NONFICTION

A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games

HMH. Apr. 2020. 128p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781328580795.
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Gr 3-6–Ludwig Guttmann was a respected Jewish neurosurgeon in Germany when the Nazi party came to power. When Guttmann relocated with his family to England in 1939, he was denied the opportunity to practice as a surgeon and decided to devote his time to medical research. At that time, patients paralyzed from spinal injuries were deemed “incurables” and left to die in hospital beds. Guttmann did not accept this prognosis: he developed a revolutionary treatment plan that saw unprecedented success, and World War II created many patients who needed his services. He realized that sports could build strength, boost confidence, raise spirits, and develop camaraderie in his patients. What started as a wheelchair sports competition between two hospitals grew into the international Paralympic Games, played on the same schedule and set in the same host city as the Olympics. Alexander covers a lot of ground in this biography. Yet the narrative never feels bogged down by the scope and depth of content; the clear writing employs a simple, matter-of-fact tone. Drummond’s charming illustrations, stylistically reminiscent of Quentin Blake, help maintain an optimistic mood even during the darkest moments. Alexander does not reduce Guttmann’s patients to objects of pity, but the text frankly discusses the negative implications of infantilizing and condescending attitudes toward people with disabilities. Profiles of accomplished modern Paralympic athletes in the final chapter will help young readers realize the far-reaching impact of Guttmann’s work.
VERDICT An uplifting biography that spotlights the dedicated physician who saved lives, created the Paralympic Games, and became a pioneer for disability rights.

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