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Splash! Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change

Elisa Boxer, illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. Sleeping Bear, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5341-1143-1

Narrating via historical vignettes, Boxer pays homage to the grit of decorated female swimmer Ethelda Bleibtrey (1902–1978). The story begins in 1917 Brooklyn with a view of the protagonist, “spine curved from a disease called polio,” taking to the water per a doctor’s recommendation. Other episodes include her 1919 arrest for removing her swimming socks (typical attire of the day for women); her gold-medal-winning swims at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp; an illicit dive into the Central Park Reservoir, which prompted the creation of N.Y.C.’s first large public pool; and pictures of the figure as a nurse, helping children “believe in their bodies” through swimming. While little time is spent on her path to the Olympics, a repeated refrain ties everything together: “It felt like flying./ It felt like freedom./ It felt like home.” Baddeley layers washes of color for an immersive effect that aptly captures the feeling of being underwater. An author’s note concludes. Ages 7–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Marvelous Mabel: Figure Skating Superstar

Crystal Hubbard, illus. by Alleanna Harris. Lee & Low, $20.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62014-956-0

Perseverance lies at the center of this affecting biography of Mabel Fairbanks (1915–2001), “America’s first Black figure skating star.” Focusing on Fairbanks’s youth, the book begins with its eight-year-old protagonist en route to reside with her brother in N.Y.C. after her parents’ death. When the arrangement fails to work out, she’s briefly left unhoused until a passerby offers her a job nannying, and eventually connects her to a caregiver supportive of her passion for ice-skating, even creating a dry-ice rink in Fairbanks’s room. In matter-of-fact prose, Hubbard depicts the racism Fairbanks confronts when trying to skate at a nearby ice rink: “When Mabel stepped onto the ice, the other skaters stopped to stare at her. Scowling parents hauled their children off the rink.” Nevertheless, she persists, leading to her creating and touring skating shows of her own. Hubbard’s narrative spotlights a passionate childhood before abruptly concluding with an early-in-life instance of triumph over prejudice. Sleek digital illustrations by Harris rely on a muted palette in images that showcase Fairbanks’s determination. Back matter includes an afterword and bibliography. Ages 6–10. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Just Like Jesse Owens

Andrew Young as told to Paula Young Shelton, illus. by Gordon C. James. Scholastic, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-55465-7

The Olympic success of Jesse Owens serves as inspiration in Young’s childhood narrative, as relayed by his daughter Young Shelton. Before becoming a fixture of the civil rights movement, Andrew Young (b. 1932) was a middle-class Black boy in segregated New Orleans where, on the playground, “kids didn’t care what color you were. What mattered most was how fast you could run and tag.” Episodic scenes detail Young’s family life; men in the neighborhood shouting what sounded like “Hi, Hitler!”; and a trip to the Orpheum Theater, where, from the “Colored Only” section, Young watches Jesse Owens, “a runner who looked like me, winning over and over and over again” at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Seeing Owens win four gold medals “in front of a man who thought people like me were not as good as White people” galvanizes him to “play harder, work harder, and try harder... to be the best I could be.” In hazy pastels, James creates a dreamlike backdrop for the historically resonant recollection. Creators’ notes conclude. Ages 6–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Tacko Fall: To New Heights

Tacko Fall and Justin Haynes, illus. by Reggie Brown. Candlewick Entertainment, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5362-1958-6

Basketball player Tacko Fall (b. 1995)—who, at 7’6”, “always wanted to be known for more than just my height”—recounts his path to the NBA in this picture book. With simple but detailed prose, Fall and Haynes describe an active childhood in Dakar, where Fall was first exposed to basketball on TV. When a coaching group spots him on a local court, he begins a training regimen that eventually leads to a move to the U.S. for high school and college. Throughout, the creators emphasize the value of practice, hard work, and persistence—themes summed up by Fall’s response to an offer to play for the Boston Celtics: “I promised that I would practice hard, that I’d have courage, that I wouldn’t let anything distract me.” Brown’s geometric digital visuals feature Fall achieving “new heights” and offer a big payoff as they picture the figure dunking during his first professional game—a winning conclusion to a notable life story that foregrounds dreaming big and having courage. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Skater Cielo

Rachel Katstaller. Orchard, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-75111-6

From ollies to hippie jumps, Cielo lives and breathes skateboarding: “She had a steezy push and a good pop, and sometimes it looked like she was flying.” But when an attempt to drop into a deep pool dubbed the Whale results in an unexpectedly intense fall, her shaken confidence sees her casting the sport aside—until two new friends encourage renewed effort. In oil crayon, oil paint, gouache, and colored pencil, Katstaller’s art captures the scale of the Whale; looking down from the edge, Cielo casts a nearly page-filling shadow. While the pale gray of concrete predominates, coral and maroon highlight the intensity of Cielo’s frustration as she tries again and again until, buoyed by her friends, her tumbles become just part of the learning process. Her bumpy path to skating prowess lends this hip story a moving authenticity. Back matter includes a glossary and an author’s note. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Maya and the Beast

Maya Gabeira, illus. by Ramona Kaulitzki. Abrams, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-6000-6

Gabeira draws on her experiences as a professional surfer to craft this eager story about a child’s beginnings in the sport. For its setting, the book takes Nazaré, Portugal—per an author’s note, Gabeira’s present residence and the location of her record-breaking surfs. Asthmatic child heroine Maya starts out “shy” and feeling “fragile and scared,” but after witnessing surfers riding a massive wave dubbed the Beast, she’s compelled to get on a board herself. At first, surfing seems like a boys’ club, but encouragement comes from listening to a seashell, and daily practice soon has her feeling “resilient,” “powerful,” and “happy.” The frenetic energy of azure waves fill the pages of Kaulitzki’s digital illustrations, which make palpable the ebullience that tan-skinned Maya feels when surfing. In a lengthy author’s note, Gabeira reflects on her own journey and the challenges faced by women and girls in a male-dominated sport. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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I Have a Superpower

Stephen Curry, illus. by Geneva Bowers. Penguin Workshop, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-38604-0

A budding basketball player takes to the court, revealing an unexpected superpower in this earnest, comics-style picture book from Curry. Narrating each scene, a Black-presenting television announcer follows the protagonist play by play: “Today is no ordinary day for Hughes.” The eight-year-old, portrayed with light brown skin, replies via speech bubble: “Today is the day I share my superpower... with the world!” Arriving at an outdoor court where players of varying skin tones are being chosen for opposing teams, Hughes laments that he isn’t taller, faster, or a higher jumper, but he describes what he does have: “heart.” Kinetic, rainbow-hued graphics by Bowers provide an engaging visual energy that juxtaposes the newscaster’s heavy-handed messaging: “Hughes knows he can overcome any obstacle that gets in his way.” A Stephen Curry avatar appears at the end with a list of his “favorite things” hidden throughout the book. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Me and Muhammad Ali: My Day with Muhammad Ali

Jabari Asim, illus. by AG Ford. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3988-1

Asim pays tribute to Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) in this uplifting picture book about a child’s encounter with the boxer. Young Langston, portrayed as Black, is overjoyed upon spotting a flyer announcing an upcoming visit from his hero, Ali. Leading up to the athlete’s arrival, metropolitan scenes paint tg exalted picture of him: kids trade boastful Ali-inspired rhymes on the playground; at home, Mom reflects on the champ’s honesty; and at the barbershop, someone recounts a famous fight. Momentary tension arises around Langston’s entering the event, but Ali comes to the rescue, inspiring the boy’s concluding lines: “I’m quick and I’m strong./ I’m Black and I’m free./ I’m brave and I’m bold,/ like Muhammad Ali.” With vibrant colors, Ford’s acrylic paintings evoke the pride Langston and his community take in Ali. An author’s note concludes. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid/

Katie Mazeika. Beach Lane, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-66590-343-1

Using freedom as a through line, Mazeika follows the life of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman (1886–1975), “the original mermaid,” who made a splash internationally, completing record-breaking swims, performing artistic underwater dances, and creating the first form-fitting women’s bathing costume. Frustrated by the leg braces she wears as a child, Kellerman finds independence in swimming, as an adult acquiring a long list of accomplishments, including swimming the English Channel and winning a legal argument that women should be allowed to swim unencumbered by pantaloons and skirts. Painterly digital renderings showcase their subject’s comfort in water, whether at the beach or elsewhere. Throughout, spectators’ awe-struck expressions while watching “the Diving Venus” encapsulate her achievements. Further info, an author’s note, and sources close. Ages up to 8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Dazzlin’ Dolly: The Songwriting, Hit-Singing, Guitar-Picking Dolly Parton

Suzanne Slade, illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Calkins Creek, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-6359-2841-9

Free verse peppered with Southern dialect and colloquialisms reads like a ballad of Dolly Parton’s perseverance on her rise to stardom in this spirited picture book biography. As a child in a “newspaper-pasted-over-drafty-walls poor” family, Dolly Parton makes music with a homemade guitar and tin can microphone, but when her uncle books her on a live radio show, “big-dreamin’ Dolly/ FROZE—/ barely able to breathe.” Never one to back down, Dolly stands up to the “stage-fright bully” and fights for her dream of being a Nashville star. Slade’s alliterative, rhythmic lines dynamically resonate with the book’s subject. Focusing on Dolly, portrayed throughout wearing pops of red, Fotheringham’s digitally rendered artwork leaves backgrounds sketchy and muted for contrast, an apt visual metaphor for the biography’s “dazzlin’ ” subject. Back matter includes “More About Dolly.” Ages 7–10. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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