Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
by Misty Copeland
Young adult, memoir
Ages: 12 and older, Grades 6-12
Honors: New York Times Bestseller
Sometimes you have to be willing to try something new to discover who you are meant to be.
Misty Copeland is compelling and heartwarming in this first-person telling of how she became the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.
Her unlikely path to making history began at thirteen, an age that made her a “late bloomer” in the world of serious dance. While most young ballerinas were concentrating on their pirouettes, she and her family were struggling with homelessness. Misty’s haven became the after-school program at her local Boys & Girls Club, and when she enrolled in a free ballet class on a whim, her life changed forever. Her love of dance helped her remain focused and firm through numerous family crises, personal struggles and periods of self-doubt. Though she dances beautifully and with much grace now, she openly shares how her life sometimes reflected the opposite, and how she used those circumstances to fuel her goals and dreams.
Though this book isn’t a cliffhanger, in the sense that readers already know how it will end, they still may find themselves gripped by Misty’s story and capable of learning some meaningful lessons that can serve them as well as they have served Misty.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World
by Kelly Jensen
Algonquin Books for Young Readers, 2017
Young adult, nonfiction
Ages: 12-18, Grades 9-12
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection
Here We Are is whip-smart anthology of what it means to be a feminist and why it’s important, from voices teens will (or should, because they’re awesome!) recognize. Amandla Sternberg, Mindy Kaling, Michaela and Mia DePrince, Wendy Davis, and Matt Nathanson join well-known YA authors like Malinda Lo, Sarah McCarry, Nova Ren Suma, and many more writers to talk about the ins-and-outs of equality.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Here We Are is its scrapbook, mixed-media format. There are essays and poems, conversations between writers, Instagram images, comics, interviews, and illustrations (over forty pieces total), which prevent a book about a serious topic from seeming preachy, academic, or condescending to its intended audience. Here We Are isn’t just for teenagers; it’s about being a teenager, and the writers never forget it.
The book’s feminism considers what it means to be a girl, but it isn’t limited to what it is to be a straight, white, middle class American girl. There are perspectives from all kinds of backgrounds, and readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to relate to here. From the damaging effects of trying to be the “cool girl,” to accepting your own (and other people’s) bodies, to the use of sexual assault as a weapon, each aspect of girlhood and feminism is turned over and presented to the reader in a refreshing and relevant way.
Ballet for Martha: The Making of Appalachian Spring
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca
Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press 2010
Picture book, non-fiction, ages 7 and up
Robert Silbert Honor Award * NCTE Orbis Pictus Award * ALA Notable Books 2010 * Numerous best books lists for 2010
Additional formats: ebook and audio
This historical picture book is about how Appalachian Spring, one of the most famous dances of all times, came to be. It is a dance about the pioneer movement, and it was a collaboration between Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isamu Noguchi. Martha had to persevere through audiences who didn’t necessarily understand the new language she was crafting in American dance. Martha Graham Dance was the first integrated dance company in the US. Appalachian spring, which earned Copland the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1944.
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
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement
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
The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls
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 Marthe Jocelyn
Middle grade, Ages 8 and up
Candlewick Press, 2013
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
Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
By Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 9 and Up
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
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills
By Renée Watson, Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Picture book ages 4 – 7
Random House, 2012
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.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
By Tanya Lee Stone
Candlewick Press, 2009
Awards/Recognitions: *ALA Notable Children’s Books *ALA Best Books for Young Adults *Amelia Bloomer Project Selection *Boston Globe – Horn Book Awards – Honor Book *Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books *IRA Teacher’s Choice Award *Flora Stieglitz Straus AwardJane Addams Children’s Book Award *Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People *Sibert Medal *Smithsonian Notable Books for Children
Not that long ago, women in America weren’t allowed to rent cars, borrow money from a bank on their own, or play professional sports. In Almost Astronauts, Tanya Lee Stone tells the story of thirteen women who shared a dream of flying and becoming American astronauts. Known as the Mercury 13, these pioneers were dumped by their fiancés, served divorce papers, fired from their jobs, and objectified by the media as Astronettes because they were participating in the Women in Space Program.
The Mercury 13 volunteered to take the same tests that NASA required of male astronauts in order to prove women were capable of flying into space. Their results were superior – scientific evidence that women are as fit or fitter than men for space travel. It was near the apex of the Cold War, and Russia had put the world on notice that it intended to send women into space. Yet, in 1961 Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson still gave a shocking response to a request that he back a space program for women, a response that effectively kept women and people of color out of NASA for years.
So, quick: what was the first year a woman commanded a space shuttle? What was her name?
1998. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins.
Thirty-eight years after Vice-President Johnson shut down the women’s space program before it could officially get started, Lieutenant Colonel Collins thanked the Mercury 13 for not giving up, for proving women were capable of being astronauts, and for insisting that women had the right to do so.
Almost Astronauts is fast-paced, urgent, and invigorating 20th Century history. It’s personal and political too, but it’s not secret history. Not any longer. As a mother, a writer, and a history-buff, I’m grateful to Tanya Lee Stone for telling the story of the Mercury 13 and for letting us get know these women who put it all on the line for all the women and men who would come next.
So. What will you say the next time you hear: A girl doesn’t have a chance? GA
Listen to an excerpt from Almost Astronauts audiobook!
Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers
By Nancy Amanda Redd
Penguin Group, 2007
With Body Drama, former Miss Virginia and a Miss America swimsuit winner, Nancy Redd, wrote the book she wished she had had in high school and college. What better season to embrace of self-love and body-confidence than summertime?
Part reference book, part girlfriend, Body Drama aims to reassure young women about their bodies, encourage them to appreciate their natural strength and beauty, and remind them that there are no stupid questions. Nancy Redd leaves no question unasked or unanswered. The book is presented in five sections: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair Mouth Nails, and Shape. Each section follows the same friendly, accessible format:
- Body Drama
- What’s Going On?
- How Do I Deal
- What if They Notice, and
- How to.
The body dramas covered range from the timeless – My face is a zit factory – to the contemporary – My piercing isn’t healing well – to the confessional – It’s a forest down there – and everything in between.
There’s almost nothing better than having a girlfriend who you can trust with any fear, who you can ask any question. You know, the one who keeps a hug for you in her back pocket? If a book could be that girlfriend, Body Drama would be her – someone to laugh with over all the nicknames you can think of for your boobs or your period and one bold enough to even teach you nicknames for your vulva (p. 118). My favorite? Grassy Knoll.
Body Drama makes a perfect gift for a young woman headed off to college or for any woman who could use a friend to remind her as this book does, “No Body is Perfect. Every Body is Beautiful. Every Body is Different. Different is Beautiful.” GA
Just Being Audrey
By Margaret Cardillo and Illustrated by Julia Denos
Picture book, non-fiction
Balzer +Bray, 2011
Who hasn’t wanted to be Audrey Hepburn at one time or another, if for no other reason than to rock those fabulous pencil pants and bangs? Now, even the youngest readers can meet the legend.
Just Being Audrey captures the resilient and humble spirit of this beloved Hollywood icon, a woman known as much for her kindness and professionalism as she was for her films. Cardillo offers us a refreshing departure from brat star updates that we can get on TV any time.
I’m especially fond of Julia Denos’ illustrations here. They capture that unforgettable face and Hepburn’s distinctive fashion style. (Check out the spread of Hepburn in her most famous film costumes.) Don’t be surprised if your dress-up chest gets some new additions as a result.
Failed dancer, World War II survivor, Broadway star, Hollywood legend, UNICEF ambassador, loving child advocate – Audrey Hepburn was all of them. How’s that for a strong girl? MM