Elem. – Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken?

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken? Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01706-6. 112 p. $6.99 (paperback). Grades 3-5.

In a fun, new nonfiction series from Dan Gutman, two kids (Paige and Turner) take turns trying to top themselves with the lesser known (yet still fascinating) facts of famous people. In fact, Muhammad Ali was a chicken when it came to flying, but they also discuss his bravery in the ring and standing up against the Vietnam War and social justice issues. With quotes and stats and illustrations along with the two narrators, the text is broken into curious and quick digestible bits of information. After some basic background, readers learn about the boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Ali for religious reasons. The stories about childhood are relatable for students, and the decisions from his fighting to his adulthood are explained in understandable terms without too much sugar coating. Ali was the Greatest for his showmanship and personality as much as his muscle and willpower, and Gutman gets into all those skills with interesting detail. Even teachers and adults will stop as they read to say, “Wait! What?” and want to learn more!

THOUGHTS: More titles are coming in this new series, including Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. Fans of the Weird School Fact books and the Who Was? biographies naturally will gravitate towards this nonfiction book.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks

Tsui, Bonnie, and Sophie Diao, illustrator. Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-23948-8. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Gerhardt grew up surfing little, medium, and big waves (her favorite!) on Oahu’s North Shore, which is famous for its huge waves, some of which top the height of a five-story building. As one of just a few girl surfers, Sarah struggled to find the right size surfboards and wetsuits; luckily, she found a circle of friends that included a surfboard shaper who made boards that were just right for her. She later moved to California, where her new home was near Mavericks, the famous big-wave surf break. With its monster waves, “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls” was a dangerous place to surf, and no woman had ever done it … until Sarah! Illustrator Sophie Diao captures Sarah’s history-making ride, and its epic scale, in a made-for-storytime flip-up page. Throughout Sarah and the Big Wave, Diao’s digitally rendered artwork beautifully captures the ever-changing colors of the ocean and the power of its biggest waves. A timeline of milestones in the history of women and surfing complete this fantastic picture book biography.

THOUGHTS: This upbeat, inspiring true story is positively swell.

Picture Book Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League

Bullaro, Angie. Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 3-6. 

Manon Rhéaume began playing backyard hockey with her brothers before the age of 5, but it wasn’t until her dad’s team needed a goalie that Manon started playing on a real team. In fact, Manon’s father told her to keep the goalie mask on before taking the ice because people weren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team in 1977. By 1984, Manon’s talent spoke for itself. She was the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and she continued to prove critics wrong as she played at higher and higher levels of boys’ and men’s hockey. In 1992 Manon became the first woman to play a game in any of the four men’s major US professional sports when she played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Angie Bullaro’s picture book biography nicely details Manon’s hard work, courage, and perseverance in making her hockey dreams come true. An Afterword by Manon herself encourages readers to work hard no matter what, saying “Don’t let ‘no’ stop you.”

THOUGHTS: An interesting addition to picture book biography collections.

796.962 Hockey          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD
Biography

Elem. – I Like Sports…What jobs are there?

Martin, Steve. I Like Sports…What Jobs Are There? Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2020. 978-1-610-67088-1. 48 p. $15.99. Grades 3-6.

Many athletes and sports fanatics out there dream of being a professional and all of the fame and glory and riches that comes with it. In truth, as we know, the odds are minute to make it to that level, but that shouldn’t discount finding a career in sports that can combine passion and talent. This useful and well designed book by Steve Martin and illustrated by Tom Woolley aims to highlight 25 different jobs that elementary students may not consider when discussing careers. Each position has a short personal introduction, then a quick day in the life outline, and a great pros and cons list. The personas shown and sports mentioned are a diverse and inclusive mix across gender and racial lines. A sample of the featured jobs range from trainers to sports journalists and photographers to sports nutritionists, mechanics, and agents. With a perfect job match infographic at the end, aspiring athletes and fanatics may just find their way into the wide world of sports!

THOUGHTS: While I’m not seeing this as a series yet, I can see other books like this helping with career ready assignments. Further research links and databases could even help create a research assignment or poster project. I like the positive nature of the book and leaving athletes open to many opportunities and other skills such as math, health, and communications. Recommended.

796 Sports          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – Wide World of Esports (Series NF)

Mauleón, Daniel. Edge Books: Wide World of Esports. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.54 ea. $86.16 set of 4. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Athletic Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Basketball, Football, Soccer, and More!
Fighting Game Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and More! 978-1-543-57355-8.
First-Person Action Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and More! 978-1-543-57353-4.
Online Battle Arena Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of League of Legends, Dota 2, and More! 978-1-543-57354-1.

Part of the Edge Books: Wide World of Esports series, Athletic Esports not only makes the introduction those unfamiliar to the world of competitive esports, for the readers who are already interested in competitive esports, it takes a closer look at the competitive leagues within the most popular athletic esports, such as basketball and football, including facts about player drafts, tournaments, and cash prizes. Also included are a history of athletic esports and a chapter on equality in esports.

THOUGHTS: Even students who think they know everything about competitive esports will learn something from reading this book. It is a good addition to elementary and middle school libraries where informational nonfiction circulates well.

794.8 Video Games          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues

Henderson, Leah. Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. Capstone Editions, 2020. $18.95. Unpaged. Grades 3-6.

“‘I was a ballplayer. This is what I was and this is the way I want to be known, a ballplayer,’ Mamie “Peanut” Johnson.” Mamie Johnson grew up playing baseball with her uncle Leo, who was close to her age, starting at the age of 6 on the family’s farm in South Carolina. She moved several times over the years, but love for the game remained a constant in Mamie’s life as she earned spots on several boys’ and mens’ teams over the years. After graduating high school, Mamie attempted to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but was denied a try-out because she was black. Instead, Mamie went to play professional ball for the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns team and spent three seasons traveling through Canada and the US (including the heavily segregated South) playing baseball. In 1955 she retired to return to her husband and young child, but her love for the game continued. Author Leah Henderson’s Afterword tells readers that Mamie was honored by Presidents Clinton and Obama and helped clear the plate for other female baseball players.

THOUGHTS: Leah Henderson captures Mamie’s spunk and spirit well in this beautiful picture book biography.

796.357 Baseball          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – Science Gets Physical (Series NF)

George, Enzo. Science Gets Physical. Crabtree Publishing Company, 2020. $10.95 ea. $65.70 set of 6. 48p. Grades 5-9.

Physical Science in Basketball. 978-0-778-77557-7.
Physical Science in Cycling Sports. 978-0-778-77634-5.
Physical Science in Football. 978-0-778-77635-2.
Physical Science in Snow and Ice Sports. 978-0-778-77650-5.
Physical Science in Street Sports. 978-0-778-77651-2.
Physical Science in Water Sports. 978-0-778-77652-9.

Science meets sports in this series aiming to educate readers about the science behind popular sports. Organized into six chapters, each book explains how physics plays a part in the technique and function of each sport. Each book includes a science experiment readers can complete at home to gain a real understanding of the physics explained in the previous chapters. Glossary terms, Learning More, and Index sections help readers understand and navigate through the nonfiction text as well as encourages readers to learn more about the physics of sports. There are plenty of sidebars and photographs that highlight how the scientific theories explained in the text are demonstrated in the real world through contemporary sports.

THOUGHTS: A useful text for athletes seeking an advantage on their competition and for students eager to learn the science behind popular sports. It is a good addition to a collection of sports books and a good offering for teachers of physical science to share with students who may be reluctant to learn about science. The text and captions are easy to read and informative while the colorful, modern photographs make the information feel relatable.

796 Sports     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

Bryant, Jen, and Frank Morrison. Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-4197-4108-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 3-6.

“Whenever Elgin played, people stopped what they were doing and watched.” Elgin Baylor had that kind of effect on the game of basketball, but that was not all. As he grew and played, he also learned and watched what was happening in the world around him. He saw civil rights leaders bravely and peacefully standing up (or sitting down) for change. When Elgin finally made the NBA, he was still facing many forms of discrimination, and now it was his turn to act. “Sometimes you have to sit down to stand up.” The lessons from this poetic biographical picture book by the stellar Jen Bryant are sure to land with young sports fans; meanwhile, the stretched artistic oil paintings portray a man that seemed larger than life in an ever changing time. Just watch and see the impact this book could have on your young readers!

THOUGHTS: Elgin Baylor may not be a household name for young fans, but if they stop and discuss it, they will see how the work of LeBron James, Jackie Robinson, and others are intertwined with his leadership and talent. The timeline at the end offers its own intertwined path between civil rights events and Elgin’s career. A very worthy addition to picture book biographies.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – Black Brother, Black Brother

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Donte Ellison is a biracial 7th grader at the exclusive Middlefield Prep. Treated unjustly because of his skin color, he is suspended from school for something he did not do. His older brother Trey is beloved at the school, and many wish Donte could be more like his lighter skinned brother. Looking for a place to belong, Donte joins a local youth center where he meets a former Olympic fencer, Arden Jones, who runs the programs for the kids. Donte, who has never been an athlete, starts training with Jones, and soon finds his niche as a fencer. But when Donte and his team have to compete against his school’s team, and the racist captain of the team whose family is the school’s largest donor, Donte has to confront his emotions, his bully, and the racism that surrounds his sport.

THOUGHTS: This book addresses many tough issues in a way that is completely appropriate for middle grade readers.  At times I felt the book did not delve into the topics as much as I would have liked, but I think middle grade readers would not feel the same. Parker Rhodes is becoming a must purchase middle grade author!

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Donte Ellison attends Middlefield Prep and when the book opens, Donte is getting in trouble for something he did not do. Donte is biracial (with one Black parent and one white parent), and he has a brother who is much lighter skinned compared to Donte. Trey has not had nearly as much trouble as Donte has, in dealing with classmates and teachers. Donte decides he wants to learn how to fence, so he can confront one of the bullies, the school’s fencing team captain.

THOUGHTS: This book weaves beautiful storytelling with lessons about racial justice as well as a commentary on the school to prison track that many young Black students face. A must own for every upper elementary through high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy