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.