Sunday, December 30, 2018

Year in Review, 2018

For me, as for many people 2018 was a difficult year, but it was a good year for reading books. I well exceeded my goal of 100 reviews, read more books for adults, reread some kids books I hadn't looked at in quite some time, and consciously read more books by authors who were not straight, white men. I've also been chipping away at reading the Harry Potter series (out loud) to my stepdaughter; we're almost through Chamber of Secrets. I didn't review as many picture books as in previous years as I did not do kindergarten story time last semester, but I do have something in the works that, if it comes together, will mean I'll get to read even more books in 2019. If it comes together, I'll let you know.

Here's the final tally:

Picture Books: 40
Middle Grade/YA: 29
Non-fiction: 2
Novels: 15
Graphic novels: 18
Short Story Collection: 4
Memoir/Bio: 4

Total: 112 books reviewed!

As always, this list does not reflect the fact that there are certain books that I read over and over. In general, I only blog books once (although I have blogged books that were apparently so unmemorable that I forgot I had already read and reviewed them).

Luisa: Now and Then

Written by: Carole Maurel (adapted by Mariko Tamaki)

First line: End of the line...

Why you should read this book: Angsty teen Luisa Arambol falls asleep on a bus and wakes up in Paris, far removed from the sleepy town where she boarded, and even farther removed from the year in which she boarded, for she is soon to discover that she has traveled in time to the future, and the grown woman who shares her name and face and lives in her aunt's old apartment is her, as an unfulfilled adult. The two Luisas, after dancing around each other, begin to share their stories and recollections, while subtly shifting personalities just enough to allow them each to face their inner truths. Eventually they realize that the incident that preceded the younger Luisa's adventure is the same memory that has been holding the older Luisa back from true happiness her entire adult life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've rejected your child because you didn't think it was OK for them to be who they were.


Written by: Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, and Jason Wordie

First line: So, Detective, you think it was negro militants did this?

Why you should read this book: As a black woman living in Detroit in 1972, Elena Abbott can't escape racism and sexism, but as an investigative journalist committed to telling the stories that mainstream news doesn't want to cover, she's pretty much throwing herself into maelstroms of casual bigotry and hatred. But this is actually a Lovecraftian horror story in which Abbott, seeking out connections among murders, mutilations, disappearances, and visions, finds herself pursued by hideous monsters, and the white supremacist ideology at the heart of the problem is the least of her worries as the body count mounts and the story she's trying to cover seems poised to swallow her whole. Just a really stunning graphic novel that seamlessly combines its themes and influences to create something new and remarkable.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Amber and the Hidden City

Written by: Milton Davis

First line: One more goal, that's all they needed.

Why you should read this book: Amber's upset that her parents are sending her to private school in the fall, when all her friends will stay in the public school system, but those worries evaporate when she's summoned by her beloved grandmother for what she believes will be two heavenly weeks at the beach. It turns out that Amber's grandmother actually wants to take her to a secret and magical African city, where Amber must use her newfound ability to read people's true intentions and select the next leader of her grandmother's people. Now Amber, her grandmother, and a handsome young warrior are being pursued across the planet by people who will do almost anything to keep Amber from her hereditary responsibility.

Why you shouldn't read this book: My edition needed a vast quantity of editing. I also felt like the romance aspect of the story was a bit forced.

Mind of My Mind

Written by: Octavia Butler

First line: Doro's widow in the southern California city of Forsyth had become a prostitute.

Why you should read this book: Doro and Anyanwu's offspring have multiplied, so that many of their descendants are strong and stable, including Mary, a young woman on the verge of breaking through to her adult power. When Mary does come into her talent, she inadvertently creates a psychic pattern that allows her to draw other family members to her, and to help the latents—miserable members unable to stabilize their abilities—mature and become fully functional. Mary's ability, which enslaves her people while it strengthens them, threatens Doro's hold over his own experiments, and a showdown is inevitable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Not as much enforced breeding and senseless death as the last book, but some.

A Choir of Ill Children

Written by: Tom Piccirilli

First line: We move in spasms.

Why you should read this book: A thick and grimy tapestry of southern gothic intrigue, this book begins with Thomas, a man plagued by history, his own personal experiences and the lives of the ancestors who came before him and left him alone with a giant house, a sizable fortune, and the care of his three brothers, conjoined triplets joined at the forehead. Murder, suicide, and accidental death creep through his story like Spanish moss and rising water, alone with a strange cast of colorful locals and equally colorful out-of-towners. There's a phantom dog-kicker, a mute girl, a bevy of swamp witches, ghosts, monks, and coked out grad students, combined with dangerous weather, and the weight of the world's expectations in this weird and wonderful story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The morality of Kingdom Come is likely not your morality.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Wild Seed

Written by: Octavia Butler

First line: Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages.

Why you should read this book: In a vast, sweeping epic spanning two continents and several lifetimes, Doro, an immortal creature whose power to possess human bodies has taken him far from his human roots three thousand years in the past, discovers Anyanwu, a shape shifting healer, who, at three hundred years old, may be the key to Doro's quest to breed a race of superhumans. Anyanwu, who has known tyranny and loss, relishes her autonomy and is reluctant to bend to Doro's power or submit his experimental breeding program, but as the centuries pass, their relationship becomes deeper and more complex. This gripping novel is the first of a four-book story arc known collectively as the Patternist Series.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Content warning for a seriously abusive relationship.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Body Music

Written by: Julie Maroh

First line: Whenever people talk about love/It's always "never" and "always"

Why you should read this book: A graphic novel in the form of a collection of flash fictions about sex, love, and relationships that transcend the banal, heteronormative Hollywood ideals, it's the emotional equivalent of a series of swift one-two punches to the heart. Queer, trans, disabled, polyamorous, young, old, fat, confused, uncertain, the characters that tumble through this volume feel fully fleshed and really realized, despite having only the space of a few pages to play through their romantic dramas. Lovely, fast-paced, honest, raw, warm, and rewarding, this is book for people who believe in love in whatever form it takes and maybe don't mind shedding a tear or two for the sake of literature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think heteronormative Hollywood ideals are the only romantic ideals. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Ramona and Beezus

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Beatrice Quimby's biggest problem was her little sister Ramona.

Why you should read this book: I skipped over it when I reviewed all those other Beverly Clearly books last July because I couldn't get my hands on a copy, and someone just gave me one, and it's still a delightful piece of work, if only the slightest bit dated (a 2018 parents requiring a nine-year-old to leave the four-year-old to play in a sand pile with no supervision while the older child takes an art class would likely lead to CPS involvement, and what modern parent would simply drop their kids off at another child's house on the invitation of a pre-schooler?). Unlike the other other Ramona books, this story is mostly about Beezus, her exasperation with her sister's rambunctiousness, and her own sense of unease over realizing that she doesn't always love Ramona. While justice isn't exactly served in every case, and the world isn't always fair, sensible, gentle Beezus usually comes out on top, and learns to tolerate her sister.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're the person who calls CPS on the kid playing unsupervised in the sand pile.

Friday, October 26, 2018


Written by: Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy

First line: Come out of the sunlight—rise from the burning dawn—stride into the watching noon—hide in the midnight shadows.

Why you should read this book: For historical purposes: this is the first work ever marketed as a "graphic novel" thus disproving the idea that comics were only for semi-literate mouth breathers and five-year-olds. It works really hard to feel generate a sense of edginess and righteousness as it draws a world of the future in which violence and technology has stripped some degree of humanity from the human race. Enter Sabre, a consummate gunslinging anachronism accompanied by a nearly naked, nubile, and naughty companion, and his mcguffin-esque quest to help some people who we never see and whose destiny is not addressed in the context of the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Really overwritten, really inexplicable, really hard to plow through.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Non-magic people (more commonly known as muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it.

Why you should read this book: Voldemort has slunk out of sight, but Harry has plenty of other problems in his third year at Hogwarts, including being pursued by a large, canine specter of death, attacked by floating, corpsified specters of death, a professor who repeatedly predicts Harry's imminent death, and not having a parent or guardian to sign the permission slip that would allow him to go into town on the weekends. Meanwhile, the vicious killer, Sirius Black, has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban, and all the adults are hiding his apparent intent from Harry in the name of protecting Harry from the truth. Armed with his trust cloak of invisibility, which Harry seems incapable of hanging on to for more than five minutes at a stretch despite it being one of the most valuable artifacts on the planet, plus a magic map that reveals more than most maps can manage, and, of course, his friends, Harry will try to survive this book while playing quidditch and passing his third year of school (this book is also notable for Hermione smacking Malfoy in the face).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still hear the screams of your dead parents. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Room Away from the Wolves

Written by: Nova Ren Suma

First line: When the girl who lived in the room below mine disappeared into the darkness, she gave no warning, she showed no twitch of fear.

Why you should read this book: Bina isn't just running away from home, where her mother seems to care more for the feelings of Bina's wicked stepsisters than for her own daughter; she's running to somewhere: an all-girls boarding house in New York City where her mother once spent a summer that has grown to mystical proportions in Bina's imagination. But something strange is going in at Catherine House, something she can't quite put her finger on, something to do with ghosts and secrets and rules and girls who don't want to be there but can't seem to leave and an opal ring that vanishes and reappears with astonishing regularity. Bina doesn't want to leave, but she doesn't know if she can stay, and until she figures out the mystery of the house, and how it connects to her personally, she'll never figure out who she is or what she's supposed to do.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A house full of teenage girls is your nightmare, even without the ghosts.

Red Clocks

Written by: Leni Zumas

First line: Born in 1841 on a Faroese sheep farm.

Why you should read this book: In a muted nightmare America, abortion and in vitro fertilization have been outlawed and adoption is only legal for two-parent households in a book that highlights ways in which women are harmed by anti-woman legislation masquerading as pro-child values. Ro, single and middle aged desperately wants a baby but can't conceive; her teenage student Mattie finds herself trapped in an unwanted pregnancy; Susan has a traditional marriage and a traditional family but feels miserable in her life; Gin, an herbalist with a nontraditional life and worldview, is a woman with the power to help women, may also be the one who pays the steepest price. The personal is political in a novel that highlights how impersonal politics personally impact individuals.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The people who aren't going to read or understand the book are the people who most need to read this book. If you think there's any legitimacy to the phrase "fetal personhood," you probably won't pick it up, but you might learn something about actual personhood if you did.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

Written by: Adeline Yen Mah

First line: As soon as I got home from school, Aunt Baba noticed the silver medal dangling from the left breast pocket of my uniform.

Why you should read this book: Considered unlucky due to the proximity of her mother's death to her own birth, Jun-ling, known to her family is Fifth Daughter, suffers the discrimination of her young, powerful, and probably insane stepmother, under whose influence the entire family follows suit. While her half-siblings receive the best of everything and her older siblings band together, Jun-ling is psychologically tortured throughout her entire childhood; at one point in the story her parents literally take her to a war zone and leave her in a convent school even as the other girls are pulled from the school and taken away to safer places by parents who care whether they live or die. Jun-ling's only shred of hope in life is her academic prowess, which gives her a prayer of a better future as well as a world to escape to in the present.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Wow, this family is seriously messed up.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Written by: Athol Fugard

First line: There had been a silence, as always happened at about the same time, a long silence when none of them moved except maybe to lift a glass and hold it high above their heads for the dregs to drip into their open mouths, or to yawn and stretch and slump back into their chairs, when one of them might scratch himself, another consider the voice of the woman in the backyard, the old woman who was scolding, rattling her words like stones in a tin, and all of them in their own time looking at the street outside, and the shadows, wondering if they were not yet long enough.

Why you should read this book: Set in South Africa during apartheid, this novel details a moment of revelation in the life of Tsotsi (literally"gangster"), a boy without a past or a future, a young man living in the moment of drinking and stealing and killing, feeling no remorse, feeling nothing whatsoever, until the night one of his gang members calls him out for his lack of feeling. Tsotsi beats the accuser into unconsciousness, runs into the night, and ends up in possession of a helpless infant, whose presence helps Tsotsi comprehend empathy, recall the trauma of his past, and begin to care for something beside the next job. In addition to its excellent writing and exquisite description of the human psyche, this novel also provides a detailed understanding of the everyday horrors of apartheid and the casual dehumanization of black people in South Africa in the late seventies and early eighties.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not happy. Nothing happy happens. The ending is enlightening, but not uplifting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

Why you should read this book: Terrible things are afoot in Harry Potter's world, as evidenced by the fact that school hasn't even started yet and already he's been chastised by muggles and magicians because a house elf dropped his aunt's pudding, shut out of the passageway to Platform 9 3/4, and been beaten up by a tree while illegally riding in a stolen flying car. But these events are overshadowed by the strange horror lurking the halls of Hogwarts: a monster that petrifies muggle-borns and threatens to bring an end to Albus Dumbledore and the entire school of magic. If he breaks any more rules, Harry risks expulsion from Hogwarts, but if doesn't break the rules, he risks losing magic altogether.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Spiders. Lots of spiders. Really giant spiders.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Falling in Love with Hominids

Written by: Nalo Hopkinson

First line: "The easthound bays at night," Jolly said.

Why you should read this book: This deeply imaginative short story collection covers the range of traditional speculative motifs, including ghosts, fairies, monsters, gods, and stochastic flying elephants, while maintaining a modern, enlightened sensibility that injects a bright freshness into familiar tropes along with the voices of queer folks and people of color. From teenage girls taking on the persona of dragons to fight back against sexual harassment to the sibling rivalry between the spirits from Shakespeare's Tempest, these intelligent  stories feel new and smart and forward-thinking. Enjoyable, fast-paced, clever, and wonderfully written, it's both fun and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some nasty bits with city rats.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Among the Dolls

Written by: William Sleator

First line: The poplar trees along the roadside shimmered in a light breeze, and there was hardly a nip in the autumn air.

Why you should read this book: Incensed that her parents bought her a creepy antique dollhouse for her birthday instead of the new ten-speed bike she desires, Vicky begins emotionally abusing the dolls by using them to act out a terrible family life for her own amusement. Vicky's own home life becomes less and less optimal until one day she finds herself magically transported into the world of the dollhouse, whose occupants, well aware that Vicky is the cause of all their misery, intend to take out their revenge on her person. She has very little time to discover the dollhouse's secrets and escape from the terrible world of her own making.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Probably not a good choice for kids who have witnessed domestic violence.

The Hookah Girl and Other True Stories

Written by: Marguerite Dabaie

First line: Being a Palestinian requires so much responsibility.

Why you should read this book: The author packs a lot of ideas into a tiny little volume, painting a pretty detailed picture of growing up as a Palestinian-American girl in black and white strokes. She outlines her understanding of her culture of origin, depicting Arab customs to an audience that may be unfamiliar with the food and culture, while also highlighting her own growing understand of her own place within her family and her desires to move in the larger world. It's introspective, provocative, joyful, and honest.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your designer kaffiyeh is an important fashion statement.

The Beatrice Letters

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: I am sorry I embarrassed you in front of your friends.

Why you should read this book: If you can't get enough of a Series of Unfortunate Events, you will enjoy this epistolary supplement, which includes six letters written by Lemony Snicket to his beloved Beatrice Baudelaire prior to the events of the series, and six letters written by Beatrice Snicket to Lemony Snicket a decade or so after the the series. I personally found it more interesting, more readable, more informative, and more intelligible than the Lemony Snicket biography. The book also contains some other images, including a double-sided full-color poster and some perforated letters than can be removed and arranged to form possibly useful anagrams.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have to really be a fan of the series.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Desert

Written by: Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

First line: A bit more than three hundred years ago, in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries.

Why you should read this book: Blackberry fool is a simple, and apparently ancient dessert, and this book uses it as a platform to discuss changes in society and technology along with the constancy of family and sugar. Showing four different parent-child combinations in four different centuries, the book also demonstrates social evolution, depicting black slaves cooking for white plantation owners in the nineteenth century and boys cooking for a diverse group of friends in the twenty-first century. Of course, the book also includes a recipe for making your own blackberry fool, with a grown-up's help.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some of us are fine spraying Reddi Whip on our fruit.

The Ugly Dumpling

Written by: Stephanie Campisi

First line: Once upon a time, perhaps last week, or even last night, at your local dim sum restaurant...there was an ugly dumpling.

Why you should read this book: The ugly dumpling is sad and lonely and uneaten and unloved, until a helpful and romantic cockroach takes the ugly dumping under its wing, so to speak. Cockroach shows dumpling all the beauty of the world (restaurant) and eventually the ugly dumpling realizes that it's not an dumpling at all; he's a perfectly normal steamed bun. Even the discovery of its cockroach companion and the ensuing disgust cannot dampen the steamed bun's elation or its ardor for the cockroach.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Cockroach.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners

Written by: Therese Oneill

First line: Thank you for coming.

Why you should read this book: Despite the title, only about thirty-five percent of this book discusses sex, marriage, and manners for (wealthy, white) Victorian ladies, with the other sixty-five percent of the text comprising the author's snarky remarks about the quotes, advice, morals, and customs of nineteenth century England. Most of the information here concerning hygiene, gender roles, food, and relationships is presented with various degrees of horror from a twenty-first century perspective. Period photos and illustrations with tongue-in-cheek captions complete this comic romp crashing through the putative romance of another time and place.

Why you should not read this book: Well, I wouldn't accept it as a primacy source in a composition class.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God, & Genius in the Music of Prince

Written by: Ben Greenman

First line: The phrase is stuck in my head.

Why you should read this book: Arranged by subject rather than chronologically, this book is part biography, part musicology, part history, part analysis, and mostly every thought the author ever had about his subject matter between discovering Prince in 1982 and turning the manuscript into his publisher in 2017. The chapters are short and sweet, peppered with anecdotes, quotes, descriptions of songs, philosophy, and personal reflection, written in an astonishing voice that tosses off stunning metaphors, name drops, and digs deep for comparisons to others artists, other art, and other types of thinking. The author doesn't pull his punches, never allowing his great admiration for Prince to overwhelm the reality of his research: that Prince was both a rock god and very human, capable of ascending to great heights while still remaining prey to the foibles of being a man.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never been inspired by Prince.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stone Butch Blues

Written by: Leslie Feinberg

First line: Dear Theresa, I'm lying on my bed tonight missing you, my eyes all swollen, hot tears running down my face.

Why you should read this book: Jess Goldberg has always known herself to be different, assigned female at birth but never fulfilling the expectations the world around her held for girls. As a teenager, Jess discovers there are other people like her, and she begins frequenting gay bars and coming to understand her identity: she is a stone butch, a woman who loves women but doesn't present in a feminine way. In the years before the Stonewall Riot, and the decades before the AIDS crisis mobilized the community, Jess suffers every violation society has to offer women like her, but learns, through the pain, how to love others and, finally, how to love herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Violence, rape, homophobia, transphobia. It's a brutal narrative.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The First Rule of Punk

Written by: Celia C. Pérez

First line: Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.

Why you should read this book: Malú's mother always wants her to take pride in her Mexican heritage and be lovely little senorita, but Malú's dad has taught her that punk rock is everything (she can barely imagine how they were ever married and she's certainly not surprised that they're divorced), so when she learns that she and her mother are moving to Chicago for two years and leaving her dad behind, she's devastated. She's not Mexican enough for the kids in her new school, or even for the principal, and just expressing her punk rock heritage is enough to get her in trouble. When she starts her own punk band, Malú finds her voice, inspires her friends, and creates a new path where there wasn't one before.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get why anyone would color their hair and you think all popular music is noise.

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Written by: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and VC's Joe Caramagna

First line: I just want to smell it.

Why you should read this book: Kamala is a Muslim girl who writes Avengers fan fiction and likes to smell non-halal food even though she'd never taste it, until one fateful night when she's fed up with being good and sneaks out to go to a party, where she is inexplicably accosted by three Urdu-speaking beings who are dressed like her superhero idols but who are very clearly not Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Ironman. Inexplicably, she is granted shape-shifting powers and immediately starts kicking butt as a fairly powerful but completely inexperienced superhero, which naturally has the ripple effect of eroding her relationship with family and friends, and, of course, earning her a supervillain enemy. I don't read a lot of capes and tights, and this book was possibly not as much as a revelation to me as it was to some of its audience, but it's a nice, fast-paced piece with interesting characters and plenty of potential.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never cared what your parents thought.

Jean and Johnny

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I have the funniest feeling," remarked Jean Jarrett, who was drying the supper dishes while her older sister Sue washed them.

Why you should read this book: Even though her big sister begs her not to chase boys, Jean doesn't think she's doing any pursuing. After all, Johnny is the one who asked her to dance even though she wasn't even dressed up, and they would have gone on that date if his parents let him, and they did go get Cokes that one time. Jean will have to learn the hard way how to figure out if a boy really likes you or if he just likes the attention you give him for being handsome and suave.

Why you shouldn't read this book: So dated: the dancing and the sewing and the rules of engagement between boys and girls.


Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her baby-sitting job.

Why you should read this book: When you're a fifteen year old girl who's ready for heteronormative love but can't seem to summon any amount of glamor in your life, nothing could feel more spectacular than meeting a new boy in town who figures out how to call you up and ask you out after a single, awkward encounter even though you never told him your name or phone number. But merely interesting a new boy is only the beginning: now Jane has to navigate the strange world of dating, finding confidence around sharper, more experienced girls, acting like a grownup when her mother makes her dress like a child, and confronting unfamiliar foods and experiences with grace. Does Stan really like her, and do they have a beautiful future together, or is Jane destined to remain an unloved little girl for all time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It was written in 1956, so a lot of the dating norms and teenage customs will probably seem alien to modern readers.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ellen Tebbits

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ellen Tebbits was in a hurry.

Why you should read this book: It's a quiet and sort of old-fashioned story about a girl with a terribly old-fashioned secret: in the winter, Ellen's neat and tidy mother forces her to wear long, high-necked, woolen underwear. Ellen assumes she's the only girl in the world trying to do ballet with a union suit under her dance costumes, but, in trying to hide her own secret, she learns that the new girl, Austine, shares the same terrible problem! Austine's friendship changes Ellen's life, until a bad reaction to a misunderstanding drives a terrible wedge between the two girls, leaving Ellen lonelier than ever, until she can figure out a way to make it up to her former best friend.

Why you should read this book: I'm not sure any kids today would have any idea what Ellen is talking about when she describes her winter underwear.

Ramona's World

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby was nine years old.

Why you should read this book: Finally, Ramona has a new friend, a girl who's just moved to town and likes the same shows and games as she does. Other things are changing too: she's getting used to her new baby sister, and she's watching her big sister navigate middle school. She even knows just how to deal with fourth grade romance, such as it is, and one of these days she'll even figure out spelling in this fitting end to the beloved series.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want it to be over.

Ramona Forever

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Guess what?" Ramona Quimby asked one Friday evening when her Aunt Beatrice dropped by to show off her new ski clothes and to stay for supper.

Why you should read this book: This is the one in which Ramona is mature enough to recognize that Howie's grandmother is a terribly babysitter and a reasonably third grader should not have to spend five afternoons a week with a caretaker who seriously dislikes her. With Howie's rich uncle Hobart in town and her newfound independence blossoming into a different kind of responsibility, Ramona deepens her relationship with Beezus and finds that sometimes change is good. Even if her mother is pregnant again and her aunt is getting married and moving to Alaska, Ramona can learn to adapt.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Poor Howie has to wear short pants and knee socks to the wedding.

Ramona and her Mother

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "When will they be here?" asked Ramona Quimby, who was supposed to be dusting the living room but instead was twirling around trying to make herself dizzy.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is getting bigger, which means more responsibility, and, maybe, less comfort. With her mother still working full time and her father stuck in a job he hates, it's up to Ramona to get along with the terrible Willa Jean, navigate a new classroom at school, and be the steady sister in the face of Beezus's adolescent worries and her parent's quarrels. All she really wants is to be loved, and, she finds, she is.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The violence of the pancake-slashing incident may forever scar you.

Ramona and Her Father

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Ye-e-ep!" sang Ramona one warm September afternoon, as she knelt on a chair at the kitchen table to make out her Christmas list.

Why you should read this book: A little older and little more amenable to accepting her big sister's wisdom, Ramona finds her world rearranged when her father loses his job and the family's financial situation depends on her mother working full-time. Initially excited to have her father around more, Ramona's optimism is crushed by her father's despair and the daily drudgery of giving up little luxuries that the family can no longer afford. Through the book, Ramona learns how to be a better friend to her sister and how to forge a stronger and more mature bond with her father, and how to be happy with what she has.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The scene where Ramona gets a million burrs stuck in her hair is pretty traumatic for people who like their hair.

Ramona the Brave

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park.

Why you should read this book: Ramona is sure she's always occupying the higher ground, but people don't always seem to understand her actions when she jumps in to right perceived wrongs. Whether she's defending her sister from schoolyard bullying or defending herself from artistic plagiarism, she never seems to get the response or the accolades she wants. Still, even if it's scary to have her own room at last, think about a picture of an angry gorilla, or confront a barking dog, it turns out that Ramona really is a brave little girl.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Ramona's kind of lucky that she doesn't actually get eaten by that dog.

Ramona the Pest

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I am not a pest," Ramona told her big sister, Beezus.

Why you should read this book: This is the second book in the series, but the first told from the point of view of the creative, impulsive, emotional, and delightful little sister, Ramona. Five years old and ready for kindergarten, Ramona has a new degree of freedom that's sometimes just right for a little girl and sometimes might be a little too much. Timeless childhood adventure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Five-year-olds are encouraged to walk to school by themselves!

Just Ella

Written by: Margaret Peterson Haddix

First line: The fire had gone out, and I didn't know what to do.

Why you should read this book: After escaping the abusive situation of her wicked stepmother's household and moving to the royal palace to prepare for her wedding to Prince Charming, Ella assumed that all her problems had come to an end, but it feels like she just traded one form of domestic bondage for another. As a princess in training, she's not allowed to do or say what she feels, and her life is an endless procession of instruction and restriction, punctuated only by brief, chaperones moments of the prince telling her how beautiful she is. When Ella finds herself intellectually stimulated by a kind tutor who cares more for displaced refugees than court conventions, she has to decide how much she's willing to risk—and lose—to pursue a life of authentic freedom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sometimes it's hard to suspend disbelief of a world with such ridiculous restriction and anachronism.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

An American Marriage

Written by: Tayari Jones

First line: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home and those who don't.

Why you should read this book: Roy and Celestial, a young, professional, newlywed couple, have suffered a few setbacks in their first year of marriage, but when Roy is falsely accused and convicted of rape and sentenced to twelve years in prison for being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, their prospects appear truly bleak. The genius in this book, I think, is the author's use of voice: three separate character are portrayed through the use of first person narrative, with Roy and Celestial's voice changing and maturing over time, and an epistolary chapter comprising Roy's correspondence with his wife and family while incarcerated. In many ways it's an emotionally difficult story, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the payoff at the end, but it's incredibly well-written, provocative and realistic and heartbreaking.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't understand why anyone would ever leave home.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

James and the Giant Peach

Written by: Roald Dahl

First line: Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old.

Why you should read this book: Rollicking good fun for kids, this story is a tiny bit gentler than some of Dahl's other novels for young readers, full of invention and a touch of danger and just enough transformation to create a fairy tale sensibility. Orphaned at a young age, James escapes his abusive guardians with the help of a bag of magic, which he clumsily spills into the roots of a decrepit tree. Traveling in a giant peach, with the companionship of a group of giant, friendly insects, a little boy with no friends finds his way to a world with no lack of them.

Why you should read this book: Aside from a little sizeism directed at the terrible, abusive guardians, this book stands up pretty well for its age.

Ready Player One

Written by: Ernest Cline

First line: Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.

Why you should read this book: In a future so bleak that everyone prefers to spend the vast majority of their lives jacked in to the virtual reality world known as the OASIS, the only beacon of hope for many young people is the contest set up by the OASIS's creator: solve a series of puzzles based on '80s pop culture knowledge and become the heir to the creator's tremendous fortune. Five years after the announcement, no one's solved a single puzzle, but Wade, impoverished and with very few of the resources needed to explore the OASIS, finally gets lucky. What follows is a break-neck journey through landscapes real, imaginary, and remembered, as Wade, his online friends, and an evil corporation race to reach the end of the quest and learn who will control the OASIS.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Oh, my god, the exposition. So. Much. Exposition.

Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Written by: Dorothy Allison

First line: "Let me tell you a story," I used to whisper to my sister, hiding with them behind the red-dirt bean hills and row on row of strawberries.

Why you should read this book: This is a book about taking ownership of your own narrative, of accepting that the past is where you come from but not who you are. It's also a book about growing up affected by generation of poverty, violence, and sexual abuse, but, the author promises, everyone has the choice to transcend this history and create their own story. Short and fast-paced, this is a powerful memoir that feels like poetry although it's written in prose.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Trigger for childhood incest and abuse.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

Written by: Zora Neale Hurston

First line: I was summer when I went to talk with Cudjo so his door was standing wide open.

Why you should read this book: This fascinating book, an interview turned on its head by the subject's desire to share his story in his own way, was an early work of a then relatively-unknown Hurston, who masterfully turned a series of conversations into the shape of a book that was then considered unpublishable, as Hurston insisted on retaining her subject's use of dialect; it has only been released now, nearly sixty years after the author's death (and even longer after the subject's). One of the few slave narrative recounting the middle passage, Barracoon follows the life of a young African man, plucked from the continent on a dare long after the transport of Africans to America on slave ships had been outlawed. The story covers traditional life in the village where Cudjo (originally know as Kossula) grew up, his kidnapping, sale, transport across the ocean, years as a slave, and years as a free man after the Civil War.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Don't care about history, hope to repeat it.

The Power

Written by: Naomi Alderman

First line: Dear Naomi, I've finished the bloody book.

Why you should read this book: Inventive, inspiration, and fast-paced, this speculative-realism novel proposes a world in which all girls and most women spontaneously develop the ability to generate and transmit electricity from their hands, effectively putting an end to most forms of male-on-female violence along with the patriarchy. We follow a handful of international characters: the foster kid who founds her own religion based on the power, the wealthy kid who launches a journalism career covering the phenomenon, the politician hiding her own power even as she works to regulate the paradigm shift. It's just a tremendously interesting story that plays with convention and rewrites reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I'll echo other critics with the assessment that the only thing that's wrong with this book is that it's not non-fiction. But I guess if you're a misogynist who already fears the ladies, this might not be the story for you.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Fish Girl

Written by: David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli

First line: Welcome to Ocean Wonders, the realm of Neptune, god of seas and storm.

Why you should read this book: Two talented children's authors offer a new spin on an old myth in gorgeous full color: the little mermaid get the Frozen treatment, taking romance out of the equation and replacing it with sisterly love. Fish Girl lives as a sideshow attraction in a failing boardwalk aquarium at the mercy of a man who claims to be Neptune, god of the ocean, her only protector. When she becomes friends with a human girl, her quest to explore the greater world and her own identity takes on a greater urgency.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd never give up your tail.

The Werewolf of Paris

Written by: Guy Endore

First line: Where shall I begin this tale.

Why you should read this book: This old novel has everything, if you consider rape, incest, cannibalism, sex work, monsters, obscure history, and mass murder to be everything. Conceived under ill-fated circumstance of an ill-fated line, Bertrand Caillet can do little to control the blood lust and putative transformation that has plagued his nights since childhood, climaxing in the anarchistic moment of the 1871 Commune government of Paris, a civilization in which a werewolf can really feel at home, or, perhaps, like a lesser monster among greater monsters. If you like gothic horror, and have a strong stomach, this is the next novel you should read.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In addition to the rape, incest, cannibalism, sex work, monsters, obscure history, and mass murder, there's a lot of French and some Latin.

Things Fall Apart

Written by: Chinua Achebe

First line: Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and beyond.

Why you should read this book: The life of Okonkwo, a strong man in a Ibo village in Nigeria, has long been a defining work that drew western readers into African literature. Detailed, meaningful, and deeply moving, this book paints a picture of world that has passed: a tribal world uncontaminated by colonial Christian influences, until, despite all of Okonkwo's beliefs and efforts, times change, and things fall apart. Okonkwo does everything according to the best practices of his civilization, even when there are questions as to the validity of the cultural knowledge, but when white men permeate the boundaries of his land, there is less honor for the traditional rules, and less of a place for strong men like Okonkwo.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a missionary who finds other cultures fascinating as long as you can convert them.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chu Ju's House

Written by: Gloria Whelan

First line: It was the fifth day of the fourth moon, Tomb Sweeping Day, which some call Day of Pure Brightness.

Why you should read this book: I don't think there's a lot of English children's literature set in this time and place: China in the 1960s, as ancient culture and modern values clash on personal and political levels. Chu Ju's family is devastated to learn that her new sibling is female, and decide to give the baby up for adoption so they can try for a boy under the current two-child policy. Chu Ju, in love with the new baby, decides to sacrifice herself, running away to find her own fortune so the new baby can grow up in a loving family.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't do hard work.

Bud, Not Buddy

Written by: Christopher Paul Curtis

First line: Here we go again.

Why you should read this book: Following another terrible, abusive foster placement, young orphan Bud (not Buddy), who still remembers his loving, but late mother, decides to escape the system and take charge of his future by tracking down his biological father. Guided only by some old flyers advertising a jazz band, Bud points himself in the direction of the man he's sure is his father, and learns that he still has a lot to learn about the world. Smart, detailed, and written in an astonishingly honest voice, this is an important book and a great read.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You torment your foster siblings for fun.

Through the Woods

Written by: Emily Carroll

First line: When I was little I used to read before I slept at night.

Why you should read this book: Seven spine-tingling horror comics with a gothic feel and a modern sensibility haunt this charming collection of monsters, ghouls, and little girls in mortal terror. While some of the stories rely more on atmosphere than plot to stir the reader and leave the conclusions somewhat open-ended, there are enough creepy moments to satisfy readers seeking gore. Stunning, evocative, moody, and imaginative illustrations and literary language help elevate this book above its genre.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can be really legitimately freaky.

The Empress and the Silkworm

Written by: Lily Toy Hong

First line: Nearly five thousand years ago, Huang-Ti, known as the Yellow Emperor, ruled the ancient land of China.

Why you should read this book: A disgusting confluence of a cocoon and a cup of hot tea turns into an epic discovery: silk. The emperor's wife dreams of using this magical new fiber to create a magnificent robe for her husband. This legendary story is based on historical events.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A worm falls into teacup. That's pretty nasty.

The Bachelor and the Bean

Written by: Shelley Fowles

First line: Once, long ago, there was a grumpy old bachelor who lived in a town in Morocco.

Why you should read this book: A man with a naturally discontent streak and a predilection for complaint gets lucky when his whiny ways are rewarded by an annoyed imp. However, the man's good fortune turns back to complaint as an equally mean woman steals his treasures. Annoyed, the imp helps the man understand what's really going on, and the angry man and the angry woman arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like yelling.

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More

Written by: Karen Beaumont

First line: One day my mama caught me paintin' pictures on the floor and the ceiling and the walls and the curtains and the door, and I heard my mama holler like I never did before, "Ya ain't a-gonna paint no more!"

Why you should read this book: Rollicking rhythm book about an aspiring artist inspired by the canvas at hand. Needless to say, regardless of the title, the mother's admonition, and the narrator's assurance, the painting continues until there is nothing left to paint. Lots of fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live in a white house with white walls, white floors, and white furniture.


Written by: Jane Kurtz

First line: Trouble always found Tekleh

Why you should read this book: A spirited young boy seems to naturally attract trouble, so his father makes him a wooden game board to keep him out of it. The game board, of course, leads Tekleh into a series of strange encounters. Despite his inability to stay out of trouble, he handles himself well and comes out ahead after a day of silliness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You rely on technology track your child's whereabouts at any given time.


A Dog with Nice Ears

Written by: Lauren Child.

First line: I have this little sister Lola.

Why you should read this book: Charlie and Lola fantasize about getting the perfect dog, even as their parents insist that they're not getting any kind of dog. A rabbit is offered as a substitute, but the children are adamant that a rabbit is not a dog. As it turns out, rabbits and dogs can share many similarities.

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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Written by: Cheslea Sedoti

First line: The first thing that happened was Lizzie Lovett disappeared, and everyone was all, "How can someone like Lizzie be missing?" and I was like, "Who cares?"

Why you should read this book: Hawthorn Creely doesn't understand why everyone is so caught up in the disappearance of pretty, perky Lizzie Lovett, who graduated from her high school three years ago and moved to the next town over, even though Hawthorn's own brother used to date her and there's nothing else going on to talk about in their town anyway. Jealous of the relationships she believes Lizzie had, Hawthorn neglects her own relationships as her obsession with the mystery leads her to insert herself into the life of the missing girl and attempt to recreate some of her circumstances. Fast-paced and fun, this story of a teenager taking a final, convoluted step, toward becoming a grown-up walks a surprising path.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The title is pretty misleading, given that Lizzie Lovett is a maguffin who possibly lies once in a flashback but doesn't actually play much of a role in the book, and the vast majority of lies about Lizzie are the conclusions Hawthorn draws in her head. Also, one of these coming-of-age stories where a teenage girl loses her virginity sort of accidentally.

Friday, May 4, 2018

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

Written by: Fredrik Backman

First line: Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.

Why you should read this book: Elsa, an unreliable child narrator with a love of literature like Harry Potter, Spiderman comics, and Wikipedia knows that she's different, and while she suffers at school, she thrives in the love of her rebellious, unconventional, story-telling best friend, her grandmother. When Granny dies, Elsa finds herself cut off from the fairy tale land of her grandmother's invention, which had always sustained her through difficult times. Meanwhile, her grandmother has charged her with a quest of finding and delivering a series of posthumous apologies to people from her past, and Elsa begins to find magic again in her newfound understanding of who her grandmother was, and who she wants to be.

Why you should read this book: You're an educator who discourages imagination in children.

Witch's Boy

Written by: Kelly Barnhill

First line: Once upon a time there were two brothers, as alike to one another as you are to your own reflection.

Why you should read this book: Primal and archetypal but fresh and innovative, this is the story of two children whose parents' unusual decisions have brought them to unusual places: Ned's mother is a witch entrusted with a powerful source of magic, while Áine's father is a bandit possessed of a much smaller source of magic. Neither child feels like a part of their community or completely integrated into their own family until Ned's mother's compassion draws Áine's father on a collision course with an isolated land. Meanwhile, the true owners of the magic are awakening in a dark and twisted forest.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never cared for your family.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Niko Draws a Feeling

Written by: Bob Raczka and Simone Shin

First line: Niko loved to make pictures.

Why you should read this book: Guided by a clever discussion about abstract art and what it means, this book shows how Niko draws concepts—warmth, hard work, ringing sounds—that feel profound to him, but his work simply perplexes the people to whom he shows it. This makes Niko sad, until he finally meets a girl who can comprehend his drawings even without having them explained. Sweet, accessible, and meaningful, this is a great read out loud story.

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

Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love

Written by: Julie Pashckis

First line: Beautiful, kind, brilliant Ida...always kept her nose in a book.

Why you should read this book: Despite turning their noses up at the word "love" in the title, my kinders enjoyed this short, stylized book about a woman who just wants to read and a man who just wants to distract her. Alfonso decides the fastest way to a Ida's heart is through her stomach and embarks on an epic, mythical journey to bake a cake. The cake smells so good Ida stops reading and eats cake with Alfonso.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Maybe Ida just wanted to read her book without having to explain to Alfonso that his attention was unwanted. Maybe women reading books just want to read books and not be seen as inviting romantic gestures from men who feel like they deserve love from people who have always ignored them.


Written by: Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

First line: Toby always wore a parachute.

Why you should read this book: A little boy deals with his fear of heights (in his mind, the height of the step stool he uses to see into the bathroom mirror is terrifyingly intense) by wearing a parachute at all times, just in case. When he sees a cat stuck up a tree, however, he is able to conquer his fears in service of another creature. Soon he sees that he doesn't actually need the parachute at all.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If he's scared of heights, why the heck is he sleeping in the top bunk?

Adèle and Simon in America

Written by: Barbara McClintock

First line: Adèle and Simon had traveled all the way from Paris to New York City to visit their Aunt Cècile.

Why you should read this book: The landscapes and landmarks of America come to life in the charming illustrations of the title characters exploring the country by train a hundred years ago. Aunt Cècile clearly reminds Simon not to lose any of his important travel gear, but everywhere they go, Simon finds his possessions missing until his stuff is basically spread out across the contiguous states, and every stop involves a fruitless search for the things he's lost track of. Fortunately, his prescient aunt has marked everything with his name and address, and Simon find a multitude of surprises waiting for him at the end of the journey.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't imagine giving a small child who is prone to losing everything his very own pair of binoculars. You can't even imagine taking someone else's children on a weeks-long train trip.


Written by: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

First line: Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemalu likes the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, this lack of smell that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.

Why you should read this book: At one point in the narrative the main character thinks that it's annoying when someone asks what a book's about, because a book can be about many things, as this book is. It's about growing up in Nigeria and it's about being a young African adult living in America; it's about politics and it's about sociology, it's about family and it's about culture; it's about race and racism and gender and class and the internet and home and relationships and economics and fairness and desire and depression and crime and necessity, and other things. At its heart, to me, this book felt like a very unconventional love story, one in which the simple course of true love is interrupted by the stupidest kind of politics and the main characters are forced apart for most of the story because the world we live in doesn't love lovers as much as it loves money and class and geopolitical boundaries.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't even know how to listen to discussions about race.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Written by: Kelly Barnhill

First line: Yes. There is a witch in the woods.

Why you should read this book: Magical, mysterious, and justice-minded, this is the story of a world afflicted by a witch, but not the witch that everyone thinks is afflicting it, and not in the way that people think they're being afflicted. After accidentally infusing Luna with magic, Xan raises the little girl with the help of an ancient swamp monster and tiny dragon who doesn't know he's tiny. Xan want to protect Luna, and the world, from Luna's magic, but Luna's magic has a purpose and an expression that can savet the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want all the power for yourself.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Harlequin Valentine

Written by: Neil Gaiman and John Bolton

First line: It is February the Fourteenth at that hour of the morning when all the children have been taken to school and the husbands have driven themselves to work, or been dropped, steambreathing and greatcoated, at the rail station at the edge of town for the Great Commute, when I pin my heart to Missy's front door.

Why you should read this book: It's a weird piece of lovingly crafted art that takes an almost forgotten tradition and turns it on its head. A trickster commits a symbolic, risky, and gruesome act of love upon a woman whose response is at once thoroughly modern and completely classical, and the balance of power shifts. The trickster is tricked, everyone's world is flipped, and then a new reality settles upon the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a bit experimental, so if you're looking for a traditional comic book story, you might want to look elsewhere. 

How the Ostrich Got Its Long Neck: A Tale from the Akamba of Kenya

Written by: Verna Aardema and Marcia Brown

First line: Long long ago, when the earth was set down and the sky was lifted up, the ostrich had a short neck.

Why you should read this book: I wonder if Rudyard Kipling cribbed his story about the Elephant's child from this piece about a crocodile with a toothache and an ostrich who tries to help despite being warned not to by an eagle who had successfully warned numerous other creatures away from the same fate suffered by the empathetic ostrich. I mean, does the crocodile really even have a toothache, or is that a ploy to get animals to jump into its mouth? A nice example of a pourquoi story and a fun read for little kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't think there's anything humorous about amateur dentistry.

The Hired Hand

Written by: Robert San Souci and Jerry Pinkney

First line: Down Virginia Way, there once was a sawmill by a stream at the edge of the forest.

Why you should read this book: An African-American take on the old fairy tale theme of the magical healing ritual and the stolen charm that goes awry when not perfectly repeated, this is an exciting book for little kids who can handle a little death and uncertainty. Young Sam is a terrible employee and a terrible boss who lets his father, Old Sam, down again and again; the New Hand is a magical young fellow who will restore the balance, but only after Young Sam crosses the line, suffers a little, and sees the error of his ways. Gorgeous illustrations and nice use of dialect combine to bring the story to life and create a sense of place and time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your dad's the boss, so that makes you infallible and untouchable.