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Sports Stars Making a Difference 2017

Last night, Sports Illustrated awarded the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award to Colin Kaepernick (and Beyoncé was there!). Here are some recommended books about sports stars from the past and today who have Made a Difference. See also “What Makes a Good Sports Novel?” by Dean Schneider from The Horn Book Magazine and “Awe-inspiring athletes” from the September 2017 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book. Reviews are from The Horn Book Guide Online and were written at the time of the books’ publication.

Picture Books

Adler, David A. America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle
32 pp. Harcourt/Gulliver 2000. ISBN 0-15-201969-3

Illustrated by Terry Widener. Adler’s engaging narration smoothly incorporates important episodes in Ederle’s life (e.g., the 1924 Olympics and her record-breaking English Channel swim), some background against which to view them, and enough amplification to make them memorable. Widener’s painterly acrylics depict a sturdy heroine alone in her quests yet cheered by thousands in her victories. An afterword adds background.

Bolden, Tonya The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali
40 pp. Knopf 2004. ISBN 0-375-82401-4 LE ISBN 0-375-92401-9

Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. This carefully documented biography is informative, lively, and provides an appealing introduction to the man who had good reason to say, “I’m the greatest.” Well-paced, the book ends with a short description of Ali’s campaigns for human rights and international understanding in recent years. Bold illustrations appropriately emphasize the boxer’s head and hands. Bib.

Copeland, Misty Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance like the Firebird
40 pp. Putnam 2014. ISBN 978-0-399-16615-0

Illustrated by Christopher Myers. In an imagined dialogue, American Ballet Theatre soloist Copeland reassures a disheartened African American ballet student that she also had self-doubts: “darling child, don’t you know / you’re just where I started.” Richly hued collages make the dancers on stage seem to fly. An author’s note says that Copeland never saw herself in ballet books; this book encourages aspiring dancers of all colors.

Coy, John Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game
32 pp. Carolrhoda 2015. ISBN 978-1-4677-2604-7 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-8810-6

Illustrated by Randy DuBurke. Coy tells the dramatic story of an illegal, secret basketball game in Jim Crow–era North Carolina between the white Duke University Medical School team and the black North Carolina College of Negroes team. The succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. DuBurke’s illustrations nicely capture the story’s atmosphere. Timeline. Bib.

de la Peña, Matt A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
40 pp. Dial 2011. ISBN 978-0-8037-3167-7

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. On the eve of WWII, Joe Louis squares off against formidable German Max Schmeling, a symbol of the Nazi regime. De la Peña’s free-verse narrative heightens the historic sporting event’s suspense. Nelson’s oil paintings vividly capture not only the drama of the fight scenes but also the entire nation waiting with bated breath and quickened pulse for the outcome.

Macy, Sue Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map
32 pp. Holiday 2011. ISBN 978-0-8234-2163-3

Illustrated by Matt Collins. Macy recounts the first women’s intercollegiate basketball game, played in 1896, through the eyes (and invented dialogue) of Stanford guard Agnes Morley. After an exciting game, Agnes concludes that “a lady can be tough and strong as well as refined and polite,” a view confirmed by the rough-and-tumble illustrations done in a rather sedate palette. An author’s note is appended. Reading list, timeline.

Macy, Sue Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber
40 pp. Simon/Wiseman 2016. ISBN 978-1-4814-0120-3 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-0121-0

Illustrated by C. F. Payne. Pioneering journalist Mary Garber “got her big break” during WWII, running the sports page while the (male) sportswriters were fighting in the war. For much of the next six decades, she worked in sports reporting, blazing trails for female journalists. Macy’s succinct text is informative and engaging, her regard for her subject obvious. Payne’s soft, sepia-toned mixed-media illustrations provide the perfect touch of nostalgia. Reading list, timeline, websites.

McCully, Emily Arnold Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story
32 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-30007-4

In the early twentieth century, Lizzie Murphy parlays her love for baseball into a successful career. At eighteen, she seizes an opportunity to play professional ball, where she draws crowds more because of her gender than considerable skill. She’s denied a salary until she fights for equal pay. Impressionistic ink and watercolor illustrations subtly depict Lizzie as being slightly different from the crowd. Bib.

McKissack, Patricia and McKissack, Fredrick Jesse Owens: Olympic Star
32 pp. Enslow 2001. LE ISBN 0-7660-1681-1

Great African Americans series. New ed. 1992. This well-written biography provides a simple introduction to the legendary African-American track star and Olympic hero. Captioned black-and-white photos illustrate the text, which is both clear and informative. Bib., glos., ind

Moss, Marissa Barbed Wire Baseball
48 pp. Abrams 2013. ISBN 978-1-4197-0521-2

Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. Kenichi Zenimura was known as the father of Japanese American baseball, first as a player and later a manager. But after Pearl Harbor, Zeni found himself in an internment camp, and the only way he could make the desolate place feel like home was to build a baseball field. Bold Japanese calligraphy brush-and-ink illustrations depict the painstaking work involved–and Zeni’s joy at playing.

Perdomo, Willie Clemente!
32 pp. Holt 2010. ISBN 978-0-8050-8224-1

Illustrated by Bryan Collier. In Spanish-sprinkled animated free verse, a young boy named Clemente (to honor the Hall of Famer) recites the ballplayer’s awesome statistics. The text describes the sports legend’s dedication to family and the humanitarian work that ended with his untimely death while bringing aid to earthquake victims. Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations are vividly compelling. Reading list, timeline, websites.

Stauffacher, Sue Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson
40 pp. Knopf 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-83408-8 LE ISBN 978-0-375-93408-7

Illustrated by Greg Couch. This spirited picture book biography tells about the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon. Stauffacher’s colloquial tone and lively language are the ideal match for her subject. Couch employs zigzagging swirls of colors trailing in Althea’s wake–an effective representation of her restlessness; the colors soften and begin to flow more coherently when Althea learns to control her energy and emotions. Timeline.

Tavares, Matt Growing Up Pedro
40 pp. Candlewick 2015. ISBN 978-0-7636-6824-2

Tavares highlights the warm relationship between two baseball greats, brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez, covering their youth in 1980s Dominican Republic; their signings with the Dodgers; Pedro’s eventual contract with the Red Sox and heroics in the 1999 playoffs; and their present-day return to the Dominican Republic, where they have built churches, schools, and baseball fields. Gouache and watercolor paintings lovingly depict both players. Bib.

Vernick, Audrey The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
40 pp. Clarion 2016. ISBN 978-0-544-61163-4

Illustrated by Steven Salerno. In the 1920s, Houghton (“The Kid”) played starting shortstop for the all-women’s Philadelphia Bobbies–at ten years old. Vernick’s conversational text describes the team barnstorming through the Northwest U.S., playing baseball in Japan, and learning about Japanese culture. Salerno’s appealing charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations evoke a bygone era of baseball with smudgy-looking uniforms, sepia tones, and double-page spreads for a touch of ballpark grandeur.

Weatherford, Carole Boston Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive
32 pp. Walker 2007. ISBN 978-0-8027-9550-2 LE ISBN 978-0-8027-9551-9

Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. In stirring free verse, Weatherford writes about Jesse Owens’s amazing athletic feats, his disdain of Nazi Germany, and his day-to-day encounters with American segregation. The majority of the story is set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Owens won a record-breaking four gold medals. Velasquez’s nicely textured pastels are a little stiff. Two pages of straightforward biographical information are appended. Reading list.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!Winter, Jonah You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2009. ISBN 978-0-375-83738-8 LE ISBN 978-0-375-93738-5

Illustrated by André Carrilho. In colloquial first-person Brooklynese, Winter adeptly chronicles Koufax’s star pitching career. Carrilho’s illustrations complement the text, exquisitely capturing the sport’s drama with angular, elongated figures; the use of color (red, blue, and, most strikingly, gold) to accent the graphite drawings; and a variety of textures, including an attention-grabbing lenticular cover. Sidebars provide interesting and relevant baseball stats. Websites. Glos.

Winter, Jonah You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2013. ISBN 978-0-375-86844-3 LE ISBN 978-0-375-96844-0

Illustrated by Terry Widener. series. This companion to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, lenticular cover and all, focuses on African American baseball great Willie Mays. Readers may well feel they’re at the ballpark, witnessing Mays’s signature basket catches, his famous over-the-head catch in center field, and his electrifying base stealing, all captured in Widener’s dynamic acrylic illustrations. A solid, informative, and entertaining sports picture book.

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leager William HoyWise, Bill Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy
40 pp. Lee 2012. ISBN 978-1-60060-411-9

Illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Wise’s biography covers Hoy’s whole life, including the attack of meningitis that left him deaf at age three, and celebrates the courage and determination it took for Hoy to make it to the major leagues in 1888. Oil illustrations complement the text nicely, providing historical details that will put readers in the games alongside Hoy, imagining the cheers from the stands that Hoy never heard.

 

Grades 4–6

Copeland, Misty  Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
186 pp. Simon/Aladdin 2017. ISBN 978-1-4814-7979-0 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-7981-3

With Brandy Colbert. In this adaptation of her adult autobiography, Copeland chronicles her path to becoming a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre — the first-ever African American ballerina to achieve that distinction. Engaging prose frankly details obstacles to her hard-won success: poverty, family strife, body shame, injury, and, most significantly, racism. An inspiring, approachable memoir of an extraordinary dancer committed to making ballet accessible to all.

Davis, Mo’ne Mo’ne Davis: Remember My Name: My Story from First Pitch to Game Changer
191 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2015. ISBN 978-0-06-239752-2

With Hilary Beard. Sports phenom Davis (then seven) was recruited by a boys’ travel team for baseball, basketball, and soccer. Now fifteen–and impressively grounded–she describes her path to becoming “the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League Baseball World Series…the youngest athlete to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” and other accolades. Straightforward (if slightly repetitive) text is authentic-sounding and inspirational.

Hubbard, Crystal Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe
48 pp. Lee 2010. ISBN 978-1-60060-366-2

Illustrated by Kevin Belford. This picture book biography focuses largely on the difficulties Ashe overcame along the way to achieving his stellar tennis goals. Born in an era of segregated sports facilities, lacking financial support, and often restricted from playing in tournaments, Ashe persevered; the text culminates in his 1975 defeat of Jimmy Connors. Belford’s motion-filled acrylic illustrations enhance Hubbard’s readable text. Timeline. Bib.

Macy, Sue Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)
96 pp. National 2011. ISBN 978-1-4263-0761-4 LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0762-1

Macy offers a solid argument for the bicycle’s part in advancing women’s suffrage in the U.S. Along the way, she profiles notable individuals and emphasizes just how bold women were to defy conventions. Each chapter is followed by a two-page section that touches on late-nineteenth-century cycling culture. Accompanying sidebars and informatively captioned archival photos, reproductions, and mocked-up newspaper clippings enhance the narrative. Reading list, timeline, websites. Ind.

Malaspina, Ann Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper
32 pp. Whitman 2012. ISBN 978-0-8075-8035-6

Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Alice Coachman dreamed of athletic success as a “never-sit-still girl” in Depression-era Georgia. Her high-jumping career took off in high school, and in 1948 she became the first black female to win Olympic gold. The drama of Malaspina’s free-verse telling is mirrored by Velasquez’s emotive oil paintings. Appended archival photographs and an author’s note expand the inspirational story. Bib.

Maraniss, Andrew  Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line: Young Readers Edition
252 pp. Philomel 2017. ISBN 978-0-399-54834-5

In 1966, Perry Wallace became the first African American to play college basketball in the Southeast Conference. Maraniss chronicles Wallace’s upbringing in segregated Nashville, success as a high-school scholar and athlete, and discrimination encountered as a star player at Vanderbilt. Adapted from the adult bestseller, the brisk narrative includes occasional racial slurs in its vivid depiction of the hate and racism Wallace experienced. Bib., ind

Nelson, Kadir We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
88 pp. Hyperion/Jump 2008. ISBN 978-0-7868-0832-8

Imagine listening to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks swapping tales. That easygoing, conversational storytelling is what Nelson achieves in this pitch-perfect history of Negro League baseball. His extensive research yields loads of attention-grabbing details. The grand slam, though, is the art: Nelson’s oil paintings have a steely dignity, and his from-the-ground perspectives make the players look larger than life. Bib., ind.

Robinson, Sharon Jackie Robinson: American Hero
48 pp. Scholastic 2013. ISBN 978-0-545-56915-6 PE ISBN 978-0-545-54006-3

The author’s special insight and family photographs provide a unique profile of her father, Jackie Robinson. Short chapters detail her grandmother’s work raising five children; Jackie’s honorable discharge from the army; his meeting with Brooklyn Dodgers president, Branch Rickey; and his work with the civil rights movement. Accessible and personal, the volume is a strong introduction to the baseball legend. Glos.

Skead, Robert Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio
32 pp. Carolrhoda 2017. ISBN 978-0-7613-6619-5

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In 1936, was twenty-one-year-old Joe DiMaggio ready for the Major Leagues? Should Satchel Paige, pitching great in the Negro Leagues, be playing in the Majors? A game was set up, and both players proved themselves worthy. Skead uses a little-known baseball episode to portray larger issues of race and injustice in America; grainy brown-toned illustrations nicely evoke the dreamy reminiscences of baseball legend. Bib.

Smith, Charles R., Jr. Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson
40 pp. Roaring Brook/Porter 2010. ISBN 978-1-59643-473-8

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Smith tells the heavyweight champ’s story in ballad form, which suits the larger-than-life feel of this dramatic tale. Johnson’s quest to be champion was hampered by white title-holders; his persistence was eventually rewarded. The poetry is interspersed with quotes of the time. Evans uses oil paint and ink to depict the determined fighter, with newspapers, maps, and crowds in the backgrounds. Bib.

Smith, Charles R., Jr. Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali
80 pp. Candlewick 2007. ISBN 978-0-7636-1692-2

Illustrated by Bryan Collier. This book provides insight into the nuances of Ali’s personality and the racism he fought with words and fists. Smith’s extensive rhyming text mimics the cadence of the boxer’s own poetic bravado; oversize quotes are interspersed. Collier’s glowing, dignified mixed-media art captures the intensity of Ali’s facial expressions and the explosive athleticism of the fighters. Timeline.

Tavares, Matt Henry Aaron’s Dream
40 pp. Candlewick 2015. ISBN 978-0-7636-7653-7 PE ISBN 978-0-7636-7654-4

Candlewick Biographies series. New ed., 2010. With understated, unfussy cadences, Tavares describes young Hank Aaron’s major-league dream in this smaller-size, reformatted edition originally published as a picture book. After a brief stint in the Negro Leagues, Aaron signed a minor-league contract with the Braves but faced brutal racism in the South. In a final illustration, Tavares’s skillful combination of watercolor, ink, and pencil shows Aaron in his first major-league game. An author’s note and Aaron’s career stats are included. Bib., ind.

Wambach, Abby  Forward: My Story: Young Readers’ Edition
211 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2017. ISBN 978-0-06-245792-9

Adapting her adult memoir for a younger audience, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion, and current all-time highest goal-scorer for the U.S. women’s soccer team writes with honesty about her life on and off the soccer field. Short chapters with pithy titles such as “Champion” and “Failure” reveal Wambach’s accomplishments and struggles. Girls will surely find inspiration in her compelling story.

 

YA

Cronn-Mills, Kirstin  LGBTQ+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality
104 pp. Twenty-First Century 2017. ISBN 978-1-4677-8012-4 Ebook ISBN 978-1-5124-1139-3

In a serviceable overview of LGBTQ+ athletes in U.S. sports at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, Cronn-Mills considers the prejudices, fears, and other cultural forces that shape these athletes’ experiences. Although the history is scattered, the narrative offers engaging introductions to iconic and/or trailblazing individuals. Reading list, timeline, websites. Bib., glos., ind.

Freedman, Russell Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion
192 pp. Clarion 1999. ISBN 0-395-63367-2

Freedman’s measured yet lively style captures the spirit of the great athlete. The book is at its best in the chapters about Babe’s track-and-field triumphs; the later account of her golf career drags a bit. Freedman’s enthusiastic admiration, however, provides enough reason to read. Plenty of black-and-white photos capture Babe’s spirit and dashing good looks, and the documentation is impeccable. Bib., ind.

Lannin, Joanne A History of Basketball for Girls and Women: From Bloomers to Big Leagues
144 pp. LernerSports 2000. LE ISBN 0-8225-3331-6 PE ISBN 0-8225-9863-9

This engaging history of women’s basketball discusses the sport’s evolution from the first rather stationary games at Smith College in the 1890s to today’s supercharged international professional leagues. Featured are such trailblazers as Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Hazel Walker, Nancy Lieberman, and several of the first WNBA stars. Color and archival photos accompany the lively, well-researched text. Bib., ind.

Myers, Walter Dean The Greatest: Muhammad Ali
172 pp. Scholastic 2001. ISBN 0-590-54342-3

This passionate tribute focuses on describing how Ali dealt with the social turbulence of his times and with many challenges from strong boxing contenders. Supplemented with full-page dramatic and sharp black-and-white photos mostly highlighting memorable events in Ali’s boxing career, the book is more a portrait of Ali’s character and cultural impact than a narrative of his life. Bib., ind.

Sheinkin, Steve Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
280 pp. Roaring Brook 2017. ISBN 978-1-59643-954-2 Ebook ISBN 978-1-59643-955-9

Although Thorpe is Undefeated‘s star, other compelling narratives include those about the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School and coach Glenn “Pop” Warner. The book identifies discriminatory societal and political factors then dives deep into Carlisle’s remarkable football history and the sport’s evolution. Sheinkin’s multi-layered approach connects various subplots, includes noteworthy cameos, and uses cliffhangers for a propulsive reading experience. Bib., ind.

Outcasts United by Warren St. JohnSt. John, Warren Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town
226 pp. Delacorte 2012. ISBN 978-0-385-74194-1 LE ISBN 978-0-375-99033-5

In small-town Clarkson, Georgia, half of whose population is made up of refugees from war-torn nations such as Somalia and Sudan, a young woman organizes a free soccer program for young immigrants and determines to coach her teams to success. Alternating between detailing the on-pitch and off-pitch challenges, this absorbing book is as much about the American melting pot as it is about soccer.

Wallace, Rich and Wallace, Sandra Neil Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
272 pp. Boyds/Calkins 2014. ISBN 978-1-59078-981-0

Ten riveting “rounds” profile Babe Didrikson Zaharias, one of the world’s most remarkable athletes. Born in 1911, Babe excelled at basketball, track and field, baseball, and (most notably) golf, setting world records and playing professionally at a time when women athletes were rare. Her lasting legacy includes co-founding today’s Ladies Professional Golf Association. Plentiful archival photos show Babe in action. Timeline, websites. Bib., ind.

Yomtov, Nel  The Belles of Baseball: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
112 pp. ABDO/Essential Library 2017. 978-1-68078-386-5 Ebook ISBN 978-1-68079-739-8

This volume examines the history of women in baseball, specifically the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In addition to an engaging overview of women’s participation in — and exclusion from — the sport, this volume provides biographical accounts of the most well-known female players and their accomplishments. Archival photos illustrate the account. Reading list, timeline. Bib., glos., ind

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