Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Review

Yes, 6 hours to midnight on New Year's Eve is an ideal time to publish my 10th (TENTH!) annual year in review at Dragon's Library. Apparently I just missed my 100-book quota (barely) I'm a bit disappointed in my own habits. I reviewed a lot of picture books (and I read even more, but I don't write new reviews when I reread books) but apparently I devoted far more time to reading junk on the internet than reading novels and adult non-fiction. I'm halfway through a book by Desmond Tutu right now but it will have to get counted among the first books of 2017.

Technically, I am now a contributer at Book Riot, but I'm afraid if I can't be a real reader in the coming year, they might toss me out. I haven't read enough to participate in the discussion lately.

For what it's worth, here it is:

Dragon's Year in Review, 2016

Picture books: 57
Middle grade/YA novels:10
Nonfiction: 3
Adult fiction: 7
Graphic novels: 19
Short story collections: 1
Memoir: 1
Poetry: 1

Total: 99

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Written by: Bruce Timm, JM DeMatteis, and Thony Silas

First line: The dream. How many nights did my brother wake up...confused and disoriented..feeling death all around him.

Why you should read this book: It's a prequel to an alternate-universe direct-to-DVD DC movie I didn't see, but it's still a surprisingly good read. In this world, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Women exist, but not as the characters we know: Superman, raised by Mexican harvesters, develops a sense of anger toward and disdain for humanity; Batman is not wealthy, but he is a vampire who usually kills his underworld victims, and Wonder Woman hails from the tackiest place in the DC Universe, New Genesis, and gets caught up with a bunch of dirty hippies. They all get caught up in a crazy scheme perpetrated by a crazy dude intent on turning the ultra-rich into meta-humans, and even when they narrowly avoid becoming completely evil, they're still ripe for some schooling from the real Justice League.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Lots of moral issues for a one-off comic book.

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read

Written by: Curtis Manley and Kate Berube

First line: Nick had two cats, Verne and Stevenson.

Why you should read this book: Despite what you probably think, Nick really does teach the cats to read. Irritated that his pets don't enjoy books, Nick sets out to achieve the impossible, easily teaching one cat to read, and then gradually working out the reasons for the second cat's antipathy and crafting a strategy to bring the joy of reading to even the most reluctant cat. The story ends with Nick's decision that he should teach his cats to talk.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think dogs are smarter.

Andrew Henry's Meadow

Written by: Doris Burn

First line: Until that spring, Andrew Henry Thatcher lived with his family in the town of Stubbsville.

Why you should read this book: From an era in which most children's books were still terribly boring and offered little in the way of inspiration for the child mind comes this reprinted tale of a boy who liked to build things, much to the dismay of his unappreciative family. So Andrew Henry runs away and builds his own house, and then, as words spreads, eight more houses for other children whose parents don't appreciate their passions and gifts. Since it was written in 1965 and not 2015, the adventure ends after four days, sufficient time for the parents and families to realize how much they actually appreciate their children and their talent and interests.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You expect your pre-adolescent child get a lot farther than the meadow using their technology and skill set.

My Friend Maya Loves to Dance

Written by: Cheryl Willis Hudson and Eric Velasquez

First line: My friend Maya loves to dance.

Why you should read this book: This book highlights some various types of dancing enjoyed by little girls, and shows their delight in the music and the movement. However, it seems to have a more urgent mission: first to showcase a company of black ballerinas, and second to show that the narrator, Maya's non-dancing friend, can enjoy her friend's freedom of movement despite being, herself, confined to a wheelchair. A sweet little read, particularly for young dancers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You desperately wish you could walk.

A Child of Books

Written by: Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

First line: I am a child of books.

Why you should read this book: In a short, experimental children's book, a little girl reminds her new friend, and her readers, that books offer transport, through the imagination, to anywhere in this world, or any other. Many of the images--mountain, oceans, monsters--are created from words, and not just any words, but the text of favorite books like Alice in Wonderland  and Grimm's Fairy Tales. A fun read for thoughtful kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't trust a bridge of words to hold your weight.

Pirates and Princesses

Written by: Jill Kargman, Sadie Kargman, and Christine Davenier

First line: Ivy and Fletch had known each other their entire lives.

Why you should read this book: A fine offering in the genre of not putting up with other people's gender stereotypes when those stereotypes dictate how to act and who to talk to. Ivy and Fletch, friends since utero, have also been close, and always played well together, until kindergarten socialization forces them to declare alliances: boys are pirates and girls are princesses. Of course, Ivy is unhappy, and Fletch recognizes that a lifelong friendship trumps artificial gender divisions, and together, the two friends reunite kindergarten in a non-gender-specific play space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You freak out when your kids don't use the swing set "correctly."

Smile If You're Human

Written by: Neal Layton

First line: Here we are landing at a place I've wanted to visit my whole life.

Why you should read this book: A little alien, armed with a camera and a grin, lands on earth, determined to photograph its favorite earth creature: the elusive human. Apparent to the reader, but not the narrator, is the fact that the aliens have landed at a zoo, one that is mysterious free of human contamination. However, the alien delights in meeting the natives and goes home satisfied.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't smile.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Written by: Willa Cather

First line: One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America  were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.

Why you should read this book: Gorgeously written, evocative of time and place, a fictionalized version of the true story of an extraordinary life: Jean Marie Latour, appointed the first bishop of New Mexico, finds himself navigating a intransigent, unhelpful, and often deadly world. In a landscape unforgiving and uncivilized, where the people often hostile, Latour focuses on his mission: to bring the teachings of the Catholic church to the new world, and by and large, his determination and vision carries him through. As it does for all men, death eventually comes for the archbishop, but what he builds in his life and leaves behind him still stands.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A fierce antipathy to organized religion.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Legend of the Golden Snail

Written by: Graeme Base

First line: The Legend of the Golden Snail was Wilbur's favorite story.

Why you should read this book: From the inspired brush of perennial favorite Base comes a book that begins in a stunningly meta fashion: with a smaller inset book telling the eponymous legend and  containing and ever smaller book, written in what appears to be Latin and Hieroglyphics. Wilbur goes on a magical, fairy tale journey to achieve immortality as the captain of the Golden Snail. Along the way, he has to choose between faster pursuit of his goal, and the acts of kindness that slow heroes down but pay off in the long run.

Why you shouldn't read this book: All things will bow when you are the Grand Enchanter.

How to Draw a Dragon

Written by: Douglas Florian

First line: Drawing dragons isn't hard.

Why you should read this book: Fast paced heroic couplets guide the young reader in the ancient art of drawing dragons. It should be noted that the author advocates life drawing, and that the small artist is advised, first, to drag a dragon into the yard in order to begin. Notable for a wide variety of drawn dragons.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't understand why someone would want to draw a dragon.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave

Written by: Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier

First line: To us it is just dirt, the ground we walk on.

Why you should read this book: In inspired, poetic language, this is the true story of a slave in the American south who may very well have been the greatest potter of his era. It is also the story of making a clay pot, which may be of more interest to young readers, who may accidentally get a history lesson while reading. Despite his skill and artistry, Dave had no last name, and his legacy only survives because some of his pots, on which he write short poems and signed his name, still survive, and the book includes more historical data at the end of the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like beautiful and useful handmade objects.

Oh So Tiny Bunny

Written by: David Kirk

First line: Oh So Tiny is a very small bunny--with very big dreams.

Why you should read this book: For those looking for some adorable nonsense, here's the story of an aptly, but limitingly, named rabbit who dreams that he is giant. Adorable at any size, Oh So Tiny imagines the amazing things he could do with greater mass. Then he realizes that he cannot imagine the solution to the problems the world's largest rabbit would have.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You worry you're already too big.

The Nian Monster

Written by: Andrea Wang and Alina Chau

First line: Three days before Chinese New Year, Shanghai was alive with color and sound.

Why you should read this book: I adored this story of a very modern Chinese girl outwitting a very ancient Chinese monster that threatens to devour her and her city. I don't know why monsters in picture books always want to eat little kids, because in my experience little kids are pretty unsanitary, but little Xingling sees the danger and uses her knowledge of her culture and customs to trick the monster and banish it for another year. The illustrations are pretty and the end of the book includes some extra information on Chinese culture.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd really like to eat a child.

Samantha on a Roll

Written by: Linda Ashman and Christin Davenier

First line: No, Samantha.

Why you should read this book: When a mother is too busy to teach her daughter how to roller skate, the little girl decides she's perfectly capable of skating solo. Her outdoor adventure involves hilarious mishaps and near misses. Of course, this rollicking, rhyming book ends up with all crises averted a child possibly a little wiser.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're sure you can skate all by yourself even though you're little and you don't know how.

Welcome, Precious

Written by: Nikki Grimes and Bryn Collier

First line: Welcome, Precious.

Why you should read this book: An award-winning author and an award-winning illustrator teamed up to create this quietly beautiful bedtime book about a family's love for its newest member. A little baby is welcomed to the world with all its myriad delights, and then put to bed in preparation for another day of beauty. Soft and gracious, a perfect read out loud book for little ones.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already feeling pretty sleepy.

Real Cowboys

Written by: Kate Hoefler and Jonathan Bean

First line: Real cowboys are quiet in the morning, careful not to wake the people who live in little houses in the hollow, and up in the mountains, and at the edge of fields in the distance.

Why you should read this book: This is a high-interest story that had my room full of rowdy kindergarteners in rapt attention, quietly hanging on every word. Readers will learn about the real work that cowboys do, and the real strength and emotion it takes to do this work. They will also learn that cowboy stereotypes are just stories, and that real cowboys transcend race and gender.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already out on the open range.

Green Cat

Written by: Dayal Kaur Khalsa

First line: Tom and Lynn shared a room.

Why you should read this book: A rhyming reimagining of an old folktale, this book present a pair of squabbling siblings who feel their bedroom is too small. A large, anthropomorphic green cat appears and solves the problem by filling their room with a variety of items until the kids feel really cramped, and then removes the objects until the room seems cavernous by comparison. In fact, now it's too big.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have read this story in other, more traditional forms, and found it less delightful with every reading.

Yeti and the Bird

Written by: Nadia Shireen

First line: Deep in the forest there lived a yeti.

Why you should read this book: Due to his largeness, hairiness, and scariness, Yeti is a lonely cryptid, until the day that the bird gets lost in his forest. The bird never stops talking long enough to feel fear, so the other creatures see Yeti in a mutually friendly relationship and lose their fear of him. When the bird must move on to warmer climes, Yeti finds he is no longer along.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're searching for Bigfoot.

Spike, the Mixed-up Monster

Written by: Susan Hood and Melissa Sweet

First line: Spike was a monster.

Why you should read this book: Spike is, in fact, an axolotl, an endangered type of salamander, who may look monstrous up close, but is hardly visible from far away, being smaller than many creatures in his environment. In this book, Spike tries to be terrifying but succeeds only in delighting his neighbors with his cuteness. Then along comes a real monster, the dangerous gila monster: can Spike make himself scary enough to save his friends?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a very grouchy ladybug.

Hilda and the Black Hound

Written by: Flying Eye Books

First line: Did you hear that, Twig?

Why you should read this book: A perfect example of bringing traditional folklore into the modern era, this comic-style book ushers us into the world of Hilda, a little Norwegian girl whose mother attempts to channel her natural exuberance into scouting. While desperately trying to earn a merit badge, any merit badge, Hilda instead succeeds into involving herself in the plight of the the nisses, local house elves who are finding themselves homeless in the wake of some peculiar activity. Hilda excels at finding mischief, and at setting things right.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You once adopted a stray puppy, and your parents took it to the country.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Roller Girl

Written by: Victoria Jamieson

First line: If you really want to know, it all began in fifth grade.

Why you should read this book: When Astrid falls in love with roller derby, she's excited that she and her best friend Nicole can spend the whole summer at roller derby camp, until Nicole informs her that she's going to ballet camp instead. Now Astrid's down one friend, and to make matters worse, she realizes she doesn't know how to skate. Over a strenuous, eye-opening summer, Astrid begins to figure out who she is without Nicole, and what it means to be a friend.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get why anyone would want to go to roller derby camp or ballet camp.

John Jensen Feel Different

Written by: Henrik Hovland and Torill Kove

First line: This is John Jensen.

Why you should read this book: John Jensen doesn't understand exactly why he feels he is different, although astute young readers will note that it's because he's a crocodile living in a world of humans, although they all seem to accept him as a normal human. He tries various strategies to help him fit in without success, and end up being detrimental in the long run. Fortunately, his trip to the emergency room leads him to Dr. Field, who looks suspiciously like an elephant, but has found ways to turn his differences into advantages.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a total conformist.

The Ghosts Go Scaring

Written by: Chrissy Bozik and Patricia Storms

First line: The ghosts go scaring one by one, hurrah! hurrah!

Why you should read this book: A silly ghost counting book based on the tune, "The Ants Go Marching One by One." Kids can easily pick up the chant and will enjoy singing along. Good for Halloween read-alouds.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are extremely susceptible to earworms.

The Dangerous Alphabet

Written by: Neil Gaiman and Chris Grimly

First line: A is for Always, that's where we embark.

Why you should read this book: I don't know if it's the most gruesome alphabet book ever written, illustrated, and distributed, but it definitely takes a note from the Ghashlycrumb Tinies. Horrid and evil things happen to a pair of vaguely Victorian children as they travel through a sewer infested with monsters and cannibal pirates and the letters of the alphabet, A to Z. Just about what you'd expect from Neil Gaiman's alphabet book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Most kids can handle this sort of thing, but some grownups might be overwhelmed by the morbidity.

Thirteen O'Clock

Written by: James Stimson

First line: It was the middle of the late hours, twelve fifty-nine to be precise.

Why you should read this book: In a fairly normal house, a fairly normal baby goth has a creepy clock. When it strikes thirteen, with every toll, a variety of spooky monsters emerge and descend upon the delighted child. With rollicking verse and unearthly illustrations, it creates an appropriately spooky, but not at all scary, Halloween atmosphere.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want an appropriately spooky, but not at all scary, Halloween atmosphere.

No Such Thing

Written by: Ella Bailey

First line: One cool day in late October Georgia noticed something weird.

Why you should read this book: A skeptical little girl refuses to be scared of things that go bump in the night, rationally explaining away every spooky anomaly. What makes this book a real crowd-pleaser is the fact that Georgia's world is actually haunted. Young readers will enjoy spotting the dozens of ghosts hiding on every page, which our clever heroine never sees.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to believe.

Mrs. Mo's Monster

Written by: Paul Beavis

First line: One day there is a knock at the front door.

Why you should read this book: Newcomer monster has terrible manners but Mrs. Mo patiently corrects all his crunching, munching, and chewing. The monster learns that sometimes it's fun to be helpful. He even learns to recognize rudeness in others.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're deliberately destructive even thought you know it's not OK.

The Shortkut: A Tail of the Porkus

Written by: Rick Sardinha

First line: Idle apples are the Devil's workshop.

Why you should read this book: This mostly silent comic offers a colorful and spot-on tribute to George Herriman and his groundbreaking Krazy Kat comics while creating an entirely new world built over the familiar, insane structure of Kokonino Kounty. Sardinha's modern hero must drive a truckload of melons through flying-pig-infested territory or risk not getting paid for the job. It's hilarious.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't seen the sublime in the ridiculous.


Written by: Kurt Vonnegut

First line: The thing was: One million years ago, back in 1986 A.D., Guayaquil was the chief seaport of the little South American democracy of Ecuador, whose capital was Quito, high in the Andes Mountain.

Why you should read this book: Pure Vonnegut: a ghostly narrator points out the fatal flaws of the human race as it exists today and explains how civilization as we know it ends, along with the details of natural selection that helped out species evolve to be happier and better suited to our environment. A cast of ultimately human characters and mistakes skip along from disaster to disaster, and finally to salvation. Expect cynicism.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't understand cynicism. 

The Half Child

Written by: Kathleen Hersom

First line: It is cuckoo time in the year of our Lord 1700.

Why you should read this book: Lucy loves her weird, vivacious, troublesome little sister, even though everyone else in their village and most of her family seem to think that young Sarah is a changeling left by the fairies. When Sarah disappears, everyone encourages Lucy to forget about the girl, but Sarah never quite gives up hope. Even when she meets a boy who seems to have some idea of what might have happened to Sarah, Lucy knows that the world is magical and full of possibilities.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not exactly a happy ending, but it's not exactly and unhappy ending either.

Emily's Runaway Imagination

Written by: Beverly Clearly

First line: The things that happened to Emily Bartlett that year!

Why you should read this book: For a book written more than fifty years ago, and set about a hundred years ago, this story remains remarkably fresh and charming. Emily's natural childish enthusiasm is infectious, and her relationship with herself, her family, and the culture and technology of her world is still relatable as it ever was. I can't remember when I last laughed at a scene in a book as I did when, in her efforts to follow instructions, she inadvertently gets her father's pigs drunk.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No interest in being completely charmed by a children's book.

No Place for Me

Written by: Barthe DeClements

First line: Sitting on the deck overlooking Lake Washington, I felt the morning sun warm me into a lazy daze.

Why you should read this book: Copper's mother is in treatment for her substance abuse issues, and her stepfather needs to travel for business, so Copper is shunted off from one family to the next. She may be a little spirited, but she also can't catch a break from her own kin, until she's nearly out of options. Everyone says her Aunt Maggie is a witch, and they may be right, but Copper doesn't have any choice but to try to understand and learn to love her weird relative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have rejection issues.

Born to Read

Written by: Judy Sierra

First line: In the town of Sunny Skies/A tiny baby blinked his eyes/At dragons dancing overhead/And letters painted on his bed.

Why you should read this book: In bouncy, attractive rhyme, a young boy finds that every problem can be solved with the knowledge gleaned from books. Even in the case of traumatic and unusual emergency, in which no books list the solution, books are still the solution. Great for love of reading initiatives.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're illiterate.


Zomo the Rabbit

Written by: Gerald McDermott

First line: Zomo! Zomo the rabbit!

First line: Blessed with speed and cleverness but little sense, Zomo asks Sky God for wisdom, which he will receive if he accomplishes three impossible tasks. Using trickery he succeeds and is granted the wisdom to not do the reckless things he did in pursuit of wisdom. One of many lovely world trickster tales by this author.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You never learn. And you're slow.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

Written by: Mo Willems

First line: Once upon a time, there were three dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.

Why you should read this book: In this twisted take on an old favorite, the little girl is naughtier than ever, but the dinosaurs have eagerly set their trap. Clever kids will enjoy being surprised by the way their intention subtly changes the narrative. Fun fractured fairy tale.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You doubt a creature with a brain the size of a walnut could outsmart even a stupid kid.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fantasy Sports Volume One

Written by: Sam Bosma

First line: You…are late.

Why you should read this book: I have to admit to not really understanding anything that’s going on here: a brutish fighter and an impish magician, paired up, against their will, by the local thieves’ guild, are sent to loot some sort of ancient temple. Despite their poor attempts at partnership, Mug and Wiz manage to defeat the low-level guardians and challenge the boss, who is a magical mummy with a basketball jones. It all comes down to an epic, deadly, magical, violent, winner-take-all, one-on-one hoops shootout for a single treasure chest.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: It’s completely ridiculous.

The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw

Written by: Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey

First line: Here’s what you need to know about us—we were good and gentle creatures

Why you should read this book: Action packed and innovative, this volume introduces a society of anthropomorphic animals, some of whom are powerful magicians, concerned that the magic that holds their civilization together is fading. To this richly imagined world, they summon a mythic hero, without fur, fangs, or claws, who is nothing like what they expected. Seen through the eyes of a young dog with a front seat to all the action, Autumnlands introduces a vivid and convoluted world of shifting alliances, political machinations, war stratagems, and massive upheavals of civilization.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You can't overcome your prejudice against furries.  

Lord of Light

Written by: Roger Zelazny

First line: It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation, he returned from the golden cloud to take up once again the gauntlet of heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so.

Why you should read this book: This Hugo winner from the 1960s more or less stands the test of time, telling the story of Sam, an unassuming but determined figure who places himself in opposition to Heaven itself. In the distant future, on a distant planet, human technology has advanced to the point that some people claim for themselves not on the powers, but also the identities of gods: the gods of the Hindu pantheon, to be specific. With devices so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, they rule over their world, until Sam rises again to offer men and woman another way, and to wage war against those who would hold back progress from the masses.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: As with much of Zelazny’s work, some of his experimental writing techniques can make the story difficult to follow; characters constantly change names, bodies, and genders; scenes begin in media res with minimal identifiers to situate the reader; and a foundation in Vedic mythology is necessary to tease out Zelazny’s source from his invention, little of which is explicitly defined in the text.

To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith through Exile and Beyond

Written by: Anna Redsand

First line: I left before the church could excommunicate me.

Why you should read this book: Born to Dutch reform missionary parents and raised on the Navajo reservation, Anna Redsand was a devout follower of her family’s Christian beliefs until the day that she heard her mother condemn a lesbian couple and Redsand began to realize that her faith community would never make room for her sexuality. Thus began her own journey through forty years of exile, engagement with Judaism and Buddhism, civil rights activism and personal introspection, questioning and seeking a home that could accommodate her as a complete person. Redsand’s story, powerful and personal, offers something for all of us searching for home.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You should totally read this book, and not just because I’m personally thanked by name in the acknowledgments. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Becoming Unbecoming

Written by: Una

First line: My name is Una.

Why you should read this book: Stark, powerful, and unique, this graphic novel recreates the evolution of the author's understanding of sexual violence, beginning at the age of ten, weaving together the story of a serial killer terrorizing her region and the story of the repeated sexual assaults perpetrated upon the author by older men. While sexism and incompetence bungle the police investigation and keep the killer on the streets years after he might have been caught, Una's experience causes her community to slut-shame and ostracize her, so that her further victimization creeps into every aspect of her life. As she grows into an artist, she comes to learn the truth about sexual violence, both as it affected her own adolescence as well as it impacts the planet at large.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Trigger warning for an entire book about sexism and sexual violence.

The Case of Alan Turing: The Extraordinary and Tragic Story of the Legendary Codebreaker

Written by: Eric Liberge and Arnaude Delaland

First line: Who am I?

Why you should read this book: Framed by the knowledge of his suicide and colored with the theme of the poisoned apple, this book tells the life story of genius code breaker and computing machine inventor Alan Turing, whose work breaking the German's Enigma helped bring World War II to a close. Intelligent, unusual, and well aware of his queer identity from a young age, Turing lived by his own rules and made great leaps in technology while hiding his sexuality from Britain's draconian laws against same sex relations. This lovely book treats its subject with compassion and honesty.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always root for the Nazis. 

Batman Arkham Scarecrow

Edited by: Whitney Ellsworth et al. 

First line: Across the Batman's horizon moves a new and terrible figure--a fantastic figure of burlap and straw with a brain--cunning and distorted!

Why you should read this book: This retrospective volume collects a dozen comics spanning the past eight decades, all featuring the protagonist Scarecrow, a demented supervillain obsessed with fear. Motivated primarily by money, which he wants to buy more books and persuade others to stop picking on him, the Scarecrow is a psychology professor with, apparently, a strong background in chemistry, who uses drugs to induce fear in his victims (and, in one story, to completely eradicate their fear). Batman, the man who has mastered fear and counts it among his arsenal, defeats him again and again, in a variety of stories and styles that highlight the development of the character and medium over the years.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some of that Comic Code era storytelling is pretty castrated.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Family Secret

Written by: Anne Frank House

First line: Jeroen only has a few days left to gather up some old things for the Queen's Day flea market.

Why you should read this book: This plot-heavy piece of historical fiction uses a modern day frame and a graphic format to tell the interlinking stories of several young people's experiences in the Netherlands during World War II. Jeroen finds an old scrapbook in his grandmother's attic, and his grandmother tells him about her childhood best friend, her brothers, her own work for the resistance, and the effect the Nazi invasion had on the people of the Netherlands. Jeroen comes away with a new understanding of what Memorial Days means for people of his grandmother's generation and manages to bring unimaginable joy to the lives of two elderly women.

Why you should read this book: You haven't yet read the Diary of Anne Frank.

Dr. Oblivion's Guide to Teenage Dating Volume 1

Written by: Jeff Pina

First line: Being a single father these days isn't an easy task.

Why you should read this book: Dr. Oblivion is an evil supervillain, intent on taking over the world, because he knows that he can make it a better place for her his teenage daughter, Callie, who is not wildly enthusiastic about his work, or his plans to bioengineer a genetically perfect man for her eighteenth birthday present. Instead. Callie falls for a guy she meets at school, who just happens to have an alter-ego: he's Dr. Oblivion's newest nemesis. Dr. Oblivion finds he must toe the line between his daughter's love and his own hatred, with comical result.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're just keeping your teenage daughter locked in a closet where she can't look at handsome boys.

The Kidney Hypothetical or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days

Written by: Lisa Yee

First line: It was supposed to be the best week of my life, but then everything went terribly wrong.

Why you should read this book: On the surface, Higgs Boson Bing has a perfect life--perfect family,  perfect friends, perfect girlfriend, perfect grades, perfect college prospects--but a week before his high school graduation, he says the wrong thing, and suddenly, everything starts to unravel. Someone is obviously out to get him, and all the good fortune he thought he had begins to slip from his grasp. There's a campaign going on to ruin his life, and he needs to get to the bottom of it before his perfect future disappears, too.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't know you're actually a jerk.

Fat Angie

Written by: E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

First line: This was the beginning.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Fat Angie hasn't recovered from her big sister's decision to enlist in the Air Force, let alone her sister's public capture by the enemy shortly thereafter, or her own public freak out slash suicide attempt at a school pep rally last year, and she's definitely not prepared to deal with her second attempt at finishing the school year. The popular girls seem determined to make her reentry into society rough, and Angie doesn't even know how to feel about the beautiful newcomer, KC Romance, a girl who inexplicably wants to be friends, and maybe more, with her. Angie and KC's relationship never does run smooth, but in the end, Angie will find a path through her own disconnection and make her own way in the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't need help mourning the death of your sister.

A Separate Peace

Written by: John Knowles

First line: I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.

Why you should read this book: Like many people, I first read this book in a high school English class, but I decided to reread it after seeing it mentioned a few other places, and it really is a kind of monumental story about adolescence and war. Gene, bookish and serious, and Finny, athletic and irreverent, are roommates and best friends at a New England boarding school during World War II, but the world that seemed so knowable to Gene begins to shift as the war becomes more real to him. In the book, Gene reexamines the events of that year through an adult's eye.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a quiet and nuanced story, less about action and more about motivation, and it's full of profound sadness.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Forget Me Not

Written by: Nancy Van Laan and Stephanie Graegin

First line: I remember when Grandma was still her old sweet self, doing the things she had always done, exactly the way she had always done them.

Why you should read this book: This is a little girl's perspective on her grandmother's descent into Alzheimer's, which becomes gradually terrifying as her loved one slips further and further away from her. It's a fairly accurate portrayal, with the early memory loss being laughed off, until suddenly the situation is dire and the family must intervene. It's a good story for explaining the condition to young people and helping them understand this horrible disease, while letting them know how to best continue loving the person who is disappearing before their eyes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a book for children about Alzheimer's.

Jane, the Fox, and Me

Written by: Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

First line: There was no possibility of hiding anywhere today.

Why you should read this book: Helene is in the midst of that most middle-school of misadventures: for reasons she doesn't understand, all her former friends have cut her, so that so is completely lonely at school, where she is constantly subject to rude graffiti that makes untrue assertions about her weight. Her only respite is the novel Jane Eyre, but when the school decides to send her entire class to camp for four days, there is no escape. This fast and friendly graphic novel illustrates both the depths of despair and the heights of hope with love and accuracy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're terrified of camping.

The Thing about Luck

Written by: Cynthia Kadohata

First line: Kouun is "good luck" in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it.

Why you should this book: After nearly dying of malaria, Summer has become obsessed with mosquitoes, drenching herself in DEET whenever she steps outside and compulsively drawing and sculpting the insect whose bite caused her so much pain, but even if she can keep the bugs away, everything else in life seems beyond her control. Her unusual brother can't make any friends and her parents have to fly back to Japan, leaving the children to go harvesting with their strict grandparents. A quiet story filled with the realistic moment of a girl's development, this book is a delightful slice of life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You did die of malaria.

Indian Killer

Written by: Sherman Alexie

First line: The sheets are dirty.

Why you should read this book: A complex murder mystery with a large cast of suspects, this smart, fast-paced novel develops along a perfect timeline, bringing its characters to life, investigating the killings, and exposing the never ending experience of microaggression and unseen racism experienced by Native Americans. Throughout the novel we return again and again to the character of John Smith, a mentally ill Indian man raised by his adoptive white parents, to Marie, the angry Indian activist student, and to the white men who, in their desire to embrace native culture, inadvertently fan the flames of racism even higher. Well written and lovingly constructed, this novel performs both its function--solving the murder and exposing racism--with fluency and grace.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one sixty-fourth Cherokee on your mother's side, which is why you have such a special connection to the earth.

Sing-Along Song

Written by: JoAnn Early Macken Lellyen Pham

First line: Robin greets the morning from the sycamore tree, Chirpin' to the risin' sun, her babies, and me.

Why you should read this book: A little boy experiences joy as he hears the special song of all the people and animals he encounters in his day. Everything he does is accompanied by its own music, inspiring the child to sing along. Written in rhyme and warmly illustrated with happy and loving scenes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate music, children, and animals.

When I Woke up I Was a Hippopotamus

Written by: Tom MacRae and Ross Collins

First line: When I woke up, I was a hippopotamus.

Why you should read this book: In rollicking rhyme, a little boy with an active imagination recounts his day in various uncooperative incarnations--a monkey in class, a monster on the playground--getting "told off" by various authority figures for his behavior. Eventually, his parents ask him to be someone nice instead, so he decides to be himself and has a lovely evening. Fun for reading out loud, but not likely to solve any behavioral problems.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a rock, and rocks don't have eyes or ears.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Peace Is an Offering

Written by: Annette Le Box and Stephanie Graegin

First line: Peace is an offering.

Why you should read this book: A gentle introduction to the concepts of peace, love, friendship, and understanding, including a meaningful segment on how we can lean on these ideals in times of fear and trouble. Perfect for reading aloud to young children and teaching kindness, with simple, happy illustrations. A feel good book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a terrible human being who enjoys starting fights and ruining everything for everyone else. Trigger warning for subtle 9/11 reference that hits you right in the feels.


Written by: Jenny Offill and Christ Appelhans

First line: I wanted a pet.

Why you should read this book: Undeterred by her mother's insistence that she can only own a pet that doesn't need to be walked or bathed or fed, a little girl enlists the librarian's aid and settles on an animal that fits the bill. After her new sloth is delivered, the girl starts working out how to enjoy sloth companionship, but not everyone understand the appeal. After some fits and starts, the girl decides to accept her friend's limitations and love him as he is.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You actually raise sloths and know that they do need to be bathed and fed.

Erandi's Braids

Written by: Antoni Hernandez Madrigal and Tomie dePaola

First line: "Erandi, it's time to wake up," Mama whispered.

Why you should read this book: Erandi and her mother are poor but they work hard and have a good life. One day, Erandi learns that the hair buyers are coming to her small village, offering to pay lot of money to buy the long, beautiful braids of the village women. Will Erandi's mother sell Erandi's hair so their little family can survive?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You go around telling strangers that they should donate their body parts while they're still alive. 

Nod Away

Written by: Joshua W. Cotter

First line: (It's not exactly clear what the first line of this book is.)

Why you should read this book: Fans of the author have been waiting a long time for this first volume in a planned seven-book series. Dr. Melody McCabe has been reassigned to work on the space station Integrity, where she'll continue studying the hub, a clairvoyant child whose mind has been exploited to connect the billions of "innernet" users who employ a neural interface to tap into each other, all the time. Melody is sincere and serious, but nothing going on around her is exactly as it seems, and terrible things are about to happen in minute and astonishing graphic detail.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's big and full of confusing moments that probably won't be resolved for thousands of pages.

A Glance Backward

Written by: Pierre Paquet and Tony Sandoval

First line: They say there's nothing nicer than reaching the streets of paradise.

Why you should read this book: Eleven-year-old Joey knows that kids can imagine all kinds of crazy things, but the day he buys fireworks he knows his mother doesn't want him to have, he takes a journey of the imagination through some very dark territory. Joey's travels through his own mind are treacherous and beautiful, and, although the reader might not understand until the end, intensely meaningful. Well worth the trip from confusion to enlightenment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want to understand now.


Written by: Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

First line: This is your fault.

Why you should read this book: Did you like anything about Guardians of the Galaxy? If so, you might like something about this silly graphic novel, featuring everyone's favorite space-Ent and his not-a-talking-raccoon companion as they do their very best to hitchhike to Earth. Jolly and light-hearted and amusing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You demand some gravity in your graphic storytelling.

Black Canary Volume 1: Kicking and Screaming

Written by: Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Pia Guerra, Sandy Jarrell

First line: We got 'em! We got 'em!!

Why you should read this book: It's a different kind of superhero story, featuring a talented fighter with a decent superpower trying to leave the lifestyle behind to pursue a career in music, even though she's not really into music and she can't stop fighting. There are some nice, crazy details and some special appearances from surprise characters. Also, aliens, which always liven things up.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're all about the music.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Well of Loneliness

Written by: Radclyffe Hall

First line: Not very far from Upton-on-Severn--between it, in fact, and the Malvern Hills--stands the country seat of the Gordons of Bramley; well-timbered, well-cottaged, well-fenced and well-watered, having, in this latter respect, a stream that forks in exactly the right position to feed two large lakes in the grounds.

Why you should read this book: Heart breaking and achingly human, this book is widely considered the first lesbian novel, although today it's more likely that its protagonist, Stephen Gordon, would probably be considered a trans man, and the word "lesbian" never appears in the book ("invert" being the proper term of the day). Raised in a rough and tumble way by a father who wanted a son, Stephen desires the life of a boy, and then of a man, but is always made to feel an outcast and ridiculed for her mode of dress and action. Despite these trials and the prejudice she faces in her own family and community, Stephen grows up kind, thoughtful, and generally successful, and eventually finds her way to places where her "inversion" is better understood and accepted, although owing to the fact that this book was written almost 90 years ago, it remains tragic in nature and Stephen never truly accepts herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're scared to come out.

A Glance Backwards

Written by: Pierre Paquet and Tony Sandoval

First line: They say there's nothing nicer than reaching the streets of paradise.

Why you should read this book: Eleven year old Joey enjoys letting his mind wander through all the stupid things that a kid can imagine, until the day he decides to buy some bottle rockets he knows he mother doesn't want him to have. Upon returned home, his entire world shifts and he finds himself lost and wandering through some other place he can't quite understanding. Visually arresting and provocative, this book was recently translated from the French.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't wait until the end to find out what's going on.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Written by: Carlo Rovelli

First line: In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly.

Why you should read this book: Written for "those who know little or nothing about science," this simple-to-grasp volume offers up a basic understanding of physics, devoid of mathematics, and constructed of comprehensible anecdotes and metaphors for those who wish to understand the world in which they live. The two basic theories of physics, the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics, are made plain, then further illustrated with details on the movement of the large bodies of the cosmos and the smallest particles within. The author introduces loop quantum gravity, current work seeking to combine the two basic theories of physics, and then goes on to make further observations about black holes, heat, probability, and what it means to be alive in such an interesting universe.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe in a flat earth orbited by an eternal sun, and probably stacked on the back of a turtle or something. Or you'd rather read seven long lessons on physics.

How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend

Written by: Linda Addison

First line: Songs from their open mouth make you sleep,/upon waking you feel empty and sad,/there is a mark of ash on your chest/where your heart should be.

Why you should read this book: Four-time Bram Stoker-award winning horror author Linda Addison offers up a slim, gripping collection of poetry and prose, featuring full-bodied meditations on love, magic, life, death, and yes, friendly demons. Past, present, and future crumble together in stories of strong women, emotional zombies, and incredibly annoying computer systems, a thoroughly modern trek through worlds old and new. Fast paced and fun to read, with a delicious and conscious sense of balance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You suspect your grandmother may be possessed.

The Hidden Life of Dogs

Written by: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

First line: I began observing dogs by accident.

Why you should read this book: Even if you're not a dog person, this foray into the subject of canine consciousness is a fascinating read, setting aside the concept of anthropomorphism and settling deeply into the examination of what dogs want once they've fulfilled all their needs. The author brings her anthropological training to the observation of dozens of animals over the space of three decades to draw back the curtain on what our best friends are really thinking as they move through the world. Detailed and accurate, this illuminating non-fiction book is often cited as one of the best modern discussions of animal intelligence.

Why you shouldn't read this book: There's a cat on your lap.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Rows and Piles and Coins

Written by: Tololwa M. Mollel and E. B. Lewis

First line: After a good day at the market, my mother, Yeyo, gave me five who ten-cent coins.

Why you should read this book: In my experience, there are two kinds of kids: the kind who run out to buy candy, gum, collectible trading card, and plastic figurines whenever they get any money; and the kid who save every penny until they can afford video game consoles, electric guitars, or gifts for their loved ones. This book is about the latter, a little boy who meticulously saves his coins in pursuit of a brand new blue and red bicycle, which will enable him to help his mother bring their crops to market. Although Saruni saves a lot of coins, his purchase does not go according to plan, but somehow works out even better than he could have expected.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want gum, candy, collectible trading cards, and plastic figurines, and you want them now.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Written by: Christine Balacchino and Isabelle Malenfant

First line: Morris Micklewhite has a mother named Moira and a cat named Moo.

Why you should read this book: I'm frankly jealous of kids today, and they way they get to crash through the gender binary without being stuffed into a role that doesn't fit them simply because that's the way people with similar genitals are supposed to behave. Morris is a typical little boy who likes dressing up in one particular orange dress, because it reminds him of "tigers, the sun and his mother's hair." Morris doesn't have any issues with his gender identity--he's just a boy who happens to like this dress, and is willing to stand up to the haters for his right to both wear what he like and be who he wants to be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a hater with a vested interest in stuffing gender non-conforming kids into clothes and identities they hate.

The Red Tree

Written by: Shaun Tan

First line: sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to

Why you should read this book: A great of deal of what's going on here seems to transcend children's literature: there is a pervasive sense of sorrow on every page but the last two, and all manner of mildly disturbing illustration, in a story that suggest that the world is painful and pointless and frustrating. The pictures are fascinating, though, a surprising and beautiful melange of collage and paint, rendering a hyper-realistic dark fantasy environment in which anything can happen without explanation or apology. But then we end with a ray of hope--it's sort of an Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on acid, with a brighter ending.

Why you should read this book: You're already in the grips of depression and hopelessness.

Dragons Love Tacos

Written by: Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

First line: Hey, kid!

Why you should read this book: Unrestrained silliness is unleashed when an omniscient narrator convinces an impressionable protagonist to hold a taco party for dragons. Sadly, the dragons react explosively to one common taco ingredient, and joy turns to tragedy, and then back to joy, because this is a picture book for kids. Really cute stuff.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know for a fact that dragons love spicy salsa.

Killing Mr. Griffin

Written by: Lois Duncan

First line: It was a wild, windy, southwestern spring when the idea of killing Mr. Griffin occurred to them.

Why you should read this book: Mr. Griffin holds his high school English students to the same high standards he once held university students, and thus runs afoul of a burgeoning little psychopath teenager who convinced a bunch of kids who really ought to know better that it would be really fitting to kidnap and scare the hell out of a guy who's doggedly determined to prepare them for higher education. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan. I first read this book about thirty years ago--everyone, but everyone, was reading it--and apparently kids are still thrilled about the insane degree of naughtiness depicted herein.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You suspect your students of plotting against you.


The Sunhat

Written by: Jennifer Ward and Stephanie Roth Sisson

First line: Rosa wore a sunhat red as rubies, soft as sand.

Why you should read this book: A red hat blown into the desert becomes a shelter for a variety of animals who stretch it out before it's miraculously returned to its owner. The drawings are adorable, and beautifully depict the Sonoran Desert and its denizens. Simple and enjoyable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While the setting makes it somewhat unique, we've seen this story many, many, many times before in various formats (Jan Brett's The Mitten comes immediately to mind).