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Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Separate is Never Equal

Separate is Never Equal

by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book, ages 5 – adult
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4
Honors: Pura Belpré Honor book 2015 * Robert Seibert Honor Book, 2015 * Amèricas Book Award, 2015

When we think of Civil Rights in this country, it’s easy to overlook the role of Latinos in that struggle. Yet in 1944, when California schools were still segregated, Sylvia Mendez and her siblings were forced to enroll in a school for Mexicans. Despite the fact that they were natural American citizens, the Mendez children were required to attend a school that was farther from home and lacking in the same amenities as the school designated for white students.

Thus began the Mendez family fight to integrate schools for Latinos.

Separate Is Never Equal
by award-winning author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh is the perfect blend of picture book, history, and a strong-girl story. It’s about everyday people fighting injustice with conviction. Readers can follow the court proceedings and meet the essential people who joined the lawsuit. It’s a revealing look at the thinking of the time, such as the ideas that Mexicans had deficient language skills, poor social skills, head lice, impetigo, and other illnesses.

With distinctive art based on the Mixtec Codex, an excellent glossary, photographs, and list of resources, this is a rich picture book for all ages. I love this book for Girls of Summer in particular because strong girls do, in fact, help change history. ~MM

Dory Fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory

by Abby Hanlon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Chapter book, ages 5 – 8
ISBN: 978-0803740884
Additional formats: paperback
Golden Kite honor title, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

You’ll recognize Dory.

She’s that youngest child who is always begging to play no matter how much her brother and sister try to keep her away. She’s the one who eats napkins, the one who acts like a dog for a whole day, the one who won’t go to bed and who sees villains where no one else does, the who asks questions— a lot of annoying questions.

Abby Hanlon, author of Ralph Tells a Story (Two Lions, 2012), has created a pest that you can’t help but root for because she is one hundred percent enthusiasm and imagination. It would be easy to leave the story at slapstick, but in Hanlon’s able hands, we get more. Sprinkled into the hilarious scenarios are also the quiet moments of hurt and love we see in families. Dory is a handful, but one that no one can resist. ~MM

Viva Frida

Viva Frida

Viva Frida

by Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
Picture book, ages 4 – 8
ISBN: 978-1596436039
Additional formats: bilingual edition
Awards: Caldecott Honor 2015 * Pura Belpré Award 2015 for illustration

I can’t stop looking at the pictures in this lovely book that earned Yuyi Morales a Caldecott honor, the first for a Latino illustrator, this year.

It’s the story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo whose life has been well covered. However, that has made absolutely no impact on this book’s originality and freshness. Each page is a beautifully photographed tableau of Kahlo’s life—in painting, in puppets, in collage. There are sophisticated references to her husband, Diego Rivera, and images that would find themselves into her art, which make it especially fun for adult readers, too. The details are charming—everything from those signature eyebrows down to the jewelry and embroidered skirts. Most impressive, though, is that the simple words capture how an artist discovers her voice and passion—two essentials for strong girls everywhere. Bravo! ~MM

El Deafo

El Deafo

El Deafo

by Cece Bell
Amulet Books, 2014
Middle grade, graphic novel
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Newbery Honor Award 2015

It’s a documented fact that you need a special power to be a superhero. It has to be something no one else can do. Something so impressive that it earns us instant respect.

How about being able to hear your teachers while they gossip in the lounge or if they pass gas in the restroom?

This year’s Newbery Honor-winning book, El Deafo by Cece Bell, is a hilarious graphic novel about a young girl (well, sort of a rabbit) coming to terms with being deaf in a hearing world.

The list of inconveniences is long for a kid who has to wear a cumbersome device called the “Phonic Ear.” And it’s almost impossible to make everyone understand why turning up the TV louder will not help or why whispering in the dark at a sleep over is maddening.

But there is always a silver lining if you have a hero’s heart. In this case, the silver lining is an ability to use your “Phonic Ear” to hear your teacher’s every movement—including those inside a bathroom stall.

There is so much to love here: the funny illustrations, the wacky characters, the wise look inside the dynamics of friendship. But what I admire most are the many moments in the pages when Bell helps us reflect on how we all make room for each other in this world. ~MM

Written in the Stars


by Aisha Saeed
Nancy Paulsen Books: Penguin, 2015
Young adult, 14 years and older
ISBN: 978-0-399-17170-3

Naila can choose some things for herself, like her hairstyle and her college major. But when it comes to whom she will marry, her parents are in charge.

The only trouble is that Naila is already in love with Saif. When they are caught sneaking off to the prom together, the repercussions are far worse than anything these American-raised teens could imagine. Naila’s parents take drastic action to save their daughter and their whole family from shame. She is sent back to family in Pakistan to be married.

Debut author Aisha Saeed offers a page-turner about culture clash in the lives of young women around the world. Readers will hold their breath as Naila fights to escape her fate against insurmountable odds and a dwindling supply of allies.

I admire this novel for its beautiful writing and for the rich characters in Naila’s extended family. Few are completely good or bad. Saeed is careful to offer a rich look at the beautiful aspects of traditional Pakistani family life, but she doesn’t shy away from the underlying struggle women face for autonomy and dignity worldwide. ~MM

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces



by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
Young adult, 14 years and older
ISBN: 978-1-935955-94-8
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Junior Library Guild Selection * William Morris Award * School Library Journal Best Books 2014 * Amelia Bloomer List * 2015 YALSO Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers* 2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults * 2015 Tomás Rivera Book Award, Works for Older Children * 2015 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens

Gabi is in her senior year of high school, and there’s more on her plate than just tacos, wings, and Rocky Road ice cream—all of which she loves. Her best friend, Cindy, is pregnant, and her other friend, Sebastian, has been thrown out of the house for being gay. Add that to drug abuse in her home, a meddling hyper-religious aunt, and a mom who’s stuck in old fashioned thinking, and you have a girl in pieces.

Written in diary format, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, is a terrific debut novel that offers a loving and difficult portrait of a girl growing up against a backdrop of cultural sexism, adult hypocrisies, and the madhouse called American high school. Sprinkled with Spanglish, Isabel Quintero captures the sound and feel of a modern Latina.

I love this book most for its unflinching voice. Gabi—a poet—is smart, funny, coarse, and strong. The diary entries, along with the poems she writes for her senior year ‘zine, allow us to hear her deepest secrets and fears as she learns to fight for the things she truly wants and deserves. ~MM



by Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade documentary novel, ages 9 – 12
ISBN: 978-0-545-10607-8
Additional formats: available as e-book and audio
Awards: National Book Award finalist * Golden Kite Award, 2014

Summer 1964!

All Sunny Fairchild wants to do is swim in the pool and stay away from her new stepmother, kind as she may be.

This isn’t just an ordinary summer, though. It’s Freedom Summer, and “agitators from the North” plan to come to Sunny’s town in Mississippi to register black voters.

Revolution is the second book in a trilogy about the tumultuous 1960s. What I love about this 522-page book (pretty hefty for middle grade) is its marriage of great storytelling and heart-wrenching documentary. We follow the journey of a strong girl whose eyes are opened to the racial discrimination she has never bothered to consider. But we are also following a carefully researched documentary of the sacrifices that went into the early Civil Rights era. Readers can see the startling artifacts of the time: KKK communiqués, pamphlets that were distributed by Freedom School volunteers, as well as news accounts of murders and disappearances. The frightening realities of the Deep South come alive.

I’m especially fond of how Deborah drew Sunny and her family. Sunny is imperfect: so proud, daring, and smart but also bullheaded and, at times, selfish.
Her family runs the gamut from those who want no change, to those fighting for it or flailing for some murky middle ground in the face of danger.

Raymond, a talented baseball player, is a wonderful counter character, and his family experiences offer a similar bold look inside the African Americans who were struggling to register for the vote and desegregate their communities.

Fact and fiction have met beautifully in this novel. A book like one this reminds us that a strong girl will see hard things in her lifetime. What matters is how she responds. ~MM


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