Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Released September 1)

Before the Ever After - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline ...

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.

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How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi, illustrations by Yao Xiao

Published by Make Me a World

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing ...

Ashima Shiraishi's Book Shows Kids 'How To Solve A Problem' Like A ...

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.

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Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh, illustrated by Baljinder Kaur

Published by Kokila (Released August 25) Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest ...

Simran Jeet Singh: Fauja Singh Keeps Going – M is for Movement

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.

Punjabi by nature: The incorrigible Fauja Singh - chandigarh ...

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Shelly Struggles to Shine (The Derby Daredevils, book 2) by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse

Published by Amulet Books (Released September 15)

Shelly Struggles to Shine (The Derby Daredevils Book #2 ...

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.

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team: (The Derby ...

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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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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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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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