By David Baldacci
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 0545652200/ 978-0545652209
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Author David Baldacci has earned a rabidly loyal, worldwide fan base with his fast-paced, plot-driven thrillers. With The Finisher,he makes his middle grade fantasy debut in a novel featuring a wisecracking, clever, and brave young heroine named Vega Jane.
Vega and her brother, John, live in the village of Wormwood, which is surrounded by a dangerous, forbidden wilderness known as the Quag. When Vega witnesses a co-worker fleeing into the Quag, the Council becomes highly suspicious of Vega’s involvement. Members of the Council construct a benevolent façade to cover up the real reasons no one is allowed to leave Wormwood. Vega soon realizes everyone is being manipulated.
Vega Jane is my favorite kind of girl—a headstrong, quick study whose mouth gets ahead of her mind sometimes. She’s motivated by justice and fairness but has yet to learn to choose her battles. Vega is loyal to her family and friends—always ready to put up her dukes and fight on behalf of the underdog—behavior that often comes at a price in fiction as in life. And, oh so worth it!
Baldacci’s mastery of emotional tension and full-throttle action is on fine display. The quirky, lovable cast of characters will endear The Finisher to readers of all ages. – Gigi
By Hannah Barnaby
Houghton Mifflin Books for children, 2012
Honors: William C. Morris Award finalist * Kirkus Best Teen Books * Bank Street College Best Children’s Books * YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
I remember the first time I went to the circus. I was five, and my mother took me to see the Ringling Bros at Madison Square Garden. I remember that the clowns frightened me, that the giraffe felt like a skyscraper, and that I said a dirty word that got me scolded. But mostly, I remember that it was the first big outing I took with my mother.
Maybe that’s why I adore Wonder Show. My mom passed away last year, and I read this book at her bedside during her final days. It’s no surprise that I would turn to a book for escape and solace. It’s always been that way for me. But I found myself completely absorbed in this story of a strong girl, her longing for family, and the role of self-forgiveness for all of us.
Set in the 1930’s, Wonder Show is the story of Portia, a girl who loves to make up stories for anyone who’ll listen. She is abandoned first by her mother, then her loving father, Max, and finally by her no-nonsense Aunt Sofia, who decides she can’t raise the headstrong and creative girl on her own. Portia finds herself in the care (loose definition, here) of the ever-creepy Mister at the Home for Wayward Girls. Here, her life as an outsider begins. When her desperate attempt to help a friend dodge Mister’s marital intentions goes terribly wrong, Portia flees in desperation and joins—what else?—the circus.
Well, not exactly the circus. She joins the part of the circus where the true outsiders reside: the Wonder Show, filled with Siamese twins, bearded ladies, giants, armless knife throwers and more.
Barnaby’s debut is so impressive. She recreates the tightly knit community expertly, and her instincts for timing and tension are spot on. She creates characters that are rich in their own needs and failings. I found it almost impossible to stop reading at the end of each chapter. And, I fell in love with Portia.
It’s a teen novel that can work especially well in middle school, but really, any age can enjoy this creepy and thoughtful tale. In Portia, we have a strong girl who refuses to be beaten down, even by her own remorse. – Meg
The Burning Time
By Robin Morgan
Melville House, 2012
Honors: American Booksellers Association, “Book Sense” pick * “Reccomended Quality Fiction List 2007,” American Library Association Feminist Task Force * Amelia Bloomer Project
Welcome 2014 Girls of Summer Guest Star, Robin Morgan! Take it away, Robin:
For me, young adult’s books and, for that matter, children’s books, are literature, like any other (good) books. I grew up reading everything I could get my eyes on: Aesop, Grimm, Carroll, Anderson, Hudson, Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare, Girl of the Limberlost and Nancy Drew, Scott, comic books, poetry–and also Kafka (whom I found hilarious) and Hawthorne, Alcott and Poe, Twain and the Brontes and Mary Renault. Since I wasn’t told “That’s for adults, not you,” I happily read on, and what I didn’t understand I skipped over and returned to later. It was all literature to me, all magical.
Consequently, my so-far-one “children’s book,” The Mer Child, is subtitled A Legend for Children and Other Adults, and my recent historical novel, The Burning Time, was intended as a rollicking good saga, complete with practical witchcraft, horses and torches and medieval pageantry—the kind of book I as a child secretly continued reading under the covers by flashlight past bedtime. I had never thought of a readership age bracket for The Burning Time until it was highly recommended by the American Library Association Amelia Bloomer Project recognizing distinguished fiction for young people; later, some reviewer said it was “so juicy a tale it must be for young adults”—meaning what? That literature for older adults should be boring, flat, and alienated? Phooey.
The Mer Child, based on a fantasy tale I made up for bedtime telling to my son when he was eight, is really a love story of two kids, outsiders both, who find a deep kinship in each other. The Mer Child—son of a mermaid and a human–has pale green skin, surf-white hair, and a shimmering rainbow-hued tail, and isn’t fully accepted in the sea world or the human world. The Little Girl, daughter of a black mother and white father, is also not accepted, both because of her skin color and because her legs are paralyzed. These two outcasts find a home in each other. It’s a story about difference and sameness, not fitting in, the preciousness of being unique (and its cost)—and about overcoming bigotry and ignorance. All of those subjects are, I believe, decidedly appropriate for readers of any age, since every one of us, including children, experiences such things anyway and might as well be equipped to deal creatively with them.
The Burning Time is not a fantasy. It is based on the true story of one woman’s remarkable fight against the Inquisition, set against the vivid tapestry of the 14th century and drawn from court records of the first witchcraft trial in Ireland: the tale of an extraordinary real-life noblewoman, Lady Alyce Kyteler of Kilkenny. When the Church imported its Inquisition—known as “The Burning Time” to followers of the Old Religion, or the Craft of Wicce (Witch Craft)—to Ireland, it did so via an ambitious, sophisticated bishop acting as Papal Emissary. But Alyce Kyteler–educated, wealthy, and a Craft Priestess–refused to cede power to the Church over herself, her lands, her people, or their ancient faith. She and the bishop engaged in a personal battle of wits, and when she outmaneuvered him she provoked his hatred. He pronounced her followers heretics and gambled his Church career on breaking her. But Kyteler had power, connections, fearlessness, and the loyalty of her people, especially her courageous young handmaiden, Petronilla. Battle plans were laid. Finally, risking death by burning at the stake, Kyteler invoked a mysterious, possibly otherworldly ally–the novel’s shocking, dramatic climax. I wanted to write a lush, enthralling story of memorable characters based on actual historical figures, an unforgettable tale of power, politics, bravery, and passions both earthly and spiritual. When The Historical Novels Review called it “a fantastic page-turner”—I did a little dance around the room, since that is precisely what I had been working toward.
The point is the story, always the story.
I feel a deep, close relationship with my reader, and I respect her/his intelligence enormously. The truth is, I write what I’d love to read, at any age, myself!
By e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Candlewick Press, 2013
Honors: Stonewall Book Award 2014
Fat Angie’s life is a list of miseries. There’s Stacy Ann Sloan and her crew, who have pinned the ugly moniker, and the fact that Angie’s sister has been missing and is presumed dead in Iraq. Angie’s “could-not-be-bothered mother” harasses her over her weight, her therapist is a turd, and her public suicide attempt has made national headlines. Life as a so-called “freak” is killing her.
Enter stage left one hot girl named K.C. Romance.
Fat Angie is a book about two young women who fall in love at a time when they’re wrestling with their own grief and circumstances. There’s a lot to wrap your arms and heart around here: suicide, cutting, grief, bullying, war, family dysfunction—but then, when did life ever parcel troubles out one by one? Besides, there’s also ample dark comedy by way of a ridiculous therapist and a refreshing style that mimics the very media that has helped ruin Angie’s life. I especially love the quirky friendship and romance between Angie and K.C., their oddball shared interests (Japanese light up candy rings), and dialogue with lines like “Let me SparkNote it,” instead of, say, “I can explain.”
Don’t look for neatly tied up resolutions among the characters, particularly not Angie and her mother. Instead, look for Fat Angie’s emotional transformation into simply Angie, a girl who finds her voice at the other end of forgiveness and acceptance. – Meg
Meet e.E. Charlton Trujillo here on Meg’s website.
Enjoy her trailer, too!
By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Candlewick Press, 2010
Middle Grade, Ages 10 and up
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Honors: Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award *Junior Library Guild selection * William Allen White Children’s Book Award – Master List * Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth * National Council of Teachers of English Notable Children’s Book * The Edgar® Awards – Best Juvenile, Nominee * Edgar Award Nominee * Kirkus Reviews – Best Children’s Books of the Year * New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing * SIBA Okra Pick * Kids Indie Next List
Zora and Me, by friends and co-authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon is a suspenseful, summertime mystery starring a trio of besties: a young, fictionalized Zora Neale Hurston and her friends Carrie and Teddy. Set in Hurston’s legendary Eatonville, Florida, the story opens with Zora and Carrie witnessing an Eatonville man being dragged into to swamp by an alligator, which leads to some serious storytelling by Zora to her schoolmates.
Later, when a guitar-playing troubadour named Ivory turns up de-capitated near the railroad tracks, Zora conjures up a dark tale involving a shape-shifting gator man with an insatiable desire for souls and songs.
I found it impossible to do anything but read this book cover to cover in one sitting. The easy, rhythmic dialect, the brassy confidence of Zora, and the hot lush, dangerous setting of southern Florida will clamp down on readers tighter than a gator on a chicken. Let it happen is my advice. Zora and Me is a suspense-filled story with endearing characters and unexpected twists and turns. – Gigi
By Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios, translated by Adriana Domínguez
Picture book, ages 4 – 7
Children’s Book Press, 2011
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection *Pura Belpré Honor * 2012 International Latino Book Award * 2012 ALSC Notable Book
Ever try a peanut butter and jelly burrito? You just might find out it’s wonderful—especially if you read Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match/ Mariso McDonald No Combina.
Red-head Marisol McDonald is a little bit of everything. ¡Un poco de todo!
A little Peruvian. A little Scottish. The thing she likes best is not matching—at all.
Written by beloved Latino picture book author Monica Brown, this is a bi-lingual romp that celebrates being multi-cultural but also being true to your own originality. Marisol is a combination of things, so why not make room for all the things that don’t normally go together in her world?
The text is offered in Spanish and English—a great way to brush up on your language skills—and the illustrations feature children across all ethnicities. Two of my other favorite books by Monica Brown that feature strong girls are her picture book biographies. Try Me Llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz, and My Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral. – Meg
By Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Schwarz & Wade Books, 2013
Picture book, Ages 4-8
ISBN: 0375870342 / 978-0375870347
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
Set in Mauritania, West Africa, Deep in the Sahara explores how multiple generations of family can help us grow in faith and in understanding of ourselves and the world. In a graceful story of growing up, author Kelly Cunnane and illustrator Hoda Hadai explore a young Muslim girl’s desire to emulate the women around her by wearing a traditional veil, but first, she must come to understand its meaning.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa. She sees Mama and her sister, Selma, wearing colorful, expressive veils and wants to be just like them. Cousin Aisha wears one, too, but she says Lalla is too young—just a child. From Grandmother, Lalla learns that a malafa stands for far more than beauty or mystery, and even more than old tradition.
The experience of girls learning from the women around them transcends country or culture or religious tradition. The story made me remember how, as a five-year-old, I begged to sit in “big church” with my Grammy and Aunt Mary instead of going to Sunday School.
With Deep in the Sahara, the author and illustrator transport readers across the globe to West Africa and, once there, make us feel right at home in Lalla’s family. This is a beautiful book in every way. Back matter includes an author’s note and a glossary of included Hassaniya language (a dialect of Arabic) . – Gigi