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Books in Brief: Cub by Cynthia Copeland, Greta's Story by Valentina Camerini; The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read


Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland; Algonquin Young Readers, 223 pages ($12.95) Ages 8 to 12.


Cynthia Copeland's funny and charming graphic novel memoir, of her transformative seventh grade year, was inspired by her experience as a cub reporter for the local paper in her hometown of Litchfield, Conn., starting in seventh grade. Her wonderful illustrations and text bring to life the 1970s (the action takes place in 1972 and '73, as the Watergate story was breaking), which is ancient history for the target audience, but the issues of bullying, peer pressure, gender roles and equal rights and the importance of a free press are as relevant today as ever. It's both  a delightful coming-of-age tale of a girl coming into her own and a love letter to journalism.

Cindy experiences the junior high social environment as a kind of "Wild Kingdom." With glasses, her hair curled with rags, braces, an "old-lady Amish dress" her mother picked out for her, knee socks and sensible shoes, she is among the prey, desperate to keep the "cool kid" predators at bay. Rescue comes from her English teacher, who recommends her for a cub reporting internship tailing a young female reporter for the local paper.  The learning curve (their first assignment is a boring school board finance committee meeting) is steep, but Cindy's articles, marked with her mentor's comments, offer a primer on how to write for a newspaper even touching in however small a way, on the role of newspaper as municipal watchdog. The '70s period  is beautifully depicted (cigarettes, no bike helmets, a box TV with rabbit ear antenna); along with the downsides there was no social media and kids were free to roam.

Cindy loses her best friend to a mean girl, falls off her bike and has her first crush on a boy, goes to a school dance, goes trick-or-treating as a box of candy, and even gains her dad's respect and support for her interest in writing and photography (at the beginning of the story, her dad is coaching her brothers to consider careers while she and her mom wash the dishes).  Her art talent wins her a job sketching historic buildings in the town. Copeland offers a funny and inspiring coming-of-age tale of a girl coming into her own, that's rich in nostalgia both for the time period and for the heyday of newspapers.


Greta's Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet by Valentina Camerini, translated by Moreno Giovannoni; illustrations by Veronica "Veci" Carratello; Aladdin, 123 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.


Valentina Camerini in very simple, straightforward language tells the fascinating story of 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg whose solo protest – skipping school to go on strike for climate change in front of Stockholm's Parliament building in 2018 – has inspired similar protests around the world.  The author discusses Greta's family life (both she and her sister were diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome) and how her interest in climate change began at a very young age with an upsetting documentary shown in class about plastic pollution in the ocean.

How fascinating, that Greta's first converts to the cause were her parents, as she convinced them to change their lifestyle (traveling less, buying an electric car, riding bicycles as much as possible). The book includes a list of things kids can do at home to help combat climate change.


The Oldest Student: how Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard & Oge Mora; Schwartz & Wade; $17.99.


Mary Walker, who was born into slavery in 1848 and freed at 15, was given a Bible in her youth but had outlived her husband and her three sons by the time she was able to read it for herself, at the advanced age of 116.

This inspiring tale of determination and grit – in the face of the grinding poverty freed slaves endured working as sharecroppers in the post-Reconstruction South – features the lovely illustrations of Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Oge Mora, whose use of patterned paper and book clippings in her artwork seems particularly perfect for this story. The beautiful cover shows white-haired Mary clasping her Bible in her arms as birds take flight overhead. The author lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Mary lived from 1917 until  her death in 1969. The book also includes photographs of Mary Walker, including her first airplane ride, being presented with her graduation certificate, reading the Bible.

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