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!

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Nikki On the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Nikki dreams of playing high school basketball, and making the elite eighth grade team Action is an important step toward that goal.  Moving to the next level proves difficult for her, though, since she’s one of the shortest girls on the team and no longer playing point guard. When she overhears her teammate’s father calling her “a black hole on the basketball court”, she loses her confidence, and with it, her joy in playing the game.  A fight with her best friend, a new boy in her life, and some discoveries about her absent father all lead her to a new determination to re-create herself on and off the court. Her coach’s advice, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” finally inspires her to focus on her strengths on the court that allow her to help her team to victory.  336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  In her debut novel, Barbara Carroll Roberts has created a character readers will root for from beginning to end.  There’s plenty of sports action, too, and several interesting subplots.

Cons:  Nikki’s mom finally came through in the end, but for much of the story she seemed clueless at best and at worst, unsupportive of her daughter’s passion.  And the teammate’s dad who made the black hole comment was awful with nothing to make him the least bit sympathetic.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Her Fearless Run by Kim Chaffee, illustrated by Ellen Rooney

Published by Page Street Kids

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Summary:  Growing up in the 1950’s, Kathrine Switzer loved to run at a time when girls weren’t encouraged to pursue athletics.  At Lynchburg College, she was recruited for the men’s track team. When she transferred to Syracuse University, she was no longer allowed to compete, but she still worked out with the men.  Their coach had run the Boston Marathon many times, and Kathrine decided she wanted to try it. Registering as “K. V. Switzer”, she became the first officially registered woman to complete the race (Bobbi Gibb entered as a “bandit”, running the Boston Marathon in 1966).  When asked by reporters why she had done it, she replied simply, “I like to run. Women deserve to run too.” Includes an author’s note, a note about women and the Boston Marathon, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  It’s a compelling sports story, and Kathrine comes across as down-to-earth and someone who young readers will relate to.  

Cons:  Bobbi Gibb is mentioned in the women and the Boston Marathon note as someone who completed the marathon “after hiding in the bushes and slipping into the race”, which discounts her achievement as somewhat sneaky.  This is misleading…read a more complete account of her story in last year’s Girl Running.

If you would like to read this book on Amazon, click here.

 

Attucks: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

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Summary:  Crispus Attucks High School opened its doors in 1927, a school built by the Ku Klux Klan to segregate the high schools of Indianapolis.  Because so many black teachers couldn’t get jobs at white schools, the faculty was outstanding, with many teachers qualified to be college professors.  When Ray Crowe was hired to teach math in the junior high next to Attucks, he brought with him basketball talent and knowledge that had made him a college star.  Within a few years, he was coaching Attucks players in a new style of playing basketball. It took a decade of overcoming barriers, but his team won the Indiana state champion in 1955 and 1956, with an undefeated season in 1956, the first time ever since the championship began in 1911.  The star of the team both years was Oscar Robertson, an unbelievably disciplined and hard-working player who went on to play on the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team and in the NBA. Attucks’ championship team led to heavy recruiting of black players by other Indianapolis schools, which in turn helped desegregate the cities’ schools.  Includes several pages of sources and notes, as well as a very complete index. 224 pages; grades 6+

Pros:  Sports fans will enjoy this gripping narrative nonfiction story of the amazing Attucks team, and will learn a lot about 20th century racism and civil rights as well.  Plenty of photos and interesting sidebars make this an engaging read.

Cons:  Although I wouldn’t have wanted the book to be any longer, there were many interesting people whom I would have liked to get to know more in depth.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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.

If you would like to buy Game Changers on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy Sisters and Champions on Amazon, click here.

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.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Lu by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  In the final book of the Track series, we hear from Lu, the team co-captain.  Lu’s parents’ announcement that he will soon have a little sister is his catalyst for some serious soul-searching.  Born with albinism, he’s sometimes been the victim of teasing about his white skin and the thick glasses he used to wear before he got contacts.  But track has given him confidence, and he’s usually the first to cross the finish line. A new event, hurdles, is giving him some challenges, but he’s determined to overcome them.  Lu learns some unpleasant truths about his father, a former drug dealer who now works for a rehab center, and his coach. The two men grew up together, almost like brothers, but a tragedy pulled them apart, and Lu is determined to bring about a reconciliation before his sister is born.  Each chapter is entitled “A New Name for…” (“A New Name for Little Brother: Little Sister”), and the final chapter: “A New Name for the Defenders: Family” shows all the ways this amazing group of kids have grown and come together over the season (and the series). 224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I don’t usually review sequels, let alone an entire series, but I have loved these books so much that I had to read them all.  Lu was every bit as good as the rest; Ghost will always be my favorite, but this one is not far behind.

Cons:  I will miss the Defenders.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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