Here's part II of my new series reviewing speculative fiction books for kids that feature strong female characters. Last week, I introduced books for younger middle grade readers (ages 8-10). This week, it's all about the tweens. Check back; I plan to update this list regularly, particularly with more culturally diverse authors and protagonists.
Middle Grade Ages 10-12
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This Newbery-medal winning novel blew me away. This exciting adventure begins with a village, shrouded in despair, that must leave its youngest baby in the forest for a witch in order to ensure another year of survival. Of course, one mother does not give her child willingly, setting off a chain of events within the village. When we meet the witch, and the baby she collects, delightful surprises involving moon-magic, a tiny dragon, and a poetic swamp monster propel events toward an inevitable reunion/conflict between the village and those who would try to control its people.
The language, the surprising plot, and the engaging characters entranced me. I loved the witch who is considered a healer in one town and evil in another; the village elder with the vicious heart of a tiger; the apprentice witch who doesn't know her own power; and the gentle, creative male "hero" who is rescued by the women that form the core of this story.
Subtly subversive, beautifully written, and deeply engaging--I cried!--this is an amazing book. It does have elements that sensitive readers might find disturbing (the willingness to sacrifice babies, and the gentle death of a beloved character). But I would recommend this book highly for kids and adults.