Author Archive

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

By Laura Veirs, Illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Chronicle Books, 2018
Picture book, non-fiction
Ages 5-8, Grades K – 3
ISBN 10: 1452139962
Additional Format: e-book
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection

Libba celebrates the life and accomplishments of acclaimed African-American singer-songwriter and folk musician, Elizabeth Cotten, whose childhood curiosity and determination ignited a lifelong love of music and desire to create. Left-handed, she taught herself to play her older brother’s guitar by strumming the instrument upside down and backwards. She wrote one of the most famous American folk songs of her era, Freight Train, when she was just eleven years old and performed the song (and many other original songs) all across the globe. Growing up in the segregated South, she faced many obstacles in her life and overcame barriers and prejudices to pursue her craft. A believer in lifelong learning, Libba Cotten knew her life’s purpose was to play, and she won a Grammy when she was in her nineties!

This picture book biography is an infectious work of love and devotion by author and singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and artist-activist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. A gentle, magical reminder to never give up, Libba will inspire and uplift early bloomers, late bloomers, and bloomers of every sort. – GA


Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time

By Tanya Lee Stone in association with Girl Rising
Wendy Lamb Books, 2017
Non Fiction, Young Adult
Ages 14 and up, grades 8 and up
ISBN 978-0553511468
Additional formats: Kindle
Honors: A Junior Library Guild Selection

Worldwide, over 62 million girls are not in school. This staggering statistic was the catalyst for the 2013 documentary entitled Girl Rising, a film that profiled the stories of nine exceptional girls fighting to be educated. In the follow-up to this film, Tanya Lee Stone takes us deeper into this issue by exploring, in-depth, the barriers many girls face, illustrating the importance of investing in girls around the world and calling to action current and future activists alike.

In Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time, Stone captures the readers with full-color photographs and moving portraits of young girls in developing countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nepal, Peru, Sierra Leone, and others. She provides a framework for understanding their lack of education, highlighting barriers such as modern-day slavery, child marriage, poverty, human trafficking, gender discrimination, and lack of access. What results is a vivid and heart-wrenching look at the challenges many young girls face.

But Stone does not leave us without hope. Each profile is not just a story of adversity; it is also a story of hope and perseverance. Each of these girls has prevailed over their circumstances and attended school. This is an important feat, not only for them and for their community, but also for the world. “Why? Because education girls literally changes how nations behave. Educating girls changes how governments function. It changes economies and jobs….It can change entire cultures.”

This inspiring book ends with a call-to-action. Readers from first-world cultures may not experience these barriers first hand, but there are ways they can still help. Stone highlights several examples including writing for your school or local newspaper, supporting Fair Trade, or using what you’re passionate about to raise money for a non-profit organization.  

Around the world, there may be many obstacles to educating girls, but there are also many people willing to fight for their rights to be educated. Girl Rising:  Changing the World One Girl at a Time shines a light on this issue and rallies readers to the cause. – JD


Mabel and Sam at Home: One Brave Journey in Three Adventures

By Linda Urban, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Chronicle Books, 2018
Picture book
Ages 4-8, Grades K – 3
ISBN-10:1452148570
Additional Format: e-book

“I am in command and we are safe,” Mabel assures her little brother on their first day in their new home. In this three-in-one Moving Day adventure, Mabel and her little brother, Sam, dig deep and face their fears and uncertainty in a new home, where even the same old things are different. Big sis Mabel takes charge, using her imagination to help Sam settle into the new environment.

Play acting on the high seas, in the gallery of the New House Museum, and in outer space Mabel is the kind of older sibling every little brother or sister deserves – a dash of bossy, a dollop of bold, and heaping serving of sisterly devotion. Mabel takes the helm as she and Sam adjust to the new place. With tenderness and humor, Linda Urban’s clever and funny text combine with Hadley Hooper’s cheerful color illustrations to create an endearing portrait of a lovable, creative big sister. – GA


Escape from Aleppo

By N.H. Senzai
Paula Wiseman Books, 2018
Contemporary middle grade
ISBN: 1481472178
Additional formats: ebook

Nadia’s family knows what they need to do when the bombs start falling in their neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve been caught in the violence. They pack quickly and begin to head for their predetermined meeting point in the city–but Nadia panics, hiding under a car as a bomb hits her building, forcing her family to leave her behind, possibly for dead. When Nadia wakes up, she is alone.

Thus begins a young girl’s trek through the dangerous city of Aleppo in search of her family. She makes it to the store where they were supposed to meet and finds a message from them in case she is alive: they have survived, and will wait for her at the Turkish border. Nadia, one of the most fearless and street-smart kids I’ve ever read, doesn’t hesitate to begin her journey to Turkey, a small girl facing the dangers from both rebels and government soldiers, as well as exposure and starvation.

Nadia is accompanied by a collection of heart-warming side characters, all of whom have their own stories and secrets. She never gives up, never gets hopeless, and never thinks she won’t make it. And along the way, through flashbacks and character conversations, the reader develops Syria’s background photo: how violence broke out during the Arab Spring, how it has spread and how other countries have inserted themselves into the conflict, how normal civilians in Syria have been affected and displaced, forced to flee their homes.

At its heart, this is an adventure story: a young girl must beat the odds to find her family. But it also provides the historical background on a conflict we’re all watching unfold on the news every night. It’s the best of both worlds: informative and educational, but also just a plain engrossing, unputdownable story. – AN


Sarabella’s Thinking Cap

By Judy Schachner
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017
Picture Book, ages 4 – 8, grades PK – 2
ISBN: 978-0525429180
Additional formats:  Kindle

“Sarabella had no time for small talk. In fact, she never talked much at all…because she was too busy thinking.”

Sarabella is a dreamer. Her days are filled with fascinating thoughts dancing through her imaginationdoodles of poodles, painted ponies racing across the sky, a garden growing animals, and even a bear with a good head for numbers. Her family, daydreamers themselves, see no issue with Sarabella’s way of thinking. Yet, there are times Sarabella’s imagination prevents her from concentrating on other important things, such as her schoolwork.  

But one Friday, Mr. Fantozzi, Sarabella’s teacher, sends the class home with the following task:

“A Penny for Your Thoughts: Draw a picture of your favorite daydreams.”

Sarabella is immediately excited by the assignment, but upon returning home, she realizes the challenge in trying to fit all of her ideas onto a piece of paper. With the help of an imagined whale, that suggests “to share it, you’ve just got to wear it,” Sarabella comes up with a solution. With only a brown paper bag and a few craft supplies, Sarabella creates a her thinking cap, “a spectacular collection of doodles and daydreams right on top of her head.”

With whimsical mixed-media collages, Judy Schachner brings us a heartwarming story of a little girl with a big imagination. Sarabella’s Thinking Cap shows the reader the value imagination and sends the message that creativity should be cultivated and nurtured.  -JD


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

By Erika L. Sánchez
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017
Contemporary Young Adult
1524700487
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook
Honors: National Book Award Finalist

Julia is the black sheep of the family. She wants to go away to college, she loves loud music and wearing black and writing. Her sister, Olga, graduated from high school and stayed home with her parents in their Chicago apartment like a good Mexican daughter, attending part-time community college and maintaining a complete disinterest in boys. But now Olga is dead, and Julia has to handle both her own grief and the full brunt of her parents’ expectations.

In the midst of these tears and arguments, Julia discovers that Olga wasn’t as “perfect” as she pretended to be. Her sister had secrets, loves, dreams, and flaws. As Julia tries to get to the truth of who her sister was, she struggles with her own mental health, falls in love for the first time, and plans her future far, far away from her parents. The pressure becomes too great to bear alone, and Julia finds herself in Mexico for a “break,” where she discovers that her parents are also more complicated than she thought.

This is a powerful novel about the experience of being the child of an immigrant—never American enough, never Mexican enough—and also about how so much of growing up is about realizing that people with whom you think you have little in common are just as interesting and complicated as you are.

But it’s also just the story of a smart, funny, flawed girl having her first kiss, discovering books she loves, and living her life with her friends. There’s so much to relate to here for any reader, no matter where you are from or what age you are. – AN


You Bring the Distant Near

By Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus  and Giroux, 2017
Young Adult
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
ISBN: 978-0-374-30490-4
Other formats:  e-book, audio
Honors: Long list for the National Book Award 2017 * Walter Award Honor for Teen Literature * Multiple “Best Book” lists (PW, SLJ, Horn Book Fanfare, NYPL, Boston Globe, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults)

I have always loved being transported by books, especially by sweeping tales that span the globe and pull me into lives of people who love and sacrifice over time.   

You Bring the Distant Near is nearly perfect for my appetite. In lush and poetic language, Perkins opens the novel in 1965 Ghana, with the imperious Ranee Das and her two daughters, Tara and Sonia, already locked in the pattern of what will be their lifelong battle of wills.  

Told in alternating voices, we follow three generations of the Das family women as the family  emigrated to the US. Reunited with their father, the girls begin the long and convoluted process of reimagining themselves in a new country. Deaths, secret loves, and the maddening complexities of race and culture are all explored as the girls move through high school and college, clashing with each other and with their parents along the way. Finally, in the last section of the book, it is Tara and Sonia as adults—an activist and a film star—who are mothers struggling to raise their own American daughters.

Nuanced, historically accurate, and populated with unforgettable characters, it’s a YA novel with easy crossover appeal. Perkins is at her best as she draws the intricate realities of immigrant families: how we stay connected, how our thinking changes, and how we struggle to remain a family when our identities pull from different sources.  But mostly, I love that You Bring the Distant Near is a testament to how strong girls are forged over time with love and suffering, each generation drawing strength from the one before. MM


Valley Girls


By Sarah Nicole Lemon
Amulet Books, 2018
Young adult, contemporary
ISBN: 1419729640
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook

Rilla is trouble. She’s a party girl from the wrong side of the tracks (though it remains a question if her tiny West Virginia hometown even has tracks) whose recent violent fight with a boyfriend has resulted in her family packing her up and shipping her off to Yosemite National Park to live with an older sister and get her life together. She gets arrested pretty much immediately, and decides this is it: rock bottom. She’s going to climb her way out, figuratively and literally, and become someone better.

Rilla gets close with a few friends of her park ranger sister, climbers who are in Yosemite for the summer. She learns the lingo and how to work the gear, takes odd jobs to afford her own equipment, overcomes an initially paralyzing fear of falling, all to become slick, cool, capable, competent, better. But no matter how high she climbs, she can’t escape herself, her past, or her dysfunctional and untraditional family history. Soon, climbing becomes less a way to run from who she is, and more a way for her to learn that who she is isn’t someone who needs to be run from. She’s strong, smart, and brave, and every rock she clambers over takes her closer to accepting those truths.

She’s not a typically charming main character. This is a hard girl from a hardscrabble place who is used to getting what she wants by being sneaky or through force. She’s insecure, she steals, she’s ungrateful. She cares too much about what her friends think and she makes impulsive decisions. She’s…well, she’s almost every reader at that age. Perhaps we’ve never ended up in a National Park Service jail cell, but we’ve all said things we regret to people we love, and we all have secrets. Watching Rilla put her foot in her mouth but sincerely try to make things right and to be kind and gritty is such a relief: here’s a character who is both likable and unlikable. Who is human.

I’m not an outdoorsy person and reading the descriptions of having to stay in the ropes for days at a time while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite (including, yes, peeing in your harness from thousands of feet up) didn’t change my mind about staying inside on my sofa. But it did give me such an insight into the appeal of climbing, and why we need to get more girls on those rocks. – AN


Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

By Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Illustrated by: Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books, 2018
Middle grade
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-6
ISBN: 978-1512404425
Other formats:  e-book

Nothing is ever truly black and white. That’s what two classmates in the book Can I Touch Your Hair? learn in fifth grade when they reluctantly wind up paired together for a writing project and believe they have nothing in common.

Irene and Charles’s differences in gender, style, and friends are already stark. Throw into the mix the fact that Irene is white and Charles is black, and both students fear they’re in for an uncomfortable and unmanageable few weeks.

Yet, once each begins to write on the same subject as the other about his or her life experiences and perspectives, Irene and Charles discover that while the differences between them are indeed tangiblein shoe shopping, dinner conversations, church services, hairstyles, and favorite sportstheir differences are unique preferences or circumstances that can be appreciated.

They also learn that color is only skin deep. Even with varying experiences, opportunities, and challenges, at the end of the day, their matters of the heart aren’t so unalike at all, and thus, a friendship unfolds. Readers will experience Charles’s perspective on why it’s annoying to have someone touch his hair, and Irene helps readers understand how one can make awkward fumbles in expressing herself even with the best of intentions.

This book could serve as a great conversation starter for adolescents from middle school age to older youths. Adults may even find it helpful to read these poems with a child and share their own experiences navigating race, identity and friendships. The vibrant illustrations by artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko are an excellent companion to these compelling poems and will help young readers make sense of what it means to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to try and understand others.  – SHA


Dread Nation


By Justina Ireland
Balzar + Bray, 2018
Young Adult, Fantasy
ISBN: 0062570609
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook

The Civil War is over, but not because the North won. Not because the South won. Because the zombies won.

The dead began to rise on the battlefields of the war, forcing both sides to lay down their arms and defend the nation against the new threat. Now, the zombie hoard is said to be mostly contained. Slavery has ended, and an unsteady peace has begun. New laws have been enacted requiring Native and black children to attend combat schools where they learn to fight the living dead, and many of those children go on to work for wealthy white families as their personal bodyguards.

And that’s the path Jane is on. The daughter of a white mother and plantation owner, Jane avoided going to the schools as long as she could, but it was unavoidable. She’s close to graduation, and her only goal is to return home to defend her family, from whom she hasn’t heard in months. She doesn’t get involved in political questions. Racism is what it is, and she’s just doing what she can to survive.

But then friendly families around the city of Baltimore where Jane attends school begin to disappear. Jane becomes involved in a deep conspiracy run by politicians hell bent on making America safe again, and she can’t remove herself from the situation before she finds herself on a train heading for a frontier town, being forced to defend it against zombies or be killed.

This novel has so many fun elements: teen girl zombie slayers! Reconstruction-era, post-Civil War alternative history! A main character who reminds me more of Huck Finn than anyone else, complete with a “well, let’s see what happens” sense of reckless adventure. But the book is also dealing with very important and urgent political questions about who built, and continues to build, this nation, and what price are we willing to pay to commit to security (especially when the threats are manufactured to keep people scared). – AN


Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done


By Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser
Harper Collins, 2017
Non Fiction, Young Adult
Ages 14 and up, grades 8 and up
ISBN 978-0062472472
Additional formats:  Kindle, Audiobook
Honors:  A New York Public Library Best Book of 2017 * A Junior Library Guild selection * A Children’s Book Council Best STEM Trade Book for Students K-12

Andrea “Andy” Gonazales and Sophie Houser are teen tech superstars and creators of the viral video game phenomenon, “Tampon Run.” In their book, Girl Code:  Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, the two tell the story of their rise to stardom, from their first time meeting at the Girls Who Code summer program to the development of a stigma-breaking video game to their quest into the venture-capital world of tech startups. Told in alternating voices, Girl Code is the comedic and inspiring story of two teen girls making it the male-dominated world of STEM.

Andy Gonazales is the daughter or Filipino immigrants. From early on, she feels the pressure to choose a career in technology. Sophie Houser is plagued with social anxiety and sees coding as a way to make an impact without having to speak in public. They meet in the summer program, Girls Who Code, and are paired together on a project challenging them to make a video game. In brainstorming a direction to take the project, the girls discover they are both interested in social justice and dispelling gender-biased stereotypes. Thus, Tampon Run is born.

Tampon Run receives immediate and far-reaching success, going viral overnight. Andy and Sophie are thrust into the spotlight, gaining a virtually all-access pass behind the scenes of the tech industry.  The two attend major tech-events, visit high-profile companies, and receive illustrious internship opportunities. Through these experiences, the authors give the reader insight into what it’s like to be a female in a traditionally male-dominated field as well the inside scoop on coding.

Written in funny and insightful conversational style, Girl Code is perfect for all the girls out there interested in STEM or just looking for some real-life inspiration from teens just like them. – JD


When My Sister Started Kissing

By Helen Frost
Margaret Ferguson Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Middle grade
Ages 10 – 12, Grades 4 – 7
ISBN: 978-0-374303037
Additional format: e-book
Honors: A Boston Globe Best Children’s Book of 2017* 2017 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book * 2017 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids  * 2017 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction * 2018 NCTE Notable Verse Novel  * 2018 CCBC Choices Book 

Claire can barely recall her mom. Only tiny shards of memory remain from that terrible day when Claire was still a toddler and her mother was killed during a lightning storm on Heartstone Lake.  

Claire and her sister, Abigail, are heading up to lake for their annual vacation with their dad, but things are very different now. It’s not just Dad with them anymore. This time they’re traveling with his new wife, Pam, who is about to give birth to a new baby.

So much is changing as they settle into their cabin. Abigail has grown closer to Pam. She’s wearing makeup and calling herself Abi among the other teenagers at the lake, including boys. Claire is left to fend for herself, against a new stepmother who has cleared out her mother’s things in the cabin and against the loneliness of being left behind by her sister. It’s on the lake that Claire does her best rowing and thinking—the very lake that took her mom, the lake with the strong current, the lake that only the strongest swimmer can navigate in safely. It’s in these waters that Claire will grow up and find a way to let go of the past.

This lovely story is everything a novel-in-verse should be: evocative, spare, and masterful in its use of poetic forms. It’s told in alternating points of view by Claire, Abigail, and by the lake itself who has watched each girl grow up over the years.

There are wonderful notes at the end of the book about the forms used: quatrains, free verse, acrostics, as well as references to the many poets whose famous works are part of the poems in the book.  (These include Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, Pablo Neruda and more.) This is a true delight, a quiet book about sisters and loss and change. MM


Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

by Eleni Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Timbuktu Labs, Inc. 2016
Picture book
Ages 4 and up
ISBN 978-0120420476

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a unique collection of 100 stories about women around the world of all ages. It tells about each woman from the past and present who changed the world in some way with the actions they took despite the challenges. Each story is one page biography about the amazing feat each one conquered. There are stories about scientists, painters, chefs, dancers, boxers, writers and the list goes on and on. Every girl can find that one person who will inspire them to push the envelope and be extraordinary.  The illustrations are by 60 women artists from around the globe. All the styles are different and fascinating. They really add more dimension to the stories.

This type of book is perfect to get girls of all ages reading and learning about how one person’s ideas, thoughts, and struggles can change an entire culture. It sparks the interests to go out and read more about these strong women as the book just gives them a small taste of each woman’s life. It is meant to inspire us all, but especially our young girls, to dream big- be confident- find our strengths- and help our fellow people. EM


It All Comes Down to This

By Karen English
Clarion Books, 2017
Middle grade, historical fiction, ages 10 – 12, grades 5 – 8
ISBN: 978-0-544-83957-1
Additional formats: Kindle
Honors: Kirkus Prize finalist 2017

How do we learn to love and value ourselves when people in the world around us just won’t?

Twelve-year-old Sophie is the youngest of two sisters living in an upper middle neighborhood in Los Angeles in 1965.

Sophie is the new kid on the block, bookish and serious, which doesn’t suit some of her racist white neighbors at all. Not even the new Jamaican housekeeper her mother hired seems to like her; instead, she openly despises Sophie and her very light-skinned sister, Lily, too. The deck is stacked against Sophie in tryouts for the community center play, and worst of all, her parents’ marriage finally seems to be unraveling right before her eyes.

This summer Sophie will feel the sting of adults’ secrets and their shortcomings, and  she’ll see an entire community, nearby Watts, explode under the pressure of injustice. But she’ll also learn how to reach for her own power to change things that matter to her most. Whether guarding her sister’s secrets or finding ways to stand her ground with friends and enemies alike, Sophie will learn what it takes to be a strong.

In lyrical language, Karen English expertly captures the feel of the 1960s and delves into all heartbreaking complexities around race and class of the time—both within Sophie’s family and in the larger community. The characters all feel like people we know, each of them struggling with frailties that are so relatable in the present day.

But where this book shines most—and why it has earned its place here on our Girls of Summer list—is in how it shines a light on how a strong girl endures, deepens, and grows, even in the most inhospitable of times and places.  MM


What Will It Be, Penelope?

By Tori Corn, Illustrated by Danielle Ceccolini
Sky Pony Press, 2013
Picture Book
Ages 3-6, Grades PreK-K
ISBN 978-1620875421
Other formats: eBook

Have you ever had a hard time making decisions? Ever have a child melt down because you made a decision for them or know someone who does? This book is for you.

Penelope is a little girl who is indecisive about everything because she likes everything she sees. Every day there are decisions to be made. What should I wear, what do you want to eat? Where do you want to go? What do you want to play or do? Poor Penelope just can’t make all these decisions. Everyone gets frustrated with her as she tries to figure it out. Finally, everyone starts making decisions for her- even her best friend Eliza. Soon Penelope isn’t making any decisions on her own. She learns the hard way that not making any decisions has consequences.  Through a lot of trial and error and not liking some of the decisions made for her, Penelope finally starts making some choices of her own. They may not be all that great a choice, but it is her choice and she learns to feel confident and proud by sticking to the decisions she makes. Now she thinks she is a great thought processor and learns from her mistakes.

What Will It Be, Penelope? Addresses the importance of making your own decisions and sticking to them and sometimes learning from the mistake of poor decisions. Children will recognize the struggles Penelope has as something they have probably gone through as well. Sweet, funny, and a great life lesson learned at an early age. EM


The Belles

By Dhonielle Clayton
Freeform, February 2018
Young Adult
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
ISBN: 978-1484728499
Other formats:  e-book, audio

For teen readers who love an expansive reada book that offers a touch of fantasy, fascinating historical references  (both imagined and real), vivid imagery and a storyline that has many plot twists and turnsDhonielle Clayton’s The Belles is the book for you. This YA read is rich in detail, with Ms. Clayton consistently painting word pictures and rendering fast-paced dialogue that helps readers experience the world of olden day New Orleans (Orleans in the novel), through the eyes of main character Camellia Beauregard.

Camelia is a Belle, a class of women revered for their beauty and their special ability to bestow beauty upon others. All she has ever wanted is to be the most beautiful Belle of allthe favoritewho gets to live with the King and Queen in the palace and care for the citizens’ of Orleans’s beauty needs from those revered quarters.

She and her sisters must each “audition” to become the favorite, and the experience leaves Camelia on a roller coaster of emotions and opportunity, a ride she is determined not to forfeit. Before long, however, she realizes that all wishes aren’t wisely granted, and that what appears to be the best position in which to sit or stand can often come with heavy burdens.

This novel deftly touches on modern-day issues, including the superficiality of outer beauty and the questionable steps many will take to achieve it at any costs; the dangers of leaving mental health concerns untreated; how jealousy and competition can ruin the closest of relationships; and how choosing integrity may cost one something, yet is often worth that sacrifice. Most importantly, Camelia realizes that beauty is not the source of happiness or what gives someone value.

Amid danger, a budding romance, and the unraveling of a startling mystery, readers will find a strength in Camelia that is inspiring and in and of itself the epitome of beauty. This story will linger with them long after they’ve reached “The End.” ~ SHA


Hurricane Child


By Kheryn Callender
Scholastic Press, 2018
Middle Grade
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7
ISBN 10: 1338129309
Additional Format: e-book, audiobook

Twelve-year-old Caroline, who lives with her father on Water Island, off Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Island, suffers the life destined to a girl burdened by an unlucky omen of being born in a hurricane – unlucky enough to be bullied and detested by everyone at school, unlucky enough to be stalked by the spirit of a woman in black, and unlucky enough to have been abandoned by her mother.

How can a girl escape such a fate? Maybe, through friendship and love.

When a new student arrives at school, Caroline – like everyone else – is drawn to Kalinda’s charm, smile, and honesty. Kalinda makes up her own mind about Caroline, who has been cruelly ostracized by her peers. Caroline and Kalinda forge a fast and deep friendship, which lifts the pall that has engulfed Caroline for so long. Caroline begins to feel happy and hopeful in ways that she has not in quite a while. The inseparable pair find a safe and trusting soul friendship within each other, one that drives Caroline to fulfill her purpose: find her mother, confront the woman in black, and make known her true and romantic feelings for Kalinda.

I hadn’t planned to read Hurricane Child all at once, but I did! I love everything about the book: the vivid Caribbean setting, how the elements of religious faith and magical realism meld and mix, the grit and quiet courage that Caroline shows in her external actions and interior world. Most of all, I love Caroline, a character who longs for positive connection, real connection, and learns to trust that her own inner spirit can navigate both the blessings and the curses of being born in a hurricane. -GA


Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos


By Monica Brown, Illustrated by John Parra
NorthSouth Books, 2017
Picture book, non-fiction
Ages 4 – 8, Grades PreK – 2
ISBN: 978-0-7358-4269-4

Honors: Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor * 2018 ALA Notable Children’s Book 2018  * New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2017

As a child, Frida counted among her closest companions two spider monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn! As friends, they inspired her and easily took on human characteristics in her paintings.

It is through this lens that author Monica Brown introduces us to the life of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), one of the most curious and talented 20th-century artists, who would inspire generations. Frida was the daughter of a German/Hungarian photographer and a Mexican mother who encouraged her to observe nature, enjoy animals, paint, and follow her dreams and imagination. Due to polio and a bus accident, she lived in physical discomfort most of her life, but art provided an escape.

Brown’s beautiful and bold biography works in perfect orchestration with the illustrations of John Parra. His understanding of Mexican heritage and love of Frida’s paintings and palette invite us to become part of her world and environment. We discover the personalities of each of her pets and how they contributed to her life and art.

Frida’s story is about how art can heal and is integral to daily life, and Brown’s interpretation of this famous artist’s story captures this essence with brilliance. Girls everywhere, artistically inclined or not, will be creatively inspired on every page. – PP


Speak: The Graphic Novel


By Laurie Halse Anderson, Illustrated by Emily Carroll
Farrar, Straus  and Giroux, BYR 2018
Young Adult, Graphic Novel
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
ISBN: 978-0-374-30028-9
Other formats:  kindle

Melinda is the kid no one likes, the girl who called the cops on a high school drinking party and got everyone in trouble. Now she roams through her life at school in baggy clothes, keeping near total silence.

But what really happened at that party? And why can’t Melinda bring herself to tell?

Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking young adult novel, Speak, was first published in 1999. All these years later, with the #MeToo movement in full swing, we find that Speak: the Graphic Novel is just as relevant today.

With chilling black and white illustrations by Emily Carroll and dialogue taken directly from the original novel, Anderson pulls the reader inside a girl’s experience with sexual assault at the hands of one of her own classmates. Melinda has not told anyone the truth and blames herself in the convoluted way of so many victims. And every day she sees her attacker continue to enjoy the highest social status at school, even as he grooms new victims for his aggressions. The sense of dread is palpable on the pages. Sinking deeper into her depression, Melinda finds respite only in her art class, where she can access her voice and feelings without words. The graphic format of the novel is a perfect complement to Melinda’s journey to use art as a way to name the most horrific acts and lay them bare.

This is a hard story: Melinda is blamed and cruelly ostracized. She learns to hate and hurt herself. But ultimately, the novel is about her resilience and survival despite an entire community that would prefer not to believe or support her. Her strength shines through all the trauma.

Sometimes, girls have to reclaim their power after its been stolen from them. Speak: the Graphic Novel shows them how to win it back.  MM
 


Sasha Savvy Loves to Code


By Sasha Ariel Alston
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Gold Fern Press, 2017
Ages 7-10, Grades 2-5
ISBN: 978-0997135428
Other formats:  e-book 

Sasha Loves to Code is a lighthearted, early reader chapter book told from the perspective of a young girl who discovers that it’s best to give new things a try before deciding they’re not for her. Ten-year-old Sasha Savvy is less than excited when her mom enrolls her in a coding camp for the summer, because coding doesn’t sound like her “thing.”

Her mom makes it easier by ensuring that two of Sasha’s friends can join her, and unbeknownst the them, all three girls find themselves excited about the possibilities coding offers and the fact that they’re pretty good at it.

Sasha’s mom and other nurturing relatives encourage her to use her skills to create something that interests her, and while at times she and others in the book seemed to rely on their cell phones for entertainment, perhaps those sections of the book can spark conversations between young readers and the adults who read with them about the importance of balancing screen time with personal engagement. In this way, the book shows that while coding and gaming are exciting ways to bring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) into daily life, setting aside technology at pivotal times is important, too.

Young readers of Sasha Loves to Code will enjoy the girl’s enthusiasm and may be inspired to try coding themselves. Ultimately, the story behind the writing of the book is as empowering as the plot  itself. Author Sasha Ariel Alston wrote the book when she was a 19-year-old college student at Pace University in New York. She reportedly became so fascinated with coding that she decided not only to major in it, but also to write a fictional story to encourage young girls to  give coding and other science-related endeavors a try. Ms. Alston, who is still in college, raised funds to publish the book through Kickstarter and since its publication has been featured on national morning news shows, participated in programs for girls at Disney and Google, and had the book named a statewide read for young students in Arkansas. Regardless of whether young readers ever encounter Ms. Alston in person or via a news program, the story she has penned offers timely encouragement to step outside of their comfort zones and learn something new. – SHA


Willow

by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, illustrated Cyd Moore
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008
Picture book
Ages 5- 8, Grades K-4
ISBN:  978-1585363421
Honors:  Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book

Willow is a little girl with an incredible imagination. She paints and draws what she sees when she closes her eyes much to the distress of her very rigid teacher, Miss Hawthorn. Miss Hawthorn wants everyone to be the same, do the same things, see things the same way. Willow has a difficult time following these rules and gets fussed at a lot but doesn’t let it upset her or change the way her imagination soars.

Willow is also the only student to give Miss Hawthorn a present at Christmas, her favorite art book. Miss Hawthorn starts to look at the book and realizes the importance of how a strong and vivid imagination can take you places. She starts to paint, draw, and be creative. When the students come back to school after the holidays, they see their dreary room has been transformed. It is now bright and colorful. There are pictures everywhere, but the willow tree in the middle is the most special—a dedication to Willow for showing everyone the power of creativity, being yourself, using your imagination, and helping others find theirs.
-BSM


My Heart Fills with Happiness

by Monique Gray Smith, Illustrated by Julie Flett
Board book
Orca Book Publishers, 2016
Ages 2-4, PreK-K
ISBN: 9781459809574
Honors: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize * BC Book Prize Finalize

“What fills your heart with happiness?” asks this inspiring board book that opens with a little girl stroking her mother’s cheek, and, in her mother’s beauty, also seeing and touching her own. Each scene depicts sources of joy within self, family, community, and culture. The illustrations, in a rich and earthy palette, ground the story and resonate a happiness that is simultaneously culturally-specific to First Nations and infinitely transcendent.

This book, while printed in a sturdy format made for the very young, is a precious gift for readers of all ages. Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett remind us how at our core human beings are meant to be together, connecting in ways that allow us to show and share our truest selves through song, dance, food, and story – across generations, in harmony with creation and each other.
– GA


A Morning with Grandpa

by Sylvia Liu, Illustrated by Christina Forshay
Lee & Low Books, 2016
Picture book
Ages 5-8, Grades PreK-3
ISBN:9781620141922
Honors: Lee & Low Books New Voices Award

One morning, Mei Mei observes Gong Gong practicing his tai chi, and Gong Gong invites her to practice with him. When Gong Gong shows her such motions as Pick up the Needle or White Crane Spreading Its Wings, his moves are smooth and sweeping, “like seaweed brushing the ocean floor.” Mei Mei watches and tries the movements herself, but her energy hops and bops and bounces into Grandpa. She soon offers to teach Gong Gong her favorite yoga poses.

This uplifting, energetic picture book celebrates adventures in lifelong learning that occur when children and elders discover common interests. Mei Mei and Gong Gong accept each other just as they are! In some ways, they are not alike at all: Mei Mei’s energy is like a bouncing ball; Gong Gong’s energy is like a cool breeze.
-GA


Each Kindness

by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012
Picture book
Ages 5-8, Grades K – 3
ISBN: 978-0399246524
Honors:
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award * Coretta Scott King Honor Book * Charlotte Zolotow Award * School Library Journal Best Book of 2012 * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award

Each Kindness is a story of growth and regret told from the perspective of Chloe, a young girl who refuses to accept small gestures of friendship from Maya, the new girl at school.

Maya wears spring shoes in the snow and plays alone, snubbed by classmates who laugh and name her “Never New” for her hand-me-down wardrobe. Yet she continually reaches out, extending a glance, a smile, some jacks, a ball–ever optimistic that one day her affection will be returned. It never is. Chloe and her classmates turn their backs and refuse to smile at Maya.

One day, when Maya is absent from school, their teacher gives a lesson in compassion. She drops a small stone into a bowl of water, observes the ripples, and says, “This is what kindness does. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
Chloe is moved and resolves to be kind and make the world better by simply returning Maya’s smile. But her realization comes too late, and Chloe’s left to grapple with the sting of kindnesses withheld.
-MPS