Posts tagged “Girls of Summer 2011

Shark Girl

Shark Girl

By Kelly Bingham
Young adult
Candlewick Press, 2007
ISBN: 0763632074 / 9780763632076
Hard cover, paperback, e-book
Awards/recognitions: * South Dakota Teen Choice Book Awards Reading List * Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Maryland) * Florida Teen Read Award * Oprah’s Book Club – Kids Reading List * Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year

Find a hammock, a beach chair, or a blanket. Go away to your backyard, the pool, or the ocean. Leave the tissues behind. It’s not that you won’t need them; it will just feel good to let your tears splash these pages. Kelly Bingham’s debut novel, Shark Girl traces one tragic and triumphant year in the life of fifteen-year old artist, Jane Arrowood.

A sunny day at the ocean in June turns into a national news story when a shark attacks Jane, severing her dominant right arm. Jane’s older brother, Michael, starts their day at the beach by teasing his sister about her pink bikini. Shortly thereafter it is Michael who pulls Jane out, saving her life. In a way, the rest of the story shows us how many people and how much time it takes to pull Jane Arrowood out of that moment that changed her life. Everyone works so hard at Jane’s recovery; no one harder than Jane.

Using poetry, journal entries, and interior dialogue to trace Jane’s recovery, Bingham tells the story in three parts. Part One occurs in the hospital immediately after the attack. Letters, cards, and flowers pour in from all over the world. People want Jane to be a hero. Jane just wants to be Jane, again. In the hospital therapy room, she meets a little kid named Justin who has lost his leg below the knee. When Jane tells him, “A shark attacked me,” Justin responds, “He ATE your arm?” Finally, here is someone who wouldn’t know how to walk on egg-shells even with feathers on his feet, and Jane’s recovery deepens. In Part Two, Michael, their mom, and her friends help Jane adjust to returning home. Everyone thinks Jane will never draw again. She remains friends with Justin, who urges her to draw him a picture, but Jane can’t. Part Three begins with Jane alone in the kitchen struggling to cook her own dinner. Flashbacks through poems that begin with “I remember” show us how long this journey has been and will continue to be for Jane. By Part Three, though, Jane is getting there. Her worries have shifted. She talks about make up; she accepts a ride and welcomes attention from a pretty cute guy. She gets angry when a friend makes her feel not good enough. And, Jane’s back.

Shark Girl is a book to be devoured. All in one sitting. I took a blanket and pillow out in the yard and read Shark Girl in an afternoon. Later, I let myself go back and take in the visual experience of how artistically the pages are designed and rendered to bring texture and illumination to the story. GA

Click here to listen to
an interview and reading with Kelly Bingham from Candlewick Press.

Learn more about author Kelly Bingham.

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Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Edited by Elise Paschen; Series Editor: Dominique Raccah
Middle grade
Sourcebook Jabberwocky, 2010
ISBN: 13-978-1-4022-1074-7
Awards/recognitions: * National Parenting Publications Award

Oh man, do I love this book-and-CD collection – and I say this as someone who is not particularly drawn to poetry. (Forgive me poets!)

There are more than 100 poems here that range from the well-known masters you might find in school (Emily Dickinson, for example, and Langston Hughes) but there are also poems that deal with gym showers, bra shopping, and meeting Malcolm X’s mother. The collection feels accessible across cultures, across sexes, even across generations. I stuck the CD in my car, and soon enough, I was making up reasons to go to the store, just to hear the poets speak in their own voices. That is, until my eighteen-year-old daughter swiped it and took it to school for her own listening pleasure. Now, it makes me ache to think that we ever try to teach poetry without hearing it as spoken word.  MM

Click here to see what I mean. (Audio by permission of author Rebecca Lauren and Sourcebook Jabberwocky)

Check out their website: https://www.poetryspeaks.com/


Butterfly

Butterfly

By Sonya Hartnett
Young adult
Candlewick Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4760-5
Awards/recognitions: * Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award *Starred reviews from Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal

There is a particular kind of girl who moves from middle grade novels straight into the adult world, without looking back. Her heart and mind are big enough to make the leap into all kinds of reading – just as long as it moves her. Luckily, there’s room on this list for a gifted writer who can create thoughtful and provocative YA that walks such readers into adulthood. Her name is Sonya Hartnett, an Australian author who won the 2006 Printz Honor award for her novel Surrender.

Butterfly, her 2009 release, is dark, thoughtful, and unerringly honest about the hell of being 13. Hartnett, who started publishing when she was a teenager, captures the world of “frenemies” and predatory adults, without reducing anyone to simple clichés.

Plum is about to turn 14, and her party plans are at hand. She lives an ordinary life in Australia with her loving (and thus incredibly irritating) parents, her 21-year-old brother, Justin, over whom all her friends swoon, and Cydar, the oldest brother, a pothead and recluse. Plum wants to stop believing in God. She wants to be thin and well-liked (or at least not tortured) by her friends. She wants someone to understand her, perhaps as well as her 35-year-old neighbor, Maureen Wilks. But is girlhood something we want to keep or something to run from? And what price does Plum have to pay to find out?

Plum and the other characters in this novel are richly layered and unpredictable in both their ruthlessness and unbelievable kindness. Hartnett’s prose is – as always – gorgeous, and her subtle insights about the landmines of becoming a woman are unfailing. Yes, the novel has drug use, sexuality, infidelity, and an uncanny accuracy for the painful self-loathing that comes on the heels of trying to blend into vicious girl groups. It also has chapters told from the point of view of the adults. If that makes you pull the plug on it as a book for young people, it’s your loss. To me,  Butterfly, as its name suggests, is about the metamorphosis of growing up. It’s about beauty emerging from even the ugliest situation. MM


Bink & Gollie

Bink and Gollie

By Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee; illustrated by Tony Fucile
Early reader/picture book/or some new form these brilliant people have discovered, ages 4 – 8
Candlewick Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3266-3
Awards/recognitions: * ALA Notable Children’s Book 2010 * Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

Charming, sweet, funny – you could use any of those descriptions for Bink & Gollie. But what makes this stand out as a Girls of Summer selection is that it celebrates girl friendship the way it ought to be. The story captures two complicated and headstrong buddies who figure out how to share fun and still leave room for individuality. (Seriously, is that too much to ask?) Gollie is tall and intellectual; Bink is short and all heart. In a mere 80 pages, DiCamillo and McGhee touch on disagreements, envy, and even a clash in temperament. But what I admire most is that the girls never try to hide who they are in order to remain friends. Instead, they make room for the other, whether it means trekking through the Andes or befriending a goldfish. Rounding things out are the illustrations by Tony Fucile of Disney fame for his award-winning character design for films like The Incredibles among others. His work here has a charming retro feel and palette that I find irresistible.  MM

I love that Bink and Gollie are part of “Girls of Summer.” What particularly thrills me is that they are seen as being absolutely, utterly, unapologetically themselves: strong, curious, a little bit difficult, a lot joyous.     — Kate DiCamillo

Read the Girls of Summer interview with Bink and Gollie co-author Alison McGhee here!

Visit Bink & Gollie‘s website: www.binkandgollie.com

Kate DiCamillo

Alison McGhee


One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

By Rita Williams Garcia
Middle grade
Amistad Books (Div. of HarperCollins), 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
Learn more about Rita Williams Garcia.


What Comes After

What Comes After

What Comes After

By Steve Watkins
Young adult
Candlewick Press, 2011
Hardcover/ebook/audio
ISBN: 10-0763642509 / 13-9780763642501
Awards/recognition: Georgia Peach Award for Teen Readers

Once while at a writing conference, I heard a famous author ask, “Does the world really need more stories about child abuse?” Almost everyone in the audience laughed. I got kind of ticked off.

Does the world need more baseball stories? More World War II stories? More talking animal stories? Are children still being abused at the hands of their families? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Our world needs many more stories of triumph over trauma, especially those told by authors such as Steve Watkins who infuse the telling with insight, beauty, and clarity.

What Comes After is the realest of realistic fiction. In this, his second novel, Watkins fictionalizes a harrowing and true crime of an orphaned teen beaten at the hands of her extended family to the point of hospitalization. The story begins with a newspaper account of the beating, which conceals the victim’s identity. From there, we meet sixteen year-old Iris Wight just after her father’s death, just before she is sent to live with distant relatives in North Carolina. The story’s main villain, Aunt Sue, sees Iris – or more accurately, Iris’ trust fund – as a meal ticket. Free labor for the family’s goat farm. Right away, Aunt Sue begins to withhold all sustenance from Iris and attempts to strip her of her identity completely.

Iris, however, instinctively reaches into the depth of her own heart and soul and memory, turning What Comes After into a story of resiliency. She writes letters to her deceased veterinarian-dad. She finds ease and relief in the natural world. As Iris begins to care for the animals on Aunt Sue’s farm with skills she learned while accompanying her father on his rounds throughout her childhood, we see vividly how her dad’s nurturing presence attends to Iris, even long after his death.

As a reader, I found myself grasping for Iris’ name about mid-way through the book. I willed myself not to forget the girl, not to let Aunt Sue take away everything even from the story. The almost-disappearance of Iris as a person throughout the narrative is no accident and is, I think, a sort of ghost journey for the identities of so many abused children, invisible and unknown to us. Watkins sets this up from the first page and though I wanted to turn away, put the book down, I did not do it because. Because I trust Steve Watkins and his knowledge of how resiliency works, how it unfurls and rises up when it is needed most. Because I do believe that we need to hear these stories so we remember there is work yet to be done.

Watkins is a mandated child abuse reporter who volunteers for his local Court Appointed Special Advocates office (CASA). In 2010, over 1,000 CASA offices throughout the U.S. restored 237,000 children in America to safety. Watkins brings his real-life experience of working to end family violence to his writing. From having witnessed healing and recovery, he knows that early nurturing, social connections, friendships, and support in a crisis are key to a child’s ability to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. Yes, he sends Iris on a journey to hell. Yes, he is very clear that the fictional character, Iris Wight, is willing to make this journey on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children who we may only read about in the newspaper, but thankfully, Iris Wight is well-equipped to make the return trip. GA

Listen to an audio excerpt of What Comes After from Brilliance Audio

Learn more about author Steve Watkins.


Olive’s Ocean

Olive's Ocean

By Kevin Henkes
Middle grade
Greenwillow Books: HarperCollins (2003); paperback, 2005
ISBN:0-06-053543-1/9780060535452
Awards/recognitions: * Newbery Honor Book * ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice * ALA Notable Children’s Book * Virginia Young Readers Award * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age

No one knows the heart of feisty girls like Kevin Henkes. He is, of course, most famous for his beloved world of mice, with such classics as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, where he explores all the landmines of growing up, whether it’s having your classmates tease you for your name or having to spend a weekend with a boorish guest. My kids and I read these books until the covers fell off. I still have them on the shelf.

But Olive’s Ocean, his 2003 middle grade novel, is just as intelligent, gentle and true as his mouse books. Here, Martha is twelve years old and off to a family summer vacation at her grandmother’s house. On the eve of their departure, she receives a visit from the mother of Olive Bartow, a classmate Martha barely knew and who was recently killed in a car accident. Mrs. Bartow leaves Martha with an entry from Olive’s journal.

“I hope I can get to know Martha Boyle this summer” the journal page reads. “I hope we can be friends. She is the nicest person in my whole, entire class.”

So begins the summer during which Martha will take her first steps away from innocence. There is so much to love in this gem of a novel. Henkes touches expertly on the churning troubles of a middle school girl, most especially the sting of being used. As usual, he also crafts a story about the natural growing pains of all families – even happy ones. In the end, though, what Henkes does best is capture in Martha the most radiant thing about girls who are twelve. He gives us a kind girl at the beginning of absolutely everything. MM

Learn more about author Kevin Henkes.