As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author who writes poetry and novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Reynolds’ books are also multiple award winners. My latest read, As Brave as You, was a Kirkus Award Finalist, Schneider Family Book Award Winner, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

As Brave as You is the story of a multigenerational family and their ideas of love and bravery across those generations. Genie and his big brother, Ernie, are spending the summer with her grandparents all the way in Virginia. Their parents are driving them from Brooklyn all the way down to the country in Virginia. Genie has never done anything like this before, so he’s both excited and nervous. When the family finally arrives in Virginia, Genie is surprised. His grandpa is blind! Grandpop can’t see, but he covers it so well, especially by wearing a pair of cool Ray-Bans.

Being an ever-curious kid, Genie has so many questions for Grandpop so he just starts asking whatever pops into his head. The more Genie learns, the more he thinks that Grandpop is the bravest person he knows. The only flaw: Grandpop NEVER leaves the house. Grandpop finally allows Genie to go into his secret room: a place filled to the brim with songbirds and plants. It’s a wonderful room that looks like the outside has been pulled inside. Genie starts to think if Grandpop is actually as brave as he presents.

Genie deals with complicated thoughts around bravery the closer it gets to Ernie’s fourteenth birthday. Grandpop has a tradition for all the men who turn fourteen: in order to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks this is incredibly cool, but Ernie isn’t really interested at all. That also throws Genie’s idea of bravery into freefall. Is being a man really about proving something? Or is it about being responsible for your own decisions?

This book is also available in the following format:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

princess academyMiri feels useless.  While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home.  She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own.  But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions.  Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people.  This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.

While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book.  She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.