by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings,
Illustrated by Shelagh McNichols
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book, Memoir
ISBN-10: 0803741073/ ISBN-13: 978-0803741072
Additional formats: E-book
Honors: ALA’s Rainbow List
This is the story of Jazz Jennings, a girl who loves pink and silver and green. A girl who likes to dance and sing and do back flips. A girl who likes to pretend she’s a pop star or a mermaid. A strong girl who was born with the body of a boy. I Am Jazz recounts the early childhood experience of Jazz Jennings, a teen advocate and co-founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, who felt like a girl born into a boy’s body from the time she was two-years-old.
“Pretending I was a boy felt like a lie,” Jazz writes. At first, her parents are confused when Jazz tells them of her feelings. But when the family meets a doctor who teaches them the word “transgender,” everything starts to change.
“Be who you are. We love you no matter what,” are words every child deserves to hear. I Am Jazz is a perfect title to discuss concepts such as acceptance and belonging and will make an important addition to the family or school library. – Gigi
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Laura Carlin
Candlewick Press, 2014
Ages 5 and up
ISBN-10: 0763666335 /13: 978-076366633
Honors: English Association Picture Book Award Best Fiction
Can one heart and two hands change the world?
In The Promise, a little girl has become hardened and cold like the city she lives in. Her heart had “shriveled as the dead trees in the park.” Isolated and disconnected from people and from nature, the girl turns to thievery. She steals for her food; she never smiles. One night the girl spots an old lady walking alone, easy pickings for the seasoned young thief. So she thinks! The girl grabs ahold of the woman’s purse, a struggle ensues, until finally the old lady says, “If you promise to plant them, I’ll let go.”
Alas, the bag is not full of money or food or anything useful, but rather it’s crammed full of acorns.
“I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed,” the girl says.
A girl must keep her promises. She plants the acorns everywhere—abandoned buildings, bus stops, and factories. Soon, the city is flourishing with green and bursting with tiny oaklings and, best of all, the people are smiling and planting trees and flowers of their own.
This simple story, a retelling of Jean Giono’s 1953 story, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, is a strong message about conservation and action that emphasizes our human belonging to the natural world. It’s also an uplifting call to action for each reader to give their own heart and hands over to the stewardship of our earth by planting something green! – Gigi
By Amrita Das
Tara Books, 2014
Ages 10 and up
ISBN-10: 9383145021/13: 978-9383145027
Additional formats: La esperanza es una niña vendiendo fruta (Spanish edition)
Honors: ALA Outstanding International Book
In Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit, a young artist travels by train from her village in India to a small town in a different region to study art with a new teacher. In her work, she struggles to find inspiration until she remembers a poor girl on the train.
“I knew at that moment, how I was going to tell my story. It is her story, too,” Das writes.
In this visual and narrative study of a young woman watching a young girl, hopes and dreams and constraints and threats unite the travelers in the experience of being female.
“Freedom. What does that word mean to us? Going to school? Learning? And then? Marriage? Does that set you free?”
With drawings rooted in a folk art style called Mithila, Das explores the world of women and girls in northern India and invites readers to scale the boundaries of tradition and culture in their lives, too. -Gigi
Poems by Haitian Schoolchildren
Illustrated by Rogé, Translated by Solange Messier
Fifth House, 2014
Picture book, poetry
Ages 6 and up
ISBN-10: 1927083230/13: 978-1927083239
Honors: New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books
When I was just out of college, I visited Haiti for a couple of weeks with a group from my city, Richmond. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in Hinche, the capital of the central plateau.
How I remember the people in Port-au-Prince is that they shouted at me on the boldly painted taxi-trucks, called tap taps, about very specific policy issues related to the U.S. that I knew nothing about and cannot now recall. I will never forget how that experience redefined my understanding of citizenship and human rights.
In all the places of the world I have visited, there is no place where the clouds have felt so close or the stars so crystal as in Hinche, Haiti. We visited in the dry season, but even so, water tumbled down from the mountains into clear, deep pools. The people in Hinche shared goat stew and plantains and pumpkin soup on the Feast of the Epiphany. They sat down with us and talked about all people working together, sharing the heavy load, making change one step at a time, and never giving up.
I believe that some of the strongest girls in all of the world must be Haitian girls. Some of these girls are poets, praising their homeland in Haiti My Country, a collection of fifteen poems by Haitian teenagers, all from the village of Camp-Perrin in the southern part of the country.
The young poets bring the beauty and hardship of Haiti into focus, and Rogè’s introspective portraits of them reveals youth full of generosity, joy, skepticism, inquisitiveness, and determination.
Their write lovingly of trees—mango, soursop, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, mahogany, and giant oak. Of red birds and hibiscus. Of honey and hard labor. Of course, they write of roosters! And they write of lost smiles and worries and better tomorrows to come. – Gigi
by Jennifer H. Lyne
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013
Ages 14 and up, Grade 7 and up
ISBN: 10: 054430182X/13: 978-0544301825
Additional formats: paperback, e-book
Sidney Criser is fourteen years old and grieving the death of her father. Her mother has taken up with a real jerk, and her beloved Uncle Wayne is trying hard to quit drinking. Life is bearable for Sid only when she’s riding horses.
When Uncle Wayne lands Sid a job at a fancy stable in Albemarle County, Virginia, at first, ever-confident Sid loses a bit of her edge around the wealth, power, and pedigree. However, she makes her own luck and nails an opportunity of a lifetime to show a made-horse on the elite show circuit. Then her dream starts to unravel.
In addition to the spot-on riding scenes, readers will relate to Sid’s family conflicts, the drama within her peer group at the barn, and the elements of romance, too. Sid’s connection to horses is strong and real and shows how having something we can hold onto—a place where we feel we belong—can help us overcome life’s hardest challenges. Lyne delivers a thrilling and moving novel that is a fantastic story for anyone with big a dream and looking for the courage to keep trying. -Gigi
by Louise Erdrich
Hyperion Paperbacks, 1999
Middle grade fiction, Age 9 and Up
10: 0786814543/13: 978-078681454
Additional formats: Hardcover, audio
Honors: National Book Award Finalist * Jane Addams Award Honor * WILLA Award * National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Winner
The shero in the Birchbark House, set on Madeline Island off Lake Superior in 1847, receives her name from an Ojibwa girl who was recorded as living on the island in nineteenth century. Author Louise Erdrich writes, “Dear Reader, when you speak this name out loud you will be honoring the life of an Ojibwa girl who lived long ago.”
Now, speak her name: Omakayas.
A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa, Erdrich (National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist) wrote The Birchbark House to retrace her family’s history. The story is told from the perspective of seven-year-old Omakayas, or little frog. Young readers will be completely absorbed by the adventures of Omakayas as she works alongside the women and babysits her little brother. As many young children do, she feels jealous of her older sibling and annoyed by her younger ones. Working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother, she experiences an ability to communicate well with animals, the earth, and her elders, all of which guide her in toward the gift of healing.
When a smallpox breakout ravishes the community, Omakayas is the only one not infected. Her talent for listening to the earth and all its creatures soon helps her care for her family, and she must use all of her power to save them.
The story unfolds in four parts—summer, fall, winter, and spring—and the narrative builds inside the rhythms and rituals of Ojibwa life. Its back matter includes an Author’s Note on Ojibwa language and a glossary and punctuation guide of Ojibwa terms, offering opportunity for continued depth and discovery of Omakayas’s world.
Many have contrasted The Birchbark House to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Wilder’s books carry a cultural bias embedded in the white encroachment on native land and culture as America pushed its boundaries west – a contrast worth noting. The Birchbark House testifies to the decimation and destruction that resulted, yet Erdrich most strongly evokes a feeling of connection among all people, with the earth, and to an Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. – Gigi
by Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
Middle grade, Ages 9-13
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Stella likes to slip out of the house at night to practice her writing because she thinks more clearly in silence, under the stars. One night her little brother, JoJo, follows her and the two siblings witness a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The re-emergence of the KKK in rural Bumblebee, NC sends fear into Stella’s tight-knit community.
The novel is set in the Depression-era, a time of transition in America and the rural south. Some people in Bumblebee want to destroy social progress that has been made, using violence and threats. Stella and her father know the only way to go is forward toward education, opportunity, and equal rights.
Standing up for yourself and your family takes courage and clarity, as Stella learns by accompanying her father and their pastor to the voting poll on Election Day. The danger they face is real; the consequences suffered heart-breaking. Rather than fight fire with fire, Stella chooses the power of the pen as her weapon. She fights back with written words full of truth and faith.
There is so much to love in this book. Draper writes endearing, charismatic adult characters who encourage the children to help each other, to take risks, to sing loudly, and learn by watching and listening and trying. The language and phrasing resonate a time when the spoken word made strong use of storytelling, oral history, rhymes, and riddles. Scenes of joyous meals and earnest worship combine into a vibrant, inspiring depiction of a beloved community where the people find solace and fortitude in one another.
Best of all is Stella, drawn with palpable connection to the people around her, a girl with a brave, loving heart and a desire to write the truth. – Gigi