This is not your school's summer reading list

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Meet Danitra Brown

danitra

By Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Mulberry Books, 1994
Picture book/ Poetry Ages 4-8
ISBN:978-0688154714
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.
-Gigi

The Kingdom of Little Wounds

kingdom

By Susann Cokal
Candlewick Press, 2013
Young Adult, Ages 16 and up
ISBN:0763666947
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

And We Stay

andwestay

By Jenny Hubbard
Young Adult (high school)
Delacorte Press, a Division of Random House, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-74057-9
Other formats: e-book

Sometimes our youth is marked by tragedy. And that’s the case for Emily Beam, whose boyfriend, Paul Wagoner, walks into the high school library and takes his own life. This is a story about teen pregnancy and suicide. But more, it’s a story about mistakes and the awful consequences of decisions, about the complete unraveling of a girl, and the role of female friendships, writing, and time in helping her survive.

Normally, I plug my nose at novels set at boarding schools in New England or whose narrative centers around the cheerleader-athlete-keg party set. However, nothing about this novel is stereotypical: not the characters, not Emily’s voice, and certainly not the depth and honestly with which Jenny Hubbard lays out the complicated moral questions of one girl’s life. The novel is interspersed with Emily’s free verse, inspired by the life and works of Emily Dickinson—which opened for me a thirst for diving back into the famous poet’s life.

You might already recognize Jenny Hubbard, whose debut novel Paper Covers Rock was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Novel award. My prediction is that Jenny Hubbard is at the start of a long, bright career—and we’ll all be better for it. I haven’t read a novel that moved me and troubled me this much in a long while. I hope it finds its way to the bookshelves of high school girls everywhere. -Meg

The Thing About Luck

luck

By Cynthia Kadohata
Middle grade
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: ISBN: 978-1416918820
Honors: National Book Award winner 2013

Summer is twelve years old, and her family is having no luck at all. Her parents have been called back to Japan to care for dying relatives, and she’s left in the care of her grandparents Jiichan (grandfather) and Obaachan (grandmother), who take her and her brother Jaz along for their work as harvesters despite their own frail health.

It’s hard to imagine that the world of combines and wheat thrashers could be appealing, but in this Newbery-winning author’s hands, it becomes the backdrop for an intergenerational story about poverty, hard-work, growing up, and the realities of the lives of people who harvest crops that eventually sit on our dinner tables.

The relationship between Summer and Obaachan is especially funny and ultimately poignant. A cranky and demanding grandmother is never easy to live with, especially when she’s always threatening to ground you forever. Does my grandmother love and admire me or not? That’s what Summer is trying to decide.

I also admire the lack of sentimentality about the hardship of families who work in harvesting and the honest portrayal of the subtle insults and the inequities that are part of laborers’ lives. Another thumbs up to the nuanced approach to Jaz who is immersed in his Lego sets and plagued by an appalling lack of social skills. Summer wonders if he will ever find a friend? “Am I a loser?” he asks her. What’s a sister to say?

I think strong girls will love this book because it is so often funny, but also because there is a lot sitting on Summer’s young shoulders. It’s easy for a kid to feel snowed under, especially the oldest in the family. When is responsibility too much responsibility? When do we ask children to grow up to fast? Strong girls will have to decide. – Meg

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement

tarpaper

By Teri Kanefield
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 10-14
ISBN:1419707965/13:978-1419707964
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

Whimsy’s Heavy Things

whimsy

By Julie Kraulis
Picture book, all ages
Tundra Books, A Division of Random House of Canada, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-77049-403-9
Other formats: e-book

Every once in a while, I come across a picture book that speaks as clearly to the heart of an adult as it does to that of a child. That’s the case with Whimsy’s Heavy Things, a beautifully illustrated picture book about overcoming sadness.

Whimsy is dragging around “heavy things,” but try as she might to ignore them, hide them, or “stuff them,” they stubbornly come back. How will she let them go?

A young child knows what it feels like to be sad—and so do teens and adults who sometimes get battered by the ups and downs of life, too. Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are haunting—giving elegant shape to gloom and later to joy. Whimsy moves past her heavy things with the help of friends and her own cleverness. Turns out, dragging all those heavy things offers her the tools to get to the other side.

I’d love to see this book in every classroom and in every guidance counselor’s collection. As girls and women, we do see heavy times occasionally, and it would do us good to have Whimsy’s tale to keep us company when we need some comfort.
-Meg

Rules

rules

By Cynthia Lord
Scholastic Press, 2006
ISBN: 0-439-44382-2
Honors: Newbery Honor Book * Schneider Family Book Award * Mitten Award (Michigan Library Association) * Great Lakes Great Books Award (Michigan) * Maine Student Book Award * Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont) * Kentucky Bluegrass Award* Great Stone Face Award (New Hampshire)* Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Ohio)

No toys in the fish tank.

That sounds like an unnecessary rule to mention, but when your brother has autism, there are rules for everything, every day. So, Catherine, age twelve, is keeping a notebook of rules to help him get through his day, rules that typical kids acquire but that have to be spelled out and repeated endlessly for David to follow. Catherine loves her brother, but she sometimes feels saddled with the job of looking after him, especially when her parents aren’t around to help. “Just for a minute” can be a monumental task.

That summer, something wonderful is about to happen that might ease Catherine’s load. A new neighbor is moving in. Could Kristi—pretty and destined to be well-liked at school—be a new friend for Catherine? And how will she feel about David and his unexpected behaviors?

This novel is about the tricky landscape of families that include people with special needs. Cynthia Lord writes with honesty and heart about the fierce love and frustration that defines that experience. She details the embarrassing moments—the shrieks, the undressing in public places, the meltdowns—but also lets us into the moments of pure love and grace that happen, too. I was also especially glad to see the relationship with Jason, a boy Catherine’s age who communicates with a touch board, and I also liked how she drew the parents in all of this, frazzled, loving, sometimes undone.

I think strong girls will relate to this story because it’s about what we’re willing to do to fit in. How far—or not—are we willing to go to let all kids into the circle of their neighborhoods and families? – Meg

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