Usually May is reserved for miscellany.  Any books that I didn’t quite finish in time for their monthly post, things that didn’t quite match up with their intended theme and of course, things I’d been dying to read and review even though they didn’t fit any of my plans, they all found a home here.

But this month I am promising nothing.  I am expecting a baby in June, but this past week (way too far before his due date) he sent me to the hospital for a little excitement.  Meaning, I need to take it easy.  I am very much not skilled in this category.  Taking it easy when  I have things to do makes my skin crawl. I wish very much that I could use this enforced quiet to read, read, read, but my mind races and writes up to do lists that I have to other people execute for me and I cannot force it to focus on a page.

So, hopefully, I’ll get a few things done, and read a bit and spend zero additional time in the hospital before the baby is actually supposed to come.  But I’m in no position to deliver any type of promises.  Begging forgiveness and hoping that you’ll all fill me in on the wonderful things you are reading so that I can at least live vicariously!



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Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins

When I first read Rickshaw Girl years ago, I loved it for the message it sent: that there is something intrinsically valuable in being a girl and that it is possible for girls to achieve their dreams even in situations where it may not seem possible.

It is set in Bangladesh, at a time when girls are only afforded limited education and have nearly no options when it comes to earning money and helping their families financially.  Naima and her sister are always aware of their families delicate monetary situation and sadly, Naima overhears her mother wish that one of her daughters had been born a son.  Frustrated at her inability to contribute, Naima is determined to find a way to help. She knows that in some places women can do more, achieve more and she wants this for herself.  She is not successful until she draws on her own talents and is able to be herself.  Surprisingly enough, she learns that there are women close to home who have ability, ambition and the desire to help other girls find a way to succeed.

Clearly I’m not the only one who sees the value in this slim volume, because it’s currently slated to be made into a movie!  I can only hope that it’s done well because I imagine it will be greatly enjoyed by audiences.

Age Recommendation: This is one of those elusive beginning chapter books, perfect for readers who are transitioning to something a little longer.  Unlike many other shorter texts, it’s packed with positivity, depth and characters that will broaden readers understanding of the world.  I think it could be enjoyed by anyone old enough to read it and although it is short, it would make an excellent choice for even upper elementary readers.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Honor Girl

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Maggie Thrash is not afraid to bring on the awkward in her graphic memoir, Honor Girl.  There is so much angst here, as there should be when you have a fifteen year old girl struggling through her first non-Backstreet Boy crush, who also just happens female. And a counselor at her camp.  Generally speaking all you need is camp+crush to achieve a good palm-sweat level of nervousness and stomach churning, but this really upped the ante.

Maggie is away at the same camp she has always gone to.  And that her mother attended before her.  And her mother before that.  It is all girls and heavy on tradition.  Maggie finds herself crushing on a counselor on the camp, a situation that she is certain will be frowned upon.  When a fellow camper discovers her secret, she and Maggie strike up a friendship born of secrets.  This new friendship sparks its own set of rumors, causing Maggie some problems, but the biggest troublemakers for her are the girls who surrounded her shooting rival, Libby.  Libby’s always been the best shot at camp, but Maggie’s need to escape her thoughts has led her to excel, rising even above Libby.  Libby’s friends take mean-girl bullying to the next level, making things physical at times.

I love the way friendships are shown in Honor Girl.  The way a situational friendship, one that has occurred because of a shared situation, or secret information, can blossom and almost supplant those that were in place prior.  It’s so very real the way you can be caught up with someone and end up telling them things that you wouldn’t tell people who are closer friends.  That whirlwind is captured perfectly here.

A myriad of reactions to Maggie’s sexual orientation are shown in Honor Girl. From complete blasé acceptance, to good-natured teasing, to disbelief, brushing it off, requiring she keep her feelings hidden and of course, the old “you can change”, it shows a full range of reactions that a teen might face.  Having so many different attitudes shown is great. I also appreciated that a counselor spoke to Maggie frankly about statutory rape and its potential consequences.  This is so often glossed over in books. Teens are routinely shown as engaging in relationships that fall in this category and yet it is never brought up. But it’s a real thing and in Maggie’s case, where people’s reaction to the sexual orientation of the people involved might be negative, there is possibly even a greater chance of adult involvement in the case and a desire to prosecute.

Framed in a flashback that allows Maggie to give you the final outcome of her summer of realizations and longing, Honor Girl will strike a chord with all readers who have felt the bittersweet pull of summer love and the deep longing that it will be requited.

Age Recommendation: Grades 9+  due to language and because it features a high school student.  But I would be happy to hand this to an 8th grader who was interested and would advocate making it available to anyone over Grade 6 who may have feelings for people of their own gender.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – a “sex quiz” is passed around in which campers record what base they’ve gotten to and who they’d like to lose their virginity to.  There’s a joke that a camper is a sexual prisoner.  There’s discussion of mooning people.  Naked butts are shown.  Campers discuss which boy is the cutest.  Someone has seen one with his shirt off.  There is teasing related to crushes.  Love notes are written.  There’s talk about a “gay code”.  Maggie wonders if her feelings make her a pervert.  There were rumors about a pair of campers, that they would wear each other’s underwear and sneak out together and were found together naked in a sleeping bag.  Maggie’s crush is discovered, her secret in another’s hands.  Penises are mentioned.  There is handholding.  There’s kissing.  There are rumors spread.  Campers joke about dressing like sluts.  A boy calls a camper sexy. There’s a comment about being on all fours.
Profanity – “fucking”, “God”, “freaking”, “shit”, “for Christ sake”, “bitch”, “dickheads”, “moron”, “jiz face” “damn”, “asshole”, “twat”,  “Jesus Christ”, also, while not profane, “midget” is a term that is considered offensive.
Death, Violence and Gore – The camp director would occasionally threaten to paddle the girls.  Girls shoot guns at a rifle range, trying to earn a certification from the NRA.  A girl slams another to the ground.  A book is thrown at a camper’s face, cutting it and causing her to bleed.  There is a joke about beating up boys.  A camper jokes (I think) about being suicidal.  A camper slaps another camper across the face, forcing her to the ground. A camper jokes about going on a killing spree. A camper says “say away from me or I’ll kill you”.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A boy tells a camper to “stay off the crack”.  She is not using crack.  Counselors are smoking.  Campers speculate that the counselors are drinking alcohol.  Someone who is hosting the campers is likely drunk and shown pouring a drink from a can that is very similar to a recognizable beer can.
Frightening or Intense Things – There’s some typical mean girl behavior.  Rumors are spread about girls.

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Girls! Girls! Girls!

It is a terribly common thing to publish a book with the word girl in the title.  Many of these books are actually adult books about women, in which case the word girl grates a bit. But around these parts, namely young adult, middle grades and kidlit, girl is generally very literal.

This month, I’ll be exploring some of these titles that feature girls.  You will be shocked, SHOCKED to learn that most of them also have female main characters.  I know, it’s earth-shattering.  This is also probably the time to remind you (just in case you’d forgotten), that books with girl in the title, books about girls and their interests and activities and lives, are not just for girls.  They are for anyone and everyone.  It is a fallacy that boys are not interested in stories about girls and the perpetuation of this myth by parents, teachers, librarians and yes, also peers, is doing a great disservice, to our young men, who are learning their way in this world, and to our young women who need allies for equality.

So check out these titles, think widely and broadly when recommending them and ENJOY!

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Fenway and Hattie

Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

Fenway and Hattie have always been best buddies.  They play, romp at the dog park and Fenway sleeps cuddled up in Hattie’s mint and vanilla scented bed.  But a big move from the city to a house shakes everything up. Most concerning, Hattie suddenly doesn’t have time for Fenway and seems to be pulling away.

Fenway’s exuberant personality means that’s he’s undaunted.  Despite veiled warnings from the dogs next door, a sad move from Hattie’s cuddly bed to a room with a gate, Fenway is sure he can get his beloved short human back.

Written from Fenway’s point of view, this book will doubtless charm young readers.  The text is fairly simple, meaning it will work well for either K-2 readers who are reading above grade level or 3rd graders.  The point of view will require a lot of inference on the part of students which is a great skill to develop.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t love it.   I wish I had, but I found it slow in parts, pretty repetitive and I wanted bigger plot, bigger goings on. So while I know plenty of young dog lovers that would enjoy it, and it certainly is a welcome break from the likes of the endless Puppy Place series, I would likely only recommend it to readers who already had a love for dogs.

Age Recommendation: Fenway and Hattie is appropriate for all ages, but will probably hold the most interest for students up to age 10.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Dogs and squirrels are clearly enemies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess

Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill

If you’ve ever thought your child could use a coffee table book this would clearly be the one to own.  I fully expect to see it in Anthropologie’s terribly well curated book section.  High-end precious baby stores should be delicately tucking it into photo shoots, positioned just so in the nursery or child’s room of your dreams. It is just that beautiful.

Certainly there is nothing shocking, groundbreaking or riveting in Miss Moon’s recommendations for good behavior. A brief sentence per page is all we’re afforded. Therefore, it is not the words that will capture readers’ attention or make you wish you could walk directly into a page.  It’s Janet Hill’s exquisite illustrations that do that.  And after you have read the book and admired its beauty, please curb the impulse to rip out the pages and frame them for your walls.  After all, they (and many more dreamy images – I dare you not to fall in love with Lisette and the Skunk) are available for purchase at Janet Hill’s Etsy shop: Janet Hill Studio.  What’s more, they are completely reasonably priced.

I would love to see more from Janet Hill, next time with a rich, perhaps magical plot that offers as much to read as there is to look at.

Side note to teachers:  If anyone still does picture prompts for writing I would retire the masterful yet ubiquitous Chris Van Allsburg pages in favor of some of Hill’s art for a change!

Age Recommendation: Recommended for anyone who likes things of beauty.  The prints could be admired by the youngest baby in a crib and there are certainly adults who might want to place a copy somewhere that both they and their guests could enjoy.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Bows and arrows are shown.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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Pugs of the Frozen North

Pugs of the Frozen North (A Not-So-Impossible Tale) by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

There is a certain pitch that elementary school children can achieve when squealing over something particularly adorable or desirable.  I have no doubt that this book would elicit those joyful sounds, which honestly are not so terribly different from the excited yips of the title pugs.

From the winsome illustrations to the evocative language, this is sure to delight readers.  Every two page spread is filled with pictures: bug-eyed pugs, dastardly cartoonish villains, silky yetis, overly primped sled-dogs or our heroes, Sika and Shen.  Readers who are just transitioning up to longer chapter books will enjoy the break that an illustration gives. Everyone else will just be charmed.  The vocabulary in Pugs of the Frozen North is fantastic too!  Just enough words that will challenge readers without tipping it into over complexity.  I would have loved to have readers collect all of the new-to-them words back when I was teaching.  As a parent, I’m just excited about the exposure.

The basic story involves Shen and Sika heading off with an unlikely dog-sled team of sixty-six pugs on a race to the North Pole to see the Snowfather and have a special wish granted. Their competitors are a mix of cartoonishly eeeeevil villains and friendly rivals, all with exotic, fabulous teams of their own.  The race itself is fraught with your usual peril (fake detours) and some unusual peril (wait until you meet the yetis!)  And the end wraps up not quite like you might expect.  All in all it was a joyful read that I could help wishing would be made into a major motion picture.

Age Recommendation: This is absolutely a book that I would recommend for young readers who are way ahead of grade level, so those Kindergarteners and first graders who need a bit of a challenge but want lots of fun in their books as well!  I believe it would hold interest straight up through about fourth grade, but as an adult I also enjoyed the light entertainment, so who knows how old an audience it might capture.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – “idiot”, “scum”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Grandpa raised sled dogs but they got old and died.  Grandpa will also die. There is blood on the snow as adventures fight to be the first to see the Snowfather.  There are some racing mishaps, but all very cartoonish in nature and unconcerning.  Two people in an illustration are fighting.  A Kraken breaks through the ice and attempts to eat the pugs.  It is bitten for its troubles. Yetis are hit by snowballs.  There are some scary snowmen, but the pugs are not scared and soon send them off. Snowtrolls will eat anyone who falls into their clutches. Dogs are in danger of being eaten by trolls.  They are saved.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.


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Gone to the Dogs

Given the giant picture of my dog’s nose pressed inside a book, it’s probably no secret that I love dogs.  But as I have mentioned before, I’m never quite as sold on dog books.  This is probably because when I was growing up (you know, way back before cell phones and personal computers) there were a whole lot of highly regarded dog books that focused mainly on some type of trauma.  I like my dog books like I like my dogs, adorable, feisty, slightly irreverent and obviously, full of fun and mischief.

Lately I’ve been stockpiling some dog books that look like just the thing for carrying me through the end of winter and into spring.  I finally, finally got my hands on Pugs of the Frozen North, managed to win a copy of the ridiculously adorable looking Fenway and Hattie and have a nice little pile of holds accumulating at the library with other canine heroes.  It promises to be a cheerful and furry month.


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37 Things I Love

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon

Since her father’s accident, Ellis and her mother have carefully orchestrated their lives to avoid any serious conversation.  Ellis saves all of that for her dad.  But when the time comes to make a major decision about his future, Ellis finds herself re-examining all of her relationships, from her mother to her friends.

Always on the fringe of the popular crowd due to her best friend Abby, Ellis finds herself more and more aware of Abby’s shortcomings.  She’s also torn between anger and pity as her dear friend Colin continues to be under Abby’s spell.  But with her world turned upside down, Ellis reencounters and reconnects with Cara, who was once was one of her closest friends.  Unlike Abby, Cara seems to have time and energy to focus outside herself and Ellis desperately needs friends who can be there for her.  It’s just that hanging out with Cara takes a sudden turn that Ellis wasn’t expecting.

Far more focused on family and friendship than on romance, 37 Things I Love managed to find the balance between the difficulty of having a parent on life support with the normal drama filled life of a teenager.  A slim 216 pages, I was left wanting more.  I wanted a better vision of how the friendships would move forward.  I wanted more of the romantic plot that had started and then came to an abrupt halt.  I just wanted more.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s really a complement!  I just wasn’t quite ready to leave these characters!

Age Recommendation: This is probably best for high school students although some middle school readers might enjoy it as well.  Parents should be aware of the drinking that goes on in the book, but it is in no way glamorized.  People who drink too much suffer from hangovers and embarrassment, which is probably what normal teenage drinkers can expect anyway.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – The physiques of several boys are discussed.  Teens stare at breasts.  A couple makes out. A teen kisses someone’s cheek.  A teen cannot remember what sexual things she did while drunk.  She has hickeys on her chest.  Two girls hold hands.  One sucks the other’s nipple.  This is not done with consent or after any discussion of feelings. The contact was not expected nor encouraged.
Profanity – “fucked”, “damn”, “God”, “shit”, “darn”, “asshole”, “bitch”, someone flips people off, “fucking”,  “jackass”, “jerk”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A teen grabs a teen’s breast and pretends it was an accident.  It was not. He does not remove his hand.  A teen stuffs her bra with jello and is found out.  She is harassed for this.  A teen’s parent dies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Teens drink wine. A party involves kegs of beer, the reasons teens drink are briefly mentioned.  There is peer pressure regarding drinking.  Some teens smoke.
Frightening or Intense Things – Ellis has recurring nightmares about falling, possibly related to her father’s bad fall.  Her father is on life support and has been for years.  As the book opens, her mother is contemplating taking him off.

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Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I’m not big on issues books.  So when I picked a book about integration with a interracial lesbian romance, believe me, I had concerns.  This can’t end well, right?  And getting to the end is going to be pretty painful too?  But I had heard so many good things and I also know that it’s important to go outside your comfort zone sometimes, so I went for it.

First off, it’s important to acknowledge that I am white.  And because of that, my knowledge of integration is pretty basic and I’ve had the privilege and luxury of not having to think beyond the n-word and the photos of menacing crowds, threatening well-dressed black children as they enter their new schools.  Spending time with Lies We Tell Ourselves refuses to let you walk away after day one.  You don’t just see the bravery required on the first day of school. Every single day you spend with Sarah and Ruth and Ennis and Chuck at school is one where every moment is fraught with tension.  Of course, there are a group of instigators responsible for the bulk of the trauma, another group that joins in with taunts and cheers, complicit, but the overwhelming, deafening silence and lack of action on the part of bystanders is mind boggling.  It is the same silence that has stretched across decades to the present day, allowing those who are violent and fueled by hate to run the narrative.

But even though this is a story of integration, it’s also story about two girls, their families, their struggles, their perceptions of themselves.  Although their interactions begin the way you might expect between a black teenager and the white daughter of a hate-spewing newspaper man, they learn that there is more to each of them than what they seem to others.  Their connection is one that is not simple.  Each girl must struggle with her own feelings regarding her sexuality, especially weighty considering the time period.  Sarah in particular is quite religious and does a lot of soul searching about why she hasn’t been punished for her feelings.  Beyond that, there is the question of race.

In the end, this was a book that I could not put down, except for short breaks to get a breather from the tension that Talley builds.  Although it was really hard to read about how difficult integration was for the students, it was also really compelling and impressive to realize their strength.  And the constant push-pull of the relationship will also keep you racing through, waiting to see what happens next.  I won’t spoil the end at all, but I will tell you that things do not end terribly for our heroines.  Lies We Tell Ourselves hardly shirks from violence or hatred, but some secrets are kept, some are spared.

Age Recommendation: I think this is suitable for Grades 8 and up, probably even a bit younger if you have readers who can handle the violence and tension.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – White parents fear their daughters might “get in trouble” with black teens. A teen has kissed and held hands, but not French-kissed. A teen looks at pictures of girls in swimsuits in a magazine. A high school girl has a 22 year old fiancee. A girl will reportedly “go all the way” with anyone who will give her his football pin.  A girl has never done more than kiss her fiance because he believes a girl who will be his wife deserves more respect. People discuss their dates to a dance.  A teen wouldn’t play seven minutes in heaven. Teens have sexual and romantic feelings towards each other. Two girls kiss.  Girls are told to keep their skirt down and their panties up.  Boys and girls kiss.
Profanity – “nigger” is used repeatedly, other racist slurs include “mau maus, tar baies, coons”, “hell”, “God”, adult male blacks are called “boy”, “Dang it”, “shit”, “shut up”, “damn”, “goddamn”, “bullshit”, “bitch”,
Death, Violence and Gore – People are threatened.  Someone throws something at a teen.  People are spit upon.  A teen wishes she could use a knife to slice someone’s tongue in two.  People are pushed, shoved, physically bullied. A teen is injured on her neck.  People are tripped. People are poked with pencils, nearly to the point of bleeding.  They are threatened with violence. There’s mention of a black boy down in Mississippi who was killed for being with a white girl.  A teen has milk poured all over her.  A teen is tripped and then surrounded.  People are kicked.  There are threats of setting people on fire.  There are legitimate fears of lynching.  Rocks, sticks and pencils are thrown at the black students. Students have gum spit at them. Students receive death threats. A white male grabs the breasts of a black teen.  A father draws back his hand to hit his child, but does not strike. A teen is hit in the back of the neck with a baseball.  Most witnesses laugh.  White throw bottle caps, trying to slice the skin of their targets. The violent murder of Emmett Till is described, that he was beaten, shot, his eye gouged out and that he was thrown in a river. He was 14.  This recounting is a true story.  A cross is set on fire in a black teens yard. Teens have a legitimate fear of being lynched, hung.  An adult tells of a time a black man was accused of theft and was beaten so badly he never walked again.  A teen raises his arm to defend himself after being hit and is beaten by at least 15 others. They use a bucket to break his ribs and continue the beating with a mop handle.  His nose is broken, his face bloody.  His whole body is bloody.  He has broken bones and took a blow to the head.  When he is taken to the hospital they are unsure if he will ever regain consciousness.  A teen is given a note showing a lynching as a threat. A man hits his child.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – An adult has a glass of sherry. Adults have a drink.  A teen smokes cigarettes. An adult smokes cigarettes.  A teen has been drinking. Men smoke pipes.
Frightening or Intense Things – A school is about to be integrated and the black students are rightfully concerned about the harassment and violence they are likely to face.  Some white girls scream when black teens walk past.  There is a lot of talk about white superiority, what black brains can and can’t handle, how they will bring down social standards.  It’s a lot of explicit racism, the kind white people might like to think doesn’t happen but is foundation of a society than continually represses minorities.  There is also discussion of racial purity and the need to keep the races from intermarrying and having children.  White students urinate on a black teens seat.

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