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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Books with Girl Power

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Images
I didn't do it on purpose, but it seems that whenever I've reached for another new book to read over the past few weeks, each one just happened to have a young, interesting female for its main character.  I decided to share them all here in one post, for anyone looking for books with "girl power"!  (And for those of you searching for good books with main characters who are boys, don't worry -- I'm actively seeking them out now, for a future post.)

I wasn't planning to feature any picture books in this post, only middle grade and young adult novels, but then I spied this first story at the library the other day, and after reading it, I realized it belonged here, too:

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink,
written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple,
illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin, 2010

Like the title suggests, not all princesses (or little girls) dress in pink and sit around, twiddling their thumbs.  Some prefer jerseys and playing softball.  Some like to build with power tools.  Some dig in the dirt while others dance in the rain... and all with a sparkly crown on their heads!

I enjoyed the fun rhyming text written by this mother-daughter duo.  I especially like the message that this book gives young girls -- that while they may love pretty things (like sparkly crowns), that doesn't mean they need to focus on their own appearances.  Instead, they can have fun, get dirty, and do important things. They are filled with unlimited potential!


The Great Gilly Hopkins,
written by Katherine Paterson, 1978
Gilly Hopkins is an 11-year-old foster kid who feels that the world is out to get her.  To protect herself, she doesn't let herself get close to other people -- even though it means a lonely life.  When she is placed with yet another foster mother, Mrs. Trotter, and a second foster child, William Ernest, she is determined to make their lives as miserable as hers.  Little does she know that this is the home where she will finally learn about self control, respect for others, and most of all, love.

Even though this book was published when I was ten, by the author of one of my favorite books back then (The Bridge to Terabithia), and even though I used to look for books about foster kids (in my quest to become a social worker), I never heard of this book until recently.  Better late than never, I guess!  As an adult, I have had the chance to work with several foster kids, so I feel qualified to say that this book is a realistic portrayal, not only of the characters themselves but also of the foster system.  I've known many kids just like Gilly, tough on the outside, but scared and lonely inside.  This story touched my heart.


written by Kathryn Erskine, 2010
Caitlin is a fifth grader whose older brother (the person she confided in and looked up to) was recently killed in a school shooting.  Caitlin also has Asperger's Syndrome.  Her father, a widower, is dealing with his own grief and isn't sure how to help his daughter.  With the help of her school counselor, her young friend Michael, and her trusty dictionary, Caitlin finally achieves closure.

You may think from the description above that this is a sad book.  There are sad moments, for sure, but the book is also filled with humor and hope.  It also provides insight into what it is like to have Asperger's Syndrome and to live with someone who has it.  I thought this was an excellent book ~ I absolutely loved it!


Out of My Mind,
written by Sharon M. Draper, 2010
Melody is a brilliant 10-year-old with a photographic memory -- but no one knows it.  Unable to speak (or walk or write), she has cerebral palsy and has been placed in a special class at school where they learn the alphabet year after year.  When she is given a computer with a special keyboard, Melody is finally able to communicate with her family and others around her, surprising them all with her intelligence, humor, and spirit.

Even though I've certainly never been in Melody's position, the way Draper writes about her makes it easy to "become" Melody. I felt her acute frustration over not being able to communicate with the world around her.  I cheered when Melody finally typed her first words, and cried with her when schoolmates and a teacher treat her cruelly.  I think it's important for kids to learn how to put themselves in someone else's shoes before judging them -- this is a great book to help teach that.


Tall Story,
written by Candy Gourlay, 2010
This is the story about Andi, a basketball-crazy girl who longs to play on her school's team, and the older half-brother she's never met.  Bernardo lives in the Philippines where he suffers from gigantism, a condition that has caused him to grow to eight feet tall.  When he finally is given permission to join his family in the UK, Bernardo and Andi must learn how to fit into each other's lives.

While I'm sure that basketball-lovers could appreciate this book on a whole other level, you do not have to be a fan of the sport to enjoy Tall Story.  I'm not really big on any sports myself, but I was delighted by the quirkiness and humor of this book!


Sparrow Road,
written by Sheila O'Connor, 2011
Twelve-year-old Raine's mother has taken a new job for the summer, as cook and housekeeper at Sparrow Road, an isolated artists' retreat far from their Milwaukee home.  Raine doesn't understand why they are leaving her grandfather -- and everything else familiar -- when her mother doesn't even like to cook or clean.  Sparrow Road seems to be filled with secrets, but one secret in particular -- the real reason they've come to live here for the summer -- will change Raine's life forever.

I loved O'Connor's beautiful, lyrical writing in this book, as well as the layers of mystery throughout.  Though Raine is basically the only child in the story, all of the adults are presented as colorful and interesting characters, too.  As for the setting... well, now I wish I had a Sparrow Road of my own, to retreat to whenever I wanted to write!


written by Kathi Appelt, 2010
Ten-year-old Keeper was born in the ocean, and believes her mother (whom she hasn't seen for seven years) is a mermaid.  When she accidentally causes trouble for all those she loves -- Signe, the woman who's raised her, her friends Dogie and Mr. Beauchamp, and even B.D. and Too the dogs, Sinbad the cat, and Captain the seagull -- she decides the only person who can make everything right again is her mother.  Keeper heads to the ocean in a small boat that night to find her, with only B.D. for company.

This story surprised me.  I thought I knew what it was going to be like, but it turned out to be quite different -- and much better -- than what I'd expected.  I loved how Appelt chose to unfold her tale, a little at a time, giving glimpses into the past until, finally, everything became connected to the present.  I also enjoyed all of Appelt's literary allusions throughout the book, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to old legends of the sea.  Don't let the thickness of the book fool you.  I read it all in one  sitting -- some of the chapters are only one word long!


A Mango-Shaped Space,
written by Wendy Mass, 2003
For thirteen-year-old Mia, letters, words, and numbers have always had color, a secret she's kept to herself ever since the day she discovered that no one else she knows sees them that way.  The colors make some things very difficult for her, however, especially math and Spanish.  Then Mia learns that she's not crazy -- she just has something called synesthesia, a mingling of perceptions.  While reading up on the rare condition and meeting other synesthetes, Mia also tries to deal with troubles at school, a fight with her best friend, her cat Mango's illness, and the loss of her grandfather.

I hadn't heard of synesthesia before reading this novel, and found the whole idea compelling. (For those who are interested, Mass provides a list of resources on synesthesia at the back of the book.)  This is a fun read!


So B. It,
written by Sarah Weeks, 2004
Twelve-year-old Heidi lives with her mentally disabled mother and her agoraphobic neighbor Bernadette, in their adjoining apartments.  Heidi's mother can only say 23 words, including her name -- So B. It -- and the mysterious word "soof".   She does not understand much of the world around her, and cannot take care of herself or her daughter.  Luckily, Bernadette found the mother and daughter in the hallway when Heidi was only a few days old, and took them under her wing.

Heidi's mind is filled with questions: Where did her mother come from?, Who is her father?, Where is the rest of her family? and, most of all, What is soof?  When she develops the film from an old camera she finds in a drawer, Heidi feels compelled to follow the clues provided by the photos and try to find the answers to her questions, even if it means crossing the country on her own.

About 6 years ago, I spotted this book in my daughter Emmalie's Scholastic book order from school.  It was on sale for only a couple of dollars, and I decided to buy it for her.  When it arrived, she was in the middle of some other book, so I took it and read it myself before passing it on to her.  I found it to be a very powerful, poignant story, and have been recommending it to friends ever since.  Because several years have passed, I thought I should reread the book before writing about it here.  I loved it just as much the second time through!  (And it made me cry both times, too, so you might want a box of Kleenex handy when you read it.)


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, what did you think of them?  What are some of your favorite stories with girl power?

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