Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall

When James Bond was still in diapers, Virginia Hall was behind enemy lines, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hitler’s henchmen. Did she have second thoughts after a terrible accident left her needing a wooden leg? Please. Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boys’ club that wouldn’t let her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: the Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey—Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her the Fighting Blade for nothing.

So how does a girl who was a pirate in the school play, spent her childhood summers milking goats, and rocked it on the hockey field end up becoming the Gestapo’s most wanted spy? Audacious, irreverent, and fiercely feminist, Code Name Badass is for anyone who doesn’t take no for an answer. 

Code Name Badass chronicles Virginia Hall’s fight against societal norms and the Nazis. Hall’s experience highlights the amazing power of perseverance, bravery, and never taking no for an answer. As part of the French Resistance movement, Hall faced constant danger. However, she never stopped fighting.  

With historical photos and excerpts from historical documents, Code Name Badass brings the women who helped win World War II to light. A list of other exceptional women spies appears at the back of the book along with a long list of resources that Demetrios utilized. While Hall’s story is motivating, Demetrios’ tone and constant reminders of sexism become a little off-putting. For example, Demetrios writes, “Dindy (Hall’s nickname) had a lot of luck. Buckets of it. She had a lot of bad luck, too, but, with one major exception, that bad luck stemmed only from the fact that she had a vagina.” 

Readers who love history, especially World War II history, will find Code Name Badass full of little-known facts. While Hall’s story is interesting, it is not for the weak of heart. The brutality of the Germans is repeatedly described, and many of Hall’s contacts lost their lives because of the Germans’ cruelty. Because of the book’s difficult vocabulary and detailed descriptions, Code Name Badass is not the book for readers looking for a light, entertaining historical fiction book. However, anyone interested in spycraft, World War II, or the women who have impacted our world will find Code Name Badass informative and interesting.  

Sexual Content 

  • While discussing Dindy’s “badassery,” Demetrios writes: “Never take no for an answer. (Unless someone says they don’t want to have sex with you, kiss you, be touched by you, etc. Then no means no.)” 
  • During wartime, women were sexually assaulted and raped as “a key strategy” to breaking down “civilians and combatants alike.”  
  • During the French occupation, Germans visited brothels. 
  • One double agent was known to keep mistresses. 
  • One female agent “got knocked up in the field” by another agent. 
  • Another female agent “drove one agent so batty with love that he literally threw himself into the Danube, intending suicide.” The agent was known to cheat on her husband with “sexy spy guys.” 

Violence 

  • During a hunting expedition, Dindy accidentally shot herself. “The shell ripped into her left foot, tearing past the skin and driving through cartilage and bone. Virginia collapsed, staring down at what had once been called a foot.” Dindy’s foot is amputated. 
  • During the Battle of France, “Bullets started flying, bombs began to drop, and shit got real. . .” Dindy helped by becoming an ambulance driver, who “saw men dying around her every day in the most horrible of ways, the soil once again being soaked with French blood.”  
  • During the battle, roads were bombed, “caring little that the dusty streets and highways and country lanes were filled with refugees who were desperate to get away from the fighting.” 
  • During World War II, “the French government would cut off your head if you had an abortion.” 
  • During the war, William Simpson was “shot down” and sustained “terrible burns and los[t] both hands.”  
  • Resistance fighters “killed a Gestapo agent, then dumped the body on the steps of [the Germans’] headquarters with a note: ‘With the compliments of British Intelligence.’”  
  • Dindy has dinner with Olivier, another spy. The restaurant’s “door crashes open, and a dozen gendarmes swam in, guns, batons, or haughty chins raised. Screams fill the café, and glass shatters as tables are overturned and precious rationed food and drink fall to the floor. . .” With help, both spies escape.
  • The Gestapo was cruel to prisoners: “Dogs let loose on prisoners, fingernails pried off, prisoners tied up with spiked handcuffs. . . Agents and Resistance fighters were often tortured for information.”  
  • Dindy’s supervisors told Dindy that a “dangerous man” had infiltrated her group. The supervisor told Dindy “she was fully authorized to have him disposed of as neatly as possible.” 
  • Two men put their family on a ship heading to England. “Their parents, wives, and Alfred’s three children all drowned when their ship . . . was torpedoed by the Germans.”  
  • The book mentions people who were killed by the Germans. Most accounts are not graphic. For example, according to Dindy, “the Germans had gotten all ancient Rome on the Resistance, skewering their bodies on iron posts as a warning to all.” 
  • Several agents were “brutally murdered in the Dachau concentration camp. . . all three were shot in the back of the head, then their bodies shoved into the camp’s crematoriums.”   
  • One man refused to do the Germans’ biddings. The man “tried to cut his throat rather than bend his will.”   
  • If Dindy and her crew saw Germans lurking around, they would kill the Germans. “One story has it that Dindy’s boys would drop German bodies in the Lignon River after they’d done away with them.” 
  • One spy was captured and “he was beaten, tortured, and then shipped off to Buchenwald, where he suffocated and died in a cattle car stuffed with more than 150 prisoners.” Another captured spy “had her front teeth knocked out and her arm broken.” 
  • Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie was brutal. “His accusers testified about Barbie raping female inmates in the presence of not only other guards, but also of the Resistance members waiting in the hallway to get tortured . . . Barbie encouraged German shepherds to chase naked women around their cells; each time the women were viciously bitten, Barbie would laugh maniacally. He beat children.” 
  • Spy Odette Sanson “underwent fourteen Gestapo interrogations. . . was held captive by the Germans for two years. . . they branded her back with a hot iron and pulled out all her toenails.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Occasionally, the book mentions adults drinking alcohol. For example, during prohibition, Dindy traveled to Europe where she could “enjoy oodles of wine.” 
  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy was given morphine in the hospital. 
  • Spies were given cyanide pills to use “on themselves or others.”  
  • To help agents’ stamina, they were issued amphetamines. “For Dindy, popping those bitter-tasting blue Benzedrine pills was sometimes the only way she could juggle the revolving door of agents, Resistance workers. . . who knocked on her door, day and night.” 
  • Dindy loved to drink “gin and Italians, a mix of gin and vermouth.”

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bastard, bitch, dumbass, damn, dicked, pussy, fuck, hell, and shit. 
  • When Dindy was nineteen, she “became engaged to a complete douchebag.”  
  • Gaulle was a “total dick when it came to how he treated the foreign agents.”  
  • Klaus Barbie, an evil Gestapo agent, “was a real motherfucker.” 

Supernatural 

  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy “insisted until her dying day that on ‘several occasions’ her deceased father, Edwin Hall, came to visit.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Race to the South Pole

Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training, is back! This time, he joins a dangerous expedition to the South Pole!

Ranger joins an early twentieth-century expedition journeying from New Zealand to Antarctica. He befriends Jack Nin, the stowaway turned cabin boy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship. They’re racing against a rival explorer to reach the South Pole, but with unstable ice, killer whales, and raging blizzards, the journey turns into a race against time. . . and a struggle to stay alive.

Told in third-person, Race to the South Pole includes the inner thoughts of both Ranger and Jack. Even though Antarctica is dangerous, most of the danger comes from the harsh weather conditions. During the trip, both Ranger and Jack miss their families and wonder when they’ll be able to return home. Although Jack faces deadly freezing weather, he works hard and never complains. However, Jack sneaks onto the ship without telling his family his plans. And while in the Arctic, he doesn’t follow orders and instead sneaks out of the camp and almost dies alone.

Race to the South Pole is an entertaining and educational story that has a unique perspective because it focuses on a golden retriever. Readers interested in the men who attempted to reach the South Pole will enjoy Race to the South Pole, which has full-page, black-and-white illustrations approximately every six pages. Even though Ranger’s story is fictional, facts are woven into the story. The end of the book has more information about the historic expedition as well as a list of further resources. Plus, the author’s note includes information about Jack’s Maori Chinese cultural background. The book references Ernest Shackleton who climbed Mount Erebus but did not reach the South Pole. Readers interested in learning more about Ernest’s explorations can read Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman.

While Race to the South Pole lacks suspense, the story contains enough intrigue to keep the reader interested. Jack’s desire to help his family is relatable and his determination is admirable. The author’s note explains how the characters are based on real people, but the original expedition ended with the death of five members of the team, which will help readers understand how dangerous the expedition really was. Readers who want to learn more about how dogs help humans in frozen conditions should also read Dogs in the Dead of Night by Mary Pope Osborne.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Horses and dogs were taken on the expedition, but there was not enough food to adequately feed them. “The sled dogs were getting lean, too. They were so hungry that one team attacked a pony that was stuck in a snowdrift. The horse fought off the dogs, but the pony was hurt, too weak to travel even another mile before the men made camp.”
  • A sled dog team fell into a crevasse. “Ranger and Osman strained under the weight of the rest of the team. The other dogs dangled in midair, howling as the lines cut into their fur. . . Jack could hear them yelping and whimpering below.” The dogs are saved.
  • Jack ventures out alone and falls in a crevasse. “The ice walls rushed past as he fell. . . Jack’s leg twisted, and his knee gave a sickening pop. . . Just when it felt like he might plunge into the darkness forever, Jack thumped on his back onto a snow shelf. He landed so hard he couldn’t breathe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Jack falls overboard, one of the men yells, “Good Lord!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Race Around the World

When Nellie Bly read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, she had an amazing idea. What if she traveled around the world in real life, and did it in less than 80 days? In 1889, people doubted it could be done—especially by a woman. But with one small bag and a sturdy coat, Nellie set out anyway. Soon the whole world was rooting for her. Could she make it back home in time?

Nellie Bly began her life with the name Elizabeth J. Cochran. When her father died, Nellie needed to work to help her family make money. She wanted to be a newspaper reporter, but most people believed that a “woman should stay out of the workplace. . .women should turn their attention to cooking, cleaning, and making a nice home.” Nellie believed that she could do anything a man could do, including being a reporter. However, at the time “women did not sign their names to articles. It was considered improper.” So, Elizabeth wrote articles with the byline under a man’s name: Nellie Bly. Nellie wrote about how hard factory work was for women and how some low jobs were dangerous. But what made Nellie Bly so famous, was her record-breaking trip around the world.

During Nellie Bly’s time, her adventures were exciting and newsworthy. However, today’s readers will find Nellie Bly’s travels mundane. Nellie Bly visits many countries, but nothing exciting happens and the reader will not learn much about each place in which she stops. The Race Around the World is informative and has many interesting facts, but the pacing is slow.

The Race Around the World uses short chapters and easy vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to young, fluent readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages and show some of Nellie Bly’s adventures. At the end of the book, there is more information about Nellie and the time period in which she lived.

The Race Around the World would be interesting for readers who want to learn more about news reporters and travel during the 1800s. While the book would be helpful if you are looking to learn, it reads much like a history book. Readers who want a modern, imaginative adventure that revolves around Jules Verne’s story, Around the World in 80 Days, should add the Max Tilt Series by Peter Lerangis to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Men used canes to keep the beggars away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Barnum Brown Dinosaur Hunter

Barnum Brown had one ambition as a child: to grow up to be a great dinosaur hunter. And that’s just what he did when he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History—working to build their astounding collection.

Barnum had a knack for finding dinosaur bones, a skill that rivaled the paleontologists before him. His most amazing discovery was uncovering one of the largest carnivores that ever walked the earth, the “tyrant lizard king,” Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Barnum’s biography begins when he was a child living in Kansas. As a boy, he was amazingly curious, and this curiosity served him well throughout his career. The picture book describes Barnum’s work, and younger readers will need help decoding the advanced vocabulary and dinosaur terms. The illustrations show the work behind finding the fossils as well as the actual dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are often shown next to their bones which allows readers to imagine the dinosaurs behind the fossils. Plus, the illustrations show both the beauty and ferocity of the beast.

Barnum’s life story is exciting and interesting. Despite this, younger readers will not want to tackle this picture book alone. While the pages have 2 to 5 sentences, the sentences are long and complex. However, Barnum Brown Dinosaur Hunter is an enlightening book that dinosaur-loving readers of all ages should put on their must-read list, especially because Barnum is responsible for discovering 11 new dinosaurs. Without Barnum’s eye for finding fossils, the science of paleontology may be missing important fossils. Readers who want to learn more about Barnum’s life should also read Finding the First T. Rex by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber 

“Press Box: Women and children not admitted.” So read the press pass that Mary Garber had to wear as a reporter at sporting events. It was embarrassing, even insulting, but in the 1940s, sports—and sports reporting—was a man’s world.

Mary didn’t let that stop her. She never let anything stop her really. As a kid, she played quarterback for her local football team. Later, as a reporter, she dug in her heels and built up her own sports beat. For close to fifty years, Mary shined the spotlight on local heroes whose efforts might otherwise have gone unnoticed. “‘That’s Miss Mary Garber,’ one boy said at a soapbox derby. ‘And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.’”

This is the story of a woman who pursued her dream and changed the world.

If you’re looking for an inspirational story that will encourage young readers to follow their dreams, then Miss Mary Reporting is the book for you. While the story focuses on the hard work and dedication that made Miss Mary an excellent reporter, the story also shows how others helped Miss Mary along the way. In addition, the book briefly mentions the segregated Negro leagues as well as Jackie Robinson and the discrimination he faced.

While Miss Mary’s story is inspirational, younger readers may have a difficult time sitting through a reading of the book because of the text-heavy pages. Each page has four to seven complex sentences and the text includes difficult vocabulary. The full-page illustrations use muted tones that reflect the serious topic of discrimination. The illustrations will give readers a peek into the past because it shows the clothing, hairstyles, and other aspects of the time period. Readers who want to learn more will find an author’s note, a timeline, and a list of more resources at the end of the book.

Miss Mary’s biography will inspire readers and show how one woman impacted the world of sports. However, the heavy topic makes the picture book more suited to older readers. While Miss Mary’s story is interesting, it’s not necessarily entertaining; the book is best read by those who have an interest in sports and journalism. Readers who would like to learn more about women in sports should also read Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Amelia Earhart

When Amelia was young, she liked to imagine she could stretch her wings and fly away like a bird. As a grown woman, she set a new female world record for flying up to 14,000 feet. She also flew across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and eventually undertook the most dangerous mission of all: to fly all the way around the world.

As part of the Little People, Big Dreams Series, Amelia Earhart retells the story of Amelia Earhart in a picture book format. Each two-page spread has one to two simple sentences that are easy to read. Another positive aspect of Amelia Earhart is the brightly colored illustrations. The simple illustrations are whimsical and beautiful. For example, one page features the ocean where a huge whale swims; Amelia flies over the whale, making her plane look tiny in comparison.

Because the picture book is intended for young readers, Amelia’s life is not explored in detail. However, the biography explains enough of Amelia’s accomplishments to show Amelia didn’t allow obstacles to stand in the way of her dreams. The back of the book also has a short timeline of Amelia’s life and includes four historical photos. There is also a list of other books about Amelia Earhart as well as a list of other books in the Little People, Big Dreams Series.

 Amelia Earhart’s story highlights her amazing accomplishments in a kid friendly format that won’t overwhelm young readers. Beginning readers will enjoy learning about Amelia’s bravery as she flew “thousands of miles, over oceans and jungles and over the savanna, where giraffes turned their heads.” By reading Amelia’s story, readers will learn that dreams do come true. Readers who are interested in flight should also read the picture book Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Lawson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Although the book doesn’t explain Amelia Earhart’s plane crash, it does say that “she flew on like a bird, farther than anyone had gone before. . . never to return.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Becoming Muhammad Ali

Before he became the legend, Muhammad Ali, young Cassius Clay learned history and card tricks from his grandfather, hid report cards from his parents, and biked around Louisville with his pals. But when his bike is stolen, Cassius decides there’s something else he wants: to be able to fend off bullies by becoming a boxer.

Cassius has a best friend, Lucky, who sticks by him whether his fists are raised in victory or his back is against the ropes. Before long, Lucky is cheering Cassius on in his first amateur fight. With the support of all his friends and family, will Cassius make it to the top?

Becoming Muhammad Ali focuses on Cassius’ younger years and highlights the importance of his family and his community. Cassius’ story is told from both his point of view and his best friend’s point of view. When Cassius is telling his own story, the words appear in poetry format. This narrows the story and allows Cassius’ swagger to shine. When the story shifts to Lucky’s point of view, the text appears in paragraph structure that uses a conversational tone. Lucky’s perspective allows the reader to see Cassius’ intense training schedule and shines a light on Cassius’ fear. The joint perspectives give a well-rounded picture of Cassius’ bold personality and personal struggles.

Because the story begins in the late 1950s, Cassius’ story isn’t just about boxing. The biographical novel delves into the racism prevalent during this time period. Each example of racism is described in a kid-friendly manner that allows the reader to picture the events. The descriptions all focus on events that affected Cassius. He explains the events in a way that shows the unfairness of the situation without sounding bitter or preachy. However, some readers will not understand the correlation between racism and Cassius’ desire to change his name to Muhammad Ali and “use his time to focus on black pride and racial justice.”

Becoming Muhammad Ali is an entertaining and engaging biographical novel that will inspire readers to fight for their dreams. Through Cassius’ actions, readers will see the hard work and dedication that allowed Cassius to become one of the best boxers in history. However, Cassius’ story isn’t just a boxing story, it’s a story about family and friends. Cassius’ story doesn’t gloss over some of the unfairness in life. Instead, Cassius shows how he overcame obstacles and, in the end, realized that there are some things that are more important than boxing.

When a reporter asked what Cassius wanted to be remembered for, he said, “I’d like for them to say, he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

Cassius’ story comes to life in easy-to-read prose and includes full page, black and white illustrations that are scattered throughout. Becoming Muhammad Ali is a must-read because it highlights how hard work and dedication allowed Cassius to achieve his dreams. Readers who want to read another inspirational sports book should check out The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which has also been made into a graphic novel.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Since Cassius watched boxing matches and later fought in them, there are some descriptions of the matches. For example, Cassius describes a fight when Frank Turley “broke a guy’s nose with a left jab, then smiled when the joker went tumbling outta the ring, blood spurting everywhichaway.”
  • Cassius and his friends were walking along the street when a “car filled with men. White men” drove by. One of the men “flashed a knife—a switch blade. [Lucky] saw the guy with the knife say something to the driver. The car engine stopped. Then all four car doors opened at once.” Cassius and his friends ran away from the men and were safe.
  • Cassius tells a story about “how Tom the Slave escaped freedom by hiding in a casket on a ship of dead bodies on its way to London, England, and how when he got there he became a famous bare-knuckle boxer. . . the Brits rushed the ring in the ninth round, clobbered Tom, and broke six of his fingers.”
  • A kid from the neighborhood, Corky, bullied Cassius and his friends. Corky “stepped on my sneaks, and bumped Lucky with just enough force to make him lose his balance, and knocked Rudy backwards like a domino into a couple. . .” then Corky wandered off.
  • During a match, Cassius landed “a series of short pops to his head, one right below his left ear that makes him stumble into the ropes. . .” Cassius wins the match.
  • Cassius’ father showed him “a gruesome magazine photograph of a twelve-year-old faceless boy who was visiting family. . . when he was shot in the head, drowned in the river, and killed for maybe whistling at a white woman.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cassius’ mom didn’t like him betting “on account of God not liking ugly, and all gambling is ugly.”
  • When Cassius says that the Bible didn’t get him and his brother into the whites’ park, his mother says, “Boy, don’t you dare blaspheme the Good book.”
  • During one match, Cassius “recited the Lord’s prayer.”
  • Cassius’ mother prays, “we gather together to send this boy out into the world, and ask that you hold his dreams tight, let them rocket to the stars and beyond.”
  • Cassius “joined the Nation of Islam—a movement that was founded to give black people a new sense of pride. A week later, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.”

 

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins never wanted her wheelchair to slow her down, but the world around her was built in a way that made it hard for people to do even simple things like go to school or eat lunch in the cafeteria. This is the true story of a little girl who just wanted to go, even when others tried to stop her.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proposed, requesting that Congress make public spaces accessible to everyone, Jennifer joined activists in Washington, D.C. for what became known as the Capitol Crawl. To bring attention to the dilemma, Jennifer and others crawled all the way to the top of the Capitol Building,

All the Way to the Top begins by exploring the discrimination Jennifer was faced with because she was in a wheelchair and how this led her to participate in organized protests. A major portion of the book focuses on the protests Jennifer attended, the goals of the protests, and the reasons Congress was against the ADA. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, it covers complicated topics like the ADA, activism, and the role of Congress.

The picture book’s illustrations focus on Jennifer whose facial expressions clearly show a range of emotions from joy to determination to sadness. Some of the pictures show large groups of people protesting. In these illustrations, the protesters are not clearly defined and are one color which allows the focal point to stay on Jennifer. Each page contains 2 to 6 sentences; however, the complex sentence structure makes some of the pages appear text heavy. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.

Jennifer is an admirable person, who was determined to show people how passing the ADA would help people with disabilities. However, the story acknowledges that “laws like the ADA don’t change things overnight. Entrances have to be rebuilt, sidewalks redesigned, buses reengineered. Slowest of all, minds have to change.” The book ends with three pages that explore the topic in more detail, a timeline that shows the milestones of the disability rights movement, and a picture of Jennifer climbing the steps of the Capitol.

All the Way to the Top shows how one person can make a positive impact on the world. All the Way to the Top is an excellent book to use in an educational situation, for research, or as a conversation starter. Plus, Jennifer’s story highlights the importance of dedication and giving voice to a cause. All the Way to the Top received the Schneider Family Book Award which honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Readers who want to read another biographical picture book that shows how one person overcame a disability should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability

“My name is Shane, and I was born with a disease that makes my body grow smaller and weaker as I get older instead of bigger and stronger. Living with this disease means that I’ve used a wheelchair for most of my life and often rely on my family and friends to help me do all my favorite things—like eating pizza, participating in sports, and playing video games. Since many people are curious about me, I decided to answer some of the questions I’m asked head-on in this book. Go ahead and take a look! Although I need a little more help than you might, you’ll see that I’m not so different.”

Shane talks about his disability in a conversational tone and with humor. Shane’s family helps him with many of the day-to-day tasks that most people complete easily. “My brother helps me brush my teeth, but he loves to joke around, so I don’t let him help me get dressed or he makes me wear ridiculous outfits.” The book explains the importance of Shane’s wheelchair, his friends, and his family. Like most young people, Shane likes to play sports and eat pizza. But when people make fun of him, “it hurts my feelings because if they knew me a little better, they would see that I’m not so different!”

Each page has a full-page illustration that is often humorous. For example, Shane shows himself next to a T-Rex and the dinosaur is saying, “My head is big and my arms are short too, but I’m still awesome.” Each two-page spread has a question in a quote bubble, and the text answers the questions. Most pages have approximately five sentences, but some only have two sentences.

Shane uses a matter-of-fact tone to put readers at ease while he explains his disability. Shane doesn’t go in depth about the medical aspect of his disability, and he never complains about the things he cannot do. Instead, Shane uses humor to show that even though he looks different than other people, he really isn’t different on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

El Deafo

Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then, Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway . . . in the teacher’s lounge . . . in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even a superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different . . . and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most… a true friend?

Through Cece’s experiences, readers will come to understand how Cece uses visual clues, context clues and gestural clues to understand what others are saying. Often, Cece can’t understand what someone is saying; this is indicated through text boxes that have gibberish inside of them. Cece is also frustrated by others who don’t understand her disability. For example, while at a sleepover, one of the girls asks, “Can people who wear hearing aids also wear makeup?” Once the girls turn off the lights and start talking and laughing, Cece can’t read their lips and she worries that they are talking about her, so she decides to go home.

Some people who are trying to be helpful make Cece feel worse. Sometimes, people would try to talk to her in sign language, but “some people put on a real show when they start signing—almost like mimes.” Events like this make Cece feel worse because she doesn’t want others to focus on her. One of Cece’s coping mechanisms is to daydream about being El Deafo. Pretending to be El Deafo allows her to process her feelings and voice opinions that could not be said aloud.

El Deafo is based on Bell’s own childhood and her complex emotions about her hearing impairment. While Cece’s emotions shine, readers may have a difficult time relating to the Phonic Ear because of advancements in technology which doesn’t require wires that lead from the device to the ear. However, Cece’s struggles will be relatable. She worries about being different, making friends, having people stare at her, and having a crush. One downside of the story is that Cece’s peers do not embrace her until they realize that Cece can use the Phonic Ear to warn them when the teacher is coming back into the room.

In the author’s note, Bell explains the different ways people become deaf or hearing impaired as well as the different ways people cope with their disability. She also explains that she learned to view her deafness as a gift. “And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”

The graphic novel’s format and rabbit characters will appeal to readers. Each page is divided into panels and has 5 to 11 sentences. While the characters’ words appear in text bubbles, the narration appears in yellow boxes at the top of a frame. When Cece takes on the personality of El Deafo, the frames are surrounded by green which makes it easy to distinguish between fact and fantasy. El Deafo will help readers understand what if feels like to be hearing impaired, which makes it an excellent book to add to your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • At a slumber party, one of the girls talks about “Mary kissing that boy from Ms. Huffman’s class. All this mwah mwah mwah.”
  • Cece has a crush on a boy, and she thinks about kissing him.

Violence

  • Cece gets angry at her mother and kicks her.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Dang is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read.

Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. So, he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

When Louis first went blind, he felt like “the neighbor’s angry dog, chained too tight. Alone in the dark.” However, his family and people in his community taught him how to navigate in his dark world. For example, “the village priest taught me to recognize trees by their touch, flowers by their scent, and birds by their song.”

One pivotal moment in Louis’s life was when he went to school with other blind students. The children at the school were excited when “a French army captain had invented a code to send secret messages during battle. The code is read by touch, not by sight, so we might use it here.” This code gave Louis the inspiration to create his own system, where each letter was represented by dots that fit under a finger. Louis’s invention continues to have a lasting and profound impact on people today.

Six Dots educates readers about Louis Braille and gives them an idea of how it feels to be blind. While the story is interesting, the text-heavy pages and complicated cause and effect of events will be difficult for younger readers to sit through. Each page has 4 to 12 sentences. The realistic illustrations are drawn in shades of brown with light blues and greens. The book ends with one page written in a question-and-answer format that explains more about Louis. In addition, there is a list of resources to learn more about Louis and about using braille.

Six Dots is an entertaining and educational story that packs a lot of information into a short space. Louis Braille’s story demonstrates how one’s disability does not have to control your life. Despite being blind, Braille went on to master the cello and the organ, both of which he played professionally. He also was a history professor and published books on music, mathematics, and mapping. Six Dots would be an excellent resource to use for readers who want to research Louis Braille. Readers looking for another motivational picture book about a real person should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Louis became blind after he accidentally poked his eye with an awl and both eyes become infected.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane

Problems always set Emma “Lilian” Todd’s mind soaring—even as a girl. Growing up during the golden age of invention and born into a family of inventors, Lilian couldn’t hold strips of wire or bits of tin without tinkering. She turned toys and trash into useful inventions.

But when Lilian grew up and learned that inventing wasn’t considered women’s work, she decided to do the next best thing. She got a job at the U.S. Patent Office typing up plans for brand-new inventions—and constructing each contraption in her mind. Soon, she engineered her own fantastic flying machines, testing and tweaking her designs and overcoming each obstacle. Lilian found inspiration in nature and her many failures until her biggest dream finally took flight.

Lilian’s story comes alive in beautiful, brightly colored illustrations. Each illustration will help readers understand the plot as well as Lilian’s inventions. Each page has 2 to 8 sentences that include some complex sentences and difficult vocabulary; therefore, the picture book should be read by an adult the first time. The text includes quote bubbles that contain quotes from Lilian. The end of the story includes an author’s note with photographs, supplemental information, and a timeline.

Wood, Wire, Wings is mentioned in the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People in 2021 and shows the importance of perseverance and determination. Lilian’s story has many interesting facts, but younger readers may have a difficult time sitting through the entire story. Despite this, Lilian’s story will motivate readers to reach for their dreams. In addition, Lilian’s story will inspire young people to try to invent things with simple household items. Young readers who are interested in engineering and creating should read the Questioneers Series by Andrea Beaty. Strong readers should also add the Ellie, Engineer Series by Jackson Pearce to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World

Barnum Brown’s (1873-1963) parents named him after the circus icon P.T. Barnum, hoping that he would do something extraordinary – and he did. As a paleontologist for the American Museum of Natural History, he discovered the first documented skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as most of the other dinosaurs on display there today.

Barnum’s Bones follows the fossil hunter around the globe as he searches for bones. Barnum found so many bones that some people believed Barnum was “able to smell fossils.” Barnum’s story also demonstrates the hard work that went into digging the fossils out of the dirt. In the end, Barnum realized his dream of discovering a new dinosaur species. “Just as his family had wanted, Barnum did something important and unusual: he discovered a sleeping dinosaur and brought it back to life. Sixty-six million years after extinction, T. Rex lives on in Barnum’s bones.”

Told with humor, Barnum’s Bones is a fascinating story that details how one man did “important and unusual things.” Each page of the picture book has large, detailed illustrations that add humor to the book. For example, in one picture, an iguana is looking at a newspaper story about a stegosaurus. While the story is entertaining enough to keep young readers engaged, the illustrations are so full of fun details that readers will want to take their time studying them. The amazed expression of a horse, Barnum’s bedroom overflowing with fossils, and the giant skull of a dinosaur are included in the illustrations.

Even though Barnum’s Bones is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Most of the pages are text heavy and younger readers may become squirmy before the end of the book. However, anyone who is interested in dinosaurs and paleontology must read Barnum’s Bones because it is both informative and interesting. Plus, Barnum’s story shows how one man’s dedication allowed him to live his dream and discover new dinosaurs.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I am Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King, the world champion tennis player, fought successfully for women’s rights. From a young age, Billie Jean King loved sports—especially tennis! But as she got older, she realized that plenty of people, even respected male athletes, didn’t take female athletes seriously. She set out to prove them wrong and show girls everywhere that sports are for everyone, regardless of gender.

Billie Jean’s story shows the inequity in tennis, which at the time was played mostly by rich, white males. The story focuses on how women were discriminated against. For example, women were paid significantly less. Even though Billy Jean and her partner, Karen Wantze, were the youngest team to ever win Wimbledon, they could not afford to attend the Wimbledon celebration ball.

Right from the start, Bill Jean King’s story begins explaining what “fair play” means. Billie Jean defines fair play, saying, “In sports and in life, it means you respect the rules and treat everyone equally.” Most of Billie Jean’s story focuses on equity in sports, but it leaves out what exactly Billie Jean did to help solve the problem. However, the book’s message is positive: “All of us are powerful in our own ways. So how do you get to be your best self? By practicing, sweating, and giving everything you’ve got. And when you have nothing left, give more.” Later in her life, President Obama awarded Billie Jean the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being “one of the first openly lesbian sports figures, and for using sports to create social change.”

Colorful, full-page illustrations show important aspects of Billie Jean’s life beginning when she was a little girl. The book’s text includes speech bubbles as well as short paragraphs. Throughout the book, Sonia and some of the other characters are cartoonish. The cartoonish figure of Billie Jean does not change throughout the book; when she is an adult, she is pictured with other players who look like adults, yet Billie Jean still looks like a child which is a little disconcerting. When groups of people appear, the people are diverse and include both male and female. The end of the book has a timeline of Billie Jean’s life and six pictures of her. In the last line, Billie Jean says, “Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.”

Younger readers will enjoy I am Billie Jean King’s fun format, conversational text, and positive message. However, the heavy focus on equity may be difficult for younger readers to understand. For these readers, parents may wish to read the book with their child and discuss some of the important achievements Billie Jean made for women. To explore equal rights further, read A Girl Named Rosa: The True Story of Rosa Parks by Denise Lewis Patrick, which is another inspirational book about fighting for equal rights.

Sexual Content

  • Billie Jean realizes that she is gay. “Being gay means that if you’re a girl, you love and have romantic feelings for other girls—and if you’re a boy, you love and have romantic feelings for other boys.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon

Every step forward is a victory.

Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to the school that was miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger, determined to meet his full potential.

Fauja never, ever stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and to become the first person over 100 years old to complete a marathon.

The picture book begins with a forward by Fauja Singh where he writes about his disability. Despite people teasing him, he never stopped believing in himself. Fauja says, “Doctors couldn’t figure out why I had trouble walking as a child, nor could they figure out why I was able to begin walking and, eventually, running. I think of it as a reminder that all of our bodies are different—and so are our experiences with disabilities.”

Every reader can benefit from Fauja’s story, which highlights the importance of perseverance and determination. Despite his disability, his mother continued to remind him, “You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” With every small step, Fauja became stronger and eventually reached each of his goals—to walk, to farm, and to run a marathon.

Fauja’s story comes to life with fun, brightly colored illustrations. For example, when Fauja is stretching, a bird perched on his arm does the same stretch alongside him. While most of the illustrations focus on Fauja and his family, illustrations that portray more people show diverse groups. Even though Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 2 to 7 sentences, and some sentences are complex.

If you’re looking for a motivational biography, Fauja Singh Keeps Going is the book for you. Even though Fauja faced hardship and discrimination, he focused on the positive and kept working to achieve his goals. He did not let the negative comments of others bring him down. Instead, “As he ran, Fauja thought about all the things people from his village said he would never do. . . They thought he was too old to run and yet, here he was, running 26.2 miles at the age of 100.”

Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a must-read because it shows the power of positive thinking and believing in yourself. In addition, Fauja’s story will encourage readers to “try your hardest, and always choose yes when you meet a challenge.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Fauja lived in England, he “learned that some people in the United States were attacking Sikhs for how they looked.”
  • While running a marathon, “someone shouted racist and hateful words at him. Other people joined in. Fauja brushed it off. He knew he had a strong spirit.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Fauja began to walk, “his parents were so happy, they shared prayers of thanks and distributed parshad to the entire village.”
  • At the end of the book, there is a one-page section that gives more information about Fauja and how his religion, Sikhism, affected his life. “Sikhs believe in treating everyone equally, serving others, working hard, and living with honesty and integrity.”

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn’t hers (it was her big brother’s), and it wasn’t strung right for her (she was left-handed). But she flipped that guitar upside down and backward and taught herself how to play it anyway. By the age of eleven, she’d written “Freight Train,” one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. And by the end of her life, people everywhere—from the sunny beaches of California to the rolling hills of England—knew her music.

Libba’s story, which conveys her love of music, is both beautiful and motivational. As a child, “Libba Cotton heard music everywhere. She heard it in the river when she brought in water for her mother. She heard it in the ax when she chopped wood kindling.” Libba grew up in a poor neighborhood in the segregated South, but she still found the time and the scarce resources to teach herself how to play the guitar. To buy herself that guitar, she swept floors, picked vegetables, and set the table to earn money. Readers will admire Libba’s hard work and perseverance.

As Libba became older, she stopped playing music to work and care for her family. It wasn’t until Libba was in her sixties that she began to record and tour through the United States and Europe. Her story shows that the true beauty of music has no age. “Libba believed that people could accomplish anything at any age.” Even though Libba is known for her music, the story also focuses on her kind and caring personality.

Libba’s story comes to life in muted illustrations that show her day-to-day life. Even though Libba is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 3 to 7 sentences and some of the sentences are complex. The book repeats part of Libba’s most famous song “Freight Train.”

While Libba’s story will appeal to music lovers, it is also an important story to read because it highlights the importance of never giving up on a dream. Despite growing up poor, Libba’s positive attitude carries her through life. Libba’s story teaches young readers that dreams can come true with a good mix of work and dedication. If you’re looking for another motivational biographical picture book, add Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Dang is used four times. For example, when Libba broke a guitar string, her brother said, “Dang. She’s done it again.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The author’s note explains that “the pastor at [Libba’s] church urged her to give up playing guitar, saying it was ‘the Devil’s music.’”

 

Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment

Young Parker Curry loves to dance. But one day, instead of going to dance classes, Parker’s mother takes Parker and her younger sister Ava to the museum. Parker, Ava, and their friend Gia, walk with their mothers through paintings that make them gasp and giggle. However, it isn’t until the end of their trip that Parker Curry looks up to see something which truly makes her dance inside—a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Viewing the beauty and strength of a figure that looks like her family—like herself— Parker Curry begins to dream of all she can become. Listening to her mother list everything that Michelle Obama has inspired in society, Parker sees not just a portrait, but all the exciting new possibilities set before her. She sees the potential she holds to learn how to paint, play sports, practice musical instruments, cook new foods, advocate for others, volunteer, mentor, write, or dance, and dance, and dance.

Parker Looks Up is the true story behind the moment Parker Curry first saw the portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by acclaimed artist Amy Sherald. The portrait is on display in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Each page of Parker Looks Up displays Parker’s journey towards Michelle’s portrait in vibrant, colorful, digital animation. Readers follow Parker, her sister Ava, and their friend Gia through wide-framed, animated replicas of paintings from the gallery— artwork depicting prancing horses, blooming flowers, jeweled necklaces and bushy mustaches. Each painting Parker passes fills the page with vibrant detail that will be sure to engross young readers.

The amount of text on each page ranges anywhere from 1 to 9 sentences. Young readers will need help to understand some of the diction, such as words like “advocate,” “spellbound,” or “easel.” However, varied font sizes, bolded descriptions above each replicated painting, and brightly colored bubbles of exclamatory dialogue help readers stay engaged while working with their parents to understand the association between the images displayed on the page and the words used to describe them. For instance, following a full-page image of Michelle Obama’s portrait, words like “courageous,” “inspirational,” “volunteer,” and “mentor” float in pink font around Parker, thus providing an opportunity for readers to understand these words in connection to Parker, Michelle, and even themselves.

Parker Looks Up demonstrates to readers the power behind actively celebrating the beautiful diversity that exists in the art and leadership communities that inspire us daily. In writing Parker Looks Up, Parker Curry and Jessica Curry also provide readers with an avenue to feel that they, just like Parker, can do anything they set their minds to. Michelle Obama inspires Parker to see “a road before her with endless possibilities.” Parker Looks Up encourages all young readers to look to themselves when searching for a path that makes them feel like they, just like Parker, are dancing on the inside. If you’re looking for other picture books that use real people to inspire, add Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, and the Amazing Scientists Series by Julia Finley Mosca to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

 

 

 

 

Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment

As she grows older, Parker Curry puts her whole heart into the art of ballet. At home, this passion manifests through silly dance moves Parker performs with her younger sister Ava and her younger brother Cash. These “dance parties” bring the whole family together.

In ballet class, Parker focuses more seriously on the movements of her teacher and vows to practice her skills more adamantly in the hopes of becoming a soloist like her friend Mira, or a professional dancer like those she sees featured on posters in the dance studio. With newfound determination, Parker waves away her sibling’s silly dances, instead dedicating herself to long hours in front of her mirror alone, practicing ballet steps over and over. “Becoming a real dancer is a serious business,” Parker thinks to herself. It isn’t until the day of her recital that Parker notices their soloist, Mira, is nervous. In this moment, Parker realizes it isn’t always practice, but the joy in the practice, that makes a performance beautiful. This realization, along with Ava and Cash’s encouragements to form a “Dance party!” help Mira and Parker showcase their hearts onstage.

The sequel to Parker Looks Up, Parker Shines On, is a true story from Parker Curry’s life, and works again to display the way powerful role models and positive experiences can shape a child’s life. Parker Shines On has dynamic and eye-catching digital illustrations by artist Brittany Jackson. On each page, readers follow Parker as she gathers dancing guidance from the posters of famous ballet icons, the movements of her best friend Mira, and the silly shenanigans of her siblings Cash and Ava.

Each illustration contrasts Parker’s carefree adventures at home — reading books, playing piano, dressing up, eating the last slice of cake, holding dance parties on the bed — with the precise and structured dances of Parker’s ballet classroom. With this contrast, readers can quickly see the way these two environments impact Parker’s approach to dancing. This adds an interesting tension to the story by displaying the way in which influences can negatively impact a person if they cause that person to pull joy away from their passions. In resolving this conflict in the end, Parker Shines On exemplifies how one can balance the structure and fun of life to not just improve on a skill, but also enjoy the process of that improvement. Each page holds scattered sections of text ranging from two to five lines and a simplistic vocabulary perfect for emerging readers.

In addition, the end of Parker Shines On is followed by Jessica Parker’s story behind the story, a note from famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and a biography for each dancer illustrated on the posters Parker sees throughout her practicing. These additions add another interactive piece for the readers of Parker Shines On, as these sections grant parents an opportunity to discuss real-life role models with young readers.

Though Parker Shines On will mainly appeal to those with a passion for dancing, it aims to truly capture the attention of all young readers looking for inspiration while practicing a new hobby. In showing the way Parker celebrates her own unique way of dancing, all readers are encouraged to express creative endeavors on the outside in the exact way they feel on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Who Was Princess Diana?

A shy twenty-year-old girl stepped out of a horse-drawn coach and into the world spotlight, capturing the imagination of millions as a real-life fairytale princess. Although the storybook marriage didn’t have a happy ending, Diana learned to use her fame to champion charitable causes near to her heart. She became the “People’s Princess” by humanizing the image of the royal family and showing care and concern for all people, including the homeless, the sick, and others in need.

Even though Princess Diana was born into a wealthy, noble family, her father taught her to “treat everybody with kindness and never act more important than another person.” Because of her caring and compassionate nature, Princess Diana was loved by millions. Princess Diana used her fame to help people in need, including AIDS patients, the Red Cross and Mother Teresa. Again, though her fairy tale didn’t have a happily-ever-after, Princess Diana’s life is still an inspiration for millions around the world.

While the majority of Who Was Princess Diana? focuses on Diana’s life beginning with her early childhood, the book is full of other interesting facts. Scattered throughout the book are one-to-two-page non-fiction articles that talk more about the royal residences, the order of succession, Mother Teresa, as well as other topics that affected Princess Diana’s life. The end of the book includes a timeline of Princess Diana’s life and a timeline of the world.

Who Was Princess Diana? shows that life as a princess isn’t like it is in a fairy tale. The book has an easy-to-read format with large font. Large black-and-white illustrations appear on almost every page. Many of the illustrations show the royal family; however, the drawings are a bit off-putting because of the strange expressions on people’s faces. In addition, some of the drawings are of people in Diana’s life, but the picture doesn’t look much like them.

While Princess Diana was an admirable person, she is not portrayed as a perfect person. Throughout her life, her caring nature was a bright light. She was never afraid to show her love for people including the sick and the poor. Today, Princess Diana’s legacy is carried on by her two sons, Prince William, and Prince Harry. Who is Princess Diana? is perfect for readers who are researching the princess. However, learning about the princess will also encourage everyone to be a kinder person. Diana said, “I knew my job was to go out and meet people and love them.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After Princess Diana visited Angola, she joined the Red Cross to help get rid of land mines. After a civil war, “Close to fifty thousand people—including children—had lost an arm or leg in land-mine accidents.”
  • The paparazzi followed Princess Diana everywhere. Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi, were in a vehicle. Their driver tried to outrun the paparazzi. “The driver was going too fast and lost control. The car crashed into a concrete pillar inside a Paris tunnel.” All three passengers died.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Kate Middleton: Real-Life Princess

This book describes Kate Middleton’s childhood, family, education, interest and career in fashion, and marriage to Prince William. Readers will learn about Middleton’s college years at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met the prince, the couple’s royal wedding, and their charity work. From attending events to traveling with guards, readers will discover what it’s like to represent a royal family as a princess! Features include a table of contents, maps, “Did You Know” fun facts, a “Snapshot” page with vital information, a glossary with phonetic spellings, and an index.

Anyone interested in real life princesses will enjoy learning more about Kate Middleton. Each page has large photographs that focus on Kate. Every two-page spread has 3 to 5 sentences in large print. While the book’s format will appeal to reluctant readers, some readers may want a book that gives a more in-depth look at Kate’s life especially since the biography ends with Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding.

The biography will give readers insight into Kate’s early life. While the book does not have enough information to complete a thorough research paper, younger readers who are interested in learning about a modern princess will enjoy Kate Middleton: Real-Life Princess.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Chunky

According to the doctors, Hudi needs to lose weight. His parents have him try out for various sports, much to Hudi’s chagrin. At least Hudi’s imaginary friend, Chunky, is the best hype-man any kid could ask for. While trying out different sports and striking out each time, Chunky pushes Hudi towards comedy and encourages Hudi to embrace his unconventionality.

Written and illustrated as a graphic memoir by Yehudi Mercado, Chunky gives a refreshing look into the world of youth sports. Hudi is not good at any of the sports that he tries, (except for maybe football), but Chunky and his sense of humor keep his spirits high, even when he gets injured or when things go terribly wrong. The book emphasizes themes about following what you love, having a good attitude, and the importance of having someone looking out for you.

Hudi’s father loses his job, which is when Hudi’s spirits drop and he temporarily loses his love for comedy. Hudi instead commits to football, where he excels because he’s bigger than all the other kids. However, Chunky has a harder time reaching Hudi during these scenes, as Hudi is concerned with winning and has lost his individuality. Hudi and Chunky do reconcile and Hudi returns to his jokester self, even though it means that he won’t play football anymore. This is fine with Hudi, as he gets his friend back and he can be himself—and pursue comedy!

Much like Hudi himself, the illustrations are playful and fun, with lots of warm reds and yellows. Chunky is a red, imaginary creature, and his design is goofy and sweet. The use of illustrations really shines when Hudi and Chunky make jokes about the various sports that Hudi attempts. At the end of each section, Chunky and Hudi sit at a table in what looks to be a mock-press conference. This hopping back and forth in Hudi’s reality creates a fun and interesting atmosphere that helps bring Hudi’s story and comedy to life.

Mercado also touches on being Mexican and Jewish, and sometimes Spanish is used within the story. This doesn’t make the story difficult to understand, but instead, it highlights more of Hudi and his family’s background. In general, there is also a strong sense of family throughout, and Hudi’s father losing his job hits the family hard. Overall, Chunky has an innate love and passion surging through the pages—a love for comedy, family, and oneself. Kids of all ages will enjoy Mercado’s comedy and colorful illustrations. Chunky shows us that we don’t have to be good at everything, but that we can do anything with enthusiasm and a good sense of humor.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • At baseball tryouts, Hudi gets hit in the face with the ball. The panel depicts him with a swollen, bruised eye as he’s lying on the mound. This happens several times, as Hudi is horribly unlucky.
  • Another baseball player named Sunny yells at Hudi, “If you ever ask me stupid questions again, I’m gonna throw a bat at you.”
  • Hudi’s father tells Hudi, “If the guys make fun of you, you have to kick them back.”
  • One of the swimmers, Burt, invites some of the other boys and Hudi over for a sleepover. Hudi notices that the boys all have toy guns, and when Hudi goes home and asks his mom if he can have one, she adamantly tells him no.
  • Hudi accidentally slices off the top part of his finger with a saw while trying to make a toy gun. The panel shows a bit of blood and the top part of Hudi’s index finger separated from the rest of the finger. The next panel shows Hudi at the emergency room.
  • Hudi’s sister, Wynnie, smacks Hudi with her drink at her bat mitzvah because Hudi is goofing around.
  • Hudi plays football and discovers that he’s bigger than all the other boys, which helps with making tackles. Football-esque violence during the game is depicted.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hudi’s doctors are concerned about Hudi’s weight, and discussions about weight happen throughout the book. Terms like “fat” and “overweight” are frequently used, both by medical professionals and by other people, including Hudi’s parents and other sports players. Some players call Hudi “Hudi Big Booty” in a derogatory way.
  • One opponent says about Hudi, “How am I supposed to find the strike zone? [Hudi’s] so fat, he’s covering the entire plate.”
  • Light language is used somewhat frequently. Language includes: stupid, suckers, loser, and fatso.
  • Hudi’s family sometimes affectionately refers to him as Majecito, which in Spanish means, “Little Dummy.” The sportscasters who narrate some of the book explain this translation. Hudi explains to Chunky that he doesn’t want to tell the other boys because Hudi thinks the nickname is “so . . . Mexican and weird.”
  • During a football game, Hudi takes out the quarterback of the opposing team. People in the crowd can be seen in the panels chanting, “kill him.” Instead, Hudi helps the other player up.

Supernatural

  • Chunky is a red monster-esque figure and Hudi’s imaginary friend. Chunky is extremely kind and supportive of Hudi in all his endeavors.

Spiritual Content

  • Hudi is Jewish. Hudi’s sister Wynnie has her bat mitzva during the novel.
  • Hudi envisions his future on the big screen. One of the potential movies is called “Hudi and Chunky in Hanukkah Cops: 8 Nights of Danger.”

by Alli Kestler

Latest Reviews