Posted in picture books

Annette Feels Free breaks barriers and dances past challenges

Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid, by Katie Mazeika, (Sept. 2022, Beach Lane Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781665903431

Ages 4-8

Born in 1887, Australian youngster Annette Kellerman loved the freedom that she felt while dancing, but was sidelined by a childhood disease that attacked her legs. As part of her physical therapy, her father brought her to Lavender Bay, where the freedom of the ocean and the absence of her braces gave her the freedom she missed. She spent more time in the ocean, strengthening her legs, and became a water artist: she danced, she competed, and she attempted to swim the English Channel. Katie Mazeika’s picture book biography on Annette Kellerman looks at her life in the water, where she was feted as a “Diving Venus” and includes her struggle against Victorian social mores that kept her in bloomers and skirts, impeding her swimming career, until she designed – and fought to wear – a more comfortable, practical swimsuit, which influenced women’s swimwear fashion.

Mazeika covers challenges that today’s readers can easily identify and understand: overcoming physical disability, the drive to compete, and inequality. She navigates Kellerman’s life with informative, age-appropriate text; her artwork brings the wonder and excitement. Back matter includes an author’s note on Annette Kellerman’s life, photographs, and a note on overcoming physical challenges. A very good addition to picture book biography collections.

Download a free curriculum guide for Annette Feels Free at author Katie Mazeika’s webpage. Learn more about Annette Kellerman at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Katherine Mazeika is an author and illustrator with a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design. When she isn’t in the studio, she likes to spend time at the theater, in her garden, or getting lost in a good book. She lives in Ohio with her husband, two kids (Lillian and Jack), and two dogs. To learn more, and download a free curriculum guide, visit her website at katiemazeika.com.

Twitter: @kdmaz

Instagram: @kdmazart

Facebook: Katie Mazeika Illustration

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“Annette’s legacy in competitive, artistic, and recreational swimming is undeniable, and Mazeika’s text deftly balances her subject’s varied career. . . . Swim-pressive!”—Kirkus Reviews

“An enthralling introduction to a remarkable woman.”—Booklist

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Marisol Rainey is back!

Surely Surely Marisol Rainey, by Erin Entrada Kelly, (Aug. 2022, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970459

Ages 7-10

Marisol Rainey is a middle grader with a little bit of an anxiety issue, introduced in Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey earlier this year. Her dad works on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and she lives at home in Louisiana with her mom, older brother, and cat. This time out, Marisol is nervous when she her gym teacher introduces a unit on kickball: Marisol does NOT like kickball! She works on being brave, but it’s so hard, especially when classmate Evie, who is “an expert at throwing invisible darts at Marisol’s feelings”, is excellent at kickball. Newbery Medalist Kelly creates approachable, likable characters in her stories; Marisol and her best friend, Jada, are characters with depth that readers will see themselves in. Illustrations on almost every page make this a great book to move up from early chapter books and easy readers. Marisol is biracial; her mother is Filipino. Jada is brown-skinned with curly hair.

Surely Surely Marisol Rainey has a starred review from Horn Book. Visit author Erin Entrada Kelly’s webpage for resources on her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Authenticity is Epic: Kick Push

Kick Push, by Frank Morrison, (Apr. 2022, Bloomsbury USA), $18.99, ISBN: 9781547605927

Ages 3-7

Ivan – better known as Epic – is a skateboard king: “He’s been grinding the streets with moves to big, his friends call him EPIC”. He’s just moved to a new town, and he doesn’t know anyone, and trying out new tricks without anyone to cheer you on is no fun. Epic tries out some other sports, trying to fit in and find his new crew, but it’s just no good. Luckily, his dad is there to give him the best advice: stay true to yourself, and be EPIC. Sure enough, Epic gets back on his skateboard and discovers that the self-confidence that comes from doing what you love and being yourself is the best introduction of all. this is Frank Morrison’s first time out as author-illustrator; you may have seen his work on books like I Got the Rhythm and I Got the School Spirit, both by Connie Schofield-Morrison, or the award-winning Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown. His illustration work and his storytelling pulse with life, giving an urban beat to the story. Epic is a brown-skinned boy with natural hair and flies through the air on his skateboard, soaring past a vibrant urban inner city landscape. He speeds by ice cream trucks and graffiti-adorned buildings; bright orange construction cones mark sidewalks under construction; kids play with super soaker water guns in a park; a hip-hop dance troupe runs through their moves in a studio; a kid gets a high-top fade at the local barber shop. Kick Push embraces authenticity, community, and pride.

Frank Morrison is an award-winning illustrator. He received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, an NAACP Image Award for Our Children Can Soar, and a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for Jazzy Miz Mozetta.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Marshmallow & Jordan is a gentle friendship story

Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250300607

Ages 8-12

Set in Indonesia, Marhsmallow & Jordan is a story of friendship and finding one’s own way. Jordan is a middle schooler who loves basketball: even an accident that put her in a wheelchair can’t stop her, mostly. She can’t compete with the team like she used to, but still serves as captain. She’s feeling a bit unfulfilled, when she rescues a hurt white baby elephant that she promptly names Marshmallow. The two new friends quickly become attached. Meanwhile, Jordan’s basketball coach recommends she try out for water polo after Marshmallow digs Jordan a pool, letting her take to the water without worrying about her wheelchair weighing her down. The training isn’t easy, but Marshmallow’s loving support and her own determination keeps Jordan focused on practice and success. But Marshmallow is hiding a secret of her own. Rich with warm colors and Indonesian culture and a diverse group of characters, Marshmallow & Jordan is a great middle grade story that works as a book club pick and a realistic fiction piece. Back matter includes a glossary of Indonesian terms, an author’s note, Indonesian facts, and food recommendations.

Visit Alina Chau’s author website for more information about her books, to sign up for her newsletter, and connect to her social media. Read an interview with Alina Chau at SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids, TeachersPayTeachers has free Indonesian activities, including an animal word search from Teach With Mrs. T’s Class and a map of Indonedia from The Harstad Collection. Britannica for Kids has information about water polo.

 

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 Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Stealing Home tells a story of the Japanese-Canadian Internment

Stealing Home, by J. Torres/Illustrated by David Namisato, (Oct. 2021, Kids Can Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781525303340

Ages 9-13

It’s 1941, and Sandy Saito is a happy Japanese boy, living with his family in Canada, and a big baseball fan. He obsessively follows the Asahi team, a Japanese-Canadian baseball team, and the pride of his community. But the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December, and Sandy’s life as he knows it is forever changed: he and his family are moved to an internment camp, and separated from their doctor father, who’s placed “where he needs to be”. As Sandy and his brother try to adjust to their new life, they find some comfort in their favorite sport; Sandy tries adopting the mindset of taking whatever pitch comes your way.

An emotional graphic novel, Stealing Home may be an awakening for some readers who thought that only Japanese Americans were put into internment camps; this was not the case. Canadian families were also separated more often than American families; males were often relocated to labor and POW camps. In Stealing Home, Doctor Saito was initially relocated to a camp where he could look after men at these labor camps; after being reunited his family, he continues working as a physician to the camp community. Hope and baseball intertwine throughout the story as Sandy tries to cope with his family’s new life, his mother’s grief, and his father’s continued distance from his children. Baseball is a beacon of hope and, ultimately, the great uniter. Sandy reflects, looking back, that “Baseball did not discriminate against us. It did not impose any limits on us. It helped us forget everything that was wrong in the world, even if just for one moment in time”.

Back matter by author and former internee Susan Aihoshi looks at the history of the camps, the racism Japanese Canadians endured, the Asahi, and further resources. An excellent graphic story and companion to novels like George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy.

The University of Washington has excellent resources available on the Japanese Canadian internment, as does the Canadian Encyclopedia. Curio.ca offers a lesson plan on the Asahi baseball team, and you can visit the Asahi Baseball Association’s website to learn more about the team.

Stealing Home is a first-round CYBILS middle grade graphic novel nominee.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A 40-year old whodunnit! Soccer Trophy Mystery

Soccer Trophy Mystery, by Fred Bowen (Sports Story #24), (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $6.99, ISBN: 9781682630792

Ages 7-12

Sports mystery author Fred Bowen’s latest Sports Story looks at a decades-old mystery and examines the impact of Title IX on generations of female athletes. Soccer playing twin siblings Aiden and Ava and their friend Daniel are working hard to get their teams into the championships and get their teams’ names inscribed on the league’s soccer trophy when they learn that this isn’t the first and only soccer trophy for their league: the original one went missing 40 years ago and the mystery has never been solved. While practicing for championships and keeping up with their schoolwork, Aiden and Ava are intrigued by the history of the trophy and start investigating what could have happened to it. Fast-paced action sequences and an intriguing mystery and how it ties into sports history will appeal to readers who love sports, especially soccer. Back matter tells “The Real Story” about the mystery of the original FIFA Word Cup trophy and women’s sports. Give this to your Baseball Mysteries readers, your Ron Roy mystery fans, and your Mike Lupica and Tim Green readers.

Fred Bowen is an award-winning author and Washington Post KidsPost sports columnist. Visit his author website for more information about his books.

 

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 Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Hit the Court with The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter, by Mike Dawson, (May 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250244185

Ages 8-12

Lori Block loves being on her school basketball team, even if she and her friends are relegated to playing “the fifth quarter” – the extra period where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. Determined to get better, she practices and takes part in different basketball camps, but she’s got to learn how to finesse her social interactions: she can come off as brusque or downright mean to players she doesn’t think match her own drive to succeed. Meanwhile, her mom’s considering running for local office, taking more time away from Lori. Can Lori develop her own self-confidence, learn to navigate everyday social situations, and up her basketball game?

The Fifth Quarter is a good sports story and a good school story. Lori is a relatable character; she’s a fourth grader dealing with some big feelings: she’s got two younger siblings constantly clamoring for her parents’ attention; she gets frustrated by friends who don’t share her consuming passion for basketball, and may even be slightly threatened when a new friend shows up to play what she may feel is “her” sport. When her mom decides to run for public office, it adds another layer of frustration and stress to Lori’s life; it’s even more competition for her mother’s time, helping her mom campaign will take time away from basketball practice, AND since her mother is running against a school friend’s father, she’s worried that it will affect her friendship. That’s a lot for a fourth grader! Her parents are supportive and encouraging, and her friends stand firm and call Lori out when they see her being unreasonable, letting readers know that it’s okay to feel these things, but not okay to act negatively on those feelings. Readers will see themselves in Lori, and hopefully, her friends, too. A smart book that respects its readers, with artwork that realistic fiction graphic novel readers will recognize and enjoy, The Fifth Quarter is good reading for all graphic novel/realistic fiction readers. Suggest books like Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Cathy Johnson’s The Breakaways, and Jason Reynolds’s Track series.

Posted in picture books

Women to Know: Sarah Gerhardt, Surfer

Sarah and the Big Wave, by Bonnie Tsui/Illustrated by Sophie Diao, (May 2021, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250239488

Ages 4-8

Sarah Gerhardt, one of the first female big-wave surfers and the first female to surf Mavericks, an infamous big-wave surf break in California, has her moment in this picture book biography. Sarah’s story begins in Hawaii, where she began surfing small waves as a young girl, working her way up to larger waves and finessing her technique. The story touches on the sexism she encountered, and the joy of finding a group of friends to surf with. Working her way from Hawaii to California, Sarah is ready for the next challenge: The Mavericks, also called “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls”. An inspiring story for young women about meeting challenges, readers will enjoy meeting Sarah Gerhardt. Talk about mindful practices she uses, like breathing and counting, to help readers understand the need to put oneself in a calm frame of mind when up against hurdles in life. Back matter includes a timeline in the history of women and surfing, going back to the 17th century and famed Hawaiian princess Kaneamuna! Illustrations are simply beautiful, with deep blues and greens inviting readers to embrace the ocean, and action shots of Sarah Gerhardt are dynamic.

There are some good resources on Sarah Gerhardt for more discussion. Keep some of these articles handy for anyone interested in learning more: “Sarah Gerhardt on Big-Wave Surfing in a Man’s World” (Outside magazine, 2018);  “Women in the Wild: Sarah Gerhardt” (The Outdoor Project, 2019); “Titans of Mavericks: Sarah Gerhardt” (Titans of Mavericks), and “Sarah Gerhardt: Girl Meets Mavericks (Visit California, 2021).