By Dori Jones Yang
Random House/Delacorte Press, 2011
Awards/Recognitions: *Amelia Bloomer Project selection *Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education, Best Books of the Year *National Council for the Social Studies *Notable Trade Books for Young People
Set seven hundred years ago in Xanadu, the summer palace of Mongolian emperor Kubla Khan, Daughter of Xanadu is the story of Princess Emmajin, the Khan’s eldest granddaughter. Emmajin is athletic and headstrong and dreams of joining her grandfather’s army and becoming a legendary warrior. She is determined to take advantage of her last days of official childhood by competing in an archery contest between the young men of the royal court. Everyone but Suren, her best friend and eldest grandson of Kubla Khan, tries to block her from competing even though she’s grown up practicing the three superior arts: archery, horseback riding, and wrestling alongside the boys of Xanadu. These arts are the territory of men, yet because Emmajin excels in each of them, she has been allowed to participate. However once Emmajin and Suren turn sixteen, everything will change. Suren will become a warrior; Emmajin will be expected to marry.
In her final competition, Emmajin’s expertise and courage impress the Khan and the royal court. The Italian merchant Marco Polo has just arrived at the royal palace and as a reward for Emmajin’s brilliance, her grandfather assigns her to spy on Marco Polo and Marco’s father and uncle. She must report everything about these foreigners to her grandfather’s advisers. At first, Emmajin is disturbed by Marco Polo’s red hair and green eyes, but he’s such a kind and accepting person that despite her upbringing, Emmajin grows to like him. That presents a couple of problems.
Not only would loving Marco Polo always be a forbidden love, a romance of any kind would only distract her from her goal of gaining acceptance into the imperial army. While there’s some betrayal involved in Emmajin’s pursuit of her ambition to become a warrior, she wins the opportunity march with twelve thousand men on a secret mission to for the Khan.
And guess who goes along for the journey? Oh, I can’t tell you who. Yes, I can. Her cousin, Suren, goes with her. They are friends for life – the inhale to the other’s exhale. Emmajin proves herself on the battlefield next to Suren. She kills hundreds of the enemy’s soldiers, but she finds that becoming a legendary warrior carries an extraordinary cost and meeting Marco Polo changes how she defines enemy.
Daughter of Xanadu is a sweeping story of friendship, war, ambition, and romance in the Mongolian Empire. Dori Yang’s Emmajin is a heroine of ancient times and a shero for our time. History buffs, time travelers, and explorers of the internal and external worlds will love this book. GA
By Lila Quintero Weaver
Young adult/non-fiction/graphic format
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
I am so very proud to include this debut work in Girls of Summer. I had the pleasure of meeting the author at this year’s national Latino Children’s Literature Conference, where I sat utterly amazed by her talent and grace.
Set in Marion Alabama during the 1960s, Darkroom is a memoir in graphic novel format. It’s about growing up as the only Hispanic family in a town where racial tensions erupted into violence and murder during the Civil Rights era. Weaver, daughter of an amateur Argentine photographer, gives us an unflinching account of what she saw and how she grew to make sense of all that surrounded her.
Neither black nor white in the eyes of her neighbors, she felt shame at her own heritage, especially as she became increasingly conscious of the appalling racial injustice against blacks at the time. The memoir hinges on the events of a single night that ended in the death of a peaceful marcher, an event that would change her thinking forever.
We all know that children have never been exempt from history’s horrors. What’s remarkable here is how expertly Weaver has found an honest way to talk about this awful chapter in our country’s history – and how well she keeps us in the perspective of the young girl she once was. Her black and white illustrations are especially clever in partnerships with spare, elegant text. This is a writer who has depth and knows that her readers do, too.
I think young women reading this will find a doorway into history. So many of the events are disturbing. (The snapshot of the fourth grade history book is particularly alarming. And be warned: Weaver keeps true to ugly slurs of the time.) But I think strong girls will love this book because it’s a story of a girl who didn’t give in to the pressures around her. Instead, she learned to open her eyes to what was really around her and inside her. It’s a story of a shy, unsure girl finding her voice at a dangerous time. MM
By Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press, 2012
Awards/recognitions: *Junior Library Guild Selection 2012
My middle daughter always preferred boys as friends, especially in elementary school. She could hold her own on any playing field and had no patience for the intricate girl hierarchy at school.
Breadcrumbs would have been a comfort to her. It’s the perfect book for any strong girl who has grown up with boys as favorite playmates and best friends. Friendships across gender lines can be tricky, though, especially as we enter our teens. How do friendships endure as the gender lines are drawn? Personalities change, and so do loyalties. So often, it feels like one of the parties has been whisked off to a new and heartless place. In Breadcrumbs, that’s exactly what happens.
It’s no secret that I admire magical stories, so I was already inclined to love this one. It unabashedly references lots of works that fantasy fans will recognize: The Golden Compass, Harry Potter,The Swiftly Tilting Planet. But what sets Breadcrumbs apart even more is that Ursu lets us spend plenty of time in the utterly ordinary, soul-sucking world of preteens, where the real monsters live, as we all know. It’s a world of dull school drills, hurtful boys, and unspoken grief – and Ursu captures it so delicately and respectfully that I almost didn’t care about the fantasy adventure that would come later. Still when it’s time to build a new world of ice and numbness, she does it flawlessly.
There’s no turning back time on growing up, of course. There’s no way to spare any of us the sting of change. But in Anne Ursu’s story, we see both the beauty of loyalty and hope for new things to come. MM
By Raina Telgemeier
Awards/Recognitions: *ALA Notable Children’s Book *Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor *Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award *Eisner Award
Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is a hilarious, triumphant orthodontic memoir of the author-illustrator’s middle school to high school years. Girls at that age often have a pretty specific idea of what “normal” means and an equally sure notion that whatever it is, they are decidedly not! Smile captures that universal state of being a totally awesome person yet feeling anything but.
This dental journey begins at the dawn of middle school. One evening coming home from Girl Scouts, Raina takes a hard tumble on the pavement and severely injures her two front teeth. Welcome to the world of headgear, braces, and false teeth. Add to this dental drama a major earthquake, confusion over who exactly is friend or foe, and failing to make the basketball team. Through it all, Raina discovers time and time again that one key to self-acceptance and connecting with others is hidden in that truism: smile and the world smiles back.
Smile was recommended to me last summer by a strong girl who couldn’t…wouldn’t put the book down. Since then, I’ve shared Smile with several girls, and it has quickly become a favorite. The story and the drawings are rich with details, humor, and emotion. The scenes in the dentist’s office actually turned me a little queasy. The full panel of a portion of the October San Francisco skyline, followed by a page of after-school homework being done with the TV on in the background, conveys an incredible sense of stillness and normalcy. There are many such pages – every one of them a feast of words, colors, and images – that will welcome you and invite you to ponder the events and themes of your own life. GA
By Tanya Lee Stone
Candlewick Press, 2009
Awards/Recognitions: *ALA Notable Children’s Books *ALA Best Books for Young Adults *Amelia Bloomer Project Selection *Boston Globe – Horn Book Awards – Honor Book *Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books *IRA Teacher’s Choice Award *Flora Stieglitz Straus AwardJane Addams Children’s Book Award *Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People *Sibert Medal *Smithsonian Notable Books for Children
Not that long ago, women in America weren’t allowed to rent cars, borrow money from a bank on their own, or play professional sports. In Almost Astronauts, Tanya Lee Stone tells the story of thirteen women who shared a dream of flying and becoming American astronauts. Known as the Mercury 13, these pioneers were dumped by their fiancés, served divorce papers, fired from their jobs, and objectified by the media as Astronettes because they were participating in the Women in Space Program.
The Mercury 13 volunteered to take the same tests that NASA required of male astronauts in order to prove women were capable of flying into space. Their results were superior – scientific evidence that women are as fit or fitter than men for space travel. It was near the apex of the Cold War, and Russia had put the world on notice that it intended to send women into space. Yet, in 1961 Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson still gave a shocking response to a request that he back a space program for women, a response that effectively kept women and people of color out of NASA for years.
So, quick: what was the first year a woman commanded a space shuttle? What was her name?
1998. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins.
Thirty-eight years after Vice-President Johnson shut down the women’s space program before it could officially get started, Lieutenant Colonel Collins thanked the Mercury 13 for not giving up, for proving women were capable of being astronauts, and for insisting that women had the right to do so.
Almost Astronauts is fast-paced, urgent, and invigorating 20th Century history. It’s personal and political too, but it’s not secret history. Not any longer. As a mother, a writer, and a history-buff, I’m grateful to Tanya Lee Stone for telling the story of the Mercury 13 and for letting us get know these women who put it all on the line for all the women and men who would come next.
So. What will you say the next time you hear: A girl doesn’t have a chance? GA
Listen to an excerpt from Almost Astronauts audiobook!
By Veronica Rossi
Awards/Recognitions: *Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Summer is made for guilty pleasures, and what better way to fit the bill than a romantic fantasy that features a dystopian future, a feral hottie, and an opera-singing strong girl? I am happy to introduce you to Under the Never Sky, the first in a planned trilogy with HarperCollins.
Veronica Rossi’s debut novel pulls you immediately into Reverie, a dystopian world of pods that keep out poisonous Aether. Our heroine, Aria, lives with other genetically-engineered people, a perfect looking bunch, all strapped with Smart Eyes that allow them to visit virtual realms to alleviate the boredom of life inside a pod. Beyond their protected world are the Outsiders, tribes trying to survive the harsh landscape of a world dominated by roiling skies filled with swirls of electrical charges that create devastation in their path. When Aria is expelled from the pods and set outside to die, she has to find a way to adapt to a world where an enemy can scent your emotions or hear you coming from miles off. It’s a world where you have to face down cannibals, wolves, and near starvation.
Rossi is a master at invention and pacing. She’s written a page-turner, whether in the high action fight scenes or in the scenes where she builds sexual tension between Aria and Peregrine in a futuristic spin on Romeo and Juliet.
I’m hopeful for the next two books in the series – mostly because Aria goes from pampered girl to kick ass heroine. I’ll admit I worried at the early scenes where the boys did too much survival teaching, but I can see there’s much more to come. Under the Never Sky is for all of you who didn’t flinch once at the premise of The Hunger Games — and who don’t mind a good knife-fight now and again. MM