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
By Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Mulberry Books, 1994
Picture book/ Poetry Ages 4-8
Honors: ALA Notable Book *Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book * ABA-CBC Backlist title * 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Sequoyah Children’s Book Award Master List* Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Master List
I love the story called Meet Danitra Brown
about two best friends scootin’ around town.
I’ve read it 100 times, memorized all the rhymes.
Danitra and Zuri don’t care about boys
who tease and taunt and make too much noise.
They just walk on by, heads tilted high.
The story unfolds wholly in rhymes,
written by Miz Nikki Grimes.
Poems short and long, words sweep you along.
That nice Floyd Cooper drew the book.
He gave Danitra a snazzy, summer look.
To purple she’s always loyal, because purple is simply royal.
The story makes me so happy to see
girls who can say, I love being me!
You oughta read Meet Danitra Brown, because she’s the most “splendiferous” girl in town.
By Susann Cokal
Candlewick Press, 2013
Young Adult, Ages 16 and up
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Honors: Michael L. Printz Honor Book * YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013 * Boston Globe Best of YA 2013
Fleeing a public scandal, young Ava Bingen secures a position as a seamstress in the 16th-century court of King Christian of Skyggehavn. When the nervous Ava accidentally pricks the queen, she draws not only royal blood but also the suspicions of Midi Sorte, a mute, enslaved African nursemaid. The needle incident triggers a dark attempt to seize power by lords and scholars, and the females in the palace find their safety, security, their bodies, and very lives under siege.
I first read The Kingdom of Little Woundsas a manuscript, then in galley form, and again after its hardcover release. Each time, I have been transported—body, mind, and spirit—to the Kingdom of Skyggehavn.
What a magnificent, enchanted, and terrifying kingdom it is.
I’ve heard some readers say they stopped reading The Kingdom because they couldn’t “go there.” Cokal does, indeed, grip her readers by the cheeks and very firmly turn them to face terror, subjugation, and oppression inflicted upon females, as has been done throughout the ages. Yet her lyrical writing, saturated with passion and splendor, makes it hard to turn away because she floods the senses with good and delicate things, too. And in the end, friendship rules the Kingdom.
This is a novel for mature readers who are willing to “go there,” those who realize that avoidance won’t change the past and won’t stop the atrocities that continue to be committed against girls and women all over the globe in the twenty-first century. It is hard to read about rape and violence, but “going there”—being present to the oppression of girls and women whether in non-fiction or fiction or poetry—may help to unlock our voices, our prayers, our power so that we can face down the unacceptable treatment of females, whether in Skyggehavn in 1572, Steubenville in 2012, or the Nigerian village of Chibok in 2014. – Gigi
By Jenny Hubbard
Young Adult (high school)
Delacorte Press, a Division of Random House, 2014
Other formats: e-book
Sometimes our youth is marked by tragedy. And that’s the case for Emily Beam, whose boyfriend, Paul Wagoner, walks into the high school library and takes his own life. This is a story about teen pregnancy and suicide. But more, it’s a story about mistakes and the awful consequences of decisions, about the complete unraveling of a girl, and the role of female friendships, writing, and time in helping her survive.
Normally, I plug my nose at novels set at boarding schools in New England or whose narrative centers around the cheerleader-athlete-keg party set. However, nothing about this novel is stereotypical: not the characters, not Emily’s voice, and certainly not the depth and honestly with which Jenny Hubbard lays out the complicated moral questions of one girl’s life. The novel is interspersed with Emily’s free verse, inspired by the life and works of Emily Dickinson—which opened for me a thirst for diving back into the famous poet’s life.
You might already recognize Jenny Hubbard, whose debut novel Paper Covers Rock was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Novel award. My prediction is that Jenny Hubbard is at the start of a long, bright career—and we’ll all be better for it. I haven’t read a novel that moved me and troubled me this much in a long while. I hope it finds its way to the bookshelves of high school girls everywhere. -Meg
By Cynthia Kadohata
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: ISBN: 978-1416918820
Honors: National Book Award winner 2013
Summer is twelve years old, and her family is having no luck at all. Her parents have been called back to Japan to care for dying relatives, and she’s left in the care of her grandparents Jiichan (grandfather) and Obaachan (grandmother), who take her and her brother Jaz along for their work as harvesters despite their own frail health.
It’s hard to imagine that the world of combines and wheat thrashers could be appealing, but in this Newbery-winning author’s hands, it becomes the backdrop for an intergenerational story about poverty, hard-work, growing up, and the realities of the lives of people who harvest crops that eventually sit on our dinner tables.
The relationship between Summer and Obaachan is especially funny and ultimately poignant. A cranky and demanding grandmother is never easy to live with, especially when she’s always threatening to ground you forever. Does my grandmother love and admire me or not? That’s what Summer is trying to decide.
I also admire the lack of sentimentality about the hardship of families who work in harvesting and the honest portrayal of the subtle insults and the inequities that are part of laborers’ lives. Another thumbs up to the nuanced approach to Jaz who is immersed in his Lego sets and plagued by an appalling lack of social skills. Summer wonders if he will ever find a friend? “Am I a loser?” he asks her. What’s a sister to say?
I think strong girls will love this book because it is so often funny, but also because there is a lot sitting on Summer’s young shoulders. It’s easy for a kid to feel snowed under, especially the oldest in the family. When is responsibility too much responsibility? When do we ask children to grow up to fast? Strong girls will have to decide. – Meg
By Teri Kanefield
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 10-14
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement introduces young readers to one of the earliest and youngest Civil Rights pioneers. In 1950, Barbara Johns attended Robert R. Moton High School, an all-black high school. In then-segregated Prince Edward County, Virginia, while white students enjoyed a new school, black students were forced to endure makeshift buildings with leaky roofs and poor heating.
“I’m sick and tired of it all,” Johns complained to her favorite teacher, Inez Davenport.
In return, Davenport challenged her student: “Why don’t you do something about it?”
In October, Johns began recruiting student leaders to join her in a non-violent protest. On the morning of April 23, 1951, they commandeered the PA system, convened a school-wide assembly, and asked teachers to leave. Johns took the podium and gave the speech of a lifetime, imploring the student-body to strike until the school board agreed to improvements. She issued instructions, walked out of the building, and all four hundred fifty students followed.
Ultimately, the NAACP filed a petition demanding that Prince Edward integrate the school system. Students returned to Moton, and their case went before the Supreme Court, where it joined with four others as Brown v. Board of Education.
The Girl from the Tar Paper School is the first biography in any genre of Barbara Rose Johns. I love the aspects of teen-aged Barbara that author Teri Kanefield chose to reveal. By focusing on her subject’s interior life, Kanefield shows us a young woman who drew strength and resolve from her faith, her family, and the natural world. Readers learn that the Johns family valued and instructed its younger members on the importance of speaking truth to power. Family study of African-American history was important to them, as was attending church and retreating to the woods to pray privately.
I think everyone should study this book not only in order to learn about the life of a confident young woman but to gain insight into Johns’ process of imagining, planning, and executing a courageous act and finding a clear voice. The Girl from the Tar Paper School is also a critical addition to our understanding of how children participate in and shape history. – Gigi
By Julie Kraulis
Picture book, all ages
Tundra Books, A Division of Random House of Canada, 2013
Other formats: e-book
Every once in a while, I come across a picture book that speaks as clearly to the heart of an adult as it does to that of a child. That’s the case with Whimsy’s Heavy Things, a beautifully illustrated picture book about overcoming sadness.
Whimsy is dragging around “heavy things,” but try as she might to ignore them, hide them, or “stuff them,” they stubbornly come back. How will she let them go?
A young child knows what it feels like to be sad—and so do teens and adults who sometimes get battered by the ups and downs of life, too. Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are haunting—giving elegant shape to gloom and later to joy. Whimsy moves past her heavy things with the help of friends and her own cleverness. Turns out, dragging all those heavy things offers her the tools to get to the other side.
I’d love to see this book in every classroom and in every guidance counselor’s collection. As girls and women, we do see heavy times occasionally, and it would do us good to have Whimsy’s tale to keep us company when we need some comfort.
By Cynthia Lord
Scholastic Press, 2006
Honors: Newbery Honor Book * Schneider Family Book Award * Mitten Award (Michigan Library Association) * Great Lakes Great Books Award (Michigan) * Maine Student Book Award * Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont) * Kentucky Bluegrass Award* Great Stone Face Award (New Hampshire)* Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Ohio)
No toys in the fish tank.
That sounds like an unnecessary rule to mention, but when your brother has autism, there are rules for everything, every day. So, Catherine, age twelve, is keeping a notebook of rules to help him get through his day, rules that typical kids acquire but that have to be spelled out and repeated endlessly for David to follow. Catherine loves her brother, but she sometimes feels saddled with the job of looking after him, especially when her parents aren’t around to help. “Just for a minute” can be a monumental task.
That summer, something wonderful is about to happen that might ease Catherine’s load. A new neighbor is moving in. Could Kristi—pretty and destined to be well-liked at school—be a new friend for Catherine? And how will she feel about David and his unexpected behaviors?
This novel is about the tricky landscape of families that include people with special needs. Cynthia Lord writes with honesty and heart about the fierce love and frustration that defines that experience. She details the embarrassing moments—the shrieks, the undressing in public places, the meltdowns—but also lets us into the moments of pure love and grace that happen, too. I was also especially glad to see the relationship with Jason, a boy Catherine’s age who communicates with a touch board, and I also liked how she drew the parents in all of this, frazzled, loving, sometimes undone.
I think strong girls will relate to this story because it’s about what we’re willing to do to fit in. How far—or not—are we willing to go to let all kids into the circle of their neighborhoods and families? – Meg
By Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow
Picture book, ages 4 – 7
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2001
Molly Lou Melon is the shortest girl in her class—only a little taller than a dog. And that’s just one of her physical peculiarities. Buck teeth, a bad-voice, you name it.
But are those really problems? Not at all. Molly’s grandmother gives her good advice about standing tall and moving through the world with confidence. The question is, will confidence save Molly Lou when she moves away and starts at a new school?
This little classic is over a decade old, but it still feels fresh and funny to me. It captures school life with just a few scenes and celebrates a little girl who dares to move through the world embracing her dents and dings. I’m especially fond of Grandma—an elder strong girl—who we see only once, though her wise presence is everywhere.
Prepare to have lots of giggles over this one. A lovely little gem. -Meg
By Carolyn Marsden
Candlewick Press, 2005
Middle grade, Ages 8 – 12
ISBN: 0763633046 / 9780763633042
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * William Allen White Masters list * Gate City Award nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award nominee * Maryland Black-eyed Susan Book Award list
One morning in fourth-grade gym class, Mina discovers something new about herself: she loves to run under a morning moon. What’s even more surprising to her is that she’s fast. As fast or faster even than her best friend, Ruth. No one has ever thought of Mina as an athlete; Ruth is the athletic one among their group of friends. As soon as Mina makes the track team, however, Ruth starts to ignore Mina at school. When the track coach picks Mina to race against Ruth, Mina has an important decision to make. Should she shine on the track, or should she let Ruth win?
It’s a wonderful feeling to develop a new talent or to find unexpected success, but a terrible feeling when your new-found confidence causes conflict with a dear friend. Author Carolyn Marsden, who is known for writing from the heart and telling multi-cultural stories of self-discovery, explores the height and depth of such emotions in Moon Runner. This is a fast and satisfying read that speaks to the tension that arises, at times, in almost every friendship: the desire to please your friend versus the desire to pursue your own dreams. – Gigi
By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Amy Bates
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book /Poetry Ages 3 – 7
ISBN: 1419710222/ 978-1419710223
I was initially drawn to Hands & Hearts for nostalgic reasons. During my daughter Judith’s early childhood, we often retreated to the Outer Banks, just the two of us—laughing, running, building sandcastles, and fighting waves like the mother-daughter in this tender book.
If there is any place on Earth where words are unnecessary, perhaps where words even get in the way, that place must surely be by the sea. If there is anywhere on our planet that gives a girl the courage to glide from prose into poetry, it must be the ocean.
Such is the experience depicted in Hands & Hearts. A mother and daughter spend a rich and silent day at the ocean using the poetry of American Sign Language to communicate as they bury their toes in the sand, dive into whitecaps, and hide from the sun. Poems, pictures, and a sign language key unite to make Hands and Hearts an enchanting read. – Gigi
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Random House, 2009
Picture book, Ages 4 and up, Pre-K and up
Additional formats: e-book
Honors: 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award
In Who Will I Be, Lord?, a young girl reflects on what she will be like when she grows up, as she traces her family tree through story after story of multiple generations. She recounts what she knows about Great-Grandpap, who was a mailman and a radio-show banjo player. The story deepens when the girl recalls the family history of how Great-Grandma, who made the best cakes ever, married Great-Grandpap, and their inter-racial marriage prompted people to say Great-Grandma was crazy.
Along the story goes, meditating on all the people in the family: a preacher, a teacher, a pool shark. A jazzman, a mama, a papa. A dreamer. The girl asks after each, “What will I be, Lord?”
This picture book would be a great read aloud for parents or teachers to kick off a conversation about how family shapes who we are and who we want to be. The refrain that echoes through the text—“what will I be, Lord?”—invites readers to pause and consider how they are connected to those who came before them.
The personal stories of the child’s relatives portray individuals with dreams and struggles and love for each other. The illustrations do such a fine job of connecting the physical traits of each family member to one another down through the generations.
At my grammy’s house, she devoted the hallway to displaying portraits and photographs of our family, all the way back to my great-great grandparents and up to and including my sister, my cousins, and me. I loved to look at the faces of all my people to see who looked alike and who looked like me. I loved to hear the stories of farmers and teachers, shopkeepers and preachers. Who Will I Be, Lord? swept me up into that same wondrous feeling. – Gigi
By Lynne Rae Perkins
A Greenwillow Book, Harper Trophy, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 1999
ALA Notable Book * ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice * Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book * Smithsonian Notable Book For Children * CCBC Choice Selection * Bank Street Best Book ^ New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
An oldie but goodie.
If you ask me, All Alone in the Universe is the perfect illustrated novel for middle school girls facing a long summer. So much happens to kids in those ten hot weeks, and this novel captures that drama with spot-on storytelling. Meet Debbie and Hector, both fourteen and part of a group of friends longing for something interesting to happen to them. Is it love? A life as a musician? The right pair of pants?
Lynne Rae Perkins, winner of the 2006 Newbery Medal for Criss Cross, brings humor and insight to the story of a plain old summer, for plain old middle school kids, all of whom are starting to feel that life ought to be more than what it is now in their town of Seldem.
The drawings are funny expressions of how we see the world at fourteen, and the dual narrative of Lenny and Debbie works well, too. I also admired the mother/daughter dynamic, especially around their shared experiences of a boy who has moved on.
This is a story of ordinary kids trying to break out of their boredom and find themselves as they start to say goodbye to childhood. I found myself rooting for friends Debbie and Maureen and for all the kids in Seldem—even the handsome young jock who could, in fact, remain a jerk unless life throws him enough opportunities to find another way.
I think middle grade strong girls will see their friendships here, their missteps, and so many of their own yearnings. A terrific summer read. – Meg
By Valorie Lee Schaefer, illustrated Josee Masse, Cara Natterson MD, medical consultant
American Girl, 2012 Revised edition
Middle grade non-fiction, ages 8 and up
ISBN: 1609580834/ 978-1609580834
Last December, during one of our regular and highly ritualized Taco Nights, I asked my nine-year-old goddaughter, a loyal Girls of Summer reader since 2011, “Hey, Yumi, what book would you recommend for Girls of Summer next year?”
My girl had a title at the ready. “The Care & Keeping of You!” she shouted, as she loaded up my plate with tofu crumbles, jalapenos, and black olives.
Yumi is a good reader and a great thinker. As an athlete, a scholar, and a performer, she values keeping herself healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Naturally, I took her advice.
Not only do girls need information about health from multiple trusted sources, such as parents and teachers, they also deserve a way to learn and reinforce good information privately, if and when they so choose.
Owning a trusted book about the beauty and wonder of being female and being given the free time to explore such a book can ease a girl’s anxiety about the physical and emotional changes she’s experiencing and the changes to come. Books like this one introduce and normalize a positive lexicon of body-words and concepts to help girls to process the biological facts of how girls transform into women.
The Care & Keeping of You offers a friendly and informative exploration of the female body with illustrations depicting girls of all shapes, sizes, races, and ethnicities. But it’s not only physical health that’s covered. The World Health Organization defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The authors of this book embrace the same kind of holistic approach to health information. Parents will appreciate that the content aims to build girls’ confidence and pride, as well to encourage girls to talk about their bodies with their parents. – Gigi
By Elizabeth Wein
Young adult (late middle school – adult)
2013 Michael Printz Honor Book * New York Times Bestseller * YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten * 2012 Boston Globe Book Award Honor * Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice 2012 * BookPage Best Children’s Book 2012 * Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbons 2012 * Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2012 * The Horn Book Magazine’s Best Books of 2012 * Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2012 * Library Journals Best YA Books for Adults * New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Books of 2012 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2012 * School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year 2012 * Young Adult Novels You’ll Never Outgrow * National Public Radio’s Best Books 2012 series
There’s a particular alchemy of human beings at their worst that allows us to savor the beauty of simple people turned into heroes. I’ll point to Ann Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and Mark Musak’s The Book Thief—just two of a long list. Now, I’ll count Elizabeth Wein’s remarkable novel, Code Name Verity, in that class, too.
The novel follows the friendship of two unconventional girls during World War II: mechanically-inclined Maddy, who becomes a pilot, and the wealthy and well-bred Julie, who becomes a German-speaking spy during the French occupation.
Written in the form of Julie’s forced confession at the hands of her Nazi interrogators, the novel immediately draws in the reader with mesmerizing details and tension. The violence is honest but not overly gory, and the voice often darkly funny, quite a feat for something set in a concentration camp. But it is in Part two, when Maddy picks up the narration, that the novel becomes truly heart-stopping. (To say more is a spoiler, sorry.)
This is historical fiction at its best—well-researched, plausible, never pedantic. As a writer, I consider what Elizbeth Wein has done here absolutely astonishing in its breadth and quality. But for me, this novel soars for strong girls because it is so clearly the story of resilient girls tested to their limit. It is the story of courage and war and of the frightening sacrifices we make for the ones we love. – Meg
By Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
Little Brown & Company, 2013
Memoir, Ages 14 and up
ISBN: 10: 0316322407
Additional formats: e-book, audio book
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban is a poignant, educational, and surprisingly humorous memoir by Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who, at only fifteen, became one of the most heralded women’s rights activists in the world, when she was shot by a member of the Taliban on her way home from school with her friends.
The book provides extensive political, religious, and environmental history of the world Malala grew up in: the Swat region of Pakistan, Islam, and a family who raised Malala as an outspoken, educated girl. Malala describes the rich and, at times, turbulent culture and politics of Pakistan. She also expresses her love and admiration for Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. The memoir also offers an in-depth examination of Islam and the myriad sects that are a part of the world’s second-largest religion. The time spent delving into these topics is critically important to understanding what happened to Malala and also serves as a reminder of how the deeply personal parts of our lives are quite often the most political.
Most remarkably, however, are the revelations about Malala’s own family, who strongly support education, especially the education of women. Malala tenderly writes of her father and mother who encouraged her to learn, think, and question in a world that suppresses and the minds and bodies of women and often violently so. Beautiful and articulate, I Am Malala tells the story of a family with unimaginably fierce courage and their fight for the education of women in the face of oppression. – Gigi