Tagged as: books

Our Mother-Daughter Book Club: A Touchstone in New Territory


By Emily Carpenter—Almost a year ago, my friend Stacy asked me and another friend of hers I didn’t know to meet at Panera to talk about the possibility of forming a Mother-Daughter Book Club. Where did she learn about the idea? Pinterest. She introduced Marianne to me, and showed us the book, Her Next Chapter. All three of us had eldests that were in 3rd grade at the time—we were journeying together. On my drive home that night, I felt a tiny tectonic shift into a new territory of parenting. Acknowledging our 8-year-old daughters were growing and sponging everything up and now interpreting it through different lenses, deciding to form this book club as a touchstone for them is something for which I’ll always be grateful to Stacy. The girls were even more excited than we were. My daughter Zoe was drawn in because this meant she could “go out at night like a mom.” For the first few book club meetings, the moms had to do a lot of modeling of conversation, taking turns, asking each other questions, and so on.

girlsoncouchAs we looked forward to each month’s meeting, the girls were paying so much attention to different aspects of the book as they read because they knew they’d get a chance to explore all of it at book club with friends. One really fun part was noticing foods they ate in the book and then each of us picking something applicable to bring to eat at book club! I think the most interesting thing we ate was the “cut-up” we made from Turtle in Paradise. In the book, all the kids bring something—anything!—to go into the “cut-up”: avocado, onion, papaya, potato, banana, pineapple, lime juice, and hot sauce. We duplicated it! (It was one of those things you’re not sure you like but you keep eating to figure it out.)

By the time we got to My Life with the Chimpanzees (our 7th month of book club), the girls wanted to answer the call to action Jane suggests at the end. They all decided to write to Hillary Clinton as a strong woman leader. (The theme for that month was Chapter 10 from Her Next Chapter: “Girls Are Leaders! Laying the Foundation for Future Adult Female Leadership”). We explained that just because they don’t hear back from her doesn’t mean the message won’t be read—she has lots of letters come her way. Well, to our surprise, two of them had their letters published on the Letters to Hillary Tumblr. You can see them here at #10 and #33.

Beginning in October, the girls asked to take the reins. Each one has chosen a month and a book and is writing the questions and leading discussion. As a mother, the part I cherish most is that, regardless of temperament on any other given day at home or at school, they always seem to arrive at book club open and willing to share. I have found our Mother-Daughter Book Club an invaluable resource in raising an empowered, informed, and educated daughter.

I daresay, this may go down as the biggest Pinterest-win of all time!


About the Author


Emily Carpenter is a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades: blogger, organizer, digital media creator/ producer, and mother of three very different humans. A graduate of Penn State with a BFA in Musical Theatre, Emily also teaches music and performs, and most importantly never turns down a cappuccino with lots of froth on top. You can find Emily on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow her book club blog here.

Reading Aloud: It’s Not Just For Little Kids

By Emily Sexton—I read to my children every night. My kindergartner just turned 6, so there is nothing remarkable about that—we read picture books and early reader chapter series like Owl Diaries, the The Princess in Black and those never-ending Rainbow Magic fairy books, along with age appropriate-ish books about astronomy and math or whatever she is currently into.

More surprising for most people is that I still read to my rising 8th grader as well. We graduated from picture books and The Magic Tree House ages ago, but over the years it has proved to be a really fabulous experience on a lot of levels. I got the idea to just keep on reading together until he said he was ready to stop. This suggestion came from a former colleague who mentioned that he was reading A Conspiracy of Dunces with his high schooler. When my son was a reluctant reader, in part because he thought that we would stop reading to him once he learned to read, my promise to read with him as long as he wanted took on greater importance. Learning to read himself didn’t have to mean the end of reading aloud together.

There is research out there about the benefits of reading aloud to older kids, in both home life and educational contexts—kids process information differently when listening and reading aloud to them can expose them to deeper concepts and vocabulary than they might encounter on their own. But really, we just kept on doing it because we enjoy it. As he has gotten older and our lives have gotten busier, it is dedicated time for just the two of us—no little sister, no dad, no video games or mobile phones. Bedtime is still special, and it has become time when he can share things about his life that we might not talk about over the dinner table, big and small. Just the other night I told him about being on bed rest when I was pregnant with him and craving chocolate cupcakes. I haven’t a clue what prompted that conversation, but it was a joy.

As he has gotten older, in addition to popular favorites like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson, or classics like Oliver Twist, my son and I have explored series that are not necessarily on the most-read lists for tween boys—His Dark MaterialsFever Crumbbooks with strong female protagonists that popular culture would tell us boys are not interested in pursuing. Reading together has also provided opportunities to discuss how literature intersects with our lives. We were reading To Kill a Mockingbird in spring of 2015 when Freddie Gray was relatively local news and we talked about the parallels between the book and current events and how many aspects of racial politics have changed depressingly little in 80 years. We are currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents and it was my son who pointed out the similarities between the fictional presidential candidate Jarrett and certain political candidates in the 2016 election.

Overall, this has also been an amazing way to not only share some of my favorite literature with my son, but to do so in a way that is more meaningful than handing him a book, suggesting he read it, and then asking him what he thought. He can ask questions about what we’re reading in real time and we can make connections to our lives and the world around us. Just as we’ve selected books based on his interests, reading together has sparked his curiosity about new things and helped identify activities and events of interest in our community. The profound conversations we had about To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman led me to take him to the opera Appomattox, which combined his well-established interest in military history with his new curiosity about the Civil Rights Movement. The powerful messages of the opera led us to the March autobiographical graphic novels about John Lewis (that we read independently, but talked about extensively).

I am certain that the clock is ticking down for this togetherness. Before long, my soon-to-be-teenager will decide that it’s time to stop having mom read to him every night. Maybe we’ll adapt—do things more casually, just on weekends, or just when we feel like it. Or maybe he’ll quit cold turkey and just kick me out of his room for good. I will be sad when that day comes, although I will get more sleep. I will always treasure this experience we’ve had together, and, more importantly, I think he will too.


About the Author

Emily Sexton headshot









Emily is: poet, wannabe novelist, lawyer, mother, Grounded Parents blogger, and she could do it all if only there were more hours in the day. She can usually be found nursing a beverage and reading something. You can find her on Twitter and Goodreads as emandink.





GIVEAWAY for “Girls, Uninterrupted: Steps for Building Stronger Girls in a Challenging World”

I’d like to introduce my friend and colleague from across the pond, Tanith Carey. Tanith is an award-winning journalist and author who lives in London with her husband and two daughters. Tanith writes for a variety of publications across the world, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The New Statesman and The Huffington Post, among others. She has also written seven books. Tanith’s Amazon best-selling book, Girls, Uninterrupted, published in March 2015, looks at the steps parents can take to build stronger girls in a challenging world.

I asked Tanith for a blog post to accompany a giveaway on the Her Next Chapter Facebook page for one signed copy of her new book, and here it is:

Tanith's book coverAs the mother of two daughters, I know that my girls are not weak and defenseless – and neither are yours. But I also recognize that in a world where, by the time they are 16, half of girls want surgery to change the way they look, they also need help to work out why they feel this way.

Modern life may be evolving at breakneck speed, but our children still need to go through the same developmental milestones they always did to grow into emotionally healthy adults.

Girls, in particular, need parents to show them how to push back against some of the unhealthy messages in today’s culture concerning what’s most important about them and how they should look. The pace of change, powered by constantly evolving technology, is so fast, and the implication for our girls’ mental health so serious, that we can not simply hope to fire-fight problems as they crop up—whether it’s body self-hatred, anxiety and depression, or self-harm.

Of course, when I had my two daughters, Lily, 13, and Clio, 10, I assumed, at first, that these influences wouldn’t affect my girls. I imagined that if I didn’t mention the word diet around my daughters then they wouldn’t get the body image hang-ups that so many young girls are beset with these days from an increasingly early age. But I quickly had to wake up to the fact that no matter how many towels I pressed against the doorframe, I could not keep these messages out of my home.

Whether we like it or not, my girls—and yours—are growing up in playgrounds where the most feared insult is the word “fat.” The dolls being marketed to them come with cleavages—while their pop idols behave like porn stars. Social media has turned their lives into beauty contests in which girls feel they have to post pictures of themselves in order to compete for ‘likes’ to feel they are pretty enough.

Just as childhood has changing out of all recognition, we urgently need to change the way we parent our daughters too. The good news is that I discovered is that though we may often feel it, parents—and daughters—are far from powerless. Most important of all, I discovered that it’s essential we parents don’t bury our heads in the sand.

For example, few of us want to think about our daughters seeing disturbing sexual images on the Internet. But the easy availability of pornography on the web means we have to tackle the subject with our kids head-on before the Internet gets there first. That’s because if our girls do end up stumbling across the violence and degradation of women in online porn, the lessons they learn will be as far as possible from the healthy messages you want them to have about sex.

They may not have gone looking for it, but pornographic images still get through when kids misspell web address, see pop-up ads or get sent photo messages. Don’t miss the boat. As they get older, and get increasingly curious, it’s gets even more urgent.

By the age of 12, seven out of ten children say they already know more about sex than their parents think they do. As one mum told me: “If I try to discuss it, my 14-year-old daughter just rolls her eyes and says: ‘Why are you telling me now? It’s a bit late!’”

None of this happens overnight. The sooner we begin helping our girls to decode all the messages—and reject them—the better. I promise you that there really are age- appropriate ways to talk about everything from porn to self-harm. I wrote my new book Girls Uninterrupted – Steps for building strong girls in a challenging world to show parents how to have those conversations.

But, if due to the demands of jobs and busy lives, we buy into anything-for-a-quiet life parenting, and allow kids to spend hours with iPods, iPads and laptops, they might wander off into a cyber-world where we won’t be able to follow them. We are at risk of losing our vital connection with our children, which we need more than ever to help them navigate a world that has never been so challenging.

The tween years in particular—from around seven to twelve—are an important window. These years provide our best chance to influence our children and shape their values before friends and peer pressure start drowning us out.

Tanith's headshotJust by becoming a more aware parent today, you can help protect your daughter against sexualization by making her more media savvy. In the two minutes you take to show your daughter how an image of an ultra-skinny model has been airbrushed, you’ve taught her not to try to live up to an image of perfection that doesn’t exist. By explaining where the pressures on your teen daughter to look sexy come from, and reminding her she’s worth more than that, you can mitigate the drip, drip, drip erosion of her self-worth.

But if we sit back and do nothing because we think there’s nothing we can do, the price is high for our children. A rise in eating disorders, self-harm, casual sex, teen pregnancy and underage drinking are some of the other side effects of growing up in up in a celebrity culture that puts an impossibly high value on looks and sexiness.

My daughters are worth so much more than that—and so are yours. Here are three ways to deal your daughter deal with the today’s pressures:


Selfies have become the new mirror. According to a recent study, 91 per cent of teenagers have posted one. There’s no problem, of course, if a girl has taken a few pictures every now and then, or recorded moments when she’s having fun. But if she starts constantly uploading them to social networks in order to compete for ‘likes,’ this suggests that she scrutinizes, in a, unhealthy way, the image that she is trying to project. On what basis does she want to be judged? Does she want to join an online pageant in which anyone can be a judge? Suggest she also take pictures that convey her personality, not just her looks. Help her to make a collage of the items that represent her, such as her hobbies and the passions that inspire her. Tell her it’s these things that make her special, not how she appears to other people.

The never-ending beauty contest

Our children are growing up in a culture where anyone whose looks do not live up to the high expectations set by celebrities, Photoshopped models, and the tidal wave of size zero selfies is considered to be failing. We mothers need to recognize that from an early age, many of our girls feel locked in a constant beauty contest they feel they can never win.

Counteract this trend by training your daughter how to look in the mirror and concentrate on the good—how her body works and serves her, not just how she projects it looks to others. Make a point of valuing character over appearance in all of the people you know, including, especially, your daughter. Show her looks are just a small part of who she is and model that for her yourself.

Remind your daughter that, in the words of the late Anita Roddick, there are over three billion women who don’t look like supermodels and eight who do.

Mean girl behavior

Meanness among children has existed since the words “No, you can’t play with us” were first uttered on a street, in a field, or anywhere children gathered before there were playgrounds. The sad thing is that nasty behavior among kids, particularly among girls, appears to be starting sooner than ever, even in preschool.

These days, girls know better than to organize overt campaigns of bullying. Yet, in a culture in which they are made to feel like they are not measuring up, they sometimes launch pre-emptive and under-the-radar strikes on female peers to temporarily shore up their fragile self-confidence. From the other side of the school walls, it feels like we have to no choice but to leave our children to it.

But there are steps you can take. Teach your daughter how to respond before she is devastated over being called fat, excluded by friends, or at the receiving end of sarcasm.  Explain that meanness says more about the person who says it than the person it is said to. Be a good role model in the way you treat others, and teach empathy so she is not tempted to resort to mean-girl bullying herself.

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I am so pleased to host a giveaway for one signed copy of Tanith Carey’s Girls, Uninterrupted. Enter the contest via Rafflecopter below. The contest will run this entire week, and I’ll announce a winner on April 5th. Good luck, and please spread the word!
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GIVEAWAY: The Good Mother Myth


Motherhood did not arrive easily. As one of the early IVF pioneers in the 80’s, I fought tooth and nail for it. It took many years, many surgeries, many assisted reproductive technologies, and a whole lot of grit. In 1991 my daughter Charlotte was born, and she was a miracle, as all of our children are. But the truth is that I always felt I had tempted fate—in getting pregnant at all, in delivering a healthy baby after a high-risk pregnancy and difficult labor, and in almost losing her shortly after she was born…but bringing her home  from the NICU a few days later with her doctors’ blessings.

With each instance of overcoming the odds, my faith in myself ironically weakened, and my superstitious fear that I was never meant to be a mother, and would therefore inevitably not manage the job, grew stronger. I somehow felt that the stakes were higher for me to prove I was a good mother, because I had been given a chance that some of the friends I made along the way were never given.

So I hid my fears and my insecurities. There were very few parenting books back then. No blogs. No Internet. No easy ways to connect with other mothers or hear their stories, beyond those moms who were friends in my own town and to whom I wanted to appear breezily confident. Thus I did not reach out enough for support when my daughter cried inconsolably of colic for week after week and in my deranged, sleep-deprived state I shook her one night—just a little—until I caught myself, sobbing, whispering, “so that’s how it happens.” Child abuse. It happens when a mother is exhausted to the point of delirium and has isolated herself. I began a habit of calling the nurses in labor and delivery at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, needing so desperately to have someone to talk to in those wee lonely hours, to seek information or comfort or some critical moment of distraction from self-doubt.

Was I a Good Mother? Am I now? Are you? What does it even mean?

So much has changed for mothers since I became one, and since all the mothers who came before me had their children. For better and for worse, in perhaps equal measure, we consume and shape today’s culture for moms through social media with our blogs and our Pinterest boards and the Facebooking of our lives and our children’s lives…what we wish to publicly portray of them, anyway. We construct and feed the myth that there is a single definition of what a good mother is, a foolproof recipe for success, a surefire way to win the approval of others. The Good Mother Myth.

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I read this fabulous new anthology of 35 essays, edited by my friend and colleague Avital Norman Nathman of the popular blog The Mamafesto, and found the support I’d needed over 20 years ago. What a gift for today’s moms. These stories, by a diverse group of mothers, explores the archetype of the mythical “good mother” and reveal, through collective narrative, some of the ways in which today’s motherhood culture can make women feel pressured, confused, isolated, and even burdened. I found the essays to be in turns uplifting and sobering, funny and saddening—and usually in some way relatable. There is profound validation among these pages, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you are healthy or in some ways physically or mentally health-challenged. The authors represent different races, religions, classes, and sexual orientations. The monolithic construct of the good mother as white, middle class, straight, and June Cleaver-esque is blissfully nowhere to be found here.

As I write in Her Next Chapter, I have huge concerns about the parenting culture we now have, especially for mothers. Mothers are under constant media bombardment. You cannot open a magazine or browse articles online or tune in to Facebook without reading some version of how mothers are doing it wrong. Or can’t have it all. Or should have it all. Or are not following the “right” method for potty training or breastfeeding or violin instruction or fill in the blank. Back when mothers raised children in literal villages, without the Internet but with grandmothers and aunts and sisters and village elders to guide and support them, were they better able to develop confidence in themselves as parents who could eventually rely on their own methods? And is methods just another word for instincts and communal knowledge?

One of the ways in which The Good Mother Myth positively addresses the particular challenges of modern motherhood is by setting an example of what Avi calls “intentional community.” It’s the same idea as what I call “villages.” They are the sisterhood of your own design, and the tent that you wrap around yourself when the world can feel too demanding, or worse, indifferent. By choosing strong allies, you can inoculate yourself—at least somewhat—from the mompetitors down the street, and a shaming, judgmental media culture.


Reading The Good Mother Myth is a welcome reprieve from the anxiety that can be caused by continually striving for perfection. Like Avi and like me, many of the contributing authors have created their own intentional communities for mothers online, and these are places where mothers can go to find virtual companionship and support to supplement what they can garner from their real-life families and communities. We all need that space to share and question and cheer each other on in this extreme sport called parenting.

I am so pleased to host a giveaway for one signed copy of Avital Norman Nathman’s The Good Mother Myth. Enter the contest via Rafflecopter below. The contest will run this entire week, and I’ll announce a winner on Monday, July 14th. Good luck, and please spread the word!

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Eight Favorite Books Starring Interesting, Exciting, Daring, Adventurous Girls!

Google is full of lists recommending girl-empowering books. Favorite female protagonists from the classics, like Pippi Longstocking, to more recent heroines, like Katniss Everdeen, abound on these lists, but I wanted to make my own after reading so many children’s and YA books to curate for recommendations in my book Her Next Chapter.  Here are a few of my favorites, and why I liked them. These all come with original discussion guides in my book, so if you’ve got a mother-daughter book club and any of these pique your interest, you’ll be all set! Or, read these books with your daughters at home and be a book club of two!

My faves, and why…  

1. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (age 10+)

In this fast-paced Newbury award winner, Charlotte Doyle is a typical well-mannered girl of wealthy upbringing in the year 1832 who must return home to her family in America after attending school in England. The two-month voyage she takes by ship presents her with substantial challenges and dangers usually encountered only by men, forcing her to abandon many of her preconceived ideas about the “proper place” for girls and to completely reevaluate her role within her family and society. One might call the book a gender bender—somewhat along the lines of Kidnapped, Mutiny on the Bounty or Treasure Island, but centered upon the experience of the female protagonist. There are many exciting twists, with several mysteries woven throughout the plot. I had read this book years ago and forgotten a lot of it, but when I sat down to read it again, I polished it off in one long afternoon, unable to put it down!

Of great interest to me as I read the book was the concept of the traditional female identity being based upon the “ladylike” qualities of beauty and proper attire, meticulous attention to cleanliness and appearance at all times, and obedience to men. Throughout this book, that ideal is repeatedly held up and examined in ways that both fit the context of a book set in the year 1832 and remain relevant today. In a modern culture that still stereotypes girls and women as being all about their outsides, this book shows the reader what is inside a thirteen-year-old girl who can no longer afford to keep up appearances in either sense of the term. Charlotte becomes a character of great complexity who has much more going on inside her than her outward appearance would lead you to believe at the start of the book.

This is one of those riveting page-turners that girls will not be able to put down. The protagonist draws you into her life aboard ship and it’s hard not to feel every wave, every wind, and every moment of joy, fear, courage, disappointment, confusion, and enlightenment that Charlotte Doyle feels herself. Daughters need not have experienced their own swashbuckling adventures to be able to talk about the times in their own lives when they have been forced out of their comfort zones and triumphed!

2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (age 12+) Part Lord of the Flies, part America’s Next Top Model, and part Gilligan’s Island, Libba Bray’s fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek send-up of American girl culture, reality TV, and a beauty industry run amok is some of the smartest social commentary I’ve ever read in the YA Lit genre. Fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant are in a plane crash and find themselves surviving, Lost-style, on a desert island without make-up or cameras, and also without food, water, or shelter. Their surreal adventures as they cope with their own human foibles without hairspray or the Internet are actually an interesting counterpoint to the descent into savagery seen among the boys in Lord of the Flies. For these beauty-obsessed “mean girls,” being cut off from civilization gives them the freedom from societal pressures to actually find themselves, and to come of age in a remote location where their appearance can no longer be the core of who they are.

Is it satire? Is it parody? Is it over the top? Yes and yes and yes! It’s also hilarious, biting, in-your-face storytelling about the sexualization of girls, the beauty myth, gender stereotypes, and many of the other things being discussed in this book. Take the message seriously, but don’t take the book seriously. Let it make you think and talk. There isn’t much out there like this book. It gets five stars from me for actually taking on—in a clever, albeit deliberately heavy-handed way—our corporate consumer culture and the way we casually accept the specific ways it targets girls.

Best thing about this book? It addresses real issues while being irreverent and funny. Thumbs up!

3. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (age 12+) Stargirl is one of my favorite books for girls this age! I remember when my daughter was reading it at about age twelve, and I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. This book is as eccentric and enchanting as its protagonist, Susan “Stargirl” Caraway, whose unconventional life and worldview are at first mesmerizing to her classmates, but eventually backfire on her after she tries to conform, betraying her true self. There seems to be an element of magical realism in this book, although I’ve never heard or read anyone else express this same observation. The character of Stargirl is perhaps a metaphor for the inner tension all adolescents feel to some extent between going along with the crowd and daring to be unique.

This book addresses many important issues like individuality, bullying, bravery, diversity, and acceptance. Stargirl is unlike most girls we know in real life because she does not care what anyone else thinks of her—not of how she dresses, or dances, or sings. At first her classmates don’t know what to make of her, and she is so fun and interesting that she becomes immediately popular in her new school without even trying. Her antics are so unpredictable and deeply, deeply kind that everyone loves her, which makes some of the classically popular girls begin to shun her. When her boyfriend, Leo (the narrator), suggests she shift gears and become more like other kids—more “normal”—she starts going by her real name, Susan, starts dressing like the other girls, and starts engaging in more typical activities in order to try to fit in. None of that works. So, she reverts to her original, true personality, which is then met with mixed reactions by her classmates. The ending of the book is stunning, but I won’t give it away.

I’ve never read a book with a stronger message of nonconformity and staying true to who you are than Stargirl. It’s a very different book. I’ve talked to many people who loved it, and a few who hated it, but hardly anyone who felt anything in between!

4. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (age 12+) If there were a canon of young adult literature, A Northern Light would probably be in it. An intriguing blend of historical and fictional material, this is the story of fictional protagonist Mattie Gokey set within the context of the true history of the murder of Grace Brown. This coming of age story takes place in the Adirondacks of New York in 1906, and intertwines the fiction of being a sixteen-year-old girl working at The Glenmore, a hotel on Big Moose Lake where Grace Brown was murdered, with true details of the crime. The murder features prominently in the story, which also includes excerpts from the authentic love letters between Grace Brown and her lover and murderer, Chester Gillette (aka “Carl Graham”).

This book touches upon so many important themes and pieces of historical information for girls, including: domestic violence, unwed motherhood at the turn of the century, the insatiable quest for literacy and education by girls, traditional gender expectations, poverty, race, the early backlash against feminist writing and advocacy for women’s rights, female gender stereotypes, and the strength it takes to challenge a society that does not value the intellectual aspirations of girls and women. Mattie Gokey is an unusual heroine. She is bookish yet worldly, and unusually self-possessed. There is so much to discuss about this book that bears directly upon the mission of a mother-daughter book club.

5. Turtle in Paradise by (age 8+) What a delightful book! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but I was quickly absorbed into the world of eleven-year-old Turtle and her new life in Key West in the 1930s, before completion of the overseas highway, and during the days of hurricanes, hidden pirate treasure, barefoot free-range childhoods, and living off the land, for better or worse. Turtle in Paradise is based on the true history and family of the author, and includes many characters and historical events that are authentic to Key West in 1935.

When Turtle’s mother takes a job as a housekeeper for a woman in New Jersey who does not like kids, Turtle is sent back to her mother’s hometown of Key West, Florida, to temporarily live with her aunt. She has difficulty fitting in to a very new and different culture, and it is hot! There are all kinds of new creatures and plants, from scorpions to sponges to alligator pears (avocados). Even the ice cream flavors are strange: sugar apple, sour sop, and tamarind. But the biggest obstacle facing Turtle, besides missing her mother, is adjusting to all the boys she now lives with. She has three male first cousins in the house, and there are many other boys on the island who have tight friendships and don’t want to let Turtle in. The way she navigates this new social scene will bring a smile to your face—that girl is tenacious! And she is smart, courageous, funny, irreverent, and sure to get under your skin as she eventually manages to do with her new friends and relatives.

Although the adult relationships around her each have their unique dysfunctions, and reveal some manner of unhealthiness, they stand in sharp contrast to Turtle’s own inner strength and confidence about her place in the world as a girl and her ability to triumph despite her gender. She shows the boys a thing or to, and in so doing, learns that the “hard shell” that earned her the nickname Turtle belies her soft underbelly, which she comes to understand and value by the end of the book. Everyone on Key West has a nickname, and they are all meaningful as well as endearing. Most surprising and enjoyable was the cameo appearance of one of the world’s most famous writers, so keep your eyes opened for him! Hint: Even he had a nickname on Key West, and it was “Papa.”

6. Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (age 12+) In this beautifully written historical novel set in Prohibition-era Minnesota, sixteen-year-old Garnet must go live with snobby relatives at a lakeside resort for the summer to escape a polio epidemic in her hometown. It is to be her last hurrah—a summer of fun before her final year of high school, after which she is to get married and settle into being a housewife. Garnet has a passion for bird watching and dreams of one day going to college and becoming an ornithologist, despite her mother’s more traditional plans for her. She also has a hobby of creating bird silhouettes in her spare time and they serve as a unifying motif throughout the book.

When Garnet gets a summer job in a hat shop, she meets the beautiful flapper Isabella, and they fall in love and begin a secret relationship. When the author, Molly Beth Griffin, was asked in an interview why she chose to write a lesbian coming-of-age story, she explained that most books about LGBT teens focus on their “coming out” stories, but that this should not be the only type of book out there. The relationship between Garnet and Isabella involves many of the same joys and challenges of teenage love experienced by heterosexual couples, and she wanted to show that. The book also revolves around many important and interesting social and historical facts beyond the sexual orientation of the main characters; it delves into issues of racial and gender inequality, as well as the economic dynamics of the Gilded Age that led to the Great Depression. The Roaring Twenties were a complex time. Through the lives of Garnet and Isabella, we see the simultaneous wildness of the era and its social constriction as the girls seek to understand—and to definethe meaning of femininity and the power of unexpected love.

7. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (age 10+) In the scorching summer of 1899, in a small Texas town outside of Austin, eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate is growing up in a well-to-do family as the only daughter sandwiched between three older brothers and three younger ones. The times are changing fast—the first telephone line is on its way, and the first automobile makes its debut at the county fair. As the Tate family rings in the new century, Calpurnia wrestles with what it means to be a girl in this era, and how to reconcile her mother’s aspirations for her to be a housewife with her own aspirations to be a scientist. Her close relationship with her grandfather is central to the book. Set against a backdrop of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, the story focuses on Calpurnia’s “evolution” into a budding young female naturalist who resents the gendered demands placed upon her to sew and cook and prepare for a domestic life she views as boring and monotonous compared to the excitement of studying nature and biology.

At the end of the book, Calpurnia and her grandfather have discovered a new species of plant, which is received with much fanfare at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and, to a lesser degree, within the Tate family. Calpurnia’s role model, Granddaddy, is her only hope for an ally as she asserts her desire to take a different path in life than other girls. His careful and loving mentorship of his only granddaughter is one of the most beautiful and inspiring parts of story, and can’t help but make you think about how many girls could benefit from this kind of relationship in today’s world.

Calpurnia has to create her own path to leadership, much as she bushwhacks her own paths in pursuit of plant and animal observations to record in her special notebook. Her fierce intelligence, tireless curiosity, and steady ambition allow her to stand out, even among a family of boys, as someone who knows who she is and who is determined to become a leader in a time and place where girls are actively discouraged from pursuing careers and are pressed into traditional roles by their parents. Calpurnia is determined to outsmart them all, and she does!

8. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (age 10+) For her research, author Deborah Ellis, apsychologist by profession, spent several months talking to girls and women in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Russia, and used these interviews as the basis of her description of life in Afghanistan.

The Breadwinner is based on true stories that came from these interviews. This book was a labor of love. The author donates all proceeds she receives from book royalties to Women for Women in Afghanistan, and the money goes toward girls’ education in the refugee camps. Talk about walking the walk! The Breadwinner is the first book in a trilogy. Eleven-year-old Parvana, like other girls and women in Kabul, is not allowed to go to school, go shopping, or even play outside since the Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan. She spends most of her time indoors, stuck in her family’s one-room home. When Taliban militants take her father away, Parvana must cut off her hair and pose as a boy in order to support her family.

Like many girls and women oppressed by the Taliban’s regime, Parvana actually comes from an educated family. The changes instituted under Sharia Law dismantle the rights and quality of life females experienced before the Taliban gained control. Although now dressing in a chador (veil), Parvana’s feelings about the repressive Muslim regime she now struggles against are always clear. This is must-read literature for American girls who have grown up with the Afghan War and are curious about the lives of the people there, especially the plight of females.  

Summer’s coming. So many books, so little time. Enjoy!                 

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