School summer reading lists are infamous. Required books that you drag around all summer, taking notes and keeping journals. Just in time for beach season, two Richmond writers are trying to give summer reading a better name.
When writer Gigi Amateau was a child, one of her favorite stories was The Little Match Girl.
“I remember sitting in my Grammy’s lap and she would read The Little Match Girl to me and it would wreck me every time. And I then I would ask her to read it again, like through my tears, read it again, you know.”
There’s just something different about the way kids read, the way they can wrap their whole selves up into a book.
“That’s how we learn what expectations we want to set for ourselves, that’s how we learn how to envision our future, how to make sense of our present and our past.”
For the last four years, Amateau, along with her friend and fellow writer Meg Medina, has created a list of books to help girls make sense of growing up. They call it the Girls of Summer List. Medina says it’s definitely not your teacher’s reading list.
“I really just want the girls to be in a shady spot with lemonade and read their books, or go to bed really late. Leave them alone with that flashlight, let it be recreational reading.”
They choose stories ranging from picture books to books for teens. One of Medina’s favorites this year is a picture book titled, Whimsy’s Heavy Things, by Julie Kraulis.
Because it’s about Whimsy, who is saddled with heavy things and really has to wrestle with what is it that you do with the things in life that make you sad or that way you down.
For older kids, Amateau picks out Susann Cokal’s The Kingdom of Little Wounds, as a favorite.
It’s historical fantasy fiction set in the 1400s in an imaginary kingdom. This book was a manifest of what it means to be female.
When they finally finish building each summer’s list and release it on their website, Medina and Amateau hold a kick-off party at the Richmond Public Library.
The night that we do Girls of Summer, it’s like a rock concert, but with books and it’s just a joy to be a part of.
A band plays as the girls walk-in, and there’s popcorn and an ice cream man. But the real stars, of course, are the books. Girls clap and cheer as the titles are announced and they listen enraptured as Amateau and Medina interview one of the authors featured on the list.
“There’s something about seeing little girls, literally giggling and screaming and jumping up and down about books.”
The Girls of Summer includes new books and old books, fiction and nonfiction. This year, two biographical books made the list: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, as well as The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement.
“These two books together reinforce and remind us that girls, that children, are very much a part of creating history, they’re pushing the conversation about women’s rights.”
If these titles sound intriguing, never fear--The Girls of Summer List is not just for girls, it’s also for grownups. Medina points out that good books are good books, regardless of who they’re written for.
“You read like you eat, you read a variety of everything, sometimes you’re eating cotton candy, sometimes you’re having nuts, sometimes you’re having broccoli. I think that’s how we should read, a little bit of everything to be healthy.”
You can find the girls of summer list online here.