Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I love My Hair

Author: Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

First line: Every night before I go to bed, Mama combs my hair.

Why you should read this book: Tender-headed Keyana sometimes cries when her mother combs her hair at night, but her mother reminds her about all the beautiful ways she can wear her hair until she feels proud of who she is. Beautiful, imaginative paintings illustrate the girl's hair being spun like wool, growing in rows like corn, and surrounding her head like the Earth. A lovely book, entertaining and warm even as it teaches tolerance and acceptance.

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

The Hating Book

Author: Charlotte Zolotow

First line: I hate hate hated my friend.

Why you should read this book: In enticing rhythmic prose, a little girl expresses her feelings for a friend who snubs her. The small hurts pile up, until the protagonist confronts her friend and they both learn the best way to solve problems is to discuss them. An enduring classic, and eye-opening for a generation of kids who've learned that hate is a naughty word, but not how to express their anger in healthy and constructive ways.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer to hold a grudge

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Enduring Navaho

Author: Laura Gilpin

First line: To understand the Navaho People, even in small measure, it is essential to know at least some part of their symbolic ritual.

Why you should read this book: When a friend invited photographer Laura Gilpin on her rounds as a public nurse in Navajo Country in the early 1930s, she began a lifelong relationship with the indigenous people of the American southwest, documenting their lives on film for sixty years. Although her perspective remains that of an outsider and her cultural bias is evident, she connects with strangers through her photographs, which are intimate, honest, and appealing. The text weaves an overview of Gilpin's experiences with descriptions and explanations of Navajo beliefs, crafts, traditions, ceremonies, and government.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather learn what a Navajo person has to teach you about the Navajo way of life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Deep

Author: Claire Nouvian

First line: In 2001, after watching a stunningly beautiful film at the Monteray bay Aquarium in California, I took my first dive into the deep.

Why you should read this book: In the deep ocean, the sunless zone beginning two hundred meters from the surface and stretching down as far as eleven thousand meters, explorers have discovered an uncounted wealth of biodiversity in myriad astounding forms seemingly ripped from the pages of science fiction. This book, with huge, glossy, full-color illustrations on almost every page, brings to light a massive, yet still partial catalog of surprising benthic and pelagic organisms in all their alien splendor, accompanied by short (under fifteen hundred word) essays by scientists covering a broad overview of deep sea life. Giant squids, bioluminescent jellies, fanged anglerfish, and creatures that beggar description and have yet to be named or classified: every page of this book is like a mind-blowing birthday present from your favorite eccentric uncle.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear sea monsters.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Candy Shop

Author: Jan Wahl

First line: I'm a cowboy, riding my horse through our backyard, chasing buffalo.

Why you should read this book: In a suprisingly resonant story, a little cowboy out shopping with his aunt witnesses an act of racism. Although he is too young to understand what exactly has upset the owner of his favorite candy shop, his instinct is to run to her aid like a cowboy should, and with his aunt's help, he saves the day; of course, candy shop owners give the best rewards to their heroes. A great book for teaching empathy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've got to read this book. It's too good to joke about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clive Barker's Books of Blood: Volumes I, II, & III

Author: Clive Barker

First line: The dead have highways.

Why you should read this book: In the early 80s, Barker reimagined the horror genre in this visceral and relentless trilogy of short stories featuring demons, hellspawn, monsters, murder, sex, revenge, and the occasional run of back luck and bad timing. Running the gamut from darkly funny to starkly disturbing, this is fiction dredged up from the cauldron of deep-seated human fear. Barker's characters are human, whether or not they're actually human, infused with pure and strong emotions in the face of the most terrible things a man can imagine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Um...the blood? Not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen

Author: Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, MJ Closser, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Quote: "You will think me cruel, but love is selfish and will have its sacrifices."

Why you should read this book: This is one of the illustrated volumes meant to engage adolescent readers in classic literature by presenting it in the format of the comic book: it appeals to today's goth kids by returning to the very origins of their subculture, of which many goths are probably largely unaware. Collected here are one poem, two short stories, and three novels, all originally published in the 1800s, but still interesting to modern readers with a predilection for terror. By and large, the drawings are excellent, executed in different styles by several artists, and the stories are delicious enough to inspire readers to tackle the text versions of these works.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The compression of the novels leaves much to be desired; the stories feel hurried and the characters hard to distinguish. However, as an introduction, it provides a tempting flavor and a possible impetus to seek out a larger helping, which is the intention of this series.

Little Vampire Goes to School

Author: Joann Sfar

Quote: "I was kinda hoping you'd make me swear on a skull or something."

Why you should read this book: I've never read a children's book like this, and neither have you. Translated from the French, it's an intelligent Tin-tin-style comic following the adventures of a little vampire who wants to play with kids "his own age" and eventually makes friends with a human boy, threatening the security of the entire undead community. There's gross-out humor, both scatological as well as morbid, but there's a great deal of clever dialog, irony, surprise, and heartfelt sentiment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's clearly labeled, "Ages 10 and up." It's a children's book, but it's not for very small children. And it's not for adults who can't tolerate morbid or scatological humor.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Day No Pigs Would Die

Author: Robert Newton Peck

First line: I should of been in school that April Day.

Why you should read this book: An act of altruism perpetrated on an angry cow turns into delight, tragedy, and enlightenment for the twelve-year-old Shaker boy, Robert Peck, as he learns what it means to be a man. Rewarded for his efforts with a perfect pink piglet, young Rob delights in the simple joys of his Vermont farm and his loving family, shared with his best friend, who, he knows, will one day grow into a prize breeding sow. In his own way, Rob begins to learn that life is never simple or neat, that just because a thing's accepted doesn't make it right, and that his own father, good and honest, but poor, illiterate, and tied to the land, is the one man in the world he wants to emulate.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You got a D in English and mean to improve your grammar.

The Rules

Author: Marty Kelley

Quote: Don't stick peanuts up your nose.

Why you should this book: In lively and amusing rhymes, the author lays out the "do"s and "don't"s (mostly "don't"s) of being a kid, from hygiene and common sense, to the pure parentisms that we never remember until it's too late and cautions against really silly actions that seem like a good idea at the time. Kids will enjoy watching the antics--every admonition is accompanied by an illustration of child performing the very act against which he or she is being warned--as well as the book's rhythm. A good introduction to polite and acceptable behavior from a source that understands how difficult this is for children.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer dirty, crusty, deliberately offensive kids.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Author: Crockett Johnson

First line: One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.

Why you should read this book: For more than fifty years, children have been delighted by Harold's adventures in a world that begins as a blank sheet of paper, but is soon filled with the purple images of his imagination. In his first adventure, Harold and his trusty wax writing implement take a voyage under the cresent moon, encountering danger, excitement, and nine kinds of pie. A terrific lesson in self-determination and the power of the child's mind.

Why you shouldn't read this book: When you make a mistake, you crumple your paper and throw it in the trash.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Author: Kurt Vonnegut

First line: All this happened, more or less.

Why you should read this book: Vonnegut's most popular novel is about the horrors of war, but it's also about time travel and alien abduction. Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, bounces back and forth through the fourth dimension of his life, suffering through World War II and the Dresden firebombing, floating through a mundane existence as an optometrist who married for money, and tolerating his stint as an exhibit at an alien zoo, where he is imprisoned with a porn star who bears his child. The novel's unifying thread tells us, "Life is full of ugliness; best to focus on the good parts.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think war is just spiffy, that revenge is mandatory, and the key to life is to hold fast to your pain.

Yummers! Starring Emily and Eugene

Author: James Marshall

First line: Emily Pig was upset.

Why you should read this book: Distressed over her weight, Emily Pig is persuaded to take up walking as a healthy and interesting form of exercise. Walking is so stimulating that Emily Pig's appetite is balloons, and she devours every tidbit in sight, retires with an upset stomach, and determines that exercise is detrimental to her health, still confused as to why she can't lose weight. You probably know someone like this.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your diet is not going well.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods

Author: Ann Cameron

First line: One Summer day Amanda Woods traded her right hand for Lyle Leveridge's.

Why you should read this book: Her mother and her older sister are driven perfectionists, her father is loving but uncommunicative, and her only friend is moving to Montana, leaving Amanda to withdraw into herself, but Lyle's parting gift gives her the strength to remake her life. Observing those around her, Amanda chooses a new identity and begins to participate in her own life, constantly surprised to learn that others are not as she first perceives them. This is a journey from childhood to the beginning of growing up, and Amanda K. Woods must find her own path.

Why you should not read this book: Martha Stewart is your co-pilot.

You're Different and That's Super

Author: Carson Kressley

First line: The spring that Trumpet was born, there were so many new foals in the pasture that almost no one nticed there was one sassy little colt who didn't belong to any of the mares.

Why you should read this book: With a kind of reverse Glass Menagerie mentality, we have the story of little horse who's popular and well-loved until he starts to grow a horn from his forehead. Finding himself ostracized, he retreats into self-loathing, until the day his horn proves useful and his true identity as a unicorn is revealed. Quirky fun for quirky kids who might not understand how their individuality today will help them weather the transition into adulthood.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've always dressed your children in identical outfits and you don't want them to get the idea that they are unique.

Something Might Happen

Author: Helen Lester

First line: Twitchly Fidget trembled all over

Why you should read this book: A paranoid lemur lives his life in fear of shampoo, marshmallow, breakfast cereal, and the possibility that something--anything--could go wrong in ways that would not occur to the well-adjusted primate. Twitchly misses out on all the good things in life until his aunt shows up and forces him to confront the world. Strangely, terrible things do not happen.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have an irrational fear of gym shoes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Author: Hermann Hesse

Quote: "Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom."

Why you should read this book: Siddhartha, son of a Brahmin, has every advantage in life, and yet he leaves his father's house to follow the path of the ascetic and learn of the Self. Soon, the young man begins to question the wisdom of following leaders, and continues the journey of his own existence, seeking his own knowledge and experience rather than passively believing what others tell him about the world. Throughout his life, he understands that he must follow his own path and that peace and acceptance are attained, not through mindless ritual or material gain, but through embrace of simplicity, through the ability to listen to the universe, to understand its circular nature, and to sense the individual's connection to the divine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're the kind of person who pickets the Dalai Lama with signs explaining why Buddhists go to hell.

The Art Lesson

Author: Tomie dePaola

First line: Tommy knew he wanted to be an artist when he grew up.

Why you should read this book: Perennial children's favorite dePaola revisits familiar territory--his own childhood--in this story of artistic integrity versus stubborn establishment. From an early age, little Tommy demonstrates strong artistic talent and style, but, like most young children, his sense of justice is outraged by seemingly arbitrary rules, in this case those imposed upon him by his elementary school's limited art program. Tommy refuses to compromise himself, but must learn to compromise with authority in his pursuit of a true art education.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think eight colors and one sheet of paper are more than adequate for any child's self-expression.

Diary of a Wombat

Author: Jackie French

Quote: Evening: Have decided that humans are easily trained and make good pets.

Why you should read this book: Wombats are Australian creatures that resemble small bears and love sleeping, digging holes, and eating grass. When a family of humans invade the wombat's territory, she comes to love them for their bottomless stashes of delicious carrots, but humans and wombat must learn to coexist and love one another despite their disparate views on land use. Amusing illustrations help illuminate the wombat's unique point of view.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never, ever fed a wild animal.

No More Kissing!

Author: Emma Chichester Clark

Quote: I wish no one had invented kissing.

Why you should read this book: Momo the anthropomorphic monkey wants to know why there has to be so much kissing all the time. Like many independent little boys, he finds the practice disgusting and pointless, and when his brother comes along, the new baby seems to disdain bussing so much that altruistic Momo insists on putting a stop to it. However, familial love wins out, and Momo's instinct for kindness leads him to behave in ways he could never predict.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those parents who believe children should be made to kiss on command.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Twelfth Night, or, What You Will

Author: William Shakespeare

First line: If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Why you should read this book: A tidy bit of Shakespearean tomfoolery with a cold undertone of cruelty: Viola and Sebastian are fraternal (yet identical) twins, separated in a shipwreck, and Viola disguises herself as a boy to find employment with the Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. Orsino is in love himself with the disdainful Olivia, and he sends Viola to woo her; a second plot involves Olivia's drunken uncle taking revenge on her pompous steward. When Viola's lost brother rejoins the dance, misunderstandings abound, but all's well in the end, and love flourishes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like cross-dressing. Or cross-garters.

The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq

Author: Rory Stewart

First line: In April 2002, after twenty months traveling in Asia, I returned from Afghanistan to my home in the Highlands of Scotland, a mile from the nearest town on the edge of a wood.

Why you should read this book: Picking up where his last narrative left off, the inimitable Stewart begins his new incarnation as Seyyed Rory, the Coalition-appointed deputy governor to two provinces in the marsh regions of southern Iraq, facing off against various political, religious, and feudal-tribal factions as he struggles to create democracy and oversee services in the cradle of civilization. After decades of police rule, most Iraqis reject the Coalition's notions of democracy and insist that security is the most important issue, while Stewart butts heads with both Iraqi and Coalition forces in his efforts to keep the water running, the electricity flowing, and the schools open, all in the face of constant insurgencies and allegiance shifts, and racing against the clock to complete projects before the scheduled handover. In a civilization where revenge and blood feuds pile up one atop the other, in some cases stretching back over 1300 years, Stewart's level head and diplomatic impulses smooth over escalating events and provide an air of good humor in a book that may illuminate for Westerners the true situation in Iraq and the deep clash of cultures inherent in the American invasion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one hundred percent sure that, if you die killing Christians, you'll go directly to heaven.