Summary: Manon Rhéaume grew up playing backyard hockey with her brothers in Quebec. When she was five, her dad recruited her to be goalie on the team he coached. She did well and continued to push herself to succeed, becoming the first girl to play in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament at age 11. At the age of 20, she was invited to participate in a training camp for the new Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team. She worked hard enough and played well enough to get to play in a couple of preseason games in 1992 and 1993, and remains the only woman to have played in a game in any of the four major North American sports leagues. Includes an afterword by Manon Rhéaume, a timeline, and fun facts about Manon. 40 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: Here in New England, one can never have enough hockey books in the library, and hockey books about women are rare indeed. This one has a very complete story and large colorful illustrations that will appeal to kids in all elementary grades.
Cons: It wasn’t clear from the story or the afterword how much Manon had played in the NHL. I had to go to the timeline for my answer (two preseason games).
Summary: Growing up in a segregated neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Elgin Baylor didn’t have much opportunity to learn how to play basketball. So he taught himself. When he got to high school and college, coaches were amazed at his style of play, so different from what they were accustomed to. In 1958, Elgin was drafted by the Minnesota Lakers. His pro ball career coincided with events in the civil rights movement. Elgin himself took a stand after experiencing discrimination at hotels and restaurants when his team played in West Virginia. He refused to suit up with the team, disappointing fans who had come to see him play, but using his status to make a statement. A few weeks later, the NBA commissioner ruled that teams would no longer stay in hotels or eat in restaurants that practiced discrimination. The following year, in 1959, Elgin was chosen as NBA Rookie of the Year. Includes an author’s note describing how Elgin Baylor changed basketball and influenced players like Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, as well as a list of additional resources, and a timeline of both Baylor’s life and events in the civil rights movement. 40 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: Basketball fans will enjoy this look at a lesser-known player who changed the game and influenced some other players they may have heard of. Frank Morrison’s action-shot illustrations are amazing and should be looked at by the Coretta Scott King and/or Caldecott committees.
Cons: Some sources recommend this book for preschoolers or kindergarteners, but with the civil rights events woven in and extensive back matter, it’s a better book for older elementary kids.
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Released September 1)
Summary: ZJ can remember “before the ever after” when his NFL star dad was a football star, and he and his parents lived a happy life in suburban Maplewood. But his father has started having severe headaches, memory lapses, and irrational behavior that have put an end to his football career. Doctors are baffled by his case, and by similar cases of some of his NFL teammates. 12-year-old ZJ finds support from his mom and three close friends, as he tries to enjoy his dad’s more lucid moments, and worries when things start to fall apart. A crisis near the end of the story results in Dad being admitted to the hospital, with the hope that he’ll get the care he needs, but nothing guaranteed. 176 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: This novel in verse by superstar Jacqueline Woodson will appeal to fans of Kwame Alexander and K. A. Holt. Set in the early 2000’s when doctors were just beginning to understand the effects of multiple concussions for NFL players, there’s no happy ending, but ZJ’s voice hits just the right note between hope and despair. An awards contender, for sure.
Cons: It seemed surprising that none of the four 12-year-old boys in the story had any crushes or mention of romance.
Summary: Rock climbers call boulders problems. They also call problems problems. Rock-climbing champion Ashima Shiraishi shows readers how she figures out a boulder problem, using techniques that can be used by any kind of problem-solver. She maps out a plan before starting. She doesn’t get it right the first time, which means falls…lots of falls. But she learns from each fall, adjusting her plan. Finally, she makes it to the top: “I waved hello at the memory of how hard the problem was. And looked for one problem more.” Includes a letter from publisher Christopher Myers about Ashima Shiraishi and a timeline of Ashima’s accomplishments to date (she’s 15 years old). 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would make an excellent introduction to problem-solving, giving kids the opportunity to brainstorm ways to solve their own problems using Ashima’s techniques. Readers will connect with Ashima, whose climbing career began at age 6. The illustrations are gorgeous and may inspire future climbers.
Cons: I would have loved more information on rock climbing with maybe a photo or two.
Summary: Throughout his life, Fauja Singh has heard people telling him his limitations. He didn’t learn to walk until he was almost five years old. School was too far for him to get to. After his wife died and his family moved away, he was lonely. This refrain is repeated throughout the story: “But Fauja did not listen and Fauja did not stop.” He did learn to walk, and worked hard to become strong enough to walk a mile. Because he couldn’t go to school, he learned to be a farmer instead. And at age 81, he left India to live with his family in England. At first he was sad and lonely, but one day he saw people running on TV. They looked so happy that he decided to try it. Every day, he ran a little further and a little faster. He eventually decided to run a marathon. When he heard that people of his faith, Sikhs, were experiencing discrimination in the U.S., he decided to run in the New York City marathon. After that, he decided to be the first 100-year-old to complete a marathon, and reached this goal in Toronto in 2011. Includes an introduction by Singh (age 108 when he wrote it); an afterword with additional information and a photo; and a list of the national (UK) and world records he holds. 48 pages; ages 4 to 104 (and up).
Pros: If you need inspiration to stop reading and get off your couch, here it is! Even if you are 56 (just as a random example), you still have almost half a century left to run a marathon! And even if you don’t want to run a marathon, Fauja Singh’s story is an inspiring one of perseverance, kindness, and trusting yourself.
Cons: The NYC marathon part of the story is kind of a bummer.
Summary: Shelly loves being part of the Daredevils roller derby team. But when she and her friends get the chance to play in a bout, Shelly starts noticing the skills each of her teammates has and feeling like she’s not the best at anything. She decides to use her artistic talents to design special derby gear for each one of her friends. Things like bubble boots and sticky gloves seem amazing in her imagination, but fall far short in reality. The other girls start to get frustrated by Shelly’s insistence that they try her inventions, and using a couple of them in the bout earns Shelly a penalty. When Shelly finally shares what she’s feeling with the other Daredevils, they reassure her that she is an important part of the team. And one of her ideas ends up winning them a special award! 176 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This illustrated book will appeal to fans of Roller Girl and anyone who enjoys a good friendship story. True to the roller derby spirit, there are all sorts of body types, genders, and sexualities woven effortlessly into the story, and everyone is celebrated for being themselves. I haven’t had a chance to read book 1, Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, but that one is currently available. I’m hoping there will be at least one book in the series for each of the five Daredevils.
Cons: Some of Shelly’s creations, as well as her insistence that the girls try them out, were pretty cringey.
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.
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.
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.
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.