Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of O Captain, My Captain! by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

O Captain, My Captain

Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War

by Robert Burleigh
illustrations by Sterling Hundley

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

I was going to pass over this book. I thought it was a simple picture book biography. As much as I loved the first ones I saw, I’ve gotten somewhat jaded about their simple approach to a person’s life.

This goes into much more depth, and I was quickly pulled in. Although the format is the same size as a picture book, the book has twice as many pages, and there’s much more text on each spread. This would be appropriate for upper elementary school, though even as an adult, I learned much about Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and the beautiful paintings enhanced the text.

Walt Whitman lived and worked the same time as Abraham Lincoln, and he ended up writing two tribute poems to Lincoln (included in the book). Most interesting was that even though he was already a famous poet, he lived in Washington during the Civil War and visited soldiers in the hospital there every day, helping and encouraging them. So he regularly saw President Lincoln passing by.

Each section of this book (usually one or two spreads) has a heading that is a quotation from Walt Whitman. There are twelve pages of back matter – you can see the author has done his research.

Simply to see this president, to catch a glimpse of his face, increasingly etched with suffering – “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful” – yet with a wry smile on occasion, was uplifting. Just to watch as the stiff figure, sitting motionless in the shadow of the carriage, passed by, gave Walt new energy. He felt Lincoln was giving his all, and beyond. How could Walt do less?

This book pulled me into the emotions of living out the Civil War in Washington in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

robertburleigh.com
sterlinghundley.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott
art by Harmony Becker

Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 208 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

I got to hear George Takei speak at ALA Annual Conference and received an excerpt from this book which I got signed by all of the creators. All of that got me so excited about it, I went ahead and preordered my own copy and read it the day it came in.

I didn’t know much at all about the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, even though one of my best friends has parents who were imprisoned as children at that time. And I guess I thought I knew more than it turns out I did. George Takei presents his memories as a five-year-old sent to the camps, but he inserts the facts of what was going on to make it possible for American citizens to be imprisoned simply because of their ethnicity.

The whole timeline and explanation is laid out. After Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were regarded with suspicion, and young men were turned away from army recruitment centers. Next came curfews, and then the families were rounded up and sent to camps. George talks about the irony of going to school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance surrounded by barbed wire and guards. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old who doesn’t know that anything he’s experiencing isn’t normal.

George’s father emerges as the hero of this story. He did what he could to help his family at the time. As George grew up, his father talked with him about democracy.

Our democracy is a participatory democracy. Existentially, it’s dependent on people who cherish the shining, highest ideals of our democracy and actively engage in the political process.

His father said about FDR:

Roosevelt pulled us out of the depression, and he did great things, but he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that we’ve experienced, our democracy is still the best in the world.

The art in this book is wonderful. Young George is adorable and mischievous. His parents’ love for each other and firm resolution to take care of their children is communicated in the pictures. At times, a manga style is used to show George’s excitement, with stars coming out of his eyes. It’s used with a light touch, but effectively.

The book is framed with a modern-day George reflecting on his experiences and the book touches on where his life went from there. Taken all together, this book is powerful and moving. And it’s also shocking – what the government was able to do to United States citizens. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly timely.

This is a book everyone should read. Since it’s in comic format, it doesn’t take long. Invest an hour of your time reading this. You won’t forget it.

topshelfcomix.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Friday, July 5th, 2019

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Balzer + Bray, 2019. 42 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 29, 2019, from a library book

This is not your typical picture book biography. Since the author is Mac Barnett, I shouldn’t have expected typical. But the cover and art looked so lovely and sedate, I didn’t notice the author was Mac Barnett until the text started getting unusual.

Here’s the beginning of the book:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.
This book is 42 pages long.
You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
so I am just going to tell you some important things.

The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.

Mac Barnett begins giving facts about Margaret Wise Brown with this introduction:

It can be odd to imagine the lives of the people who write the books you read,
like running into your teacher at the supermarket.
But authors are people.
They are born and they die.
They make jokes and mistakes.
They fall in love and they fall in love again.
They go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes,
which they keep in the bottom drawers of their refrigerators,
even though tomatoes should stay out on the counter.
But which of these things is important? And to whom?

Then he gives facts about her life, including that she fell in love with a woman named Michael and a man named Pebble (no more details than that, though it certainly got me curious). Then he tells about her childhood and many pets.

I like the summaries of her most well-known books:

This is a story about a rabbit.
The rabbit must go to bed,
and he takes a long time
saying goodnight to everything.
Nobody knows why he says goodnight
to all this stuff –
his socks and some mush and even the air –
but I have an idea.
I think it is because he is afraid to go to sleep.
Have you read this book?
Do you know what I mean?

This is a story about a rabbit.
He is trying to escape from his mother.
But his mother just won’t let him get away.
(Maybe that is why he is trying
to escape from her.)

The author tells us about some strange things Margaret Wise Brown did. And about some strange things in her books:

Now it’s true that Margaret Wise Brown wrote strange books.
In her books, you would turn the page
and the story would suddenly change.
Sometimes a duck would appear for no reason.
And the narrator would often stop telling the story
and ask the reader a question.
Now isn’t that a strange thing to do?

Some people,
when they see something strange,
become bothered.
These people build worlds that make perfect sense,
even if that means ignoring many strange things
around them.

Now here is something I believe.
(I know there are only 23 pages left in this book,
but it’s important.)
No good book is loved by everyone,
and any good book is bound to bother somebody.
Because every good book is at least a little bit strange,
and there are some people who do not
like strange things in their worlds.

He goes from that discussion to telling about Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library. He tells about some strange things she did, without commenting that they are strange. She stamped Margaret Wise Brown’s books with “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT.” This meant they were kept out of the New York Public Library and many other libraries. Then he goes on to tell what Margaret Wise Brown did when she herself was kept out of the New York Public Library.

This book is a strange book. And here’s what the author has to say about that:

Lives are strange.
And there are people who do not like strange stories,
especially in books for children.
But sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does.
These books feel true.
These books are important.
Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this,
and she wrote them for children,
because she believed children deserve important books.

If you like strange but informative books for children, this is a good one.

macbarnett.com
thesarahjacoby.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Am Farmer, by Baptiste & Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

I Am Farmer

Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Millbrook Press, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

This picture book biography tells about Farmer Tantoh of Cameroon, who ever since he was a small boy loved the soil and wanted to be a farmer. So much so that he took that as his name in high school and purposely flunked an exam that could have given him an office job.

Later he did go on to college, and to this day he works to bring clean water throughout his country and spreads good farming practices and cooperation.

The book follows Farmer Tantoh from childhood, through his college years when he caught typhoid from contaminated water, through his work today.

Here’s an example from one spread:

One project leads to another and another. Farmer Tantoh founds Save Your Future Association, a nonprofit organization to which people around the world can donate money and supplies. With local and international support, he finds a way to bring clean water to Njirong, a village suffering after a thirty-year conflict.

He begins a water delivery service for blind students. He hires engineers to design stairways, railings, or ramps for villagers with physical disabilities. In places with large populations, communities build reservoirs so that in times of drought, people can get the water they need.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Elizabeth Zunon’s wonderful collage artwork, and there are photographs on the endpapers which bring home that this is a real person. I like the Author’s Note, which tells us, “We traveled to northwest Cameroon in 2017, and we were overwhelmed by the number of villagers – from the very young to the elderly – who were beyond eager to tell or show us how Tantoh’s work had changed their lives.”

This is an inspiring story that I’m so glad to have read about.

baptistepaul.net
mirandapaul.com
lizzunon.com
lernerbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Becoming

by Michelle Obama
read by the author

Review written March 22, 2019, from a library audiobook plus my own print copy preordered via Amazon.com
Random House Audio, 2018. 19 hours on 16 CDs.
Starred Review

I got to hear Michelle Obama speak about this book last June at ALA Annual Conference and got excited enough to preorder the book from Amazon.com. But since it came when my Newbery reading was heating up, I decided to listen to the audiobook from the library. However, I had to stop in the middle before my trip to Seattle to choose the Newbery winner, and there was a long wait to get the audiobook again. I ended up reading part of the book in print, then listening to that part again. She is a slow and deliberate reader, so the book is extra long in audio format. But I like her so much, I was happy to hear her voice, and it was worth taking the time to listen.

As for the book – I loved every bit of it. This will be no surprise, since I already love the Obamas. Listening to the book now, with such a contrast between them and the current occupant of the White House – it makes you sad. Yet it’s good to remember that past presidents were there to serve the country. I believe it can happen again.

Part of what I loved about this book was that Michelle Obama was born the same year I was. And both of us skipped a year of school, so she graduated from high school the same year I did, too. Our lives were not terribly similar, but there are some little details about life in the 60s and 70s that felt so familiar to me. I also think that our personalities are quite similar – detail-oriented and trying to control things and achieving in school for starters. So I enjoyed reading about her growing-up years almost the most of all. Felt like I had a sister in spirit. I already knew a lot about her political years – but hearing about her childhood was extra charming to me.

And she’s a good writer. The story of her romance is told as effectively as a good romance novel. I had to turn in the audiobook when I’d gotten to where they’d just had their first kiss and was super frustrated to have to wait to hear more. Of course, it helps that I already have a crush on her husband!

Yes, this book paints her husband’s politics in a good light, so those who already despise the Obamas probably won’t like it. But if you can tolerate that, this book presents a window on American life. Michelle Obama presents herself as an ordinary person who was blessed with some fantastic opportunities, and she wants to pass on some of that good fortune to others and help young people from modest backgrounds aspire to much more.

I liked hearing about all the young people the Obamas brought to the White House with several different programs, to encourage them and give them a boost. Truly they were there to serve.

In her Epilogue, Michelle shows that she’s still living with optimism, one of her most important values. Even though this book made me discouraged for how things have gone since the Obamas left office, her optimism is contagious. America will continue to make progress. After reading this book, I can believe it again.

Here are her final thoughts in this book:

I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I’ve been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.

becomingmichelleobama.com
crownpublishing.com
penguinrandomhouseaudio.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Planting Stories, by Anika Aldamuy Denise

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Planting Stories

The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

by Anika Aldamuy Denise
illustrations by Paola Escobar

Harper, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a picture book biography of Pura Belpré, who has a children’s book award named after her for outstanding works of literature by Latinx authors and illustrators.

In 1921, Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. She was hired to find books and create programs at the Harlem branch that would appeal to the neighborhood’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

Since Pura didn’t find any stories from Puerto Rico on the library shelves, she told the stories herself. She ended up creating puppets to go with them and authoring several books based on those stories.

This book, with particularly beautiful illustrations, celebrates the difference a librarian made to an entire community, while telling more of the background of her life.

I was glad to discover the story of the person honored by the award. Yes, she was someone who got stories into the minds and hearts of Latinx children.

anikadenise.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of So Tall Within, by Gary D. Schmidt

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

So Tall Within

Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom

by Gary D. Schmidt
illustrated by Daniel Minter

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 2, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Here’s a picture book biography of Sojourner Truth, focusing on how she spoke up for Freedom.

The words used are poetic and the pictures are full of beautiful resonance.

Many spreads have a panel on the left side beginning with “In Slavery Time…” or “In Freedom Time…” along with an image.

For example, the book begins like this:

In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted,

Isabella lived in a cellar where the windows never let the sun in and the floorboards never kept the water out.

The book takes us through her many years in slavery, and then the story of how she got her freedom – and sued her former master because he sold her son out of the state of New York.

But in Slavery Time, Broken Promises were like leaves on a tree.

It tells about how she changed her name and began walking around the country speaking about Freedom and Truth.

In Slavery Time, when Tiredness stood at the doorway,

Sojourner Truth walked all the way to Washington, D. C. There she met Abraham Lincoln, and she told him he was “the best president who has ever taken the seat.”

But the panels change after emancipation.

In Freedom Time, when Hope kindled a fire in the dark and Happiness winked over the horizon,

Soujourner Truth told an audience in Massachusetts, “Children, I have come here like the rest of you, to hear what I have to say.” And what she had to say was plenty.

This book powerfully and poetically portrays a woman who rose from slavery to stand tall and change America.

mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, by Joyce Sidman

Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

by Joyce Sidman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Sibert Medal Winner for best children’s nonfiction book of the year
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book has a prologue, with the heading, “The Girl in the Garden.” Quoting from it will tell you the background of Maria Merian’s life.

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs – eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm. . . .

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in “evil vermin.”

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that “summer birds,” or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her, and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

The biography that follows tells of a woman far ahead of her times. She was both an artist and a scientist. She was an artist because she assisted her father and her husband and learned from them – she wouldn’t have been able to study on her own merits. She was a scientist by virtue of her own patient observations. She learned which caterpillars transformed into which moths or butterflies and which cocoon or chrysalis went with each.

She made her observations known by painting them. She would paint creatures on the same plant where she found them, and she would paint a butterfly with its egg, caterpillar, pupa, and chrysalis in the same picture.

This book is lavishly illustrated with Maria Merian’s own paintings as well as photographs of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Quotations from Maria’s writings are included, set off in a box and printed in script. Every spread has something colorful to catch the eye.

The structure of Maria’s biography follows the life cycle of a butterfly, with chapter titles: “Egg,” “Hatching,” “First Instar,” “Second Instar,” “Third Instar,” “Fourth Instar,” “Molting,” “Pupa,” “Eclosing,” “Expanding,” “Flight,” and “Egg” again. Joyce Sidman has written a poem for each chapter, placed next to a photo of a caterpillar or butterfly at that stage.

Maria’s unique combination of observation plus art left a mark that affected scientists after her. After her death, Carl Linnaeus used her book to classify and name more than one hundred insects – names we still use today.

The exquisite paintings and detailed photographs make this a beautiful book worth browsing – even if it weren’t packed with facts about an important scientist, a woman far ahead of her time.

joycesidman.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Dreamers

by Yuyi Morales

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2018, from an advance F & G.
2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Picture Books

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and timely book.

Mixing English and Spanish (without a glossary), Yuyi Morales tells her immigration story with glorious paintings and collages loaded with symbolism. A note at the back fills in the details.

She came to America with her baby, to get married. She felt bewildered and an outsider. She didn’t understand the language.

But almost the very center spread of the book is the place that changed both her and her child’s lives – the public library.

We see specific books on the shelves, but also wonders pouring out of the books she opens. All the rest of the spreads are about libraries and the wonders of books.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .

a place we had
never seen before.
Suspicious.
Improbable.

Unbelievable.
Surprising.

Unimaginable.

Where we didn’t need to speak,
we only needed to trust.
And we did!

Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard.

The text alone doesn’t do this book justice. The joy of the mother and child as the world and imagination opens up is glorious to behold.

In the note, where she fills in details of her story, she explains that her child was not a Dreamer in the political way the word is used today, about undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, and carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores.

Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?

She includes a list of books that inspired her at the back.

Oh, such a lovely book! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a song of thanks to libraries.

HolidayHouse.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Queen of the Track, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Queen of the Track

Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 40 pages.

This is another picture book biography about a person I never heard of but am very glad to know about.

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She won in 1948, and had to miss the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, when she was at her peak, because of World War II.

Born in 1922 and very poor, Alice faced many obstacles to living her dreams. Being black and being female were both obstacles to being an athlete.

The print in this book is small and there are lots of words on the pages, so the intended audience is older than the usual picture book crowd. However, it’s in good company with other picture book biographies.

The excellent picture book biographies written today are why I was happy our library created a children’s nonfiction browsing collection. This book isn’t designed for someone writing a report, but for someone wanting to read the true story of an inspiring person.

And she is inspiring. I’m so glad this book exists so I could learn her story.

The note at the back tells us more.

Alice credits her success to the support she received from her family, teachers, coaches, and sometimes people she hardly knew. In an effort to give back and help others, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which supports young athletes and helps former Olympic athletes adjust to life after the games.

Many do not know Alice’s story, since her gold medal came in the early days of broadcast television. But it was Alice Coachman who paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

heatherlangbooks.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?