Last night, I finished reading Shug by Jenny Han. And I want more. I want another book about Shug, her sister Celia, their mother, best friend Elaine, and Jack...particularly Jack. I have a penchant for dark haired bad boys with a troubled family life; and I'm hoping, even though the odds are slim, that sweet fighting Jack has a chance for a promising future.
It took me awhile to get past the front cover of this book. All I could think of was how can I take a book seriously with a popsicle on the front cover? Of course I forgot this book is really for tweens. I thought this would be a fluffy book about facetious kids who I could care less about. Was I wrong. I read this book in big gulps, savoring every word, loving every bit of Shug's insecurities, observations, spirit, sassiness, and smarts.
Annemarie Wilcox, known as Shug by her family and friends, is a twelve year girl who has a little bit of difficulty dealing with how life is changing now she's starting junior high school. She's dealing with insecurities about herself, worried about losing her best friend Elaine to a boy and the in crowd, loves the boy next door who she's been friends with her whole life, stresses about her dysfunctional parents, and tutors the pain in the neck Jack.
Shug's beautiful mother is seldom there when Shug needs her. Her mother is dealing with her own demons and takes to the bottle like its going out of style. The one thing she always tells Shug though, is that she is "extraordinary." Shug has a hard time believing this. She thinks her mother and sister are so special and beautiful that she just doesn't compare. In one poignant moment, Shug's mother pulls an awesome motherly maneuver and tells her heartbroken little girl, "Shug, if you can't see your own worth, you sure as hell can't expect someone else to." So true.
Author Jenny Han makes me remember what it's like to be twelve and so serious and insecure with friendships and life. I fell in love with Shug from the start. I smiled, laughed, cheered her on and cried for her pain. I just want to give a big ole hug to Shug and let her know things will turn out right. But somehow, after reading this book, I think she already knows that.
And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:
1. Shug, Celia, her dysfunctional mother from Shug by Jenny Han- Shug challenges Jack to a diving match and wins. Shug makes being smart look cool. She's sassy, fun, concerned about her friends, and a total love. Celia, Shug's beautiful older sister, has moments when she totally steps to the plate and takes care of her little sister. She sometimes lets Shug hang out with her and her friends. Celia outdid herself when she took it upon herself to make Shug shine for the school dance. Shug's mother is rather dysfunctional, but she wants her daughters to know they are extraordinary and want more from life.
2. Grace, her sister Delia, her mother, teacher Miss Lesley, and Arthur's mother,from Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop - Author Elizabeth Winthrop weaves in fiction and fact into this beautifully written historical novel about child labor in a New England textile mill in the early 1900's. This topic is certainly depressing; however, this book is written so matter-of-factly and gives ribbons of hope, the anticipated emotive bite is totally taken out of the equation. This gives the reader a chance of getting a picture of how horrible life must have been like for the children and adults living and working at the textile mills. You can understand why parents needed the children to work, but you are ever so grateful for the Miss Lesley's of the world who want the children to have a better life.
12 year old Grace wants to be a teacher instead working at the textile mill. She takes pride in her reading and writing. Grace is brave and helps real life photographer Lewis Hines take pictures of the children working at the mill and writes a journal reporting on what the children do at the mill for the National Child Labor Committee. Grace's sister Delia is a good big sister and helps Grace out and give her lots of advice on working at the textile mill. Grace's mother is a tough one. She eventually gives into her own desires of learning to read and finally lets Grace have a life outside the textile mill. Teacher Miss Lesley gives up her own time to tutor her star pupils. She fights to give her students a better life and ends up sacrificing her job to notify the National Child Labor Committee on the textile mill practices. Arthur's mother gives up her home, her job, her friends because she will not let her son return to work at the mill.
3. Zelda and Ivy from Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, ages 4-8 years old - This is a cute book about Zelda and Ivy, the fox sisters who are spirited, fun, and creative. They help each other out, admit to their faults and encourage each other.
4. Holly from Stellina by Matteo Pericoli, ages 3 - 8 years old - This is a true life account of Stellina, the finch who was rescued by Matteo's wife Holly, on the corner of 46th and Third in Manhattan. A sweet book which reminded me of when my husband and I tried to save a baby Baltimore Oriole that fell from a tree in front of my mother-in-law's house. Sadly, Ollie only lived a few days. You'll be happy to know that Stellina lives for 8 years.
5. Molly from Molly's in a Mess by Suzy Kline, ages 8 - 10, Molly's an athletic third grader who is great at keeping secrets. She learns how to accept a new student's differences, learns about telling the truth and how to tell good apologies. The message is a little heavy on this one, but a cute book told from the best friend's point of view.
6. Ruby Lu, Flying Duck, Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look - I couldn't resist. This book was tempting me from the upper shelf of the kids' elementary school library. And it's a great sequel to Ruby Lu, Brave and True, which made it to last week's Strong Girl Role Models list. This book is funny. Ruby Lu's antics are hysterical, and Lenore Look gives a whole new meaning to aliens. Ruby Lu protects her cousin, calls 911 when her brother can't breathe, learns how to swim, saves her friend Emma from drowning, and learns how to apologize. Flying Duck is deaf and teaches her friends sign language. She saves Ruby's brother's life by...well, you can read this one for yourself. The black and white illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf are just too cute and add the right amount of humor to the book.