Summary: Gino Bartali gained fame in Europe when he won the Tour de France in 1938. So when Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa recruited him to help Jewish families escape the Nazis, Gino was ready. He began cycling all over Italy, delivering fake identity papers to families in hiding. He also used his fame by visiting train stations and distracting autograph-seeking soldiers while families destined for concentration camps were quickly rerouted onto other trains. Forced into the Italian militia, he became a spy who helped rescue English P.O.W.’s. After the war, he went on to win another Tour de France, but never talked about the more than 800 lives he had saved, stating that “Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket.” Includes a timeline, a letter from Bartali’s granddaughter Lisa, an author’s note, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Another gripping story of a modest World War II hero that would pair nicely with Peter Sis’ Nicky and Vera. The illustrations, which look like vintage posters, add a lot to the story.
Cons: There was very little information on Gino Bartali’s life before or after World War II. Also no photos, so here’s one.
Summary: Carter and Austin play basketball for rival middle schools in the town of Walthorne, and each one has a reason to love–and to hate–the game. Carter’s parents, who are divorced and struggling financially, see basketball as Carter’s ticket to success, while Austin’s former-college-star dad wants his son to have the shot at the NBA he missed out on. Both boys are young enough to remember back to the days when basketball was played just for fun, but now the pressure results in injuries, cheating, and bullying. A crisis at a girls’ game brings things to a head, and Carter and Austin team up to play one more game–on their terms. 320 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Tommy Greenwald is one of those authors who kind of flies under the radar, but I pretty much always love his books. This one is written in the same style as Game Changer, with alternating points of view, texts, and a blog written by aspiring sports reporter Alfie Jenks. Perfect for sports fans, reluctant readers, and those who enjoy writers like Gordon Korman and Kwame Alexander.
Cons: I found it a bit confusing to have three main characters named Clay, Chase, and Carter.
Summary: The first time Patti McGee saw a group of boys on skateboards, she mounted a board on her roller skate wheels, and took off down the tallest hill in her neighborhood. She was hooked, but the wheels kept falling off her board, and a real skateboard was expensive. When she heard about a new skateboarding team starting up, with a free board as part of the deal, she practiced even harder. Making the team inspired her to enter a competition, where she showed off her best trick: a handstand on a moving board that she held for six seconds. Her perfect score won her the championship and launched a skateboarding career. Includes a page answering the question “Where Is She Now?”, an author’s note, a photo of Patty performing her handstand, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Patti’s enthusiasm and determination (particularly on the page that shows her applying multiple band-aids to her bleeding arms and legs) will be an inspiration and introduce kids to a little-known sports star.
Summary: Maxine has Olympic dreams as she prepares for competition at her Lake Placid ice skating rink. She’s pretty sure she can beat out most of the other girls in her age group until superstar Hollie shows up at the rink. Meanwhile, Maxine is dealing with a lot at school: her ex best friend has a crush on Alex, a boy who has been making racist comments to Maxine about her Chinese heritage. Maxine needs to make a comeback, both at school and on the ice, and will need all the confidence she can find within herself and from the people around her. 272 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Ice skating fans will enjoy this inside look at what it takes to train for national competition. The friendship, school, and bullying lines add a lot to the story and would make it a good springboard for discussions.
Cons: Maxine seemed like someone who would have a lot of friends at school, but other than her ex friend Victoria (whose friendship seems to have been based on the fact that their mothers were friends) she seems pretty alone.
Summary: In 1922,when Chicago’s Wendell Phillips High School basketball team won the division championship, they knew they were some of the best players in the country. Because they were black, though, they were shut out from the top professional teams. A group of them was recruited by Abe Saperstein for his new New York Harlem Globetrotters team. They travelled around the country, playing whatever teams towns could put together, and usually beating them. To take away the sting of being so dominant on the court, the group started adding tricks and jokes to the games. Crowds loved them, but they often couldn’t stay in the local hotels or eat in the restaurants. To prove their equality with white players, the Globetrotters challenged the 1948 Minnesota Lakers team to a game, and beat them, 61-59, repeating the feat a year later to show it wasn’t a fluke. With NBA ticket sales down and the Globetrotters playing to sold-out crowds, owners had little choice but to start integrating their teams. The Globetrotters, who have been named America’s Ambassadors of Goodwill, continue traveling around the world, delighting fans with their own special brand of basketball. Includes additional information, an artist’s note, a list of sources, a timeline, and photos. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Sports fans will love this story of the Globetrotters. The text is accessible for primary grades, and the illustrations provide plenty of action and laughs. The backmatter adds to the value for research.
Cons: Although the timeline is great, it would have been nice to have some dates in the story itself to place it in historical context. I remember the Globetrotters from my childhood, but didn’t know they had been around for almost 100 years.
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.