Summer Hot Reads

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Whether a parent or teacher, if you have had to spend more than 30 minutes in the presence of an adolescent girl, I’m sure you’ve heard these words…”I’m bored…” or “It is soooo boring…” or “It’s nothing to do…”

Well, there is no better time than the “nothing to do” days of summer to encourage our girls to lose themselves in a book adventure.

If getting them out of our hair is not motivation enough to put a book into their hands, perhaps realizing how an unfocused summer can pose a threat to their development will be the reason.

While it is certainly a time for leisure and relaxation, summer is also the season when children from disenfranchised communities experience a detrimental loss of learning. In fact, The Center for Summer Learning shared a report which states young people can lose up to 3 months of learning during their summer vacation.  Irrespective of income level, if young people are not as academically stimulated during summer as they are during the school year, they will not retain what they ended the school year knowing.

That alone is reason enough for me to compile a Summer Hot Reads reading list for Girls Like Me… that and my absolute love of reading. Now I admit, I have a selfish motive, too. I mean, for me there is nothing more appealing than sitting curled up with a book in my hand. I want so desperately to inject the reading bug into all girls…after all, I truly believe reading is power.

Still, not every girl will independently choose turning pages over uploading pics to Instagram, creating dancing vids for YouTube, giggling on stoops and porches with their friends, or hanging at the air conditioned malls. Yet, I am confident if we add some engaging, culturally relevant titles to their reading elixir, they’ll be captivated by stories that hold a space for characters they identify with and connect to.

So without further ado, here is the GLMPI Summer Hot Reads reading list (updated June 3, 2015):

5-8th grade

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia 

The Skin I’m In, Sharon G. Flake

Standing Against the Wind, Traci L. Jones

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland

Last Summer with Maizon, Jacqueline Woodson

Girls Like Us, Gail Giles

8-12th grade

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rayla 2212, Ytasha Womack

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott

Cornered, an anthology edited by Rhoda Belleza

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Upstate, Kalisha Buckhanan

Assata: An Autobiography

Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

On the Line, Serena Williams

The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

To make sure girls are getting the most out of their reading experience:

Have girls perform scenes from their book! Or record an video summary and upload to YouTube like like this one:

  • Reading is a great activity to share with you the girl you mentor! Make visits to the library a part of your engagement time.
  • And be encouraged to start a book club with a few of the girls on your block, or youth members of your church/community center.

Happy reading!

P.S. Please share any other hot read recommendations in the comments. Thanks a million!

Fly Girls & Globetrotters

Photo credits Salvatore Vuono

Growing up, girls like me reign supreme in our concrete jungles. Our landscape is complete with storefront churches and rib shacks; vacant lots; its where chain linked-fences serve as a gateway to play lots filled with broken glass, discarded and burnt-out crack pipes amid haphazard swing sets; cars drive by with the booming system pumping our soundtrack. We run and we play, we pretend and fight, we jump double Dutch and sneak to grind with boys behind school lots. Society labels us ghetto queens. And here is where we reign supreme.

In this place, though, is a homegrown love that is connected to something so deep, it surpasses the memory of time. The inherent rhythm and soul of our domicile has been swept across continents, spread on rich and thick all over the Diaspora. We’ve transplanted the spirit to create little African villages and Spanish Harlems amongst ourselves in urban cities. It is so real, we “ghetto queens” are right at home…never imagining feeling so content and supreme anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully, public libraries are also found nestled on our blocks. And for me, libraries became my world expansion. In fact, it was one of my favorite television programs, Reading Rainbows, which promised me I could go anywhere if I just read books. And so I did. I read and read and read books of fiction and especially autobiographies. Anyone willing to share their story bound up in a book I read. I stowed away with Maya Angelou to go west with her from Stamps, Arkansas to San Francisco, and then moved as an ex-pat in Ghana. I traveled with Malcolm X across northern Africa. Never mind what my birth certificate stated, I was right beside Zora Neale Hurston in the everglades of Florida, shaking my skinny legs in Haiti, and writing in a Harlem flat. It took a lot of courage for my young self, but I braved the horrors of lynch talk and went with Ida B. Wells to speak truth to power.

I hated to put my books down. Reading was not just a reprieve it was my window to a future of hope and possibility. Don’t get me wrong, navigating my way through the ghetto (the PC term now is urban America) I encountered powerful women. My childhood church home of Pilgrim Baptist Church connected me to beautiful and intelligent women who were legacy builders; like Mrs. Bernadine Washington, one of the first Black female radio personalities on legendary WVON. Senator Margaret Smith sat in a pew of my church every Sunday. Jackie Vaughn lead fights for labor equality and loved all the children with a passion. The principal of my middle school, Mrs. Yvonne Minor was not only beautiful to me, but her vision for what we could be and where we could go BECAUSE we were ghetto queens lead her to invest in us and regularly bring in living examples of women who also grew up girls like me. They too shared their stories of the places they’d been and what they’d accomplished.

Because of all these things, I knew where home was and the invaluable comfort of its terrain. Still there was much more out on the horizon and I owed it to myself to see it. And to an extent, I have.

I’ve been a few places, Los Angeles to live as an intern when I was 21; Washington D.C. to visit Howard University and then a few more times as an activist and for business; New Orleans to participate in a bowling tournament as a teen then later to party for Essence Festival 2011; Oakland for A New Way Forward; New York for family leisure and then again on business; Indianapolis to visit my paternal grandfather’s family—on a whim he’d strap my sister and I in the back seat and hit the road in the middle of the night; Salt Lake City, Utah; Detroit and Lousiville, Kentucky for more bowling; Memphis for family vacations and later on business; Daytona, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale for fun in Florida Sun- Busch Gardens was awesome; Las Vegas was my most grand trip of all, I stayed a week in luxury at the Encore/Wynn; also Atlanta-which is easily one of my favorite cities outside of my ghetto queendom of ChiTown.

While my travels have introduced me to different sights, they only serve as variations of the same thing. With the exception of my excursions to Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ochos Rios and Negril, I thirst to be exposed to cultural history, a deeper, spiritual connection to birthplaces of our soul. I have dreamed of the days when I would be able to make real journeys to the places I have read about, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Morocco, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil and so much more. I envision the stories I will be able to share with girls like me sitting in libraries today dreaming up their own futures.

Today I have a blueprint to realizing my dreams. Not only can I still read the books, but there are real life women who are my peers, and some younger, who are globetrotters. I was ecstatic to discover The Women of Color Travel Project, which shares inspiring stories from women who live intrepid lives full of adventure and bold living.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit one of the cofounders is my personal friend and shero Zahra Alabanza. Zahra has been everywhere! Biking from Chicago to Detroit, building and giving in Haiti, backpacking in South America, documenting children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Her journeys are powerful! I love living vicariously through her!

Of course there are more stories like Zahra’s. The Women of Color Travel Project will allow us all to share cultural exchanges. If you travel or know any other women of color who travel, please submit your stories. There are so many lives waiting to be powered forward through your testimony….just with a passport and backpack, girls like me can truly be fly! I cannot wait to see little girls sitting in libraries and reading all about you in the Project’s companion anthology.

So tell me, where have you been and where do you plan to go? What are your travel recommendations for girls like me?