Of course, it's great to have strong characters of any gender, but having bold female characters is a great way to remind readers of the importance of gender equality.
1. Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest by Sy Montgomery, with photographs by Keith Ellenbogen. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Montgomery, an inveterate explorer, is the creator of the pioneering Scientists in the Field series, which wonderfully combines up-to-date science with portraits of groundbreaking scientists. Montgomery writes many of the books in the series and, in this latest volume, she documents the work of scientists scrutinizing how a fish called “piaba” could present new economic hope for the Amazon region and the people who live there.
2. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (Simon & Schuster)
In this debut novel, Khan gives readers a Muslim American heroine whose daily challenges as a middle schooler will ring true. Amina’s worries about singing in a talent show and grappling with friendship issues, however, suddenly seem small when her beloved local mosque is vandalized.
3. The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (Viking)
Maria Luisa prefers to be called Malu and definitely prefers her father’s punk style to her mother’s insistence on being a “SuperMexican.” But her parents are divorced, and when Malu ends up moving from Florida to Chicago for her mother’s new job, she has to figure out how to fit in at a new middle school.
4. Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl At a Time by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb)
Transforming a film into a book is challenging, but Stone does it with aplomb in this volume filled with color photos illustrating the heart-rending stories of girls in developing countries who face many barriers to getting an education. Stone, an award-winning nonfiction writer, clearly delineates the key obstacles, such as poverty and discrimination, but it’s the girls she spotlights who truly will help young readers understand what’s at stake as they battle for a better life.
5. Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen)
Ruthie’s finally gotten the hang of English, some months after her family moves to New York from Cuba in the 1960s, and she’s excited to finally be put in a regular class. Then, her family is in a car accident, and Ruthie must wear a body cast and stay in bed for months, forcing her to learn new skills, as well as face sometimes difficult truths about herself.
6. Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! by Mariko Tamaki, with illustrations by Brooke Allen (Harry N. Abrams)
In this first book in a new series, Tamaki, author of the Caldecott Honour-winning graphic novel This One Summer, successfully translates the crazy energy and humor of the popular Lumberjanes comics into a prose novel. The Lumberjanes are five resourceful girl scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types” and are always trying to earn new badges together, even if often means heading into the unknown where they must rely on their wits and courage to survive.
7. Pashmina written and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani(First Second)
Teenager Priyanka Das (Pri) is angry because she’s never been able to get her mother to talk about why she suddenly moved from India to California when Pri was a baby. When Pri voyages to her native land, however, she finally learns why her mother left and develops a new respect for her. Chanani’s debut graphic novel is a charming blend of fantasy and reality with a feminist twist.
8. Patina by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)
Life has been different for Patina (Patty) since her father died suddenly, her mother lost her legs due to diabetes, and Patty and her younger sister Maddy went to live with an aunt and uncle. Now Patty has must start over at a new school, where there are few African-American students, but she finds salvation in running track.
9. Real Friends by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham (First Second)
The Newbery Honour-winning Hale offers a sometimes humourous, sometimes searing look at her childhood through primary school. Hale gives a candid glimpse at her family’s sometimes painful emotional dynamics, but it’s the roller-coaster times she experiences with friends that will resonate with many young readers (and their parents, too).
10. The War I Finally Won (Dial) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada, the steely 11-year-old heroine of this sequel to the Newbery Honour-winning The War That Saved My Life, is one of the most unforgettable characters in modern children’s literature. In this new book, Ada’s clubfoot is finally fixed, but she is slower to heal from her emotional wounds, especially as the second world war continues to claim the lives of those for whom she cares.