance of the Ga'Hoolian invasion. Kraals, turnfeathers, katabatic winds, and painful separation all lead up to the thrilling conclusion, as the Ga'Hoolians seek to capture St. Aggie's from the Pure Ones.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You didn't understand half the words in the previous paragraph.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book 5: The Shattering

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

First line: It was the same.

Why you should read this book: The battle between good and evil takes a cerebral turn, waged in this book in the mind of young Eglantine, as she becomes a pawn of the Pure Ones, the integrity of her brain and gizzard shattered by the power of flecks. While Otulissa furiously plans an offensive attack that the older owls will never sanction, a new owl, Ginger, poisons Eglantine's mind until she can't tell the difference between dreams and reality, and inadvertently begins supplying information to the enemy. Can Eglantine recover the fragments of her mind in time to save herself and her friend Primrose from a horrible fate?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a treacherous traitor and you're just starting to feel a little bad about it.

Make a Wish, Molly

Written by: Barbara Cohen

First line: I didn't know about birthdays.

Why you should read this book: The sequel to Molly's Pilgrim, this picture book follows Molly, a Russian-Jewish immigrant to America, as she continues to learn about American traditions, overt racism, and the importance of embracing ones own identity. Molly's friend Emma is having a birthday party, and Molly is dying to taste the beautiful pink bakery cake, but Emma's birthday is during the week of Passover, and it's forbidden for Molly to eat foods made with flour and leavening. To make matters worse, Emma's other friend, Elizabeth, never hesitates to point out that Molly's Jewish immigrant ways are weird and stupid and need to be openly mocked.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're on a diet.

The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories

Written by: E. M. Forster

First line: Eustace's career--if career it can be called--certainly dates from that afternoon in the chestnut woods above Ravello.

Why you should read this book: These romantic ("romantic" as it applies to Nathanial Hawthorne, not a Harlequin novel) short stories, written approximately a century ago, glorify the Dionysian freedom of unspoiled nature, as experienced by the Apollonian Englishman. In three of the six stories, the awesome power of nature's mystic majesty (typified, in some cases, by the little goat-legged god) transforms a thoughtless fellow into one brimming over with joy, while a fourth story shows how a pristine patch of woods provides an already unusual woman (Irish and unpolished) with an escape from the stiff and dreadful Britishness being thrust upon her. In the eponymous tale, "The Celestial Omnibus" transports a small child to innocent and epic delight, while casting a pompous and disbelieving academic to his doom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear nature.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mister Wonderful: A Love Story

Written by: Daniel Clowes

First line: 6:09 p.m. Nine minutes late.

Why you should read this book: Marshall is, in his own mind, an abject failure: divorced, broke, and middle aged, he sits in a cafe among younger, more vivacious people, waiting for a blind date who, he expects, will be horrible (if she even shows up at all) but, when Natalie arrives, blonde, unblemished, and unashamed, he falls for her in an instant. This short graphic novel details their night together, highlighting Marshall's negative self-talk as he worries about impressing her and fantasizes about spending the rest of their lives together, and adds depth to a character who may appear dull and mousy on the surface, but harbors deep passions and anger. The night stretches out, giving Marshall room to expand and allowing the relationship between two imperfect but not undeserving people to blossom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're having a whirlwind weekend with a drug-addicted prostitute.

Beauty & the Beast: A Pop-Up Book of the Classic Fairy Tale

Written by: Robert Sabuda

First line: There once lived a rich and kind merchant who had six children: three boys and three girls.

Why you should read this book: This insanely impressive pop-up book was clearly a labor of love, with enormous and elaborate three-dimensional illustrations, numerous smaller pop-up pages on each of the big pages, and surprising motion for paper cut-outs: we literally see actions such as Beauty turning the corner as she explores Beast's castle, the magic mirror revealing the scene back home, and the Beast's miraculous transformation. The story recounted is the traditional tale, unblemished by any attempt to update or add a modern message to the text, and balances nicely with the intricacy of the visual aspects of this book. Children will be fascinated by the stunning detail and wish to linger and explore every pop-up.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Children will be fascinated by the stunning details and wish to linger and explore every pop-up, but that doesn't mean that children should be allowed to touch this book, which probably wouldn't last five minutes in the hands of the average inquisitive child.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Written by: Tom Angleberger

First line: The big question: Is origami Yoda real?

Why you should read this book: Tommy and his friends might not be the coolest kids in middle school, but they're working on at least trying to look cool, unlike Dwight, who picks his nose, wears the same shirt for a month, and has lately taken to wearing an origami puppet of Jedi Master Yoda on his finger, through which mouthpiece he offers the wisdom of the ages in a bad approximation of a Yoga voice. The thing is, even though Dwight is a lost cause, Origami Yoda has some brilliant things to say on the subject of boy/girl interaction, repairing the mistakes of the past, and why modern kids should learn the hottest dance craze of the 1960s. Tommy, confused as to whether he should accept Origami Yoga's advice, compiles firsthand accounts from the kids in his class detailing the results of their interaction with Origami Yoda, and tries to analyze them scientifically.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No patience for the shenanigans of Asperger's kids.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Under a Lucky Star

Written by: Roy Chapman Andrews

First line: Often I have had to sit on a lecture platform when I was going to speak, and listen to a long introduction.

Why you should read this book: Roy Chapman Andrews, often cited as the real-life inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones, was a lifelong adventure junkie who channeled his love of the outdoors and overall affability into a career as a world explorer who increased the world's knowledge base, particularly in the areas of cetology, Asian biology, and paleontology. Dodging bullets, combating seasickness and dangerous weather, navigating the intricacies of New York society and Chinese bureaucracy with cool competence, he planned and executed expeditions to travel where no white man had ever set food, bringing back the treasures of the natural world for his beloved American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he paused just long enough to write down his findings and raise funds for his next trek into the unknown. His descriptions of the animals he stalks, the people he encounters, and the ways he narrowly escapes death, time and again, make for an enchanting story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Andrews was a man of his time, writing in the midst of World War II, which means that he has some decidedly racist things to say about the Japanese people, and also that his method of scientific investigation involves shooting thousands and thousands of animals, including endangered and cuddly ones, and that sometimes he just shoots things for fun.