By David Baldacci
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 0545652200/ 978-0545652209
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Author David Baldacci has earned a rabidly loyal, worldwide fan base with his fast-paced, plot-driven thrillers. With The Finisher,he makes his middle grade fantasy debut in a novel featuring a wisecracking, clever, and brave young heroine named Vega Jane.
Vega and her brother, John, live in the village of Wormwood, which is surrounded by a dangerous, forbidden wilderness known as the Quag. When Vega witnesses a co-worker fleeing into the Quag, the Council becomes highly suspicious of Vega’s involvement. Members of the Council construct a benevolent façade to cover up the real reasons no one is allowed to leave Wormwood. Vega soon realizes everyone is being manipulated.
Vega Jane is my favorite kind of girl—a headstrong, quick study whose mouth gets ahead of her mind sometimes. She’s motivated by justice and fairness but has yet to learn to choose her battles. Vega is loyal to her family and friends—always ready to put up her dukes and fight on behalf of the underdog—behavior that often comes at a price in fiction as in life. And, oh so worth it!
Baldacci’s mastery of emotional tension and full-throttle action is on fine display. The quirky, lovable cast of characters will endear The Finisher to readers of all ages. – Gigi
The Burning Time
By Robin Morgan
Melville House, 2012
Honors: American Booksellers Association, “Book Sense” pick * “Reccomended Quality Fiction List 2007,” American Library Association Feminist Task Force * Amelia Bloomer Project
Welcome 2014 Girls of Summer Guest Star, Robin Morgan! Take it away, Robin:
For me, young adult’s books and, for that matter, children’s books, are literature, like any other (good) books. I grew up reading everything I could get my eyes on: Aesop, Grimm, Carroll, Anderson, Hudson, Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare, Girl of the Limberlost and Nancy Drew, Scott, comic books, poetry–and also Kafka (whom I found hilarious) and Hawthorne, Alcott and Poe, Twain and the Brontes and Mary Renault. Since I wasn’t told “That’s for adults, not you,” I happily read on, and what I didn’t understand I skipped over and returned to later. It was all literature to me, all magical.
Consequently, my so-far-one “children’s book,” The Mer Child, is subtitled A Legend for Children and Other Adults, and my recent historical novel, The Burning Time, was intended as a rollicking good saga, complete with practical witchcraft, horses and torches and medieval pageantry—the kind of book I as a child secretly continued reading under the covers by flashlight past bedtime. I had never thought of a readership age bracket for The Burning Time until it was highly recommended by the American Library Association Amelia Bloomer Project recognizing distinguished fiction for young people; later, some reviewer said it was “so juicy a tale it must be for young adults”—meaning what? That literature for older adults should be boring, flat, and alienated? Phooey.
The Mer Child, based on a fantasy tale I made up for bedtime telling to my son when he was eight, is really a love story of two kids, outsiders both, who find a deep kinship in each other. The Mer Child—son of a mermaid and a human–has pale green skin, surf-white hair, and a shimmering rainbow-hued tail, and isn’t fully accepted in the sea world or the human world. The Little Girl, daughter of a black mother and white father, is also not accepted, both because of her skin color and because her legs are paralyzed. These two outcasts find a home in each other. It’s a story about difference and sameness, not fitting in, the preciousness of being unique (and its cost)—and about overcoming bigotry and ignorance. All of those subjects are, I believe, decidedly appropriate for readers of any age, since every one of us, including children, experiences such things anyway and might as well be equipped to deal creatively with them.
The Burning Time is not a fantasy. It is based on the true story of one woman’s remarkable fight against the Inquisition, set against the vivid tapestry of the 14th century and drawn from court records of the first witchcraft trial in Ireland: the tale of an extraordinary real-life noblewoman, Lady Alyce Kyteler of Kilkenny. When the Church imported its Inquisition—known as “The Burning Time” to followers of the Old Religion, or the Craft of Wicce (Witch Craft)—to Ireland, it did so via an ambitious, sophisticated bishop acting as Papal Emissary. But Alyce Kyteler–educated, wealthy, and a Craft Priestess–refused to cede power to the Church over herself, her lands, her people, or their ancient faith. She and the bishop engaged in a personal battle of wits, and when she outmaneuvered him she provoked his hatred. He pronounced her followers heretics and gambled his Church career on breaking her. But Kyteler had power, connections, fearlessness, and the loyalty of her people, especially her courageous young handmaiden, Petronilla. Battle plans were laid. Finally, risking death by burning at the stake, Kyteler invoked a mysterious, possibly otherworldly ally–the novel’s shocking, dramatic climax. I wanted to write a lush, enthralling story of memorable characters based on actual historical figures, an unforgettable tale of power, politics, bravery, and passions both earthly and spiritual. When The Historical Novels Review called it “a fantastic page-turner”—I did a little dance around the room, since that is precisely what I had been working toward.
The point is the story, always the story.
I feel a deep, close relationship with my reader, and I respect her/his intelligence enormously. The truth is, I write what I’d love to read, at any age, myself!
By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Candlewick Press, 2010
Middle Grade, Ages 10 and up
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Honors: Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award *Junior Library Guild selection * William Allen White Children’s Book Award – Master List * Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth * National Council of Teachers of English Notable Children’s Book * The Edgar® Awards – Best Juvenile, Nominee * Edgar Award Nominee * Kirkus Reviews – Best Children’s Books of the Year * New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing * SIBA Okra Pick * Kids Indie Next List
Zora and Me, by friends and co-authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon is a suspenseful, summertime mystery starring a trio of besties: a young, fictionalized Zora Neale Hurston and her friends Carrie and Teddy. Set in Hurston’s legendary Eatonville, Florida, the story opens with Zora and Carrie witnessing an Eatonville man being dragged into to swamp by an alligator, which leads to some serious storytelling by Zora to her schoolmates.
Later, when a guitar-playing troubadour named Ivory turns up de-capitated near the railroad tracks, Zora conjures up a dark tale involving a shape-shifting gator man with an insatiable desire for souls and songs.
I found it impossible to do anything but read this book cover to cover in one sitting. The easy, rhythmic dialect, the brassy confidence of Zora, and the hot lush, dangerous setting of southern Florida will clamp down on readers tighter than a gator on a chicken. Let it happen is my advice. Zora and Me is a suspense-filled story with endearing characters and unexpected twists and turns. – Gigi
By Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Schwarz & Wade Books, 2013
Picture book, Ages 4-8
ISBN: 0375870342 / 978-0375870347
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
Set in Mauritania, West Africa, Deep in the Sahara explores how multiple generations of family can help us grow in faith and in understanding of ourselves and the world. In a graceful story of growing up, author Kelly Cunnane and illustrator Hoda Hadai explore a young Muslim girl’s desire to emulate the women around her by wearing a traditional veil, but first, she must come to understand its meaning.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa. She sees Mama and her sister, Selma, wearing colorful, expressive veils and wants to be just like them. Cousin Aisha wears one, too, but she says Lalla is too young—just a child. From Grandmother, Lalla learns that a malafa stands for far more than beauty or mystery, and even more than old tradition.
The experience of girls learning from the women around them transcends country or culture or religious tradition. The story made me remember how, as a five-year-old, I begged to sit in “big church” with my Grammy and Aunt Mary instead of going to Sunday School.
With Deep in the Sahara, the author and illustrator transport readers across the globe to West Africa and, once there, make us feel right at home in Lalla’s family. This is a beautiful book in every way. Back matter includes an author’s note and a glossary of included Hassaniya language (a dialect of Arabic) . – Gigi
By Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Mulberry Books, 1994
Picture book/ Poetry Ages 4-8
Honors: ALA Notable Book *Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book * ABA-CBC Backlist title * 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Sequoyah Children’s Book Award Master List* Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Master List
I love the story called Meet Danitra Brown
about two best friends scootin’ around town.
I’ve read it 100 times, memorized all the rhymes.
Danitra and Zuri don’t care about boys
who tease and taunt and make too much noise.
They just walk on by, heads tilted high.
The story unfolds wholly in rhymes,
written by Miz Nikki Grimes.
Poems short and long, words sweep you along.
That nice Floyd Cooper drew the book.
He gave Danitra a snazzy, summer look.
To purple she’s always loyal, because purple is simply royal.
The story makes me so happy to see
girls who can say, I love being me!
You oughta read Meet Danitra Brown, because she’s the most “splendiferous” girl in town.
By Susann Cokal
Candlewick Press, 2013
Young Adult, Ages 16 and up
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Honors: Michael L. Printz Honor Book * YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013 * Boston Globe Best of YA 2013
Fleeing a public scandal, young Ava Bingen secures a position as a seamstress in the 16th-century court of King Christian of Skyggehavn. When the nervous Ava accidentally pricks the queen, she draws not only royal blood but also the suspicions of Midi Sorte, a mute, enslaved African nursemaid. The needle incident triggers a dark attempt to seize power by lords and scholars, and the females in the palace find their safety, security, their bodies, and very lives under siege.
I first read The Kingdom of Little Woundsas a manuscript, then in galley form, and again after its hardcover release. Each time, I have been transported—body, mind, and spirit—to the Kingdom of Skyggehavn.
What a magnificent, enchanted, and terrifying kingdom it is.
I’ve heard some readers say they stopped reading The Kingdom because they couldn’t “go there.” Cokal does, indeed, grip her readers by the cheeks and very firmly turn them to face terror, subjugation, and oppression inflicted upon females, as has been done throughout the ages. Yet her lyrical writing, saturated with passion and splendor, makes it hard to turn away because she floods the senses with good and delicate things, too. And in the end, friendship rules the Kingdom.
This is a novel for mature readers who are willing to “go there,” those who realize that avoidance won’t change the past and won’t stop the atrocities that continue to be committed against girls and women all over the globe in the twenty-first century. It is hard to read about rape and violence, but “going there”—being present to the oppression of girls and women whether in non-fiction or fiction or poetry—may help to unlock our voices, our prayers, our power so that we can face down the unacceptable treatment of females, whether in Skyggehavn in 1572, Steubenville in 2012, or the Nigerian village of Chibok in 2014. - Gigi
By Teri Kanefield
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 10-14
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement introduces young readers to one of the earliest and youngest Civil Rights pioneers. In 1950, Barbara Johns attended Robert R. Moton High School, an all-black high school. In then-segregated Prince Edward County, Virginia, while white students enjoyed a new school, black students were forced to endure makeshift buildings with leaky roofs and poor heating.
“I’m sick and tired of it all,” Johns complained to her favorite teacher, Inez Davenport.
In return, Davenport challenged her student: “Why don’t you do something about it?”
In October, Johns began recruiting student leaders to join her in a non-violent protest. On the morning of April 23, 1951, they commandeered the PA system, convened a school-wide assembly, and asked teachers to leave. Johns took the podium and gave the speech of a lifetime, imploring the student-body to strike until the school board agreed to improvements. She issued instructions, walked out of the building, and all four hundred fifty students followed.
Ultimately, the NAACP filed a petition demanding that Prince Edward integrate the school system. Students returned to Moton, and their case went before the Supreme Court, where it joined with four others as Brown v. Board of Education.
The Girl from the Tar Paper School is the first biography in any genre of Barbara Rose Johns. I love the aspects of teen-aged Barbara that author Teri Kanefield chose to reveal. By focusing on her subject’s interior life, Kanefield shows us a young woman who drew strength and resolve from her faith, her family, and the natural world. Readers learn that the Johns family valued and instructed its younger members on the importance of speaking truth to power. Family study of African-American history was important to them, as was attending church and retreating to the woods to pray privately.
I think everyone should study this book not only in order to learn about the life of a confident young woman but to gain insight into Johns’ process of imagining, planning, and executing a courageous act and finding a clear voice. The Girl from the Tar Paper School is also a critical addition to our understanding of how children participate in and shape history. – Gigi