Monday, March 31, 2014

Words of Stone

Written by: Kevin Henkes

First line: Blaze Werla buried Ortman before breakfast.

Why you should read this book: Blaze lives every day with his life's two large tragedies--the death of his mother when he was five, and the fire that scarred his ankles a year later as he attempted to honor his mother's life--and with a host of small tragedies that keep him fearful and set apart from the rest of the world. Joselle Stark's tragedy is that her selfish mother isn't quite all there, and she copes with her own anxieties with a list of lies too long for her to even keep track of. It's a friendship born of pain, and depending on Blaze's ability to trust and Joselle's to start telling the truth, it might be something even more solid.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate it that your dad is dating again.


Written by: Lois Lowry

First line: Matty was impatient to have the supper preparations over and done with.

Why you should read this book: Matty, the incorrigible scamp from Gathering Blue, is a little bit older and perhaps a very little bit wiser, living with Seer, his friend Kira's blind old father, in Village, a special town in their angry, violent world, where everyone helps everyone else and everyone is accepted. Except things are changing in Village, and now the kindest of people have become greedy and selfish, and Forest is getting more and more dangerous, and everything is about to change for the worse. Matty, one of the few people who can pass through Forest without fear, is the messenger who must tell the world about the impending changes, but Matty has a secret in a place where secrets aren't supposed to be kept, and he's not sure how it will affect his work or anything that comes after.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe in closed borders, every man for himself, and games of chance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Circus Shoes

Written by: Noel Streatfeild

First line: Peter and Santa were orphans.

Why you should read this book: It's not their fault that they are complete idiots and ridiculously snobby: Peter and Santa were raised to idiocy by their stupid, high-toned aunt, who most likely did them a favor by dying before they reached adolescence. Terrified at the thought of being sent to separate orphanages, the two children run away to find their uncle, a talented "artiste," which is to say, he performs in the circus. Thrown into an alien world where none of their prejudices make sense and none of their education comes into play, Peter and Santa must determine who they want to be, what they want to do with their lives, and how hard they're willing to work to achieve their goals.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You absolutely believe that your children are too good to talk to other people. Or go to school. Or basically do anything.

Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move

Written by: Judith Viorst

First line: They can't make me pack my baseball mitten or my I LOVE DINOSAURS sweatshirt or my cowboy boots.

Why you should read this book: Alexander doesn't care that his father's new job and his family's new home are a thousand miles away; he's already decided he's not going to move. His brother can insult him and call him immature; his parents can insist that he say goodbye to everyone and everything he's ever loved, but he's not going to move. One of children's literature's favorite overly dramatic boys isn't going to like what he has to do, but he is going to let the world know how he feels.

Why you shouldn't read this book: They said you better pack up your stuff because you're going to move.

Movie Shoes

Written by: Noel Streatfeild

First line: It was the first week of the autumn term.

Why you should read this book: One of the most complex of the author’s popular Shoes book, this is the story of three British kids who find themselves relocated to sunny southern California at the most inconvenient time, so that the family can stay together while their father recovers his mental health. Rachel and Tim are both talented young artists forced to give up amazing professional opportunities in order to make the journey, while Jane is the peevish and untalented middle child torn away from her beloved dog. In California, all the kids find new opportunities, but it is plain, unpleasant Jane who takes the greatest risks, learns the most, and makes the most personal progress.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Seriously, though, you don't have any talent whatsoever, and your siblings do. 

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

 Written by: Karen Cushman

First line: “Ye toads and vipers,” the girl said, as her granny often had, “ye toads and vipers,” and she snuffled a great snuffle that echoed in the empty room.

Why you should read this book: Crippled from birth and unable to walk without the aid of crutches, Meggy Swann has been called away from the village where she’s always lived and a cold, unloving mother who doesn’t want her, and relocated to the filthy chaos of Elizabethan London to help a cold, unloving father who, as it turns out, doesn’t want her either. Despite being treated as a monster by many in her new home, Meggy channels her anger, makes a few friends, and learns to become a productive member of her new society. Whether or not her father appreciates her abilities, Meggy knows that she can do some things, and she learned that she can do other things she always felt were beyond her ability.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Still desperately seeking the love of an absentee parent.

My Name is Seepeetza

Written by: Shirley Sterling

First line: Today my teacher Mr. Oiko taught us how to write journals.

Why you should read this book: Based on her own experiences as an Indian child forced to attend a residential school in Canada in the 1950s, this book is by turns eye-opening and heart-breaking. The trend toward assimilation, enforced by law, deprives Martha Stone and the other children at the Kalamak Indian Residential School, of the knowledge of the land possessed by their ancestors, and the joy in home life they crave. Instead, they suffer the degradation of having their own culture denigrated by nuns, some of whom are kind, but many of whom are not.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You're a nun.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gathering Blue

Written by: Lois Lowry

First line: "Mother?"

Why you should read this book: The companion novel to the Newbery-winning The Giver, this is a new and different story of another gifted child in another troubled community. Kira's world is a primitive one, and as an unprotected and disabled orphan, she's at risk of being turned out and eaten by wild animals, until the Council recognizes her remarkable ability to use color and embroider fabric. Now she sees another side of her post-apocalyptic world, and must decide what to believe: the ones who control information, or what her own experience has showed her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If the government is lying to you, you're sure it's for a good reason, and you would never question those lies.

Eleanor and Park

Written by: Rainbow Rowell

First line: He'd stopped trying to bring her back.

Why you should read this book: Although it's set in 1986, this recent popular YA novel presents a modern view of young love, one in which the characters are faced with very real obstacles, not only to their relationship, but to their very existence. Park doesn't want to love Eleanor, who is big and unpopular and weird, but he can't help adoring everything about her. Eleanor doesn't want to love Park, who is perfect in her eyes, so perfect that he can never know the truth about her horrible home life, and her horrible stepfather, or anything that happens outside of the little world that begins and ends with the two of them sitting together on the school bus.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe teenagers can experience true emotions, and you certainly don't think it's OK for them to touch each other.

Travel Light

Written by: Naomi Mitchison

First line: It is said that when the new Queen saw the old Queen's baby daughter, she told the King that the brat must be got rid of at once.

Why you should read this book: Halla is rescued from certain death by a Finmarkian nursemaid (Finmarkians have a tendency to turn into animals from time to time) and raised as a bear, but her inability to hibernate makes her unsuited to ursine existence, and eventually she is adopted by the dragons, who fireproof her, and teach her magic, and hope that one day she will become a mighty dragon with the power to kill heroes. In fact, dragons are losing the war against the humans, and when Halla's beloved dragon father is killed in the conflict, she is fortunate to come under the aegis of Odin All-Father, who suggests that a dragon's hoard is too great a burden for her to carry, and that she should instead, "travel light." A small volume packs tightly with big ideas, this is a perfect fantasy novel.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I would ask where it's been my whole life, but I suspect that conflict between Norse mythology and Byzantine Christianity (Christianity is clearly the bad guy here, a religion where even the most devout believers are oppressed by the Church) may have prevented this book from achieving the kind of popularity that the Hobbit still enjoys, although I would argue that it's a very similar kind of book.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice

Written by: James Branch Cabell

First line: It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, saying: In the old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that.

Why you should read this book: In this extremely irreverent allegory, a middle aged pawnbroker/poet/philosopher with a shrewish wife has a little sympathy for the devil and the devil kindly repays him by removing his greatest burden, which doesn't much trouble Jurgen until his in-laws forcibly suggest that the manly thing to do would be to get his wife back. Over the course of a year, Jurgen, now clad in a centaur's magical shirt and wearing the comely body of his twenty-one-year-old self, bounces around a mythical landscape seducing various women but never finding anything like whatever it is he's looking for, probably because he's not himself certain what it is he needs. Across Greek and Arthurian legend, through heaven and hell, and in the company of all sorts of gods and goddesses, Jurgen deals fairly with those he meets and follows the customs of various lands without ever embracing anything until the story's end, when, finally, he comes to understand a little bit about life, love, beauty, and destiny.

 Why you shouldn't read this book: It's all about sex, except there's no actual sex in it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Trickster's Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity

Written by: Nick Bantock

First line: If you want a shortcut to originality...this isn't the book for you.

Why you should read this book: It's not about reading as much as it is about action: making a serious effort at cultivating playfulness and beginner's mind in artistic endeavor, no matter where your ability lies. The book comprises forty-nine exercises employing various media--paint, pencil, collage, words, and so on--which, when used as a roadmap, may take the reader on a journey into new lands. I tackled all forty-nine activities with varying degrees of interest and varying degrees of pleasure in their outcome, and it feels like I've been somewhere, and have a number of wonderful souvenirs to show for the trek.

Why you shouldn't read this book: To me, Bantock can be a little precious at times, although I did not let that interfere with my enjoyment of the book. Keep in mind that, unless your rainy day craft box is very well stocked, you may end up spending more money on supplies than you do on this book.