The first one is called "Like Vanessa" by Tami Charles. I was mildly horrified to find that it's categorized as historical fiction because it's set in the 1980s (heeeeyyyy, wait just a cotton pickin' minute. The 80s are history? Ok, they are MY history too). Anyway, mild horror aside, this was a really great story about friendship, finding your true voice, making assumptions about people based on their appearance and working towards a goal. It's about Vanessa, who is in 8th grade. She has one true friend, but her friend is finding other interests and Vanessa is worried that they will not remain friends. Vanessa also finds that she has other interests that her friend isn't so interested in. Vanessa really wants to be Miss America. Until now, she didn't think it was possible. Until 1983, there had never been a black Miss America, but suddenly Vanessa Williams made history as the first black Miss America, and suddenly the Vanessa in the story thinks that might be possible. The music teacher turns out to be a positive role model (in spite of Vanessa's initial assessment of her) and suggests that they start a beauty pageant in their school. There's also a bit of a mystery to the story like why Vanessa avoids the bathtub and why her dad locks himself in his bedroom and works long hours to avoid the family. I really liked this character's voyage of self discovery and I think a lot of girls will recognize themselves in Vanessa as a person who wants to be taken seriously, a person who can find their own beauty even if society is telling them otherwise, a person who values friendship and family. This might tend more toward middle school than upper elementary, there is a scene of violence towards the end of the book that rings very true, but might be upsetting to some of the younger kids. Overall, a solid read.
Here's a short interview with the author.
The second one has been getting a lot of buzz. It's called "Amal Unbound" and it's by Aisha Saeed. I was lucky enough to get to hear Aisha at a local book event called BAM that was in West Palm Beach last week end. It turns out Aisha is graduated from one of our local high schools! If I didn't admire her enough already, because this book was terrific!
It's about Amal who is a girl who lives in Pakistan. She is the oldest daughter in her family. She has four younger sisters and so she has to help out a lot at home. She also loves to go to school and dreams of being a teacher. But she also has trouble being the submissive girl that her family believes that she should be. So when she's at the market one day, she has an encounter with one of the rich people in the village that changes her life. I don't want to spoil it, because the story unfolds so beautifully, it's really worth the wait. It's beautifully written and Amal is a character that is going to resonate with a lot of kids. This one would be appropriate for all the middle graders and will have some excellent tie ins to global issues, including treatment of women and treatment of girls and the value of education.
Colby Sharp really liked it too! Here's his video about it.
And here's the completely gorgeous cover.
So YAY for strong women!