Friday, February 28, 2014

Tess's Tree

Written by: Jess M. Brallier

First line: This is Tess.

Why you should read this book: It's a delightful story about a little girl whose favorite old tree is cut down to preemptively prevent it from falling on someone. Heartbroken, Tess decides the only way to assuage her grief is to plan a memorial for her tree, and invite everyone to attend. Although she cries at her teacher's recitation of a Robert Louis Stevenson poem in the tree's honor, she's delighted and surprised to learn that others have loved her tree, including a middle age couple who long ago carved their initials in its bark, and an old lady who climbed Tess's tree more than seventy years earlier.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a suburban developer.

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike

Written by: Chris Raschka

First line: Want to learn to ride a bicycle?

Why you should read this book: This straightforward, high interest book provides a realistic overview of the steps small children take in mastering the two-wheel bike. With Raschka's clean cut prose and soft, colorful, child-like drawings, it creates a realistic picture that may help eliminate fear in young riders. Kids fall off bikes when they lose their training wheels, but they get back on again, and when they've finally learned the freedom of riding a bike, it's all worth it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to learn to ride a bicycle.

Let's Take Over the Kindergarten

Written by: Richard Hamilton

First line: Miss Tuck got stuck in the jungle gym.

Why you should read this book: While their teacher is unfortunately trapped in a piece of indoor climbing equipment, a group of rambunctious five-year-olds decide to engage in a series of forbidden behaviors involving glue, water, paint, and rudeness, until they inevitably end up hurt and unhappy enough to work together and extricate Miss Tuck from the jungle gym. The story is told in hasty and inelegant rhyme that mimics that chaotic mindset of the characters, and possibly the readers. A story with great appeal to kindergarteners, who will enjoy being scandalized by the bad choices made in this story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a kindergarten teacher, and you're prone to nightmares.

My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life

Written by: Kate Feiffer

First line: This is my mom.

Why you should read this book: It's a picture book, but it definitely speaks to the young tween: children old enough to actually be embarrassed by their parents. The little girl narrator admits that her mom is generally nice, but determines that certain habits (kissing her in public, prohibiting junk food) are deliberate attempts to ruin her life, and decides that her only option is to run away on her bike and get both of her parents arrested for ruining her life (her father also has some unfortunately habits, like making her do her homework and go to bed on time). Of course, contemplating life without parents becomes a little scary for the young protagonist, who eventually realizes that an orphan's life would be much, much worse.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're unhappily ensconced in the foster care system.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Contract with God Trilogy

Written by: Will Eisner

First line: All day the rain poured down on the Bronx without mercy.

Why you should read this book: Among the most prolific of the old school cartoonists, Eisner wrote this massive, three-volume work, one of the first-ever graphic novels, in his retirement, as a way to cope with the grief he suffered when his teenage daughter passed away. There are many stories here, all tied together by place: the ever-transitional immigrant neighborhood of Dropsie Avenue, peopled with a constantly changing cast of tenement dwellers, all looking for a way up. This is a genius work, filled with heartbreak and triumph, confusion and certainty, and all the stories of a hundred years, written with an expert ear for dialog and illustrated by a delightful pen.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You detest the cultural other, which is definitely defiling your way of life.

Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Written by: Judy Blume

First line: Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb?

Why you should read this book: When his sister-in-law gets unexpectedly pregnant and his father takes a leap of faith to earn more money for the family, Tony finds his entire life uprooted. He's no longer the son of a blue collar electrician but of a fabulously wealthy inventor, and he has to leave behind the life he loves in Jersey City and move to the alien upper class world of Rosemont. Money changes everyone, he feels, and like a less rebellious Holden Caulfield, he's now surrounded by phonies, constantly questioning his own, and his family's actions.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Shoplifting, voyeurism, class issues.


Written by: Judy Blume

First line: My mother named me Deenie because right before I was born she saw a movie about a beautiful girl named Wilmadeene, who everybody called Deenie for short.

Why you should read this book: Another teenage novel that still scans perfectly after forty years on the shelf, it's the story of a seventh grade girl with a beautiful face and an unrealistic mother who is obsessed with her face and determined that Deenie's destiny is in modeling. Through this device, the story's real center is revealed: Deenie can't model as a teen because scoliosis is affecting her posture, and instead, she is doomed to spend the next four years in a rigid and obvious back brace, which, she is certain, makes her look like a complete freak. Deenie, and her mother, and her friends, and the eight grade boy who wants to make out with her, all have to learn to deal with the temporary inconvenience of the brace, and the permanent emergence of Deenie as a young woman who must choose to think for herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This book has been the focus of multiple censorship challenges due to its frank discussion of female masturbation, including that assertion that "It's normal and harmless to masturbate." Which it is. But some people have a strange idea that it's not, and those people, who doubtless live grim and cheerless lives, may have trouble digesting the rest of the story.


Written by: Margeurite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

First line: 1978 was the year that Ivory Coast, my beautiful country, got to see it first television ad campaign.

Why you should read this book: Aya, the titular character (although not necessarily the main one: she introduces the story and observes the behavior of others without being affected by it too often) is a sensible girl who forgoes partying in favor of studying, dreams of becoming a doctor, and whose primary interaction with boys involves finding ways to escape street harassment. Her two best friends, Bintou and Adjoua love but don't understand her: Bintou cares for nothing but going out dancing, and Adjoua, whose motivations don't become clear until the end of the story, is primarily concerned with marrying well. This is a true YA work, one which speaks to the going concerns of a wide range of adolescents, but it's also a sort of a mystery (in the sense the Jane Austen's Emma is a mystery until you unravel who did what, where, with whom), which keeps the pace lively and the reader moving forward.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't have time for literature; you're studying for the MCATS.