MG – The Kaya Girl

Wolo, Mamle. The Kaya Girl. Little, Brown, and Company, 2022. 978-0-316-70393-2.$16.99. 322 p. Grades 5-8.

Set in modern-day Ghana, The Kaya Girl reads like a memoir of a friendship of two fourteen-year old girls from different social and economic backgrounds. A child of privilege and wealth, Abena (Abby) spends the summer with her Auntie Lydia, one of her mother’s older sisters. The stern, hardworking relative owns a fabric shop in the busy Makola Market in Accra. As is the usual custom with Ghanaian families, she has taken in a distant relative, Gifty, to live in her home and work in the shop. Abby, on the other hand, is vacationing at her aunt’s while her mother is in England awaiting the birth of her baby and her father, a physician, is working. When women come to the shop to purchase goods, a kayayoo girl carries their parcels to their destination in her enormous, tin bowl perched on her head. Abby strikes up a friendship with Faiza, the kaya girl who hangs around her aunt’s shop. Through their conversations during down times that summer, the girls share what is most familiar to them. Faiza tells of leaving her birth family to live with her aunt, of her cousin’s arranged marriage at the tender age of twelve, of her desire to attend school, and her quest to find her missing cousin. Abby shows Faiza the wonders of the internet, a revelation of extinct dinosaurs, astronomy, and different lands. In addition to learning the customs of a culture present in her own homeland, Abby becomes aware of her privilege and the poverty that restricts not only Faiza but all the kaya girls. These impressions weigh heavily on her and she channels them into a story for a competition. Despite Auntie Lydia’s disapproval of their friendship and the language barrier, the two girls come to know and like each other. When her aunt seems to soften a bit toward Faiza and leaves for an errand, Abby feels comfortable breaking one of her aunt’s rules and invites Faiza inside the shop. When money goes missing from the till, however, Abby regrets this decision. She knows Faiza is not the thief, but their summer of fun and friendship comes to an abrupt end. The author continues with an extensive epilogue, telling of Abena’s life as an adult and her surprising reunion with her childhood friend. Told in first person from Abena’s point of view, this satisfying novel describes life in Ghana with its disparity of classes and also the sights and sounds of a bustling marketplace. The girls’ friendship is magical and that quality rings true even after years of separation. 

THOUGHTS: The Kaya Girl presents two equally interesting girls from opposite backgrounds and because of this difference, the reader learns so much about what life is like when you are poor in Ghana and what life is like when you are not. One learns cultural customs from both sides as well as a description of an open market in another country. Through this experience, readers fulfill one of the major reasons for reading: to live vicariously through others’ experiences and to learn about and appreciate what is unfamiliar. Though the story probably should have stopped with the girls’ parting, carrying the story into their adulthood brings a enjoyable closure. Pair this book with Auma’ Long Run  by Eucabeth Odhioma (the dust jacket says she teaches at Shippensburg University) or the les -serious graphic novel, Fibbed by Elizabeth Agyemange. Like these two books, The Kaya Girl is a solid selection for extended Social Studies class.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Upper Elem/MS FIC – Emma Moves In; Matylda; Watchdog; One Good Thing…

Hutton, Clare. Emma Moves In (American Girl: Like Sisters #1). Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-11499-7. $6.99. 188 p. Gr. 3-5.

Emma, an only child, adores the time she spends with her twin cousins, Natalia and Zoe. When her parents decide to leave their Seattle home and move across the country into her mother’s family homestead, Emily’s secret dream comes true: she will be living in the same town as her cousins. However, the transition is more difficult than Emily could have imagined. When school starts, she realizes her cousins have different personalities, different groups of friends, and finds herself awkwardly pulled between the sisters. Additionally, Emily’s father is still in Seattle, and the extended separation is adding to the stress Emily and her mom are experiencing. Was this move a huge mistake? THOUGHTS:  An exploration of the anxieties involved with moving and starting a new school. The secondary plotline concerning the escalating anger between Emily’s parents is also well portrayed. Emily exhibits good problem-solving skills in dealing with her cousins and hostile classmates but makes age-appropriate mistakes in dealing with the fear her parents are divorcing.   

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


McGhee, Holly M. Matylda, Bright and Tender. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-895-1-3. $16.99. 210 p. Gr. 3-6.

Sussy and Guy have been friends since kindergarten. The pair bonded over Mr. Potato Head and never looked back. The two know they just belong together, bringing out the best in each other. Towards the end of fourth grade, the pair decide they need a pet, something of their own for which to be responsible. Guy adores leopard geckos, so they purchase Matylda and go to work figuring out how to make her happy. But in a moment of pure Guy, tragedy strikes as the pair are riding their bikes to the pet store. Now Sussy channels her grief on to Matylda, becoming increasingly desperate and reckless in her need to hold on to Guy through the gecko.   THOUGHTS:  Sussy and Guy are memorable characters, and Sussy’s grief is tangible. Readers will root for her to find her way back into the world.  

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


McIntosh, Will.  Watchdog. Delacort, 2017.  978-1-5247-1384-3. $16.99. 192 p. Gr. 4-7.

Orphans Vick and Tara eke out a living by scavenging electronics parts to sell. The 13-year-old twins have been on their own since their mom died after being replaced at her job by a hairstyling robot. Although Tara is autistic, she is also a mechanical genius and tinkers with making a watchdog bot named Daisy. Unfortunately, the clever mechanical dog attracts the attention of Ms. Alba, who quickly puts the Vick and Tara to work in her bot-building sweatshop. After they manage to pull off an escape, Vick and Tara are on the run, with a price on their heads. However, a shadowy groups of teens who run a chop shop, stealing domestic robots to take apart and make watchdogs, come to the twins’ aid in their fight against the evil Ms. Alba. THOUGHTS:  A slightly dystopian setting with lots of action, sure to please those not ready to plunge into The Maze Runner or Hunger Games.  

Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3695-8. $16.95. 152 p. Gr. 3-7.

Nine-year-old Anais, her mother and brother Jean-Claud have recently arrived in the United States from Congo, escaping the violent, corrupt mining officials from whom her father and older brother are on the run. The book is a series of letters Anais writes her grandmother back in Congo. In each letter Anais attempts to find one good thing about America. Some days are easier than others to be positive, as the young girl battles a new language, new culture, new school and friends. Her missives reflect frustration when students at school laugh at her language mistakes, and a heart-wrenching moment when a friend’s parents exhibit blatant prejudice. The book is an insight into the struggles of the many immigrant students in our schools, highlighting the difficulties Anais’s mother experiences trying to find employment and housing, while maintaining stability for Anais and Jean-Claud. THOUGHTS:  A sweet book that thoughtfully illustrates a timely topic. Pair this book with Alan Gratz’s Refugee. While the afterward provides guidance to Anais’s broken English, a French-English pronunciation guide would have been extremely helpful. (She complains that her teacher can’t pronounce her name, but we are never given any guidance as to how her name would be pronounced.)

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District