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Feisty Females for Middle Schoolers

    Nine months before Rosa Parks made history, a fifteen-year-old girl was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Claudette Colvin was well aware of the convoluted rules about where blacks could sit on the city buses, but on this day she decided not to obey the bus driver’s command to give up her seat.  She was arrested and eventually convicted of assault and violating the segregation law. 

    Deemed too emotional to become the public face of the civil rights cause, Colvin has been a footnote to history for the last fifty years. But that has changed with the publication of Philip Hoose’s “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

    Hoose based his book on extensive interviews with Colvin, her family and classmates.  It’s a compelling story, made even more powerful by Hoose’s careful depiction of the issues of class and race that contributed to Colvin’s low profile in the civil rights movement.  Middle school students will find this biography of a courageous yet imperfect teen an eye-opening story.

    "Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really."  Readers who agree with this sentiment will love the voice of Callie, a spunky eleven-year-old girl with six brothers and a problem.  In her small Texas town in 1899, Callie is expected to learn how to sew, knit, cook and play the piano, and eventually “come out” in society.  Callie would much rather be swimming in the pond and studying the natural world with her grandfather, a retired businessman who is trying to distill  whiskey out of pecans and has corresponded with Charles Darwin.

In “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” by first-time novelist Jacqueline Kelly, Callie watches her adored oldest brother fall in love for the first time (it doesn’t go well, thanks to Callie), unexpectedly wins a prize for tatting at the county fair (third prize – there were only three entries), and helps her grandfather to identify a hitherto unknown species of vetch.  She speculates about attending the University of Texas one day and with some reluctance faces up to her mother’s expectations for her only daughter. 
Kelly paints a vivid portrait of a family, a time and a place, but most important, she presents a believable young girl who tries, with humor and intelligence, to make sense of her world and her future. 

    Fans of Eoin Colfer’s action-packed Artemis Fowl books will welcome Emma Clayton’s “The Roar.”  In a dystopian future, walled cities protect the human population from plague-ridden animals.  Twelve-year-old Mika, living in overcrowded London with his parents, is convinced that his twin sister Ellie, thought to have drowned the year before, is still alive.  He’s right – as the book opens, she’s piloting a Pod Fighter with her pet monkey and fleeing the evil Mal Gorman, a billionaire who plans to turn a generation of kids into his own private army. 

    If this sounds like a mixture of James Bond and Orson Scott Card, you’re right.  Human mutations, ecological disasters, cyborg animals and virtual reality games combine for a science fiction story that middle school fans will devour in one sitting.  Readers impatient for a sequel will be glad to know that Clayton is working on the third draft of “The Whisper” (tentative title) right now.