Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Written by: Matt de la Peña and Loren Long

First line: In the beginning there is light and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed, and the sound of their voices is love.

Why you should read this book: With heartwarming, multi-cultural illustrations and poetic prose, this book offers concrete examples for small children to understand the abstract concept of love, not in the romantic Hollywood sense, or even just, as the first line suggests, as it pertains to parents and children, but every expression of the emotion a child might experience in life: street musicians and friendships and self acceptance. It also covers those moments when it feels like the floor has dropped out from beneath your feet, as adults freak out about bad things happening and children experience nightmares of missing love. This is the kind of book that librarians love, a good length for reading out loud even to fidgety audiences, just very beautiful.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those crotchety misanthropes who has long since given up on the human race.

The Book of Gold

Written by: Bob Staake

First line: Isaac Gutenberg wasn't interested in much.

Why you should read this book: It's a perfect story for modern kids, who, in my experience, often are so jaded they can't find any excitement in anything, although the story in this book is about a kid who isn't interested in anything in 1935. Somehow bored to death at the New York Public Library (for shame!) young Isaac only develops a taste for books when an old shopkeeper tells him that somewhere in the world, there is an ordinary-looking book that contains the answers to every question ever asked, and also turns to gold when you open it. Inspired by greed, the protagonist begins opening every book he can get his hands on, and over the course of seventy-five years, eventually develops and interest in the ideas that are found inside the books, becoming a very well-traveled and well-educated human being in the process.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're tired of reshelving all the books that little kids pull out and drop on the floor without reading.


Written by: François Thisdale

First line: The baby heard a voice.

Why you should read this book: Sweet little semi-magical (but apparently based on real life) tale about adoption, which begins in utero, in China, travels to America, and then gets back to China. The dream-like illustrations are gorgeous, sumptuous, rich, layered, and remarkable. I didn't read this one to the kids because I knew it would make me cry.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It will probably make you cry.

The Ring Bearer

Written by: Floyd Cooper

First line: Mama is having a wedding, and Jackson is worried.

Why you should read this book: A really sweet story, lovingly illustrated, merges a small child's general anxiety about the changes that will come with a new blended family and his specific anxiety about tripping and falling down in front of everyone he knows while he participates in the wedding ceremony. Jackson is a warm-hearted little boy who likes his mother's fiancé and wants to be a good big brother to his new stepsister, Sophie, and the story is resolved when it is Sophie, and not Jackson, who ends up tripping while walking down the aisle, and Jackson throws caution (and the rings) to the wind in order to catch the little girl. The kids I read this story to were worried about the rings, but I let them in on the secret that the rings are sewed to the pillow because adults expect little kids to trip and fall down, and they felt much better.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate your stepfamily.

Infinity and Me

Written by: Kate Hosford and Gabi Swiatkowska

First line: The night I got my new red shoes, I couldn't wait to wear them to school.

Why you should read this book: A little girl struggles to comprehend the concept of infinity, and after a day's worth of dizzying observations, finally come to understand the idea as the depth of her love for her grandmother. This is a really interesting and clever concept for a kids' book, very well executed, able to hold the attention of young readers with no math skills and only a tenuous grasp of finite concepts. The author's note at the end offers some interesting responses from little kids as to the meaning of infinity, and if you can, I highly recommend conducting your own research in this field, because the stuff you get when you ask five-year-olds to define "infinity" is priceless.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't love anyone, at least not that much.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Babies Ruin Everything

Written by: Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr

First line: My baby brother was born today.

Why you should read this book: A small girl, dethroned by her parents' newest acquisition, feels like they've gotten a defective and useless baby who should be returned or at least exchanged. As is usually the case, the narrator relents once the baby is able to do things and endeavors to teach the new sibling everything she knows. Finally, the two siblings are able to gang up on the parents to enact a new reign of terror in which the kids get their way.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still don't accept your parents' decision to have more children.

Ladybug Girl

Written by: David Somar and Jacky Davis

First line: "I'm Ladybug Girl," says Lulu, zipping into the kitchen.

Why you should read this book: After her brother tells her she's too little to play baseball, Lulu must come to understand her own skill and independence and see that size is relative and there are plenty of things she can do, even if throwing from the outfield is not one of them. Motivational and empowering for little kids, it's a cute story with cute illustrations of a cute kid in a cute outfit. Good for reading out loud, especially as a bedtime book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't let your pre-literate child out of your sight even for an instant.

In the Land of Milk and Honey

Written by: Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper

First line: The waiting train huffs "Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

Why you should read this book: In free form poetry and gorgeous illustration, a young girl narrates her experience traveling by train from Oklahoma to California in 1948. Based on the author's real-life experience, the story depicts an optimistic child who comes to San Francisco and finds it good. Great for reading aloud and for instigating discussions about change with young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like to go to new places and experience new things.

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin

Written by: Duncan Tonatiuh

First line: Score! I just got a letter from my primo, my cousin, Carlitos.

Why you should read this book: Bilingual and epistolary, this interesting story compares and contrasts the lives of two boys, one who lives in New York City, and one who lives in a rural area of Mexico. The mixed-media illustrations make nice use of texture and teach some basic words in Spanish. I found the story very interesting, as I read it to a group of children whose world (a city near Mexico) doesn't look anything like either of the two landscapes described here, but the presentation seemed to encourage interest as the kids enjoyed translating the Spanish from context clues and learning about the different lifestyles of the two characters.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate New York City and rural Mexico.

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: We are very curious about the Swinster Pharmacy

Why you should read this book: It is inexplicable, a word that here means that its existence can't be explained. Two kids find something vaguely sinister about a business in a neighboring town and make some numbered observations about it and their reaction to its presence, twenty-nine observations, in fact. If you like the bits of A Series of Unfortunate Events where things happen for no reason and without explanation, you will enjoy this book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like stories with plot, characters, obstacles that can be overcome, and a basic sense that something comprehensible has happened.

Fox and the Bike Ride

Written by: Corey R. Tabor

First line: It was the morning of the bike ride—the Annual Tour de Tip-Top, Slow-and-Steady, There-and-Back bike ride (plus snacks).

Why you should read this book: While the other other animals are excited for their animal excursion, Fox is bored of the dependable experience and decides to up the ante by throwing safety standards to the winds. Inexplicably left in charge of equipment, Fox dismantles everyone's bicycle and puts the pieces back together again to create a five-seat Frankenbike with no brakes. Hilarity ensues.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't let your kids go up the slide backward.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Hate U Give

Written by: Angie Thomas

First line: I shouldn't have come to this party.

Why you should read this book: This is the YA novel of 2017, a heart-wrenching, complex, and real story of a black teenage girl trying to navigate a world that can't even pretend to offer fairness or equality. After witnessing the death of her best friend in a drive by shooting, Starr is sent to a fancy suburban prep school, but not even her belief that she's now the Fresh Princess of Bel-Aire can protect her when she witnesses another friend murdered by the police. Starr wants justice for Khalil, but speaking out is scary, and now it feels like the cops, a gang lord, and even her white friends will turn against her no matter how hard she tries to do the right thing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've recently seen a child murdered by a police officer during a routine traffic stop.

Dandelion Wine

Written by: Ray Bradbury

First line: It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.

Why you should read this book: The classic tale of a magical summer in which Douglas Spaulding, age twelve, is astonished to realize that he is really, truly alive and, therefore, that he must by necessity, one day die. In between, he makes a careful accounting of everything that is wonderful, confusing, and infuriating in his world. This perfect novel offers nostalgia, love, fantasy, horror, realism, history, and the full breadth of human experience, all unfurling in Bradbury's luscious prose.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't think there's anything better than spending an entire day glued to a monitor.

I Speak English for My Mom

Written by: Muriel Stanek

First line: When I was small, Mom helped me do everything.

Why you should read this book: A little girl explains the reality of being a bilingual daughter of a mother who does not speak the common language of her new home. Often, being her mother's translator helps her feel important and useful, but sometimes it's a nuisance being her mother's only connection to the English-speaking world. When financial troubles hit the little family, the mother realizes that she can put aside her fears and learn to speak English herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still totally comfortable with the results of the 2017 election.

Butterfly Boy

Written by: Lawrence Yep and Jeanne M. Lee

First line: There once was a boy who dreamed he was a butterfly.

Why you should read this book: This kid spends so much time thinking he's a butterfly that he begins to see the world as a butterfly would and almost forgets he's human. This leads him to do ridiculous things like riding backward on a buffalo, drinking nectar from flowers at the market, and laughing at the army of an invading lord. The story is based on the writings of Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher who lived in the fourth century BCE.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid of butterflies, or anyone with an imagination.

Please, Louise!

Written by: Frieda Wishinsky and Marie-Louise Gay

First line: Louise never left her brother Jake alone.

Why you should read this book: A little sister intentionally torments her older brother, taunting him with their unbreakable bond when he tries to get rid of her. At the end of his rope, Jake wishes Louise could be a dog, and for a moment he's terrified that his wish actually came true, and he begins to appreciate his sister. Then he realizes his sister is still a human, the dog belongs to a new neighbor, and his sister, no longer lonely, has ditched him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're estranged from your family by choice.


Written by: Jonah Winter and Ana Juan

First line: Frida enters the world.

Why you should read this book: Colorful and evocative, this richly illustrated book recounts the early childhood of the artist Frida Kahlo. Her early influences, including her father's work, her mother's exhaustion, and the illness and injury that sometimes confined her to bed, are recounted. It is an inspirational story of determination and triumph, or passion and imagination.

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

The Cat Next Door

Written by: Betty Ren Wright and Gail Owens

First line: Last summer our vacation started when we drove through a dark tree-tunnel and out into the sunshine.

Why you should read this book. A little girl compares last year's perfect summer vacation with Grandma and Grandpa to this year's vacation, for which Grandma is conspicuously absent. The book doesn't address death per se, but rather the way that life goes on in spite of loss, both the sorrow and the joy. The cat next door, who doesn't talk to anyone but the narrator, offers a breath of hope when she turns up with two fuzzy little miracles to prove that life—and memories—go on.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate cats. In which case, how are you on the internet?