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Culture Watch

Page Two of CultureWatch

Amjed Qamar’s Beneath My Mother’s Feet (Atheneum) digs deep into the painful responsibilities of a Karachi teen-ager suddenly forced to leave school in order to ward off poverty by cleaning houses. In this novel for middle schoolers, Qamar explores the possibilities of finding strength, and choosing a path, through adversity. The book is well-paced and absorbing with just a soupçon of fairy tale plotting.

The literal-minded, movie-loving middle-school reader will do well with Suzanne Simoni’s Fantastic Female Filmmakers (part of Second Story Press’s Women’s Hall of Fame Series). Simoni, in this great read, shows how ten women succeeded as directors in the notoriously chauvinistic world of filmmaking.

Heather Ball’s Astonishing Women Artists is an engaging book and another title in the Women’s Hall of Fame Series. Ball’s mini-biographies reach back to 17th century Artemisia Gentileschi and come forward with portraits of Elisabeth Le Brun, Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo, and Faith Ringgold, among others.

The most unusual read among the selections for young adult readers is Marisa Anderson’s (ed.) Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls (Chronicle Books). Since 2001 Portland, Oregon has been the home of a summer rock ‘n roll camp for girls. Anderson’s book uses the example and success of the camp (now copied in a dozen other locations) to give youngsters, shy and bold, the encouragement and practical know-how that will enable them to jump into the world of music-making.

Susan Vaught does the near impossible in her latest novel for young adult readers. In My Big Fat Manifesto (Bloomsbury) Vaught, a “practicing ( Kentucky) neuropsychologist” tackles the sensitive subject of teen obesity. She uses an interesting plot, delicious humor, and just enough romance to explore the world of Jamie Carcaterra, a smart, outgoing fat girl living in a thin person’s world. Vaught, gifted with a dead-on ear for teen talk, has written a book that could be assigned reading for 8 th through 12 th grade.

Happily, in the young adult reader category, the Amelia Bloomer Project does not slight sci-fi and quest literature. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu affectingly conjures the futuristic world of 2070 Saharan, Africa in The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion). Ejii, a 14 year old Muslim teen, urged on by otherworldly voices and without the protection of parents but benefiting from the sweetest of friends, pursues a quest to keep warring nations at peace. Okorafor-Mbachu pits Ejii against a woman warrior, a nice touch, as Ejii uncovers the range of her powers and her ability to forge her own destiny.

Kristin Cahore’s Graceling (Harcourt) is a knock-out. That’s not just my opinion. My 13 year old granddaughter raced through this debut fantasy novel in two days and pronounced it “fabulous.” Cahore’s main character, Katsa, is a graceling, a child with a special talent. Hers is the ability to fight and kill. Like Okorafor-Mbachu’s Ejii, Katsa lacks the protection of parents, instead drawing upon the help, and love, of friends as she confronts danger and develops a conscience. In Graceling Cahore has created a coming of age adventure story that is beautifully written and, within its genre, wonderfully believable.

First posted in 2002, the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer lists offer a wonderful resource to senior women who love selecting children and young adult books. The next time you are looking to help a picture book loving child make a choice, or to send along a good book to a middle or high school reader, check out the several hundred titles that have been named as winners between 2002 and 2009.

Jill Norgren, a historian and biographer, is the author of a young adult biography, Belva Lockwood: Equal Rights Pioneer named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List.

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©2009 Jill Norgren for


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