A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781541557772)
A group of girls share their dreams with the reader in this picture book. Sometimes when girls dream big, people say that they shouldn’t be doing that. Girls shouldn’t be flying, they shouldn’t walk tall, and they need to stay out of the water. They should just be like everyone else. But instead of listening to the critics, in this picture book they embrace wearing costumes and head to the beach together where they created something even better than their dreams. The book ends with each of the girls in the photographs sharing a bit about themselves and their personal dreams for their futures.
Told in very simple lines, this picture book talks frankly about the limitations placed on girls in our society and the pressures they feel to conform. This book does a great job countering those messages, showing girls who stretch the limits as happy, confident and part of a larger group. Crews has illustrated the book in her signature photograph collages. They depict a diverse group of girls who stand together and create their own community for change and dreams.
Dynamic and inclusive, this book offers inspiration for girls to just be themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Millbrook Press.
Mina vs. the Monsoon by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta (9781949528985)
Mina loves to play soccer outside in the sunshine. But it’s now monsoon season and that means a lot of days filled with rain. Her mother won’t let her play soccer in the rain since she might catch a cold. But Mina knows that her mother doesn’t understand the joy of playing soccer or scoring a goal. Mina tries a series of things to drive the rain away, but none of them work. When the milk man explains to her why the rain is so important for the rice crops and mango fruit, she still isn’t convinced. Finally, Mina discovers something new about her mother that just might change everything, even the pouring rain.
A strong book about the importance of girls playing sports, this book has an afterword that speaks to the work of local organizations in India combating child marriage by organizing girls’ soccer games. Those games keep the girls in school, offer them a sense of accomplishment and give them a model for different roles for women and girls in society. The writing is kept simple and is filled with words in Urdu and Hindi that are defined in a glossary at the end of the book that also offers pronunciation guidance. They are used cleverly in context so that readers will immediately understand them as well.
The art in this picture book is vibrant despite the rain. It offers a look at life in rural India, the vibrancy of the textiles, and the connection to nature. It also clearly depicts Mina’s love for her mother even when they don’t agree.
A powerful look at sports and girls in an interesting part of our world. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Yali Books.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (9781626726352)
Vivian hates her high school with its focus on football, a culture where the football players are kings and can do no wrong, and being harassed in the hallways. Inspired by a box of her mother’s mementos, Vivian who has never broken a rule, decides to start her own zine called Moxie. The zine calls at first for simple things like putting stars and hearts on your hands in support of girls. Along the way, Vivian starts to date Seth, a boy who just moved to town and is different from the others at her school. She also makes other new friends, who are drawn together thanks to Moxie. Soon Moxie takes on a life of its own and other girls are forming events using the name. But when one of her best friends is assaulted by a football player and the school does nothing, Vivian gets angrier and Moxie grows even stronger.
Mathieu has created a novel that is filled with a rage that girls should be feeling. The novel talks directly about the apathy that fills high school life, the unchanging feel of assignments and classes, of riding it out until you can finally graduate and escape. She challenges that, showing that small acts of civil disobedience can create a movement, that girls have power if they take it and that fighting back works. It’s a message that is raw and important, one that takes moxie to live out.
All of the characters in this novel are so fully formed and human. They make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a novel that celebrates that people can transform and get angry and that bravery can come from being part of a movement and insisting on being seen and heard. The book celebrates friendships of girls, new and old, and how those friendships can drift and change but still be strong in the end.
This book raises its voice for feminism and fighting back. It’s a book for all genders and all libraries. Appropriate for ages 13-17. (Reviewed from library copy.)
I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail (InfoSoup)
A little girl donkey keeps on getting mistaken for a boy. She knows that others think that she should be nice, but she’s “sweet and sour, not a little flower.” She rides really fast on her scooter too and people think she’s a boy as she zooms past them. She takes off her clothes down to her underwear to jump in the pool too. After each time she is mistaken for a boy, she insists over and over again that she is a girl! In the end she meets a boy who is mistaken for being a girl and the two of them rejoice in dressing and being exactly who they are.
This is a lovely and very accessible look at gender stereotypes and the children who act as themselves and against societal expectations. I appreciate the book going beyond external trappings and looking at behavior and what a child finds fun. So girls can be noisy, messy, fast and exciting. This book can be used just as a dynamic picture book about gender but it could also be used in a classroom to discuss differences and similarities and why it is good to be yourself.
The illustrations are done in watercolor that is vibrant and bright. The little blue donkey dances across the page moving at breakneck speed and clearly have a great time. The use of her beaded necklace shows the speed that she is going at and also shows that she does have some more feminine aspects to her dress as well. It’s a subtle way to speak to the mix of feminine and masculine traits that we all have.
A radiant picture book about breaking gender stereotypes, this book introduces a jolly female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small (InfoSoup)
Bloom was a fairy who dealt in dirt and plants. She could spin sand into glass and turn small amounts of water into rivers. She lived in a glass kingdom and as the years passed, the kingdom’s inhabitants only saw the mess that Bloom left behind with her mud and not the way that she helped. Bloom finally left and went to live in the forest. More years passed and the glass kingdom started to fall into disrepair. The king remembered the powerful fairy and went to seek her help, because such a creature could only be asked by a monarch. But when Bloom offered the king to save his kingdom with mud, the king stormed off. The queen tried too with similar effect. Finally, they decided that they must send someone ordinary to ask Bloom for help and so Genevieve was selected. It will take a girl working with a fairy to save the kingdom, but even more it will take getting dirty along the way.
Cronin has created a story that is surprising and delightful. This is a fairy tale where girls save the day rather than being rescued by princes. It reads like a traditional fairy tale but with a feminist viewpoint that is not overplayed at all. There is also a beautiful attitude about getting your hands dirty and the fact that hard work is the way to solve problems along with working together.
Small’s illustrations are playful with delicate lines that swoop on the page. They are alive with action, particularly when Bloom is on the page. Small captures the delight of mud and getting dirty, the connection of the two girls, and the efforts that it takes to rebuild a kingdom even with magic. I must also mention the text design, which makes the book a joy to read aloud, creating real feeling around words like MUD and DIRT.
A feminist and intelligent fairy tale just right for modern children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded. Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom. After all, princesses don’t wear black! Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black. The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats. Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!
Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life! This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego. The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats. Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom. Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.
Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way. Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all. The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.
A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Of Course They Do!: Boys and Girls Can Do Anything by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol
This very simple book filled with crisp photographs takes on gender stereotypes and proves them quickly wrong. The book starts with things that boys don’t do, like “Boys don’t cook.” Turn the page and the counter to the stereotype is given with a photograph of a chef and the words “Are you sure?” The book then moves on to stereotypes about girls, like them not playing sports.
The format is engaging and fresh. Having the more traditional gender role on one page and then the correction on next works particularly well, since it gives children a chance to realize that they themselves may think some of these things. I also like that the format asks questions on the pages where the stereotype is being disputed. This too lets children have the ability to change their mind rather than be defensive about what they had been thinking.
The illustrations are all photographs and are bright and clear. Many of them are close ups of faces that prove the point that girls and boys can do so many things. Throughout the book there is clear diversity as well.
Clear and intelligently designed, this book will be welcome for units about gender. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy by Kitty Griffin, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
The story of Betsy Dowdy has been part of an oral tradition for over 200 years. While she may not have existed, this is a wonderful American story of bravery and determination. Betsy was 16 years old in 1775 when the news came of the redcoats marching to Great Bridge to take ponies and supplies. There was no hope that anyone could make it to General Skinner’s militia fifty miles away in time to bring aid. But Betsy could not help in other ways. She couldn’t fight. But she could ride. So despite the danger and the dark, she set off riding her trusty pony, Bess. The ride was not easy. They had to swim across a channel in December, and that was the start of the ride. Betsy had to endure packs of dogs, ice cold temperature, and falling from Bess several times. But in the end, she got to the general in time. The day was saved thanks to one brave girl and her tireless pony.
Betsy Dowdy is a girl version of Paul Revere. Griffin writes with great historical details, that bring the time period to life. But it is Betsy herself who is the focus of this book. Wonderfully, Betsy’s fear is allowed to show and her desperation and fatigue. She is a very human heroine and because of that she is all the more impressive.
Priceman’s illustrations are filled with deep colors from the purple of the frightening forest to the deep blue of the river. Done in gouache and ink, the illustrations are wonderfully dramatic, conveying motion forward in a variety of ways. One of my favorite images is Betsy riding into the dawn of the new day, the colors changing as she moves through the setting. One feels the sudden surge of hope that light brought.
A powerful story of girl power that should be used in American Revolution units with elementary children. Girls will enjoy a story that includes more action than sewing or rolling bandages. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Also reviewed by The Fourth Musketeer and Kiss the Book.
Nasreen’s Secret School: a True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
The author of The Librarian of Basra brings readers another true story from the Middle East. This is the story of Nasreen, a young Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents disappeared. Her grandmother hears about a school for girls which is secret and forbidden. In the hopes of bringing Nasreen out of her silence, her grandmother enrolls her. The girls attending the school must be clever. They must leave alone or in small groups. They must hide their schoolwork if they are inspected by soldiers. Little by little, Nasreen and her classmates learn to read and write. And little by little, Nasreen begins to join this community of women and girls.
Winter’s illustrations are are framed by lines and painted in thick acrylic paints. This gives them the feel of more traditional work, though they depict modern life. Though the situation is complex, Winter manages to tell the story in short sentences. American children will learn of a society where people disappear and girls are not allowed to be educated, all explained at their level of comprehension. Expect lots of questions and discussion after sharing this true story with children.
An important piece of work, this picture book allows children to glimpse another culture that is now intertwined with our American one. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by A Year in Reading.