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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.

Sage Carrington: Eighth Grade Science Sleuth

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by Justin Scott Parr
Gum Shoe Press, 2012
Young adult
Ages 12 and up
ISBN-13: 978-1939001290

Best friends, Sage Carrington and Isabel Flores, waste no time making the most of their summer vacation. When they discover a vintage treasure map near the Washington Monument, they get busy solving clues and following leads. Obstacles abound! The biggest one being neighborhood bully, Edwin. With their smarts, creativity, and savvy mentor, Aunt Druscilla, the bfs set out to find the hidden treasure.

Adventure unfolds and bonds of friendship grow strong in Washington D.C., a perfect backdrop for a Nancy Drew type sleuth story involving history, science, and aerodynamics.

Fly Away

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by Patricia MacLachlan
McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2014
Chapter book
Ages 7 and up
ISBN:978-1-4424-6008-9
Additional formats: ebook and paperback

Lucky and her family are driving from Minnesota in their Volkswagen to visit Aunt Frankie in North Dakota. It’s flood time, and an elder probably needs help. Unfortunately, Aunt Frankie wants no help preparing for possible floods, thank you very much.

From the Newbery-award-winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, this early chapter book set in rural America has plenty of age-appropriate drama, including storms and the temporary disappearance of one of the family children.

But what sets it apart is that it is lyrical—a rare treat in chapter books. The writing is so beautiful, built on metaphors of poetry and song as a way to find your strength and voice.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage

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by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Grades 1- 5
ISBN: 978-0-54-47853-3
Arthur Levine Books, 2015
Honors:
Society of Illustrators Original Art Show 2015 * NAIBA Carla Cohen Free Speech Award 2015 * Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015 * Book Links 2015 Lasting Connection * A New York Public Library Notable Book for Reading and Sharing

Author-illustrator, husband-wife duo Selina Alko and Sean Qualls collaborate to present this celebratory portrait of a bi-racial family in The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Through intimate, simple language readers follow the courtship of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred “String Bean” Jeter, a woman of African American and Cherokee descent.

The two fall in love, but according to Virginia law in 1958 interracial marriage is illegal, so they exchange vows in D.C. Soon after the newlyweds return home, the police raid their bedroom in the night and arrest them both. “Tell the court I love my wife, and that it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia,” Richard told his lawyers.

Their legal battle rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, after which Richard and Mildred returned to Central Point, having won the right for themselves and other interracial couples to marry. This book gives young readers the opportunity to reflect upon racial justice, self-identity, and ways in which historical narratives shift over time. A mixed medium of paint and collage contrasts bold, stark images of injustice against whimsical, uplifting panels that leave no doubt about it: love will prevail.

The Princess and the Pony

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by Kate Beaton
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
Ages 4-8
ISBN: 978-0545637084
Honors:
Kirkus Best Books of 2015 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year * Children’s Choice Book Award * ALA Notable Children’s Book * E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor

Princess Pinecone is nobody’s frilly, silly princess! She’s bold, ferocious, and ready for battle! She’s all set to lead an army except for one key, missing ingredient: a great battle horse of her own.

When Pinecone’s birthday rolls around, does she get what she wants? Nope! No battle stallion for this little lady, at all. Instead, the tiny princess gets a tiny pony. Is he bold, ferocious, and ready for battle like Pinecone? Hardly. Try cute, fluffy, and prone to farting.

Will the princess learn a lesson in diplomacy from her royal steed? After all, who can resist the allure of a pony?

Rosie Revere, Engineer

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by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013
Ages 5-7, Grades K and up
ISBN: 978-1419708459
Honors:
Parent’s Choice Award * Amelia Bloomer Project * ReadBoston Best Read Aloud

Have you ever invented something cool but were too afraid to show anyone? That’s how Rosie Revere feels all the time. Rosie is a creative girl who likes to invent new gadgets for her family and then hide them under her bed. She is too afraid of failing or having people think they are not very good.

One day her great-great aunt, Rosie the Riveter, visits and teaches little Rosie that the only time you fail is when you quit trying something new. Not everything always works the way you want it to at the beginning. You just need to keep trying and fixing and NOT be afraid to show off your inventions.

A great tie-in with Rosie the Riveter history, this book reminds us never to give up on our dreams or things we love.

Firebird

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by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014
Ages 5-8, Grades K-3
ISBN: 13: 978-0399166150
Honors:
2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award * 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor * NPR Best Book of 2014 * Amazon Best Book of 2014 – Ages 6-8 * Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014 * Essence Magazine Best Children’s Book of 2014

In a stirring love letter to young dancers, author and ballerina Misty Copeland welds the seeming divide between the impossible and possible. “The space between you and me is longer than forever,” a young girl bewails about the distance between her own dance dream and the achievements of prima ballerina, Copeland.

Copeland, who began ballet at age thirteen, shares how she struggled to find her place in the world, even within her own family. Through dance she connected to her true self – body, spirit, and soul. What ballet books reflected back to her, however, was that ballerinas weren’t “me, brown with tendrils.” With mentorship from African American ballerina Raven Wilkinson, Copeland forged her own path and transformed ballet.

Firebird speaks to girls (and boys!) who dance under starlight and moonbeams, who hold a dream in their hearts and souls, yet do not yet believe they can cross the divide. Here, Copeland shows them that “forever is not so far away.”

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

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by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Straub
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
Picture book, ages 5-8, Grades K – 3
978-0525428091
Honors:
Kirkus Best Books of 2015 * Jane Addams Book Award honor 2016

Saya’s mother has been arrested at work by the “immigration police” and sent to a detention center because she has no papers. Until Papa and the attorney can clear the matter, Saya is without her mother. Short visits are of some comfort, but Saya finds that Mama’s voice fades away from her memory too quickly.

Mama begins recording cassette tapes of Haitian folktales, so that Saya can have a bedtime story. Mama’s voice fills Saya’s heart and dreams with images of soursoup and nightingales, rainbows and sky travels.

As Saya watches her parents struggle to keep the family together and to secure Mama’s papers, she decides that she has her own story to tell. Saya’s story might just have the power to bring Mama home.

Separation with little hope for reunion is every family’s nightmare. Saya misses her mother desperately, and she never gives up hope. Through her parents’ examples of advocating for justice, Saya realizes that her own strong voice has the power to make change.

Ballet for Martha: The Making of Appalachian Spring

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by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca
Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press 2010
Picture book, non-fiction, ages 7 and up
ISBN: 978-1-59643-338-0
Honors:
Robert Silbert Honor Award * NCTE Orbis Pictus Award * ALA Notable Books 2010 * Numerous best books lists for 2010
Additional formats: ebook and audio

This historical picture book is about how Appalachian Spring, one of the most famous dances of all times, came to be. It is a dance about the pioneer movement, and it was a collaboration between Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isamu Noguchi. Martha had to persevere through audiences who didn’t necessarily understand the new language she was crafting in American dance. Martha Graham Dance was the first integrated dance company in the US. Appalachian spring, which earned Copland the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1944.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

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by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books, 2014
Picture book, non-fiction
Aages 7 and up
ISBN: 978-1-60060-898-8
Honors:
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor * Notable Children’s Book, American Library Association (ALA) * Listed on multiple “best books” lists

This is the story of how a little girl born in 1926 fights racism and sexism to become one of our country’s most accomplished musicians.

Melba Loretta Liston was a famed jazz trombone player and arranger who created gorgeous rhythms, harmonies, and melodies in songs for jazz greats like Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few.

The illustrations are delicious. I’d pair this with Acoustic Rooster by Kwame Alexander for a summer study on jazz.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 2015
Picture book, non-fiction, poetry
Ages 9 and up, Grades 4-7
ISBN:
978-0-7636-6531-9
Honors:
Caldecott Honor illustration 2016 * Coretta Scott King New Talent award for Illustration 2016 * Silbert Informational Book Award 2016 * Marion Vannett Ridway Award Honor * NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts * Bank Street College Flora Steiglitz Straus Award * Amelia Bloomer List * CCBC Choices and multiple best books lists of 201

The first-person poetry of Carole Boston Weatherford and tactile collage of Ekua Holmes combine for a perfect-pitch picture book biography of Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

Voice of Freedom transports readers to the Mississippi Delta of Hamer’s childhood and into the heart of Hamer’s own journey, a sometimes harsh journey at the mercy of discriminatory, oppressive policies and practices in America. Hammer quit school at sixth grade to pick cotton with her family. She was later sterilized by a doctor (without her knowledge or consent) while undergoing tumor surgery,  Hamer not only survived, she rose up to become a driving force in the fight for equality.

Often on Girls of Summer, we celebrate stories of those who have changed history as children. This book shows us a woman whose childhood and life unfolded to prepare and strengthen her voice to boom forth, at middle age, in a song of protest and triumph and remembering.

I Am Jazz

I Am Jazz

by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings,
Illustrated by Shelagh McNichols
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book, Memoir
Ages 4-8
ISBN-10: 0803741073/ ISBN-13: 978-0803741072
Additional formats: E-book
Honors: ALA’s Rainbow List

This is the story of Jazz Jennings, a girl who loves pink and silver and green. A girl who likes to dance and sing and do back flips. A girl who likes to pretend she’s a pop star or a mermaid. A strong girl who was born with the body of a boy. I Am Jazz recounts the early childhood experience of Jazz Jennings, a teen advocate and co-founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, who felt like a girl born into a boy’s body from the time she was two-years-old.

“Pretending I was a boy felt like a lie,” Jazz writes. At first, her parents are confused when Jazz tells them of her feelings. But when the family meets a doctor who teaches them the word “transgender,” everything starts to change.

“Be who you are. We love you no matter what,” are words every child deserves to hear. I Am Jazz is a perfect title to discuss concepts such as acceptance and belonging and will make an important addition to the family or school library. – Gigi

The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Laura Carlin
Candlewick Press, 2014
Picture book
Ages 5 and up
ISBN-10: 0763666335 /13: 978-076366633
Honors: English Association Picture Book Award Best Fiction

Can one heart and two hands change the world?

In The Promise, a little girl has become hardened and cold like the city she lives in. Her heart had “shriveled as the dead trees in the park.” Isolated and disconnected from people and from nature, the girl turns to thievery. She steals for her food; she never smiles. One night the girl spots an old lady walking alone, easy pickings for the seasoned young thief. So she thinks! The girl grabs ahold of the woman’s purse, a struggle ensues, until finally the old lady says, “If you promise to plant them, I’ll let go.”

Alas, the bag is not full of money or food or anything useful, but rather it’s crammed full of acorns.

“I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed,” the girl says.

A girl must keep her promises. She plants the acorns everywhere—abandoned buildings, bus stops, and factories. Soon, the city is flourishing with green and bursting with tiny oaklings and, best of all, the people are smiling and planting trees and flowers of their own.

This simple story, a retelling of Jean Giono’s 1953 story, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, is a strong message about conservation and action that emphasizes our human belonging to the natural world. It’s also an uplifting call to action for each reader to give their own heart and hands over to the stewardship of our earth by planting something green! – Gigi