Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Magic Book

Written by: Willo Davis Roberts

First line: If I had known ahead of time what I'd be getting into, I'm not sure I would have gone with my dad to that used book sale.

Why you should read this book: Alex, like most of Roberts's protagonists, lives in a world where adults are largely ineffective at helping kids with basic stuff; in Alex's case, his biggest problem is a bully names Norm. When Alex is basically waylaid by a magic book that looks really old, has his name on the cover, and doesn't act the way books usually act, he and his friends start performing the spell they find inside, with interesting results. In the end, Alex manages to get the best of Norm, but it's uncertain whether the book was magic or if all he ever needed was a little confidence. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Probably the weakest story by this author I've ever read; her talent lies more in uncomfortable realism than in fantasy.


Written by: Robert Munsch and Jay Odjick

First line: Helen got up very early one morning, looked out the window, and said, "No snow!"

Why you should read this book: It's a tall tale (but not that tall, from what I've heard) about the insects in Alberta, Canada, and how unpleasant and annoying their presence makes the spring. Helen's family is carried off by said invertebrates, and Helen must arm herself with the most intense pesticides available to small children and rescue them from the woods. The illustrations are fun and will make most American children glad they're not Canadian.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You get itchy just thinking about large numbers of bugs.

The Little Girl Who Wanted To Be Big

Written by: Dave Engledow

First line: There once was a little girl who wanted to be big.

Why you should read this book: There's so much that you can't do when you're little—ride roller coasters, use the stove, drive a tractor—and this little girl wants them so much that she exercises and eats broccoli, to no avail. Her parents advise her to think big if she wants to do big things, and the book takes a fun turn as it illustrates the little girl getting bigger and bigger and taking on more and more of the world. The pictures are Photoshopped images of the author's own family, and children will enjoy seeing the little girl appear big enough to have a real impact on the world as her size gives her the opportunity to do everything she's ever wanted to do. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a fully grown adult and you're still not big.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Front Desk

Written by: Kelly Yang

First line: My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. 

Why you should read this book: Recent immigrants from China in the 1990s, Mia's family has found themselves homeless and living in a car, so managing a motel seems like a golden opportunity for their prosperity, even if the owner is a liar, and a cheapskate, and a racist, and some other, unmentionable things. But Mia is determined to make her new life work and sets herself up as assistant and manager and front desk attendant so her parents can take care of all the other work that needs to be done. With her can-do attitude, Mia begins to make friends, and with her interest in the English language, she begins to understand the power of a well-worded letter, along with her own agency and the knowledge that she has the ability to create positive change in the world through her writing.  

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe you can tell if people are bad by looking at them.


Written by: Willo Davis Roberts

First line: I'd had a reputation for being crazy ever since I let Sean Wilson and Hank Kavorkian talk me into going wild river rafting with them down the Stilly. 

Why you should read this book: Vickie's not a bad girl; she just doesn't always think things through when they sound good in the moment, so when her mother leaves Vickie and her little sister Joanie with their strict grandmother for the week, running away to her dad's seems like a her only possible solution. But, when they finally get to their father's new little apartment, everything falls apart, because their dad is nowhere to be found, there's evidence that some kind of crime took place in his new home prior to his disappearance, they're out of money and almost out of food, and strange men are poking around much too close for comfort. With the help of a boy named Jake and the other neighbors in the building, Vickie and Joanie only have a few days to solve this mystery!

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think running away will solve all your problems.

The Sylvia Game

Written by: Vivien Alcock

First line: In October, Emily Dodd had the flu so badly that she nearly died of it. 

Why you should read this book: This unusual and somewhat convoluted story follows a little girl who is forced, against her will, to go on vacation with her father, even though he's an artist who is always broke and she's sure her family can't afford the trip and she'd rather just go back to school. Suspicious, she follows her father around the seaside town and begins to uncover mysteries: a Renoir that's been stolen, or destroyed, or forged, or maybe all three; the hinted connection between a teasing half-Roma working boy and the little lord of the manor who knows more than he's saying but doesn't always tell the truth; the question of whether her father is secretly a criminal, involved in something ghastly; what connection the purloined painting has to Emily; the possibility of some sort of malevolent ghost.... Nothing is exactly as it seems, and Emily will have to go to great and somewhat unpleasant lengths to uncover the truth. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're considering insurance fraud as a solution to your ancestral problems.


Written by: Kayla Miller

First line: I know, right?!

Why you should read this book: Olive is happy to be friends with everyone the fifth grade, until it's time for the school variety show and everyone teams up with their best friends, leaving her the only unpartnered kid in the show and the only person without an act. Just as she's starting to understand the concept of cliques and what it means to be outside, her cool Aunt Molly comes to the rescue with a crash course in entertainment, leading Olive to the perfect solution to her problem. It turns out that there is a very special role for the kid who gets along with everyone and has never needed to find her own clique. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get along with anyone. 

It Came in the Mail

Written by: Ben Clanton

First line: Liam loved to get mail.

Why you should read this book: Liam is disappointed on a daily basis because he never receives any mail, but has the realization that sending letters might be the answer. Rather than bother his family or friends, Liam chooses to write directly to his mailbox, requesting "something BIG," which arrives in the form of a delightful fire-breathing dragon. Delighted with his response, Liam continues sending similar letters until he is overwhelmed with amazing mail and must think of a solution to his new problem.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only ever get bills. 

The True Meaning of Smekday

Written by: Adam Rex

First line: It was Moving Day.

Why you should read this book: Earth has been invaded and defeated by a race of tacky aliens with vastly superior technology who have benevolently chosen to colonize the planet and relocate its inhabitants to convenient reservations. Gratuity Tucci (her friends call her Tip), whose mother has already been kidnapped by the Boov, decides she's going to drive herself to Florida to reunite with humanity, even though she's a child who can only reach the pedals by nailing cans to her shoes. Along with her cat, Pig, and an outcast Boov who goes by the Earth moniker "J. Lo." she sets out on an epic journey in a hybrid vehicle (half Earth car, half floating Boov scooter) to find her mom, and possibly save her species in the process. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's one of the rare novels that's been adapted into a movie—Home— that's just as good as the book (although it's perhaps a bit surprising that Disney picked it up, considering the references to "Happy Mouse Kingdom" that abound in this story).

Katie and the Cupcake Cure


Written by: Coco Simon

First line: Every time I have ever watched a movie about middle school, the main character is always freaking out before the first day of school.

Why you should read this book: As promised by the title, this book's central thesis is that cupcakes are the solution to all of life's problems, which I am not going to argue with, although anyone over the target age group of this book (number one in the Cupcake Diary series) may be able to think of a few exceptions. Katie is wholly unconcerned about starting middle school, which, she believes, won't be any different from elementary school, until it turns out that her best friend, Callie, has made new friends over the summer and will henceforth be walking to school, sitting at lunch, and otherwise engaged during the school day with the "Popular Girls Club" (they literally and unironically call themselves that) even though she swears that Katie is still her best friend. But Katie bounces back with the help of some new friends and a lot (A LOT) of cupcakes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Trying to cut out sugar.