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 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 Carolyn Marsden
Candlewick Press, 2005
Middle grade, Ages 8 – 12
ISBN: 0763633046 / 9780763633042
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * William Allen White Masters list * Gate City Award nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award nominee * Maryland Black-eyed Susan Book Award list
One morning in fourth-grade gym class, Mina discovers something new about herself: she loves to run under a morning moon. What’s even more surprising to her is that she’s fast. As fast or faster even than her best friend, Ruth. No one has ever thought of Mina as an athlete; Ruth is the athletic one among their group of friends. As soon as Mina makes the track team, however, Ruth starts to ignore Mina at school. When the track coach picks Mina to race against Ruth, Mina has an important decision to make. Should she shine on the track, or should she let Ruth win?
It’s a wonderful feeling to develop a new talent or to find unexpected success, but a terrible feeling when your new-found confidence causes conflict with a dear friend. Author Carolyn Marsden, who is known for writing from the heart and telling multi-cultural stories of self-discovery, explores the height and depth of such emotions in Moon Runner. This is a fast and satisfying read that speaks to the tension that arises, at times, in almost every friendship: the desire to please your friend versus the desire to pursue your own dreams. – Gigi
I love eccentric people. They feel like fresh air to me, and they offer a new view on even the most ordinary things. But as we all know, there are times in life when being unusual can be seen as a liability. The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar is a book about two young people caught in that web. It’s a celebration of two smart loners, Laura and Leon, who find their way to each other – and self acceptance – as they uncover the mysteries of an old mansion.
Laura despises school for all the usual reasons. The mysterious cliques of girls. The drone of teachers. The boredom. She’s a bright and artistic girl who lives with her parents – a sculptor and writer – in an old Italian mansion, the only one of its kind in the neighborhood. However, her living arrangement isn’t exotic in her view. It is yet another way for her to be outside of the norm.
When Leon Murphy, the grandson of an eccentric elderly neighbor, arrives at her school, Laura tries to keep her distance. A friendship with him would seal her fate as an outcast. Leon is rumored to be the son of a murderer, and he’s certainly capable of pummeling anyone who crosses him. It’s soon apparent, though, that he is brilliant – and much more than what others assume.
Eventually their paths do cross, and Laura does her best to keep it a secret from the prying and judgmental eyes of people around them. At what point should a strong girl take a stand on what and whom she likes?
If you are looking for big drama and an edge-of-your-seat mystery, this is not the book for you. You’ll find no knives, guns or bloodshed here. Instead, this is a quiet book, a romantic story about young teens on those borders of friendship and romance. It’s a lovely story for girls who like brains and originality.MM
By Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2012
Additional formats: e-book, audio book
Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year *Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award List *New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Best Fiction for Young Adults – Nominee *Audie Award for book narration
From the outset of this epistolary novel, readers will absolutely recognize what kind of people twelve year olds Meena Joshi and River Dean Justice are. We’d call these two old souls in my family. Their friendship begins when Meena chooses River’s name from a pen pal list. Not the e-mail pen pal list, but from among the kids who want to write real letters with stamps and everything. Meena lives in New York City. She chooses River, who lives in Kentucky, because she misses the mountains of her native India, and because she likes the name River.
Meena has lots of questions for River, and he does of her, too. They quickly establish the most important rule of their pen pal friendship: they can be their true selves with one another. Honest. Real. No holding back. What unfolds is an incredibly deep and bright journey into the interior worlds of two children who are carrying some grown up burdens, participating in history, and building bridges with letters. In Kentucky, River plays basketball and lives with his mom and his grandmother, Mawmaw, an advocate for mountains, trees, and social justice. His father, a former coal miner, had to leave Kentucky to find work. In New York City, Meena is starting a new school and finding she has a talent for art and a love for theater. She misses her own grandmother, Dadi, who still lives in India. Her father, too, works away from home. Meena lives with her mother and older brother in a rent-controlled apartment owned by their neighbor and friend, Mrs. Lao. As the lives of Meena and River unfold and entwine, history does too. Barak Obama is elected President; River and Mawmaw march on the Kentucky governor’s mansion to protest mountaintop removal; and Meena’s parents progress through the citizenship naturalization process.
The easy rapport between Meena, written by Neela Vaswani, and River, written by Silas House, is so believable and joyous to read. True, River and Meena come from two different cultures and far apart places, but they are kindred spirits who agree that the cures for most any ailment of the heart can be found by gazing across the mountains, holding hands with your grandmother, or looking into the brown eyes of a good, old dog. I think it’s all too common that we adults deny the complex spiritual, political, and creative lives of children. The twelve year old girl who I was – campaigning at school for Jimmy Carter, fretting about my hairy arms, confronting prejudice within myself, and finding comfort in nature – would have devoured this book and then started reading it again. The love and openness between Meena and River as they share their hopes, their fears, and their regrets opened my heart so wide. As fine a novel as Same Sun Here is, I think it’s also a handbook of sorts. On how to be a friend. On how to start over, how to fight for our earth, and how to be a good citizen of the world. GA
Listen to an audio excerpt from Same Sun Here.
Every now and then, a book comes skipping by with jolly shouts of sunshine and fun, calling out for everyone to join in. Even those of us who can’t knit or crochet or quilt can make sneaky art. Marthe Jocelyn says so! And she shows us how. Sneaky art isn’t graffiti or vandalism or mean or permanent. Sneaky art IS temporary, playful art made by YOU and placed around town or your neighborhood or home in sneaky places to make people smile or laugh or do a double-take. The introduction explains the rules, gives you a tool kit, and explains the hows, whens, and wheres of getting sneaky. The rest of this spiral bound book includes DIY-instructions for sneaky art projects that are fun and easy, even for me.
My favorite projects include: Teeny Party, colorful garlands sneakily strung in medicine cabinets, refrigerators, or school lockers; Cup Dangler, an easy, tasty surprise made with soft candy and paperclips that can be left on the rims of mugs or cups; Sink Boats in a public fountain; Little Landmarks, tiny houses made with empty matchboxes and tucked into nooks and crannies, and Stick Pixies – just imagine making a stick fairy out of your baby pictures and sinking them in your mom’s birthday cake or Mother’s Day flower pot. Who knows what new projects you’ll come up with? Oh sneaky, sneaky, sneaky art! I’m so happy you arrived in time for summer! GA
By Jeri Watts
Middle Grade fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2012
additional formats: e-book, audio
Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year *Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies *Parents’ Choice Awards Recommended
Kizzy Ann Stamps is a strong girl who hates dresses and her annoying neighbor Frank Charles but loves her border collie to distraction. She’s also a girl with a distinctively scarred face that makes her stand out – exactly what she doesn’t want as she prepares to attend the formerly whites-only school in her town.
Jeri Watts’ novel is set in 1963 rural Virginia, just as public schools are beginning to integrate. Thanks to Miss Warren, who has taught at the black school for thirty-seven, Kizzy Ann is required to write a letter to her new teacher, Miss Anderson, who will teach the first integrated classroom. With each letter, Kizzy Ann reveals her skill as a southern storyteller. Her stories of her life’s daily trials not only flesh out her family, the black school, the library, and the appalling neighbors, but they also give name to the fears and misgivings of being asked to step into a hostile territory every day. This is the Virginia where a school must designate one out of every three bathroom stalls for use by black children, the Virginia where a black child can get spanked publicly for sassing a white man, the Virginia where an athlete like Kizzy Ann’s brother James, can never earn a place on his high school varsity football team, regardless of his skill.
Through all of this, Kizzy Ann enjoys the faithful companionship of her dog, Shag, who keeps dangerous neighbors at bay and who puts his life at risk for hers. In turn, when it is time to fight for Shag’s right to compete in dog trials where he will surely shine, Kizzy Ann finds her strength to prove that they both have a right to be there.
This lovely debut middle grade novel brings a piece of Virginia’s difficult racial history into focus for young readers, never an easy task. Yet at its core, Kizzy Ann Stamps is the story of a strong girl with the voice and courage to make change happen. MM
Listen to an audio excerpt from Kizzy Ann Stamps.