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Let's Hear It For the Girls!

A new book from Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith pulls together a list of 375 books---from classics to little-known winners---that include at their heart strong and resourceful female characters.

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We all remember them. They're "books that reached deep into our souls and shaped us," authors Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith say in the preface to their new book, Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.

Bauermeister and Smith have reached down into their souls to remember the books that shaped their lives. And they've reached deep into the stocks of recent book releases to find some more. This mix of current and classic books has one thing in common: All the books bring out the best in girls.

They're all here---from picture books to chapter books; books from across the United States and around the world; books from the great diversity of cultures and races and abilities.

"We created this guide with a belief in the power of books to give children a vision of what is possible," the authors say.

Each of the 375 titles is reviewed in 100 to 150 words. Each review captures the flavor of the book and a sense for its strong central character(s). The reviews are broken down by category:

In addition, Let's Hear It for the Girls includes a handful of indexes, six to be exact; the indexes are organized by title, author, date published, genre, region/country, and subject (e.g., Survival, Urban Life, War, Work)

Let's Hear It for the Girls is an invaluable guide for parents, teachers, librarians---and students! It would make a wonderful gift for the mother of a newborn daughter. Nicer yet, it would be the perfect gift for the elementary-age girl who might or might not be an avid reader. Let's Hear It for the Girls can help any girl focus and narrow down her search for a book that will capture her imagination or meet her own personal needs. Anyone who reads the book descriptions in Let's Hear It for the Girls will want to run out and read a handful of the books!

Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 is broken down into four categories. Let's take a peek inside each of them:

PICTURE BOOKS: AGES 2 - 5

The classics are here. They include longtime classics such as The Little Engine That Could (by Watty Piper, illustrated by George and Doris Hauman) and Madeline (written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans); and new favorites (soon-to-be classics) such as The Paper Bag Princess (by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko) and The Very Busy Spider (by Eric Carle).

Bauermeister and Smith have reviewed a few dozen more titles in the "picture book" category. Following are a couple of those reviews:

Amelia's Fantastic Flight by Rose Bursik (1992).
"Amelia liked airplanes. So she built one." Bright red and just the right size for one small person, it's perfect for the intrepid Amelia, who now proceeds on "a little spin" around the world. "She breezed through Brazil, and got a kick out of Kenya." Each country is granted its own page, with intricate illustrations of the flora, fauna, or architecture that characterizes it. At the top of each page is a map of the world, with the route Amelia took to get from one destination to the next. Even little children will love tracing travel routes, sounding out country names, and finding objects and animals in the pictures. Through each picture goes Amelia in her jaunty little plane, teaching geography in a delightful way.

Harriet and the Promised Land by Jacob Lawrence (1968).
Jacob Lawrence is a well-known and critically acclaimed artist who draws on his African-American heritage to create paintings of high contrast and emotional intensity, in which dark skin stands in sharp and proud relief against bright and vivid reds, blues, whites, and yellows. In Harriet and the Promised Land, he has written a poem simple enough for young children to understand that deals honestly with the harsh reality of slavery and glorifies both Harriet Tubman's physical strength and her unwavering resolve to help other slaves escape to the North. This striking book gives children an introduction to both a gifted painter and a courageous woman.

STORYBOOKS: AGES 3 - 8

Again, you'll recognize a bunch of the world's most beloved children's books, including A Birthday for Frances (by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban); Katy and the Big Snow (by Virginia Lee Burton); The Keeping Quilt (by Patricia Polacco); One Morning in Maine (by Robert McCloskey); and Tar Beach (by Faith Ringold).

Among the recent and possibly familiar titles are

Following are two of the more than 120 reviews of "Storybooks: Ages 3 - 8" from Let's Hear It for the Girls:

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch (1991).
Grace loves stories. She loves hearing them and acting them out. Some days she's Joan of Arc, or Anansi the Spider, or a peg-leg pirate. When her teacher announces that the class is going to do [set ITAL]Peter Pan, Grace decides she wants to play Peter. Raj tells her she can't, because she is a girl. Natalie whispers Grace can't, because she is black. But Grace's mother and grandmother tell her she can be anything she wants to be---and Grace is a fantastic Peter Pan. The story is inspiring, but what makes this book soar are the illustrations. Caroline Binch brings Grace alive; you can feel her imagination, enthusiasm, strength, and confidence pulsing off the pages.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Arielle North Olson, illustrated by Elaine Wentworth (1987).
The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter is based on the experiences of several girls who helped their fathers maintain lighthouses along the Maine coast during the 1850s. In this story, young Miranda must keep the lighthouse lights lit and the windows deiced while her father goes to the mainland for supplies. His overnight trip turns into weeks as winter storms isolate the rocky island where Miranda and her mother wait, their food dwindling. Miranda vigilantly does her job, resolved that no ship will run aground while she is in charge. When Miranda becomes sick, her mother overcomes her own fear of heights and helps Miranda up the long stairway to the top of the lighthouse. Finally, father returns. Word of Miranda's bravery spreads, and brings a lovely unexpected reward. Watercolor illustrations opposite pages filled with text give depth and detail to this true-to-life tale of courage.

CHAPTER BOOKS: AGES 6 - 11

The classics and the favorites are here. They include Matilda (by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake); Ramona the Pest (by Beverly Cleary); Sarah, Plain and Tall (by Patricia MacLachlan); Anastasia Krupnik (by Lois Lowry); and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel).

Biographies are popular among girls ages 6 to 11, and a dozen terrific biographies of important women are listed here. They include: Jane Goodall: Living with the Chimps (by Julie Fromer, illustrated by Antonio Castro); Lost Star: The Story of Amelia Earhart (by Patricia Lauber); Mary McLeod Bethune: Voice of Black Hope (by Milton Meltzer, illustrated by Stephen Marchesi); and Susan Butcher: Sled Dog Racer (by Ginger Wadsworth).

Following are two of the 90-plus chapter book reviews for young girls from Let's Hear It for the Girls:

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, paintings by Ronald Himler (1977).
Swift, energetic, 11-year-old Sadako races to the park for Hiroshima Peace Day, a celebration to remember all who died in the atomic blast ten years before. Within weeks Sadako feel dizzy, an all-to-familiar sign of leukemia. She decides not to tell anyone, but soon it is obvious something is wrong. While Sedako is in the hospital, a friend teaches her how to make an origami paper crane and reminds her that legend says if a sick person makes a thousand cranes, the gods will make her well. With each crane Sadako folds, she feels courage to carry on and makes a wish to get better. She is able to make 644 cranes before she dies from leukemia like so many other survivors of the blast. Today there is a statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park and each year on Peace Day, thousands of cranes are laid at its base. Eleanor Coerr does not mask the sadness of Sadako's story, but there is also optimism in the love of Sadako's family and community, renewed with the importance of remembering.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1917).
Betsy has spent her first nine years with her Aunt Frances and grandmother. Aunt Frances "understands" Betsy, shepherds her to school, sympathizes with her every fear. But when Aunt Frances's mother becomes ill, fragile little Betsy is sent to those "horrid Putney cousins" in Vermont. Life there is a revelation for Betsy. As soon as she steps off the train, she is handed the reins to the horses and told she can drive the wagon herself. At the house, she is expected to help, and no one even thinks about walking her to school. While Betsy is mortified at first, she soon delights in her growing independence and self-sufficiency. Taking its inspiration from Montessori theories of parenting education, [set ITAL]Understood Betsy is a lesson for both parents and children.

MOVING ON: AGE 10 AND UP

The familiar and friendly are here, from Anne of Green Gables (by L.M. Montgomery) to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (by E.L. Konigsburg); from National Velvet (by Enid Bagnold, illustrated by Paul Brown) to A Wrinkle in Time (by Madeleine L'Engle).

Biographies offer inspiration to teenagers and soon-to-be teens. Among the dozen or so biographies highlighted are Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery (by Russell Freedman); The First Woman Doctor: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. (by Rachel Baker, illustrated by Corrine Malvern); Rosa Parks: My Story (by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins); and Our Golda: The Story of Golda Meir (by David A. Adler, illustrated by Donna Ruff).

Among the 125 books reviewed in this category are these two:

Child of the Owl by Lawrence Yep (1977).
Cassie's father is a gambler, and this time he's in more trouble than usual. As a result, Cassie ends up staying with her maternal grandmother in a tiny apartment in San Francisco's Chinatown. For independent, levelheaded, slightly defensive Cassie, this is her first real encounter with her grandmother and an initiation into her Chinese heritage. There's plenty of plot to this novel, but more important are the well-drawn and sometimes eccentric characters, the developing relationship between Cassie and her equally independent grandmother, and the part played by Chinatown itself. Lawrence Yep makes 1950s Chinatown a living, breathing place as he delves into the heart and soul of what it means to be Chinese, American, and part of a family.

Daphne's Book by Mary Downing Hahn (1983).
Jessica is in middle school, wears glasses, and likes to read; she has friends, but she knows she is not part of the popular crowd. In her English class, the teacher pairs her with Daphne, a strange new girl at school, and assigns them to write a children's book. The teacher explains to an unhappy Jessica that she is the best writer and Daphne is the best artist, and together they should write a wonderful book. Forced to spend time with Daphne, Jessica gets to know a strong, talented girl who is dealing with situations beyond her control, secrets Jessica promises not to tell. Jessica struggles with the problem of liking Daphne and being ridiculed at school by those who don't; she fails herself a few times as she learns what it means to be a friend. The reader may find herself both disappointed and exhilarated with Jessica as she faces conflicts in this absorbing novel.

Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2 - 14 is new in 1997. Written by Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith, and published by Penguin Books, Let's Hear It for the Girls is available from your local bookseller for $10.95.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1997 Education World

08/08/1997