Proud: Living My American Dream (Young Readers’ Edition) by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary: In 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American woman to compete in the Olympics wearing hijab, and she and her teammates won the bronze in the team saber fencing competition. She tells her story here, starting as a young child growing up in a close-knit family in New Jersey. She and her siblings were always active in sports, and fencing appealed to her and her parents because she could compete without having to alter her team uniform. She was part of a championship high school team, then went on to fence for Duke. Ibtihaj struggled as one of the few African Americans in a traditionally white sport, and found herself often having to explain her faith and decision to wear hijab. She assumed she was done with fencing after college, but when she struggled to break into corporate America, she found herself back at her old gym, where her coach encouraged her to reach for her Olympic dream. At the same time, Ibtihaj founded Louella, an online company selling fashionable clothing for Muslim women. As she pursued her dreams, Ibtihaj often found herself serving as a role model for her faith community; the book ends with the Olympics, but an epilogue tells of her post-Games activities, including more fencing, activism, and continuing with her business. Includes a fencing glossary, Ibtihaj’s advice, and a few questions and answers for her. 304 pages; grades 5-12.

Pros: Any reader with a dream will find encouragement and inspiration in Ibtihaj Muhammad’s story. She has learned to proudly be herself and in the process realize her goals through incredibly hard work and determination.

Cons: Although there were eight pages of color photos, I could have enjoyed seeing even more.

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Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Published by Philomel Books

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Summary:  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells the story of her life, with an emphasis on how words and books have shaped it.  Starting as a young girl listening to her grandmother quote poetry from Puerto Rico, Sonia realized the power of words. Later, books helped her when she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 7, and after her father died when she was 9.  In high school, reading Lord of the Flies made her understand how important laws are to a society, and stories about Jesus in her religion class showed her not to judge other people for mistakes they have made.  She emphasizes the importance of books in helping her to create her own story, and invites readers to do the same. Includes a timeline and photos on the endpapers; a Spanish version of this book, Pasando Páginas: La Historia de mi Vida was released simultaneously.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An inspiring story of a successful woman who used books and libraries to educate herself.  It’s enough to make any librarian happy.

Cons:  Some of the photos on the endpapers were covered by the taped-down dustjacket of my library copy.

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My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope by Diane Guerrero, with Erica Moroz

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  TV actress Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black, Jane the Virgin) relates her struggles growing up as the child of two undocumented parents.  When Diane was 14, she came home from school one day to find out that both of her parents had been arrested.  They were ultimately deported to Colombia, and Diane stayed with friends for the next four year so she could finish school.  Halfway through college, she began suffering from depression that resulted in cutting and a suicide attempt. She was fortunate to get therapy, learning to finally deal with her emotions about what had happened to her.  Her work with her therapist influenced her to pursue her passion for acting. Not only has she launched a successful television and movie career, but she has become an advocate for undocumented immigrants and their children. 256 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  Diane’s story is pretty riveting, and shines a light on children whose lives are affected by an undocumented status in their families; those who are fortunate enough not to be dealing with those issues will relate to her everyday struggles with family, friends, and school.

Cons:  Not necessarily a con, but just be aware that Diane expresses some pretty strong anti-Trump sentiments in the final chapter.

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Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Rachel Carson loved nature from the time she was a child.  She spent a lot of time outside, looking and listening to the wonders around her.  Although she grew up far from the ocean, she loved to read about it and imagined what it would be like.  She also enjoyed writing, and planned to study it in college. But after seeing tiny sea creatures through a microscope, she changed her major to biology.  After graduation, she combined her two interests, writing popular books about the ocean. Her most famous work, though, was Silent Spring, based on her research on the effects of pesticides on the environment.  Although not everyone agreed with her conclusions, enough people were concerned that real changes occurred as a result, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the first Earth Day.  Includes author’s note, notes, and bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A charming introduction to Rachel Carson’s life, emphasizing her lifelong love of nature, especially the ocean, and illustrated with cartoon-style illustrations.

Cons:  The notes gave a lot of interesting information about Carson’s life, but are written in a small, cramped font, and are likely to be overlooked by young readers.

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Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for nothing stopped sophie mcclintock

Summary:  Growing up during the French Revolution, Sophie Germain faced a number of obstacles to a career in mathematics.  Girls received little education, and Sophie’s parents tried discourage her late-night studies by taking away her candles and warm clothing.  She was undaunted, though, and they finally realized there was no way to stop her from studying math. When she grew up, she corresponded with other mathematicians under a pen name, but they tended to lose interest when they discovered she was a woman.  She kept studying any way she could, and when the Academy of Sciences offered a medal worth 3,000 francs to find a mathematical formula that would predict patterns of vibration, Sophie was determined to find a solution. It took her several years, but in 1816, she became the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences.  Her work helped other mathematicians and engineers build modern skyscrapers, including the Eiffel Tower. Includes additional information about Sophie and the problem of vibration she solved. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Perseverance is the theme of Sophie Germain’s story, and readers will enjoy learning of her eventual success in the face of daunting obstacles.  The illustrations do an amazing job of incorporating numbers and mathematical formulas into Sophie’s world.

Cons:  I really didn’t understand the vibration problem that Sophie was working on.

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Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion by Jessica Long with Hannah Long

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Jessica Long started life in Siberia as Tatiana Kirillova; she was adopted by the Long family at the age of 13 months.  Born without fibular bones, Jessica underwent surgery shortly after arriving in the U.S. to remove both legs below the knee.  She learned to walk with prosthetics, and soon became active in a variety of sports. Swimming eventually won out over the others, and Jessica began competing as a Paralympian.  She has participated in Paralympic events in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio de Janeiro, winning 23 medals to make her the second-most decorated Paralympian of all times. She tells her story as a series of life-changing moments (“The moment I won my first gold”, “The moment I lost my confidence”, etc.), that cover the highs and lows of her life and athletic career.  Jessica has enjoyed working as a model, and the text is illustrated with many photos of her, her family, and her friends. Looking at her Facebook page, it seems as though she is making plans to compete in Tokyo in 2020. 112 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Jessica tells her story in a chatty, upbeat style that, along with the many photos, will appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers.  Even her struggles with anxiety, OCD, and bulimia are covered with a pretty positive spin.

Cons:  The format of life-changing moments, which were not in exact chronological order, made the story seem a little disjointed. Also, not a con, but a heads-up that Jessica and her family are devout Christians, which is sometimes mentioned in the story, particularly “The moment I found peace”.

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Marie Curie by Demi

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Image result for marie curie demi

Summary:  When Marie Curie was born in 1867 Poland, life was difficult.  She had a loving family, but her mother and older sister died when she was still a child.  She and another sister, Bronya, wanted to go to the Sorbonne in Paris, but the family could only afford to send one of them.  Bronya went first, became a doctor, and supported Marie when she was through. Not only did Marie complete degrees in physics and math at the top of her class, but she met another brilliant scientist, Pierre Curie.  They married and pursued their work together, unlocking the secrets of uranium and radium. They won the Nobel Prize in physics; after Pierre’s tragic death, Marie continued their work and won another Nobel in chemistry. The dangers of radiation were unknown at the time (illustrated on the two pages showing women drinking radium and using it in beauty products), and Marie eventually died at the age of 66 from her long exposure to it.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to Marie Curie’s life; complete, but straightforward enough for primary graders.  Demi’s illustrations are gorgeous, especially the patterns she uses for clothing, curtains, and carpets.

Cons:  Spending four years trying to determine the atomic weight of radium sounds like kind of a drag.

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