Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties by Sue Macy

Published by National Geographic

Breaking Through by Sue Macy: 9781426336768 | PenguinRandomHouse ...

Summary:  While few women athletes from the 1920’s are widely remembered today, it was an important decade for women’s sports.  In chapter one, we meet Olympic diving gold medalist 14-year-old Aileen Riggin, one of the first American women to compete in the Olympics, held in 1920, the same year U.S. women finally got the right to vote.  Subsequent chapters look at each year in the decade, profiling women athletes, and also looking at the men (and sometimes women) who tried to discourage them from competing. There are plenty of photos and sidebars, and each chapter ends with two pages of other events that occurred during the year, offering a big of historical perspective.  An epilogue summarizes what has happened in women’s sports since the end of the 1920’s, with brief profiles of women athletes from 1930 until the present. Includes an author’s note, additional resources, source notes, and an index. 96 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fresh and interesting look at sports, written in an engaging style that will draw readers in.  Boys and girls alike will be inspired by these women who competed, often in multiple sports, against a backdrop of criticism and naysaying, opening up opportunities that continue to this day.

Cons:  The font seemed unnecessarily small, and a high-powered microscope may be needed to decipher the source notes and index.

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Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! By Sarah Kapit

Published by Dial Books

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Summary:  Three years ago, Vivy Cohen met MLB player VJ Capello.  He showed her how to throw a knuckleball, and she’s practiced it almost every day since then.  When her social skills class homework is to write someone a letter, she writes to VJ about her baseball hopes and dreams.  She enjoys the experience so much that she continues to send letters telling him about her new baseball team, where she’s the only girl, and how her autism sometimes makes it difficult to be on a team.  A month later, VJ writes back, and they begin a correspondence filled with encouragement, advice, and friendship. Turns out VJ is having troubles of his own following a disastrous game 7 in the previous World Series.  Being a Black knuckleballer makes him sometims feel as much of an outsider as Vivy does. Both VJ and Vivy have to overcome obstacles that threaten to end their baseball careers, but by the end they’ve each managed to claw their way to play for another season.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Who doesn’t like a good baseball story?  And this one, completely written in the format of letters, is a quick and breezy read, but still offering plenty of substance about Vivy dealing with the challenges with her autism and the team bully (who is also the coach’s son), keeping her brother’s secret about being gay, and dealing with a serious injury and a protective mom.  

Cons:  While I guess it makes sense that VJ wouldn’t write a lot of personal information to an 11-year-old girl, I still found myself wishing to know more about him and his life.

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Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  From a young age, Althea Gibson excelled at all sports.  Growing up in Harlem, she didn’t know much about the world of tennis, but when she started hanging out at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club (tennis club for black people in her neighborhood), people immediately took notice.  She worked at the club in exchange for lessons, and before long she was traveling with the all-black American Tennis Association. But Althea had higher aspirations, and, in 1950, she courageously moved to the all-white world of professional tennis.  She lost a lot at first and was not always a gracious loser, but she decided to learn from her defeats, and slowly started moving up the ranks. In 1957 and 1958, she made history with back-to-back Wimbledon wins, opening the door for other black players to compete at the top levels of tennis.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and a list of additional resources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring picture book biography of a natural athlete with a big personality who refused to accept the social norms of her day.  The back matter makes it an excellent choice for research–although the author’s note only hints at Althea’s post-tennis life which sounds pretty interesting.

Cons:  Once again, no photos.  Here’s a woman who lived into the 21st century, for crying out loud, there must be a ton of photographs of her.  

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Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  13-year-old Carlos Cooper is still adjusting to life in a wheelchair following a car accident that killed both his parents.  When his aunt and uncle encourage him to try wheelchair basketball, he’s pretty sure he’s not going to like it. A basketball star in his former life, he struggles with no longer being the best shooter on the team.  But the coach and the other kids on the team convince him that they need his talents, and gradually, basketball becomes a big part of his life again. When the old gym that houses their practices is condemned and scheduled to be torn down, the kids uncover a nefarious plot involving the mayor, the father of their school’s biggest bully, and the editor of the local paper.  The good guys come together for a last-minute reprieve on the gym, and the team finds its groove at the state championships, making for a feel-good happy ending. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Mike Lupica and Tim Green will enjoy this heartwarming sports story, which has a cast of dedicated athlete characters and plenty of basketball action.  And, yes, it was just Monday when I said there aren’t many kids’ books with a protagonist in a wheelchair.  It’s a funny world.

Cons:  The “bad guys” were all caricatures, particularly the mayor with his slicked-back hair, wraparound sunglasses, and bright red limo.

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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

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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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I Got Next by Daria Peoples-Riley

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  A young boy’s shadow comes to life and becomes his coach as a basketball game is about to begin.  “Show me your game face!” he says, and after a few tries, the boy finds the right face, going from scared to ferociously confident.  With ten seconds left in the game, the shadow tells the boy to show what he knows. Using his skills, he slowly closes the five-point gap to win the game.  “Work hard”, “Don’t quit”, and “Never give up” are the final words of wisdom as the boy gets ready for another game. The endpapers include a mural with pictures of famous African-Americans along the bottom of the pages. 40 pages; ages 4-9.  

Pros:  A beautiful, empowering book for sports fans with collage illustrations that the Caldecott committee might want to take a closer look at.

Cons:  I might have appreciated the story more if I knew one thing about basketball.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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