Billie Jean! How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women’s Sports by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Summary:  From the time she was a child, Billie Jean King gave her all in whatever she was doing.  Seeing her dismay when she learned that there were no women in major league baseball, her parents suggested she try tennis.  She proved to be a natural, and slowly rose to break into the national rankings. After playing at Wimbledon just after high school graduation, she found herself working two jobs to get through college while the boy tennis players enjoyed full scholarships.  Her professional career continued to flourish, but Billie Jean was dissatisfied with the unequal prize money for men and women. She created an all-women’s tennis tour, and later helped form the Women’s Tennis Association. Probably her most celebrated moment came, though, during the “Battle of the Sexes”, her famous match with Bobby Riggs in which she decisively beat him, proving that men could be defeated by women in the world of sports.  An author’s note gives further information on Billie Jean King’s work to end gender discrimination in sports and as an LGBQT activist. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  It’s hard not to be inspired by Billie Jean King’s hard work and determination, both on and off the tennis court.  Kids who have seen the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes will enjoy learning more about King; as near as I can tell, this is one of the only picture books about her.

Cons:  While the illustrations are serviceable, they aren’t as unique and memorable as some of Mara Rockliff’s other recent books like Lights, Camera, Alice! and Anything But Ordinary Addie.

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The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by  Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

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Image result for many colors of harpreet

Summary:  Harpreet loves to dress according to his moods: yellow when he feels sunny, pink when he wants to celebrate, and red when he needs extra courage.  His head covering, called a patka, is always part of his carefully coordinated outfit. When his family moves across the country, Harpreet finds himself nervously wearing blue, sadly wearing gray, and shyly sporting white.  White becomes his go-to choice as he attempts to fade into the background of his new school. But when a chance encounter involving headgear leads to a new friendship, Harpreet happily begins to wear the colors of the rainbow once again.  Includes a note about Sikhism from Sikh scholar and professor Simran Jeet Singh. 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A touching friendship story that most kids will connect with, while at the same time learning about a culture that may be unfamiliar to them.

Cons:  Harpreet’s pallette seemed a little limited, leading me to wonder where green, purple, orange, black, and brown fit in.

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A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is such an integral part of American history, it’s difficult to believe that it almost didn’t happen.  This book starts the night before the speech, when King sat down with his closest advisors to hash out what he was going to say the next day.  The focus was on jobs and economic justice, and one friend even advised, “Don’t use the line about ‘I have a dream.’ You have used it too many times already.”  King then retired to his room to meditate and pray about what he was going to say. Shortly after 3:00 the next afternoon, he delivered his speech. It went well, but didn’t seem quite powerful enough to him.  So when singer Mahalia Jackson called to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, he put his notes aside and spoke from his heart. Back at the hotel, he and his friends celebrated the speech, knowing that it was just the beginning of a long struggle ahead. Includes notes from the author and artist; thumbnail sketches of who was in the hotel that night; a list of who spoke at the March on Washington; and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  So many picture books have been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and “I Have a Dream”, but this one adds to the narrative, giving background to the speech and placing it in the context of the Civil Rights Movement.  Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations not only add beauty and color to the story, but label the different people that were there and who inspired King while writing his speech.

Cons:  There’s no additional information about some of the people labeled in the illustrations.

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A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for a stone sat still wenzel amazon

Summary:  “A stone sat still with water, grass, and dirt/and it was as it was where it was in the world.”  While the stone remains constant, perceptions of it change. To a chipmunk, it’s dark, but to an owl, it’s bright.  When a gull uses it to break open a clam, it’s loud, but it’s quiet to the snake resting on top of it. Over time (“And the stone was a blink/and the stone was an age”), the landscape changes and the stone becomes an island, then eventually is submerged underwater.  “Have you ever known such a place? Where with water, grass, and dirt, a stone sits still in the world.” 56 pages; ages 3-300.

Pros:  This is a truly amazing book with so many different levels: it can be read as a nature book for the kiddies, or as a Zen guide to learning to connect with the eternal in a transient world.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Wenzel’s Caldecott honor book They All Saw a Cat, but I sure would love to see this one get some Caldecott recognition.

Cons:  I feel like I need to retreat from the world and just think about this book for awhile.

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Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People by Bethany Hegedus, foreword by Colin Johnson, illustrations by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for rise from caged

Image result for rise from caged

Summary:  Beginning with young Maya’s journey south to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, the narrative describes her early experiences of blatant racism in the deep south, and continues as she and her brother went to live with their mother in St. Louis.  Her rape by her mother’s boyfriend is described indirectly: “One day, Maya, left alone with Mr. Freeman, is anything but free. After a visit to the hospital, Maya calls out Mr. Freeman’s name as the one who hurt her.” Soon after, he was murdered, and Maya stopped speaking for several years, burying herself in books until she slowly emerged to become a dancer, actress, cable car driver, mother, and finally, a writer and activist. Ending with her death at age 86, the author assures readers that Maya’s words will “always rise rise rise”.  Includes a foreword by Angelou’s grandson; a timeline; resources for children who have been sexually abused; and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Gorgeous acrylic illustrations and poetic text detail the many different aspects of Maya Angelou’s incredible life.  Due to the horrific events of her childhood, it can be tricky to share her story with children, but Hegedus does a good job not shying away from Maya’s rape and its aftermath in a way that’s appropriate for the intended audience.  

Cons:  I had no idea Maya Angelou did so many different interesting things in her life.  It’s hard to cram it all into one picture book.

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My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

Published by Candlewick Press

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Summary:  The narrator describes her beloved grandmother, and how they spent their days together as she grew up in Iran.  Grandma never minded her granddaughter following her around and doing the things she did, even when the little girl climbed on top of her during her morning prayers.  The two often visited their friends next door–the two girls played together while the women drank coffee and talked. The grandmothers would pray for each other, one in a church and one in a mosque.  The narrator concludes, “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I’ve never loved anything or anyone the way I loved my grandma. She was kind, generous, and full of love.  I still want to be just like her.” 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be a great mentor text for learning about narrative fiction or writing about a character.  The illustrations are beautiful, and interesting facts about Iran and Islam are woven throughout the story.

Cons:  It would have been nice to see some other family members interacting with Grandma and the little girl.

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This Book of Mine by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Summary:  A diverse cast of characters uses books to spark their imaginations, comfort themselves, lose themselves, and to find a friend.  A baby even uses the corner of a book for teething. Only nine sentences long, the text works well with the mostly purple illustrations, with the different books providing spots of other colors.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Short, sweet, and simple, this would be a great way to generate classroom discussion about the wonders of books and reading.

Cons:  It seemed a bit too short. 

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