Guy goes to Pyongyang to supervise North Korean animators. At the airport he can’t really see the man picking him up because there’s no light in the building. He stays in a fifty story hotel, but only three rooms are occupied (all by foreigners). Whenever Guy is out, he must go with a “guide” and a “translator” who keep an eye on him for the government. When Guy tries to experience the country himself by sneaking out alone, he feels invisible to the populace, but his translator knows all about it the following day.
Why I picked it up: I heard good things about this book. And those creepy, smiling girls on the cover look exactly like little North Korean girls I once saw on TV performing for “Papa” Kim Il-Sung.
Why I finished it: I was surprised how many details reminded me of South Korea, where I was born and raised. For example, he shows women killing flies in his hotel. My mom used to catch flies with her hands. She’d gently sweep her hand in the air, a few inches over a fly that had landed, and it would jump into her hand. Then she’d throw it at the ground where I’d step on it. Guy also saw women wearing socks over nylons, and experienced firsthand how many Korean men (including his guide) unapologetically smoke in enclosed spaces
I'd give it to: Donnie, who works with me at the hospital, and who always asks me “What is wrong with North Koreans?” after watching the news.
For Better or For Worse has followed the adventures of the Patterson family for more than 30 years. It’s been an innovative, family-oriented comic strip that where characters age (and even die). Johnston has tackled topics like divorce, death, extramarital affairs, adolescence, childhood and homosexuality with humor, warmth and an understanding.
When Lynn Johnston ‘retired’ she went back and started adding to her comics, fleshing out story lines and strengthening characters. This book is the result (hence the title), a mix of her old and new strips with notes from Johnston about the plot, inconsistencies, her thoughts, and life. It begins with the arrival of Farley, the dog, when Michael and Elizabeth are still quite young.
Why I finished it: I'm fascinated by the behind the scenes stories. Johnston includes a picture of the real-life Farley and her correspondence with Canadian writer Farley Mowat, who correctly guessed the dog was named for him. Then there’s an eight panel strip that shows a house filled with the mess of from numerous arts and crafts projects. The only text is "What happened here?!!" and "...it was a rainy day." Johnston explains that her mother, a neat freak, would nonetheless let her children go to town with art projects on rainy days.
I'd give it to: I had to take it from my teens so I could read it. I’d give it to my brother, Mike, because when we were in college I sent him a strip that was straight out of our lives, where Michael says, “Nobody punches my sister but me!”
“The Purple Smurfs” A purple bug bites a Smurf in the forest, turning him purple and giving him the urge to bit the other smurfs. Once bitten, they also become infected. It’s a zombie story for little kids becaus no one get shot in the head.
“The Flying Smurf” A smurf dreams of flying, but finds it doesn’t make his life (or the lives of the other smurfs) any easier.
“The Smurf and His Neighbors” A smurf moves out of the village so that he can get some sleep, but eventually finds an easier way to get some peace and quiet.
Why I picked it up: watched the Smurfs for 1-2 hours every Saturday morning from 5th grade through high school, but I never read the comics.
Why I finished it: The stories made me nostalgic for the days when I could go back for a second heaping bowl of Lucky Charms without worrying about my waistline. But now I also appreciate Peyo’s simple, kinetic drawings and his skill in differentiating the Smurfs from one another through minor costume differences and accessories.
I'd give it to: The other students in the cartooning class I took at my local art store. These are great examples of comics that flow in a straightforward way, where the word balloon placement and panel arrangement work together to tell the story.
On a remote island in New Zealand, a team of biologists and volunteers monitor Kakapo parrot behavior, video their burrows during egg-laying season, and even mix up extra nutritious food to encourage the birds to reproduce. It's a race against extinction -- there are only eighty-seven of these birds left in the world!
Why I picked it up: The books in this cool series highlight the different kinds of people doing practical scientific work. (Volunteers help on this project, including a grandmother and a mom who has little kids). Sy Montgomery also wrote some other great animal books.
Why I finished it: The Kakapo is the most odd and adorable bird I have ever read about. It is flightless, downy-soft, large (about 8 pounds!), and smells like honey due to harmless bacteria in its feathers. Its mating call is a combination of loud booms and chings. Because they are eaten by almost everything (cats, rats, weasels, people), they have to live on an island that is too difficult for anything else to get to.
I'd give it to: All of my booktalking buddies, since this one is a home run for middle schoolers.
Anthology of short, black-and-white comics essays on topics including how to bale hay, the history of postcards, Boris Rose and his jazz record collection, New York’s Washington Square Park, graffiti in the old New York Central Railroad tunnels, Guantanamo prisoner interrogations, a woman accompanying her father to China to meet the girl he’s adopting, and more.
Why I picked it up: I thought it was a book of how-to comics.
Why I finished it: Nick Bertozzi’s How and Why to Bale Hay made me itch. Alec Longstreth’s essay about the Dvorak keyboard convinced me I should change the way I type (so that I can type faster). And Nate Powell’s account of the massacre of black residents in Tulsa one night in the early 1900s made me wonder what I would have done on a night like that.
I'd give it to: Bill Schadt for his high school’s collection. These comics breathe life into the essay. They would inspire students who express themselves through pictures, and (I hope) inform their teachers about the possibilities of the medium, too.
The Akaran dynasty ruled Acacia for hundreds of years through an economy supported by drug sales and slavery. The Mein people, exiled to the ice-covered north, assassinate King Leodan and seize control his empire with the help of huge, warlike creatures called the Numrek. Leodan’s four children survive but are separated, and live as a desert warrior, a toy of the Meinish leader, a priestess, and a pirate. As the Meinish plan to bring a caravan of their dead to the capitol so that their spirits may seek vengeance, Leodan’s children carry out their father’s plans for rebellion.
Why I picked it up: David Anthony Durham gained quite a following from his historical fiction, and this is is first fantasy novel.
Why I finished it: I loved the destruction caused by giant hog-like creatures called Antoks, released in battle to go after warriors in certain colored tunics and armor. The difficult journeys of the Akaran children also kept me reading. They each grow up alone and discover the truth about the underpinnings of their family’s empire while training for the coming rebellion.
I'd give it to: Fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series like Mike, who craves fantasy that takes place in a more pragmatic, brutal reality that has neither a Dark Lord nor a Hero.
They say it best: "A reference book containing an alphabetical list of words, with information given for each word, usually including meaning, pronunciation, and etymology."
Why I picked it up: For our fourteenth anniversary I gave my wife a necklace from Tiffany's and she gave me this. We were both completely satisfied with that exchange.
Why I finished it: Okay, I haven't read it cover-to-cover. Yet. But I do keep it near the dining room table and pull it out at every opportunity. The topic words are printed in dark teal san-serif, highlighting them effectively but tastefully against the smaller black serif definitions. Each margin contains up to five color illustrations of words on that page, which I thought would be corny but often comes in handy for my children. And the word histories, usage notes, regionalisms and other supplementary materials make for good reading on days when I just pick it up without a goal in mind.
I'd give it to: Our word game buddies Mike and JT. It has already settled one heated dispute and started several new ones.
Jack and Conn are preparing for a trip to London to pick a prep school. After a party Jack is abducted by a man who offers him a ride. Jack is drugged and raped but manages to escape after several days. He shares the gory details with Conn. They decide to exact revenge on the man.
Later, in London, a strange man calls Jack by name and hands him a strange set of glasses. When he looks through them, he finds himself in a brutal, violent land called Marbury. It is a chaotic place where most people struggle to survive. There he becomes involved with the ghost of a child who died of hanging. He feels compelled to return to Marbury again and again though it’s dangerous and is also destroying his relationship with his British girlfriend and Conn.
Why I finished it: It’s the most violent book I’ve reviewed this year marketed to young adults. It’s full of violence, drugs, sex, and bad language. Jack and his friends resupply themselves from a train full of sprawled, bloody bodies. Jack's compulsion to return to Marbury despite the devastating consequences for his life mirrored my need to finish the book. (It was unanimously named to the final BFYA for 2010 list.)
I'd give it to: You, if the above appeals. (My kids won’t be handling this anytime soon, including my twin sixteen-year-olds.)