Girl power with style

bloomHere’s what I love in a picture book biography:

  • People who persist and overcome obstacles to do amazing things
  • Imagination
  • Dreams
  • Beautiful art

This book has everything I like, along with a lot of shocking pink and some really fun fashion.  Elsa Schiaparelli said NO to the expected and used her imagination, persistence, and dreams to overcome in wild and interesting ways.  I might not be looking for a hat that looks like a shoe myself – although I’m sure I could find a way to rock one along with my favorite cardigan – but we can all appreciate who she was and what she achieved.

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad

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Girl power with sneakers

girl runningBobbi Gibb loved running, even though it wasn’t a “girl” thing to do.  So she ran.  And ran some more.  And one day, she decided to train for the Boston Marathon, even though they didn’t allow women to run, telling her that women were not “physiologically able to run twenty-six miles.”

Well, they were wrong, weren’t they?  Bobbi showed up and ran, and it turned out she beat two-thirds of the men on her way to the finish line.  So there.  You go, girl.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimentel and Micha Archer

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Girl power with science and butterflies

girl who drewMaria Merian very definitely did not grow up in a time and place that valued her skills and abilities as a scientist and an artist.  She managed to find ways around the many expectations put upon her as a woman in the late 1600s, learning to draw and paint from her father and then using that as a way to further her interest in science, eventually leaving her husband and moving to a religious community and then Amsterdam and then traveling the world.

It’s not just that the illustrations are – not surprisingly – wonderful in this book.  Maria’s story is a well-written, dramatic tale, full of interesting details, explanatory sidebars, and a clear picture of what Maria’s daily life might have held.  You go, girl.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

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Girl power, personal

woman symbolIf you don’t know of it already, please google “kidlitwomen” and read at least a few of their posts.

These writers have been making me rethink some things and recharge my literature battery and, yes, inspiring me.  It’s not usually what I’d call “fun” to look back on lost opportunities to stand up for yourself or others, which has happened more and more as the #metoo movement has come and stayed and challenged us.  It can be a struggle to figure out what I personally can do to change all these rusty, hurtful, and broken cultural dynamics.  So what I love in these posts is that – while there is reflection on what has been – these amazing writers are very forward-thinking.  Change might be hard, but it will build a better someday for all kinds of kids, as well as us grown people, allies or not.

Life in Libraryland mirrors the struggles in the “real” world, because, well, it is the real world.  I often think about what I could have done differently in patron interactions that didn’t go as well as I’d like.  There’s a lot I can’t control, however.  Some people walk into my library world with no intention of showing me any respect or kindness.  Maybe they have had a bad day.  Maybe they don’t really know what they’re doing, but their boss is making them do some ridiculous online thing they don’t understand, and of course, the boss is assuming they have internet and computer access at home, which they don’t, and before they even walk in the door, they are angry at the world and, by extension, me, the person who is in front of them not doing exactly what they want as fast as they want.  There are all kinds of anger and despair and frustration that build up before people walk in the door.  I get that.

But sometimes there’s an added layer to it, one where mostly older, white men think it’s ok to bully, accuse, threaten to get you fired, or make other inappropriate and unhelpful remarks, all while you are supposed to be “helping” them.  Nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of that, and when I get around to thinking about it, I feel pretty strongly that they would not behave that way to the men I know, even if that man did not have a clue how to help them and I did.

Do we call that spade a spade, though?  It’s harder than you might think.  We all want to provide good customer service, and our society has been training women from birth to get along, be nice, not be aggressive, and so on, although we certainly like to think that’s changing.  I’ve occasionally been able to talk people down if I can figure out what’s upsetting them and what they need, so once in a while, it all turns out ok.  I spent years in social services, so I came into this gig with some previous experience dealing with really angry people.  If I could deal with that screaming and scary-on-a-good-day dad who was enraged we were trying to help his daughter graduate (long story), I know I can do all right for myself when jerks are in front of me now, although all bets might be off if I’m on cold medication or you’re the fifth person who’s making my day.

Anyway, these moments can seem unsettling and very not empowering.  I know I was socialized to try to make others happy first and be quiet when boys talked all through my youth and college years – you don’t want to see the list of long left-behind incidents that have been popping into my head these days – but things can change.  I can be forward-thinking, too.  I can find new ways to stand up for myself and the readers I have the luck to influence and the writers I have the privilege of reading.  So think about it, brothers and sisters.  Let’s find a way to leave the screaming hot messes in our worlds behind and boldly go somewhere new.

And also read some interesting essays and good books, too.  Always.

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I love Roz and I cannot lie

wild robot escapesShe’s back!  You might not have been waiting with quite as much excitement as me, but SHE’S BACK!

This is how much I love Roz, the Wild Robot…

When the first book came out, I told almost everyone I knew about it more than once, even some people who don’t read middle grade.  We need to get out of our boxes sometimes, right?  Well, that was a book you should do that for!

I bought a copy to give to a teacher friend.  When she didn’t read it right away, I admit I was a little annoyed.  BUT this year, she read it as a read-aloud in the golden after-lunch “literature” time, and all the kids in her completely nuts third grade class loved it.  They loved it so much that when I mistakenly said the new book was called The Wild Robot Returns, someone corrected me, because she had already been bugging her mom about getting the new book, which you can see is The Wild Robot Escapes.

So I pre-ordered a copy of the book for the class. Kids who are that excited about a book really need the sequel. And I put myself on hold for both the paper and electronic copies at the library, just to be sure I would be getting it close to its release date.

Because the e-book copy was released before either paper copies could arrive, I read it in the middle of the night – thank you, insomnia – and finished it by 7 a.m. on its book birthday.

Would you be surprised to find out I love it?  Probably not.  But loved it I did.

In the first book, Roz survived and adapted and thrived when she was the only surviving robot shipwrecked on an island.  She became a parent, a leader, a builder, and a community member.  She learned to speak with animals and worked with them to create a safe environment for all.  Then those awful retrieval robots appeared and forced her back into human society.

She’s just been reformatted and sold to farmer at the beginning of The Wild Robot Escapes, and even though her life is one of repairing buildings and hanging out with dairy cows, you just know she is going to have a big adventure soon.  Will she escape?  Will she reconnect with her animal family?  Can she outsmart a vindictive wolf?  Will she be changing lives again?

I love Roz.  She’s the perfect example of how what some people see as “defective” is really just different in a super wonderful way.

And if you’ve got a minute, check out the author’s blog post on creating Roz and the sequel – it’s pretty cool, too!  Click here.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

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That whole big world outside your window

frances pauleyFrances Pauley, a.k.a. Figgrotten, mostly lives in a world of her own, although she moves through what passes for the real world.  She’s created a rocky living room outside her house, and she prefers to be there – rain, snow, or shine – over most other places in the world, even though she’s got a loving family and an awesome teacher and all.  Well, most of her family is loving.  Teenaged sisters can be wild cards when they live in an uncharted swirl of anger and drama.  Figgrotten also has a best friend, her bus driver, who makes her think about things in new ways and exposes her to a kinder way of interacting in the world.

Reality has a way of intruding on routines, though, and when things start to upend Figgrotten’s life in uncomfortable ways, it’s stressful and sad and upsetting.  Recognizing the good around her might bring her some awareness, some peace, something new to think about.

This is a wonderful book about a quiet and thoughtful kid.

Recently, there’s been a bit of an uproar in northwestern Iowa over some folks who’d like to have more control over what’s accessible to everyone at their public library.  They seem to think that removing or labeling the materials that fall under their umbrella of someone else’s agenda will make it better for everyone because they think they know what’s better for everyone.  They apparently haven’t read the Library Bill of Rights.

This book is an example of what they might want to label or remove.  Why?  Because it mentions a male teacher maybe having a boyfriend or husband.  It’s one conversation towards the end of the book, and it actually shows the character’s growing empathy for others.  She wants her teacher to have love in his life, like most of us want for our friends and families and teachers.

We all live in the same world, people.  You can live your life.  I can live mine.  If you don’t want your kid to read that book, you’re the parent.  Parent.  I don’t believe stopping your kids from seeing it will make it not exist,  It won’t mean they don’t seek it out on their own later, but go for it.  That’s your right as a parent.  It’s not your right to make that choice for me or my kid or anyone else, however.

And by the way, you’d be missing out on a whole lot of wonderful lessons about community and caring and family if you missed this book.  That’s what I want my kid to learn.  Sigh.  Rant over.

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens

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On the highway from Hell to Rome with Boy

book of boyA boy with a secret, a pilgrim with a past, a journey with a destination.  You don’t need much more for a great story.  Throw in a little bit of faith, some tragedy, someone who can speak to animals, a more than average amount of innocence, and you’ve got this book.

I’ve seen it compared to The Inquisitor’s Tale, a wild romp of a book, mostly because of its setting during a time of pilgrimages and relics and saints and demons.  It’s not a bad comparison, for kids who loved The Inquisitor’s Tale, as I did.  But to compare this to anything else is too bad, I think, since this stands perfectly well on its own.  It’s full of bullies and good people and monks and the privileged and the poor, not all of whom behave very well at all, but there is wonder and beauty and mysterious faith, too.  Mix it all up together, and it’s a story I’d be sorry I missed.

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

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I am amazing.

petraYou can call me a pebble, make me feel smaller than a dog on a walk, toss me in the pond.  I will still overcome.  (Cue I Will Survive for the music lovers out there.)

Petra may look like an inconsequential, plain, kind of boring rock.  But she is more, so much more.  And in the eyes of someone who appreciates her, she sees even more possibilities for who she can become.  She knows how to roll, people.  Do you?

Time to rock.  Find your roll.

Petra by Marianna Coppo

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Girl power. Tree power.

kate windIt’s windy at the top of the hill.  All manner of things are flying around in the wind – hats, birds, dust, shutters.  Fortunately, Kate is down below with seedlings, and over time, the seedlings will grow into trees that shelter birds, provide shade, and help make the hill less windy.  A friendship is made, a resource is treasured.

Kate, who tamed the wind by Liz Garton Scanlon and Lee White

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War. What is it good for?

playing atariSay it with me — “absolutely nothing.”

Ali has been through one long war – Iran vs. Iraq – and now is living through the short, first Gulf War.  He and his family are not fans of Saddam Hussein, but what can they do?  Like many, they are just trying to survive.  He and his parents can remember a time when it was safer, at least, and he could go to school, but his new normal is hiding out in his house and trying not to engage with the neighborhood bullies, who just happen to be the kids of government leaders who can and do disappear people.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein is about a childhood in an unsettled time and place, where turning the wrong corner might mean witnessing a mass execution, helping an old woman who’s fallen, being teased for being a Kurd, or playing soccer with your best friend.  It relates a child’s impressions of war – from watching for planes to being annoyed that your brother is suddenly the man of the house and can boss you around.  There are jokes and games of Monopoly, too, in a loving family like his.

Saddam Hussein might not be a name that many children today know well, but the world seems to keep creating similar types.  This could be a powerful way to talk about our troubled world with kids and to highlight how different a child’s life might be in another neighborhood, city, or country.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: based on a true story by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil

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