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For teen readers who love an expansive reada book that offers a touch of fantasy, fascinating historical references  (both imagined and real), vivid imagery and a storyline that has many plot twists and turnsDhonielle Clayton’s The Belles is the book for you.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


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.