Posts tagged “girls of summer 2013

Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus
By Atinuke; Illustrations by Lauren Tobia
Early reader, Ages 5 and up
Walker Books Ltd, 2007
Kane Miller EDC Publishing 2010 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-935279-73-0
additional formats: audio book
Boston Globe Horn Honor Book 2011

Strong girls and their families have plenty in common the world over. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke offers us a peek at them, African style. Anna lives in a large white house with her African father and Canadian mother. This is modern Africa, a place of blended cultures, “an amazing city of lagoons and bridges and roads, of skyscrapers and shanty towns.”

In simple chapters that work like a sophisticated interrelated short story collection, this book gives early readers a fresh lens on simple things like a beach vacation, boredom on a hot day, or the excitement and worries of relatives visiting.

The beauty of the book lies largely with the characters, all of whom are developed with simple, spare text. We meet elder grandparents who are held in the highest respect, fabulously-named relatives like Aunty Comfort and Uncle Bizy Sunday, poor girls selling oranges to sustain their families, and chattering cousins, aunts, and uncles who cheerfully attend to wailing babies without much regard to which child belongs to whom. There is plenty of gentle comedy that sits alongside thoughtful text about serious issues, such as poverty and the impact of modern ways on traditional values.

It’s not surprising that Anna Hibiscus was awarded the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor award in 2011. Best news of all? There is an entire series of Anna Hibiscus books to devour. MM


Summer and Bird

Summer and Bird
By Katherine Catmull
Middle grade, Ages 12 and up
Dutton Children’s Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95346-3
Additional formats: e-book
Booklist’s 2012 Top Ten First Novels for Youth

Two sisters, Summer and Bird, wake one morning and discover that both of their parents are missing. They search the house, the meadow, and the nearby creek. No Mom and no Dad. Together, they set off into the woods to find their parents, certain they haven’t gone far. Once in the forest, though, their quest takes a dark and mysterious turn. Summer and Bird are pulled into a strange world called Down. There, the birds can speak and songs are maps.

The tension between the sisters makes the journey hard on both. Their animosity toward each other causes stumbles, mishaps, and misunderstandings along the way. Summer is jealous of Bird who has a deep and meaningful connection to birds and even speaks their language, though all the birds in Down speak human. Bird envies Summer for being the oldest, a position that Summer exploits to her own benefit.

As they venture farther from home and deeper into Down, it becomes apparent that there are a number of puzzles to be solved besides locating their mom and dad. Who and where is the Bird Queen? Why are all of the birds locked out of the Green Home?

The sisters meet shape-shifting companions along the way who guide them toward their parents and, more importantly, help reconcile the sisters who grow more and more estranged. Their paths diverge when Bird abandons her sister for a quest of her own to join the evil Puppeteer, who is staging an overthrow of the missing Bird Queen. To find her little sis, Summer must scale every ravine of Down and every canyon of her fear.

The book unfolds in chapters that alternate between the sisters, yet each chapter of Summer and Bird explores discord and harmony, imbalance and alignment of the self, the family, and the earth. Katherine Catmull’s writing is whimsical, dreamy, and evocative. This book is a breathtaking fairytale and also remarkable for its nature writing. Here, the very Earth is alive, pulsing, and speaking our language. And perhaps even offering a map in the form of a song. GA

Listen to an audio excerpt from Summer and Bird

The Visconti House

The Visconti House
By Elsbeth Edgar
Middle Grade, Ages 9 and up, Grade 4 and up
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0763650193
additional formats: e-book, audio
Junior Library Guild Selection

I love eccentric people. They feel like fresh air to me, and they offer a new view on even the most ordinary things. But as we all know, there are times in life when being unusual can be seen as a liability. The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar is a book about two young people caught in that web. It’s a celebration of two smart loners, Laura and Leon, who find their way to each other – and self acceptance – as they uncover the mysteries of an old mansion.

Laura despises school for all the usual reasons. The mysterious cliques of girls. The drone of teachers. The boredom. She’s a bright and artistic girl who lives with her parents – a sculptor and writer – in an old Italian mansion, the only one of its kind in the neighborhood. However, her living arrangement isn’t exotic in her view. It is yet another way for her to be outside of the norm.

When Leon Murphy, the grandson of an eccentric elderly neighbor, arrives at her school, Laura tries to keep her distance. A friendship with him would seal her fate as an outcast. Leon is rumored to be the son of a murderer, and he’s certainly capable of pummeling anyone who crosses him. It’s soon apparent, though, that he is brilliant – and much more than what others assume.

Eventually their paths do cross, and Laura does her best to keep it a secret from the prying and judgmental eyes of people around them. At what point should a strong girl take a stand on what and whom she likes?

If you are looking for big drama and an edge-of-your-seat mystery, this is not the book for you. You’ll find no knives, guns or bloodshed here. Instead, this is a quiet book, a romantic story about young teens on those borders of friendship and romance. It’s a lovely story for girls who like brains and originality.MM

Mare’s War

Mare's Ware
By Tanita S. Davis
Young Adult, 12 and up
Random House, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-525-95346-3
Additional formats: e-book, audio
NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts* Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice Award * Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People *Amelia Bloomer Selection *Best Books for Young Adults by YALSA *Coretta Scott King Author Honor *Junior Library Guild Selection *NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth *Chicago Public Libraries Best of the Best

What’s the particular story-alchemy that leaves you a completely satisfied reader? For me, a book that offers a road trip backdrop, a fabulous grandmother character, and an unexplored era of women’s history is the panacea. With Mare’s Ware, Tanita S. Davis delivers all that along with beautiful writing and strong voice. The story opens in northern California. It’s from fifteen year old Tali’s perspective that we first meet Mare, a sassy, 80+ year old grandma, who drives a red coupe like “a bat out of hell,” wears padded push-up bras and panties with a fake butt, and drinks strong bourbon drinks. Mare greets her granddaughters, Tali and Octavia, with a “whacked” idea to drive across the country to a family reunion 2,340 miles away somewhere in Alabama. Naturally, Tali and Octavia have bigger plans than hanging out with completely random Mare all summer – plans that include friends, boys, and more boys but decidedly do not include Mare. But the adults have already decided, despite their protestations .

The story alternates points of view between Mare’s of “Then” during World War II and “Now” during the mismatched trio’s road trip to Alabama . In the “Then” chapters, we meet seventeen year-old Mare who has lied about her age to join the African-American battalion of the Women’s Army Corp (WAC) in World War II. Through her recollections, we follow Mare’s own sort of road trip as a young solider from Alabama to Iowa to Birmingham, England, and, finally, Paris during the war. In the WAC, Mare learns new skills, makes friends from all-over, and experiences bitter racism in America and beyond. In the “Now” chapters, mostly told from Tali’s point of view but also with postcards and texts from Octavia, the girls at first resent being Mare’s captive audience. They’re so annoyed with Mare: she smokes long, skinny cigarettes, she’s a bad driver, and she has major stomach issues. And the sisters pluck each other’s nerves as well. But slowly, they come to appreciate that Mare is a treasure they have yet to fully discover.

Davis infuses Mare’s story with some of the most unforgettable characters in YA – Peaches, a sister-solider and closeted-lesbian-by-necessity in the WAC; Sister Dials, an elder of Mare’s church community back home; and Feen, Mare’s baby sister who’s getting an education in Philadelphia. I really love this book and am so grateful to the author for using her storytelling gift to lift up the sheroes of the Women’s Army Corps. GA

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist

The Lightning Dreamer
By Margarita Engle
Middle grade through Young Adult, Ages 12 and up
Harcourt, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-80743-0
Additional formats: e-book

We here at Girls of Summer love a little scandal, especially if it involves strong, smart girls. So, we’re happy to include Margarita Engle’s latest novel-in-verse, The Lightning Dreamer, about Cuba’s great abolitionist poet, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, whose work was once considered so scandalous for its interracial, feminist and abolitionist themes that it was burned.

Never heard of Avellaneda? No problem. Margarita Engle is a master at digging in the dark corners of history to shine a light on figures from Latin American history that you might not otherwise meet. And she does it with impressive results. Engle is the first Latina winner of the Newbery Honor Award, twice the recipient of the
prestigious Pura Belpre´ prize, and the recipient of the 2012 Américas Awards.

In The Lightning Dreamer, we meet Tula (Gómez de Avellaneda’s nickname) as a young girl growing up in early 19th century Cuba. This is the Cuba where slavery is the backbone of the sugar economy, where an educated woman is seen as a threat, and where Tula’s best choice for becoming well-read may actually lie behind the walls of a convent where her access to books would be unfettered.

Tula struggles against her mother’s plans for her marriage, and in this she has several key allies, including her faithful brother, Manuel. Despite every effort to the contrary, Tula awakens to the power of books, the outrage of her own situation, and to the abolitionist movement.

The story is told in Margarita Engle’s signature style: short poignant poems where each character is given a chance to speak. Tula’s voice is strong and unapologetic, but the secondary characters also build her world: her frustrated mother, Manuel, Caridad the servant, the orphans, and the nuns who prove to be pivotal in her education.

It has never been easy to be a strong girl, but Tula reminds us that female visionaries have existed in all countries throughout history. I admire this book for celebrating a woman who was ridiculed and shunned for having ideas that were far ahead of her time. MM

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

By Ian Falconer
Picture book
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012
Ages 3 and up
ISBN: 978-1-4424-5027
#1 New York Times bestseller* #1 Publishers Weekly bestseller

Back when I was little, I went to Hannah Krohner School of Dance in Queens. I would tap dance in our bathroom until the neighbors banged on the ceiling to quiet me. Then, I’d slip into my ballet slippers and head to the edge of the kitchen sink (my barre) and practice pliés. I had no talent to speak of. Just enthusiasm.

Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to the newest Ian Falconer picture book, Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. In this seventh adventure, we find our bovine darling depressed and facing an “identity crisis.” Must she be a Degas-style ballerina like the other girls?

Uh-oh. Olivia is a strong girl, and she was bound to discover the awful limitations of aspiring to be a princess or another delicate thing. Life as a part of the gentle herd simply isn’t bold enough for a pig who can pull off matador pants and pearls. No, what Olivia wants is a rebirth of her soul, a real future as a girl of substance.

As usual, Falconer (whose work you might recognize from The New Yorker) has created a new picture book with plenty of punch lines for both the child and the adult. The vocabulary absolutely requires a partnership for reading and conversation, but I think that’s a good thing. What works best in my view are the visual gags for both the parent and child, including a gorgeous two-page spread of Olivia as a Martha Graham contemporary dancer.

Who needs pink tulle when what you really want is to rule your world? MM

Who Am I Without Him? Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives

Who Am I Without Him?
By Sharon G. Flake
Upper middle grade and young adult
Ages 12 and up, Grades 6-12
Hyperion 2004
ISBN: 978-1423103837
additional formats: e-book
Coretta Scott King Author Honor

This collection of short stories is an older title (2004), but I’m so grateful that it was brought to my attention by our friends at The Open Book Foundation in Washington D.C.

Sharon Flake’s book is a collection of girls’ voices that spans everything from the marginalized and violent to the girl-next-door. In every case, we have a girl in relationship with a young man, and as we all know, that can mean drama. Girls will see themselves in these stories and the thoughtless (and even dangerous) boys who’ll sometimes cross their paths. The possibilities for conversation in a classroom, in a book club, and among friends are endless. How important are boys to your sense of self? What should you be willing to give away if anything at all? What does a respectful relationship look like when you’re fourteen? What are your responsibilities in a relationship?

I love this collection because it offers no easy answers, only the platform for good conversation. The characters (adults included) are layered, and their strengths and weaknesses make them hard to judge easily as victims or victimizers. I have to give a gold star for the hilarious “Girl, Didn’t I Say I Don’t Write Letters” about a forced pen-pal relationship between Jaquel and Devita Mae. But I’d run out of gold stars on this collection. I found something to love about virtually every tale here. Church girls stalking boys at a schoolyard behind their parents’ backs. Girls taking advantage of the intellectually disabled. Girls willing to fistfight “for their man.” Girls who want white boys. The options are dizzying and wonderful. MM

Same Sun Here

Same Sun Here
By Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2012
Additional formats: e-book, audio book
Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year *Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award List *New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Best Fiction for Young Adults – Nominee *Audie Award for book narration

From the outset of this epistolary novel, readers will absolutely recognize what kind of people twelve year olds Meena Joshi and River Dean Justice are. We’d call these two old souls in my family. Their friendship begins when Meena chooses River’s name from a pen pal list. Not the e-mail pen pal list, but from among the kids who want to write real letters with stamps and everything. Meena lives in New York City. She chooses River, who lives in Kentucky, because she misses the mountains of her native India, and because she likes the name River.

Meena has lots of questions for River, and he does of her, too. They quickly establish the most important rule of their pen pal friendship: they can be their true selves with one another. Honest. Real. No holding back. What unfolds is an incredibly deep and bright journey into the interior worlds of two children who are carrying some grown up burdens, participating in history, and building bridges with letters. In Kentucky, River plays basketball and lives with his mom and his grandmother, Mawmaw, an advocate for mountains, trees, and social justice. His father, a former coal miner, had to leave Kentucky to find work. In New York City, Meena is starting a new school and finding she has a talent for art and a love for theater. She misses her own grandmother, Dadi, who still lives in India. Her father, too, works away from home. Meena lives with her mother and older brother in a rent-controlled apartment owned by their neighbor and friend, Mrs. Lao. As the lives of Meena and River unfold and entwine, history does too. Barak Obama is elected President; River and Mawmaw march on the Kentucky governor’s mansion to protest mountaintop removal; and Meena’s parents progress through the citizenship naturalization process.

The easy rapport between Meena, written by Neela Vaswani, and River, written by Silas House, is so believable and joyous to read. True, River and Meena come from two different cultures and far apart places, but they are kindred spirits who agree that the cures for most any ailment of the heart can be found by gazing across the mountains, holding hands with your grandmother, or looking into the brown eyes of a good, old dog. I think it’s all too common that we adults deny the complex spiritual, political, and creative lives of children. The twelve year old girl who I was – campaigning at school for Jimmy Carter, fretting about my hairy arms, confronting prejudice within myself, and finding comfort in nature – would have devoured this book and then started reading it again. The love and openness between Meena and River as they share their hopes, their fears, and their regrets opened my heart so wide. As fine a novel as Same Sun Here is, I think it’s also a handbook of sorts. On how to be a friend. On how to start over, how to fight for our earth, and how to be a good citizen of the world. GA

Listen to an audio excerpt from Same Sun Here.

Fingerprints of You

Fingerprints of You
By Kristen-Paige Madonia
Young Adult, Ages 14 and up
Simon & Schuster 2012
ISBN: 978-1-44242920-8
additional formats: e-book

Lemon is seventeen and pregnant. The baby’s father is a stoned thirty-something tattoo artist—and now her mother’s latest fling.

So begins a raw and beautiful story about a girl who learns about the difference between intentions and actions –about her identity as a daughter, a romantic partner, and a loyal friend.

Lemon leaves school and embarks on a cross-country bus trip with her hard-partying friend, Emmy, in an attempt to reconnect with the father she never knew. Along the way, she is forced to makes sense of her troubled and self-centered mother, Stella, and come to terms with her own behavior with boys and men who clearly don’t value her.

It is fair to say that I would have loved this book as a young adult. As a mom, it made me lose sleep. That is not a bad thing. Sure, the novel has scenes that are very graphic, but here is the larger picture. KP Madonia writes with such unerring honesty about the hurts, large and small, that shape a girl, that the story transcends the discomfort it presents. Instead, it moves to the place where we keep those books that we all read in secret to find solace from our humiliations. It’s about that scary last sliver of childhood, when our bodies are grown, but our experience too spotty, that risky time that we all remember forever. MM

Sneaky Art

Sneaky Art
By Marthe Jocelyn
Middle grade, Ages 8 and up
Candlewick Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5648-5

Every now and then, a book comes skipping by with jolly shouts of sunshine and fun, calling out for everyone to join in. Even those of us who can’t knit or crochet or quilt can make sneaky art. Marthe Jocelyn says so! And she shows us how. Sneaky art isn’t graffiti or vandalism or mean or permanent. Sneaky art IS temporary, playful art made by YOU and placed around town or your neighborhood or home in sneaky places to make people smile or laugh or do a double-take. The introduction explains the rules, gives you a tool kit, and explains the hows, whens, and wheres of getting sneaky. The rest of this spiral bound book includes DIY-instructions for sneaky art projects that are fun and easy, even for me.

My favorite projects include: Teeny Party, colorful garlands sneakily strung in medicine cabinets, refrigerators, or school lockers; Cup Dangler, an easy, tasty surprise made with soft candy and paperclips that can be left on the rims of mugs or cups; Sink Boats in a public fountain; Little Landmarks, tiny houses made with empty matchboxes and tucked into nooks and crannies, and Stick Pixies – just imagine making a stick fairy out of your baby pictures and sinking them in your mom’s birthday cake or Mother’s Day flower pot. Who knows what new projects you’ll come up with? Oh sneaky, sneaky, sneaky art! I’m so happy you arrived in time for summer! GA

Camo Girl

Camo Girl
By Kekla Magoon
Middle Grade, Ages 10 to 14, Grades 5 and up
Simon & Schuster, 2011
ISBN: 978141697804
additional formats: e-book
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens *ALA Notable Children’s Book Nominee *Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best *Kirkus Best Children’s Book *Maine Student Book Award Master List *Virginia Readers’ Choice Award Master List

Z and Ella are best friends. Since starting sixth grade, though, Z has been cast out by their group of friends because, while a genius, he “just comes across as weird.” When Z starts to withdraw into an imaginary world, Ella stays loyal to him, and because of that devotion the kids at school ostracize Ella, too. She also has a skin condition on her face called vitiligo, which her former friends start to ridicule.

The changes occurring in Z are scary, but Ella sees everyday how hard things are for him since his father left. Z’s mom lost their house, and the two of them are secretly living in the Walmart, where his mom works. Z’s only connection to the world, besides the library, is Ella. She is his protector and defender, and he pretends that he is hers. Ella accepts that staying loyal to Z, even as he descends deeper and deeper into his own troubled imagination, will mean she is tortured by their peers every day. She keeps a change of clothes in her locker for the days when the teasing is brutal and her clothes get ruined in the cafeteria.

While Ella loves her friend Z dearly and becomes his strong advocate, her family has struggled, too. Ella’s father passed away when she was a baby, and Grammie has moved in to help while Ella’s mom works away from home during the week. The granddaughter-grandmother relationship between Ella and Grammie is rich and tender and loving. But even this can’t make up for how badly Ella suffers at school.

Enter Bailey Jones. The new guy. A basketball star. And the only other black kid in the school besides Ella. At first, he knows nothing about the cruel socialscape that Ella and Z are trapped in. Bailey only sees that Ella is cute and funny and headstrong. As it turns out, he does know something of feeling afraid and not good enough. And he knows something of missing his father, too. As a friendship develops between Ella and Bailey, Z begins to self-destruct. Ella has to choose her course: Bailey and the popular crowd or Z, her true friend.

What I love about Camo Girl is how Kekla Magoon portrays the volatile urgency of the sixth grade social scene. The book is set in Nevada, and the harsh desert landscape of extremes is the perfect setting for a story about the extreme swings of middle school friendships. The main character, Ella, confronts big questions and big feelings. Through it all, and with her steady Grammie backing her up, Ella shows courage and willingness to take risks on behalf of her friends, her family, and herself. GA

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Young adult, novel in verse
Ages 12 and up
Lee and Low Books, 2011
additional formats: e-book
Pura Belpré Author Award *William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist *Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, YALSA *Best Teen Books of 2011, Kirkus *Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

I’ve been holding on to my copy of Under the Mesquite for a year, waiting patiently to add it to this list. It was my first selection for Girls of Summer 2013, and in my mind, a perfect choice.

The eldest of eight children living on the border of Texas and Mexico, Lupita is in high school, when her mother is diagnosed with uterine cancer. From the first pages where the illness is spoken of in hushed whispers, all the way to the scenes where Lupita finds herself alone to care for her messy brood, the novel is gripping.

The journey is universal, but its treatment of bicultural Latino life is especially strong (explaining her well-deserved Pura Belpré Award in January). The tortillas for breakfast. The relatives strewn on either side of the border. Her father’s job keeping him far away for weeks at a time. Her mother’s comrades – best friends – supporting Lupita and her siblings to keep them from starving. Even her mother’s frightening visit from Death who comes at night dressed as a bridal skeleton rings true.

Interestingly, McCall’s novel-in-verse began as a series of poems she wrote through the years with her students. These were personal pieces about her mother’s death that she would eventually knit into layered story that is as much about loss as it is about coming of age and hope. We see Lupita mourn for her mother and rage against the circumstances, but eventually, she leans on her gifts as a writer and actor help her survive.

A strong girl is sometimes called on to survive the unthinkable. Under the Mesquite is a look at a strong girl who has to find her sense of self while living through the darkest of days of all. It’s a celebration of strength and family. MM

Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Temple Grandin
By Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 9 and Up
ISBN 978-0547443157
additional formats: enhanced e-book, audio
NYPL 100 Titles for Reading & Sharing, 2012

Whether you realize it or not, your life has very likely been influenced by Temple Grandin. An advocate, designer, and activist, she’s dedicated her life to the humane treatment of livestock. As a child, Temple was diagnosed with autism. Sy Montgomery’s biography explores Temple’s world and her journey to understanding and embracing autism as a gift that helps her understand and connect with animals.

“I was one of those kids who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd,” Temple Grandin says of her childhood. Temple’s own voice, woven throughout much of this story, describes how she has been misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and denied access. Because she is a female? Yes. Because she lives with autism? Yes. Because she challenges the status quo? You got that right. Because she refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer? Yep, that, too.

Temple always had someone in her corner. Her mother, her aunt, and select educators and business people who recognized Temple’s genius and worked to open doors and opportunities for her. These passionate advocates taught Temple the principles of self-advocacy, and she never looked back.

The facts of Temple’s life, as well as the anecdotes that illustrate how she came to know herself, are fascinating. Through stories, photographs, and Temple’s actual livestock-system designs, readers begin to understand how Temple’s brain works. Temple’s brain is most fascinating! We learn how the qualities in Temple that caused some to misjudge her are the very qualities Temple credits for her success, creativity, and innovative thinking. The biography is chock-full of concrete and well-lived words of advice from Temple that will inspire kids, such as: “Individuals who have been labeled with disabilities or even just quirky or nerdy kids often have uneven skills” and “By finding friends who like the same activities that you like, you can avoid the bullies.”

I learned of Temple Grandin’s breakthrough thinking and innovative designs in livestock management in 2006 with the publication of her book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Her work has influenced nearly every cattle farmer in America, including my family. Sy Montgomery brings a rich, engaging, and important biography of one of the most influential American women to young readers. GA

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

Helen's Big World
By Doreen Rappaport, Illustrations by Matt Tavares
Picture book, biography
Ages 6 and up, Grades K-4
Disney Hyperion, 2012
ISBN: 078-0-7868-0890-8
ALA Notable Book for Middle Readers *Charlotte Zolotow Award *CCBC Choices Award *Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award *Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Products) Award *ABC Best Books for Children *Entertainment Weekly Great New Historical Books For Kids

Most everyone is familiar with Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Maybe you’ve read about Helen in school or seen the play The Miracle Worker. Here, Doreen Rappaport’s story and Matt Tavares’ illustrations ignite to give us an electrifying account of Helen Keller’s life story. In her trademark style, Rappaport intersperses Helen’s own words with the unfolding story, and the result is an intimate, moving conversation between biographer and subject. For example, Rappaport tells us, “Once Helen learned to write, she would not stop.” Then, three journal entries by Helen reveal how over the course of just eighteen months, Helen mastered the written word to express her impressions of the world. About astronomers, Helen writes, “When we are sleeping quietly in our beds, they are watching the beautiful sky through the telescope. The stars are called the earth’s brothers and sisters.” Every panel painted by Tavares calls us into Helen’s world, a complex, interior world that evolves from fury and confusion into discovery and ecstasy. We feel the water’s splash and the horse’s whicker in our very own palm. Let the laughter and the tears flow as you read this picture book. I’m so grateful to the author, illustrator, and Helen for reminding me that we all share this big world. And now, we’ll remember to share Helen’s passion and curiosity, too. GA

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War

I'll Pass for Your Comrade
By Anita Silvey
Middle grade, non-fiction
Ages 10 and up, Grades 5-8
Clarion Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-0618574919

Our newest addition to the Girls of Summer project is our Annual Guest Star. See the Sunflower Seastar icon in the book cover above?!

Each year, we’ll pick an amazing guest whose work on behalf of girls and/or reading has made a significant impact on us as authors and on the world of books. Our Guest Stars will offer us a bonus book pick for strong girls and will write a post about a topic of their choosing.

So, who did we pick as our very first Guest Seastar? We went to the top, of course. And that’s where we found the one and only Anita Silvey.

In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, she has served as editor of The Horn Book Review and as the publisher of children’s books at Houghton Mifflin. Known as “The Book Expert,” Anita Silvey is the force behind the Children’s Book a Day Almanac, a daily recommendation of excellent fiction for young readers, and is the author of nine books, including 100 Best Books for Children and 500 Great Books for Teen. She is also the editor of Children’s Books and Their Creators, an overview of 20th Century children’s books and of Help Wanted, a collection of selected short stories for young adults. Most recently, Anita has published The Children’s Book a Day Almanac; Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot; and The Plant Hunters.

Anita Silvey has dedicated her life to writing, selecting, and promoting the very best in books for young people. As our inaugural Guest Star, she joins us to talk about her first book for young readers – and a perfect selection for Girls of Summer. Published in 2008 by Clarion books, I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War offers readers a glimpse of strong girls who braved everything to take up arms to defend their beliefs. MM

To learn more about Anita Silvey, visit

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Like Pickle Juice
By Julie Sternberg; Illustrations by Matthew Cordell
Early reader, Ages 8-10
Amulet Books, 2011
additional formats: e-bokk

It’s never good when your parents announce that they have difficult news. Just ask Eleanor.

She is having the worst August ever. Her best friend Pearl is away in Oregon, and now her parents announce that her beloved Bibi can no longer be her babysitter. Bibi is moving to Florida to care for her sick father.

Losing the daily companionship of someone we love is awful, no matter how old we are. Eleanor just can’t seem to feel better, even as the weeks of summer go by. Why should she try to make new friends with the awful wild child Agnes from upstairs? And how can her parents possibly expect her to behave for her new babysitter, Natalie, who is nothing at all like Bibi? Her sadness takes all kinds of unexpected shapes: misbehaving for Natalie, little thefts, even free lemonade for the mail carrier who might bring letters from Bibi.

With humor and a keen eye, Julie Sternberg brings us a story of how a strong girl learns to let go and adapt. I love this book because it is sweet and smart about how girls grieve, all while making us laugh. And best of all, it reminds us that the people who love us never stop, even when they are far away. MM

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky
By Sheila Turnage
Middle Grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
Dial Books, 2012
ISBN: 9780803736702
additional formats: e-book, audio
Newbery Honor *Edgar Award Finalist * E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor *New York Times bestseller

Moses “Mo” LoBeau, Sheila Turnage’s protagonist in the hooting, hilarious, and heartfelt Three Times Lucky, is one of my favorites. A wisteria-vine-variety Girl of Summer. Like the vine we so know and love in the south, Mo is a strong, persistent, fragrant star of the garden. Star of the café, too. Heck, star of the whole darn town where she lives.

Our girl Mo arrived in Tupelo Landing, NC when she was but a babe, set upon the flood waters to ride out a hurricane atop a floating billboard. The Colonel was also out in that storm and wrecked his car just in time to see and save the floating infant, whom he named Moses on the spot. The Colonel and Mo, together with Café proprietor Miss Lana, live together in a small house behind the Café, where they make an eccentric but loving family.

Mo’s life mission is to locate and reunite with her “Upstream Mother,” the one who abandoned her in the hurricane. The whole town assists Mo in this effort by casting message-filled bottles into rivers, creeks, and streams throughout the Carolinas as folks travel around the region. But the mystery of Mo’s maternity isn’t the only puzzle stumping the good folks of Tupelo Landing. Nope. The town curmudgeon, Mr. Jesse, turns up dead, and it seems that Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, have some ‘splaining to do, seeing as how they recently borrowed Mr. Jesse’s boat and returned it in time to collect the $10 reward. (Well, they needed some pocket money because Dale’s big brother and aspiring NASCAR driver, Lavender, who Mo vows to marry one day when she’s older, recruited Dale and Mo to run the flags at his big race. Running flags can make a kid hungry. Race food costs money.) Soon enough, everybody learns that Dale’s foot prints have been identified at the murder scene. To protect her best friend, Mo takes charge of the investigation (unofficially) and discovers vital information. The mystery of Mr. Jesse’s death is just the beginning of the murder, kidnapping, heist, and con that storms through Tupelo Landing.

Sheila Turnage delivers a phenomenal, insightful and really, really funny character in Mo LoBeau. Mo’s a girl who faces down life’s storms (literally!) with the mightiest of weapons: a wry sense of humor, a pencil and a private diary, and a town full of good friends. GA

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills

Harlem's Little Blackbird
By Renée Watson, Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Picture book ages 4 – 7
Random House, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-375-86973-0
additional formats: e-book

If there’s one thing a strong girl needs, it’s her voice. And no one of her era had a lovelier voice than Florence Mills, the legendary singer and stage actress of the early 1920s.

In Renée Watson’s picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird, we meet Florence in Washington DC, where she was born to formerly enslaved parents. As she grows and plays in school, she discovers the power of her singing voice to take her from her modest Washington DC neighborhood all the way to the grand stages of Europe.

“If my voice can take me around the world, what else can it do?” she wonders.

Lots, as it turns out.

Florence Mills’ impact went beyond entertainment. She refused performances at whites-only establishments, and at her death, she was mourned not only for her talent and beauty but also for her convictions during the Harlem Renaissance.

Christian Robinson’s illustrations are simple and collage-like, infused with the bright colors and cityscapes that Renée Watson calls up in the text.

For me, the book works as history, as biography, and as a doorway into learning about music. But more than anything else, it works as a book about a strong girl who stands up for what she believes MM

Read more about Florence Mills.

Florence Mills

Florence Mills

Kizzy Ann Stamps

Kizzy Ann Stamps
By Jeri Watts
Middle Grade fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5895-3
additional formats: e-book, audio
Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year *Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies *Parents’ Choice Awards Recommended

Kizzy Ann Stamps is a strong girl who hates dresses and her annoying neighbor Frank Charles but loves her border collie to distraction. She’s also a girl with a distinctively scarred face that makes her stand out – exactly what she doesn’t want as she prepares to attend the formerly whites-only school in her town.

Jeri Watts’ novel is set in 1963 rural Virginia, just as public schools are beginning to integrate. Thanks to Miss Warren, who has taught at the black school for thirty-seven, Kizzy Ann is required to write a letter to her new teacher, Miss Anderson, who will teach the first integrated classroom. With each letter, Kizzy Ann reveals her skill as a southern storyteller. Her stories of her life’s daily trials not only flesh out her family, the black school, the library, and the appalling neighbors, but they also give name to the fears and misgivings of being asked to step into a hostile territory every day. This is the Virginia where a school must designate one out of every three bathroom stalls for use by black children, the Virginia where a black child can get spanked publicly for sassing a white man, the Virginia where an athlete like Kizzy Ann’s brother James, can never earn a place on his high school varsity football team, regardless of his skill.

Through all of this, Kizzy Ann enjoys the faithful companionship of her dog, Shag, who keeps dangerous neighbors at bay and who puts his life at risk for hers. In turn, when it is time to fight for Shag’s right to compete in dog trials where he will surely shine, Kizzy Ann finds her strength to prove that they both have a right to be there.

This lovely debut middle grade novel brings a piece of Virginia’s difficult racial history into focus for young readers, never an easy task. Yet at its core, Kizzy Ann Stamps is the story of a strong girl with the voice and courage to make change happen. MM

Listen to an audio excerpt from Kizzy Ann Stamps.

Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen

Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen

By Nancy Wood, Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering
Picture book
Ages 5 and up, Grades K and up
Candlewick Press, 2006
ISBN: 9780763612580
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices Award

Have you ever tried reading the familiar and comforting Psalm 23 with a tiny change in pronoun from ‘He’ to ‘She’? Try it! Adding that one letter ‘s’ is like watching a flower open right before your eyes. The same kind of joyful surprise unfolds here in Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen. The Bible includes masculine and feminine images of God. In Nancy Wood’s re-imagining of the creation story, these aspects of God toil side-by-side as a married couple collaborating on their greatest work yet – Earth. Timothy Basil Ering’s water color illustrations play light against dark with just enough color that the story explodes into illustrations that are scientific and inspired, mysterious and simple. The ultimate strong girl, Mrs. God, pretty much rules the Creation Kitchen and, clearly, Mr. God adores her. He makes the sun, which inspires her to whip up the earth. To please his wife, Mr. God makes hideous dinosaurs, but Mrs. God is not happy and sets about to make something beautiful to counter his “mistake.” But, a bigger mistake follows and another until at last, Mrs. God is pleased with her husband’s efforts to please her. In the Creation Kitchen, Husband and Wife are equal. They bake alongside each other, sharing their opinions and suggestions lovingly, doing their best work when they do it together. Every year for Christmas, I pick one picture book to share with the children in my life. In 2006, I gave out Nancy Woods’ and Timothy Basil Ering’s Creation Kitchen because this book invites us to explore new images of God, deepen our experience of God, and celebrate a God who rejoices in laughter, mistakes, starting over, and working together. GA

Author, poet, and photography Nancy Wood passed away on March 12, 2013. Read more about her life and her work in School Library Journal’s tribute.