Tag Archives: feminism

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

9780062747808by Jasmine Warga
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This novel-in-verse is narrated by seventh grader Jude who moves to America with her mother. They leave behind her father, who refuses to leave his store in their seaside tourist town in Syria, and her college-age brother, who has gone off to fight the government (presumably making him part of ISIS, aka ISIL, though it is never explicitly stated). Jude and her mother move in with her mother’s brother, Uncle Mazin, his white wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Sarah, who is a year older than Jude. Sarah and Jude have a complicated relationship; Sarah is very preoccupied with fitting in and not being “weird,” which Jude is. Jude is simultaneously very aware of her outsider status and also not as worried as Sarah about the ways in which she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t, for example, let it stop her from befriending other outcasts like Miles and Layla. Jude is upset that her letters to her best friend, Fatima, back home go unanswered, and finally finds out the reason why – Fatima and her family have fled to another country (Lebanon maybe?) and are unreachable. Jude finally finds her way in America, learning English, getting through to Sarah, getting closer to Miles (whom she describes as a ‘very cute boy’ and nothing more romantic than that happens) and landing a part in the school musical. There is an incident of Muslim extremist violence that changes the way people look at Jude, her family, Layla’s family, and their community, but it is also not specifically named as any one historically accurate attack. Her mother has a baby (she was very early on in her pregnancy when they left) and that fleshes out the rest of the plot, plus a small fight with Layla. Oh, and Jude starts her period, which means she also starts wearing hijab, which is also received in a variety of ways, especially within her own family, which was interesting. Overall a lovely, mostly gentle, not-quite-refugee story, with a young woman full of heart and confidence at its center. (It is also worth noting that, though Warga is Middle Eastern, she is not Syrian, so this story is not technically #ownvoices.)

Up for Air by Laurie Morrison

9781419733666by Laurie Morrison
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Annabelle is looking forward to another summer of competitive swimming and hanging out with her best friends Mia and Jeremy. But her school year ends harder than she thought, even with accommodations made for her learning disabilities (ADHD?), Mia is busy with her new lacrosse friends, and Jeremy is leaving for camp in Boston for a month. When Annabelle gets recruited to the high school swim team and gets to spend more time with cute Connor Madison, things start to look up. But it turns out that Annabelle isn’t really mature enough for high school shenanigans and makes some bad choices that get her injured enough to be off the swim team. After an adventure into Boston to track down her newly-back-in-the-picture dad (who turns out to have a new family and be in recovery from alcoholism), she comes to be more comfortable with where she is and stop rushing to grow up.

This book is rich in relationships and the reader is really inside Annabelle’s head. I thought it was extremely realistic to how kids can know what the right thing is and still be conflicted and want to fit in, and therefore make bad decisions. All the parts of dissecting a boy’s texts and actions felt exactly right and yet I could see, from an adult’s point of view, that Connor was just a player. Even once Annabelle is off the team, her teammates want to hang out with her and try to help her through this in an amazing show of female solidarity, which was another excellent piece of wisdom imparted with this story. I also liked how Annabelle’s mother and stepfather, Mitch (with whom she is close), relate to her not just as parents but as people at the end of the story. That seems like a huge piece of growing up and navigating changing relationships and I was very pleased to read it. Annabelle also makes peace with Mia and Jeremy, though things don’t go exactly back to how they were before, which was also satisfying.

One note on race is that Annabelle’s summer tutor, Janine, is black, which we learn through a comment on her hair and then on her outsider status, which could have been handled differently. The other social issues of note are that Jeremy’s older sister, Kayla, who is on the high school swim team with Annabelle, was treated for an eating disorder the previous year, so note that as a sensitive topic. (The author thanks Jen Petro-Roy for her assistance in understanding and representing eating disorder aftermath accurately.) And finally, Annabelle, Mia, and Jeremy are all day students at the private school on Gray Island (which is I think supposed to be Martha’s Vineyard?), so neither fully fit in with the other boarding students or the public school kids who are there for the summer. Annabelle’s learning differences make her feel even more like she doesn’t belong – but that’s another issue that gets resolved over the course of the story.

Adventure like: Nest by Esther Ehrlich
Relationship growth like: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

9780399544682by Aisha Saeed
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In a small village in Pakistan, 12-year-old Amal spends her days going to school until her fourth little sister is born. Then she is forced to stay home and take care of the family while her father works and her mother suffers from postpartum depression. Her dreams dashed, she lashes out one day at the worst possible person: her village’s rich overlord, who relishes keeping the people indebted to him. To punish her and her family, he takes Amal as a servant to his home (“the estate”). It takes her a while to learn her place and to accept her new life, and eventually she comes to realize that Jawad is not only taking payment for her mistake, but adding on top of it her room and board, plus exorbitant interest designed to keep her there forever. And she’s far from the first person this has happened to – nearly everyone in her village is indebted to him. But she and the other servants find a way to fight back.

I loved Amal and saw so much of myself in her. I think it’s so important for kids in the United States to read contemporary stories like these in places we hear about mostly on the news and that can feel very far away in both time and space. Amal walks to the market and has a cell phone. She’s never used a computer before or heard of email, has barely ridden in a car, but her friendships and conflicts are like anybody else’s. The lessons in this story have such power to transcend borders and speak to us on scales small and large. The story doesn’t wrap up totally neatly, and its unfolding and denouement are unevenly paced, but it was satisfying and heartwarming. And I can neither confirm nor deny that it made me cry.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

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by Ellen Klages
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood. Even a Little League scout thinks so – until he learns she’s a girl, and then it’s game over. With two tomboy sisters and a self-made woman for a single mom, it’s no surprise that Katy dreams big. But for 1957, she’s stuck in her gender role, until she learns about all the other women who have played professionally for the past 60 years. Katy’s best friend, Jules, isn’t quite as much of a tomboy as she is, but it’s easy to see why the two are friends, even through the awkward reunion scene when Jules gets back from camp. Katy’s story is set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the civil rights movement, the space race, and the end of San Francisco’s minor league era with the arrival of major league Giants.

There are some seriously strong women in this story. Katy’s family, for starters; but also her Aunt Babs, who is as into baseball as she is and takes her and Jules to a double header for her birthday. There’s also Jules’ student teacher; the middle school gym teacher; and her classmate Chip’s aunt, who played for the Negro Leagues (based on a real woman). There’s a scene where Katy goes to Chip’s family barbecue to talk to his aunt and is the only white person there; not much is made of it, but in the year of the Little Rock integration (which they had been discussing in school), I was surprised not to get more internal reaction from Katy. I did like that she got in the newspaper in the end, and that she got to spend a day shadowing a sports reporter to cover the brand new San Francisco Giants major league team.

Nothing changes for Katy on the Little League front, and won’t until she’s too old to play, but she learns that some rewards for your work come for others down the line, and the story ends with a sweet scene between her and a younger neighbor girl who looks up to her. I loved Katy’s relationship with her mother, who has two older daughters and is very relaxed about parenting Katy, talking to her like a grownup a lot and knowing when to let her play hooky for important life experiences. My partner’s aunt grew up in San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s and loves baseball; I plan to get her this book as a gift. I’ll also see how the kids in my 4th/5th grade book club like it! I also learned that Klages wrote two other books which appear to be about Katy’s older sisters, and this is not listed as being part of that series, which is curious to me.

(Update: After I finished this, I was very much in the mood to rewatch A League of Their Own, which held up exceedingly well. I had forgotten entire scenes, like when the African American woman throws a baseball back to the main characters – the briefest and subtlest of nods to the fact that there were African American female baseball players then too, and I wondered why the movie didn’t talk more about them. And then, the next day, the Jewish Women’s Archive shared an article about one of the Jewish women who played on the team, and I realized I forgot to address Katy’s Jewish heritage! Both Katy (and, to a lesser extent, Jules) are very assimilated, which is maybe not surprising for post-Holocaust Jewish Americans. There’s also an article called The Hidden Queer History Behind a League of Their Own, which was really good, and reminds me that Katy’s aunt, who loves baseball, is very briefly referred to as having a roommate, subtly informing the reader that she might be gay.)

For fans of: The Lions of Little Rock and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (though not as funny)

Rad Women: 4 Books for book club

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Rad American Women A to Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!
by Kate Schatz
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Ohhh my book club hated on this book so much. Mostly on the art – all the women were portrayed horrendously – but also on the writing. They thought the typeface was hard to read and the text levels were all over the place from sentence to sentence. (One book clubber just doesn’t like alphabet books in general because they are too limiting, but I digress.) I didn’t hate it quite as much as they did, and actually thought they did a great job including women who made strides in a wide variety of fields. I could have used just a few more facts, like, I don’t know, birth and death dates. I guess you could say I have a thing about context.

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Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl Reporter” Nellie Bly
by Deborah Noyes
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

The book club liked this one much better, though on the whole we found the one-page sidebars mid-chapter distracting. Maybe that’s a generational thing, though, and would keep the attention of the ADD generation? Overall, Nellie’s story is engaging and satisfying, especially the part where she gets committed to the insane asylum and manages to expose the horrific treatment of inmates there.

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Elizabeth Started All the Trouble
by Doreen Rappaport
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

We liked this one a lot too, especially the illustrations. The perspectives were used to great effect (men towering over women, comically large and small to emphasize the power disparity) and the scenes were just very detailed but would still make a great read-aloud – especially, we agreed, at the beginning of a biography unit, to give kids a little bit of information about a lot of women to whet their appetites.

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Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted a Million Trees
by Franck Prevot
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Book club also contains an artist who is able to give us her professional opinion of the art in the books we choose. After listening to my colleagues go on about how much they loved the illustrations, I asked them to say specifically why (because I didn’t care for them myself). Maura obliged and quietly instructed me in the finer points of African art themes. I remain unconvinced, especially since Wangari Maathai is suddenly all over the children’s picture book biography market, but the book clubbers seemed to think this was the best one.

I’ll Give You the Sun

by Jandy Nelson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When describing this book to others (which I’ve been doing a lot), I’ve described it as the sweetness and heartbreak of Eleanor and Park with the humor of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The story of twins Noah and Jude is told in alternating perspectives and time periods: Noah when they are 13 and a half and Jude when they are 16. They each have a love story and an artist’s story and a family story, but they each only have half the story and need each other to complete the story, to complete each other, to be set free from their burdens.

This book is so masterfully done with pulling all the strings together at the end and with such graceful, perfect descriptions of feelings. There’s love and death and divorce and heartbreak and it is amazing. Go read it. I already want to re-read it… but I’ll share.

Goodbye Stranger

by Rebecca Stead
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodbye Stranger tells two stories in one. One story is of Bridge, her two best friends, her new friend Sherm, and a photo that causes trouble. It begins in the fall and chapters rotate in perspective between Bridge’s voice and Sherm’s letters to his grandfather who has recently left his grandmother. In the letters, Sherm counts down the days until his grandfather’s birthday, which is February 14. The other story is of a mysterious, slightly older narrator, whose chapters are interspersed, occur on Valentine’s Day (so in the future of most of the rest of the story), and are written in the second person. The chapters of the mysterious narrator are a bit jarring and feel a little creepy (the only reason for my half-star deduction) as you’re trying to figure out who it is and what the story is. Ultimately, these are stories of friendship and forgiveness and being true to yourself. There are some twists leading up to the big climax on Valentine’s Day where it all comes together in a way reminiscent of Stead’s When You Reach Me (only with not quite as satisfying an ending for me).

I liked that there were multiple betrayals of friendship and they eventually resolved in a positive and healthy way. I think that Emily, Bridge’s friend who is at the center of the photo controversy, learns a powerful lesson in online privacy. She is punished by the school for her careless and dangerous actions, but more than that she is punished socially, which is honestly probably the stronger deterrent for future careless behavior. The issue is not only internet safety but also touches on body image and bullying, and the adults seem to have reasonable responses to all of these issues. (Spoiler: Em takes a selfie of herself waist-up in just a bra and sends it to a boy she likes at his request; the photo is then sent to someone else who posts it online. A similar photo of that boy in his underwear is also posted in retaliation; who does each of the postings is part of the mystery of the story so I won’t give that away!)

The other great relationship in this story is between Bridge and Sherm. As new junior high kids, the seventh-graders are required to join a club or sport. Bridge chooses tech crew, where she meets Sherm. I like that she follows Bridge own interests and doesn’t just pick soccer, like Em, or the human rights club like Tab (short for Tabitha – the third musketeer). Sherm is one of my favorite characters. We get to peek inside his life and get to know his family, especially his grandparents and how the dissolution of their relationship affects Sherm and his parents. Sherm is so unabashedly true to himself and I really wish we could be friends in real life.

The other thing about the junior high crew (Bridge, Em, Tab, and Sherm) is that they have all known each other since before Bridge’s accident. Bridge was hit by a car while roller skating when they were in third grade. Her friends help fill in her memories and start to deal with the trauma, which manifests itself mainly in nightmares. Bridge’s older brother, Jamie, is another great character who also has to break up with a friend. He and Bridge have a fantastic relationship (while also realistic in its rough spots) probably due mainly to this event bringing them closer together.

I could go on and on about this book and the rich, deep characters, their relationships with each other, and the things they learn, but really you should just read it!

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

I had such high hopes for this sequel after adoring the first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which I found hilarious and endearing. Callie Vee is back and just as indignant as ever that she should be treated equally to her six brothers and allowed to become a vet, and I appreciated the feminism. I had been hoping, upon finishing the first book, that we would see a sequel featuring more of her relationship with her oldest brother, Harry, and her own attempts at dating (which I imagine would look a lot like those of Skeeter Phelan in The Help). In the actual sequel, however, the featured brother is her sensitive little brother Travis and his inability to turn away from a creature in need. I loved seeing Callie’s aptitude for veterinary science developed in contrast to Travis’ weak stomach, even though, as the boy, Travis is the one encouraged to become a vet. Equally satisfying was their relationship, especially in contrast to her more contentious sibling (or sibling-like) relationships with her brother Lamar and her cousin Aggie who comes to stay with them after the devastating damage from the hurricane in Galveston. I liked the historical aspects of telegrams, telegraphs, typewriters, and photographs, but at times it felt a bit forced to be constantly reminded of what was and wasn’t normal for the time and there were even some details that I doubted. Overall, though, the story is solid (though the Aggie storyline resolved itself a bit abruptly at the very end) and I’m still hoping for yet a third book in the series to tackle the illusive courtship issue. I also find myself wondering what Callie will do when she loses her beloved Granddaddy, and would like to see her deal with grief and finding her own way in the world without running to him for every answer.

Tomboy

by Liz Prince
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In Prince’s graphic novel memoir, she shares her childhood journey of being bullied and teased for wearing boy clothes and being a tomboy. What I liked about it was that Liz didn’t turn out to be gay or transgender – she’s just different and came to be comfortable in her own skin, but I would put this book solidly in the category of gender and sexuality exploration, which is a hot topic these days. She eventually found friends and boyfriends who got her, which helped her understand herself, and was allowed to attend an alternative high school that was a better fit for her. I liked that she got more introspective as the story progressed and also more confident. It’s true, as she says, that everyone gets bullied and teased about something, but in my experience it’s how you react to it that sets the tone more than anything else. The more we as a society talk about these things, the more normal they will become and the more the stereotypes will break down and people will be free to be themselves. Someday, someday…

Books about Early Puberty for Girls

My cousin’s daughter just turned ten and I realized that now is the perfect time for a general book about how to take care of your body, with some light “here’s what’s coming down the pike” puberty stuff, but not so much as to overwhelm her if it’s not happening yet. (I asked my cousin and her husband if it was okay with them, of course, and they said yes.) With that in mind, I perused my library’s 612.66 offerings and pulled what looked like the best for review. In the end, I went with the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You, but here are the other books I looked at and why I didn’t choose them:

Girl Power in the Mirror by Helen Cordes (1999). I like the overall message but it’s very much focused on body image and I wanted one that covered more topics. It’s also dated (in terms of appearance – the information’s fine though websites 15 years old might not still be around), and out of print (though alive and well at the library!).

Growing Up: It’s a Girl Thing by Mavis Jukes (1998). Again, in general I really liked this book, and even learned a few things from it! (Such as, specifically how bra cup sizes work – I’m sure I knew vaguely at some point but hadn’t thought about it in ages.) This book touches on topics like molestation (“Most adults will protect children and never harm them, ever… If someone tells you to keep a secret from your parent, it is a signal that the person may have done something wrong.” It’s not your fault, tell an adult, call the Child Help USA Hotline – all good things. If I were to tweak that section, I’d maybe explicitly say that the molester could be your parent, though I understand not wanting to freak out the vast majority of kids who can 100% count on their parents’ protection, there are always going to be kids who are molested by a parent and don’t know it’s not okay.

Jukes also talks about how, even once puberty starts, you’re still a kid for a long time, not a woman, which I liked. However, she spent a while describing watching her mom do all sorts of grownup body care in front of her, which made me squirmy. I’ve never watched anyone else change a pad – it sounds unpleasant and I’d never want to watch my mom do it, or bathe herself, or shave. But maybe that’s just me – if you’ve got a girl who’s really curious, and you’re not comfortable letting her watch, consider this book and she can be a voyeur all on her own. Again, though, this book is 15 years old and there are no website resources listed at the end (or any resources for quick reference, actually).

The Care and Keeping of You 2 by Dr. Cara Natterson (American Girl, 2013). Hooray, a puberty book that’s been updated! I had a little trouble determining if this was actually an update, or for older girls, or both (turns out, both). So I don’t think my cousin’s daughter is actually going through puberty yet, or thinking about sex or relationships, so this book seems beyond her at this point. But when it sounds like she’s thinking about those things, I wouldn’t hesitate to get her this. It can be hard to tell what ages these books are good for. The first book in this series (below) is billed as for “ages 8 and up” but some 8-year-olds are light-years away from needing this information. This book was billed in one places as for “ages 8 and up” and in another as “ages 10 and up,” but again, it depends on the reader. Some girls start menstruating early, and become sexually active early, and therefore would need this book at the lower end of that range, and some won’t need it until high school. Which leads me to…

The Care and Keeping of You by Valorie Schaefer (American Girl, 2013). This book goes through taking care of every part of your body from hair to toes, and emotional health as well as getting enough sleep. I would have liked more about emotional health, friendships, bullying, and the tendency of women to compete instead of creating an atmosphere of sisterhood, but this is a great overall book about all kinds of health and body maintenance, with a painless, non-scary look at the beginning of puberty. Bingo!