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).

What to Do When You're Sent to Your Room

Written by: Ann Stott and Stephen Gilpin

First line: My name is Ben.

Why you should read this book: Here's a creative catalog for kids who have trouble entertaining themselves. Sent to his room for feeding his broccoli to the dog, Ben details the ways he appeases his parents and passes the time during his punishment, with realistic and imaginative efforts. A little tongue-in-cheek, lots of fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want your kids to have fun while they're being punished.

The Secret Circus

Written by: Johanna Wright

First line: Somewhere, deep in the city of Paris, there is a circus that is so small and so secret...only the mice know how to find it.

Why you should read this book: It's pretty much standard as far as what you'd expect from a mouse circus, but there's plenty of visual delight in the story of a bunch of weirdly fat mice going to a circus where a single kernel of popcorn is a great snack, and a pussy cat stands in for the lions in the ring. Lots of delicious silliness for kids in a high-interest book that focuses on the secret nature of the action. Good for reading aloud to the youngest listeners.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You refuse to take your kids to the circus.

Stella's Starliner

Written by: Rosemary Wells

First line: Stella lived in a house by the side of the road.

Why you should read this book: Like many of Wells's stories, this one takes a sensitive look at conflicts that carry meaning for small children; I've seen stories that tackle racism and bullying, but I think this is the first one that touches on class issues. Stella, a little fox, lives in a mobile trailer with her mother and father, and has everything she needs, and loves her little house, until some jerky weasels suggest that living in a trailer means she's poor. Stella is understandably upset about this assessment, but, as the trailer is mobile, all her problems vanish when her dad hooks it up to the truck and drives it to another part of the country, where the kids are nicer.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You wish you could hook your house up to a truck and out-drive your problems.

Yuvi's Candy Tree

Written by: Lesley Simpson and Janice Lee Porter

First line: I escaped on a donkey in the dark.

Why you should read this book: A fictionalized account of the real-left journey of a Jewish girl from famine-stricken Ethiopia fleeing to a Sudanese refugee camp and then to her ultimate destination, the land of Israel. She dreams of food, bread and candy, as her family is beset, again and again, by thieves and thirst, and imagines sweets growing from trees when she reaches Jerusalem. To her delight, in Israel she learns that "juicy and sweet" oranges grow by the side of the road, and that you can eat as many as you want, because "they grow back."

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think people should just die where they are instead of immigrating someplace more prosperous.