What Are Little Girls Made Of? by Jeanne Willis

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What Are Little Girls Made Of? by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Isabelle Follath (9781536217339)

This book of refreshed feminist nursery rhymes takes the classics and turns them into rhymes that inspire all children to not follow gender norms. Little Baby Bunting’s mother heads out to find a job so they can pay for college. Georgie Porgie is taught a lesson on consent. Jill repairs Jack’s scooter so he can keep going down the hill. Girls welcome spiders to their gardens and picnics. Throughout the book, girls and women appear as doctors, mechanics, and scientists. They are invariably confident and in control of situations. These rhymes are a far cry from the originals and long overdue.

Willis takes clever aim at each of these familiar nursery rhymes. She keeps their structure and rhymes in place for the most part, inserting the feminist twist without losing the connection to the original. Some of the rhymes change just a little while other become almost entirely new. This makes for interesting reading as one realizes how sexist and outdated the originals truly are.

Follath’s illustrations fill the pages with strong women and girls of all races. As written in the rhymes, the girls get messy, get wet, insist on being treated properly, and in general take charge of the pages. This is done with a merry sense of humor in the illustrations, ensuring that the tone remains light.

A great book for little feminists of all genders. Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nosy Crow.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

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The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (9781984848697)

At age 16, Deka is preparing for the blood ceremony in her village that will prove that she is pure and worthy of marriage. When her village is attacked by deathshrieks though, Deka’s blood flows gold rather than red. Deka is discovered and held in a cell where she is drained of her blood regularly. Now unable to die permanently, she suffers through several deaths while her blood is sold by the elite members of her village. When a strange woman arrives wielding the power of the Emperor, she takes Deka with her to join a new elite force of fighters, all of them girls with gold blood and immortality. It is there that Deka becomes a warrior, learning to fight the deathshrieks and also learning about the powers she seems to have that no one else does, including the ability to order the deathshrieks to obey her commands. But all is not what it seems in the training camp. Steadily, Deka and her friends discover what is being hidden from them all.

Written in wildly engaging style, this book is a gripping and tense look at a society that denigrates women yet has to depend on them for their very survival in war. The pacing is strong, the book moving ahead with new discoveries and new revelations nicely. The diverse characters fill the entire cast, making a rich reading experience in an interesting fantasy world with monsters who are more than they seem at first.

Deka is an engaging protagonist. She must push back on the way she was raised to be submissive, something that many girls and women in our own society must do as well. Stepping into her own power is a theme of the book, learning to wield her new weapons and then figuring out who the real enemies are. Readers will figure out the puzzle long before Deka even seems interested in wondering about it. There are a few surprises along the way though, making it worth reading even if the reader has it mostly solved.

Ferocious, feminist, fierce and great fun. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Delacorte Press.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough

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We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough (9780525556053)

Em’s older sister was raped by another student at her college following a frat party. After reliving the trauma through the trial of her rapist, Em is incandescent with vindication when the jury finds the rapist guilty on all counts. Em has been an advocate for her sister through the process, becoming a social media figure in the #MeToo movement. Then the judge in the case rules that the rapist will serve no prison time. Once again Em’s entire family is thrown into chaos. Her sister must figure out how to continue going to school and where she can safely live. Her parents are fractured in their responses, smothering and avoiding. Em too must find a new way forward without the trial as her focus. Meanwhile, a clip of her after the trial saying she wants to learn “how to use a sword” has gone viral. As Em makes new friends over the summer, she learns to wield that sword both literally and figuratively as she discovers the life of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman who is a legendary figure who took justice into her own hands and at the point of her own sword.

McCullough’s writing here is just as fine as that of her debut novel Blood Water Paint. She writes such strong young women who deal with rape and derision and yet find a way to fight back in their own personal ways. For Em, her writing is a tool that allows her to cope. She gets caught up in the legend of Marguerite de Bressieux, writing at length, sharing it usually with a new friend who understands her need to stand up and be heard. Em’s writing is included in the book in verse, pairing beautifully with the prose and offering illuminated images alongside some of the poems.

Intelligent and raging, this book deeply looks at the impact of a rape on the survivor and her family. It’s interesting to have Em as the main character, a sister who feels powerless much of the time and must reclaim along with her sister what has been lost to the legal process and its clear biases. It is a look also at the power of art to express fury as well as hope.

Stunning, raw and gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.

2021 RISE List

Rise: A Feminist Book Project announced their Top Ten List for their 2021 RISE List. The list is a project of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association and includes books for ages 0-18. Here is the 2021 Top Ten:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Red Hood by Elena K. Arnold

Ritu Wed Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti (9781534426979)

Sydney is the daughter of the famous Lila Shore, an actress who did an iconic sex scene. Sydney lives most of the year in Seattle attending a private school, living in a dorm, and visiting her grandmother. But over the summer, Sydney heads to San Francisco to spend months with her mother, who never seems to actually have time to spend with Sydney. Lila lives in Jake’s house, dating him and staying for free. It’s a house near the beach with cliff views, a house that is often fogged in, a house full of secrets and violence. Jake pays a lot of attention to Sydney, as does a construction worker at a neighboring house. Sydney is creeped out by the sudden attention to what she is wearing, how she looks and innuendos about what she does. However, she doesn’t mind the attention from Nicco, a sweet boy she meets on the beach, who captures lines and moments from each day in his journal. As the summer goes on though, the tension grows towards a foreshadowed tragedy that is almost inevitable.

In this slow burn of of thriller mystery, Caletti focuses on how unwanted male attention impacts teen girls, both in the way they act but even more importantly on the way they view themselves. With an even brighter light than our general society, Caletti uses the intensity of fame to capture society’s objectification of women and finding value in the physical rather than the internal.

The book works on several levels with the thriller being steadily foreshadowed by the court documents listed at the beginning of each chapter. The mystery of what happened, the steadily build of tension, and the intensity of the revealing scene. It also works as a deep work of feminist literature, insisting that the reader notice what is going on, notice the impact that male attention has, and notice that something must be done to change this.

An intense feminist novel for teens that insists on being noticed. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon Pulse.

Review: Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742377)

Bisou knows the cruelty of men, having found her mother dead at the hands of her father when she was a small child. She was taken in by her grandmother, a strong woman who lives a solitary and simple life in Seattle. Bisou lives much the same way, having few friends until she starts to date. Everything changes when on the night of homecoming, she runs from her boyfriend and finds herself alone in the woods and being stalked by a wolf. When she defends herself and the wolf lies dead, she heads home. The next day she hears of a boy found dead in the woods from the same injuries as the wolf she killed. Bisou soon discovers her family history, the tale of her grandmother, and the power of being a hunter.

Arnold has taken the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and turned it forcefully on its head. Her writing is heart-pounding and fast paced yet also takes its time to create settings and characters that are vivid on the page. She takes elements of traditional societal shame and makes them part of Bisou’s power, including menstruation. The book also captures sex scenes where there is no consequences other than pleasure for Bisou, something that is so rare in teen fiction that it is noteworthy. 

Arnold’s deep look at family violence and sexual predators doesn’t pull any punches or many any excuses. Bisou instead of being the prey becomes the hunter, called out of her bed by the moon. With ties to both fantasy and elements of allegory, this novel is dark and bloody, just right to be relished by young feminists.

Strongly written, violent and triumphant, this novel is tremendous. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Chirp by Kate Messner

Chirp by Kate Messner

Chirp by Kate Messner (9781547602810)

Mia is moving to Vermont where her grandmother has a cricket farm. Her arm is still recovering from being broken after a fall from a balance beam, but her mother insists that she go to summer camps. Mia chooses to attend a maker camp and also a warrior camp that will have her climbing rock walls and swinging from rings. As Mia makes new friends and finds new fans for her grandmother’s cricket treats, she is also helping by making a business plan for her grandmother’s farm. There are strange things happening at the farm though as disaster after disaster befalls the delicate crickets. Her grandmother insists that she is being sabotaged, but could her grandmother actually be losing her memory? Mia and her friends tackle the mystery, build up the business, and learn to speak out along the way too. 

Messner writes a middle grade novel that neatly embeds sexual harassment and abuse information into the story. In fact, that is at the heart of Mia’s injury and also at the heart of many women and girls that are in the book too. This book is deeply about survival as a girl, a woman and as a cricket. It’s about finding your voice, using your power and finding ways to get justice. It is also about the incredible bravery it takes to be a survivor, whether you have spoken out yet or not. 

Messner has written a compelling mystery to solve alongside the social justice. There are great suspects, more than one potential reason for the problems, and finally a dramatic resolution as well. Add in a science competition and you have one amazing Vermont summer filled with the crunch of crickets.

A great look at friendship, speaking out and taking back power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

2020 Rise: A Feminist Book Project

The Amelia Bloomer Project will now be known as Rise: A Feminist Book Project for ages 0-18. The project continues to be part of the Feminist Task Force and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. Here are the Top Ten books chosen for 2020:

At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, Illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy, Illustrated by Kayla Harren

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, Illustrated by Tonya Engel

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Surviving the City, Vol. 1 by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mjia

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Review: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (9780698195264)

On the 20th anniversary year of her ground-breaking teen novel Speak, Anderson has written a searing book of poetry that chronicles her own journey to having a voice and speaking out. Thanks to the subject matter of Speak, Anderson is trusted by many of the teens she speaks before to hear their own stories of abuse and rape. Surely over the decades, something has changed. Has it? In this nonfiction work of verse, Anderson opens up about her own childhood and parents, her own experience with sexual assault and rape, the sexual harassment of college campuses from students and professors alike, and so much more. Her book is a call to action, to rage alongside her, and to not be silent.

Anderson’s poetry slams into you like a freight train. She does have some poems that are subtle and more introspective, but the ones that rush and insist are the best here. Her anger fuels this entire book, her call to be better, to raise sons who do right, to speak and shout and yell. She is so honest on these pages, allowing the teens and others who have spoken to her to have space in the book too. In a book that could have felt like too much pain, it is instead action oriented and forceful.

Anderson’s verse is incredibly skilled. She tells poignant stories, both her own and other people’s. She shares insights, yells at those she evaded once, demands changes and shows how very vital one angry voice can be for change. This is a book that every woman should read, teens and adults. It’s one to return to for fuel to fight on when you are spent.

Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Penguin Young Readers.