Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

Written by: Rolf Potts

First line: Not so long ago, as I was taking a slow, decrepit old mail steamer down Burma's Irrawaddy River, I ran out of things to read.

Why you should read this book: If you've ever thought, "I should sell my house, quit my job, and spend the rest of my life bumming around the world," this book can help you fantasize/visualize what that might look like. It's a fast read, beginning and punctuating every chapter with quotes from modern vagabonds and profiles of historical ones (like Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau), and concluding with a list of print and online resources for the topic of each chapter. Detailing the difference between tourists and vagabonds (i.e. "real" travelers), and offering instructions for leaving the old life behind to taking up a new existence of open-minded freedom on the road, this is a fast read.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Indoor plumbing. Clean sheets. Central air conditioning.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Written by: Barry Deutsch

First line: Mirka liked her stepmother, Fruma, well enough.

Why you should read this book: A thoroughly modern perspective on the fairy tale/fantasy narrative, featuring a smart, sassy heroine who's willing to stand up for what she thinks is right and wants the freedom to pursue adventure. The fact that she's an Orthodox Jew living in a completely insular community places a certain framework around her story but never limits or artificially distorts the honesty of the tale. Behold the power of creative argument, and its magical worth in getting kids in and out of trouble.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You never drop a stitch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer

Written by: Sylvie Rancourt

First line: This isn't the beginning and it's not the end, but somewhere in the middle with Melody getting started on stage.

Why you should read this book: A cult classic never before available in English, these collected comics are considered the first autobiographical Canadian graphic novel. Melody is young, pretty, headstrong, and without any marketable skills, so when her lying, stealing, cheating, drug-dealing, thief, loser boyfriend decides she should dance naked to support both of them, she cheerfully goes along. It's a slice-of-life story with no true beginning or end, just a series of vignettes about the adventures of an optimistic girl who keeps trying to do the right thing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Despite the vast quantities of sex and nudity, it's not an especially sexy book.

Some Monsters Are Different

Written by: David Milgrim

First line: Some monsters are afraid.

Why you should read this book: Using simple, repetitive language, it describes various qualities that monsters (standing in for little kids) might possess, while assuring the reader that those qualities' binary opposites are also normal. Whichever end of the spectrum on which we fall, we're all wonderful, this book assures us. Short and sweet.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you can knock your kids into conformity.

John Henry: An American Legend

Written by: Ezra Jack Keats

First line: A hush settled over the hills.

Why you should read this book: A seamless, straightforward retelling of the classic American tall tale of John Henry, the man who could do the work of six men and dared to race, and beat, the steam engine, though it meant his death. Hearkening back to an era where an honest day's work was honored, it's a piece of Americana that might be overlooked by today's cell-phone using toddlers. Great story for kids learning to work with their hands and for parents wary of too much dependence on technology.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear that any celebration of the power of the worker will turn your kids into baby socialists.

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

Written by: Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury

First line: Once upon a time, there were three cuddly little wolves with soft fut and fluffy tails who lived with their mother.

Why you should read this book: A sly take on an old story, this fractured fairy tale recasts the wolves as wonderful creatures with excellent building skills, harassed by a pig who doesn't know how to make friends or blow down bricks or concrete, but can swing a sledgehammer, operate a jackhammer, and detonate dynamite. The ending is a surprise, too.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The vilification of pigs disturbs you.

What about Me?

Written by: Ed Young

First line: Once there was a boy who wanted knowledge, but he did not know how to gain it.

Why you should read this book: Based on a Sufi legend, this parable follows a time honored tradition in discussing the pursuit of wisdom, namely that it can only be acquired through experience. When a boy asks a master for knowledge, he is sent on a journey that forces him to consider others' perspective. Thus does he gain the knowledge that he desired.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think education involves teaching people what to think, rather than how to think.

A Few Bites

Written by: Cybele Young

First line: It was time to eat.

Why you should read this book: A teenage sister persuades her little brother to eat objectionable foods by reframing them as more exciting foods through elaborate fantasy tales. Broccoli becomes the fuel that powers Cretaceous dinosaurs; carrots are Orange Power Sticks coveted by aliens. While she can't force little Ferdie to eat everything, Viola does manage to communicate both the power of imagination and her love for her little brother.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't care how many dinosaurs are involved, you're not eating broccoli.

Penguin on Vacation

Written by: Salina Yoon

First line: "I need a vacation."

Why you should read this book: Sort of standard issue kiddie silliness, this book shows Penguin, overwhelmed by ennui and snow, heading off for a tropical vacation. Upon reaching the beach, Penguin determines how it is different from Antarctica and meets Crab, who teaches him how to have fun in his new environment. Penguin then returns the favor for his new friend, showing him how much fun the snow can be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You need a tropical vacation, but you're not likely to get one.

Albie's First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein's Childhood

Written by: Jacqueline Tourville and Wynne Evans

First line: Albie, as everyone called Albert, liked to do all the things other children did.

Why you should read this book: Long honored among the twentieth century's foremost thinkers, Albert Einstein as a child was considered an odd and detached dreamer who didn't begin to speak until he was quite a bit older than usual. This book imagines some of the remedies the doctor might have recommended to his family: exposing him to myriad new situation in an effort to force him to ask questions. It works even without an association with the great physicist, but its basis on a true story may be comforting to late bloomers everywhere.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your kid's never had a single problem or shortcoming in life.

Timothy Goes to School

Written by: Rosemary Wells

First line: Timothy's mother made him a brand-new sunsuit for the first day of school.

Why you should read this book: It's a story that recognizes the reality of verbal bullying in public school and, despite its cast of anthropomorphic animals, handles the situation realistically. Timothy the raccoon meets Claude, a much better turned out raccoon, on the first day of school, and immediately finds himself on the receiving end of a string of hurtful comments from a kid who seems to do everything better. At last he meets Violet, a rabbit who's just as annoyed by Grace, a more talented rabbit, as Timothy is by Claude, and their new friendship allows them to overcome their resentment and ignore their bullies.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You advocate violence.

Secret Pizza Party

Written by: Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

Why you should read this book: There's something genius about this comic tale of a raccoon and his one true, yet forbidden love, pizza. Raccoon wants pizza, but finds himself on the business end of a broom every time he tries to steal it from the trash behind the pizza place. With the help of the narrator, Raccoon conceives and executes a complicated scheme in pursuit of the acquisition of the world's most perfect food, with surprising results.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate raccoons and/or pizza.

The Red Hat

Written by: David Teague and Antoinette Portis

First line: Billy Hightower lived atop the world's tallest building.

Why you should read this book: It's a sweet little love story for children, about a boy who wants to meet a girl but is foiled at every turn by the wind. The wind is represented by subtle swirls printed in a different type of ink from the rest of the book, so that it can only be seen when the light hits it just so, while the rest of the story is black, white, red, and shades of blue exclusively. Simple and beautiful.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a legitimate fear that your child will try to jump off the roof using a blanket as a parachute.

East Dragon, West Dragon

Written by: Robyn Eversole and Scott Campbell

First line: East Dragon lived in a palace.

Why you should read this book: I was absolutely charmed by the story of two very different dragons who are suspicious of one another despite never having met and knowing nothing about each other. East Dragon, cultures, refined, the very picture of a Chinese dragon, and West Dragon, sort of American in his sloppy sensibilities but classically European in terms of his relationship with kings, knights, and princesses, find that humans, with their weaknesses and foibles, need them as much as they need the humans. East Dragon and West Dragon work together and recognize that they don't have to compete.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid that everyone around you is bigger, fiercer, and has a hotter, bluer flame.

Happy to Be Nappy

Written by: bell hooks and Chris Raschka

First line: Girlpie hair smells clean and sweet, is soft like cotton, flower petal billowy soft, full of frizz and fuzz.

Why you should read this book: A modern classic, this picture book pairs Raschka's soft, gentle drawings of little girls with hooks's powerful, empowering language, assuring girls with nappy hair that they are beautiful. Brown-skinned children with curly hair have endless possibilities where their hair is concerned, and should feel happy about their choices. Very upbeat and cheerful piece that transcends identity politics and just tells kids that they're OK the way they are.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some little white boys to whom I've read this story seem to find it a bit confusing.

Jazz Baby

Written by: Lisa Wheeler and R Gregory Christie

First line: Brother's hands tap.

Why you should read this book: It's a rhyming book that creates the rhythmic sense of jazz music with bouncing text. A large extended family of especially musical individuals enjoy singing and dancing while jazz baby plays along, adding the occasional, "Go, man, go!" to the mix. A great crowd-pleasure among the young set, who will appreciate baby's antics even if they've never heard jazz music.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your upstairs neighbors are always stomping around in combat boots.

Kindergarten Cat

Written by: J Patrick Lewish and Ailie Busby

First line: In a cozy green corner/In a kindergarten room,/A kitty cat napped/By the classroom broom.

Why you should read this book: In a magical world where nobody has allergies and everyone agrees that stray creatures deserve a second chance, an elementary school janitor deposits a homeless cat in a kindergarten classroom, to the mutual delight of all parties concerned. In rhyming text, the cat and the children acclimate to each other and begin learning kindergarten concepts. Great read aloud fun for five-year-olds.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate cleaning the litter box.

Rosie's Magic Horse

Written by: Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake

First line: There was an ice-pop stick with ice-cold sweetness all around it, white on the outside, pink on the inside.

Why you should read this book: From two long-time great names in picture books comes a piece of delicious nonsense full of wishes, popsicle sticks, magic, travel, and treasure. Little Rosie, while idly toying with her collection of wooden sticks, wishes she could help her parents pay the bills, while the wooden sticks, for undisclosed reasons, wish to be a horse. Together, Rosie and a horse called Stickerino go on a journey to fulfill all their dreams.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't allow your children to pick trash up off the ground.