Saturday, February 28, 2015

All Those Secrets of the World

Written by: Jane Yolen

First line: In this seemingly biographical story, a little girl watches her father go off to fight World War II, learns a lesson about perspective, and then welcomes her wounded father home again after two years apart. It's a small drama tailored for young minds, full of family relationships and a child's-eye view of the world, with a happy ending. A good choice for readers dealing with separation issues.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The kids are handling your spouse's deployment better than you are.

Rainy's Powwow

Written by: Linda Theresa Raczek

First line: The Thunderbird Powwow was about to begin.

Why you should read this book: This story offers a picture of a beautiful cultural practice while simultaneously telling a universally accessible story about a little girl unsure about how she fits in to her culture at large. Rainy and her brother are watching the dancers, and Rainy is acutely aware that her little brother is so young that he can dance however he wants, and their friend Grandmother White Hair's dancing days are past, but that she, Rainy, is old enough to choose a dance. Lacking relatives who could help her learn her dance and induct her into society, she talks to the other dancers and then seeks solace in the woods before finally figuring out where she belongs.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't know what it's like to have a club want you for a member.

Owl Moon

Written by: Jane Yolen

First line: It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, what Pa and I went owling.

Why you should read this book: A little girl recounts her experience of going out with her father to look for owls for the first time. She knows she must be quiet, and brave, and inured to the cold, and that, even then, there might not be an owl, but her excitement at being taken on this adventure by her father is enough to give her strength, and, of course, in the end, there is a beautiful owl to look at "For one minute, three minutes, maybe even a hundred minutes." Written in delicious prose just as cool and pure as the snow that covers this Caldecott-winning book, it's a good choice for reading aloud.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your kids are already bringing home wild animals they find everywhere and you're running out of space.

Poison: Sinister Species with Deadly Consequences

Written by: Mark Siddall

First line: We tend to think that our world is, on the whole, a safe place.

Why you should read this book: A lot of great things come out of the American Museum of Natural History, and this light-hearted and somewhat tongue-in-cheek catalog of poisonous creatures, comprising many anecdotes the author researched for, but was not able to include in a museum exhibit on the Power of Poison, is one. Although there is a great deal of chemistry and biology laid out here, by and large it's a wholly accessible work for those without scientific backgrounds, divvied up amusingly into 4 parts: "Things One Shouldn't Touch," "Things One Shouldn't Eat," "Things That Bite," and "Things That Sting," with jokes and commentary enlivening the death and agony that runs through the narrative. Includes a glossary of scientific terms and dozens of sketches of various creatures to avoid eating, touching, and being bitten or stung by.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Many deadly poisonous creatures.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Written by: Milly Lee

First line: On his twelfth birthday, Sun's parents gave him an American fountain pen.

Why you should read this book: In the early 20th century, racist immigration laws sought to stem the flow of Chinese workers into the US, and young men who were allowed in to help their fathers in business were subjected to rigorous testing to ensure that they were who they said their were. When Sun is old enough to accompany his father to Gold Mountain, he must memorize salient details about his home and family to prove his legal standing, and he worries about mixing up his cardinal directions or forgetting how far it is from his house to his school. This historical text shows the details of a Pacific crossing and the reality of detention at Angel Island, as told to the author by her father-in-law, who lived through it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Patrolling the Mexican border.

How the Second Grade Got $8,205.50 to Visit the Statue of Liberty

Written by: Nathan Zimelman

First line: The second grade collected two tons of all kind of paper for which we were paid thirty dollars by Mr. Abner Carmody, recycler of everything.

Why you should read this book: With a quiet hilarity, it recounts the increasingly unsuccessful efforts of a bunch of seven-year-olds to raise enough money for a social studies class trip, detailing the money they make, the expenses required to earn that money, and the trail of destruction they leave in their wake. Cats will be doused in lemonade, diets will be ruined, and even the principal's car will not remain safe from the well-intentioned antics of these young entrepreneurs. In the end, of course they'll get to go see the Statue of Liberty, and while there are surprises along the way, adult readers will most likely not be shocked to learn where the class trip money ultimately comes from.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're too busy buying overpriced wrapping paper/cookie dough/candy bars to finance your local PTA.

Sleeping Ugly

Written by: Jane Yolen

First line: Princess Miserella was a beautiful princess if you counted her eyes and her mouth and all the way down to her toes.

Why you should read this book: Very, very few offerings in the easy reader category actually tell worthy stories, but Yolen, a talented writer in multiple genres, succeeds in crafting an intelligent and entertaining fractured fairy tale. Miseralla, lovely to behold, possesses an ugly personality, while Plain Jane is kindness itself. Their encounter with a disguised fairy, three wishes, and a handsome prince offers enough twists to keep even jaded readers interested.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're uneasy with the idea of forcing other people to fall in love with you.

My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs

Retold by: Matthue Roth

First line: "I don't know!" I cried without being heard.

Why you should read this book: I was considering buying this as a present for a variety of small children with hip parents I happen to know, but after reading these tender retellings of favorite stories, I am not convinced that even watered-down Kafka is something I want to give to children I love who still have half a chance of growing up sane. There is a certain softening of the hardest edges; for example in "The Metamorphosis," Gregor's family does not explicitly wish to be rid of him and his death is not explicitly stated, but there's not much comfort in the implications, either. The book is an amusing curio, but most likely not appropriate for bedtime reading.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a happy child.


Written by: Kazu Kibuishi

First line: Hello.

Why you should read this book: There's something really special about these comics featuring a generally optimistic boy and his generally pessimistic dog living in a magical world that apparently exists on the border between Hawaii and the Dreamlands. Monsters, robots, surfing, melon bread, mountain climbing, sentient mushrooms, and friendly store clerks all coexist in Copper's universe, one in which the journey is more important than the destination and love is a living legend that peeks out at our heroes when their backs are turned. Beautiful scenery pairs with adorable illustrations; the book also include a little introduction to drawing comics primer in the back, showing how a page is produced start to finish.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't approve of too much creativity.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fagin the Jew

Written by: Will Eisner

First line: I was born Moses Fagin, the only son of Abraham and his wife, Rachael.

Why you should read this book: An older, wiser Eisner, toward the end of his life began to examine the racist stereotypes he employed during his career as a cartoonist, and sought to make amends by telling more honest stories about his own people, the Jews. In this unusual volume, he imagines a backstory for the villain Fagin in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, one that recognizes the difficulties of life in Dickensian England and the paucity of opportunities for most Jews. Fagin learns crime as a child because there is no other way to survive, and even when he tries to become an upstanding citizen, a single incident sends an otherwise kind, loving, and hardworking man into a life of constant wrongdoing, for lack of any other options in survival.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never read Oliver Twist

Ghost World

Written by: Daniel Clowes

First line: Why do you have this?

Why you should read this book: In the year after high school graduation, best friends Enid and Rebecca drift through their typical small town criticizing everything they see, denigrating the people who seem to appreciate them and chasing after the weirdest individuals they can find. Enid, who thinks she's the less pretty one of the pair, tries to figure out who she really is by changing her personal style on a regular basis; Rebecca, who thinks everyone likes her friend more, worries that Enid will ditch her for college. As Enid's quest become more distinct, what seems like an unbreakable bond with Rebecca begins to fade, and Enid starts to realize that her fate is not to spend the rest of her life putting down small town characters, but to start clean with the understanding that she doesn't, in fact, know everything.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're 15 you might think that being super-derogatory makes you cool. But it doesn't.

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works

Written by: Jane Austen

First line: The Uncle of Elfrida was the Father of Frederic; in other words, they were first cousins by the Father's side.

Why you should read this book: You should only read this book if you love-Love-LOVE Jane Austen. The stories here comprise early works, including juvenilia, and a number of rambling/incomplete novels and novellas, which showcase the young Austen's shrewd eye and wit, along with her sense of ridiculousness when she turns that eye and wit toward her society. If you're already familiar with Austen, then you may find this book funny or interesting, but these are "minor works" for a reason.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't love-Love-LOVE Jane Austen.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders

Written by: Charlaine Harris

First line: I'm pretty sure I died.

Why you should read this book: On the one hand, pretty much every detail in this book (main character with amnesia, dark secrets; kid living in cemetery, able to see ghosts; teenagers dabbling in the dark arts, a ghost in search of justice, a cell phone with all the evidence on it) has been done before, but on the other, it's a decently satisfying story that seems to stake its own territory. Calexa Rose Dunhill isn't her real name, but she's happy to use a pseudonym while she figures out which close family or friend tried to kill her and leave her for dead on a dark and stormy night. Living in a crypt and spying in the darkness like a little ghost, she doesn't get much closer to solving her own mystery, but she does end up uniquely situated to solve someone else's.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're sure your reanimation spells will work if you just kill enough people. Or, you're just looking for something a little more original.


Written by: E. L. Konigsburg

First line: Only two people knew that George was probably the funniest little man in the whole world and that he used foul language.

Why you should read this book: A small story about big ideas written by an award-winning author, this book recounts the sixth grade year of Ben Carr, a gifted science student who possesses an unknown academic advantage: a little man named George who lives inside him, makes hilarious jokes, and helps Ben remember all the hard words in chemistry. Ben, George, and their oppositional defiant little brother Howard have always been close, but this year, Ben's obsession with being liked and his admiration for the polished senior who used to be his lab partner has driven a wedge between Ben and his useful inner voice. If Ben can't figure out what really bothers George about William's behavior, he might lost his best friend forever.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You took a couple psychology classes in college and now you're an expert who diagnoses other people's children with serious psychiatric disorders after a couple hours of observation.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

Written by: Suki Kim

First line: Time there seemed to pass differently.

Why you should read this book: I know I'm not the only American fascinated, bewildered, and curious about life in North Korea, as evidenced by the number of months I had to wait for this library reserve, and it did not disappoint in terms of sheer, mind-blowing insanity, and its descriptions of a world that is hardly imaginable. Suki Kim, born in South Korea, immigrated to America at age 13, and was also curious about the closed country where some of her relatives had disappeared before she was born, so she disguised herself as a Christian missionary among a group of Christian missionaries disguised as teachers, and spent two semesters living in a virtual prison while gathering intelligence about the most closed country on the planet. I devoured this fascinating narrative in a few hours and highly recommend it to anyone with the least interest in North Korea, oppressive regimes, the meaning of freedom, human rights, or brainwashing an entire country.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a Christian missionary disguised as a teacher for the purpose of maintaining a presence in North Korea in case the country should ever open up enough to enable you to proselytize there.

Max's Bunny Business

Written by: Rosemary Wells

First line: The telephone rang.

Why you should read this book: Another story in the popular series about a sloppy, mute toddler rabbit with an annoyingly bossy sister, this book features Ruby and her friend Louise conniving to earn money to purchase trendy costume jewelry and, as usual, not letting Max participate. Once again, Max gets the jump on his older sister and runs a more successful business by appealing to a particularly generous donor. A bit of fluffy fun for little ones.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Struggling to run your own start up and don't have a well-heeled grandma to bail you out of your poorly conceived business plan.

No Roses for Harry!

Written by: Gene Zion

First line: Harry was a white dog with black spots.

Why you should read this book: Who can't relate to Harry's dilemma: a beloved relative has sent him a comfortable but offensively ugly piece of clothing, and the little dog does everything in his power to deliberately lose this horrible, handmade sweater. Eventually he succeeds in ditching his unwanted outfit, only to experience a vast sense of shame when Grandma comes to visit. Fortunately, Harry knows that his awful sweater has been repurposed, and can show Grandma what a great job he's done at upcycling.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't understand why your grandchildren never wear the adorable tops you knit for them with love.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Written by: William Steig

First line: Sylvester Duncan lived with his mother and father at Acorn Road in Oatsdale.

Why you should read this book: Like many of Steig's stories, there is something remarkably enduring about this tale of a little donkey who makes a bad decision in a moment of utter terror, and it is just as accessible to little kids as it was when it was first published in 1969. Young readers shudder along with Sylvester when he encounters a lion, mourn with him when he finds himself transformed into a mute boulder, and rejoice when his parents' love restores him to his rightful form. A terrific tale for families, and a great read-aloud bedtime story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Trigger warning for missing children.