Stand Strong Girls

Archive for the tag “books”

Room to Read

I recently heard about Room to Read, an organisation that works with communities and governments in Asia and Africa to run literacy programmes.  Room to Read operates in 10 countries in Africa and Asia. It builds libraries and schools, hiring local contractors and teachers. In this way money is put back into the community.

Room to Read

Room to Read logo

Room to Read also works with girls at secondary school level to help them reach their full potential. It provides mentors, workshops and camps to help girls in school. Room to Read helps girls who are moving from primary to secondary school as this is when most drop out happen. There are so many long-term advantages to girls’ education. Women often raise healthier families, earn higher wages and teach their own children.

I looked at Room to Read’s work in India, as one of the World Wide Women pages is about it. In India, Room to Read are mostly building libraries. Girls’ education is a large part of its work there, as there is still gender disparity in education. Although all children are entitled to free education in India, many girls drop out before finishing.

Room to Read sounds like a wonderful programme that is making a lot of difference and I hope it will continue its work for a long time.



Rose Under Fire

I loved Elizabth Wein’s first novel, Code Name Verity, but it wasn’t until I was researching for my post about the covers for female authors’ books, that I realised there was a sequel. Rose Under Fire (published by Egmont) continues the story of Maddie Brodatt, but is mostly about Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot in Britain in 1944. She is captured and ends up in Ravensbrück, a German prison camp for women. The book describes a part of WWII that I didn’t really know much about before: the experiments performed on Polish prisoners, who were nicknamed ‘Rabbits’. The experiments were performed on seventy-four Polish women. The doctors claimed to be improving medical conditions for German soldiers by cutting the women’s legs in different ways and deliberately giving them gangrene.

Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (published by Egmont).

I was also struck by descriptions of the prisoners ‘organizing’ things, which meant stealing things to bribe the guards with or extra food or newspapers. One thing that really stood out for me was the co-operation and support between the prisoners, who were all in the same boat, as it were.

After detailing Rose’s time in the prison camp, some of the war trials are also recounted, as well as her struggle to return to normal life, still haunted what she has seen in Ravensbrück.

The story is told mostly through Rose’s own writing, first when she is in England, and later in Paris after the end of the war. A few letters from her friends and family are used

As with Code Name Verity, this book has a rather dramatic tagline, which sums up the spirit of the women who suffered during the experiments. In Code Name Verity it was ‘I have told the truth’, in Rose Under Fire, ‘tell the world’. In other words, the world must know what happened in Ravensbrück, of the atrocities and horrors, but also of the bravery and strength of the women who survived, and those who died.

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I think this cover looks familiar…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a very disappointing thing in bookshops and libraries, and that is the covers put onto books by female authors. I’ve come to the conclusion that publishers are either not creative, don’t want to spend time on books by women or have a very narrow view of what teenagers want from book jackets.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Many YA/teen novels by women have covers like this.

A large number of young adult/teen fiction novels by women have dull jackets that are just unimaginative variations on the same theme. The most common image is of a single girl or young woman with an appropriate background. The person stares out at you with an inscrutable expression.

There are numerous examples to illustrate this statement. I blogged about Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion Books) previously, when you search for it online several covers can be found. I prefer the one with the bicycles but two others have a girl’s head on them. One is in profile and the other looks out from the cover, with suitably dramatic backgrounds. If that’s the first time you’ve seen this type of cover, it looks deep and impressing, but keep looking down the shelves, there are many more. Witch Child, Sorceress, Sovay and Pirates! by Celia Rees (all published by Bloomsbury) have suffered the same fate. Pirate Queen by Morgan Llywelyn (O’Brien Press) and several of Mary Hooper’s books are also designed in the same style. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin Books) breaks the mould in an amusing, although perhaps unintentional way. There is a girl on the front, but she has her back turned, so you can’t see her face.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

A popular image, but facing away from the reader

All of the books that I mentioned above have strong female protagonists and the cover designs are so inappropriate. The girls’ expressions do differ somewhat, from determined to dangerous to dopey, but they are still weirdly alike. The old phrase holds true here that ‘when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’.

Usually, books from one genre will have similar covers, but these books are not the same. It is unfair to the authors to take romantic, historical and adventurous stories and lump them all in one category. As all these books are put together, one wonders what feature they share. It’s fairly clear, all these books have been written by women. So it seems that despite the variety of plot, setting, language and characters to be found in all of these books, they are all labelled and packaged according to who wrote them.

Pirate Queen by Morgan Llywelyn

There are many variations to this type of book jacket.

Maybe publishers don’t think teenagers want more unusual book jackets, and I can’t comment on how accurate that judgement is, if that is their reasoning. However, I do know that if an interesting title catches my eye on the spine of a book and I have a closer look at the cover, seeing the familiar staring face on the jacket will not inspire me to read it. Although it’s good advice not to judge a book by its cover, it doesn’t mean people don’t. Even if you don’t decide whether to read it or not based on the cover, if the outside doesn’t interest you, it’s possible you won’t approach the book with an open mind. The imagery on a book jacket can cause you to have certain preconceptions about the story, and the obvious one here is to think that it will be the same as all the others with the same type of jacket. If you were to read a selection of the books that I mentioned above, or any others that looked the same, you would know that this is untrue. However, what does it tell us about publishers, do they think all YA/teen novels by female authors are the same? Certainly, all the books feature girl who ‘go places’, but all in hugely different circumstances.

Witch Child by Celia Rees

This type of cover can look haunting, sad, enticing…

I think that publishers should really pull up their socks in this area and start designing some original and unusual book covers for women authors’ YA and teen fiction. It is silly to bracket all of these books together, when they are so diverse.Each of these novels have something different to offer. Surely their covers should reflect this? Let me know what you think about this topic. The comment box is open…



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Sorceress by Celia Rees

After a while, it gets boring, seeing the same thing over and over again.

Pirates! by Celia

However, this image is repeated very often.

The weaker sex?

At the moment I am re-reading the Anne Shirley series by L.M Montgomery and in the second last book, Rainbow Valley, I read a passage that really set me thinking about how much opinion towards girls has changed since that book was published in 1926. The passage is spoken by a boy in the story to his sisters and brother telling them why they should be punished for running away from what they thought was a ghost but what was in fact a woman looking for something on the ground.This is at a meeting of their ‘Good Conduct Club’ where they punish each other for the various misdeeds that they inevitably commit! This is how it goes:

‘ The way I look at it,” said Jerry, frowning, “is that Carl was the most to blame. He bolted first, as I understand it. Besides he was a boy, so he should have stood his ground to protect you girls, whatever the danger was.”

In that same book there is a passage in which the village minister is commending a boy for fighting another boy who had insulted his mother. I think that it is interesting to muse on how much opinion towards girls has changed since those times. I (N.B I am still in school) have never heard of a boy fighting someone to stand for a girl in school. If you get teased it is up to you to take action and the responsibility would never fall on anyone else in your class! The idea that boys should protect girls is, in my opinion, an amusing one.

What, I wonder, would the boys think about being obliged to avenge girls of their acquaintance in 21st century schools? Any thoughts?

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a book about four children (two boys and two girls) on a very unusual secret mission. However, the plot is not my main interest in this article, it is one of the characters that this post is really about.

Kate Wetherall is probably the most independent and resourceful female character I have ever found in a book. Able to calculate weights and distances by just looking, she was also in the circus and therefore is very agile and athletic. She carries a most unusual piece of equipment with her everywhere she goes. Her bucket is her prized possession and is full of useful and practical items such as a torch, glue, a knife, rope and a very well disguised spy-glass.

It is interesting to see such a capable and bold female character as Kate. She is independent and used to working on her own but adapts well to a team and her amazing cheerfulness, even in a crisis, is well-known. I would say that Kate is one of the best characters I have ever journeyed into a book with and that in real life she would make an excellent role model for girls who wish to step outside the limiting box of fashion and make-up.

For anyone who is interested in reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, the author is Trenton Lee Stewart and it is published by Chicken House (

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