George's grandma is really, really mean and cranky, and kind of crazy, too. So he makes a magic medicine that grows her taller than their house. (He sings a very funny song while he makes it.) His dad, Mr. Kranky, encourages him to make more medicine and give it to their animals.
Why I picked it up: It looked funny, and I always like Roald Dahl books.
Why I finished it: It was so silly! In fact I stayed up late to read it. The grandma is really, really crazy - she thinks cabbage with caterpillars is good for you.
I'd give it to: My friend Daisy who like animals (and Roald Dahl) because he'd particularly like the scene when the giant chicken lays an egg the size of a football.
In the early 1980s, American Jere Van Dyk covered the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by living with Mujahideen fighters. In 2007 he decided to go back to write a book from the Taliban’s viewpoint, to help the West understand their enemy better. He was breaking the law by sneaking into Afghanistan from Pakistan, so he kept his travel plans secret. Within days he was captured by the Taliban. He and his three traveling companions were imprisoned for forty-five days. Every day he thought they were going to be beheaded like Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. His Taliban captors called him their Golden Goose and asked for a million dollar ransom. To try to survive, he did the only thing he could and pretended to consider adopting their belief in the radical branch of Islam, Wahhabism.
Why I picked it up: I saw this on the recommended shelf at my local library.
Why I finished it: Van Dyk is brutally honest in detailing his feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. He is unable to trust the three men he is imprisoned with, thinking that some or all of them might be complicit in his capture. He walks a fine line, trying to give the impression he is actively considering converting to Islam, yet unwilling to completely bend, never knowing what careless bit of information could result in his execution.
The peek inside the Pashtun honor code, Pashtunwali was fascinating and repulsive. His fellow captives talk with pride about how they would track down a daughter who eloped, even ten years after the crime, and kill her to restore their family pride. (The man she married would only need to be injured.) Yet Pashtunwali also demands protection of a guest, even at great personal cost, leading his captor to risk himself protecting Van Dyk from rougher Taliban members.
I'd give it to: David, my neighborhood Boy Scout leader, because a lot of this book is about the convoluted honor system of the Taliban. My college roommate, Matt, because we used to talk about how we would react in a life or death situation. Van Dyk shows both courage and cowardice when he must stand with a gun to his head for minutes at a time for a video.
Unhappy grad student Matt Fuller discovers that the calibrator he made for his professor can propel itself (and him) forward through time. He jumps farther and farther ahead, first out of apathy (he was reeling from a bad breakup, and figured the future couldn't be worse than the present), then to save his life, then in an attempt to get back home.
Why I picked it up: Over the years Haldeman has become my go-to sci-fi author. I will read anything he writes, confident that there will be a nice balance of character development, plot, and, you know, science. On a date with my wife we ended up at the library (now you know everything you need to know about our marriage) and I grabbed a couple of his books on the way out.
Why I finished it: The plot rollicks along, and Matt doesn't stay in any time long enough for it to get boring for us (or him). I'll tell you the truth: after I got about halfway through the book, when Matt is bartering an old bottle of wine on the future's equivalent of eBay, I realized I'd read it before. So, as you might guess, this isn't the deepest material, but it sure is a fun ride.
I'd give it to: SMBC's Zach Weiner. He loves making fun of the intersection of religion and science, so he'll appreciate the part where Matt temporarily works at the Massachusetts Institute of Theosophy, in a future America ruled by someone who greatly resembles Jesus both in appearance and in powers.
Evie works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, neutralizing werewolves, vampires, and the like. She got "hired" at the age of three when IPCA agents discovered that she could see through the glamours hiding the true nature of all manner of paranormal beings. She has lived at headquarters ever since. What could an ass-kicking sixteen year old with her own place, unlimited online shopping, and a mermaid BFF want? A locker. At a high school. Where she could live a normal life. But that possibility looks like it will slip away forever when something powerful begins slaughtering paranormals, because it looks like it may invade the IPCA, too.
Why I picked it up: Four folks whose opinions I respect told me it was really good.
Why I finished it: Lend, a shape-shifter who has been able to attend normal schools, thinks Evie's fascination with high school is hilarious. Lend can look like any cute guy he wants (including the hot star of Evie's favorite show). Evie is the first person who can see his true self, and she thinks she's falling in love. The non-stop battles, narrow escapes, evil fairies, and a mysterious prophecy that might concern Evie didn't hurt, either!
I'd give it to: Andrew, a Buffy fan, for Evie's pink, rhinestone-covered taser, nicknamed "Tasey." Mr. Pointy would approve.
Why I finished it: I’ve never before read someone’s autobiographical comics after I met them. I particularly liked seeing the exaggerated ways Yuko draws herself when the joke’s on her. (Her pictures of Ananth, on the other hand, with his hat pulled low, seem entirely realistic.)
Bonus: There are some early test strips in the back of the book, with commentary, that show how they developed the strip and worked to achieve the perfect tone. Plus this instant librarian favorite.
I'd give it to: Sarah, who confirmed the coolness of Johnny Wander by telling me I had to read it! (She usually beats me to the punch.) And our store manager, Jana, who will find a mirror for her own ultra-positive attitude toward life and work in these comics.
Tolle gives simple advice on how to be a happier, more complete being. He uses dogs as spiritual teachers and examples of how to escape our thoughts and just be. Illustrated beautifully with pictures and comics from Mutts creator McDonnell.
Why I picked it up: Art by Patrick McDonnell!
Why I finished it: The third image in the book. A delighted Earl is leaping in the air, chasing dandelion seeds blowing across a field. Tolle’s advice is wonderfully short and simple. The words (on the left-hand pages) and images or comics (on the right) add something to each other.
I often want to see a list of current medications with reviews recommending self-helpish books. I want you to know I didn’t burn my TV or stop eating marzipan or nod along with everything in the book, particularly this: “It’s so wonderful to watch an animal because it has no opinion about itself.” Tolle has obviously never met my cats.
I'd give it to: My sister, Traci, a dog lover. She’ll nod her head at the life lessons and may actually finish the book, because it’s so short. Then she’ll talk about how she doesn’t have any time to simplify her life. And I’ll laugh but no one will understand why.
Anya’s a high school student, a Russian immigrant who wants to forget she used to have an accent and wear the wrong clothes. She feels fat and fears she’ll soon look like her mother. She frequently skips gym class to smoke with her friend, Siobhan.
One morning, distracted by events at the bus stop, she falls down a deep hole in the park. She’s trapped. Anya soon discovers a set of old bones and meets Emily, the ghost they belonged to, who fell down the well and died there ninety years ago.
When Anya is rescued, the ghost comes home with her. She’s particularly useful during tests, when she can whisper other students’ answers to Anya. But then Emily becomes obsessed with getting Anya together with Sean, a boy she likes, even after they see how he badly he treats his girlfriend. Despite Anya’s protests that she’s no longer interested, Emily finds unpleasant ways to motivate her former friend.
Why I picked it up: My daughter and I chose this graphic novel together from among the review copies on our shelf. (Probably because of the ghost on the bottom of the spine, near the First Second logo.)
Why I finished it: On page 12-13 the amazing two-page sequence where Anya falls down the hole.
And then there’s the scene at the library where the geeky Russian immigrant teaches her what microfilm is and how to use it. If I still worked at a public library, I’d tear it out and post it by our machine so that I never had to explain it again.
I'd give it to: Bella because it deals wonderfully with a young girl feeling awkward in her skin, and because the realistic teen behavior (smoking, drinking) would horrify her mother a little.
The life of a dog at home in the Santa Clara Valley was great. Buck loved playing in a swimming tank with the boys and escorting the girls on their horseback rides.
His life changed because people found gold in the Yukon. People rushing to the Klondike needed strong dogs with thick coats who could survive the cold. One day Buck followed a gardener’s helper away from the house. The man sold Buck to an agent who beat the dogs to train them and then transported them north to be sold.
Perrault, Buck’s next owner, was a government courier. He and his guide Francois were fair to Buck and the rest of the dogs who helped deliver messages and goods over harsh terrain in extreme weather. Buck became strong and learned very quickly how to not only survive, but to be a leader.
Buck was sold several times after Perrault’s assignment ended. He developed a strong friendship with his final owner, Thornton. While he and Thornton lived in a forest cabin, Buck ventured into the woods where he became friends with a timber wolf.
Why I picked it up: The dog’s eye on the cover. Plus this graphic novel adaptation looked short.
Why I finished it: I enjoyed the development of Buck’s personality. He was smart and cocky when he lived in the house in California. But after being taken north he was lost in his new environment. Later he became strong and capable of thinking through what he was doing.
I'd give it to: Tracy, whose dogs are so dumb and weak they can’t do a thing outside of the house (one continues to poop on the carpet) because I want her to understand how smart dogs should be.
This omnibus contains three of Shaun Tan’s earlier books published in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s during what he calls his “experimental stage.”
The Red Tree expresses the dark emotions of a lost young girl through the dreary landscape and use of light. At the end one thing turns out the way she expected, and her delight is palpable. (Tan says this story was inspired by his own bouts with depression.)
The Lost Thing shows a young man who finds a gentle, tea kettle-like creature in the city square, befriends it, and tries to help it find its home. (A short film based on the book recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Short.)
The Rabbits, a collaboration with Australian author John Marsden (Tomorrow, When the War Began), shows how Aboriginal peoples must have felt when waves of foreigners with no interest in assimilating started landing on Australia’s shores. Rabbits invade and try to overpower nature with their machines.
Why I picked it up: Tan’s The Arrival was entirely original yet told a story understandable by both kids and adults. I now collect everything he writes or illustrates.
Why I finished it: Little details in his art carry huge weight. The depressed girl in The Red Tree sits and stares out a window at a fantastical ship scudding by in the wind, and I could feel that wonderful things were passing her by. After looking at it for a few moments I noticed the window was padlocked from the outside.
I'd give it to: Beatrice, who draws weird objects in her notebooks (I’ve seen apples with tentacles and a phone book with feathers) and who, I hope, would be inspired by Tan’s whimsical and emotionally resonant stories filled with objects and creatures that couldn’t possibly be real, but which he brings to life.