Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Watercress

Written by: Andrea Wang and Jason Chin

First line: We are in the old Pontiac, the red paint faded by the years of glinting Ohio sun, pelting rain, and biting snow.

Why you should read this book: A little girl, the American daughter of Chinese immigrants, resents being made to harvest wild watercress out of a ditch with her family—it's hard enough being poor without worrying that someone you know might see you picking weeds in the mud by the side of the road! Although her parents are overjoyed to experience this taste of home, the narrator refuses to touch the delicacy, until her mother, sensing the trouble, shares her own troubling history. With a new understanding of what this food means to her family, the child finds that the watercress is delicious and that she sees her parents in a new light, understanding what they went for before she was born in order for her to grow up as an American kid who had the ability to refuse any food. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your parents controlled you with food. 


The Black Snowman

Written by: Phil Mendez and Carole Byard

First line: Somewhere in a lonely grass hut in western Africa, an aged storyteller prepares for the arrival of the village children. 

Why you should read this book: Jacob, a young boy disdainful of his family's economic status and ethnic, cultural heritage, announces that "Everything black is bad" before grudgingly agreeing to help his little brother Peewee build a snowman—a black snowman—with the dirty snow in their neighborhood. When Peewee scrounges a magical kente cloth, brought from Africa centuries earlier, to dress the snowman, their creation comes to life and does its best to teach Jacob to take some pride in the richness of his ancestry. Although not immediately convinced, Jacob gets a second chance to understand who he is and what he can do right now, as catastrophe looms and the snowman's wisdom and history help Jacob save the day. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't let your kids touch anything you perceive as being dirty.

In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch

Written by:  John Zada

First line: A froth of dark, roiling clouds churns above the swaying canopy. 

Why you should read this book: Canadian journalist John Zada travels to British Columbia to work on a travelogue for tourists interested in exploring the Great Bear Rainforest, but finds himself more interested in the First Nation peoples who have lived in the area for fourteen thousand years, and then most interested in the stories he hears over and over again—about the locals' real life encounters with Sasquatch. Enamored with the mystique of meeting Bigfoot as he imagined in his youth, Zada treks to the most remote areas and makes friends with every possible source in pursuit of his story, but as evidence piles up for both sides (believable narratives from those who have seen this storied cryptid firsthand versus believable conclusions based on the scientific method) he begins to question what the story actually is, anyway. What does it mean to believe in Sasquatch, to search for Sasquatch, to encounter Sasquatch, and what can we take away from the persistence of legends, on a global scale, of wild men, man apes, and other mysterious beings hiding in the vanishing corners that civilization can't reach?

Why you shouldn't read this book: Look, obviously if a respected journalist found incontrovertible evidence of the existence of Sasquatch, you would have heard about it already. 


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Salt Magic

Written by: Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

First line: Lots of stories end with a kiss.

Why you should read this book: When Vonceil's big brother Elber comes back from World War I a little worse for wear, she's distressed that his first priority is to marry his hometown sweetheart and suddenly start acting like an adult, until  a mysterious and glamorous lady arrives at the family farm to stake her own claim on Elber's heart, at which point Vonceil's priorities change quickly. Vonceil would happily leave home with this interesting interloper, but Elber rejects Greda, who turns out to be a powerful salt witch, with a strange kingdom, strange powers, and a strange connection to Vonceil's family. As soon as the witch turns Vonceil's family's spring to saltwater, Vonceil knows that she is the only person who can save the farm, the town, and her own family.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're just looking for love in all the wrong places and you know it.

 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Junebug

Written by: Alice Mead

First line: I've got the sail hauled in tight.

Why you should read this book: Reeve McClain, Jr.—Junebug to his friends, family, and neighbors—dreams of sailing ships, but right now he's mostly concerned with the likelihood that he's going to be forced to join a gang, as happens to all the ten-year-old boys who live in his housing project. Junebug has a wish, and a plan to launch that wish into the universe, but he's got to contend with his negligent aunt and trouble with people in his neighborhood and taking care of his little sister, along with the possibility that his mother might take a better job that would force him to move and change schools and introduce a lot of uncertainty in his life. Fast-paced, high-interest, and charming.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are overly concerned with dumping in America's waterways. 


To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel

Written by: Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel

First line: Big, empty spaces always made me dance.

Why you should read this book: An always honest, sometimes sad, but mostly joyful recollection of a girl who loved dancing, devoted her childhood to ballet with a surprising intensity, and eventually, like most child dancers, was forced to apply herself to another profession in adulthood. Siena's family moves to New York so she can study at a prestigious school, perform regularly, and even enjoy occasionally crossing paths with the great Mikhail Baryshnikov, and while she is physically limited from pursuing a career in dance as an adult, she eventually realizes that dancing at any level makes her happy. A great resource to help very young girls understand the degree of hard work, physical pain, and potential injury that goes hand in hand with dancing at a professional level, along with the delight. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: While it's very honest about the potential for injury when dancing on pointe, it slightly glosses over the psychological damage—body image issues and eating disorders—that seems endemic to ballet in books for older readers.

Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Color

Written by: David Coles and Adrian Lander

First line: Since the beginning of human existence, colour has played an integral role in the way we describe the world around us. 

Why you should read this book: A remarkable interdisciplinary endeavor, Coles blends history, archaeology, chemistry, botany, mineralogy, etymology, entomology, materials science, folklore, psychology, and art to create a dazzling and comprehensive guide to the human journey to reproduce the hues perceived in nature as pigments for use in artistic processes. The bulk of the text, arranged more or less chronologically, spans from prehistoric human's early processing of ochres, bone, chalk, and smoke to the ultra-modern techniques for creating glow-in-the-dark pigments and the blackest black.  Lushly illustrated with gorgeous, color-rich photographs, and including several complete recipes for those interested in replicating some of the most ancient manufacturing processes, this book draws the reader back through time and directs them to consider how precious and rare reproducible color has been for most of human history and how much knowledge goes into its production today.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't see straight because your printer currently refuses to print black text due to being low on cyan toner, and this fills you with rage. Might also be a bad choice if you're color blind.


Friday, December 31, 2021

Year in Review, 2021

Through sheer force of will, I managed to review one more book this year than last year, pushing myself through the difficulty of reading while snowed in an AirBnB with a variety of small children and noise making toys. It's not ideal, but nothing about 2021 has been ideal for most people. 

For the record, when I count these books, I put all big kids stuff in the YA/middle grade novels category even if it's a graphic novel or nonfiction.  Of course I read a lot of in that area because I volunteer at an elementary school library, so I wasn't constrained by the COVID restrictions at the public library and I didn't have to make special trips to get kids book.

So, here's the tally:

Dragon's 2021 Year in Review

Picture books:                     10

YA/middle grade novels:    27

Nonfiction:                          7    

Graphic novels:                   5

Memoir:                              1

Novel:                                 12

Poetry:                                1

Short story collections:      4

Total books read:               67  

Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Traditions

Author: Georgia Pellegrini

First line: I can still picture her standing in her gardens, permanently hunched over, with shovel and trowel, her white hair puffing out from below the brim of her baseball hat, her floral shirt falling just above her muddy oversized sneakers.

Why you should read this book: It's a celebration of the dreamers and lovers who set aside the culture of convenience, commercialism, and fast food to focus on producing ingredients in the slow, careful, old ways, or sometimes in new ways that combine old and new knowledge. The author travels America and Europe in search of the artisans, farmers, ranchers, and brewers slow-crafting food and drink that must be savored and celebrated. Each of the sixteen vignettes mixes science, culture, human interest, and food lore, and concludes with a few relevant recipes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't tell the difference. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Rubyfruit Jungle

Written by: Rita Mae Brown

First line: No one remembers her beginnings.

Why you should read this book: Irrepressible Molly Bolt knows from an early age who she is—an independent, sexually liberated girl destined to follow her own path in a time when women simply aren't given space to be different—and what she wants—to make love to beautiful women without guilt or commitment or people freaking out about the L word. Unapologetically queer and nonmonogamous, her troubles always involve being betrayed by the people to whom she makes herself vulnerable, as if love in inextricably bound up in disappointment. But through it all, Molly remains true to her own values and follows her own compass, with the knowledge that as hard as her path is, it would be infinitely harder to walk any other. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like to think about that time in college.