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.


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.