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, so.....you'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.


Owen

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.



Bear

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. 


Snow

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.



Monday, March 13, 2017

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Written by: Eleanor Cameron

First line: One night after dinner when David was reading Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, and his father was reading the newspaper, and his mother was darning socks, his father suddenly exclaimed: "Well, now, that's very odd."

Why you should read this book: The 1950s were a simpler time, one in which parents could happily grant their pre-adolescent sons to fly to other planets in homemade rockets on missions for local eccentrics; at least, that's what happens in this magical, charming, and wish-fulfilling tale for adventurous boys who weren't quite ready for Ray Bradbury. David and Chuck, the only two boys who see the strange notice in the newspaper, happily build their own rocket ship with scrap metal and then blast off on a mission to save a race of simple fungoid folks on an invisible planet that orbits the earth inside the moon's orbit. Despite their lack of characterization, education, or ability to prize any of their benefactor's admonishments above their own hunger, they enjoy a successful adventure in which no one dies in the vacuum of space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like your science fiction a little harder than a boiled egg.



The Wide Window

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you didn't know much about the Baudelaire orphans, and you saw them sitting on their suitcases at Damocles Dock, you might think that they were bound for an exciting adventure.

Why you should read this book: Following the untimely death of their previous guardian, the hapless Baudelaires find themselves installed in a rickety house (foreshadowing) overlooking Lachrymose Lake (foreshadowing) in the care of a loving but phobia-infested aunt whose terror of doorknobs, telephones, radiators, stoves, realtors, and various other mundane things (foreshadowing) makes her a poor choice for a guardian of children. The execrable Count Olaf, in the guise of an execrable sea captain, turns up to make the children's lives more terrible, until they are racing against the clock to find a hidden message in a suicide note during a hurricane before they're all murdered, execrably. Terribly good fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This one could use a bit of editing in the middle; there's too much down time before things get really unfortunate.


The Wing Shop

Written by: Elvira Woodruff and Stephen Gammell

First line: Matthew and his family had just moved from Main Street to Finley Street.

Why you should read this book: Matthew wants to get back to his old neighborhood, but he's not allowed to walk that far, so buying a pair of wings from a little girl so he can fly there seems like a great idea. However, every pair of wings obeys its original owner's proclivities instead of Matthew's: the seagull wings take him to the ocean; the bat wings want to hang upside down in a barn. Eventually Matthew realizes that you can't go to your old home again; you can only make your new home the place you want to be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you can fly.


The Boy Who Swallowed Snakes

Written by: Laurence Yep and Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng

First line: A long time ago in southern China, forests still covered the hills.

Why you should read this book: An honest little boy tries to return a wealthy man's silver only to inadvertently take on the man's curse instead. Being pure of heart, little Chou enjoys the curse with a grain of salt (literally) and benefits materially from his afflictions. The curse catches up with the rich man, while the poor boy becomes wealthy but content.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think there's any situation where eating a raw snake could be a good idea.


Monster Slayer

Retold by: Vee Browne and Baje Whitethorne

First line: In the beginning there was Changing Woman and her sons, the Twins.

Why you should read this book: Focusing on a short portion of the longer Monster Slayer story cycle of the Navajo people, this book tells of the heroic Twins, Child Born of Water and Monster Slayer. Gifted with the affection and weapon of their father, the Sun, the Twins set out to save the villagers from the Walking Giant. Bonus points for a Navajo story written and illustrated by Navajo people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always shoot first.


A Japanese Fairy Tale

Written by: Jane Hori Iké, Baruch Zimmerman

First line: Long ago in the Land of the Rising Sun, there lived a woman who was called Kyoko.

Why you should read this book: An incredibly ugly man and an incredibly beautiful woman seem to have a happy marriage, and this can only be explained through through a fairy tale about sacrifice and divine intervention. As an unborn soul in heaven, Munakata learns that his bride-to-be on earth is destined to be hideous in the superlative, and pleads with god to make him he ugly one, apparently so he doesn't have to look at her, or maybe because it's OK for nasty dudes to marry hot chicks, but not vice versa. Kyoko is suitably impressed with his martyrdom and compelled to fall in love with him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a tendency to dig too deep. On the one hand, it's kind of sweet. On the other hand, it's kind of sad.


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Reptile Room

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world.

Why you should read this book: In the second of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves in the charge of their ebullient Uncle Montgomery Montgomery, a renowned expert in reptiles but, sadly, not an expert in recognizing that his new assistant is actually a money-hungry alcoholic psychopath intent on stealing the children's money and murdering them, in that order. While the Baudelaires read, invent, and bite their way out of various unpleasant situations, the wicked Count Olaf perpetrates his bad disguise and evil threats and the adults who should take care of the orphans remain oblivious.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't read the first one yet.


Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Somewhere in rural Connecticut—I wonder how long it will be before going to the P.O. Box every morning becomes a bygone ritual of pre-robotic times—

Why you should read this book: Surreal comic creator Bill Griffith begins to investigate the life of his great-grandfather, a famous photographer, and finds himself falling into a rabbit hole of Google pages, old letters, unpublished novels, and the ephemera of his mother's hidden reality. His mother, Barbara, carried on a seventeen-year affair with a popular cartoonist, keeping her love life all but secret from her family for most of her life. Griffith digs deep to uncover the full story of those facets of his mother he never knew, including what influence the man who might have been his stepfather could have had on his own career.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're worried about infidelity.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Million-Dollar Bear

Written by: William Kotzwinkle and David Catrow

First line: Argyle Oldhouse was a grouchy old millionaire.

Why you should read this book: There is something hilarious and sweet about this story of two millionaires who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The Million-Dollar bear lives unhappily in a dark and lonely vault, because he is the world's first teddy and extremely valuable. As a result of a robbery and an incompetent cleaner, the Million-Dollar Bear finally gets out of the vault and finds the true place of a teddy bear in this world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still have mint in box Star Wars action figures from the seventies, and no one can ever play with them because they're worth so much money.


The Bad Beginning

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.

Why you should read this book: In book one of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, lose their parents, home, and possessions in a terribly fire, and become wards of the bank that houses their late parents' fortune. Placed in the custody of an evil and terrible actor called Count Olaf, they suffer through various physical and emotional punishments. With their intelligence, determination, and quick-thinking, they escape a very terrible fate, but their story is just beginning. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. 


Tight Times

Written by: Barbara Shook Hazen and Trina Schart Hyman

First line: This morning I asked Mom, "Why can't I have a dog?"

Why you should read this book: With a child's perspective on economic troubles, this book shows a protagonist who doesn't understand his parents' financial worries, except as it pertains to what he can and can't have. He can't have a dog. Then he finds a kitten who's in even worse condition than his family....

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


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buffalo Woman

Written by: Paul Goble

First line: There was a young man who was already a great hunter.

Why you should read this book: This compelling retelling of a Native American legend shared by many Great Plains buffalo-hunting tribes, highlights the compact between human beings and the natural world they inhabit, while also functioning as the most powerful kind of love story. A hunter is rewarded for his faithfulness with a beautiful bride and a delightful child, but when his people reject Buffalo Woman as just an animal, the hunter chooses his family over his people and risks everything to reunite with the ones he loves. Determination, faith, love, honesty, and a little bit of magic.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe you're part of the natural order.


Pecos Bill

Retold and Illustrated by: Steven Kellogg

First line: Back in the rugged pioneer days when Pecos Bill was a baby, his kinfolk decided that New England was becoming entirely too crowded, so they piled into covered wagons and headed west.

Why you should read this book: I knew the name Pecos Bill but I didn't remember any of his tall tale about a Texan boy raised by coyotes. Kellogg's warm and friendly illustrations soften some of the more horrifying details of a story that depends on the defeat of monsters and criminals. Bill invents the modern rodeo, modernizes the cattle industry, and finds true love on the back of a catfish.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe strongly in the power of community and need to get along with your neighbors no matter what.


Cinderella

Retold by: Barbara Karlin and James Marshall

First line: Once there was a widower with a kind and beautiful daughter.

Why you should read this book: Marshall's hilarious drawings pair well with this deadpan retelling that highlight the grotesque aspects of Cinderella's interpersonal relationships while maintaining the tale's faith in love and magic. Cinderella has a terrible life, meets her fairy godmother, finds her prince, and loses her shoe, just as you expect her to. Happily ever after is assured, with a wink.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You remarried for the free labor.


Why the Tides Ebb and Flow

Written by: Joan Chase Bowden and Marc Brown

First line: Not in my time, not in your time, but in the old time, when the earth and sea were new, a stubborn old woman had no hut.

Why you should read this book: The kids and I both enjoyed this piece of mythological folklore explaining the tides as a result of a stubborn old woman demanding the bare necessities of life from her creator. Old woman seems helpless, but she's  trickster figure who takes advantage of Sky Spirit's human failings to get what she wants from the universe. A great lesson in determination, too.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe in making polite requests of your deities and accepting their decisions when they ignore you. Also, I wish there was a note about this story's origins, or whether the author created her own mythology.


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Rainbow Tulip

Written by: Pat Mora and Elizabeth Sayles

First line: Every morning my mother gives me a huge spoonful of thick, yellow, cod liver oil.

Why you should read this book: Stella feels different from the other children, because her mother doesn't speak English or dress like the other mothers. When she learns that all the girls in her class get to dress as tulips for their May Day dance, she chooses to set herself apart further by dressing as a rainbow-colored tulip. While noticing her differences, she finds that she can also embrace and enjoy them.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You work tirelessly to fit in.



Two Cool Coyotes

Written by: Jillian Lund

First line: Way out West, when Frank the coyote was just a pup, he had one best friend.

Why you should read this book: Two coyotes are best friends from infancy, and do everything together. Sadly, one coyote moves away, and the other misses her dreadfully. Soon, a new coyote moves into her den, and Frank finds that he can have different friends, and play different games.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You accept no substitutions.

Elphabet: An ABC of Elves

Written by: Jane Yolen and Lauren Mills

First line: A is for Acorn Elf always acrobatic.

Why you should read this book: With brief captions and delightful illustrations, here's an alphabet book for kids who want to see tiny hipster elves doing weird elf behaviors while learning their letters. Can be read straight through or examined page by page, for kids ready to identify the illustrations by their first letters. Cute and attractive.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You already know your letters and you hate cute elves.


Purple, Green and Yellow

Written by: Robert Munsch and Hélène Desputeaux

First line: Brigid went to her mother and said, "I need some coloring markers."

Why you should read this book: After proving herself responsible enough not to draw on the walls, floors, or herself with washable markers and smelly markers, Brigid convinces her mother to buy her 500 indelible ink markers, and promptly colors every inch of her body. With Munsch's trademark repetition and sense of hilarity, the story migrates from silly to very silly, with a completely silly conclusion. Kids will eat it up.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider drawing on yourself a sin, like my mom did.


The Last Noo-Noo

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Marlon sat on the floor watching TV.

Why you should read this book: A monster who is old enough to walk around town by himself still likes to suck a pacifier sometimes, and his granny monster thinks he should stop. The family's efforts to deprive Marlon of his noo-noos fails due to the fact that Marlon has enough agency to hoard his precious pacifiers. Eventually, Marlon decides to give up noo-noos of his own accord, but he still has a contingency plan in case he changes his mind.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to give up cigarettes, gum-chewing, or whatever other grown-up oral fixation you've acquired.


You and Me and Home Sweet Home

Written by: George Ella Lyon and Stephanie Anderson

First line: My mama and me, we've been living in the back room of Aunt Janey's apartment since Christmas before last.

Why you should read this book: In simple, easy-to-understand prose, a small child relates the difficulties of not having a real home, and the joy of learning that their church family will build them a Habitat-for-Humanity-style house. The child helps out as much as children are allowed to help on a construction site, and watches with increasing excitement as the new house takes form. Finally, the small family moves into its new home.

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


The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

Written by: Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

First line: "He had many wounds."

Why you should read this book: Through his religious background and his work on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of the world's foremost experts on forgiving, even when the crimes are horrific and the resolutions unsatisfying. This book offers numerous case studies, sharing the experiences of those who have forgiven criminal perpetrators, or been forgiven for their crimes, along with information on why forgiving is healthy and how it can change a victim's life. Each chapter includes journaling prompts, meditations, and activities to facilitate opening your heart to forgiveness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not ready to forgive.


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Little Book of Snowflakes

Written by: Kenneth Libbrecht

First line: Out of the bosom of the air/Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken.

Why you should read this book: Dozens of stunning macrophotography images are laid out with quotes about the natural world and some basic scientific information about the formation of snow crystals. The photographs, all apparently taken in the field by the author with his "traveling snowflake photomicroscope" are stunning in detail and variety. A perfect gift for a child with a mind for science and beauty, this book does not disappoint.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're getting cold just reading the title.


The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

Written by: Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick

Why you should read this book: I adored this informative but entertaining and beautifully illustrated historical research about the eccentric artist Waterhouse Hawkins, who almost single-handedly created the field of dinosaur reconstruction and brought the thunder lizards to life in the imaginations of countless children. Already an accomplished artist when he took his first dinosaur-related commission, Hawkins exhaustively researched paleontology before merging his knowledge with his art to create the massive models displayed in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham Park. A fascinating story about a fascinating man.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're just a boring person with no imagination and no interest in developing one.