Girls Leadership Book Club: Derrick Barnes, Kelly Yang, Renée Watson

This month, stories about girls who take risks to change their lives for the better. Despite the possibility of failure, these characters stick with their goals.

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It’s hard to believe that this is our last book club meeting for the 2018-2019 school year! We’re closing with some of my favorite books (I think I say that every month!), and with one of our most important conversations.

This month, we’ll be reading stories about girls who take risks to change their lives for the better. Despite the possibility of failure, these characters stick with their goals. We know that girls and young women often give up on a task rather than step outside their comfort zones. This is one of the issues Girls Leadership co-founder Rachel Simmons addresses in her book Enough As She Is. She cites a Harvard economist who researched why women did not major in Economics at the same rate as men. She found that women tended to leave the department when they got lower than an A, while the men stuck with it through academic struggles.

If we want our girls to be game-changers, innovators, and leaders, we need to help them see that effort and perseverance are more important than success, that uncertainty isn’t something to fear, and that the possibility of failure is embedded in each and every one of their dreams.

In our stories this month, the main character’s plans are thwarted but she does not give up. Perhaps you and your young reader can use these books as a launchpad for important conversations. And, if you want to dig deeper into the topic, try reading Simmons’ book or try The Confidence Code for Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, which is a book about developing confidence written with an upper-elementary and middle school audience in mind.

Happy reading!

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2nd/3rd Grades

Ruby and the Booker Boys: Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes

Buy or borrow a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book
Ruby is excited to start third grade at Hope Road Academy, where her three older brothers also attend. But, once she realizes how well-known her brothers are, she worries that she’s never going to be able to get out of their shadow. It’s going to take a bold move to show everyone at school that Ruby Booker is much more than just the Booker brothers’ little sister.

Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby was published in 2008, and is the first book in the series about Ruby Booker.

About the author

Derrick Barnes is the author of the Ruby and the Booker Boys series, as well as several other books for young people, from picture books to Young Adult novels. Barnes’ first picture book, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut was awarded a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

Barnes lives in North Carolina with his wife and four sons. Find out more about him at his website


4th/5th Grades

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Buy or borrow a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book

Life has been hard for Mia and her parents since moving from China to America just two years ago. When they’re hired to manage a small motel, they believe their luck is improving. But the hotel owner Mr. Yao is cruel and greedy. He takes advantage of Mia’s family, making it hard for them to earn a living wage, much less save money.

Still, Mia enjoys working the front desk, and constantly dreams about ways she can make the motel better. When Mr. Yao announces that he’s going to sell the motel, she comes up with her biggest dream yet: a way for her family and friends to take luck into their own hands.

Published in 2018, Front Desk earned several starred reviews and the ALA’s Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2019.

About the author

Kelly Yang is a children’s book author, as well as the founder of the Kelly Yang Project the Kelly Yang Project, an educational organization that teaches kids about writing and debate from a very young age. The plot of Front Desk was inspired by her own experiences running motels with her parents when they emigrated from China to America. She now splits her time between San Francisco and Hong Kong.


6th/7th/8th Grades

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Buy or borrow a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book

Jade lives in North Portland, and is a scholarship student at the prestigious St. Francis High School. She knows she should be grateful for the opportunities the school provides, but sometimes she’d rather be at her local high school, where her best friend Lee Lee goes.

The school counselor invites Jade to participate in a mentorship program for at-risk girls, but the offer comes at the expense of a service program abroad. Jade wonders why opportunities often come with an assumption of deficit, and why she’s always seen as someone who needs assistance rather than someone who can contribute.

When a teen from her neighborhood is beaten by police, the chasm between her home life and school life feels wider than ever. Jade decides to tap into all the disparate pieces of her life – her mentor, her family, her art, and her neighborhood – so that she can create a healing event that is uniquely her.

Piecing Me Together was published in 2017, and won a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor.

About the author

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, from picture books through Young Adult novels. Her beautiful picture book Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature.

In 2016, Watson founded the I, Too, Arts Collective, a non-profit that nurtures underrepresented voices in the arts. Watson grew up in Portland, Oregon and now lives in New York City. Learn more about her life and work at her website.


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