Posts tagged “Girls of Summer 2012

Daughter of Xanadu

Daughter of Xanadu

By Dori Jones Yang
Young adult
Random House/Delacorte Press, 2011
ISBN: 9870385739238
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


Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White

Darkroom

By Lila Quintero Weaver
Young adult/non-fiction/graphic format
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8173-5714-6

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


Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs

By Anne Ursu
Middle grade
Walden Pond Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201505-1
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


Smile

Smile

By Raina Telgemeier
Middle grade
Scholastic/Graphix, 2010
ISBN:978-0545132053/978-0545132060
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


Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Almost Astronauts

By Tanya Lee Stone
Non-fiction/Middle grade
Candlewick Press, 2009
ISBN: 0763636118/9780763636111
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!

Read the author’s tribute to the Mercury 13 Women.


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

By Wendy Wan-Lon Shang
Middle grade
Scholastic Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780545162159
Awards/recognitions: *2012 Children’s Literature Award from the Asian Pacific Librarians Association

Sixth grader Lucy Wu has life all planned out for what is sure to be the best year of her life. For starters, her perfect (and annoying) sister, Regina, will be leaving for college. That means Lucy will have her own room, become a star on the school basketball team, and enjoy it all with best friend Madison.

Unfortunately, the universe has other plans, and these include attending Chinese School and sharing a room for months with her grandmother’s sister who comes for an unexpected visit from China. So much for the perfect year.

Wendy Shang’s book is charming, funny, and a welcome addition to the canon of literature about kids navigating life inside two cultures. Lucy speaks lousy Chinese, prefers Italian food, and is mortified by Yi Po, whom she keeps at bay by building a dividing line in her bedroom – only one of the many strategies she employs to keep the old woman out of her life.

Lucy is the perfect strong girl in so many ways. She has a vision for herself, even in the opening pages, and when she’s challenged to change it, she doesn’t go down without a good fight. Sure, she eventually learns to widen that vision, but all along Lucy has the strength to face down her enemies, particularly snotty Sloane who has designs on Lucy’s spot on the basketball team.

Lots of books about bi-cultural experiences are dreary. Not this one. Wendy Shang gives us a strong girl who keeps us laughing. No matter what your cultural background, strong girls will find plenty to love here. MM


Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky

By Veronica Rossi
Young adult
HarperCollins, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-207203-0
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


Ninth Ward

Ninth Ward

By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Middle grade
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
ISBN:0316043079/978-0316043076
Awards/Recognitions: *2010 Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award *2010 Parents Choice Foundation Gold Award *Best Fiction of 2010, School Library Journal *2011 Jane Addams Honor Book Award for Older Children

Twelve-year old Lanesha was born with a caul over her face, signifying that this child carried a gift – the gift of seeing and speaking with spirits. For that reason, her blood-family won’t have her. They live uptown in the same city, New Orleans, yet might as well be a whole world away from the lower Ninth Ward where Lanesha lives with her guardian, Mama Ya-Ya, who took her in after her mother died giving birth to her. Lanesha’s classmates mock her, too, because of the gift of the caul. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand.

Spirits everywhere greet Lanesha. At school there’s a boy her age, a ghost in baggy pants, and all through the neighborhood, Lanesha sees ghosts, young and old, from just yesterday and ghosts, black and white, from long ago. Lanesha sees her mother’s spirit, too, lingering in repose on the birthing bed at Mama Ya-Ya’s house. She’s been right there since the day Lanesha was born, yet Mama’s spirit never speaks. Lanesha knows she never really rests either.

Only Mama Ya-Ya, TaShon, and her neighbors in the Ninth Ward accept her, so Lanesha finds her solace in words, collecting them one by one, getting to know each word and all that it could mean. Words like unfathomable and omen. Mama Ya-Ya teaches Lanesha how to embrace her gift of seeing spirits and how to befriend the meanings within those words.

Mama Ya-Ya has a gift of her own. She always knows when TaShon is coming over, even well before he reaches the door.  In fact, Mama Ya-Ya always knows when something is coming, and this time she sees wrath – the wrath of a storm churning fast toward New Orleans. Yet, something different is about to happen, something that even Mama Ya-Ya cannot comprehend.

To survive this hurricane, Lanesha and TaShon will need all of Mama Ya-Ya’s wisdom and aid from Lanesha’s spirit-friends, too. Lanesha will need to crack open those words she’s learned and absorb their power. Powerful words like fortitude and suspension can help Lanesha through Hurricane Katrina.

Ninth Ward is author Jewell Parker Rhodes first novel for young readers. Strong and steady from the eye of Katrina, Parker Rhodes wields her own powers of voice, imagery, and metaphor. Even once the levee breaks, Parker Rhodes rises above with words and characters strong and beautiful enough to do more than survive.  Ninth Ward is a fantastic story of friendship, family, and resourcefulness. It’s also an outstanding tribute to the sense of pride and depth of resolve that we’ve seen and continue to see in the people of New Orleans. GA


The Queen of Water

The Queen of Water

By Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Young adult
Delacorte Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0385738972
Awards/recognitions: *A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011 *TAYSHAS list (Texas student reading list) 2012-2013 *ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 *A Junior Library Guild Selection *An Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended Book

There is no shortage of horrors that can befall a little girl in the world. Laura Resau brings us the fictionalized account of her co-author’s life as an impoverished indígena who is given to (or stolen by, just depending on your view) a metizo couple in Ecuador.

The novel follows seven-year-old Virginia as she leaves her difficult rural life for the frightening role of babysitter and house slave to her adoptive family. Along the way, you’ll get a ringside seat to the racism that plagues indigenous cultures throughout Latin America.

If you’re worried that this novel will read like an anthropology text, don’t. You’ll fall in love with Virginia – difficult, stubborn, intelligent, a survivor – and you’ll be more than willing to see her win. MM


Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers

Body Drama

By Nancy Amanda Redd
Non-fiction/Young adult
Penguin Group, 2007
ISBN: 1592403263/978-1592403264

With Body Drama, former Miss Virginia and a Miss America swimsuit winner, Nancy Redd, wrote the book she wished she had had in high school and college. What better season to embrace of self-love and body-confidence than summertime?

Part reference book, part girlfriend, Body Drama aims to reassure young women about their bodies, encourage them to appreciate their natural strength and beauty, and remind them that there are no stupid questions. Nancy Redd leaves no question unasked or unanswered. The book is presented in five sections: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair Mouth Nails, and Shape. Each section follows the same friendly, accessible format:

  • Body Drama
  • What’s Going On?
  • How Do I Deal
  • What if They Notice, and
  • How to.

The body dramas covered range from the timeless – My face is a zit factory – to the contemporary – My piercing isn’t healing well – to the confessional – It’s a forest down there – and everything in between.

There’s almost nothing better than having a girlfriend who you can trust with any fear, who you can ask any question. You know, the one who keeps a hug for you in her back pocket? If a book could be that girlfriend, Body Drama would be her – someone to laugh with over all the nicknames you can think of for your boobs or your period and one bold enough to even teach you nicknames for your vulva (p. 118). My favorite? Grassy Knoll.

Body Drama makes a perfect gift for a young woman headed off to college or for any woman who could use a friend to remind her as this book does, “No Body is Perfect. Every Body is Beautiful. Every Body is Different. Different is Beautiful.” GA


Marty McGuire

Marty McGuire

By Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca
Early reader/Grades 1-5
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN: 9780545142465

Marty McGuire is not a girly-girl, but she possesses excellent manners. Marty would never call her classmate Veronica Grace a bossy pants, even though she is one. A born naturalist, Marty yearns to spend her days outside catching bull-frogs and exploring the creek.  Oh, she’ll go along, amiably wearing a tiara and practicing a waltz if it means hanging out with her best friend, Annie. But, what matters most to Marty McGuire are the great outdoors, her idol Jane Goodall, and helping Annie remember that it really is more fun to get muddy than to act all prissy.

No one would ever call Marty McGuire a princess. No one that is except her maracas-shaking third-grade teacher, Mrs. Aloi, who casts against type and names Marty for the lead role as princess in the class play. Marty begs, pleads, and downright refuses the role. Thankfully, even Marty McGuire is no match for the double-threat of her mom and Mrs. Aloi. Mom and Mrs. Aloi know that only Marty could bring a sense of daring and a naturalist’s sensibility to the role of princess in The Frog Prince. Ribbit! Let the adventure begin!

Marty McGuire is a delightfully quirky story about a girl who is not afraid to be herself, nor is she afraid to change. Kate Messner weaves many layers into this frog-catching, conformity–resisting, tiara-wearing tale of friendship. The schoolyard and classroom settings are full of detail and authenticity; kids will feel right at home with Marty McGuire and her friends. As an added benefit, by the end of Marty McGuire you’ll know how to tell male frogs from females, which will come in handy when naming the frogs in your pond. GA

Download the Marty McGuire discussion guide.


Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again

By Thanhha Lai
Middle grade
HarperCollins, 2011
ISBN: 9780061962783; ISBN10: 0061962783
Awards/recognitions: *2012 Newbery Honor Winner *2011 National Book Award

I always marvel when a novel is so beautiful you want to re-read it. This is the case with Inside Out & Back Again, the story of 10 year-old Ha who leaves Viet Nam with her mother and brothers after the fall of Saigon and finds herself in the inexplicable world of Alabama.

The novel is written in free verse – which makes for short, stunning scenes that fill all of your senses. Each one builds on the next, capturing in skilled brush strokes the heart of what it means to lose a father to war, a homeland, and – for a young girl – a sense of herself. Throughout are the sights and smells of Viet Nam as we watch the family pray for their father with incense at their altar, long for papayas and fried eels, and force smiles on their faces for the new year to bring proper luck. Thanhha Lai gives us a Viet Nam to love and cherish.

Ha is a mighty girl and a memorable strong girl for so many reasons. She is flawed, prone to mischief, and sometimes disagreeable – the way most interesting girls are. She can’t help but rebel against the notion that only male feet can bring good luck to a house on Tet, the New Year. She pinches a classmate and complains about her bossy brothers. But she also comes across as honest and good hearted, particularly as she senses the grief of her mother and – most particularly –  Brother Khoi. Her journey to be accepted by American classmates is at times heartbreaking, but also at times funny and uplifting.

History is best served up to young readers through the stories of the people who lived it. How wonderful that in this case, we get a memorable strong girl to lead us back. MM


See You at Harry’s

See You at Harry's

By Jo Knowles
Middle grade
Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN: 0763654078/9780763654078
Awards/Recognitions: *Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Jo Knowles’ middle grade novel, See You at Harry’s, is a portrait of family life drawn from the perspective of twelve-year old, Fern, the youngest child until surprise-brother, Charlie, arrived. We join the family as Fern starts middle school, Charlie is now three; Fern feels invisible; her older brother Holden wishes he was invisible; and her older sister Sarah sees everything that everyone else is missing.

Fern’s folks are overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t be managing three teenagers, a toddler, and a family-restaurant? Mom and Dad keep themselves distracted from the struggles of their teen-age children – Mom by running off to meditate and Dad by working himself into a hilarious marketing frenzy guaranteed to embarrass his teens. Fern is a peacemaker by nature, but a feisty one who descends the steps of school bus hell in solidarity with her gay brother, Holden.

Things start to really unravel as Fern clocks a bully to give him a spoonful of his own medicine, Holden skips class to get away from everyone but Mr. Right, and Sara gets busted making out with a bus boy in the restaurant freezer. Hey, who’s running this family, anyway? And, what will it take to get the family back on its center?

In every family, there is heartache and regret, misunderstanding and misplaced guilt. In this family, there is also tragedy. When the unthinkable happens, everyone blames themselves and the family bond begins to fray even more. Fern is the hardest hit of all, a prisoner to her own isolated grief, and refusing, for a time, to let anyone in. Thank goodness for Fern’s best friend, Ran. I speak from experience when I say that the most exquisite and wonderful of friends are those like RAn who quote Julian of Norwich during times of crises and worry. All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

In the end, Ran is right, and that is the jewel of this book. We know that the very act of loving is to accept – even welcome – heartache, because even the cruelest night cannot squelch love.

Jo Knowles has captured the particular lexicon of this family with an expert-ear and perfect pitch. She is masterful in her portrayal of family life with all of its routines and surprises, guilt and absolution. She writes with such intimacy and heart that reading See You At Harry’s is almost like reading a memory that you know you never lived but now cannot quite dismiss the thought that maybe, you did. GA

Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook, See You at Harry’s audio


The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green
Young adult
Dutton Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-47881-2
Awards/recognitions: * #1 New York Times bestseller * 
#1 Wall Street Journal bestseller *
 #9 The Bookseller (UK) bestseller * #1 Indiebound bestseller *
 New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice * Starred reviews from Booklist, SLJ, Publisher’s Weekly, Horn Book, and Kirkus

Okay, look: The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer book. It’s also a hilarious, gut-wrenching, and beautiful story of romance between two young people who have a zero tolerance policy for bullshit. If this novel doesn’t win the Michael L. Printz Award, I don’t know what will.

Seventeen and addicted to America’s Next Top Model, Hazel is battling thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She is well aware that there is no cure for her disease – only a way to prolong her life and keep her comfortable. Turns out, none of that gets in the way of friendship or falling in love with a handsome bone cancer-survivor named Augustus.

I’ll admit that Hazel and Augustus can be a bit too prep school precocious as characters. (Seriously, not many kids quote sonnets to one another – or use the word “alas.”) But what is irresistible here is their razor-sharp assessment of dying young. Better still, in Hazel we have a young woman at her most physically frail emerging as a force you’ll remember long after the last pages.

John Green takes what most of us think of as a worst-case scenario and gives us a story that somehow still celebrates life. He captures the spirit of being young and doing anything – including dying. MM


A Northern Light

A Northern Light

By Jennifer Donnelly
Young adult
Harcourt Books, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-15-216705-9/978-0-15-205310-9 (paperback)
Awards/recognitions: *Printz Honor Book *ALA “Top Ten” Best Book for Young Adults *Booklist Editor’s Choice *Booklist Top Ten Youth First Novel *Book Sense 76 Top Ten Book for Teens *Junior Library Guild Selection *A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age *A Parent’s Guide Children’s Media Young Adult Honor Book *A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year *A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

This is our oldest selection for Girls of Summer, and I couldn’t be more committed to including this title. It debuted when I was writing my first novel, and I still remember closing the book and wondering if I would ever be able to write something that felt so completely satisfying. Jennifer Donnelly has gone on to write other acclaimed titles, but none have earned my heart the way this one did as a word geek, as a writer, as a feminist, and as a fan of good whodunit.

It’s 1906, and Mattie Gokey, working as a hotel domestic for the summer, finds herself faced with a girl drowned in the lake – and a pocketful of letters the girl asked her to burn. So begins the unraveling of a sad mystery based on the scandalous real-life death of skirt factory employee Grace Brown, whose untimely death was the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy and later, the Academy-award winning movie, A Place in the Sun.

In Donnelly’s deft hands, however, Grace Brown’s death is a parallel to the larger conflict for Mattie: being a girl robbed of choices. A deathbed promise to her mother has left Mattie caring for her three sisters and father, who are struggling with the daily demands of keeping up a farm. Her dreams to study at Barnard, where she has already been accepted, are at odds with virtually every reality in her life: her promise, her father’s wishes, and the social mores for women of the time. The future she wants is on a collision course with the approval of her entire social circle, including Royal Loomis, the handsome young man every girl should want.

Mattie is a girl searching for the words to name and explain her experience, words that are too big, too scary for all but her dearest friends. In the end, like all strong girls, she has to ask herself the hard questions and find her own answers. What defines a woman as respectable – or conversely, as dangerous, immoral, and even a lunatic? Who gets to make those definitions? Populated with a cast of layered and contradictory characters, A Northern Light gives us a story about people, motives, and the tough choices we make in order to find ourselves. MM


Just Being Audrey

Just Being Audrey

By Margaret Cardillo and Illustrated by Julia Denos
Picture book, non-fiction
Balzer +Bray, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-185283-1

Who hasn’t wanted to be Audrey Hepburn at one time or another, if for no other reason than to rock those fabulous pencil pants and bangs? Now, even the youngest readers can meet the legend.

Just Being Audrey captures the resilient and humble spirit of this beloved Hollywood icon, a woman known as much for her kindness and professionalism as she was for her films. Cardillo offers us a refreshing departure from brat star updates that we can get on TV any time.

I’m especially fond of Julia Denos’ illustrations here. They capture that unforgettable face and Hepburn’s distinctive fashion style. (Check out the spread of Hepburn in her most famous film costumes.) Don’t be surprised if your dress-up chest gets some new additions as a result.

Failed dancer, World War II survivor, Broadway star, Hollywood legend, UNICEF ambassador, loving child advocate – Audrey Hepburn was all of them. How’s that for a strong girl? MM


Happy Like Soccer

Happy Like Soccer

By Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Picture book
Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN: 0763646164/9780763646165
Awards/Recognitions: *Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review

In Happy Like Soccer, Sierra has just made a new soccer team and she loves it, but Sierra’s team plays across town, far from her apartment, and games take place on Saturdays. That’s the day Sierra’s auntie works long hours. While it’s nice to hear people cheering for her jersey number, Sierra wishes her auntie could see her play just once. Just once, Sierra wishes she could hear someone cheer for her by name.

Finally, her auntie gets a day off to watch Sierra play soccer. Under gray skies and the threat of rain, they take two buses to get to the field across town. Sierra can’t hide her disappointment when the game is called before it starts; she knows that Auntie’s boss will never allow her to take off two Saturdays in a row. Later that night at home, Sierra thinks of a way to play the rescheduled game that just might work for her auntie and the team. She’ll need some help to make it happen. Does Sierra dare to share her plan with Coach and ask for his help?

One of the most important skills for girls to learn is self-advocacy. For Sierra, the desire to join the two things she loves most – family and soccer – helps her speak up for herself. Author, Maribeth Boelts, and illustrator, Lauren Castillo, are perfectly paired in Happy Like Soccer. The inviting call and response of words and pictures bring both the light and shadows of Sierra’s story to life. GA


Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn

By Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Picture book
Balzer + Bray, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-195338-5
Awards/recognitions: *Junior Library Guild Selection *New York Times Bestseller *An IndieBound Top 10 Kids Next List Pick

If you’re familiar with Mac Barnett (writer and self-proclaimed strong man for hire), you know he’s a comedy master who is especially good at the inside joke in writing and beyond. To illustrate: He’s the founder of The Echo Park Time Travel Mart – a sort of 7-11 convenience store for time travelers. That he’s collaborated with Jon Klassen, last year’s 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor winner for I Want My Hat Back, is a stroke of genius.

But guess what? You won’t get the side splitter you’d imagine. Instead, we get something better.

Annabelle finds a box of yarn and starts knitting. It looks like a plain box of yarn – except that it isn’t. The yarn never runs out. So begins the adventure of a little girl with a heart big enough to knit hats and sweaters (and, um, other stuff) for the whole world, just because she can. No amount of bullying or negativity can stop her.

There are plenty of funny moments (and inside jokes about suspiciously familiar characters), but what I love about this little gem isn’t the comedy. It’s the allegory. Annabelle knits happiness on her own terms, and it’s so pure and strong you might just wish to go hunting for your own ball of yarn, too. MM