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.


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.

The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School

Written by: Judy Sierra and Stephen Gammell

First line: I was grumpy, I was grouchy, I was slouching in my chair.

Why you should read this book: Rhyming words and bright pictures intertwine to create hilarious exaggerations of the world of a child in relationship to their school. While the other students diligently work on their science projects, our shock-haired narrator sends away for a mutant yeast she's found on the internet, with disgusting and humorous results. Chaos ensues, the world turns upside down, and then right side up again.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take your science fair projects very seriously.

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building

Written by: Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome

First line: Through the eyes of a young boy in the Great Depression, this book shows the majestic creation of the Empire State Building, at the time the tallest building in the world. Young children will be enthralled and inspired by the amazing illustrations of men working high above the street with no safety equipment, and at the quick growth of the structure. And when the building is finally complete, this story communicates the hope and inspiration with which it filled the impoverished people of New York.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid of heights. Like, really afraid of heights.

Tía Isa Wants a Car

Written by: Meg Medina and Claudio Muñoz

First line: Tía Isa wants a car.

Why you should read this book: Here's a great story teaching agency to children. The young narrator, living among a large, but divided extended family, knows that most of her aunt's money must be sent back home to the part of the family still living on the island and waiting to come to America. Caught up in her aunt's beautiful dream of owning a car that will carry them to beach whenever she wants, the little girl learns that she, too, can work and make money, so that dreams become reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The idea of immigrants working hard to create a better life for their families is somehow offensive to you.

Thomas' Snowsuit

Written by: R. Munsch and M. Martchenko

First line: One day Thomas' mother bought him a nice new brown snowsuit.

Why you should read this book: Like Munsch's work, this book illustrates the hilarity inherent in the relationships between children and adults, children and their experience of the world, and children and their conviction. Thomas refuses to wear his ugly new snowsuit, although a series of adults, will increasingly less-successful results, work to stick Thomas and the snowsuit together. There's also some humor involving accidental cross-dressing and people ending up in their underwear, just right for keeping kids interested, and a surprise ending.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You wouldn't wear a brown snowsuit either.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai

Written by: Claire A. Nivola

Why you should read this book: A beautiful melding of biography and environmentalism, this is the true story of the life of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan girl who grew up in a lush, tree-covered land, spent five years in America studying biology, and came home to find her country nearly deforested and suffering from poor land stewardship. A one-woman dynamo, she convinced the largely unlettered women of Kenya that they could improve their situation by planting trees--over thirty million of them, at the time of the book's writing--and changed the face of her nation. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, and seems to have largely protected her people from privation, but never considered her action brave or extraordinary.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're chopping down truffula trees just as fast as you can.

Chinese Writing: An Introduction

Written by: Diane Wolff

First line: China is a country about the same size as the United States.

Why you should read this book: A nice introduction to western children interested in the beautiful art of Chinese calligraphy. The book provides a little overview and history of spoken Chinese dialects and the evolution of Chinese lettering, with instructions and examples to begin painting your own calligraphic images. The philosophy of the art is also discussed, along with practical tips. With bibliography, illustrations, and examples, this is a good way to begin delving into this particular branch of multicultural understanding for young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to learn about Chinese writing.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Written by: E. L. Konigsburg

First line: To my lawyer, Saxonberg: I can't say that I enjoyed your last visit.

Why you should read this book: The classic of all modern classic children's literature, in my humble estimation. Claudia doesn't exactly remember exactly why she needs to leave home, but once she decides to run away, dragging her less enthusiastic brother, Jamie along with her, reason falls aside in favor of planning the world's most luxurious adventure and coming home different. Claudia and Jamie run away (to) and hide out (in) New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and find themselves living with a mystery they just have to solve, no matter what the cost.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather run away (to) the side of a mountain.