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