Sports Pioneers

The Pan American Games kick off this Friday, October 20, so now seems like an opportune time to bone up on some of the trailblazers who have paved the way for today's athletes. Here are three picture-book biographies to help. Find more related books and articles from here; or click the Sports and Women--Athletes subject tags in the Horn Book Guide/Reviews Database.

Chaffee, Kim Courage in Her Cleats: The Story of Soccer Star Abby Wambach

32 pp. | Page Street | January, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-64567-629-4 $18.99

Illustrated by Alexandra Badiu. Chaffee gets the ball rolling with a quick sketch of soccer icon Abby Wambach's childhood as the last-born in a competitive, seven-sibling-strong family. After riding the highs and lows of youth soccer league and high school soccer, Abby is noticed by college scouts and trains relentlessly to land a spot on the U.S. National Soccer Team. The fast-moving account of her subsequent historic career presents her as a team leader and class act on and off the field. A refrain — "But Abby was tougher" — emphasizes the pluck and mettle that helped her surmount defeats, self-doubt, and a major injury. In the vector-like illustrations, a color motif of coruscating pinks reconciles femininity and athleticism. Back matter includes a run-through of Wambach's professional milestones and a glossary of soccer terminology.

Ho, Richard If Lin Can: How Jeremy Lin Inspired Asian Americans to Shoot for the Stars

40 pp. | Charlesbridge | April, 2024 | Trade ISBN 978-1-62354-372-3 $18.99

Illustrated by Huỳnh Kim Liên & Phùng Nguyên Quang. Composed mostly of questions, this picture-book biography traces Jeremy Lin's uphill battle as the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. Moving from his youth to his breakout 2012 game with the New York Knicks, the book shows how faith, diligence, and tenacity helped Lin weather taunts, setbacks, privation, and an agonizing NBA draft wait. The digital illustrations employ spot art to depict Lin's off-court life, while full bleeds portray on-court action and the media craze ("linsanity") surrounding his meteoric rise from obscurity. Ho prompts children to reflect on their own experiences contending with naysayers, find role models who look like them, embrace who they are, and defy stereotypes. Back matter fleshes out Lin's life story and includes an author's note and bibliography.

Smith, Charles R., Jr. Major Taylor: World Cycling Champion

48 pp. | Candlewick | September, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-5362-1498-7 $18.99

Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Smith introduces African American cycling legend Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor (1878-1932) to a new generation. Beginning with prose and then switching gears to (sometimes-clunky) verse, the story focalizes Taylor's remarkable performance in the grueling Six-Day Bicycle Race at Madison Square Garden when he was eighteen years old. Through chronological flashbacks, readers meet an even younger Taylor performing bicycle stunts in front the bike store where he worked and winning amateur races in jaw-dropping fashion. Smith does not soft-pedal the challenges Taylor faced while breaking the color barrier in sports. Espinosa's cinematic digital illustrations in a palette of largely neutral colors use dynamic visual perspectives to propel the story with drama and charged emotion. Back matter includes a timeline, bibliography, and supplementary profile of Taylor.


Summer Edward

Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, Caribbean children’s and YA literature advocate, and commentator on books for young readers. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and founded Anansesem, an online magazine that for 10 years covered Caribbean children’s and YA literature. She has written for Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library JournalThe Horn BookWOW Stories: Connections from the ClassroomLiteracy Dailysx salon, KidLit TV, the Commonwealth Education Trust, Social Justice Books, and more. Learn more about her work at

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.