I Am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings,
Illustrated by Shelagh McNichols
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book, Memoir
ISBN-10: 0803741073/ ISBN-13: 978-0803741072
Additional formats: E-book
Honors: ALA’s Rainbow List
This is the story of Jazz Jennings, a girl who loves pink and silver and green. A girl who likes to dance and sing and do back flips. A girl who likes to pretend she’s a pop star or a mermaid. A strong girl who was born with the body of a boy. I Am Jazz recounts the early childhood experience of Jazz Jennings, a teen advocate and co-founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, who felt like a girl born into a boy’s body from the time she was two-years-old.
“Pretending I was a boy felt like a lie,” Jazz writes. At first, her parents are confused when Jazz tells them of her feelings. But when the family meets a doctor who teaches them the word “transgender,” everything starts to change.
“Be who you are. We love you no matter what,” are words every child deserves to hear. I Am Jazz is a perfect title to discuss concepts such as acceptance and belonging and will make an important addition to the family or school library. – Gigi
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Laura Carlin
Candlewick Press, 2014
Ages 5 and up
ISBN-10: 0763666335 /13: 978-076366633
Honors: English Association Picture Book Award Best Fiction
Can one heart and two hands change the world?
In The Promise, a little girl has become hardened and cold like the city she lives in. Her heart had “shriveled as the dead trees in the park.” Isolated and disconnected from people and from nature, the girl turns to thievery. She steals for her food; she never smiles. One night the girl spots an old lady walking alone, easy pickings for the seasoned young thief. So she thinks! The girl grabs ahold of the woman’s purse, a struggle ensues, until finally the old lady says, “If you promise to plant them, I’ll let go.”
Alas, the bag is not full of money or food or anything useful, but rather it’s crammed full of acorns.
“I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed,” the girl says.
A girl must keep her promises. She plants the acorns everywhere—abandoned buildings, bus stops, and factories. Soon, the city is flourishing with green and bursting with tiny oaklings and, best of all, the people are smiling and planting trees and flowers of their own.
This simple story, a retelling of Jean Giono’s 1953 story, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, is a strong message about conservation and action that emphasizes our human belonging to the natural world. It’s also an uplifting call to action for each reader to give their own heart and hands over to the stewardship of our earth by planting something green! – Gigi
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book, ages 5 – adult
Honors: Pura Belpré Honor book 2015 * Robert Seibert Honor Book, 2015 * Amèricas Book Award, 2015
When we think of Civil Rights in this country, it’s easy to overlook the role of Latinos in that struggle. Yet in 1944, when California schools were still segregated, Sylvia Mendez and her siblings were forced to enroll in a school for Mexicans. Despite the fact that they were natural American citizens, the Mendez children were required to attend a school that was farther from home and lacking in the same amenities as the school designated for white students.
Thus began the Mendez family fight to integrate schools for Latinos.
Separate Is Never Equal by award-winning author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh is the perfect blend of picture book, history, and a strong-girl story. It’s about everyday people fighting injustice with conviction. Readers can follow the court proceedings and meet the essential people who joined the lawsuit. It’s a revealing look at the thinking of the time, such as the ideas that Mexicans had deficient language skills, poor social skills, head lice, impetigo, and other illnesses.
With distinctive art based on the Mixtec Codex, an excellent glossary, photographs, and list of resources, this is a rich picture book for all ages. I love this book for Girls of Summer in particular because strong girls do, in fact, help change history. ~MM
by Abby Hanlon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Chapter book, ages 5 – 8
Additional formats: paperback
Golden Kite honor title, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
You’ll recognize Dory.
She’s that youngest child who is always begging to play no matter how much her brother and sister try to keep her away. She’s the one who eats napkins, the one who acts like a dog for a whole day, the one who won’t go to bed and who sees villains where no one else does, the who asks questions— a lot of annoying questions.
Abby Hanlon, author of Ralph Tells a Story (Two Lions, 2012), has created a pest that you can’t help but root for because she is one hundred percent enthusiasm and imagination. It would be easy to leave the story at slapstick, but in Hanlon’s able hands, we get more. Sprinkled into the hilarious scenarios are also the quiet moments of hurt and love we see in families. Dory is a handful, but one that no one can resist. ~MM
by Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
Picture book, ages 4 – 8
Additional formats: bilingual edition
Awards: Caldecott Honor 2015 * Pura Belpré Award 2015 for illustration
I can’t stop looking at the pictures in this lovely book that earned Yuyi Morales a Caldecott honor, the first for a Latino illustrator, this year.
It’s the story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo whose life has been well covered. However, that has made absolutely no impact on this book’s originality and freshness. Each page is a beautifully photographed tableau of Kahlo’s life—in painting, in puppets, in collage. There are sophisticated references to her husband, Diego Rivera, and images that would find themselves into her art, which make it especially fun for adult readers, too. The details are charming—everything from those signature eyebrows down to the jewelry and embroidered skirts. Most impressive, though, is that the simple words capture how an artist discovers her voice and passion—two essentials for strong girls everywhere. Bravo! ~MM
Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit
By Amrita Das
Tara Books, 2014
Ages 10 and up
ISBN-10: 9383145021/13: 978-9383145027
Additional formats: La esperanza es una niña vendiendo fruta (Spanish edition)
Honors: ALA Outstanding International Book
In Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit, a young artist travels by train from her village in India to a small town in a different region to study art with a new teacher. In her work, she struggles to find inspiration until she remembers a poor girl on the train.
“I knew at that moment, how I was going to tell my story. It is her story, too,” Das writes.
In this visual and narrative study of a young woman watching a young girl, hopes and dreams and constraints and threats unite the travelers in the experience of being female.
“Freedom. What does that word mean to us? Going to school? Learning? And then? Marriage? Does that set you free?”
With drawings rooted in a folk art style called Mithila, Das explores the world of women and girls in northern India and invites readers to scale the boundaries of tradition and culture in their lives, too. -Gigi
Haiti My Country
Poems by Haitian Schoolchildren
Illustrated by Rogé, Translated by Solange Messier
Fifth House, 2014
Picture book, poetry
Ages 6 and up
ISBN-10: 1927083230/13: 978-1927083239
Honors: New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books
When I was just out of college, I visited Haiti for a couple of weeks with a group from my city, Richmond. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in Hinche, the capital of the central plateau.
How I remember the people in Port-au-Prince is that they shouted at me on the boldly painted taxi-trucks, called tap taps, about very specific policy issues related to the U.S. that I knew nothing about and cannot now recall. I will never forget how that experience redefined my understanding of citizenship and human rights.
In all the places of the world I have visited, there is no place where the clouds have felt so close or the stars so crystal as in Hinche, Haiti. We visited in the dry season, but even so, water tumbled down from the mountains into clear, deep pools. The people in Hinche shared goat stew and plantains and pumpkin soup on the Feast of the Epiphany. They sat down with us and talked about all people working together, sharing the heavy load, making change one step at a time, and never giving up.
I believe that some of the strongest girls in all of the world must be Haitian girls. Some of these girls are poets, praising their homeland in Haiti My Country, a collection of fifteen poems by Haitian teenagers, all from the village of Camp-Perrin in the southern part of the country.
The young poets bring the beauty and hardship of Haiti into focus, and Rogè’s introspective portraits of them reveals youth full of generosity, joy, skepticism, inquisitiveness, and determination.
They write lovingly of trees—mango, soursop, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, mahogany, and giant oak. Of red birds and hibiscus. Of honey and hard labor. Of course, they write of roosters! And, they write of lost smiles and worries and better tomorrows to come. – Gigi
by Jennifer H. Lyne
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013
Ages 14 and up, Grade 7 and up
ISBN: 10: 054430182X/13: 978-0544301825
Additional formats: paperback, e-book
Sidney Criser is fourteen years old and grieving the death of her father. Her mother has taken up with a real jerk, and her beloved Uncle Wayne is trying hard to quit drinking. Life is bearable for Sid only when she’s riding horses.
When Uncle Wayne lands Sid a job at a fancy stable in Albemarle County, Virginia, at first, ever-confident Sid loses a bit of her edge around the wealth, power, and pedigree. However, she makes her own luck and nails an opportunity of a lifetime to show a made-horse on the elite show circuit. Then her dream starts to unravel.
In addition to the spot-on riding scenes, readers will relate to Sid’s family conflicts, the drama within her peer group at the barn, and the elements of romance, too. Sid’s connection to horses is strong and real and shows how having something we can hold onto—a place where we feel we belong—can help us overcome life’s hardest challenges. Lyne delivers a thrilling and moving novel that is a fantastic story for anyone with big a dream and looking for the courage to keep trying. -Gigi
The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich
Hyperion Paperbacks, 1999
Middle grade fiction, Age 9 and Up
10: 0786814543/13: 978-078681454
Additional formats: Hardcover, audio
Honors: National Book Award Finalist * Jane Addams Award Honor * WILLA Award * National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Winner
The shero in the Birchbark House, set on Madeline Island off Lake Superior in 1847, receives her name from an Ojibwa girl who was recorded as living on the island in nineteenth century. Author Louise Erdrich writes, “Dear Reader, when you speak this name out loud you will be honoring the life of an Ojibwa girl who lived long ago.”
Now, speak her name: Omakayas.
A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa, Erdrich (National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist) wrote The Birchbark House to retrace her family’s history. The story is told from the perspective of seven-year-old Omakayas, or little frog. Young readers will be completely absorbed by the adventures of Omakayas as she works alongside the women and babysits her little brother. As many young children do, she feels jealous of her older sibling and annoyed by her younger ones. Working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother, she experiences an ability to communicate well with animals, the earth, and her elders, all of which guide her in toward the gift of healing.
When a smallpox breakout ravishes the community, Omakayas is the only one not infected. Her talent for listening to the earth and all its creatures soon helps her care for her family, and she must use all of her power to save them.
The story unfolds in four parts—summer, fall, winter, and spring—and the narrative builds inside the rhythms and rituals of Ojibwa life. Its back matter includes an Author’s Note on Ojibwa language and a glossary and punctuation guide of Ojibwa terms, offering opportunity for continued depth and discovery of Omakayas’s world.
Many have contrasted The Birchbark House to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Wilder’s books carry a cultural bias embedded in the white encroachment on native land and culture as America pushed its boundaries west – a contrast worth noting. The Birchbark House testifies to the decimation and destruction that resulted, yet Erdrich most strongly evokes a feeling of connection among all people, with the earth, and to an Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. – Gigi
by Cece Bell
Amulet Books, 2014
Middle grade, graphic novel
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Newbery Honor Award 2015
It’s a documented fact that you need a special power to be a superhero. It has to be something no one else can do. Something so impressive that it earns us instant respect.
How about being able to hear your teachers while they gossip in the lounge or if they pass gas in the restroom?
This year’s Newbery Honor-winning book, El Deafo by Cece Bell, is a hilarious graphic novel about a young girl (well, sort of a rabbit) coming to terms with being deaf in a hearing world.
The list of inconveniences is long for a kid who has to wear a cumbersome device called the “Phonic Ear.” And it’s almost impossible to make everyone understand why turning up the TV louder will not help or why whispering in the dark at a sleep over is maddening.
But there is always a silver lining if you have a hero’s heart. In this case, the silver lining is an ability to use your “Phonic Ear” to hear your teacher’s every movement—including those inside a bathroom stall.
There is so much to love here: the funny illustrations, the wacky characters, the wise look inside the dynamics of friendship. But what I admire most are the many moments in the pages when Bell helps us reflect on how we all make room for each other in this world. ~MM
Stella by Starlight
by Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
Middle grade, Ages 9-13
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Stella likes to slip out of the house at night to practice her writing because she thinks more clearly in silence, under the stars. One night her little brother, JoJo, follows her and the two siblings witness a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The re-emergence of the KKK in rural Bumblebee, NC sends fear into Stella’s tight-knit community.
The novel is set in the Depression-era, a time of transition in America and the rural south. Some people in Bumblebee want to destroy social progress that has been made, using violence and threats. Stella and her father know the only way to go is forward toward education, opportunity, and equal rights.
Standing up for yourself and your family takes courage and clarity, as Stella learns by accompanying her father and their pastor to the voting poll on Election Day. The danger they face is real; the consequences suffered heart-breaking. Rather than fight fire with fire, Stella chooses the power of the pen as her weapon. She fights back with written words full of truth and faith.
There is so much to love in this book. Draper writes endearing, charismatic adult characters who encourage the children to help each other, to take risks, to sing loudly, and learn by watching and listening and trying. The language and phrasing resonate a time when the spoken word made strong use of storytelling, oral history, rhymes, and riddles. Scenes of joyous meals and earnest worship combine into a vibrant, inspiring depiction of a beloved community where the people find solace and fortitude in one another.
Best of all is Stella, drawn with palpable connection to the people around her, a girl with a brave, loving heart and a desire to write the truth. – Gigi
Written in the Stars
by Aisha Saeed
Nancy Paulsen Books: Penguin, 2015
Young adult, 14 years and older
Naila can choose some things for herself, like her hairstyle and her college major. But when it comes to whom she will marry, her parents are in charge.
The only trouble is that Naila is already in love with Saif. When they are caught sneaking off to the prom together, the repercussions are far worse than anything these American-raised teens could imagine. Naila’s parents take drastic action to save their daughter and their whole family from shame. She is sent back to family in Pakistan to be married.
Debut author Aisha Saeed offers a page-turner about culture clash in the lives of young women around the world. Readers will hold their breath as Naila fights to escape her fate against insurmountable odds and a dwindling supply of allies.
I admire this novel for its beautiful writing and for the rich characters in Naila’s extended family. Few are completely good or bad. Saeed is careful to offer a rich look at the beautiful aspects of traditional Pakistani family life, but she doesn’t shy away from the underlying struggle women face for autonomy and dignity worldwide. ~MM
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton
Candlewick Press, 2014
Ages 14 and up,
ISBN-10: 0763665665/13: 978-0763665661
Additional formats: Paperback, e-book, audio
Honors: William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist * Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy nominee, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award * Amazon Best Books of 2014 * Hudson Books Best Books of 2014 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014
If your family inheritance was not to be found in silver or gold, diamond or sapphire, but in your perfect ruby of a heart, destined by fate and genetics to be drawn to foolish love, would you hide yourself from all things?
Ava’s story begins with deep excursion into the Roux family birthright that will, ultimately, keep her locked away from the world for sixteen years, not only to protect her from the sort of love that has sealed the fortunes of her mother and grandmother, but because Ava is the most vulnerable of the Roux women.
Born with the wings of a bird into a clutch of women who are steeped in the art of protecting the heart from brokenness and brutality, Ava’s family cloisters her from the outside. Brutality is exactly what Ava’s mother and grandmother fear is in store for this child, if the world ever gets its claws in her. The girl’s very winged existence inspires both reverence and persecution from the community where she lives in Seattle in the 1940s.
All Ava wants is to be a girl, so out she goes into the world one summer solstice night with nothing and no one protecting her.
In a swirl of hauntingly realistic prose and magical realism, Ava Lavender explores the depths of beauty and terror and the heart’s capacity to rise above. – Gigi
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
Young adult, 14 years and older
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Junior Library Guild Selection * William Morris Award * School Library Journal Best Books 2014 * Amelia Bloomer List * 2015 YALSO Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers* 2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults * 2015 Tomás Rivera Book Award, Works for Older Children * 2015 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens
Gabi is in her senior year of high school, and there’s more on her plate than just tacos, wings, and Rocky Road ice cream—all of which she loves. Her best friend, Cindy, is pregnant, and her other friend, Sebastian, has been thrown out of the house for being gay. Add that to drug abuse in her home, a meddling hyper-religious aunt, and a mom who’s stuck in old fashioned thinking, and you have a girl in pieces.
Written in diary format, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, is a terrific debut novel that offers a loving and difficult portrait of a girl growing up against a backdrop of cultural sexism, adult hypocrisies, and the madhouse called American high school. Sprinkled with Spanglish, Isabel Quintero captures the sound and feel of a modern Latina.
I love this book most for its unflinching voice. Gabi—a poet—is smart, funny, coarse, and strong. The diary entries, along with the poems she writes for her senior year ‘zine, allow us to hear her deepest secrets and fears as she learns to fight for the things she truly wants and deserves. ~MM
by Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade documentary novel, ages 9 – 12
Additional formats: available as e-book and audio
Awards: National Book Award finalist * Golden Kite Award, 2014
All Sunny Fairchild wants to do is swim in the pool and stay away from her new stepmother, kind as she may be.
This isn’t just an ordinary summer, though. It’s Freedom Summer, and “agitators from the North” plan to come to Sunny’s town in Mississippi to register black voters.
Revolution is the second book in a trilogy about the tumultuous 1960s. What I love about this 522-page book (pretty hefty for middle grade) is its marriage of great storytelling and heart-wrenching documentary. We follow the journey of a strong girl whose eyes are opened to the racial discrimination she has never bothered to consider. But we are also following a carefully researched documentary of the sacrifices that went into the early Civil Rights era. Readers can see the startling artifacts of the time: KKK communiqués, pamphlets that were distributed by Freedom School volunteers, as well as news accounts of murders and disappearances. The frightening realities of the Deep South come alive.
I’m especially fond of how Deborah drew Sunny and her family. Sunny is imperfect: so proud, daring, and smart but also bullheaded and, at times, selfish.
Her family runs the gamut from those who want no change, to those fighting for it or flailing for some murky middle ground in the face of danger.
Raymond, a talented baseball player, is a wonderful counter character, and his family experiences offer a similar bold look inside the African Americans who were struggling to register for the vote and desegregate their communities.
Fact and fiction have met beautifully in this novel. A book like one this reminds us that a strong girl will see hard things in her lifetime. What matters is how she responds. ~MM
Dust of Eden
by Mariko Nagai
Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
Historical fiction; Novel in verse
Middle grade and Young Adult
What happens when your own country turns against you in suspicion?
Dust of Eden, a novel in verse, is the story of Mina Tagawa and her family following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when their lives in Seattle are changed forever.
Told from the point of view of Mina, a middle school girl, Dust of Eden spans three years during which the Tagawa family goes from being seen as beloved neighbors to being perceived as enemies of the state. Taunts begin at school, even from lifelong friends. Mina’s father is soon arrested. And finally the family, under the requirements of Executive Order 9066, is forced into an internment camp in Idaho.
How does a girl survive when the world she has known her whole life turns against her? Is the answer to bear the pain with silent dignity—ngaman—as her grandfather does? Is it to prove your patriotism by enlisting in the service as her brother does? How do you forgive people who have hurt you for no reason?
This slim volume lays bare some of our nation’s difficult history, but it always stays true to the heart of a young girl as she tries to make sense of hate. I admire this book for its lovely writing, for its gateway to history, for Mina’s quiet strength, and for all the ways that her story reminds us of the high cost of fear disguised as patriotism. ~MM
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
Middle grade, memoir, poetry
Ages 10 and up
Honors: National Book Award for Young People’s Literature * Newbery Honor * Coretta Scott King Author Book Award * Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature * NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature
Jacqueline Woodson recalls a childhood spanning Ohio, South Carolina, and New York toward the end of the Jim Crow era and the rise of the Civil Rights movement.
Through a child’s eyes, the story revisits a grandmother’s tired feet and strong faith, downtown sit-ins, and lingering WHITES ONLY signs. This memoir-in-verse summons the reliable tonality of her maternal grandfather’s daily return from work and his grandchildren’s wild, loving sprint to greet him. The pages reminisce over a familial landscape where the Greenville air speaks to a thoughtful child through the twinkle of lightning bugs, scents of pine, and wet grass and a never-ending serenade of crickets.
Brown Girl Dreaming illuminates how deeply childhood is shaped by history, family, faith, and place and how often children are called upon to build bridges between the past and the future, trials and triumphs. – Gigi
by Marilyn Hilton
River’s older brother has disappeared under a cloud of suspicion for a drunk driving death, and now she finds that she is speaking in a strange accent, dreaming of a house she doesn’t recall, and is drawn to the river even though she is terrified of drowning.
Soon, the new outlier at school, Meadow Lark Frankenfield—aka Frakenfemme, according to the ever-hateful Daniel Bunch—befriends her. But while Meadow Lark is a much-needed friend to ease her sorrow and loneliness, their relationship begins to open more doubt and questions.
This debut novel is a quiet story, but it is also a spine-tingling mystery for middle grade readers. A strong girl can be a quiet one, too—even one who feels broken from time to time. I admire this story for what it lets us consider about boundaries in friendships and for what it reveals about the surprising ways we all try to heal what ails us. ~MM