Pull in close, these two novels are about as sweet as they come. Both are about girls with big hearts who never give up no matter how tough life gets. Just the books to inspire girl readers to stand up for themselves and be proud of who they are.
R My Name is Rachel, by Patricia Reilly Giff, Wendy Lamb, $15.99, pages. Try as she might, Rachel can't stop thinking about her troubles. Pop's lost his job at the bank, he's rail-thin from worry, and now he's got devastating news for Rachel, 12, and her sister Cassie, 10, and brother Joey, 11. They're moving away from the city to an old farm -- away from Miss Mitzi with her light-up-the-world smile. Miss Mitzi runs a floral shop and she's been a comfort to Rachel with her mother passed away. Although Miss Mitzi and Pop are smitten with each other, Pop's too proud about money to invite her along, no matter how much Rachel urges him on. The morning they leave, Rachel tries to be strong; she plays the "A My Name is Alice" game by herself to get her mind off things. All she has to do is concentrate on the alphabet and choose any word that starts with the letter she's on. But even the alphabet game can't distract her now. With the Great Depression bearing down, it's like someone "opened a plug and everyone's money went down the drain" and left folks with little to count on. When Rachel's family arrives at the farm, all run-down, things only feel more unsteady. A snow storm keeps Pop from getting the job that brought them there. The school is closed (a terrible, aching sight for Rachel who loves to soak up learning). She and Cassie can't seem to agree on anything. And now Pop has to go away to find work and there's no telling when he'll be back. It's up to Rachel to look out for the farm, and Cassie and Joey, but then something horrible happens: Cassie runs away and all the rent money disappears. Could ferns crowding a stream by their house lead them all to the end of a rainbow? Told through Rachel's eyes and the letters she and Miss Mitzi write to each other, this sweet, sweet book leaves readers feeling like their hearts could float right out of their chests. I know I was gliding through the rest of my day after reading it.
The Trouble with May Amelia (the sequel to the Newbery Honor book Our Only May Amelia), by Jennifer L. Holm, Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 9-12, 224 pages. May Amelia Jackson may be the only girl in a family of seven boys, but she's got more "sisu" than any of them. That's the word Finnish immigrants use to mean guts and courage -- and it's the one thing families living along Washington's Nasel River in 1900 need in good supply. But the thing is, Pappa thinks she's downright stupid; he's always spitting mad at her for making mistakes and telling her he'd rather have one boy than a dozen May Amelias. But May Amelia knows it's just his bitter tongue talking and wishes she could show him she's not all trouble. Then a man with big ideas comes to see Pappa and May Amelia gets her chance. Pappa asks May Amelia to translate the man's English into Finn: The man wants Pappa to mortgage their farm and invest in a scheme to turn the land along the Nasel into a prosperous town. Pappa is taken in by the man's promise of wealth and invests, and to May Amelia's delight, praises her for helping him out. "You were the best crop we ever put in," he tells her. But then the worst thing possible happens and they lose their farm, and it's May Amelia whom Pappa blames. He tells her he no longer wants to see her again. Even "Best Brother" Wilbert doesn't defend her. And now dear Momma's having to work in the oyster cannery, and Papa and her brothers are risking their lives logging trees. Where's big brother Matti when she needs him? Will she ever be able to make amends? Based on a scam that Holmes real-life great-grandfather got lured into in 1890, this followup is as unforgettable as Holm's first book. After listening to May Amelia's lilting narration and watching her try so hard to win over her father, they're sure to love her even more.