Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransom, illustrated by James E. Ransome and Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams

Game Changers published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Sisters and Champions published by Philomel Books

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Summary:  When I went to write a review about Game Changers, I discovered Sisters and Champions, another 2018 book about Venus and Serena Williams.  Both are picture book biographies that emphasize the girls’ unlikely background, growing up in Compton, a rough Los Angeles neighborhood.  Richard Williams, their father, is introduced in both books as their coach who never wavered from his belief that they could become professional tennis stars.  Venus’s rise to success and fame, followed shortly by Serena’s is documented in the books, as well as the fact that the sisters often played each other for the championship at many professional matches.  Cline-Ransome’s book talks a bit more about the racism the two of them encountered as they moved up the ranks in what had traditionally been an almost all-white sport. Her story ends with Venus taking pictures of Serena after Serena had beat her for the first time at the French Open.  Bryant’s goes a bit further, touching on illness and injuries that both women have had to overcome. Game Changers includes an afterword, source notes, a selected bibliography, and a list for further reading; no back matter in Sisters and Champions.  48 pages (Game Changers) and 32 pages (Sisters & Champions); grades 1-4 for both.

Pros:  I’m happy to see two excellent books on the Williams sisters by acclaimed authors and illustrators; Serena and Venus are a frequent topic of research in my third grade libraries.  Both books are well done, but if I had to pick one, it would be Game Changers.  I preferred the sharp, action-packed cut-paper illustrations to Cooper’s pastels, and the back matter makes it a better choice for research.

Cons:  There were some inconsistencies between the two. Cline-Ransome: “Venus won every single one of her sixty-three junior tournaments by age ten.”  Bryant: “Their father wouldn’t let his girls play junior tournaments even though everyone played juniors.”  Also, no photos in either book.

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Someday Is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson

Published by Seagrass Press

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Summary:  When Clara Luper was growing up in Oklahoma in the 1930’s, her father promised to take her to segregated parks and restaurants “someday” when it was legal for them to go there.  Clara grew up to be a teacher, and decided that “someday is now”. She wrote a play called “Brother President”, and her students were invited by the NAACP to perform it in New York.  There, they experienced the freedom to go wherever they wanted, and to eat in restaurants with white people. Back in Oklahoma, they studied Martin Luther King Jr.’s four steps to nonviolent change: investigation, negotiation, education, and demonstration.  They used these steps to try to desegregate the lunch counter at Katz restaurant. When the first three steps failed, they demonstrated by sitting at the counter and demanding to be served. Day after day, they braved being spit on, having food thrown on them, and hateful phone calls to their homes.  Finally, Katz agreed to desegregate the lunch counters, not only in Oklahoma, but in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Clara and her students enjoyed a meal together, then moved on to their next challenge. Includes additional information about Clara Luper and nonviolent resistance and a glossary. 32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An interesting and little-known chapter in the Civil Rights Movement.  Clara Luper and her students used sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters two years before the more famous protests at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC.  The folk art-style illustrations are a good complement to the story, and the back matter provides important additional information.

Cons:  A few more dates included in the text or a timeline at the end would have helped place the story in historical context.

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Peace and Me: Inspired by the Lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates by Ali Winter, illustrated by Mickael El Fathi

Published by Lantana Publishing

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Summary:  Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners are profiled, along with the man who started it all, Alfred Nobel.  Winners are presented in chronological order, beginning with Jean Henry Dunant in 1901 and finishing with Malala Yousafzai in 2014.  Some will likely be familiar to kids (Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela), while others are less well known (Fridtjof Nansen, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Shirin Ebadi).  The first two pages show an interesting timeline, with each person’s name and year shown on a sailboat on the Pacific Ocean.  The last two have a world map showing the country of origin for each recipient.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting and important collection of people for kids to know about.  The collage-style illustrations are fascinating, with lots of details to notice.  Kids will enjoy finding the girl on the cover who appears in every one.

Cons:  Only 12 of the many interesting recipients are profiled.

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No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom In Kansas by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Don Tate

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Slavery ended just a few years after Junius Groves was born on a plantation in Kentucky.  As a young man, he headed for Kansas to farm.  Starting out as a hired hand earning 40 cents a day, he worked hard to become a foreman, tripling his wages and eventually allowing him to rent his own land to farm.  With his wife Matilda at his side, he saved enough money to buy a farm.  The two of them worked hard, along with their twelve children, to make the farm prosperous.  Their main crop was potatoes: in 1894 he was named Potato King of Wyandotte County by the local paper; six years later, he was called the Potato King of the whole state of Kansas, and in 1902, he was crowned Potato King of the World.  In addition to millions of pounds of potatoes, Junius helped grow a church, a store, a golf course, and a town called Groves Center.  Includes a timeline, glossary, and list of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A real rags-to-riches tale extolling the rewards of hard work, told in a style that almost makes it feel like a tall tale.

Cons:  The potential downside of vying for the title of Potato King of the World at the Thanksgiving table today.

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Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Summary:  Jarrett Krosoczka spent his first few years with his mother until his grandparents intervened and got custody of him.  It was not until he was a teenager that he learned that she had been a heroin addict from the age of 13.  Jarrett grew up with Joe and Shirley, his mother’s parents.  Despite their drinking, smoking, and occasional unkind words, they loved him deeply and did their best to provide him with a good home and to support his artistic ambitions. This memoir also includes Jarrett’s memories of friends, school, and the first time he met his father and half brother and sister during his senior year in high school.  Determined not to let his past curtail his future, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and has gone on to create many beloved children’s books, perhaps most famously the Lunch Lady series.  Includes an author’s note with more information about his life, the people in the book, and how he came to create this memoir. 320 pages; grades 8 and up.

Pros:  A National Book Award finalist, this graphic memoir is hard to put down (I read it in one sitting).  My already high esteem for Jarrett Krosoczka (whom I once arranged to have visit my school) grew to worshipful admiration as I learned of all the obstacles he has overcome to achieve his success.  The artwork is particularly effective, with the beginning of each chapter including actual documents, many of them letters his mother wrote to him from jail and halfway houses.

Cons:  I was hoping to get this for my middle school library, but the language and subject matter make it more of a high school/adult book.

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Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army by Art Coulson, illustrated by Nick Hardcastle

Published by Capstone

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Summary:  The big game against Army is the climax of this book, but there’s a long story to be told before that.  Jim Thorpe, like so many other Indian children, was sent to boarding school, where he was forced to have his hair cut, wear school-issued clothing, and stop speaking his native language.  After running away from a school in Kansas, his father sent him to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. He excelled at all sports there, becoming a football and track star and winning a couple of gold medals at the 1912 Olympics.  Later that year, Thorpe and the Carlisle team traveled to West Point to play against a team that included Dwight Eisenhower and three other future generals. The symbolism of the future Army soldiers versus the Indians was not lost on anyone as the Carlisle team played a new kind of football created by coach Pop Warner and won the game 27-6.  Includes additional information on Jim Thorpe, other members of the Carlisle team, Pop Warner, and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, as well as a glossary and a list of additional information sources. 40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  So many people (including me) know Jim Thorpe mainly as the guy who lost his Olympic medals for playing semi-professional baseball, but there is so much more to his story.  This is a good introduction to Thorpe, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pop Warner, and the early days of football.

Cons:  Due to the picture book format, a lot of the more interesting (and in some cases, horrifying) details are omitted.  For a more comprehensive picture, read Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.

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Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography by Louise Borden

Published by Calkins Creek

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Summary:  Growing up in Sharon, Massachusetts, Pete Siebert taught himself to ski on an old pair of wooden skis he found in his parents’ barn.  As he got older, his parents took him and his sister to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where he became a proficient racer and vowed to one day open his own ski resort.  After graduating high school, he enlisted in the army, the 10th Mountain Division of soldiers on skis. After training in the Colorado Rockies, the division was shipped overseas to Italy, where they took part in a daring nighttime attack on Germans in the Apennines Mountains.  Pete was wounded so severely doctors weren’t sure he would walk again, but he was determined to ski. He persevered and recovered enough to make the 1950 U.S. men’s ski team. And in 1962, his boyhood dream came true when he opened the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. Includes additional information about Pete Seibert and the 10th Mountain Division, as well as a list of sources.  176 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Told in verse, with plenty of photos, this story will appeal to skiers and World War II buffs.  It’s a quick read, but the story is engaging, and readers will learn a lot about Pete and an unusual chapter in military history.

Cons:  The cover makes the book look kind of old.

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