Author Archive

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

by Dean Robbins, Illustrated Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books, 2016
Picture book
Ages 4-8, PreK-3
ISBN: 9780545399968

Two Friends visits a fascinating corner of 19th Century American history, when slavery still gripped the nation and when women hadn’t yet won the right to vote. Even then (and still today!) Americans were fighting for equality for all, which is promised to us in the Declaration of Independence.

In the midst of freedom movements, people draw together to share ideas, to lift each other up, and to help each other keep trying to make change. So, it shouldn’t have been surprising for me to learn from this picture book that Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass found solace and support between them in Rochester, NY.

But, it was a delightful surprise to learn that by candlelight, over tea and cake, Anthony and Douglass imagined what change might look like and feel like and what it might take. They never doubted that enslaved people would become free or that women would vote.

Two Friends reminds me that at the heart of any kind of change we will find friendship and shared dreams.
-GA


Lucky Broken Girl

by Ruth Behar
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017
Middle grade, fiction
Ages: 10-13, Grades 5-8
ISBN: 9780399546440

A heartfelt story of hope and healing

Rich in detail, heart, and imagination, Lucky Broken Girl follows Ruthie Mizrahi, a Jewish Cuban immigrant in 1960s New York, as she struggles to navigate family tensions, forge friendships, and work her way out of the “dumb class” at school.

When an accident confines Ruthie to her room, her whole family reels. Baba blames herself. Mami resents the caretaking load. Papi works three jobs to pay her medical bills. Meanwhile, Ruthie’s left to stare at the ceiling and read Nancy Drew, Alice in Wonderland, and the poems of Emily Dickinson and José Martí to pass the time.

Up to her waist in a body cast, Ruthie battles shame, helplessness, and isolation to make a comeback. The ice-cold steel of her bedpan and the seemingly endless stretch of days on her wall calendar mark the time and distance to recovery. An unlikely cast of characters—including a hippie tutor, a tough nurse, and a buoyant neighbor—emerges to help her tap into the creativity, compassion, and perspective she needs to persevere. With a paintbrush and Royal typewriter in hand, Ruthie begins to write—and illustrate—a beautiful new chapter in her life.

Based on the author’s own childhood experience, Lucky Broken Girl explores trauma with a deft, forgiving touch.

“This story is etched into my physiology, my nerves and my many fears,” Behar writes. It’s a triumph that the author released the pain in the form of one poignant, charming novel.
-MPS


Serafina’s Promise

by Ann E. Burg
Scholastic Press, 2015
Middle grade, poetry, fiction
Ages 8-12 years, Grades 3-7
ISBN: 978-0545535670
Honors: Kirkus Best Book of the Year * Parent’s Choice Gold Award Winner * School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Serafina is an eleven-year-old girl living in Haiti. She works hard on her daily chores and at school but spends most of the time dreaming of becoming a doctor. One day, a devastating flood washes away her family home. While Serafina and her family try to come to grips with this horrible ordeal, an earthquake destroys the city of Port-A-Prince, where her best friend lives and her father works. Now there is no home, no money, and a group of people whose lives have changed forever.

While Serafina struggles to help her family rebuild, her dreams of becoming a doctor dwindle. Her mother tells her that her life should be about taking care of family and home, not daydreaming about something that will never happen. Fortunately, Serafina is strong in her beliefs. She teaches her family, friends, and community about hope and dreams. She teaches them the importance of never giving up. If you want something to happen, make sure to do it yourself.

This book is written in verse with beautiful language, Haitian proverbs, and rhythmic Creole. It does an incredible job of capturing life’s hardships and the struggle to carry on, stand up for your dreams, and to rely on yourself.
-BSM


One Half From the East


By Nadia Hashimi
HarperCollins, 2016
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 8-12, grades 3-7
ISBN 978-0-06-242190-6

Poignant and perceptive, this gender-bending novel introduces young readers to Obayda, a young girl, who becomes Obayd, a boy, to bring her family good luck after her father is wounded by a car bombing. In their Afghan society, boys are prized over girls, and it’s not unheard of for boyless families to have a daughter dress and behave as a son would in order to obtain some social currency. There’s even a name for the experience: bacha posh.

As Obayda embraces her short hair and the newfound friends and freedom of boyhood, she (and the reader) are left to ponder important questions about gender. What really separates boys from girls? Anatomy? Dress? Rules? Expectations? Self-belief?

And those questions become even more urgent and compelling as Obayd’s return to Obayda nears. Coming of age as a bacha posh is fraught with uncertainty yet rich with fresh perspective. The experience is only temporarily and the children must return to girlhood prior to puberty or risk bringing shame to their families.

Obayda won’t relinquish her newfound privileges–better food, fewer chores, greater independence–without a fight. Readers will enjoy this girl’s quest to live fully despite the perilous constraints of her family and society.
-MPS


Book Scavenger

by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, illustrated by Sarah Watts
Christy Ottaviano Books, 2016
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9-14,  grades 4-9, mystery
ISBN: 978-1250079800
Honors: Pennsylvania Readers Choice Award Nominee, Magnolia Award Nominee

Twelve-year-old Emily moves to a new state every year. Her parents think this is a great family learning adventure, but because of the constant moves, Emily never gets to really make friends. Her only outlet is through an online community called Book Scavenger. It’s a game where people hide books then make clues and puzzles for others to solve and find the book. Emily has become a master at deciphering codes and solving puzzles. Now Emily’s family is moving to San Francisco—home of Garrison Griswald—creator of Book Scavenger. Emily is so excited to have a chance to meet her idol and participate in his newest game. Unfortunately, Mr. Griswald is attacked and his new game is in trouble.

In comes James, Emily’s new neighbor. James is just as much, if not more, of a puzzle fiend as Emily. A great friendship and partnership forms as they try to play Mr. Griswald’s new game while figuring out who attacked him. Emily gets so caught up in the problem, she doesn’t realize she is bullying her new friend with demands. She’s never had a good friend before and doesn’t understand why he won’t drop everything else in his life to do what she says.

The journey Emily and James embark on is filled with interactive puzzles to solve, codes to decipher, and a lesson in friendship that we have all had to face. Emily has to learn that sometimes helping a friend with their problems is more important that playing a game.
-BSM


Wolf Hollow

by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016
Middle grade, historical fiction
Ages 10 and up, grades 5 +
Additional formats: Kindle, paperback
ISBN: 978-1101994825
Honors: Newbery honor * NPR Best Book of the Year * Booklist Best Book of the Year * Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of the Year * Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year *Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year * School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of the Year * ALA Notable Children’s Book * Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award nominee * Goodreads Choice Award nominee * Carnegie Medal nominee

There’s a lasting sting to the first time we learn about hate, pain, and dishonesty. Wolf Hollow captures that sting in a compelling work of historical fiction set in rural Pennsylvania in 1943. In this story Annabelle, must find the moral courage to face down Betty, an “incorrigible” girl who has come to live in their town with her grandparents. Betty threatens people with sticks, kills birds by breaking their necks, and will create a terrible and believable lie about a man in their town who is suffering from PTSD, as a result of his service in the war.  This novel is a page-turner and a lovely look at rural Pennsylvania, a place of beautiful landscape, hardworking people, and simmering bigotry.  This is historical fiction and beautiful writing about people, the sorrow they carry, and how it reveals itself to the world. It is the story of a girl learning about how complicated morality can be – for her, for her friends, and for the greater community she has always called home.

“The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie, the book begins.”
-GA


Lumberjanes ,Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

by Grace Ellis and Nicole Stevenson, illustrated by Brooke Adams
Boom! Box, 2014
Middle grade, graphic novel
Ages, grades
ISBN: 978-1608866878
Honors:
Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best New Series * Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Publication for Teens * Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics

Just like Girls of Summer is not your school’s summer reading list, Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s summer camp is not your mom’s summer camp. Unless, of course, your mom is a “hardcore lady type”!

According to the handbook, being a Lumberjane scout is all about the “joy of cutting wood with an axe, about the stars, the birds, the quadrupeds, the fish, the insects, the plants telling their names; their hidden power or curious ways, about the camper’s life, the language of signs and even some of the secrets on the trail.”

To be sure, like campers everywhere, Lumberjanes do need to be mindful of poison ivy. And, yet, like the handbook says, there are secrets out there. Holy Joan Jett, so many secrets! The nooks and crannies and towers and caverns at this camp are filled with holy kittens, talking statues, magic foxes, river monsters, and a clutch of boys at the camp next door who are both dainty and devilish.

If you can persuade your folks to sign you up for Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, you will definitely want to bunk with April, Mal, Ripley, Molly, and Jo. Beware, though, if you dare to break enough rules to earn your Up All Night Badge, you’ll have to clean out the moose stalls. But, holy kitten, it will be worth it!
-GA


Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina


by Misty Copeland
Touchstone, 2014
Young adult, memoir
Ages: 12 and older, Grades 6-12
ISBN: 978-1476737997
Honors: New York Times Bestseller

Sometimes you have to be willing to try something new to discover who you are meant to be.

Misty Copeland is compelling and heartwarming in this first-person telling of how she became the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

Her unlikely path to making history began at thirteen, an age that made her a “late bloomer” in the world of serious dance. While most young ballerinas were concentrating on their pirouettes, she and her family were struggling with homelessness. Misty’s haven became the after-school program at her local Boys & Girls Club, and when she enrolled in a free ballet class on a whim, her life changed forever. Her love of dance helped her remain focused and firm through numerous family crises, personal struggles and periods of self-doubt. Though she dances beautifully and with much grace now, she openly shares how her life sometimes reflected the opposite, and how she used those circumstances to fuel her goals and dreams.

Though this book isn’t a cliffhanger, in the sense that readers already know how it will end, they still may find themselves gripped by Misty’s story and capable of learning some meaningful lessons that can serve them as well as they have served Misty.
-SHA


Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World


by Kelly Jensen
Algonquin Books for Young Readers, 2017
Young adult, nonfiction
Ages: 12-18, Grades 9-12
ISBN: 978-1616205867
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection

Here We Are is whip-smart anthology of what it means to be a feminist and why it’s important, from voices teens will (or should, because they’re awesome!) recognize. Amandla Sternberg, Mindy Kaling, Michaela and Mia DePrince, Wendy Davis, and Matt Nathanson join well-known YA authors like Malinda Lo, Sarah McCarry, Nova Ren Suma, and many more writers to talk about the ins-and-outs of equality.

Perhaps the biggest draw of Here We Are is its scrapbook, mixed-media format. There are essays and poems, conversations between writers, Instagram images, comics, interviews, and illustrations (over forty pieces total), which prevent a book about a serious topic from seeming preachy, academic, or condescending to its intended audience. Here We Are isn’t just for teenagers; it’s about being a teenager, and the writers never forget it.

The book’s feminism considers what it means to be a girl, but it isn’t limited to what it is to be a straight, white, middle class American girl. There are perspectives from all kinds of backgrounds, and readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to relate to here. From the damaging effects of trying to be the “cool girl,” to accepting your own (and other people’s) bodies, to the use of sexual assault as a weapon, each aspect of girlhood and feminism is turned over and presented to the reader in a refreshing and relevant way.
-AN


The Radius of Us


by Marie Marquardt
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017
Young adult, fiction, romance
Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9-12
ISBN: 978-1250096890

Most teen romances are light and full of friendship and warmth; however, The Radius of Us is more gritty than syrupy sweet. This novel shares the story of two youths who are grappling with fear, worry, and challenges that are true-to-life in modern-day America: crime, trauma, immigration issues, and cultural differences.

The main characters are a white American girl named Gretchen and a Salvadoran boy named Phoenix. The two cross paths in an unlikely suburban setting and discover new worlds—each other’s—through their friendship and blossoming affection. They also learn how different doesn’t necessary mean dangerous and how developing empathy for others can be self-empowering.

This is a sobering, yet hopeful novel that will leave readers rooting for the characters to win and for the world around them to wake up and embrace the beauty in change.
-SHA


Iron Cast


by Destiny Soria
Amulet Books, 2016
Young adult, fantasy
Ages: 12-18, Grades 9-12
ISBN: 978-1419721922

In Prohibition-era Boston, speakeasies and underground clubs aren’t just places that serve black market liquor—they’re also places that house hemopaths and give them jobs as entertainers. Hemopaths carry an “affliction” that gives them the ability to control what others see and feel using art (spoken word poetry, music, etc.), and the two main characters, Ada and Corrine, use their powers in their acts at the Cast Iron Club, dousing the paying audience in warm fuzzy feelings. On the side, they perform low-level cons for the club’s owner; that is, until a job goes wrong and one of the girls ends up in a notorious “institution” for hemopaths, where they are experimented upon and killed.

On the surface, this book is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a good fast-paced heist/flapper story/tale of solid girl friendships?), but it’s held together by the question of how society justifies its abuse and marginalization of people who are different. Hemopathy is outlawed, bringing up the question, how does a government outlaw a person? How do we, the people who live in a country, let that sort of thing happen?

The book is set in 1919, but what Ada and Corrine are dealing with will be familiar to any reader who is even remotely familiar with current events. Iron Cast is a fantastical way to consider the strength of female friendships, racial profiling, oppression, and human rights.
-AN


The Hate U Give


by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray,  2017
Young adult, fiction
Ages: 12 and up, Grades 8-12
ISBN: 978-0399546440
Honors:
New York Times #1 Bestseller * Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction

Starr Carter is just 16 years old when she sees a police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend Khalil. Suddenly, the RIP hashtags and Tumblr memorials to slain youth hit home, and Starr must decide whether or not to share what she knows.

The sole witness to the killing, she’s the only person who can reveal the truth. But in the real world, speaking up could put friendships, community alliances, and even her life at risk. She’s already in a precarious position as an outsider in both her poor neighborhood and at Williamson, the wealthy prep school she attends across town. Stepping forward amid national controversy and community unrest could cement her marginal status—or worse.

The magic of this book is the way it explores major social issues—police violence and racism—through the intimate prism of one teen girl’s life and perspective. It grapples with large questions of justice and equity on the same pages as family drama and social media snafus. It is big drama rendered in small strokes—memorable characters, textured relationships, and vivid language.

Readers will root for Starr as she navigates grief and works to honor her friend’s life and her own principles—her way.
-MPS


Piecing Me Together


by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2017
Young adult, fiction
Ages: 12 and up, Grades 8-12
ISBN: 978-1681191058

High school can be exciting, but for teens who are struggling to fit in, it also can be a long few years to get through. Jade, the main character in the young adult novel Piecing Me Together, is among those who count the days until graduation.

Jade is openly smart and secretly sassy, and happens to love Spanish as much as she loves her modest neighborhood. Every morning, she boards a bus to attend a predominantly white private school on the other side of town, where she can check most of the “other” boxes that exist: minority student, thick rather than thin, child of a single parent, a product of a low-income household. She endures feeling invisible and “not enough” so that she can someday give wings to her mother’s dream that she experience a better life.

When she is coerced into joining a mentoring group that offers encouragement and opportunities, Jade balks. Yet once she settles in, she is surprised to learn that it is just what she needs, and that perhaps rather than solely being the recipient of others’ generosity, she, too, has much to give.

Author Renee Watson has produced a compelling first-person story that can help readers value their own, and others’, experiences and circumstances.
– SHA


Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal


by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona
Marvel, 2014
Young adult, graphic novel
Ages: 12-18, Grades 9-12
ISBN: 9780785190219
Honors:
Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story*  Harvey Awards Nominee for Best New Series, Best Writer* Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominee for: Best New Series * Best Writer (for G. Willow Wilson) * Best Penciller/Inker (for Adrian Alphona) * Best Lettering (for Joe Caramagna)* Best Cover Artist: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics

A regular teenager in New Jersey accidentally develops the ability to BECOME VERY LARGE or *shrink down very small* (among other superpowers), leading to a frenetic life of both trying to not fail high school, attempting to keep her family happy, and, oh yeah, save the world a few times.

Kamala Khan is ordinary: she goes to school, has a few close friends, attends her local mosque, and is close with her parents and (mostly annoying) older brother. She’s also a mega-nerd who writes fanfiction about her favorite superheroes and who plays MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) in her spare time. So when a strange mist floating through Jersey City abruptly gives her superpowers and has her teaming up with some of her heroes (hello, Wolverine and Carol Danvers), Kamala finds her life totally turned upside down.

The best part about Ms. Marvel is that Kamala isn’t a “chosen one.” The acts of bravery and heroism she performs are all stand-ins for moral choices teens and adults face every day, especially now. Kamala would be a hero even without her powers, because she fights for justice. Readers will be inspired to go out and be a little better, a little kinder, a little more heroic every day.

-AN


Our Favorite Trilogy! By Rita Williams-Garcia

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Our 2017 Girls of Summer guest author is the fantastic Rita Williams-Garcia!

We are thrilled to share Rita in person with our RVA Community at the 2017 Girls of Summer party at the Richmond Public Library on 6/21. Check out this Richmond Times-Dispatch interview with Rita, Read Toward Your Dreams.  We encourage all of our Girls of Summer readers to dive into this beloved trilogy and all of  Rita’s incredible work.

We celebrated the first volume of the trilogy, One Crazy Summer, in 2011 – our first year of Girls of Summer – with this review by Meg:

by Rita Williams-Garcia
Middle grade
Amistad Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-076088-5
Awards/recognitions: * National book Award finalist * Newbery Finalist * Coretta Scott King Award *Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

Once I got past the fact that a time period I actually remember qualifies for historical fiction, I warmed up to One Crazy Summer. I’m glad I did. This middle grade novel is about three dueling sisters, a mother who abandoned them, and the summer they are reunited — all against the backdrop of working with the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. Regardless of whether you think the Black Panthers were an armed leftist group or a justified response to the racial injustices of the time, this is a story that offers readers a more nuanced and honest look at the Civil Rights movement beyond Dr. King’s non-violent model, which has been the safer topic in children’s books. Williams-Garcia makes us look through the eyes of children who are awakening to the racism around them and to the power of their own response.

There’s so much to love about this book (note the long string of awards it has received), but for me what shines most are the characters of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Eleven-year-old Delphine occupies the revered and burdensome role of oldest sister as they leave Brooklyn alone to spend the summer in Oakland with their mother, whom they haven’t seen since their infancy. Cecile now calls herself Nzila, and she is working as a poet associated with the Black Panthers. Their grandmother, Big Ma, refers to Cecile as a troublemaker, and at first, it seems as though Big Ma may be right. The girls immediately find themselves practically on their own, dodging Nzila’s gruff ways and spending their days at the community center run by the Panthers. They catch their evening meals at Mean Lady Ming’s Chinese takeout and eat on the floor.

This is the story of funny, squabbling girls who are developing personal power, and for that I adore this book.  In Delphine, I see depth, resilience and the practical skills of survival. I see a girl finding her voice and questioning what is around her. What is “mother”? What is fairness? What is the difference between making trouble and insisting on dignity? Delphine keeps her wits about her as she tries to decide whom to trust with what, keeping her heart open to what surprises the grown world brings. MM


Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt, 2009
ISBN: 978-0312659301
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7
Additional formats: ebook
Honors:
Newbery Honor Award * IRA Children’s Book Award, North Carolina Young Adult Book Award, TN YA Volunteer State Book Award, Virginia M. Law Award * Josette Frank Award * Chicago Public Library Best of the Best * Junior Library Guild

Set at the end of the 19th century, eleven-year old Calpurnia Virginia Tate is having a difficult time learning”housewifery” things. She prefers swimming in the river or thinking about science to cooking or knitting. “Callie” sets out to be independent and do what she likes while learning to bond with her grandfather. He helps her learn about the natural sciences and how to cope with change and growing up.


Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

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by Sonia Manzano
Scholastic Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-62184-7
YA, memoir
Ages 14 and older (Some sensitive adult content)
Additional formats: ebook

This is a compelling memoir about one of our cultural icons, Sonia Manzano, known to many as Maria on Sesame Street. For an entire generation of children, she was the face of their own family, foods, and language. But sometimes a girl’s rise to success is much harder than it appears.

Sonia Manzano grew up in the Bronx to parents who were Puerto Rican immigrants struggling economically and socially in New York. Themes of domestic abuse, sexism, and alcoholism run throughout, but above all, this is a story of a girl, blessed with her own gifts and imagination, who carves out a place for her dreams.


Lizard Radio

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by Pat Schmatz
Candlewick Press, 2015
Young adult, science fiction,
Ages 14 and up
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7635-3
Additional formats: ebook
Honors:
James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner * Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year * TriState YA Review Group Books of Note * CCBC Choices * Rainbow Project List

In a world where the government closely monitors gender, occupation, and emotion, Lizard (so named because she was found as a baby wearing a t-shirt with a lizard on the front) finds herself at a frightening summer agricultural camp. Kivali (that’s her true name) is a bender—meaning that she doesn’t identify as a girl or a boy—and she’s sent to a summer camp for teens in order to prepare for the adult world.

But is the camp, run by Miss Mischetti, really a place to help teens find themselves and help the world? Or is something more sinister at hand? What should Kivali make of the drugs that the campers are given and the strange, vaporizing disappearances? Kivali has to discover the truth behind her origins and why her anti-authority aunt has sent her away.

Pat Schmatz does some solid world-building here, complete with it’s own vocabulary that sci-fi readers will love.


This Side of Home

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by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury Books, 2015
Teens, contemporary fiction
Ages 12 and up
ISBN: 978-1-59990-668-3
Additional formats: ebook and paperback

Maya and her identical twin sister Nikki live in a Portland, Oregon neighborhood that is being revitalized. Friends they have known for a lifetime are forced to relocate to other neighborhoods. While Nikki loves the new restaurants and coffee shops, Maya sees the history of their community disappearing in a sea of trendiness. Everything is becoming upscale, from the housing and stores to their own school, where Diversity Day now edges out Black History month.

This is a page-turner about two girls growing up and facing both personal and social transitions, including a difficult romance. I think Richmond teens will especially find a lot to think about here as our own city struggles with its identity and how to respect the history of all its citizens.


Raymie Nightingale

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by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2016
Middle grade, historical fiction
Ages 8 – 12
ISBN 978-0-7636-8117-3
Additional formats: ebook
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection

In so many ways, this novel, set in Florida in the 1970s, is the perfect middle grade story about friendship. Raymie Clark’s dad has abandoned the family for a romance with a dental hygienist. Her plan to get him back is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant by twirling a baton. It’s at her baton twirling lessons that she meets Louisiana, an orphan in her grandmother’s care, and Beverly Tapinski, an angry, if pragmatic, girl who seems bent on all manner of sabotage. The three form an unlikely trio and eventually become one another’s lifeline.

I found each girl fascinating and often hilarious, even as they faced the saddest of truths. Ultimately, this is a story of friendship and support, focused on how girls grapple with the big disappointments that life can sometimes offer. Themes of grief, economic poverty, and neglect are handled expertly for the age group.


The Perfect Place

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by Teresa Harris
Clarion Books, 2014
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 8 – 12
ISBN: 978-0547255194
Additional formats: ebook

What is worse than being sent to stay with relatives you don’t like? Answer: Not being sure if and when your parents are ever coming back for you.

Set in a fictional town called Black Lake, Virginia, The Perfect Place is the story of twelve-year-old Treasure, whose father has been gone for two months. Unlike his other disappearances in the past, this time he hasn’t come back to the family or made contact. Fed up, Treasure’s mother decides it’s time for her to take Treasure and her sister, Tiffany, on a trip to find him. They vacate the premises in the middle of the night and travel south to meet their gruff Great Aunt Grace (GAG) who lives in small-town Virginia. Grace doesn’t care if her smoking bothers Treasure’s asthma and seems generally to dislike children.

This is a funny and tender story about three generations of women learning how to help each other survive disappointments.


Goodbye Stranger

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by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2015
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 10 – 14
ISBN: 978-0-385-74317-4
Additional formats: ebook and audio
Honors:
Multiple “best books lists” of 2015

Three middle school friends, a perfect set of three: Brig, an accident survivor who should have died when she was eight; Tabitha, ever-practical and cautious—the voice of reason; and Em, the popular soccer queen, now in a relationship with an 8th grade boy who encourages her to send him a selfie in jeans and a bra.

Uh-oh.

Newbery-award-winner Rebecca Stead fleshes out the crazy world of middle school and the dicey slope of everyday decisions and peer pressure with a wonderfully interconnected cast. I was especially fond of how she used the supporting characters to move the story along. Jamie, Brig’s brother, is locked in a dumb bet about how many steps he can take in a single day. Sherm, a classmate, writes letters to a grandfather that he refuses to speak to. A nameless second-person teen has run away for a day in the face of the fact that her “best friend” is a mean girl. Readers will find versions of themselves in these pages—and plenty of familiar experiences to keep them reading, thinking, and talking.


The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

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Evelyn lives with her mother and her feisty grandmother in Spanish Harlem, New York City in the 1970s. The Black Panthers and the Young Lords are insisting on social change—and they’ll use sit-ins and a church takeover to get their point across to city officials, if necessary.

I admire this novel for its look at the Civil Rights era in New York City—especially through the Latino lens. Sonia Manzano offers up a story about girl awakening to the impact of culture and racism on her community—and what it takes to do something about it.


The Glass Sentence (Book One: The Mapmaker’s Trilogy)

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by S.E. Grove
Viking Penguin, 2014
Upper middle grade(due to complexity), fantasy
Grades 5 and up, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 978-0-670-78502-5
Additional formats: ebook and paperback

First, the background: In the Great Disruption of 1799, the world broke apart.

Continents were unfastened not only physically but also from time. Now the world is a strange mix of different Ages. Europe, for example, was plunged into a remote century, while the United States became an uneasy mix of adjoining Ages: the Baldlands in the West, Prehistoric Snows to the north, and New Patagonia to the south. Sophia’s Boston is now in New Occident.

It is 1891, and Sophia lives with her uncle, the great “cartologer” Shadrack, who is looking after her in the absence of her parents who, eight years earlier, left on a mission and never returned.

Together in Boston, Shadrack teaches Sophia to read all kinds of maps—some that are locked tighter than the hardest puzzles and those that also chart time. When Shadrack is brutally kidnapped, it’s up to Sophia and her friend, Theo, to find him. The only trouble is, she has never seen any other part of the world except through maps. Can she do it? The world-building is amazing in this smart, girl-led adventure.