Posted in Books & Reading, Library collections, Middle School Reads, Read Like a Girl, Teaching and Learning, YA Literature

5 inspirational books for girls in Middle School

I am often asked to recommend “must read” books for girls of certain ages. Common questions include: “Can you provide a list of books all Middle School students should read?” and “What are the books all students should read before the finish high school?”

Such questions always bother me because reading tastes are so individual and varied that different students will connect with different books. Research tells us that students will read and enjoy reading when they are connected to the books that match their needs and interests (Susan La Marca, 2006).

That being said, the following five books are among my own favourite and I think they are highly inspirational reads for Middle School girls:


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli


This story is about being true to yourself. When Stargirl arrives at Mica High she stands out because she is different from everyone else. Rather than be shunned however, her beautiful smile and heart charm her classmates and she is loved by all.

And then they turn on her. Urged to become ‘normal’ to maintain her popularity, the danger is that Stargirl will give up everything that makes her unique.



This is a story about kindness, true friendship, and acceptance.

August Pullman, born with a facial deformity that makes him very difficult to look at, is about to face school for the first time and enter 5th grade. Being the new kid is hard – being the new kid when your appearance is so different to everyone else takes courage.

This book has been loved the world over and the Choose Kind Movement was inspired by one of its most memorable quotes:



R.J. Palacio, Wonder

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The war that saved my life

This is a story of determination and rising up in the face of adversity.

Set in London during World War 2, this is the story of Ada who was born with a clubfoot and is shunned by her neglectful and sometimes abusive mother and kept locked in her one-room apartment. When the children of London start to be evacuated to the country because of the peril of bombing raids, Ada wastes no time and escapes onto the trains. When she arrives in a country village, Ada is fostered by Susan Smith and so begins her road to recovery and finding her own identity. However, lurking in the background is the threat of the mother who she escaped.


Good night stories for rebel girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Goodnight stories for rebel girls

This is a book of pure inspiration for all girls. Containing 100 stories about extraordinary women from the past and the present and their remarkable achievements.

This video provides some background information from the authors, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, about why they put together this book. Anyone who is concerned about gender equality and the obstacles facing our daughters should watch this video:

Find your tribe

Find your tribe

This book is a guide for teenage girls. It provides all sorts of advice about surviving high school and the adolescent years. In particular, Rebecca’s advice about choosing to hang out with good friends and about being a good friend is so important for girls who often find themselves in toxic relationships that cause a lot of angst.



Posted in Book Review, Books & Reading, Library collections, Teaching and Learning, YA Literature

Book Review: It’s about love by Steven Camden

It's about love (1)

I have to say that based on the title and the cover,  I would have never read this book.  However, the girls in my student book club convinced me to read it and I really have to thank them – it’s great.  This book oozes menace and tension and from the beginning, the reader is gripped by the fear of what has happened in the past and what that will bring to play in the present.

This is a coming of age story that is difficult to label.  The reader is warned about this complexity of plot and theme in chapter 1 when, Luke the protagonist of the novel, debates the central premise of his favourite movie with a girl in his film class.

“It’s a love story, you know …..

No it’s not”

“Course it is,” she says, “Not a conventional one, but it’s a story about love.”

The fact that she’s even seen it make me like her, but it’s not a love story.

It’s about revenge,” I say. (p.11)

The characterisation of Luke, the protagonist, is a strength of the novel.  As a reader, you really like him but are often puzzled and devastated by his inability to articulate his feelings and his poor reactions to people and situations.  Steven Camden has mastered the ability to bring the gritty reality of the tough neighborhoods of Bearwood, Birmingham where Luke lives into focus. Luke is a “fish out of water” when he starts at film school on the other side of town.  At home, the return of his brother from prison is the catalyst for family and neighborhood tensions that will climax on the night of Luke’s 17th birthday.The author also uses an interesting structural device in this novel by interspersing the story with fragments of hand-written notes describing snippets of memories, thoughts and dreams.  Additionally, he also uses small inserts that read like film directions or play scripts. Together with countless references to modern films, this structural device compliments the central motif of film study.

The author also uses an interesting structural device in this novel by interspersing the story with fragments of hand-written notes describing snippets of memories, thoughts and dreams.  Additionally, he also uses small inserts that read like film directions or play scripts. Together with countless references to modern films, this structural device compliments the central motif of film study.

I highly recommend this book for YA readers who love gritty reality, love stories, character books and movies.

One last thing …. This book is full of great quotes, here are three of my favourites:

“Because nobody’s one thing, Lukey.  You make a person one thing and you’ll miss out on everything else that they are.  That they could be. And they’ll always let you down.”


“I repeat the words in my head. Whoever’s writing this script is giving all the best lines to everyone else.”


“You are what people think you are.  You make a reputation, then it makes you.”


Posted in Book Review, Books & Reading, Library collections, Teaching and Learning

Book review: One life: My mother’s story by Kate Grenville

One Life: My Mother's StoryOne Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written from fragments of memoir and some recorded interviews, Kate Grenville’s book outlines the event’s of her mother, Nance Russell’s life. It follows Nance from her birth in 1912 through childhood days growing up days, across the space of two world wars and the Great Depression and into the new millennium when she passed away in 2002.

This book is an intimate portrait of the life of Nance who was typical of her time in many ways and ahead of her time in others. Like many women, family came first for Nance. She craved her family through her childhood and early adult life as she made her way through an education and training that took her away from home. Unlike many women of the time, Nance earned a qualification as a pharmacist and became an independent career woman. This too would take her from her young family at times when she herself had children. This is a terrific story of a woman that many of us can identify with despite the different times and life opportunities because we feel that dual pull of family and career, the particular joys and turmoils of relationships and the balance between looking after others yet sticking up for yourself at the same time. This is articulated in Nance’s wonderings:

“Yes, she wanted to meet someone, get married, have children. She wanted to be happy. But she knew now that she
wanted something else as well.”

I found the book to be a beautifully told story that read like a novel. I was completely caught up in Nance’s story and particularly the struggles she felt within relationships. I would highly recommend this book to any working woman in Australia.

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Posted in Book Review, Books & Reading, Library collections, Reading, YA Literature

Book Review: The River and the Book

The River And The BookThe River And The Book by Alison Croggon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is told by Simbala. Simbala was raised in a village that has two treasures as named in the title of the story: the river and the book. Both these treasures become threatened by the exploitation of First World developers. For Simbala’s village, livelihood and survival are dependent on the river. It provides, food, irrigation and the means of transport. As foreign corporations colonise the country by financing large scale cotton farming, water levels drop due to irrigation and the quality of the water is compromised by the poisoning effects or insecticide runoff.

The second treasure, the Book, is the oracle of the village, it predicts futures and answers the important questions of the villagers. We are told that “inside the Book was written everything that had been, everything that was and everything that was to come” (p.16). Simbala, like her mother, grandmother and the women in her family before them, is the Keeper of the Book. When a foreign woman, Jane Watson, visits the village, she is warmly welcomed and spends time living in the village learning their way of life and the pattern of their days. Jane Watson, however, violates this trust in a devastating manner when she leaves the village and takes the Book with her. This event sets Simbala on a quest down the river to retrieve the Book.

The strength of this small novel is the powerful themes that are contained within the story. The themes of colonialism and its impact on indigenous cultures, Westernisation, human rights, theft, revenge, methods of activism and effecting change and healing are all explored within the novel. Some reviewers have commented on it’s lack of subtlety but this is appropriate for Middle School readers and is more than adequately compensated by Croggon’s beautiful use of language.

Endorsed by Amnesty International, this is a beautiful book that raises many issues for discussion and is worth considering for Middle School students.

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