Girls of Summer: Building Community and Literary Citizenship
This month young readers across the Richmond area will begin diving into the “Girls of Summer” reading list. As the program has grown, participants have seen it build relationships and strengthen community. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.
Learn More: Girls of Summer launches Wednesday June 21st 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library. Find past selections and author interviews for Girls of Summer and follow the initiative on Facebook.
Six years ago, authors Meg Medina and Gigi Amateau batted around some questions.
Meg Medina: How do we make books part of everyone’s life in Richmond? How do we make Richmond a really cool, bookish city for girls?
Those discussions led to Girls of Summer, an annual a list of 18 books for young readers, from picture stories to YA novels.
Gigi Amateau: No matter who they are as a girl it’s just become such an important quality of the books we select for Girls of Summer that we really try to make sure that so many different types experiences of being female are represented.
Amateau and Medina joined rising 11th grader Ii'Jeana James and librarians Barabara Hass and Beth Morris to discuss Girls of Summer. They say a common thread is that all the characters are strong - and so much more:
Group: Adventurous, complicated, brave, bold, inventive, funny, spiritual, easy to relate with, well-developed, and engaging.
Meg Medina says the young women featured in Girls of Summer books are bright, deep, capable people.
Meg Medina: And they surprise themselves in that they are this thing, they are so much than what they believe they are in the beginning. And I think that’s true in the books and in the lives of women, the young women I meet in schools everyday.
The Girls of Summer selections explore all sorts kinds of themes.
Group: Friendships, diversity, body image, justice, relationships, solutions and problems, inclusion, love, compassion.
Barbara Hass: I’m crying just looking at the titles of some of these books.
Librarian Barbara Hass scans a list from previous Girls of Summer.
Barbara Hass: Some of them are so achingly sad but still beautiful, like something achingly sad can happen to you and you’re going to be okay, it’s going to be okay and I think that might be what I love the best about this, is that you can read about some hard things and still know you’re going to be okay.
The initiative isn’t about making separate categories of books that are only for girls but about creating a space, that’s safe and comfortable. Ii'Jeana James knows that feeling. She joined a Girls Book Club at Boushall Middle School, facilitated by Librarian Barbara Haas.
Ii'Jeana James: I really did feel comfortable in that room. Middle school was a hard year for me because I had a lot of things going on in my life, like home things going on, school things going on, finding myself things going on. Middle school is a hard time for teenagers and [book club’s] a place where I felt like I could release some things I was holding back or get advice from Miss Haas, her being an older woman and helping me like understand things that are going on or things going with other people that affect me. I felt like I really belonged in that group and a sense of belonging really great to have when you’re in middle school.
Whether sitting down with a novel or discovering new writers on the app Wattpad, Ii'Jeana James, says reading gives her a deeper understanding of people.
Ii'Jeana James: To put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, because I wasn’t good with that. I was like, “this person does this because they’re bad” and “this person does this because they’re good” and when you sit down and think about well, what could have happened in their day to make them like this or what could have happened in their life to make them like this, you really get a feel for what that other person may be and I think books have really taught me about that because a lot of the books I read are about human nature and what other humans can do, but the bad guy always has a story.
Girls of Summer also connects young readers with published writers. At this year’s launch event, youth will interview Rita Williams-Garcia, award-winning author of One Crazy Summer, Gone Crazy in Alabama and PS Be Eleven. Throughout the summer, youth will do Q&As with other authors and write reviews.
Beth Morris: Over the years, I’ve heard the questions get more and more in-depth.
Beth Morris is the Children’s Service Coordinator at Richmond Public Library.
Beth Morris: It’s not, “Why did you pick that character?” But “I want to write and I want guidance, so how do I keep that plot line going?” The questions have gotten so strong and creative.
In recent years, youth have also been bringing their own writing.
Gigi Amateau: This is a community of readers and a community of writers. So to be tugged on your sleeve, “Would you read this story?” And to hear their mom or grandma say “She’s been holding on to this, ‘til now.” So it is the power of words and story to be there, as you were saying Barbara, through transitions. Across our lifespan, we are vulnerable at transitions, that’s when we are vulnerable. So to have support and a sense of belonging and ways to resource ourselves at those moments, whether it’s middle school or you’ve lost a job, those transitions are really important to be there for each other.
Meg Medina says her love of books and girls motivate her every year. But also love of community.
Meg Medina: That feels so urgent to me now, all those things; that we stand up for girls, that we shore them up, that we show them how to have dignity when we stand up and say no. Or, how we forge a path for ourselves, how we pick the kind of women we want to be, that’s a whole effort.
Barbara Haas: Books are a really good way to get examples of the women we want to be… myself when I was in middle school, I had no idea. In fact, I’m not sure at 51 I still really know the person I want to be, the girl I want to be, and maybe that’s one of the reasons I keep reading is you pick little things from everything that you read. Everything I’ve read that I love, it becomes a part of me and that’s why this is so special - sharing it with girls that I love, books and characters I love, you want to share that good news and it helps to form you who you want to be.
Gigi Amateau: One of the ideas that’s been important to Meg and to me as authors is this idea of literary citizenship. People define that in many different ways. I would define literary citizenship as this intentional use of words and story to promote good will, where you live, in your life, in the world. Ii'Jeana is a great example of a literary citizen, sitting here talking with us, you come to Girls of Summer, you joined book group, you read online and share those stories with your friends. That’s an example of a literary citizen, someone who seeks out stories for herself and for others, and to share the power of words and story to grow and evolve as an individual but also as a community. Literary Citizenship is limited to authors, to writers, it’s for readers and people of all ages.
Girls of Summer launches Wednesday June 21st at the Richmond Public Library. RPL will carry hard copy and digital versions of Girls of Summer titles, and many will also be available at local bookstores. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.