Review of How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion
by Ashima Shiraishi; illus. by Yao Xiao
Primary    Make Me a World/Random    40 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-5247-7327-4    $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-5247-7328-1    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-7329-8    $10.99

With a voice that’s distinctive, lyrical, and inspiring, teenage rock-climber Shiraishi narrates how she tackled — and solved — a climbing problem that “stretched into the sky. It was tremendously endless. It was bigger than thinking.” In Xiao’s earth-toned, digitally created illustration, an immense rockface looms over Shiraishi. Then, as the young climber comes up with a game plan, the depiction changes. Crisp, close-up vignettes zoom in on Shiraishi as she maneuvers through rocky areas that, to her, resemble a question mark, her father’s bent elbow, and her mother’s bolts of cloth. Xiao playfully adds visual interest by layering these mnemonic images over the sandstone rockface. Page after page, the strategies that Shiraishi shares — visually assessing the problem, breaking it down step by step, mapping it out in her head, taking a moment to regroup, incorporating what she learns from mistakes, and trying again and again — all apply to problem-solving in general. Equally applicable are the growth mindset, grit, and resilience she demonstrates, as well as the ownership she takes: “I am Ashima. What I do is climb. What I do is solve problems, which is to say, I make them mine.” It’s a potent message for all readers. A timeline highlighting the teen’s achievements thus far cleverly climbs upward across its double-page spread, and eye-catching endpapers show Shiraishi in different rock-climbing — and problem-solving — positions.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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