cover image for FlygirlSmith, Sherri. (2010) Flygirl. New York, NY: Speak

Plot Summary:

There’s a war on, and the United States Army is looking for pilots.  Ida Mae Jones knows she’s the woman for the job; back when her daddy was alive and she was allowed to fly, she was the best pilot there was – except for maybe him.  But in 1941 no one is going to let a woman fly for the army.  Or so she thinks.  When she spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, Ida Mae knows this is her chance.   She has more to worry about than just passing the grueling training though – Ida Mae’s biggest worry is whether or not she will manage to pass for white in a segregated army that isn’t at all interested in recruiting colored women for anything, much less letting them fly Army planes.

Critical Evaluation:

Smith does not constrain herself to the typical tale of a plucky young idealist triumphing over sexism and bigotry, rather she weaves a complicated story about the realities of pervasive and institutional discrimination.  Flygirl is full of celebration, hope, danger, and loss – and it’s dealt with in a way that asks readers to not only root for Ida Mae, but to ponder her choices as well.  Ida Mae does more than attempt to shatter barriers in pursuit of her passion, she also has to decide whether achieving her dream is worth compromising her own values, distancing herself from her family, and lying to the friends she now depends on.  With it’s depth of plot and nuanced characters, Flygirl steadfastly refuses to fall into the trap of presenting racism as a Thing of the Past or Someone Else’s Problem.  While the specific barriers that Ida Mae faced no longer exist in that same form, her experiences speak clearly to modern audiences as well.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Ida spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, she knows this is her chance to be what she has always wanted to be and she’s determined to take it – even if it means lying about who she is.

Author Information:



Booktalking Ideas:

I think most readers that would enjoy this book would be pulled in by the premise.  The historicalness of it may turn off some potential readers though, so I might bring in more of the actual plot so they have an idea of what it is really about.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

Being against this book would be like being against kids learning history.  That said, sad stuff happens and not everyone who is a “good guy” is very nice or really all that good all the time.  Pointing out how balanced the book is, as well as all the research that went into it, would be the best defense.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

I first heard heard about this book when Smith was on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books [if I was writing this database by hand, I’d need that as a stamp] and I was hooked from the moment I heard the premise.


Miley Cyrus

cover image for Can't Be TamedCyrus, M., Armato, A., James, T., & Karaoglu, D. (2010) Who Own My Heart [Recorded by Miley Cyrus].  On Can’t Be Tamed [mp3].  Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Records.

Cyrus, M., Armato, A., James, T., Neumann, P., & Pompetzki, M.  (2010) Can’t Be Tamed [Recorded by Miley Cyrus].  On Can’t Be Tamed [mp3].  Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Records.

Cyrus, M. & Shanks, J.  (2010) Stay [Recorded by Miley Cyrus].  On Can’t Be Tamed [mp3].  Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Records.

[I wish I could just send you to this post at Tiger Beatdown in lieu of an actual review, as theirs will always be the much better review to read, but I can’t really turn in someone else’s blog post for my homework.  So here goes…]

After trashing the last couple of musicians, I’m now going to have to admit that I actually enjoyed Cyrus’ songs.   They still feel very extra shiny polished in a way that smells of lots and lots people working on Miley Cyrus, The Star.*  But.  They are actually interesting and, despite the being more mature songs, are also the kinds of things I’d like tween girls to be thinking about.

Yeah, I know, that’s not exactly an uncontroversial statement.  Now, I’m not really talking younger tweens here, and it’s clear that Miley has become more of a teen artist than a tween artist as she has moved into adulthood herself.


Granted, Stay is a pretty typical love ballad, but it’s also more musically sophisticated than, for example, Everclear’s offerings.  Who Owns My Heart had mine from the first though – talking about the difference between desire and love?  In a ways that also suggests she’s pondering if any love would ever be worth living up her artistic passions?  The lyrics are definitely more mature (although, when is rock not about sex?) but the questions are ones I want (older) tweens asking themselves.

And then there’s Can’t be Tamed.  Of course there’s going to be adults that are made uneasy by adolescents declaring their independence.  Especially when you throw “girls” and “sex” into the mix. I’m not really all that thrilled about tween girls thinking they need to be sexy, sexy to rebel myself.  At the same time, the fact that we seem to continually try to control girls’ sexuality rather than guide them is part of what led to this song and video, as is the idea that for girls, “sexually available” = “adult.”  So it seems to me that it’s very appropriate for older tweens to be listening to Miley – and for the adults in their lives to be engaging in conversations with them about why they think Miley is rebelling the way that she is.

Best for ages 13-16

Artist website:



*right, so, probably shouldn’t have reread Sady and Amanda’s post right before writing this.

Packaging Boyhood Redux: Brian vs. Julie

I ended up reading Hatchet and Julie of the Wolves nearly back to back this semester, and it made for some really striking contrasts.  While both are are about surviving on one’s own in the wilderness, Brian and Julie approach their similar predicaments in very different ways.

Hatchet reminded me of all the Jack London “man vs. nature” stories that I had a hard time getting into as a kid, in part because the protagonists’ relationship with nature was adversarial and the emotional lives of the characters was often only barely alluded to.  Paulson’s adventure story is not quite that stark; Brian’s parents are mentioned several times and emotions like fear play a huge part in the story.  At the same time, considering how difficult a time Brian is having dealing with his mother at home, and how much he is avoiding the interpersonal conflict that has torn his world upside down, you could even argue that crashing on that mountain was as much wish-fulfillment as it was a dangerous plot twist.
Then we have Julie, who doesn’t rely on a twist of fate to save her from sticky interpersonal conflict, but heads out for the wilderness of her own accord.  Once there, she doesn’t fight with nature, even though her landscape is clearly much more dangerous than Brian’s, instead she makes friends with a wolf pack and convinces them to care for her.  In the end, what Julie of the Wolves reminded me most strongly of is A Little Princess, in which Sarah Crew’s idyllic world is turned upside down first through nothing more than the virtue of her growing older, and then by the death of her father.  Much the same way that Julie is forced to leave behind the old ways, first through the death of her father and then as a result of the progress of civilization.  Even more, the climax of each story involves not only heroism on the part of our protagonists, but also someone else coming to the conclusion that she is family and deserves protection.


Despite being so different, I enjoyed both stories a lot; I’m glad I read both of them and I will recommend both to all kinds of tweens.  I just really wish that it wasn’t always Brian that was avoiding emotional conflict and Julie that was willing to reach out and ask for help.  Although there is still more to be done, we’ve started making some really good progress showing girls that they can rely on themselves and don’t need to wait for others (just compare Julie to Sarah).  Boys, however, still seem to always be asked to be little Jack Londons*; told they are little men before they can even walk and, most of all, taught that vulnerability is not something that boys admit to.  It’s important that we have books like Hatchet; firstly because it is simply a good book, but secondly because it particularly speaks to the boys that have already internalized the idea of boyhood that we sell ourselves.  However, it’s just as important that we have examples of boyhood that are not so closely tied up in the myth of boy as an island and emotions as nothing more than weaknesses.

*The Jack London story that stuck with me the most was not any of the ones about the Alaska Gold Rush or the like, but a short story he wrote based on his own experiences as a child laborer at the twilight of the industrial revolution.  Like many oldest children at that time, Jack’s own childhood was sacrificed in favor of feeding his younger siblings.

Week Eight Readings

Many versus Few

Serving the public is always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get caught up serving the largest populations – or even the mythical average.  However, often those that don’t quite fit into the norm sometimes need extra attention, and that it’s in everyone’s bests interests that they get it.  Even more, when the topic is maintaining a library collection for tweens, it’s not always a question of competing needs, and I think this is the most important thing to remember.

When author Laurie Halse Anderson talks about the letters she has received from countless tween and teen readers about the impact her book, Speak, has had on their lives, she often makes a point to clarify that it’s not just girls who have been sexually assaulted that identify with Melinda; she talks about getting letters from boys that were raped as well, girls that have reasons other than Melinda’s for cutting, and even high school football players that are battling with depression.  Melinda speaks to all of them.

If you were to take everyone that fits the definition of “girls who were assaulted at an end of the year party by their crush” then you would certainly be left with outliers.  But if you expand that to include all the kinds of people that might potentially be helped by hearing Melinda’s story, then you are no longer talking about outliers.

Life is Not Multiple Choice

Spectrum and rainbows have been the emblems of gay pride and rights for several decades now, and while it’s mainly meant to symbolize that variety is beautiful, it can also be seen as a reference to Kinsey’s scale, in which sexuality is not a few check boxes, but a gradient of desires.

We like to sort people into groups because it makes them manageable, but of course the truth is much more complex and nuanced than our boxes could ever be.  As the fluidity of the tweens sexual identity in the Times article illustrates, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning or not always clear or exclusive categories.  Even when outliers clearly exist – such as tween runaways – there is still definitely an overlap between their situation and that of many other tweens whose families are homeless, whose homes are unsafe, who are often shifted from one guardian to another, who – well, you get the idea.

Outlier versus Other

If, instead of only talking about fictional Melinda or the real life Autumn, we decide that we want to talk about “kids whose families are experiencing economic hardship” or “kids who were sexually assaulted in some way” we are actually, depressingly, talking about large sections of the general population.  We could even be talking about the majority of the tweens our library serves, depending on the topic and the demographics of our area.

Even if we are only talking about a small – or even non-existent – segment of our service population, it’s imperative that we do talk about people that are different from us.  Or, rather, that we listen to what people who are not like us have to say as well.  This is the foundation of a healthy democracy.

I think many times when we talk about outliers we are actually, as Sara Ryan points out in What a Girl Wants #7, talking about The Other.  But The Other isn’t always a mathematical minority, and they certainly not always an outlier.  The Other is something constructed to divide the world into Us and Them, and libraries are not meant to serve Us or Them, they are meant to serve everyone.

One Last Note

We were asked to talk about gender and how boys were portrayed in the articles; the two things that I noticed most were that boys were rarely shown as vulnerable, and they were more often shown as threatening.  It think the former is the cause of much of the latter, as our inability to see or acknowledge boys’ vulnerability often gives them few options for how to survive – and one of the easiest options available to them in the short term is violence.

Packaging Boyhood Interview

I absolutely loved the interview with the author’s of Packaging Boyhood.* So often when people write or talk about boys and their needs in newspaper articles and the like, it’s written in a very adverserial way that buys into the myths that Tappan, Brown, and Lamb are trying to dismantle. Which, needless to say, only makes the problem that much harder to tackle. Sadly, the other two articles have some stellar examples of this. I think the part that stood out most to me** was the way that this response from the Packaging Boyhood authors:

If Harry Potter told us anything, it’s that boys do read and they read long books with complex storylines if the books interest them. Harry Potter’s great — it doesn’t play into what boys are “supposed to like.” They’re supposed to like farts, burps, yucky things, explosions, violence, and action action action.

Is in direct opposition to the way the article in The Awl ends:

I can remember boys herding like that, snickering furtively and elbowing ribs. The book was the dictionary, and the passage in question was the definition of “mount.” Boys were then boys, as they ever will be, and it turns out we really ought to have been praising them: not only were they reading, they were kind of discussing relationships too.

Ok, story time: When I was younger, I used to draw all the time. One day I drew a kid in a karate uniform (Karate Kid had come out maybe a year or two before). All nice and shiny and ready for pictures. And then I drew him again. After a fight. Beat up, cast on, bruises on his face, hobbling on crutches. But still smiling. My mother was not pleased. I dunno if she ever reacted that way to my brother’s drawings, but in any case a mother’s displeasure often feels different when you are a girl, yes? Unlike my brother, the only karate uniforms I drew from then on were worn by koalas.

I think, when talking about gross, weird, and nasty books – as well as violent, scary, and terror-inducing stories – we focus a lot on the fact that boys will like them, and forget that girls might like them too. And that a lot of girls may be afraid to admit it because they think they aren’t supposed to. (Trust me, I get plenty of girls asking for Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).

I think that the same thing happens with boys and the types of books we figure girls like – books about characters’ social and inner lives – their emotional lives. When I think of all the shows that do feature boys, shows like Zeke and Luther, Drake and Josh – the shows that “The Great Retweening” doesn’t think exists (and even many that have boys as secondary characters, like Sonny With a Chance) the most striking characteristic is that the boys on them always clearly have rather rich emotional lives. It’s often mocked, but it’s also always still there. Boys on television are almost never without a best friend, whether they be 5 or 55. But at the same time, that friendship and the emotional turmoil that boys want to explore is so often undermined on those same shows – as if the only way that boys can feel comfortable watching such shows is if they don’t admit why.

This same topic came up a few years ago at a really fascinating panel discussion at the LA Times Festival of Books. It was made of up their 2006 YA Book prize winner, Coe Booth, and the finalists, M. T. Anderson, Nancy Werlin, John Green, and Meg Rosoff. At one point someone asked the panelists if they thought there was a lack of books for and featuring boys. It was pretty unanimous that that meme was bullshit. (having shelves books for years at both a library and bookstore, I agree.) The one not quite dissenting opinion (Green) – which also got nods from practically everyone after he made it – was that there aren’t enough quality books for boys.*** That the books with teen male protagonists tended to be pretty stereotypical, and their plots tended to avoid the emotional. Green didn’t say this specifically, but the overall argument seemed to be that there were hundreds of Eragons, but very few Colins or Octavians.

I remember thinking at the time that I wished all discussions about literature for boys – and boys reading habits – could be that nuanced and grounded in reality. They still aren’t, generally, but Packaging Boyhood looks like it should be a positive voice for change in literature for boys.

*yes, it’s already on my to-read shelf

**ok, not really, but the parts that really stuck with me the most are prompting responses not appropriate for homework.

*** I don’t think that this is in opposition with the idea than kids shouldn’t be ashamed to be reading genre books and the like, because really the issue is more about variety of protagonists’ characteristics than the quality of writing, although quality writing tends to go hand in hand with more flexibility and nuance.

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I’m not sure if this counts as a proper reflective post for class purposes or not, but it’s been bugging me and it involves tweens, so I’m including it.

I was at a meeting the other day with a bunch of other youth services librarians – children’s and young adult, all within the same library system, mostly from different branches.  Overall it was a fantastic and useful meeting.  But! at one point one of my colleagues made one of those comments about boys and reading that made me want to throw something:

“We don’t ever talk about boy books!”