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.

Joe Hill: The Graphic Novel Collection

Written by: Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, et al.

First line: We were little.

Why you should read this book: It brings together five different graphic stories written by spec fic superstar Joe Hill. "The Cape" and "The Cape: 1969" are pieces about how a little rage goes a long way, and how revenge has the tendency to get out of hand and expand beyond the original offense when fueled by anger (and a little magic), while "Thumbprint" works on similar themes without the magic and with a little more righteousness and introspection. "Kodiak," while still dark, is a love story with a happy ending. The long and lovely "Wraith" functions as a companion piece to Hill's modern vampire novel, NOS4A2, presenting a world as populated with whimsical psychopaths (and even some flawed heroes) as a Batman story, but with more supernatural horror and blood.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are prone to nightmares and you don't like it.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


Written by: Tyler Button, Gerry Kissell, and Amin Amat

First line: Alive...I'm alive.

Why you should read this book: The Bayeux tapestry, an ancient work depicting the events of the Norman invasion of England in 1066, is often cited as an early example of longform visual storytelling, and the author of this book, a devotee of history, saw that it would lend itself easily to the form of a graphic novel. The queen's brother, Godwinson, makes a promise under duress to William of Normandy, then breaks his word and sets himself squarely in the sights of William's ambition. Machinations and military might ensure; history and the English language will never be the same.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't care about a bunch of dead white guys from a thousand years ago.

Providence Act 3

Written by: Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

First line: Um...excuse me? Would you be Mr. Henry Annesley

Why you should read this book: Moore concludes his C'thulhu mythos themed trilogy with perfect clarity and wisdom. This volume jumps back in time to the 1920s, focusing on a young journalist researching secret societies for a novel he wishes to write, and making friends with a young HP Lovecraft, through which experience he becomes terrifyingly aware of the tenuous nature of reality and of horrors yet to come when the story jumps back to the present. While I expect the ending will be fairly predictable to anyone with a basic knowledge of Lovecraft and Moore, it's satisfying and provocative and beautiful and dark and deep with dreaming.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in dreams.

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

Written by: Kelly Barnhill

First line: The day she buried her husband—a good man by all accounts, though shy, not given to drink or foolishness; not one for speeding tickets or illegal parking or cheating on his taxes; not one for carousing at the county fair or tomcatting with the other men from the glass factory; which is to say he was utterly unknown in town; a cipher: a cold, blank space—Agatha Sorensen arrived at the front steps of Our Lady of the Snows.

Why you should read this book: There is much to admire and wonder over in this collection of short, speculative fiction, which bobs back and forth between fantasy and magical realism on waves of feminist sensibility with dark undertones. Magical girls influence patriarchal institutions; non-magical girls find their realities inextricably bound up with improbable magic, and there's a nice romance between a giant, intellectual bug and a sentient observation tower, not to mention this business with sasquatch. The world needs more books like this.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Might be detrimental to the health of greedy, selfish, thoughtless folks.

How to Be Happy

Written by: Eleanor Davis

First line: In my old life I had a lot of anger, I was out of control

Why you should read this book: It's a really triumph of speculative, emotional, graphic storytelling, comprising a series of vignettes drawn in different styles on different themes, but all relating back to the general uneasiness involved with being a human being. The stories are smart, funny, poignant, inventive, and slightly disquieting. I've never read a book like this before.

Why you shouldn't read this book: An author's note before the title page explains that, despite the title, this book is not about how to be happy, and in fact, one or two of the stories made me cry.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire

Written by: Neil Gaiman and Shane Oakley

First line: Somewhere in the night, someone was writing.

Why you should read this book: It's hilarious, in a meta-fiction sort of way, combining an awareness of classic gothic horror tropes and their modern tendency toward hackneyed and comedic interpretation with the internal process of an author who's experienced perhaps too much success in in a particular genre. A man who lives in a world of macabre darkness, shambling terrors, and beleaguered damsels darting about horrible backdrops in sheer peignoirs wants desperately to pen realistic stories about his Lovecraftian universe, but finds himself sliding over and over into parody of his outrageous reality. His only hope is to pursue "fantasy": escapist fiction in the form of stories of heavy relationship drama.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Unless you have an intellectual sense of a humor, a good grounding in the classic horror genre, and some familiarity with the author's more popular work, you probably won't get the joke.

Dragons Beware!

Written by: Jorge Aguirre, Rafael Rosado, and John Novak

Why you should read this book: The was once a blacksmith named Augustine...he made the most powerful sword ever forged.

Why you should read this book: Here's me, reading a series out of order again, but the book offers enough explanation that the reader can gather the backstory regarding a fearless little girl who is hungry for adventure and desperate to be seen as a warrior, her young brother who thinks he has to be a warrior even though all he wants is to be a chef, and a princess who spends all her time locked in tower surrounded by child-suitors, except when she decides she'd rather escape the tower and haven an adventure. This book offers not only a nice message about the utter ridiculousness of gender roles, but also a sweet focus on non-violent conflict resolution. I was most impressed that no dragons were killed in the telling of this story.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While its cheerful, silly, kid-friendly shenanigans reminded me of the old classic Bone, I personally found the silliness a bit over-the-top; definitely for younger readers.

Bedknob and Broomstick

Written by: Mary Norton

First line: Once upon a time there were three children, and their names were Carey, Charles, and Paul.

Why you should read this book: A beloved classic book (actually two novels combined into one volume), upon which a beloved classic film was based, inspired by which a new film is currently being made, this is the story of three properly British children who meet a properly British witch-in-training who offers them the gift of a magic flying bedknob in exchange for their silence about her rather un-British activities. Like most children in beloved British books about magic written in the first part of the twentieth century, these kids have no clue how to best employ magic and manage to muck up every adventure with a basic lack of imagination and common sense, although the dithering witch herself must take some of the blame. Then the witch takes the bed back so she can go live in the past with an ineffectual necromancer, thus eliminating magic, and any hope for a trilogy, from the children's lives.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The casual racism of the British colonialist mindset is pretty off-putting and not really recommended for young readers who might not be aware of the strange history and assumptions surrounding the idea that all non-white people you meet on your travels must be savage, primitive cannibals.