Quirk, Katie. A Girl Called Problem
April 19th 2013, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Nominated for the Cybils by Patricia Tilton
Copy provided by the publisher
Shida lives in a small, rural Tanzanian village in 1962. She was named "problem" because her father died right before she was born, and now she and her mother struggle to survive. When the government encourages her village to merge with another so that they can both have access to better medical care and schools, Shida's village reluctantly agrees to move. Shida is thrilled to be able to go to school and to learn from the local nurse, but things are still not easy. Many believe that girls should not be in school, but should be at home cooking and cleaning. When a spate of problems start to plague the village, Shida can't believe that there really is a curse, and investigates why crops are failing and children are getting ill. Despite the obstacles she faces, she is determined to use her new skills and knowledge to help her village.
Strengths: This was a very well written and interesting account of one village at the crossroads between native superstition and modern science. Shida is just old enough to question traditional ways, especially since they have never worked to her advantage. Notes and pictures at the end help explain some of the more difficult concepts.
Weaknesses: Younger readers might not fully understand how deeply ingrained superstitions are in some cultures, and might have trouble believing that people predicate all of their behavior on them. Some explanation might be necessary for them to fully understand the story.