Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Simone Biles’ lyrical picture book biography: Flying High

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, by Michelle Meadows/Illustrated by Ebony Glenn, (Dec. 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250205667

Ages 4-7

A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of newstime has been spent on Simone Biles, whose withdrawal from several Olympic events this summer has reopened important conversations about mental health. Simone Biles has started a worldwide conversation on performance pressure and anxiety, and, more importantly, the ability to speak up and own that anxiety.

Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn’s late 2020 picture book biography, Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, touches on some of those moments within the greater story of the champion’s life so far. Told in rhyming verse, the story begins with Ms. Biles and her siblings being adopted by family members, and the moment a rainy day decided her future as a gymnast. It details the rise to her fame, but it also looks at moments like a disappointing defeat when she tried out for the national team: “Crushed by defeat, / she loses her spark. / What will it take / to rise from the dark?” The story doesn’t shy away from her sacrifices, like choosing homeschool over conventional, in-person learning, to make more time for gymnastics, and it returns, time and again, to her incredible drive to succeed. Written before Simone Biles’s Olympics withdrawal, Michelle Meadows had the understanding and the foresight to see and include moments like this in Biles’s story. Ebony Glenn’s digital artwork gives us expressive, photorealistic illustrations of Simone Biles, her family, and her teammates. She beautifully recreates the gymnast’s incredible skill, with Biles twisting, flipping, and landing with grace and style. Her facial expressions communicate volumes, whether it’s her focus, disappointment, worry, or sheer joy. Back matter elaborates on Simone Biles’s early childhood, includes fast facts about the gymnast, and sources for more reading.

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Shelf Awareness. Visit Simone Biles’s webpage for more information about the champion, and links to her social media. Her page on the US Gymnastics website lists career highlights, and her page on the Team USA website offers more about her Olympics experience.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction

Zion Unmatched: A Photo Essay of a Champion

Zion Unmatched, by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch, (Aug. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536224184

Ages 8-12

Zion Clark is an athlete and musical prodigy. Born in 1997 and raised in the foster care system, he dealt with abuse and the dual stigma of being African-American and disabled. But, as Zion Clark states in the introduction to his book, Zion Unmatched, “I love to defy expectations”. The Paralympian wheelchair racer and wrestler will be competing for gold in both 2021 and 2024. Zion Unmatched is a photo study, with quotes from Zion Clark and people who have influenced him, from his mom (who adopted him as a high school senior) to his coaches, that will inspire anyone who reads it. Gorgeous, full-color photos chronicle Zion’s childhood all the way through his current training regimen; quotes are bold, a testament to mental and emotional strength. An incredible profile of an incredible athelete, this is the first in a planned trilogy of books Clark has planned to release with Candlewick.

Learn more about Zion Clark at his website; see his profile on the Paralympics website.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction

NatGeo Readers shine a spotlight on Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month – do you have your displays up? I feel like I’m a hundred years behind, but thankfully, my saving grace is that I merchandise as I go, so I’ll pull a few books out as I wander my room, make sure they’re face-out, and pique the kids’ interest as they wander the stacks. Teachers Pay Teachers has me covered again, thank goodness, as does Education.com. I’ve got printables galore thanks to these two sites; everything from trading cards to coloring sheets, for which I’m hugely grateful.

Biographies are always good to have on hand, especially when those research projects come up. NatGeo Kids’s leveled Easy Reader series is a big help for collections geared toward younger readers.

Susan B. Anthony, by Kitson Jazynka, (Dec. 2019, National Geographic Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426335082

Ages 5-7

The Level 1 Co-Readers also provide a nice bonding opportunity, with a “You Read/I Read” format that lets a grownup read a page with denser text, but with fact boxes and color photos and illustrations that allow for discussion. The “I Read” page has bigger, bolder text, simpler vocabulary, and repeated new vocabulary words that let a new reader try out words they’ve just read with their grownup.

Susan B. Anthony’s biography introduces readers to the feminist pioneer, with information about her upbringing, her background as a teacher, her friendships with Frederick Douglass and work with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with whom she traveled, speaking about women’s suffrage. Five “Your Turn!” sections present discussion questions and invite readers to come up with their own viewpoints on causes they believe in, differences between school in Susan B. Anthony’s time versus the present, and how to hold an election (voting on artwork, they start the kids off gently!). Loaded with photos from primary sources and helpful, quick call-out fact boxes, this is a nice introduction to women’s history for readers becoming more comfortable with informative text. There’s a Susan B. Anthony coloring page available for free on Education.com, which will make a nice addition to a reading.

 

Harriet Tubman, by Barbara Kramer, (Dec. 2019, National Geographic Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426337215

Ages 6-8

Level 2 readers are the next Easy Reader step, good for kids ready to work on greater informational text, with more vocabulary. There are fact boxes, “Words to Know” boxes that define new vocabulary words, and a timeline of the subject’s life; in this case, abolitionist, spy, and activist Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman’s biography begins with her childhood as a slave named Araminta; her escape via the Underground Railroad and continued work in leading slaves to freedom along the Railroad, her work as a Northern spy during the Civil War, and her postwar life and work with the African American elderly. Spaced between the denser text about Harriet Tubman’s life are spreads with chunked facts like, “In Her Time”, where readers can learn facts about life as a slave in 1820s America, “6 Cool Facts About Harriet Tubman”, and a quiz. Readers can discover Ms. Tubman’s own words with “In Her Own Words” quote boxes throughout the text. There are incredible photos of Harriet Tubman and primary sources (newspapers, Tubman’s hymnal), maps, and artwork.

Great for newly confident independent readers, perfect for a circle time or history readaloud, this Harriet Tubman biography is a brilliant, compact introduction for readers to an iconic figure in history. Education.com has a free, downloadable Harriet Tubman coloring sheet to have handy, too.

 

Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties, by Sue Macy, (Feb. 2020, National Geographic Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781426336768

Ages 8-12

Welcome to the Roaring Twenties! A hundred years ago, things were very, very different: we didn’t have Title IX protecting girls’ and women’s rights to compete in school sports, for starters, but women found ways to get it done. Breaking Through travels through the original Roaring Twenties, a decade where women, having just secured the right to vote, are ready to take on more. But women in athletics? Perish the thought! Each chapter takes on a different year in the 1920s and profiles the women who fought their way into the athletic arena and the critics who opposed them. There are reprints from news stories, black and white photos and full-color artwork, and historical events that place readers fully in the context of each year. While Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license, was making headlines in 1922, for instance, the National Women’s Party began their campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment (and we’re still waiting, folks); archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and the Charleston was the dance rage. Each year profiles a Trailblazer whose dedication to the sport opened the door for generations to come. An epilogue looks at where women in sports are now, from Wilma Rudolph to Billie Jean King to Megan Rapinoe. A timeline, Defining Moments in Women’s Sports, looks at 15 major highs and lows of women’s athletics. Resources are available for further research. Breaking Through is a needed history of women’s athletics, perfect for middle graders.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

The King of Soccer: Pelè

Pelè: The King of Soccer, by Eddy Simon/Illustrated by Vincent Brascaglia, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626727557

Recommended for ages 10+

The latest graphic novel biography from FirstSecond is Eddy Simon and Vincent Brascaglia’s Pelè: The King of Soccer. From his beginnings as a child growing up in poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil, readers see Pelè – born Edison Arantes do Nascimento, son of a football player whose career ended with an injury – rise from a child using a ball made from rags, to his dominance in youth leagues, and to his first professional soccer contract at the age of 15. He became a sensation at 17, when he led Brazil to victory at the World Cup, and went on to become “O Rei” – The King – a household name, a worldwide sensation. More than just a soccer player, Pelè traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. An athlete worth more than face value, the Brazilian government and the military tried to force him to continue playing when he wanted to play for the U.S., and the United States thought that acquiring Pelè would make soccer the next great American sport. He partied with the likes of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and had a turbulent personal life that includes multiple affairs and illegitimate children. Full-color photos of Pelè complete this solid graphic biography of a sports icon.

Great for middle school and up, display and booktalk with other graphic novel biographies, including Box Brown’s biography on Andre the Giant, and 21: The Story of Robert Clemente, by Wilfred Santiago.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Kid Athletes makes sports legends accessible to all!

kid athletesKid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends, by David Stabler/Illustrated by Doogie Horner, (Nov. 20156, Quirk Books), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-59474-802-8

Recommended for ages 8-12

The author and illustrator of Kid Presidents are back, this time with 20 true stories from famous athletes’ childhoods. From Babe Ruth to Tiger Woods, there’s a story for everyone here; there’s a great range of sports, spotlights on both male and female athletes, and featuring a multicultural spread of personalities, including Jackie Robinson, Yao Ming, Gabby Douglas, Bruce Lee, and Muhammad Ali. There are some great stories to tell: Babe Ruth grew up in an orphanage after his parents gave him up; soccer player Lionel Messi was teased for being small; Gabby Douglas and Jackie Robinson experienced racism from her own peers. Each profiled athlete provides inspiration for young readers on meeting and conquering challenges in their personal and professional lives. Kids will recognize many of the challenges – racism, poverty, sexism – faced by the athletes and be moved by the humanity behind the legendary personalities.

Doogie Horner’s colorful illustrations throughout the book add to each profile, infusing the biographies with color and personality.

Kid Athletes is a hit, with bite-sized bios on sports figures past and present, that will work for quick reads and quick class assignments. Get this one on your shelves, hopefully right next to your copy of Kid Presidents.