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

Leah Henderson, illus. by George Doutsiopoulos. Capstone Editions, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-68446-023-6

In this biography of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935–2017), “the first female pitcher in professional baseball,” Henderson focuses on Johnson’s determination and passion for the sport. “Swinging a tree limb for a bat, she knocked homemade balls of stone wrapped with twine and masking tape.” Playing professionally was unlikely (“She already had two strikes against her./ She was a girl./ She was black”), but barred from trying out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—even after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers—she eventually landed an opportunity to pitch for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns, where she earned a 33–8 record. Johnson’s grit appeals: “She would say, ‘Don’t emphasize the hardness of it,’ because she and the other players were doing what they wanted to do—playing the game they loved.” Smoothly exaggerated realism gives Doutsiopoulos’s illustrations an engaging cartoon flair. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story

Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illus. by Floyd Cooper. Abrams, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3685-8

Like many children, Sharon Langley took her first carousel ride supported by a parent’s steadying hand. But Langley’s August 1963 ride, a month before her first birthday, was also a landmark: the culmination of a sustained civil rights struggle to integrate the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore. Framed as a conversation between Langley and her parents, the story recalls the sustained efforts of people working together that made Langley’s ride possible. The structure of the carousel itself becomes an unexpected metaphor: “Nobody first and nobody last, everyone equal, having fun together.” Cooper’s richly textured illustrations, made using oil erasure on illustration board, evoke sepia photographs’ dreamlike combination of distance and immediacy, complementing the aura of reminiscence that permeates Langley and Nathan’s narrative. Robust supplemental information includes a bibliography, timeline, a note from Langley, and information about the carousel, which is now situated at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Ages 6–9. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina

Lea Lyon and A. LaFaye, illus. by Jessica Gibson. HarperCollins, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-288878-5

Townsend, a black child in 1950s California, dreams of being a ballerina. Her family can’t afford lessons, so she makes her way to the bookmobile, requests ballet books, and trains herself: “At home, I begin reading, building my own barre, learning the positions—first, second, third.” She begins teaching the neighborhood children what she learns. When her fourth grade teacher offers to pay for lessons, dance schools demur: “School three whispers, ‘It just can’t be,’ letting the real reason slip—ballet is for white girls.” But her own students won’t let her give up, and she finally finds a dance teacher who recognizes her talent. Townsend’s determined spirit shines through the engaging first-person narration, and Gibson’s cartoon illustrations capture endearing scenes, including an image of a little girl, wearing a tutu of twisted scarves, reading at a broom-and-chair barre. Information on bookmobiles, a note from Townsend, and an author’s note clarifying the setting and details of Townsend’s remarkable life conclude the volume. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

Gene Barretta, illus. by Frank Morrison. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-243015-1

Barretta opens this sensitive biography on a moment of triumph as Carver overcomes the scorn of a roomful of white congressmen in 1921. Told he has only 10 minutes to make his case, he enthralls them, then talks for another hour. A portrait by Morrison shows Carver leaving the chamber, glad to have “share[d] what he knew.” This incident anchors an exploration of his young life. Forbidden an education, Carver teaches himself by patient experimentation with flowers that he cultivates in secret “so no one could find them or tease him.” Eventually, he becomes a local asset: “Here comes the Plant Doctor,” neighbors say. Barretta explains why peanuts were crucial (cotton had exhausted the soil) and celebrates Carver’s formidable success as peanuts become the South’s most popular crop. “Regard Nature. Revere Nature. Respect Nature” were his prescient commands. Through myriad lush garden scenes and impressive portraiture by Morrison, Carver emerges as a generous figure, a “living folk hero,” able to do whatever he set out to and “always ready to serve humanity.” Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. by John Parra. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6289-1

Chances were few for young women of color around the Great Depression, but when Ethel L. Payne’s (1911–1991) Chicago high school wouldn’t let a black student work on its newspaper, she got it to publish her first story; then, during college, she took writing classes at a local school that offered free tuition. After organizing locally during WWII, she seized the opportunity to become a correspondent in Tokyo and found herself with sudden global influence: “One of Ethel’s articles about black soldiers stationed in Japan had made its way across the seas.” After several years writing for the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, she was issued White House press credentials and served through four administrations. “I’ve had a box seat on history,” she said, “and that’s a rare thing.” Folk-style portraits by Parra couple maturing images of Payne with historical emblems, and Cline-Ransome tells her story with economy and drive. “Somebody had to do the fighting,” she quotes Payne saying, “somebody had to speak up.” An author’s note and bibliography conclude. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illus. by Oge Mora. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6828-7

Mary Walker, born enslaved in 1848 Alabama, knew the first rule of her plantation (“Keep working!”) and the second: “Slaves should not be taught to read or write.” Emancipated at 15, Walker grew to adulthood and into old age, working and raising a family, but still the marks in the Bible she was given as a gift remained illegible. When she was 114 and had outlived her entire family, she entered a reading class, practiced writing until “pages and letters and words swirled in her head,” and at last achieved her goal. Crisp, engaging collages by Mora tell Mary Walker’s story in tapestrylike scenes whose planes of blues and greens convey the slow turning of years. In her early days, the signs and notices on the wall around Mary Walker appear as scribbles, but after she learns to read, they turn into words. Walker’s determination and her long, long life—she died at 121—offer genuine inspiration. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music

Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Bryan Collier. Atheneum, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2636-8

Born in the rural South and hired out to farmers at age seven, Charles Albert Tindley (1851–1933) had a thirst for learning. He learned to read from newspaper fragments and walked miles to church, where reading was celebrated: “As I read the Bible aloud/ I had never felt so proud.” As he grew, Tindley sought out teachers and studied for the ministry at night. Sturdy verse by Weatherford weaves the words of hymns the figure wrote (“A better home... I’m going there”) into lines that describe his slow, steady rise through the Great Migration and Great Depression until he became pastor of an urban church with 15,000 parishioners and wrote dozens of hymns for them to sing. Collier creates one compelling watercolor and collage spread after another, from a view of the small boy shadowed by tall trees as he trudges to church to congregants joined in song with Tindley at the pulpit. Though Weatherford doesn’t define gospel music or explain its further development, she artfully champions Tindley’s achievements, and Collier portrays both the man and his life events with memorable visual power. An author’s and illustrator’s note and list of hymns conclude. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl

Megan Reid, illus. by Laura Freeman. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-285109-3

As a child in 1940s Harlem, Althea Gibson “reigned supreme” playing stickball, basketball, and paddle tennis: “If she put her mind to it, Althea was always the best. At everything except sitting still.” In this picture book biography of the tennis legend, Reid emphasizes Gibson’s athleticism and tenacity, tracing her journey from the tennis courts of Harlem’s Cosmopolitan Tennis Club, where she did odd jobs to pay for lessons, to winning titles on the elite grass of Wimbledon despite structural racism and prejudice (due to “laws and white people’s prejudices... black people could play tennis in their own league, but never with white people”). Reid also acknowledges that Gibson “was so eager to prove herself that she wasn’t always kind.” Freeman’s crisp, stylized illustrations distill dramatic moments into kinetic images. Includes an author’s note, a list of important dates in Gibson’s life, and a bibliography. A straightforward tribute to an inspiring athlete. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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I Am a Promise

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, with Ashley Rousseau, illus. by Rachel Moss. Black Sheep, $15.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-61775-764-8

Assisted by fellow Jamaicans Rousseau and Moss in her picture book debut, sprinter Fraser Pryce, a six-time Olympic medalist, relays her life from childhood until age 21, when she won her first Olympic gold medal. Throughout the narrative, Fraser Pryce questions what people mean when they say she is “a promise,” realizing before the 100-meter race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics that the promise, to herself and her supporters, is “to always be the best I can be.” Part of the refrain (“I ran like a rocket”) alludes to the world champion’s nickname, Pocket Rocket. While Moss’s cartoon illustrations sometimes skew sparse, the tale nonetheless succeeds in conveying Fraser Pryce’s autobiography in a compelling, conversational manner. Back matter includes a selection of facts about Fraser Pryce, as well as a brief overview of her athletic achievements. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Normal

Magdelena Newman and Nathaniel Newman, illus. by Neil Swaab. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-328-63183-1

In alternating narratives, mother and son team Magdelena and Nathaniel, who is 16, tell the story of Nathaniel’s birth and young life with Treacher Collins syndrome. Magdelena describes the ways their lives have changed as awareness of Treacher Collins grew following the publication of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder; Nathaniel also notes that, while he’s glad for the growing attention and representation of Treacher Collins, his experiences are entirely his own. Educational and enlightening information about Nathaniel’s craniofacial differences (“My nose didn’t connect to my airway”), a planned year and a half of surgeries to give Nathaniel more autonomy, and milestones, such as coming home from the hospital more than a month after his birth, add structure to the narrative. But it’s the honest—sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, and occasionally unflattering—memories that prove most compelling. As Nathaniel and Magdelena share their family’s story, illustrating that “normal” is all about perspective, they demonstrate the ways in which the Newmans are imperfect individuals for whom Treacher Collins is one aspect of identity. Line drawings by Swaab (the Secrets to Ruling School series) depict significant passages, such as Nathaniel’s G-tube becoming dislodged, in accessible cartoons that add levity to the narrative. Also available: Normal: A Mother and Her Beautiful Son, for adults. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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