Thursday, January 25, 2018

Granddaddy's Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box

Written by: Michael S. Bandy, Eric Stein, and James E. Ransome

First line: Where we lived, I didn't need an alarm clock.

Why you should read this book: Based on historical events, this picture book shows the reality of voter suppression in the American south before the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A small boy admires his grandfather's strength in working their farm and in not responding to the culture of racism that violated his civil rights at the voting booth, and reminds young readers never to take their own rights for granted. The story is never heavy-handed and even the youngest listeners should be able to follow the characters' journey and begin to comprehend the injustice, and the author's determination to remember.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a tendency to lose your temper in the face of injustice; you've ever been arrested for speaking truth to power.

M is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children

Written by: Linda Ashman and Nancy Carpenter

First line: Abby's apt to argue anytime and anyplace.

Why you should read this book: This is not the first alphabet book of naughty children, and it probably won't be the last, but if it's here, now, in front of you, it's a good bet that the children in your life will enjoy hearing about other children who are way worse than them. With lots of alliteration and a simple rhyming scheme, it's a great read-aloud piece, although better suited to riling kids up than calming them down. The illustration style is great fun, mixing cartoony drawings with photographic collage.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your kids don't need any new ideas concerning ways to misbehave.

Maisy Goes to the Local Bookstore

Written by: Lucy Cousins

First line: Today Maisy is going to the local bookstore.

Why you should read this book: Exactly what it says on the tin: a popular cartoon mouse visits a hip local bookstore where the bookseller apparently doesn't care if little kids come in and treat the place like a library where they can take all the books down from the shelf and read them in entirety without buying. The bookseller even offers storytime, in case the kids haven't gotten enough free books, and of course there's a café, because you can't spend a day reading new books without tea and pastries. Eventually Maisy actually does buy a book, probably to the bookseller's great relief, which she then gives to her only friend who didn't happen to be in the store with her that day.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not hanging out with a 3-year-old.

Zombelina Dances the Nutcracker

Written by: Kristyn Crow and Molly Idle

First line: It's me, Zombelina, a tryouts the old opera house with my CORPSE de ballet.

Why you should read this book: Light-hearted and a little bit silly, this beautifully illustrated book is written in heroic couplets and tells the story of a little zombie girl who wants to play Clara in the Nutcracker, but also wants her best friend to be happy, and also has to keep the ghost of her grandfather from electrocuting the cast on opening night, because that is a hilarious prank. Little kids seemed to enjoy the story but also to not understand parts of it, having no grounding in ballet or electricity. The also wanted to know how there could be a story that was both Halloween and Christmas and I asked them if they hadn't seen The Nightmare before Christmas, assuming their parents were all heathens, but then they said they had seen it, so that part started to make sense to them anyway.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't think Halloween and Christmas go together.

Vampire Baby

Written by: Kelly Bennett and Paul Meisel

First line: This is my sister, Tootie.

Why you should read this book: Originally the narrator seemed pretty fond of his baby sister, until she anomalously developed canine teeth and began biting everything. Now he's convinced that Tootie is a vampire baby and he's desperate to help her find a more appropriate monster family, until he learns that even vampires don't enjoy being bitten by babies and he has more protective instincts than he assumed. This is a great read out loud book for kids who aren't babies anymore.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think being saddled with a name like Tootie gives anyone a license to bite.


Written by: Jaqueline Woodson

First line: The mother's dark brown fingers move quickly through a rise of white dough.

Why you should read this book: Toswiah's dad did the right thing in testifying and now her entire life has been uprooted as she trades the home she loved for witness protection. They've even taken her name, and now her once-perfect family has transformed into something bleak and uncomfortable that she barely even recognizes: her mom has a new religion, her sister's ready to abandon them for college, and her dad isn't even a ghost of himself. Now a girl called Evie must learn to harness her own anger and channel it to positive change.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in witness protection but you still keep accidentally answering to your old name. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

Written by: KJ Kabza

First line: The first thing Jesper noticed was her parasol, twirling like a ghostly pinwheel between the branches and webs.

Why you should read this book: I'm not going to lie: KJ Kabza is my best friend and I would have read his book even if he wasn't good, but he's freaking great, so great that a publishing company inboxed him on Twitter and offered to publish a collection of his work without him even having to ask. This anthology features eleven speculative fictions, ranging in size from novella to flash, and in genre from steampunk to space opera to gothic horror to contemporary fantasy to somewhere you'd end up if you were a character in Black Mirror to places you've never ever gone as a reader. Seriously, buy this book; if you read anywhere on the speculative continuum, you won't be disappointed.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want to make me cry.


Written by: Clive Barker

First line: Nothing ever begins.

Why you should read this book: It was probably on my list of top ten favorite non-kiddy novels when I was teenager, but I haven't read it since the '90s and I was curious if it would still hold up to my memory. Honestly, I'm not sure why it was my favorite, unless it was the scenes in which there's a monster that rapes men, has their monster-babies, and then sends the monster-babies to kill their fathers, but it's definitely a really great read, full of magic and mayhem and love and intrigue, a psychotic salesman, a psychotic cop, two innocent young people striving for something more, and a true wonderland, filled with mysticism and spectacle and threatened by a really big monster. If you want to sink into a thick book that will take you to other worlds, this is a good choice.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are dogged in your pursuit of a criminal you know is guilty even though there's no evidence.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Snow White

Written by: Matt Phelan

First line: What's the story here.

Why you should read this book: A smart graphic novel for smart kids, this book reimagines Snow White as the daughter of a wealthy industrialist who managed to hold on to his fortune during the Great Depression. The dwarves are a rowdy bunch of street kids, the wicked stepmother a gold digger with a flapper haircut, and the glass coffin a beautifully lit display in a department store window. Lovely pencil and watercolor illustrations evoke the feel the period along with a gritty, crime-noir sensibility, and the fairy tale magic of the story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're plotting against your stepchild.

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton

Written by: Matt Phelan

First line: Life in Muskegon, Michigan, was quiet.

Why you should read this book: In the summer of 1908, a large group of vaudeville performers chose a tiny neighborhood in Michigan as the perfect spot for a leisurely vacation, bringing with them elephants, zebras, and the young "knockabout" comedian, Buster Keaton. Buster was practically born on stage, and his ability to take a fall, make a deadpan joke, and engineer a prank all seem amazing and desirable to his new friend, a local named Henry who wishes he, too, could become a vaudeville star. Keaton, indifferent to his fame, prefers baseball and building things. This is both a lovely book about a boy in a small town yearning for bigger things, as well as an introduction to vaudeville and the state of American entertainment prior to the development of movie houses.

Why you shouldn't read this book: An actor stole your girlfriend.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Written by: Balli Kaur Jaswal

First line: Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

Why you should read this book: Nikki has always been the black sheep of her Punjabi Sikh family, but now that her sister wants to pursue this insane arranged-marriage scheme, Nikki only wants to show the world that she's a modern British girl. Still, in an effort to show her family that she is accomplishing important things in life, and in the community, she takes a job through the temple where she believes she will be teaching women about creative writing, until she realizes that most of her students are illiterate and don't speak English. Somehow, her class turns into a subversive gathering for sex-starved widows to exchange sexual fantasies, which they transcribe into Gurmukhi and pass around to their friends, creating a scandal in a community racked by scandals, but now it's out of Nikki's hands, and this one isn't going to get swept under the rug.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I found the beginning, which did a great job of showcasing all the characters' flaws, particularly an overwhelmingly judgemental mindset for the protagonist even as she condemned this characteristic in others, a little uncomfortable to read.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Strange Weather

Written by: Joe Hill

First line: Shelly Beukes stood at the bottom of the driveway, squinting up at our pink-sandstone ranch as if she had never seen it before.

Why you should read this book: Three perfect contemporary speculative novellas featuring interesting and nuanced protagonists in strange circumstances, and one brutal non-speculative novella, "Loaded," with a horror scenario so realistic it seems surprising it hasn't actually happened yet. The technology components that make "Rain" and "Aloft" work also seem just within the realm of possibility, but it's the characters—strong, scared, scarred, and real—that drag the reader into all these worlds so close to our own. Lots to love in this fast-paced collection.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Gun violence.