November 18, 2017

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The Champ is Here | SLJ Spotlight

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Sports stars are easy idols for kids and teens. The following titles are a mix of picture book and YA biographies that focus on well-known athletes who not only excelled in their respective leagues but also created lasting cultural change in the world of sports and beyond.

Barretta, Gene. Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born. illus. by Frank Morrison. 40p. bibliog. further reading. photos. websites. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062430168.

NF-SP-Barretta-MuhammadAliK-Gr 2 –A kid named Cassius Clay discovers boxing in this nonfiction picture book. Barretta sets the scene through Muhammad Ali’s three record-setting heavyweight championship titles. Oversize comic book–style action words (“POW!”) highlight Ali knocking out Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Leon Spinks. Circling back to Ali’s childhood, Barretta recounts the oft-cited origin story of 12-year-old Cassius riding high on his brand-new bike. Unfortunately, the bike disappears, and when Cassius reports the theft to police officer and boxing coach Joe Martin, threatening to “whup” the thief, Martin suggests that he first learn how to fight. Regular sessions at the gym develop in Cassius a single-minded determination to be the greatest boxer in the world. As he becomes a more public figure, his self-confidence never wavers, effectively illustrated by a few choice quotes, bold and set apart from the mostly invented dialogue. Morrison’s dynamic oil paintings complement Barretta’s lively text, capturing a self-assured Ali in detailed spreads. Action scenes full of movement and intensity draw readers into the boxing ring and depict Ali’s growth from a gangly youth to a dominant athlete. Two pages of unfailingly positive biographical information fill in the rest of Ali’s career. A brief bibliography and suggestions for additional reading are also appended, but no source notes are included. VERDICT This is an attractive choice as an inspirational read-aloud, but report writers will want to seek more nuanced and thorough sources.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Bildner, Phil. Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports. illus. by Brett Helquist. 40p. bibliog. chron. websites. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763673086.

NF-SP-Bildner-MartinaChrissieGr 2-5 –Nonfiction tennis books for kids are in general in short supply, and so are retellings of powerful true rivalries between star players of any sport. Bildner offers kids both in this picture book biography of Martina Navratilova and Chris “Chrissie” Evert. Each woman’s story begins in childhood, gently and with minimal text. The book becomes more interesting when the author notes that these two intense rivals were good friends from their first meeting and that each still fought hard to beat the other on the court. They both pushed to be the very best, and then they relaxed together—except for a few years when Navratilova had a coach who wouldn’t allow her to be friends with a rival. They met in the finals of the French Open twice, intense duels that Evert won; Navratilova decided then that friendship was more important—and to this day they remain close friends who support each other’s off-court charity work. Though Evert and Navratilova are long retired and largely unknown to most kids, their tale imparts a timely moral: friendship and kindness are what matter most. That said, this is likely a shelf-sitter despite a good narrative, strong illustrations, and great factual support that includes a bibliography for students doing reports. VERDICT Though a quality selection for students who need role models and for tennis players seeking idols to emulate, this title will require some handselling on the part of librarians. –Dorcas Hand, formerly at Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX

Lloyd, Carli with Wayne Coffey. All Heart: My Dedication and Determination To Become One of Soccer’s Best. 304p. index. HMH. Dec. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544978690. POP

NF-SP-Lloyd-AllHeartGr 5-8 –This young readers edition of Lloyd’s adult title, When Nobody Was Watching, details her life as a professional soccer player. Beginning with her childhood experiences on community club teams, Lloyd provides a comprehensive chronicle of her athletic perseverance: using rejection to work harder, coping with disappointment, overcoming obstacles, and relishing the hard-earned professional and personal achievements that come with such dedication. This commitment is evident from Lloyd’s time in college through later years when she pursued Olympic and World Cup glory. With simple sentence structure and a straightforward narrative, this book is appropriately designed for its audience. It predominantly focuses on a play-by-play of the many tryouts, teams, practices, and games of Lloyd’s career, with brief glimpses of the politics behind the game and rare details of her personal life. The prose is replete with soccer terms and jargon, which may make the narrative more difficult for readers less familiar with the sport. Still, the central themes of hard work, diligence, ambition, and tenacity make Lloyd’s story an inspiration for all readers, especially tweens looking for strong role models. VERDICT Purchase where avid soccer fans seek motivational accounts of favorite players.–Paige Rowse, Needham High School, MA

Maraniss, Andrew. Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. 272p. bibliog. ebook available. index. photos. Philomel. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399548345. POP

NF-SP-Maraniss-StrongInsideGr 7 Up –Vanderbilt University made a strong statement in 1966 when they recruited Perry Wallace, a local teen basketball star who was African American. Students may not be familiar with Wallace, but after reading this poignant biography, they will not forget him. Readers meet him as a child whose loving family provided him with the care and attention he needed to thrive academically, then follow him onto the court, where he yearned—and then learned—to dunk. Maraniss speeds through Wallace’s senior year at Pearl High, in Tennessee, where recruiters from schools across the country were eager to add him to their rosters. His years at Vanderbilt, where he broke the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference, receive the most attention, with great sports writing meeting heartfelt interludes of Wallace’s efforts to bring about change for his fellow black students. Maraniss does not shy away from the ultimate truth: Wallace experienced vicious racism and countless death threats as well as racial slurs, discrimination, and unfair treatment on and off the court. Wallace is quoted abundantly throughout the text, and the bibliography is packed with primary sources, offering ample research opportunities for those compelled to dig deeper into the civil rights struggle of Wallace and other black athletes. VERDICT This portrait of the fortitude of a young athlete will make a huge impact on teens and is guaranteed to spark serious discussion.–Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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