What Are Little Girls Made Of? by Jeanne Willis

Cover image.

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 This makes for interesting reading as one realizes how sexist and outdated the originals truly are.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.

111 Trees by Rina Singh

Cover image for 111 Trees

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer (9781525301209)

Part of the Citizen Kid collection, this nonfiction picture book explore the story of how one village in India came to celebrate the birth of girls. Sundar grew up walking with his mother to get water through the heat. until she is killed from a snake bite. After this, Sundar takes comfort in hugging trees, thinking of his mother. Sundar grew up and taught his children to love nature as much as he does. He works for a mining company and grows so worried about what they are doing to the local environment and their unwillingness to plant trees to help that he leaves his job. He runs for election and becomes the head of the village. When his daughter dies, he plants trees in her memory. He has an idea, declaring that every girl born in the village will be welcomed by the planting of 111 trees. Sundar is mocked for this idea that goes against customs, but he does not give up. He steadily speaks with people, convincing them of the impact they could have on the local environment by planting these trees. As the trees grow, life in the village changes. Now the women don’t have to walk long distances to get water, the fruit of the trees help feed the children and families, and girls can go to school with the boys as the gender inequality is overturned.

Singh builds her story with care, showing Sundar’s childhood with his mother and then his loss of her as the deep inspiration for his idea. She demonstrates how one man’s quest to fix the environment can make an enormous difference not just for him but for an entire community, the future of the girls that grow up there, and the quality of life for all. Singh does not lecture, instead showing how resilience and perseverance can eventually pay off. The Author’s Note at the end of the book offers more information on Sundar and the other customs that he has ended, including child marriage.

The illustrations show the changing landscape as the trees are planted. From a desert-like wasteland, the steady increase in trees transforms the landscape and the pages to lush green. The images focus on the interplay between human and nature, showing a community that even when skeptical continued to listen.

An inspiring picture book that tells the true story of one man’s quest to bring back trees and stop gender inequality. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.

Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.

Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.

A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson

A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson

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.

Review: Mina vs. the Monsoon by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Mina vs. the Monsoon by Rukhsanna Guidroz

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

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

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

I'm a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail

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

Bloom by Doreen Cronin

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.

 

Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

princess in black

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.