Summary: As the youngest of seven children, Abby Wambach learned to be tough, especially on the soccer field. After a successful high school career that ended with a crushing state championship loss, Abby played at the University of Florida where she was recruited for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. She toughened up even more with a personal trainer to become part of the team that won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. She was on track to win another medal when she broke her leg shortly before the 2008 Olympics, but her encouragement from the sidelines helped her team win gold again. After a year of rehab, she was back, scoring her 100th career goal in 2009. Includes additional information about Abby’s childhood and her post-2009 soccer career, a list of soccer terms with definitions, and a bibliography. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: A lively introduction to Abby Wambach’s life with colorful illustrations and an eye-catching cover that will grab the interest of sports fans.
Cons: I wish there had been some information on Abby’s activism on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community and women in sports.
Summary: Zelda Jackson was an artist, poet, and storyteller who dreamed of working for the Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. She got her break writing a story about boxing that was published using her childhood nickname, Jackie. Once she was an established columnist, she tried her hand at art, creating a comic strip character named Torchy Brown, a young woman who moved from her home in Mississippi to New York City. After marriage and a move to Chicago, Jackie worked for the Chicago Defender, creating a new comic called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, which she used to comment on civil rights and other issues important to Black people. Jackie became a community activist, using the money she made from her comics to fund causes she believed in, and drawing the attention of the FBI, who spied on her for a decade. After retiring Patty-Jo, Jackie gave up comics, pursuing other forms of art until her death in 1985. Includes notes from the author and artist, photos, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This fascinating biography with striking comic-style artwork will inspire graphic novel fans who may want to try creating comics of their own and shows them how comics can be used for both fun and communicating a more serious message.
Cons: I wish there had been a bit more information on Jackie’s post-comics art career.
Summary: Published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, this book traces the story of Mae Reeves, a Black woman who left Georgia in the 1930’s to become a milliner. She eventually opened her own shop in Philadelphia, creating hats for celebrities like Marian Anderson, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald. She kept her business going while raising three children and being active in her community, helping other Black businesses. Mae lived to be 104, long enough to see artifacts from her shop included in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Includes interviews with Mae’s daughter Donna and with Dr. Reneé Anderson, Head of Collections at NMAAHC, as well as information about the museum and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: A fascinating biography of a woman who never became famous but who lived a full life, following her own dreams and helping others. Readers will be inspired to head to Washington, D.C. to see Mae’s hats in the museum.
Summary: Ann Lowe learned her first lessons about sewing and design from her grandmother, who had been an enslaved seamstress, and her mother, who owned a dress shop. Ann’s work ethic showed itself early; when her mother died, young Ann put aside her grief and finished the dresses that had been ordered for New Year’s Eve. A year later, she got a job in Tampa, Florida, sewing for a wealthy family. Her ambitions took her to New York City, where she found success despite the racism she encountered there. Jacqueline Bouvier hired Ann and her assistants to design and sew her gown and bridesmaid’s dresses for her wedding to Senator John F. Kennedy. When a leaky ceiling flooded Ann’s workroom and destroyed all the dresses ten days before the wedding, she and her seamstresses recreated every one. Ann capped her career by opening her own store with her own label on Madison Avenue. Includes an author’s note with two photos, quotations, and a bibliography. 56 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: I loved Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal (2017), but I love this book at least as much. There’s a bit more detail about Ann’s career, the writing style is engaging, and the illustrations are stunning.
Cons: At 56 pages, it’s a bit long for a picture book.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: Rob Kearney was a strong kid who excelled at football and cheerleading, but his favorite sport was weightlifting. It made him feel like a superhero. At the age of 17, Rob learned about the Strongman competition and decided to become a weightlifting champion. Competition events involved lifting heavy logs, stones, and tires, so Rob got to work, running, swimming, and lifting the heaviest weights he could. Rob loved wearing bright, colorful clothing, but other competitors wore plain, dark colors, so Rob did, too. When he came in last at his first competition, he felt as dark and gloomy as his clothes. Falling in love with Joey, a fellow weightlifter, encouraged Rob to be himself, and before long he was dressing exactly the way he wanted to. Joey’s support and encouragement helped Rob in other ways, and he eventually won the North American Strongman championship. Includes a letter to readers from Rob, additional resources, and descriptions of all the Strongman events. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The empowering be-yourself message will especially speak to LGBQT+ readers, as Rob defies stereotypes with his rainbow mohawk and unconventional clothing in a sport that is often associated with more traditional masculinity. The colorful illustrations bring the weightlifting events to life.
Cons: Although Joey offers to wear the same colorful clothes as Rob, he’s shown on the last page in blue pants and a plain white t-shirt.
Summary: Tammy Duckworth’s father worked for the UN, and she grew up all over southeast Asia. She knew she was American, though, and dreamed of a life of service to her country. After graduating from college, she joined the Illinois Army National Guard as a unit commander. Her three-year commitment was up when the US declared war on Iraq. Although Tammy opposed the war, she didn’t want to leave her unit, so she got permission to extend her service and went to Iraq. While flying a helicopter there, she was hit by a grenade and lost both of her legs. Her military career was over, but she wanted to continue to serve, particularly her fellow veterans. In 2012, she was elected to the House of Representatives, and in 2016, to the Senate. She became the first Thai American woman and the first female amputee in Congress, as well as the first Senator to give birth while in office. And I’m happy to report that just a few days ago she became the first Illinois woman to be reelected to the Senate. Includes a timeline, a list of projects Senator Duckworth has worked on, and additional resources. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: In her fourth book this year, Christina Soontornvat relates the story of fellow Thai American Tammy Duckworth’s inspiring life of service. The appealing illustrations help tell the story, and the back matter makes this an excellent book for research.
Cons: I wish I had read this just a day early to get it on the blog for Veteran’s Day.
Summary: Madeleine L’Engle grew up with a writer father and musician mother who encouraged her sense of wonder. There were often artists at their New York City home, where Madeleine wrote stories from a young age. She was shy, though, and school was difficult until she used her powers of imagination to make friends. After college, she worked in the theater, where she met her husband. They moved to the country and had three children while Madeleine continued her writing, most of which was rejected by publishers. On a cross-country camping trip, she found inspiration in the Painted Desert and began working on the manuscript that would eventually become A Wrinkle in Time. As her fame grew, she received many letters from children and always answered, encouraging them to find ways to tell their own stories. Includes several pages of back matter including a list of Madeleine’s books for young readers, further reading, and a timeline. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: I loved the somewhat whimsical illustrations of this picture book biography co-written by one of Madeleine L’Engle’s grandchildren. It’s a great introduction to Madeleine’s life and would be a perfect lead-in to reading A Wrinkle in Time.
Cons: I wasn’t crazy about the timeline being on the back cover, although it is printed so it’s not covered by the back flap.
Summary: Misty’s always loved competing with the boys, so when they tell her football’s not for girls, she decides to prove them wrong. It’s the summer before seventh grade, and she convinces her best friend Bree to sign up for seventh grade football with her. Practices in the August heat are grueling, and the girls have to learn new skills like tackling and learning how to wear football pads. It proves to be too much for Bree, but Misty sticks with it and becomes an important part of the team. Most of the boys eventually accept her as a teammate, but a couple never do, which results in some uncomfortable situations. In between practices and games, Misty deals with friendship issues, a crush on a teammate, and being part of a large blended family. In the end, she learns the importance of being herself and surrounding herself with people who believe in her. Includes an author’s note with some additional information about her football career. 272 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: This husband-and-wife team has produced an excellent graphic memoir that will inspire kids to try something outside of their comfort zones. Sure to appeal to the many fans of the ever-growing middle school graphic novel genre.
Cons: I was bummed that Misty quit football after seventh grade.
Summary: Yaffa Eliach had a happy childhood in the Jewish town (shtetl) of Eishyshok, playing with her friends and older brother and helping her grandmother in her photography studio. But when Yaffa was six years old, German tanks rolled in and the village, along with most of its inhabitants, was destroyed. Yaffa’s family managed to flee and lived in hiding for the next several years. They left their possessions behind except for a few photographs Yaffa hid in her shoe. After the war, Yaffa moved first to Israel, and then to the United States, where she became a history professor specializing in the Holocaust. When the Holocaust Museum was built in Washington, DC, President Jimmy Carter asked Yaffa to create an exhibit to show the lives of people who were lost. Yaffa searched all over the world for photographs of people who had lived in Eishyshok. Over the course of 17 years, she traveled to six continents to collect over 1,000 photos that were turned into the “Tower of Life” exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. Includes a timeline of Yaffa’s life, a bibliography, and a brief author’s note. 40 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: An inspiring story of an amazing woman who emerged from tragedy to create a beautiful tribute that celebrates the lives of those who died in the Holocaust. The illustrations capture those lives as well, incorporating photos into the paintings.
Cons: I would have liked more information about Yaffa in the back matter.
Summary: Victor Hugo Green had a successful career as a mail carrier in Leonia, New Jersey, but he also liked to travel. In the 1930’s, more people were buying cars and using them to visit new places. Black travelers were less hassled in their cars than on trains, but they also faced Jim Crow laws that prevented them from using certain hotels, restaurants, and other establishments, and sundown laws that prohibited them from being in certain towns after dark. Green used newspaper ads and articles and the knowledge of friends and co-workers to put together a directory of places that were safe to go. Known as the Green Book, it started as a pamphlet in 1936, covering the New York City area, but continued to grow to cover the entire U.S. as well as Mexico and Canada. In 1953, Victor Hugo Green retired from his postal career to spend his time running a travel agency and keeping up with the Green Book. He died in 1960, a few years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made much of the Green Book obsolete. Includes a timeline, selected sources, and a list of places to learn more about the Green Book. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This fascinating look at the man behind the Green Book weaves in plenty of details about the ways racism affected Black travelers for much of the twentieth century. The vivid oil paintings bring traveling to life with their colorful postcards, reproductions of black-and-white photos, and maps. Worthy of a consideration for a Coretta Scott King award or honor.
Cons: While I was hoping to see a page from the actual Green Book, the illustrations offer only tantalizing glimpses. Guess I will have to peruse the digital editions listed in the back matter.