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Awesome Girls in Middle-Grade Fiction
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Awesome Girls in Middle-Grade Fiction

By 49thShelf
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tagged: julia nobel
The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is Julia Nobel's debut novel, and the first in a series about a mysterious English boarding school. In this recommended reading list, Nobel nominates other great middle-grade titles that feature awesome girls. ****** Whenever we talk about strong female characters in children’s fiction, the discussion is almost always limited to books aimed at young adults. Moreover, the definition of "strong" is usually quite narrow, focused on characters who use physical or magical strength to fight for their people. Such a restricted definition of strength is troubling because it doesn’t allow young readers to see that being strong doesn’t have to look a certain way, nor is it something that evolves when a person is older. The following books offer us many different visions of what a strong female character can look like, even when that character is still in their tweens.
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Excerpt

"Nan, tell us about the Sweep.”
It was dark in the coal bin, but Nan could tell it was Newt who was asking. Newt was newest to Crudd’s crew. He was barely six years old; he didn’t know all the rules. The first rule was you never asked another climber about his life Before.
There were five climbing boys in the coal bin: Newt, Whittles, Shilling-Tom, Roger, and Nan. Nan wasn’t a boy, but you’d never know that to look at her. She was as grimy as the rest of them. “Who told you about the Sweep?” Nan said. “Was it Roger?”
“Keep me out of it, Cinderella,” Roger muttered. He called Nan “Cinderella” because he thought it annoyed her. He was right.
“No one told me,” Newt said. “I dreamed about him. Last night I slept in your corner. I dreamed him and the girl were both singing to all the people. Only I woke up before I could hear the words.”
This was a thing that happened: the dreaming. Every so often one of the boys would say that he had dreamed about the Sweep. Nan couldn’t explain it. It seemed to happen whenever one of them fell asleep close to her. All she knew was that she didn’t like it. The Sweep was hers.
“It was about you, wasn’t it?” Newt whispered. “You’re the girl from my dream.”
“No,” Nan said. “I’m the girl who wants to go to sleep.” She’d spent fourteen hours climbing chimneys and knew there were more waiting for her tomorrow.
“You’re splashing in the wrong puddle, Newt,” said a raspy voice by the slat window. It was Whittles. He was only eight, but his voice sounded like an old man’s on account of breathing too much chimney soot. “Me and Shilling-Tom been dreaming about the girl and her Sweep for years. Not once have we gotten Nan to fess up that it’s her.”
“Aye,” said Shilling-Tom. He was Whittles’s best mate. “You might as well try to get a second helping from Trundle’s pot.” Trundle was the woman who cared for them. If you could call it that. “I won’t fess up because it’s nonsense,” Nan said. And it was nonsense. How could two people have the same dream?
“Is the Sweep a real person?” Newt asked. “He sounds lovely. Much nicer than Master Crudd.” He whispered this last bit. Just in case Crudd could hear him upstairs.
“Sweeps aren’t supposed to be lovely,” Nan said. “They’re grimy and tough as stone. Just like chimneys.” Maybe lovely was a fine thing to call a person in Newt’s old life, but he was a climber now. He wouldn’t last long if he kept using words like that.
She heard the boy move closer. “Please, Nan?” Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see the outline of his head. With his curls shaved of, he really did look like a newt. They had named him well. “Just tell me if he’s real. I promise I won’t tell the others.”
“Don’t beg. A climber never begs.” That was another rule.
“Maybe I can sleep here next to you?” He clasped her arm. “Then I’ll dream about him all on my own?”
Nan knew what the boy was saying. He thought that some-how the dreams were coming from her, which was impossible. She pulled away. “Find your own corner.”
“Aw, go easy on the kid.” It was Whittles. “It’s only been a week since he . . . you know . . .” He didn’t say the rest. None of them knew what had happened to Newt’s family to have him end up here, but it had to have been bad. It was always bad.
“I’m not begging,” Newt said. “But it’s a true fact: I can’t sleep without a bedtime story. My mummy always says . . .” He corrected himself. “. . . always said . . .” His voice faltered. “It’s just I thought hearing a story about the Sweep might help me fall asleep.”
Nan remembered when she had felt the same way. That was a long time ago. That was Before.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nan lives a life of indentured servitude as a chimney sweep in Victorian London. After being trapped in a chimney fire, she is saved by a strange creature made of coal and ash. Nan fights for her freedom from the man who essentially owns her, and in the process, creates change for other children caught in the same terrible circumstances.
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Awake and Dreaming

Awake and Dreaming

Puffin Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged : classics
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Why it's on the list ...
Trapped in a seemingly-endless cycle of poverty and instability, Theo somehow manages to dream herself into a new family. When the dream of her new life starts to fade into reality, Theo struggles to figure out what she needs and whether she can ever find it. We often find strong female characters who fight for the rights of others, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this book provides us with a heroine who fights for herself.
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The Breadwinner Trilogy
Why it's on the list ...
Facing starvation after her father is taken away by the Taliban, Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can go out into the streets of Kabul and find a way to support her family. She is constantly dealing with agonizing choices, knowing that every day she must risk her life if her family is going to survive. It is a beautiful depiction of how fear and bravery coexist, and how being afraid doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.
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Dodger Boy

Dodger Boy

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

At that moment Dawn came back. She was with a boy who was just about as opposite from the be-in as you could imagine, a kind of anti-matter of hippie. He had very short, tidy hair shaved up the sides of his head, and he was dressed in crisp jeans and a white T-shirt. He was so clean that he seemed to have a little halo around him. How was he staying so clean?

The second he arrived at the blanket, the sun peeped out.

“This is Tom Ed,” said Dawn. “He’s from Texas. He’s a draft dodger.”

Later, when Charlotte saw those T-shirts that declared, Today is the first day of the rest of your life, she thought of that moment.

The damp blanket, her muddy toes, the music in her pores, the hippie-sweet air, and the tall, bright-faced Texan.

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Why it's on the list ...
In 1970’s Vancouver, Charlotte and Dawn have a pact: avoid becoming teenagers at all cost. Their friendship is tested when a draft dodger moves into Charlotte’s family home and, causing Charlotte to question her own views on war, love, feminism, and censorship. Charlotte grapples with what it means to grow out of childhood and whether she really wants to stay a kid forever.
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The Night Garden
Why it's on the list ...
In the middle of World War II, Franny lives on a farm where her father tends a mysterious garden that is rumoured to grant wishes. When they start receiving a steady stream of unusual visitors, Franny uses her wits to navigate their strange new household. Franny is a whip-smart, wise-cracking heroine in this unexpected tale of hidden magic.
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Dear Canada: These Are My Words
Why it's on the list ...
Partially based on Slipperjack’s own residential school experience, this book is part of the Dear Canada series, which are fictionalized diaries rooted on Canadian history. Violet struggles to retain her identity when the residential school system is determined to erase it. Even her name is stripped away and she is reduced to a mere number. Her fight to remain who she is reflects the all-too real fight that residential school survivors and their families continue to battle today.
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The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

For fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Blackthorn Key series comes an award-winning boarding school mystery about twelve year old Emmy, who's shipped off to a prestigious British school. But her new home is hiding a secret society ... and it may be the answer to Emmy's questions about her missing father.

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who's a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she's sure she wo …

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