Non-fiction

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

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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


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


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


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


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