Friday, December 29, 2017

Good Riddance, 2017

Welcome to Dragon's Library's 10th Annual Year in Review!

As I take a moment to reflect back on my year in books, I can't help but think about how difficult 2017 was in general, and how much everyone seems to be looking forward to putting its misery behind us and harnessing the momentum of the New Year. I also can't help but notice that my reading habits are not that impressive (thank you very much, Netflix) and that I need to focus more of my overall energy on serious reading.

As always, this isn't an exhaustive list of everything I've read. I know I missed a dozen picture books, at least, and possibly some short middle grade novels, and I don't blog books that I've already blogged before, so favorite novels that I reread often aren't included in the count. Plus there's at least one book I read in ARC that won't be available until next year, so I'll blog it later. Single issue comic are not included in the count, only trade paperbacks (and one Gary Larson collection).

And now, Dragon's Library Year in Review:

Picture Books: 57
Middle Grade/YA: 21
Non-fiction: 2
Novels: 6
Graphic novels: 17
Short Story Collection: 1
Memoir: 2
Not easily categorized: 1

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Walls around Us

Written by: Nova Ren Suma

First line: We went wild that hot night.

Why you should read this book: This dark and cunning ghost story weaves a tangled thicket of murder and revenge, twisted through time and sprouting from the fertile soil of the Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention Center in upstate New York, almost all the way to the Canadian border. Told in dual point of view, the story splits between the quiet and detailed observations of Amber, a girl long locked up in the facility for the murder of her abusive stepfather, and Violet, a talented ballerina with her sights set on Julliard, with nothing in her way except for the memory of her one-time best friend, Ori, who was sentenced to Aurora Hills for murdering two girls behind the dance studio. In the place where their worlds collide, both girls will find justice, although perhaps not in the way they hoped to find it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've forgotten your own crimes.


Written by: Raine Telgemeier

First line: One Double-Back combo, one Cheeseback with fries, a Double Napoleon shake...

Why you should read this book: Cat loves her little sister Maya, and she knows the family's move from sunny southern California to the foggy, windswept northern part of the state is essential to keep Maya's cystic fibrosis under control, but she doesn't like the gray skies or the ubiquitous ghost stories that cast a constant shadow over her new home in Bahía de la Luna. When her new neighbor, Carlos, insists, and then proves Bahía de la Luna's ghost stories are all real, and her new friends want her to participate in the town's extensive Day of the Dead festivities, Cat feels nothing but fear of death. Maya and the others embrace the presence of the dead, but Cat will need more context to bridge the gap between the memory of her grandmother and the possibility of her sister's demise.

Why you shouldn't read this book: People who don't need to dwell on ways in which being dead might be better than being alive.

Real Friends

Written by: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

First line: When I was little, I didn't worry about friends.

Why you should read this book: Whether you were a kid in the eighties or you're a kid right now, you can probably identify in some part with Shannon's journey from innocence to experience as she navigates the world of shifting grade-school friendships. Shannon only ever wants the friendship of her first, best friend Adrienne, but to stay close to Adrienne, she has to appease the whims of "the group," the popular girls who seem more confident, more mature, and more willing to play games with other's emotions than Shannon will ever be. When Adrienne leaves the district, Shannon feels stuck on the edges of the group, until she finds out who she really is and how to be real friends with others.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still the mean girl.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel

Written by: John Milton and Pablo Auladell

First line: Sing, heavenly muse...I thence invoke my aid to my adventurous song, that intends to soar above they Aonian Mount...while it pursues things unattemped yet in prose or rhyme.

Why you should read this book: The ultimate Old Testament/New Testament mashup fanfic, the epic Paradise Lost, here presented in graphic format, tells the story of Satan's fall from heaven and his subsequent corruption of Adam and Eve. What is Satan's gripe with god, and why does he want to punish people so much? The answers are all spelled out in this gorgeous, twisted, dark, and inventive volume.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe depicting the face of a god is true blasphemy.

No More Dead Dogs

Written by: Gordon Korman

First line: When my dad was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he once rescued eight Navy SEALS who were stranded behind enemy lines.

Why you should read this book. Scarred by his father's pathological need to lie about everything, middle school jock Wallace Wallace becomes a compulsive truth teller, to the point that he's now looking at indefinite detention because he refuses to say anything nice about his English teacher's favorite book. Banned from football practice and forced to attend rehearsals of a play based on said book, Wallace finds his alliances shifting as his teammates become frustrated with him and the drama kids start to warm up to his ideas. It's a lot of silliness punctuated by bouts of seriousness, good for a wide age range of young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those English teachers who possesses the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about every book you've ever taught, and you brook no dissension from your ignorant students.

The Butterfly Hunt

Written by: Yoshi

First line: Once there was a boy who was surprised by a butterfly.

Why you should read this book: A big, beautiful yellow lepidopteran becomes one boy's person white whale as he pursues the creature with an increasingly unhealthy obsession, capturing dozens of other butterflies in his determination. By the story's end, the butterfly no longer symbolizes joy and wonder, but rage and captivity, and the boy reassesses his idea of possession. A quiet story with a warm moral.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a brilliant lepidopterist.

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

Written by: Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat

First line: Everyone wants to live forever.

Why you should read this book: While it looks like a children's book, it's one of those stories that seems to be aimed at adults, comparing the way a rat is deliriously happy, or at least completely accepting, of everything that comes its way, while humans are never satisfied with who they are or what they have. Riley, and all the rats he knows, are beautiful and happy and everyone loves them and they don't want for anything in the world; plus, rats are happy for a comparatively short span while humans have the potential to be dissatisfied for decades. It's fun to read and kids seem to enjoy it, probably because it highlights the ridiculously of human culture.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are having an existential crisis.

American Gods

Written by: Neil Gaiman

First line: Shadow had done three years in prison.

Why you should read this book: What becomes of the gods of a people when the people move on? Gaiman imagines dozens of deities surviving in the harsh and unbelieving land of modern America, and the lengths they will go to just to continue existing. Ex-convict Shadow, betrayed by those he loved and alone in the world, takes a new position as manservant to the Norse All-Father, Odin, known in America as Wednesday, and learns the secrets of the country rarely shared with ordinary tourists.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're pretty adamant about the one god.


Written by: Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

First line: Seen all them lights, boys?

Why you should read this book: It was some years ago that I met Jacen Burrows at a comicon and talked with him about collaborating on The Courtyard with Alan Moore; only after I brought Neonomicon home did I realize that The Courtyard was only the beginning of a much longer story, and that this book included it as a first chapter. This is Moore's take on the C'thulhu mythos, brought into the 21st century and festooned with way more specific details than Lovecraft ever provided his audience (we're talking graphic, even for the format). Several FBI agents chase leads that they believe will lead to drugs or sex crimes but, in fact, drag them pretty deep into encounters with arcane knowledge, elder gods, madness, and death.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Muktar and the Camels

Written by: Janet Graber and Scott Mack

First line: Bare feet slap across the hard earthen floor of the Iftin Orphanage as children gather in the dining hall to gobble down bowls of warm posho.

Why you should read this book: Muktar, a refugee nomad boy from Somalia living in a Kenyan orphanage, dreams only of camels, the lifeblood of his people, but the only camels he sees in the orphanage are the ones that deliver books to the school every few months. When he's asked to help care for the camels one day, he notices that one of them has hurt its hoof, and uses knowledge passed down through the generations, his father's last gift, and his own shirt to help the animal, resulting in his being allowed to leave the orphanage and take a government job tending camels at the age of twelve.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I loved this book but it was a bit advanced for my kindergarteners, who were excited to talk about camels they saw at the zoo but didn't seem to get anything out of the story.

You Are My Wonders

Written by: Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa

First line: I am your teacher; you are my school child.

Why you should read this book: It has sort of a bedtime feel, except that kids don't get nap time anymore, even in kindergarten. Gentle flowing rhymes talk of an elephant teacher's love for her anthropomorphic animal students and offers a sense of dichotomy between child and adult while cementing the bond between them. Great way to calm down a room of boisterous five-year-olds.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You need a break from the five-year-olds and you can't have one.

One Cool Friend

Written by: Toni Buzzeo and David Small

First line: Elliot was a very proper young man.

Why you should read this book: Feeling camaraderie with the penguins at the aquarium, and somewhat ignored by his polite but bookish father, a young boy selects an aquatic avian friend to take home as a souvenir. He does his research and provides the penguin with everything it needs to be happy, and then there's a funny twist ending involving the dad and a Galapagos tortoise. High interest book that will hold kids' attention.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Strict no pets rule.

A Fine, Fine School

Written by: Sharon Creech and Harry Bliss

First line: Mr. Keense was a principal who loved his school.

Why you should read this book: Proud of his students, teachers, and all the learning going on in his school, over-zealous educator Mr. Keene gradually, and without the consent of those involved, expands the school year to include weekends, holidays, and summer vacation. Young Tillie notes that this learning now takes place at the expense of the town's younger siblings, who now have no one to teach them to skip or swing, and their dogs, who have no one to teach them to tricks, and also the students themselves, who are missing out on the type of self-directed learning that doesn't happen in school. In the end, of course, Mr. Keene sees reason and all is restored.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have some powerful arguments for year-round school.

The Hello, Goodbye Window

Written by: Normal Juster and Chris Raschka

First line: Nana and Poppy live in a big house in the middle of town.

Why you should read this book: A small child relates the magical nature of a particular window in their grandparents' house, a portal around which family life is centered. The window has many purposes and brings great delight to the characters in the book. Warm, accessible, and fun for reading aloud.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You covered all your windows with tin foil.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Why you should read this book: Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon, a captivating story about the battle between good and evil as it plays out in a British boarding school for the magically inclined. Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is surprised to learn that he is much more than an unwanted orphan who lives under the stairs in his aunt and uncle's house, but actually a famous child from a well-known wizarding family, who is about to embark on his magical education. A year of friendship and discovery is disrupted by the presence of evil forces, which Harry and his friends are determined to expose.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to know about what every English-speaking person under the age of thirty knows about.

Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey

Written by: Özge Samanci

First line: The primary school was across the street from our apartment.

Why you should read this book: I really loved this memoir of growing up in the '80s and '90s in Turkey, where military leadership and economic inequality dictated many aspects of the author's life. Both she and her sister studied seven days a week in the hopes of attending the best schools and getting the best jobs, but Özge, though determined and hardworking, never seems to succeed in reaching her goals or pleasing her parents. Beautiful multimedia illustrations bring the characters, the setting, and the time frame to life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have your children's life course planned out, and you're sure they'll never let you down.


Written by: Liz Prince

First line: No, Mommy!

Why you should read this book: This graphic memoir details the development from childhood to young adulthood as the author tries to navigate the social expectations of her female body while finding herself more and more convinced that she has no interest in anything girly. Liz learns to embrace her identity, and grows confident in the knowledge that she is a heterosexual girl who will never be comfortable wearing dresses or acting ladylike. Very potent and believable, Liz's journey spoke to in many ways, and will likely be a comforting read to those who understand what she's gone through, and informative to those who need to know.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have ever forced a crying five-year-old to wear a dress against her will.

Orwell's Luck

Written by: Richard Jennings

First line: All my life, I have been a person who wakes up with the birds.

Why you should read this book: When a middle school girl finds an injured rabbit in her driveway one morning, her entire life becomes consumed with healing the bunny, and possibly decoding what she believes to be secret messages sent by the rabbit through various means, primarily the newspaper horoscope. It's a strangely magical story, more or less plausible despite the mystic content, and primarily about the narrator's journey from an internal life to one that has room for outsiders. Funny, smart, engaging, and uplifting, this is a lovely book that should appeal to a wide range of readers.

Why you shouldn't read the book: You don't want your kids bringing injuring wildlife into your unfinished home improvement projects.

Samir and Yonatan

Written by: Daniella Carmi

First line: Since morning I've been waiting for a curfew.

Why you should read this book: A Palestinian boy whose mother works at an Israeli hospital finds himself thrust into an alien world when his mother uses her influence to get Samir treated there. Samir knows Jews only in the context of the conflict that took his brother's life, and he is terrified to find himself living among them, without his family for comfort. Living in the children's ward, Samir slowly opens up to the humanity of the people around him, and through the imagination of a boy named Yonatan, becomes confident and happy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'll never get over your brother's death.

Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song

Written by: Frank M. Young and David Lasky

First line: Alvin Pleasant Carter! You git away from that fiddle! That's th' devil's instr'ment!

Why you should read this book: With straightforward illustrations and simple dialect, this graphic novel tells the life of Pleasant Carter, patriarch of the musical Carter family. As a young man, music meant more to him than anything else, and collecting the old songs was more important to him than any job he ever had. Eventually, with the help of his family, he is able to make a living with his music (the book comes with a CD of the family's music, but someone seems to have stolen it from the library copy I checked out).

Why you shouldn't read this book: Johnny Cash only appears on the last page.

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends

Written by: Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley

First line: Look! A hippo family!

Why you should read this book: It a fairly extensive book about bodies, sexuality, growing up, and human interaction for very young readers: the cover says "4 and up" but it's written at a level most appropriate for reading out loud to those who can't read to themselves. Although the author does not touch on trans issues in the discussion of gender, the idea of gay parents is briefly normalized in the text, as is masturbation, and the overall subject matter covers the type of questions that little kids just starting to wonder about being human might ask. The illustrations are adorable, although I found the comic addition of a bird and a bee commenting on the text a little fluffy and distracting; overall, this is a pretty good introduction, best read a little at a time to kids who are just starting to make sense of the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: For some unknowable reason, you believe it's not healthy for children to understand anything about their bodies.

Green Pants

Written by: Kenneth Kraegel.

First line: Jameson only ever wore green pants.

Why you should read this book: Like many young children Jameson's peculiar insistence on a particular lifestyle choice—in this case, only wearing green pants—is amusing and tolerable to adults, until the day the world can no longer accommodate his eccentricity. When Jameson's cousin decides to marry the most beautiful girl Jameson can imagine, he's thrilled at her request to participate in the wedding, with on hitch: he'll have to wear a black tuxedo. After a crisis of monumental proportions, Jameson finds a way to stay true to himself while conforming to society's standards.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in the process of shaming a young child out of any personality quirks that might differentiate them from other humans.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Last Look

Written by: Charles Burns

First line: This is the only part I'll remember.

Why you should read this book: The X'ed Out trilogy is collected here in one volume, which is good news for readers, because I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been to read this story in pieces without its conclusion. It's the kind of book where you're trying to piece the story together right up until the last couple pages, when all the threads comes together, and then you have to start again at the beginning so you can read it and understand it at the same time. Our protagonist, Doug, seems trapped in his relationships in the real world even as he bounces over and over again back to a hallucinatory nightmare landscape that mirrors his deepest fears with cunning distortion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can pinpoint the exact moment in your life when everything went wrong and you can't stop reliving it. 

Kill My Mother

Written by: Jules Feiffer

First line: And now for your listening pleasure—Miss Ginger Rogers singe her new hit from her new musical, "The Gold Diggers!"

Why you should read this book: Cartooning legend Jules Feiffer showcases his slapdash drawing style and his in-depth knowledge of human nature in this hard-boiled graphic novel, a murder mystery that twists and turns and romps through history until it reaches its beautiful, satisfying, unexpected conclusion. The lives of five determined women intersect in surprising ways, driven by lies, secrets, betrayals, family, and love. A joyous, funny, deep, and intelligent drama that reminds the reader what human beings are really like, on the surface and behind their veils.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't stomach too much murder.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Westing Game: A Puzzle Mystery

Written by: Ellen Raskin

First line: The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east.

Why you should read this book: This is the kind of story that's best enjoyed if you don't really have any idea what's going on and only figure out the details as the characters reveal them: a murder mystery with more twists than a pretzel factory. A reportedly unpleasant industrialist, Sam Westing, dies under unusual circumstances, having previously gathered sixteen potential heirs of all ages and from all walks of life, who are then pitted against each other to find his killer and inherit his two hundred million dollar fortune. Nothing is as it seems, and, according to Westing's will, the information they don't have is more important than the information they do have.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're easily confused and don't enjoy it.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Written by: Anne Frank

First line: On Friday, June 12th, I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday.

Why you should read this book: The first time I read this book, I was much younger than Anne, probably about seven or eight, as Jewish parents begin their children's education about the Holocaust pretty young, and I was a voracious reader, and I have read it dozens of times over the years. This time, I shared it with my twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and got to see Anne's world fresh through another pair of eyes. This story of a thoughtful adolescent who died believing that people were basically good, despite all the terror and hardship she encountered during World War II, should be required reading for every young person, and quite a few adults.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a Nazi, in which case you should also get off my page and go think about what you've done and how your xenophobic, self-centered beliefs make the world a more terrible place, and then, when you get your head on straight enough to realize that fascism and white supremacy are objectively not OK, you should come back and read this book.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return

Written by: Zeina Abirached

First line: A song I used to love in 1969 asks what war is good for.

Why you should read this book: The war in Lebanon has shrunk little Zeina's childhood home in Beirut until the entire building decides that her apartment's foyer is the only safe place during the nightly bombardments. One night, her parent go out to visit her grandmother and, as the evening wears on, the parents do not return. Meanwhile, all her neighbors arrive to care for the children, socialize, and help create an atmosphere of safety in the face of fear.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't feel safe and you're leaving.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities

Written by: Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

First line: Many people dream of living an open sexual life—of having all the sex and love and friendship they want.

Why you should read this book: While directed to those who are interested in the underlying philosophy and real life practice of polyamory, this book is an intelligent read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of human sexuality and human nature. Make no mistake: there are human beings right now who enjoy all the sex and love and friendship they want, without lying, cheating, or hurting others, meaning that, if this is what you want and you don't have it, the only thing holding you back is you, and The Ethical Slut could be the catalyst that helps you reach your happy destination. Admittedly, I read this book after many years of painfully figuring out all the details on my own, but it's a powerful resource no matter what stage of your sexual journey you've reached.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like sex, love, or friendship.

The End

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you have ever peeled an onion, then you know that the first thin, papery layer reveals another thin, papery layer, and layer reveals another, and another , and before you know it you have hundreds of layers all over the kitchen table and thousands of tears in your eyes, sorry that you ever started peeling in the first place and wishing that you had left the onion alone to wither away on the shelf of your pantry while you went on with your life, even if that meant never again enjoying the complicated and overwhelming taste of this strange and bitter vegetable.

Why you should read this book: At long last, the chronicles of the strangely parabolic lives of the Beaudelaires draws to a close, as their childhoods resolve into a strange and ambiguous quasi-adulthood and the drama of the real world creeps into the island where they'd hope to find shelter. Violet, Sunny, and Klaus find some answers, some secrets from the past, and some more questions, and begin to articulate their understanding of human nature (or at least Lemony Snicket's view of human nature) while once again working against the odds in life or death situations. Metaphors made concrete, secret libraries, genetically modified apples, and the work of Phillip Larkin appear woven throughout the narrative as this series comes to its inevitable, and perhaps less unfortunate than might be expected, end.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You really can't jump in en media res here. Read the first 12 books in order before you crack this one open.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Penultimate Peril

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: Certain people have said that the world is like a calm pond, and that anytime a person does even the smallest thing, it is as if a stone has dropped into the pond, spreading circles of ripples further and further out, until the entire world has been changed by one tiny action.

Why you should read this book: Having decided once and for all to take their destinies into their own hands and stop waiting and hoping for the adults around them to make the correct decisions, the Baudelaires are now free to misinterpret the data and make bad decisions on their on behalf, just like adults. At the heart of the VFD schism, holed up in the Hotel Denouement with dozens of volunteers and villains, the siblings struggle to discern friend from foe and serve a higher cause, with strikingly disappointing results. Old friends and enemies come together to prove that, even inside a library, nothing is knowable and even the very best of intentions can go awry.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You subscribe to the quaint notion that all villains should be easily recognized and without redeeming or attractive qualities, because the line between good and evil is vast and without confusion.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

American Vampire Volume 7

Written by: Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Matías Bergara, Dave McCaig

First line: We can't stay much longer.

Why you should read this book: I don't know how I ended up reading volume seven in a series of which I hadn't read volumes 1-6, but I'm glad I did, because every time I think vampires are played out and nobody will ever have an original thought about vampires, someone does. I loved the concept of the evolution of vampires and the different species with different origins living together as refugees with a common and terrifying enemy, and the historical pieces of the tale, hinting at ancient evils buried in the earth. With no background on the world or the characters, I was still able to follow the narrative and find myself engaged by the plot in this refreshing and compelling volume.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some creepy monsters and also a very creepy pregnancy.

Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade

Written by: Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Rachel Pollack, Alisa Kwitney, Jamie Delano, et al.

First line: Later the newspapers were to describe Flaxdown as a fairytale village.

Why you should read this book: There is much to love in this complete story arc, which stands on its own as a complete graphic novel even as it works as something of a coda to the Sandman series. Bringing together old stories from history, mythology, and poetry—the Pied Piper legend, the actual Children's Crusade, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,"—with other comic books and novels, Children's Crusade is a story of a two dead boy detectives searching for a village's worth of missing children, and stumbling upon another world, and the crazy machinations of the beings inhabiting it. Beauty and delight hide the endless cruelty and greed that exist in the universe, and the most outlandish fantasies are based on the truth of our world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're wondering how two dead boys became detectives, you have to read the Sandman books first.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre

Written by: Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner

First line: You come into this world, and your point of view is narrow.

Why you should read this book: So far, it's definitely the strongest of the Before Watchmen books I've read, primarily due to the Minutemen section, which provides fresh stories about the original team, particularly Mothman and the Silhouette, that are barely hinted at in the original book. The section on Silk Spectre reflects the silly historical sensibilities of the other books in this series, with young Laurie refusing to fight crime on her mother's terms, and instead busting up an improbable ring of drug dealers in San Francisco in the 1960s, in order to stop the supply of a new variety of LSD that turns users into materialistic proto-Yuppie consumers. The entire book also gives us more details about Sally Jupiter that most readers have probably already figured out.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The Comedian, not being funny.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Grim Grotto

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: After a great deal of time examining oceans, investigating rainstorms, and staring very hard at several drinking fountains, the scientists of the world developed a fancy theory regarding how water is distributed around our planet, which they have named, "the water cycle."

Why you should read this book: The Baudelaires find themselves on board the submarine Queequeg, finally learning more about the V.F.D organization, their parents' involvement in the group, and the great schism. The concept of moral ambiguity is further examined, as are some deadly mushrooms, and the idea that blood is thicker than water. There is also a great deal of discussion of the water cycle.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Fear of drowning. Fear of the dark. Fear of enclosed spaces.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Slippery Slope

Written by: Lemony Snickett

First line: A man of my acquaintance once wrote a poem called "The Road Less Traveled," describing a journey he took through the woods along a path most travelers never used.

Why you should read this book: The themes of chaotic momentum coupled with utter loss of control swarm to the fore in a book that begins with children careening backward down a mountain in a caravan with no steering mechanism and no brake, and ends with children careering forward down a mountain on a toboggan with no steering mechanism and no brake. In between they do a fair amount of climbing, with some breaks for digging, preparing and eating raw food, and potentially making out. The Baudelaires are growing up on the road, making new enemies (and running into old ones) wherever they go.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I hardly think that "privacy" is a good excuse to skip over possibly the least unfortunate event in the series.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Alternate Histories of the World

Written by: Matthew Buchholz

First line: Tracing the evolution of humanity through the early ages has always been a difficult task.

Why you should read this book: In a world where painting monsters into thrift store landscapes has become de rigueur, fake news can change the course of history even when everyone knows it's fake, and anyone can learn Photoshop, this book practically had to happen. The author lays his own fantastic template of robots, aliens, and zombies, with the occasional dinosaur, over the boilerplate of history to create an almost plausible timeline in which Teddy Roosevelt was an early adapter of the jet pack and alliances with river monsters or martians have more than once turned the tide of battle in war. Funnier the more you know about world history as well as the history of speculative fiction, this silly but satisfying book is a delightful distraction from the actual history in which we currently live.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You go ballistic when anyone suggests that humans and dinosaurs ever coexisted.

The Book of Negroes

Written by: Lawrence Hill

First line: I seem to have trouble dying.

Why you should read this book: Wonderful and terrible, this brutal novel recounts the life of African girl Aminata Diallo, at a young age kidnapped by slave traders who murder her parents in front of her and burn her village to the ground, and then subjected to every indignity man can execute upon man. Framed by Aminata's work with British abolitionists at the very end of her life, this story is written in minute, painful, and accurate detail (I would liken it to Lolita in that the author use the most exquisite prose to illustrate the most disgusting atrocities) making the journey of a remarkable and resilient human more real than the most meticulous chapter in a history book. Intense, fast-paced, and incredible, this book forces the reader to examine every modern and dehumanizing assumption about race and gender to which they have ever been exposed.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It contains a decent percentage of all the most terrible things than can happen to a person.

El Deafo

Written by: Cece Bell

First line: I was a regular little kid.

Why you should read this book. Following a bout of childhood meningitis, the author loses most of her hearing and must wear a large and unsightly hearing aid to help make sense of the world around her. In this Newbery Honor graphic novel, the people are all portrayed as rabbits, but the feelings and reactions of a child who is constantly aware of her differences are all too human. Only by embracing her abilities and reframing the giant hearing aid as a secret superpower does Bell regain her confidence and her place among the community of children from which she's felt ostracized.

Why you should read this book: You think deaf people should only hang out in the deaf community.

The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith

Written by: Joanna Brooks

First line: On Monday nights, my father and mother gathered their four children around the kitchen table in our tract house on the edge of the orange groves and taught us how the universe worked.

Why you should read this book: Raised by devout parents among a loving faith community, Brooks is proud of her heritage and content with her place in the universe, until she goes to college and develops a feminist conscience. In modern Mormonism, she learns as a young adult, feminism, is considered anathema, and those who espouse it deserve excommunication. Brooks does not leave her faith, but she refuses to compromise her own beliefs, marrying a man of another religion, campaigning on behalf of marriage equality, and researching church history to find evidence that racism and sexism were not tenets of the early Mormon pioneers.

Why you should read this book: You would never question anything your religious leader said.

The Carnivorous Carnival

Written by: Lemony Snickett

First line: When my workday is over, and I have closed my notebook, hidden my pen, and sawed holes in my rented canoe so that it cannot be found, I often like to spend the evening in conversation with my few surviving friends.

Why you should read this book: The harrowing tale of the hapless Baudelaire orphans continues where it left off, with the orphans hiding in the trunk of their worst enemy's car, disembarking at the pathetic Caligari Carnival. Taking a note from Count Olaf''s playbook, the siblings disguise themselves as freaks—two-headed Beverly and Elliot and Chabo the Wolf Baby—and take up with least freaky sideshow freaks ever to strut beneath a canvas tent, in front of an audience of the worst humanity has to offer. Fortune telling is debunked, people are eaten by lions, arson is committed, and, at the end of it all, the kids are in a worse place than they were at the beginning of the book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You object to the use of the term "freak" to refer to those exhibiting human physical anomalies, or you object to unremarkable amateurs taking rare sideshow gigs away from truly deserving freaks.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Hostile Hospital

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: There are two reasons why a writer would end a sentence with the word "stop" written entirely in capital letters STOP.

Why you should read this book: Now fugitives wanted for the murder of Count Olaf, who is still very much alive and making their lives as dangerous as ever, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves camping out in the half-finished shell of a medical center in order to obtain access to a Library of Records. Somewhere among its countless files, there may be information on the children, their parents, and the fire that destroyed their lives, which could help them understand or escape their fate. As usual, the adults are clueless, the villains are heinous, and unfortunate event follows unfortunate event.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're scheduled to undergo an emergency cranioectomy.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lucky Penny

Written by: Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota

First line: Hey,'re fired.

Why you should read this book: After losing her job and her apartment in the same day, Penny has ample time to consider the possibility that she's cursed, especially since her new job involves working at the laundromat under a twelve-year-old manager and her new apartment is a storage unit that people keep trying to break into. In need of shower facilities, she inadvertently romances Walter, the guy at the front desk of the gym, until they're both completely confused as to the nature of their relationship and what they should expect from one another. With only her love of cheesy romance novels to guide her, can Penny navigate her feelings for Walt, her belief in her own bad luck, the punks outside the storage unit, an arm-wrestling champion, and, of course, the intensity of a friendly game of Dungeons and Dragons?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those people who's acted forty since they were twelve.

Traveling to Tondo: A Tale of the Nkundo of Zaire

Retold by: Verna Aardema and Will Hillenbrand

First line: One day in the town of Tonda, Bowane the civet cat met a beautiful feline he wanted for a wife.

Why you should read this book: Bowane the civet cat chooses his best friends—Embenga the pigeon, Nguma the python, and Ulu the tortoise—to serve as attendants for his destination wedding. However, after Bowane needs to stop and go back for his water dish, his friends seem to thing that any delay for any reason is perfectly acceptable. After spending several years waiting for a log to rot so that Ulu the tortoise can take the final steps into the village, Bowane learns that his beloved has long since given up waiting for him and chosen a more punctilious suitor.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would wait forever.

White Jenna

Written by: Jane Yolen

First line: Then Great Alta looked down upon her messengers, those whom she had severed from her so that they might be bound more closely to her.

Why you should read this book: Accompanied by her warrior, her priestess, and their shadow sisters, Jenna sets out to warn the women of the hames of the impending war, but instead ends up passing five years in a single night in the cave of the fair folk, where the goddess provides her with her true mission. Emerging toward the end of the war to find many of her loved ones dead, Jenna races across the country to save the true king and do battle with the false one. Once again, story, legend, myth, song, and history come together to create a satisfying world that exists between here and fairy tale.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your country, right or wrong.

Sister Light, Sister Dark

Written by: Jane Yolen

First line: And the prophet says a white babe with black eyes shall be born unto a virgin in the winter of the year.

Why you should read this book: Despite the unusual circumstance of her birth—three caretakers die on her before she's out of infancy—Jenna grows up strong among the women of Selden Hame, an isolated cult of warrior women who read from the Book of Light and call their dark sisters out of the mirror so that they are never alone in moonlight or firelight. But there is a threat from the world of men, a battle between two factions of those who would be king, and their war spills over in the matriarchal world of the hames. Jenna, with her small but growing band of followers, must navigate the violent changes in her culture while coming of age. Yolen takes the story beyond the scope of a mere novel by adding myth, legend, song, and (wildly inaccurate) historical versions of the story to show how humans create their own way even in the face of prophecy.

Why you should read this book: You expect children in your charge to follow instructions without question.

Easy to See Why

Written by: Fred Gwynne

First line: "A dog show!" said the little girl.

Why you should read this book: Convinced her dog has star power, a little girl spruces up her old mutt and takes him to the dog show. Along the way, she meets a variety of pet-owners, all convinced that their purebred creatures are destined to take the prize; not coincidentally, each of the competitor dogs looks exactly, and hilariously, like its owner. Of course, the little girl's mixed breed looks exactly like the judge, and the outcome is settled.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take umbrage at the assertion that dogs and their owners begin to look alike.


Written by: Kevin Henkes

First line: Owen had a fuzzy yellow blanket.

Why you should read this book: Fuzzy, little Owen's primary love object, is a dirty, raggedy, and best-beloved blanket, which accompanies the young mouse everywhere. When nosy neighbor Mrs. Tweezers, decides Owen is too old for a blanky, she suggests his parents undertake a series of increasingly treacherous plans to deprive the child of his best friend. In the end, Owen's mother finds a solution that everyone—even persnickety Mrs. Tweezers—can happily live with.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If your neighbor ever tried to tell you how to raise your kid, you'd be building a higher fence and possibly seeking a restraining order.

Busy Toes

Written by: CW Bower and Fred Willingham

First line: Big toes/little toes.

Why you should read this book: A gorgeously illustrated concept book for young readers, here the body's most overlooked appendages take the stage. The full gamut of toe-based activities, from common (testing the temperature of water) to less common (wearing doll clothes) is represented in full color. Big fun for little kids, especially those obsessed with their feet.

Why you should read this book: Bare feet make you nauseous.

Boundless Grace

Written by: Mary Hoffman and Caroline Birch

First line: Grace lived with her ma and her nana and cat called Paw-Paw.

Why you should read this book: In the sequel to the popular Amazing Grace, a little girl who loves stories reconnects with an absentee father who lives far away. Grace doesn't remember her own father, except from Christmas and birthday cards, so when she is invited to stay with him in The Gambia, everything about her new family feels strange and different, and while she appreciates her half-siblings, she can't help but cast her father's new wife in the role of the wicked stepmother, just like in her beloved fairy tales. Soon enough, Grace is wearing African clothes, eating African food, and learning that family are what you make of them.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have incontrovertible evidence that your stepmother is trying to poison you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Vile Village

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how mnay people are chasing you, what you don't read is often as important as what you do read.

Why you should read this book: In one of the worst possibly applications of the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child," the Baudelaire orphans are taken in by a mob of torch-wielding, crow-worshiping idiots who know nothing about raising children except that you can use them to do your chores. With the scant help of a skittish handyman, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny follow a series of clues leading them to their friends the Quagmires, and accomplish other remarkable feats, such as perfecting a self-sustaining flying mobile home and breaking out of prison using only a pitcher of water, a loaf of bread, and a wooden bench carved from a single piece of wood. Unfortunate things happen; there is no happy ending in sight.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Granted I'm not 12 years old, but I figured out both the secret code and the book's ending many chapters before they were revealed in the story.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Last Chapter and Worse

Written by: Gary Larson

First line: Here are the cartoons taken from my final six months of newspaper syndication, plus 13 new cartoons I drew since I retired (more about that on page 81).

Why you should read this book: The cartoons in this collection are, at the same time, pure classic Larson and also a little wistfully silly, rehashing themes and ideas visited over and over again through the ten years of the Far Side strip. Nature, history, and suburban motifs run through the radical imagination of the cartoonist until they are transformed into something familiar yet unexpected and bizarre. The 13 new comics are a nice bonus for faithful readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're terribly serious and have no sense of humor.

I Wonder If I'll See a Whale

Written by: Frances Ward Weller and Ted Lewin

First line: I wonder if I'll see a whale.

Why you should read this book: A budding marine biologist takes a whale watching cruise and hopes that this time she'll really see a whale, not just a dark blur beneath the waves. Words and images faithfully capture the sense of wonder in the little girl and the incredible beauty of the ocean and its inhabitants. Of course, we witness the majestic splendor of a breaching humpback whale and the child's special connection with her environment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've got a feeling the whales have been hiding from you.

The Ersatz Elevtor

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: The book you are holding in your two hands right now—assuming that you are, in fact, holding this book, and that you have only two hands—is one of two books in the world that will show you the difference between the word "nervous" and the word "anxious."

Why you should read this book: In this installment of the Beaudalaire's terrible lives, the orphans find themselves in a fashionable penthouse under the stylish guardianship of the city's sixth most important financial advisor. Searching for the Quagmire triplets while eluding the grasp of the horrible Count Olaf consumes all the time they have to spare from considering things that are in and things that are out. Adventures, inventions, books, and biting, secret passages, desperate treachery, and a fancy auction figure prominently in these pages.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid of falling into a dark hole.

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet

Written by: Eleanor Cameron

First line: To the very peculiar-looking little man trotting about in the dark trying to find Thallo Street, the sound of tapping came faintly.

Why you should read this book: In this strange sequel to a strange first book, David and Chuck, seasoned space explorers, meet a slightly-evil scientist as well as a clever friend of a friend, and return to the Mushroom Planet in a bigger, better spaceship. Danger lurks around every corner, as do old friends and new adventures. Everything comes together satisfactorily, if not perfectly, leaving an opening for a third book in a trilogy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe in scientific exploration regardless of its dangerous environmental impact.

Insects Are My Life

Written by: Megan McDonald and Paul Brett Johnson

First line: The night that Andrew caught the fireflies in a jar, Amanda set them all free.

Why you should read this book: Amanda likes bugs, and only bugs, because insects are her life. This predilection leads to various conflicts with people who cannot understand her, her fascination with creepy-crawlies, or the way she expresses her love. The budding entomologist eventually makes friends with a young herpetologist who may not share her love of insects but does understand her obsession.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate bugs.


Written by: John Schoenherr

First line: He woke in the cold rain and rolled onto the warm spot where his mother slept.

Why you should read this book: As with all bears, this bear has been abandoned by his mother now that he's old enough to fend for himself, even though he has much to learn about the world. Through trial and error, the bear learns all it needs to survive. Soon he is a large, full-grown bear, capable of standing up to anything the world can throw at him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You miss your mom.

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Written by: Patricia Polacco

First line: Larnel didn't know Mrs. Katz very well, but almost every other day his mother stopped in to see her after work.

Why you should read this book: The friendship between an elderly Jewish widow and a young black boy blossoms around the gift of a tailless kitten. Mrs. Katz teaches Larnel about her cultural heritage and Larnel helps Mrs. Katz care for her cat, Tush. A beautiful story about love.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't find your cat.

The Story of Ferdinand

Written by: Munro Leaf

First line: Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.

Why you should read this book: The world's chillest bull only wants to sit in the shade and smell flowers, as opposed to the rest of his cohort, who want to go to the bullfights in the city. Ferdinand isn't interested in impressing the men who select bulls for bullfights, but an unfortunate encounter with a bee makes him look more enthusiastic than he really is. The world of bullfighting is in for a surprise when it meets this pacifist.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Time to go to work at the slaughterhouse.

Shibumi and the Kitemaker

Written by: Mercer Mayer

First line: Many years ago, a baby girl was born to the emperor and empress of a far-away kingdom.

Why you should read this book: Shibumi, as a royal daughter, is protected from the ills of her city and exposed only to beauty. On the day that she first recognizes economic inequality, she begins to conceive of a plan to use her privilege to convince her father to address the social issues in their world. Her plan involves a kitemaker, the largest kite the world has ever seen, and a staunch sense of determination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no problem walling out the ugliness in the world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Romance Reader

Written by: Pearl Abraham

First line: The sound of Ma's voice speaking English wakes me.

Why you should read this book: The eldest of seven children born to a rabbi who dreams big but can hardly pull together a minyan for his tiny synagogue, Rachel finds herself torn between the expectations of her family and community, and her own sense of self. From an adolescent girl reading forbidden English books to a terrified young woman acquiescing to an early marriage in a last-ditch attempt to gain control of her own life, she pushes every boundary set up to corral her into behaving. Fast paced and engaging, it's a big story of a very small world, one that cannot contain much in the way of free thinking.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A little painful to read if you grew up in a restrictive religious community and had to choose between pleasing your parents and pleasing yourself.

The Austere Academy

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you were going to give a gold ribbon to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn't give it to her, Carmelita was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway.

Why you should read this book: In the continuing saga of three orphans who couldn't catch a break with topographical map and a sturdy net, the Baudelaires and their constant readers are subjected to a sorry excuse for an education at the world's least accredited boarding school. Bad teachers, nonsensical rules, and a painfully unorthodox music program are only secondary problems next to Count Olaf's plan to destroy the children through physical education. In a twist, they also befriend the two remaining survivors from a set of triplets whose misfortunes eerily reflect the Baudelaire's troubles.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Lowest body count of the series so far.

Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children

Written by: Ransom Riggs

First line: I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.

Why you should read this book: Unhappy adolescent Jacob used to believe all his grandfather's fanciful fairy tales when he was a kid; after all, he had photographs to back up his stories. As a teenager, Jacob doesn't believe in much, until he actually sees the monster that murdered his grandfather. Now he's on a quest to untangle his grandfather's frantic last message to him, one that will take him across the ocean and across the years to learn the truth about his family and himself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live on an island with no libraries or bookstores.

The Miserable Mill

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: Sometime during your life—in fact, very soon—you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book's first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains.

Why you should read this book: The Beaudelaire orphans find themselves out of family members and stuck, somehow, with a guardian whose face is perpetually shrouded in smoke, and who also thinks that babies should work in lumber mills. Further ridiculous abuses of workplace safety and worker's rights follow, along with the evil Count Olaf, an equally evil optometrist, and a very disappointing compensation plan. Unfortunate events take place on almost every page.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think hypnosis is a load of hooey.


The Three Sillies

Retold by: Kathryn Hewitt

First line: Once upon a time there were a farmer and his wife who had one daughter, and she was courted by a young man.

Why you should read this book: Connoisseurs of fairy tales will likely recognize many of the pieces of this story cycle, in which foolish people behave foolishly, to the delight of young readers. A less foolish person sets off in search of some even more foolish people. Spoiler alert: he finds them.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't suffer fools gladly.

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

Written by: Jaqueline Woodson and James Ransome

First line: This is the rope my grandmother found beneath and old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina.

Why you should read this book: The historical fact of millions of African Americans leaving the south to escape overt racism is reframed as the story of a particularly useful and long-lived piece of rope. It's a jump rope, it's a clotheslines, it's a way to secure luggage to a car, and it's a message from the past handed down to the future. A sweet picture of the world and the narrator's slice of it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're an unsentimental minimalist who throws everything away. 


Written by: Uri Shulevitz

First line: The skies are gray.

Why you should read this book: A little boy with a dog is excited to see the signs of impending blizzard, while all the adults scoff and expect nothing from the sky. Of course, the little boy is correct, and delights in the translated city, white under its clean blanket of snow. High interest for little kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate shoveling.

Paul Bunyan

Retold by: Steven Kellogg

First line: Paul Bunyan was the largest, smartest, and strongest baby ever born in the state of Maine.

Why you should read this book: A rollicking retelling of the Paul Bunyan tall tale, this story begins in infancy, offering up plenty of fodder for the ridiculous. Wrestling with bears, rescuing his big blue ox, Babe, and fighting underground ogres are only a few of his early adventures. Giant pancakes and popcorn also figure prominently into the mythology of the formation of the America.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in manifest destiny.

Imogene's Antler's

Written by: David Small

First line: On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers.

Why you should read this book: Even (or especially) when you live in a fancy mansion with hired help, waking up with a giant rack on your head presents a particular set of problems. Imogene is equal to the challenges, but her mother doesn't seem prepared for a daughter with horns. Wacky good fun, with a wacky good ending.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe you can eliminate family problems by hiding them with a piece of cloth.