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.”

 

Players in Pigtails

Did you know that one of America’s favorite songs, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was written about a girl? And that in the 1940s girls all across America were crazy for our country’s favorite game?

These little known facts inspired Shana Corey to imagine a story about how one determined girl made her way to the big leagues & found a sisterhood of players in pigtails. With the same exuberant spirit that fueled the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, Players in Pigtails celebrates these brave girls’ love of the game & the league they called their own.

Players in Pigtails begins with Katie Casey, who “wasn’t good at being a girl.” The story explains the 1950s view on women in a way that is both relatable and understandable. In order to play baseball, girls had to attend charm school and wear dresses as uniforms. Despite society’s views about girls and baseball, the players in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League showed that they could play baseball. During the first game, “no one was asking what good baseball was to a girl. They were all too busy talking about how good girls were for baseball.”

The bright full-page illustrations reflect the clothing and culture of the 1950s. However, some of the illustrations use humor to show Katie Casey’s plight. For example, the pictures show how Katie Casey couldn’t knit and her dancing was horrendous. Even though Players in Pigtails is a picture book, it is intended to be read aloud instead of having the child read it independently. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of them are complex. In addition to needing help reading, young readers may also need help understanding societies’ views on women. Younger readers may have a difficult time listening to the entire story because of the text-heavy pages.

Younger readers may wonder why girls had to learn how to drink out of a teacup and have good posture in order to play baseball. However, Players in Pigtails shows how women overcame obstacles to play the game they loved. The charming story will encourage readers to chase their dreams even when they may seem impossible. Anyone who loves baseball should read Players in Pigtails because of its historical value. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an encouraging book to read to your baseball-loving child, Players in Pigtails is a must read. Readers may also want to check out Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki which are wonderful and motivational baseball picture books.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

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.”

 

A Time to Dance

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

First and foremost, Veda is a likable teenager who deals with many types of normal teenage problems including conflicts with her parents and friends, crushes, insecurities, as well as the loss of her leg. Readers will connect with Veda because she is an imperfect teen who feels an array of emotions. Throughout her journey, Veda refuses to give up. Despite the loss of her leg, she is determined to continue Bharatanatyam dance. For Veda, dance is “a sacred art, an offering of devotion to God.” When Veda wrestles with the way her disability affects her dancing, her grandmother tells her, “There are as many perfect poses as there are people. . . Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort. He loves us despite—or maybe because of—our differences.”

When Veda is learning how to use her prosthetic limb, the story skips past the difficulties of learning how to use the prosthetic as well the other physical ailments. Instead of explaining the difficulties, Veda’s time with the doctor is spent describing her infatuation with him. To learn more about how amputation can affect an athlete, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an engaging story that can give you more insight.

A Time to Dance is written in beautiful verse that magnifies emotions and conflicts but is never confusing. The inspirational story shows Veda’s courage, perseverance, and the importance of personal growth. A Time to Dance is an entertaining story that contains positive life lessons and teaches readers about Veda’s traditions, culture, and religion.

Sexual Content

  • Veda’s grandmother tells her about the history of dancers. Brahmin dancers “weren’t allowed to marry. And somehow, somewhere along the way, / society retracted / its promise to respect these women. / They were treated as prostitutes / and their sacred art degraded / into entertainment to please vile men.”
  • Govinda helps Veda overcome her leg’s phantom pain. “His fingers feel good/stroking my invisible skin./So good I want him stroking my real skin. / Want to reach out and stroke his. / My desire scares me, and I reach for the safety of my teacup.”

Violence

  • Veda is on a bus when it crashes. “Pain / sears through me / as though elephants are spearing my skin with sharp tusks and trampling over my right leg. . .” Her dance teacher covers her eyes, but “through his fingers I see / shredded skin, misshapen muscles. / Mine. Feel sticky blood pooling / below my right knee.” Veda’s leg is amputated below the knee. The bus driver “hit a tree. He died.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Veda’s Hindu religious belief is an integral part of every aspect of her life. Below are some specific examples; however, it is not a complete list of everything in the book.
  • When Veda was a child, she climbed up a ladder to touch Shiva’s feet. The priest tells her, “You don’t have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. . . God is everywhere. In everybody. In everything. He is born at different times, in different places, with different names.”
  • Veda believes in reincarnation, which is mentioned often. For example, Veda’s grandmother says Veda was always able to “shape thoughts” with her fingers. “It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you’d lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter.”
  • When Veda dances, she loves “portraying Shiva, who, through the steps of His eternal dance, creates and destroys universes.”
  • After Veda’s accident, her grandmother says, “God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”
  • After the accident Veda doesn’t “feel God is anywhere nearby let alone inside of me.”
  • Veda wonders if losing her leg is a punishment from God or for “bad Karma we built up in a past life.” Her grandmother says, “I don’t believe in a punishing God. I believe in a compassionate God. To me, Karma isn’t about divine reward or retribution. Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.”
  • Veda’s grandmother tells her a story about God. “The sight of you—poverty-stricken, overcome by age and illness—turned Buddha from a mere man into a reincarnation of God.”
  • When Veda’s grandmother is dying, Veda gives her “a drink of this water from the holiest of rivers. She believes it will help wash away her sins.” After she dies someone says, “I’m sure her soul doesn’t need to be reborn in the world. She’ll now be reunited with God.”

Descent

Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood’s adventure down the mountain, Hkakabo Razi, continues as the group is pursued by the Chinese government. Picking up immediately where the last book left off, Peak and the gang are running out of time to escape both the mountain and China. Fortunately, Zopa has more tricks up his sleeve as they search for sanctuary in the fabled monastery, Pemako. But with old enemies on their heels, the group will have to move quickly to avoid capture.

As the final installment to Peak’s adventures, Descent is an action-packed ending that wraps up all the loose ends. Although the first half of Descent is slow, the rest of the story is fast-paced with plenty of new elements, including the hidden monastery, Pemako. Peak learns much more about Buddhist beliefs and life in Pemako, thanks in part to Zopa’s increased role.

Despite being on the run from the Chinese government, the main theme that Peak and the other characters drive home is the importance of going out into the world and doing good, even when it may be difficult. An old enemy from the first installment named Captain Shek reappears. While climbing, Peak decides to save Captain Shek because Peak feels that letting the captain fall to his death would be wrong. This decision arises despite Captain Shek’s merciless pursuit of Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood, and despite Captain Shek’s aims to capture and imprison Peak and his family. At one point, Captain Shek does capture Joshua and beats him. Regardless, Peak shows Captain Shek humanity and mercy by saving his life, even if Captain Shek has no interest in showing Peak or the others any compassion.

Descent is as much about survival as it is about climbing, though climbing is once again a big part of the book. Although Peak’s climbing adventures do end with this book, Peak takes away important lessons about finding inner peace and being a compassionate person. Throughout the series, Peak has shown time and time again that he is a strong-willed teenager, but he really shines when he consciously decides to be the best person he can be. His talent as a climber is impressive, but even that comes second to his ability to choose humanity over revenge. Descent is a strong conclusion to Peak’s story. Although readers will be sad to see the series end, the lessons learned will outlast even the books themselves.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In Tibet, the Chinese military arrests Josh Wood and beat him. Peak discovers this because Josh’s two eyes are “swollen shut.”
  • Captain Shek’s men catch up to the family that helped Josh, Peak, and Zopa escape. According to the monks at the monastery, Captain Shek and his men questioned them, and the family wasn’t “beaten too badly.”
  • In the monastery/crater called Pemako, many of the monks practice martial arts. Peak describes, “Practicing is a little mild for what I witnessed. They were sparring, full contact, with fists and feet, and tossing each other onto the unpadded floor. Several of the monks were bleeding. Half a dozen others were sitting next to a wall like broken, discarded dolls.”
  • Peak learns a bit about Pemako, like the crime rate. Peak explains, “Crime is rare here, but not unknown. Anyone you ask will tell you about it. There has been one murder, two rapes, and seventeen thefts. I was shocked to hear this until the farmer who told me this added, ‘In the past one hundred years.’”
  • Lightning strikes Josh while he’s climbing a wall. He falls and “he hit the ground a few feet from the rope. Both of his legs were twisted in sickeningly, unnatural angles, shattered.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Josh Wood is arrested and interrogated, Peak is pretty sure they drug Josh as well. Josh is extremely groggy and isn’t always sure of his surroundings.
  • Due to the severe head injury that Ethan sustained in the previous book, Ethan now takes a lot of medications to help him get better. Ethan says that he’s “a zombie most of the time.”
  • One of Shek’s soldiers stops to “smoke a cigarette and answer his two-way.”

Language

  • Light language is used infrequently. Words include: moron and stupid.
  • Ethan calls Peak over the satellite phones and tells Peak to “get his ass out of Tibet.”
  • Peak mentions that Zopa “didn’t give a damn what he looked like when he was climbing.”

Supernatural

  • Peak asks how Zopa was able to find him when he was lost in the jungle. Zopa is evasive, and he says that he reached Peak via “other means.” Peak guesses, “Star Trek transporter? Broom? Quantum shift? Time machine?”

Spiritual Content

  • Peak discusses how documentaries make mountain climbing look so simple. Peak says, “Suddenly, the intrepid, brave climbers appear on the mountain out of nowhere as if God dropped them from the sky.”
  • Zopa gives climbing gear to the hunters who help feed Zopa, Peak, and the others. Zopa says, “It is all about karma. The giving, not the taking.”
  • Zopa mentions that there are women who are monks. Peak is surprised by this, and Zopa replies, “Enlightenment has nothing to do with gender.”
  • In Tibet, Zopa explains that he, Peak, and Josh should head towards Pemako. Zopa describes, “It is the hidden lotus land, the earthly representation of the Tibetan goddess Dorje Pagmo. The mountains and rivers of Pemako are thought to be her body, with her center, or womb, being somewhere in the Tsangpo River Gorge.”
  • Zopa spends some time meditating in the lotus posture, or “padmāsana.”
  • Much like in the other installments, Zopa gives every passerby that aids Peak, Josh, and Zopa a “Buddhist blessing” for safe travels.
  • Peak explains to Zopa that he was under the impression that Buddhist monks didn’t eat meat. Zopa replies, “The big Buddhist food debate. Which has been going on since Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago. Buddhists are definitely not allowed to kill animals and are encouraged to be vegetarians, but this does not prevent them from eating animal flesh if that flesh was not expressly killed for their consumption.”
  • One of the monks mentions that “work is prayer.”

by Alli Kestler

 

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.”

Firefly Hollow

There are certain things that are taught to the young fireflies and crickets of the Hollow. But Firefly doesn’t only want to learn how to fly—she wants to fly to the moon. And Cricket doesn’t only want to sing about baseball games—he wants to play in one.

Their dreams seem too big for the Hollow, and as Firefly and Cricket chase them beyond the trees, they stumble upon a giant, like the ones they have always been warned about. But this giant is different—he’s miniature, and his name is Peter.

Peter is in need of friends, even small ones, even if his dad thinks they are imaginary. But Firefly and Cricket are actual, not imaginary. And so are their dreams. And sometimes dreams, like friendships, lead to something extraordinary.

In the Hollow, both fireflies and crickets have been warned to stay away from humans, who are dangerous. “The worlds of tiny creatures and humans were unbridgeable, or at least that’s what crickets and fireflies were always told. But every once in a while, there was one—sometimes two—who ventured out of firefly nation, out of the cricket nation, to test the waters on their own.” Despite their fear, Firefly and Cricket leave the hollow and become friends with Peter. In the process, they learn that friends—no matter how small—can come in unlikely places.

Firefly Hollow shows how dreams can come true in unexpected ways. Unlike most of the Hollow’s creatures, Peter doesn’t make fun of Firefly’s and Cricket’s dreams. Instead, he helps them achieve their goals through encouragement and advice. Through the three friends’ experiences, readers will learn that true friends are kindred spirits who accept you as you are. As Vole says, “A kindred spirit is someone who understands the deepest dream of your heart.”

The Hollow is portrayed in a magical way through beautiful illustrations. Both black and white drawings and full-color illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages. Most of the black and white illustrations focus on the characters. The colored illustrations show the beautiful light from fireflies as well as the scale of Firefly and Cricket compared to their surroundings. While younger readers will love the story, they may need help with the book’s advanced vocabulary which includes words like carapace, heedless, disintegrate, circumnavigated and kindred.

Firefly Hollow is a must-read because it is a beautiful story about friendship that shows the importance of determination, preservation, practice, and trying new things. The story also explores the idea of death by focusing on how people are missed after they die. Even though Firefly and Cricket are bugs, they are completely loveable and relatable. Readers will fall in love with the two friends who remind us that dreams are never too big.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The Museum of Giant Artifacts has items from the human world. In the museum, “the Jar that was especially horrifying to the firefly nation. The Jar! It contained actual firefly corpses!”
  • A cricket named Gloria is injured by a human. “One lollipop stick flung carelessly from the hand of a miniature giant and now there she is—one front leg and one wing permanently damaged.”
  • Vole’s nation was washed away. “The giants who lived upstream had struck down a beaver dam. This caused the river to rise up in fury, swamping the fishing boats of the river voles and sweeping both boats and voles downriver, never to be seen again. All except one. Vole.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Many think that Cricket and Firefly are “nuts” or “crazy.” For example, when Cricket says he’d like to catch a baseball, someone asks, “Are you nuts?”
  • At one point, Peter’s father says that Firefly is insane.
  • A cricket is talking about Cricket when he says, “He’s weird and he’s a pain, but we miss him anyway.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An elder asks Firefly, “Did you know that when fireflies get very old, they turn into stars? And what that means is that if the day ever comes when I’m not here, I’ll be up in the sky. . .Just remember that,” he said. “Remember that one of the stars in the sky will be me, and I’ll be watching over you.”
  • After crickets die, they “turn into music and we are everywhere. . .They turned into the sound of the wind, rustling the leaves on the trees. The crunch of an acorn in the fall.”

The Knockout

Kareena Thakkar is very good at Muay Thai, a mixed-martial art. So good, in fact, that she’s been invited to the US Muay Thai Open, which might lead to her landing a spot on the first-ever Muay Thai Olympic team. The only problem? She might alienate herself from the Indian community even further by doing so. Kareena shouldn’t care– as her parents haven’t raised her within the Indian community since they became estranged from it years ago– but Kareena can’t help feeling like she’s not “Indian enough.”

This is especially a problem since Kareena likes Amit Patel, who is the definition of a perfect Indian boy. Liking Amit isn’t difficult. But navigating Amit’s parents’ disapproval of Kareena and Amit’s relationship may prove to be. Not to mention, Kareena has her own friend issues and the big Muay Thai competition coming up. Needless to say, Kareena has a lot on her plate. The breaking point might be Kareena’s father’s health issues and the family’s mounting debt. But Kareena won’t go down without a fight.

Kareena battles other Muay Thai fighters and her own insecurities in The Knockout, and her determination to come out victorious is inspiring. Most importantly, her most human moments are when she’s anxious about her father’s health and has lapses in confidence. Her ability to bounce back from those moments and have faith in herself and the doctors treating her father is remarkable. Kareena is a good example of what it means to get back up after getting knocked down.

The Knockout shows an interesting intersection between religion, culture, and sports. The expectations on Kareena’s shoulders also weigh on the other Indian American characters: Amit and Saanvi, one of Kareena’s ex-friends, compare themselves and their “Indianness” through cultural and religious expectations. Kareena finds herself isolated not only because of her parent’s refusal to participate in many traditional activities and gatherings but also because Kareena is told that Muay Thai is “too violent” for women. However, Kareena finds community in her parents, Amit, and the other female athletes at her high school who support her goals and her love for Muay Thai.

The Knockout is a smart and insightful story about resilience in social situations and in sports. The book also covers Muay Thai, a sport that is not often written about. The fight scenes are exciting and help show Kareena’s strength of character, which drives the plot. Ultimately, Kareena’s story is about self-acceptance and getting back up when you’re knocked down, which is a lesson that everyone can stand to learn.

Sexual Content

  • Kareena’s friend Lily has unruly hair. Kareena suggests that Lily go natural instead of trying to tame it, and Lily says, “My hair is a horror show of spiderwebs making awful love to twigs.”
  • Some girls gossip about Kareena, spreading rumors. Kareena overhears them saying, “First [Kareena] goes after your crush, my brother, while she was talking to Reg? Of course, Travis wants to mess around with her. He probably heard about her hooking up with guys. There’s no way she dated Reg and didn’t do stuff. She probably would fool around with Travis. Why else would he bother flirting with her? Travis is ever only after one thing, we all know that. And he only goes after girls who he thinks he can get.”
  • Amit kisses Kareena on her cheek, “on the far left corner of [her] lips.”
  • Kareena falls out of her bedroom window and lands on Amit. Kareena and Amit kiss, and Kareena describes, “Our lips touched with an explosion of senses that I didn’t even know existed. His warmth against my skin, the softness of his mouth against mine, the taste of cardamom and pasta on his tongue.”
  • Kareena explains that Travis “had gone to senior prom since he was a freshman . . . every prom he’d get that senior girl to rent a hotel room upstairs, get lucky, and then blab about it the next day to all of his buds.”
  • Kareena and Amit kiss while working on computer programming. Kareena says, “My stomach did a million flips as I kissed him back.”

Violence

  • The Knockout is about Muay Thai, a form of martial arts. Kareena and other characters spar during Muay Thai, and physical injuries do occur due to the violent nature of the sport. For instance, one of Kareena’s opponents, Jenny, sports a nosebleed when Kareena punches her during a match.
  • Kareena and Amit stare at each other awkwardly while studying for computer science. To stop this, Kareena “lightly punches [Amit’s] arm” and tells him to continue studying.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: badass, hell, crap, freaking, pissed, motha-freaking fans, slut, stupid, dick, prick, damn, and dumb.
  • When Kareena turns Travis down for prom, Travis says, “Saanvi must be right. You like girls, don’t you?” Kareena responds with, “Just because I’m not buying your trash? Get out of my face.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Kareena makes a comment about Amit being into all the “religious stuff” that comes with being Indian, but Kareena doesn’t explain further.
  • Amit invites Kareena to go to Holi at the mandir with him and his family. Kareena describes Holi: “Holi was a yearly thing that drew a butt-load of Indians to celebrate and throw brightly colored powder on each other to the rhythm of vibrant music well into the night. It was not a date thing. It was a family thing. A cultural thing. A community thing. An Indian thing.” Kareena explains throughout the book that her family does not partake in “Indian things” despite being Indian themselves.
  • Kareena and her mom sit with their feet on the coffee table, and Kareena jokingly comments, “Forgive us etiquette gods.”
  • Kareena compares her non-religious life to that of Saanvi, her former friend. Kareena says, “[Saanvi] observes all the holidays and fasts and prays every morning. We used to do sleepovers at Rayna’s, and she’d bring this portable prayer kit. You know? With a prayer towel, pictures, prayer book, and beaded necklace thing. I don’t know what that’s called. She’d wake up at dawn and face the south of the house, or something, and pray. She used to get mad when I walked in on her, even if we were quiet.”
  • Saanvi tells Kareena that according to Saanvi’s parents, Saanvi and Amit are “nakhye,” or promised to be wed to each other. Nakhye is a more religious practice. Amit denies Saanvi’s accusations.

by Alli Kestler

Ascent

In the third installment of Peak’s climbing adventures, Peak Marcello and his friends, Alessia and Ethan, go to Myanmar to climb the isolated mountain, Hkakabo Razi. However, the jungles of Myanmar might prove to be more treacherous than the climb itself. But if anyone is good at getting out of trouble, it’s Peak.

Ascent begins Peak’s Myanmar adventure that takes him on a four-week trek through the rainforest. Peak’s descent down Hkakabo Razi is detailed in the fourth book, Descent. Ascent maintains much of the same cast and includes rock climbing and run-ins with local governments in countries that have histories of civil unrest.

Characters from the first book also make a surprise reappearance in the latter half of the book, including Peak’s biological father, Josh Wood, who is a famous mountaineer and Zopa, the Tibetan monk. Peak’s relationship with Josh continues to grow. Peak is also enormously happy to see Zopa, who rarely reveals his secrets and is always the smartest person on the mountaintop. In this sense, the end of Ascent harkens back to the events on Mount Everest in Peak.

Much of the book takes place in the jungle at the base of Hkakabo Razi. The group encounters corrupt military officials, language barriers, wildlife, and a murderer on the run from the Burmese government. The actual mountaineering is near the end of the book, when they finally make it out of the jungle.

The traumatic events that occurred in The Edge are addressed, in part, in Ascent. Ascent is less intense than The Edge generally. These books should be read in order, for comprehension’s sake. Readers familiar with this series will find their expectations met when it comes to the intensity and graphic nature of the violence. Much like the previous book, Peak doesn’t experience the violence himself, but he does hear about it secondhand.

Ascent is a good continuation to Peak’s adventures and the characters’ development. Although this book moves at a slower pace than the previous two, it sets up the intense action in Descent. Fans of Peak’s adventures will be glad to see old faces reintegrated into the mix and will welcome the new additions. Ascent certainly presents an exciting first half to this two-part portion of Peak’s story, and it will be interesting to see what unfolds for Peak and his friends next.

Sexual Content

  • Peak and Alessia are dating. Peak talks about his feelings for her, saying, “I guess I am in love with her. And I think that she feels the same way about me.”
  • At several points in the book, Peak “kisses [Alessia].” It is never more than a quick peck.

Violence

  • A Burmese guide named Lwin killed an owl “with his slingshot and ate it.”
  • Lwin has a timber elephant named Nagathan, and Lwin tells Alessia, Ethan, and Peak that Nagathan has killed several people. This turns out to be false; it was Lwin himself, who killed those people. Alessia, Ethan, and Peak discover this when soldiers find them in the forest and inform them of the situation.
  • Nagathan trampled Lwin, killing him. Peak and his friends only hear reports about the state of Lwin’s body. Major Thakin, who oversees the soldiers, says that Lwin “was unrecognizable as a human. The forest animals had been feeding on what was left of him for a couple of days. It was too dark to search for remains last night, so the soldiers camped near the crime scene. This morning they searched the area and found a foot, two fingers, and a bloody longyi [pouch] up in a tree.” This description lasts for a few paragraphs.
  • Lwin, who turns out to be alive, tries to take Alessia hostage. Alessia uses the mixed martial arts that Ethan taught her to flip Lwin and break his foot and hand. Peak describes, “There was a loud snap, like a dry stick being broken, and then an unconscious Lwin was lying on the ground and Alessia was holding his [hunting knife] to his neck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Peak and his friends end up in a bustling town in the middle of the jungle. In it, there are stands selling “animal parts, skins, rubies, and opium.”
  • Nick and Ethan have cold beers when invited to dinner by a man named Mr. Chin, while Alessia and Peak drink lemonade.

Language

  • Light language is used somewhat often. Language includes: crap, fool, damn, crazy, stupid, and weird.
  • Nick, the resident botanist of Peak’s group, says, “Good lord” when a young girl in a village runs up to him and shows him a dismembered monkey’s foot.
  • As Alessia’s bodyguard, Ethan has been teaching Alessia mixed martial arts. Ethan says to Peak, “She can kick your ass.” Later, after Ethan hears that Alessia defended herself against Lwin without an issue, Ethan says, “I told you she could kick your ass.”
  • A cameraman named Zack says, “Oh my God” when Peak tells him how Ethan was injured.

Supernatural

  • Ethan has a single spoon that he’s used during his journeys on all seven continents. He refers to it as his “magic spoon.”
  • Ethan mentions that he saw “a ghost” in the middle of the night. Peak responds that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and Ethan replies, “Yeah, me neither. Let’s take a look.” They find that there are footprints, and Peak says, “I don’t think ghosts leave footprints.” They discover that Lwin probably faked his own death and has been following them.
  • Peak tells Nick the ghost/Lwin theory. Nick responds that he thinks it’s just a ghost. Nick says, “The forest is filled with spirits and ghosts . . . I’m surprised it took Ethan this long to spot one.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zopa is a monk and sometimes gives blessings to passing porters, hikers, and climbers.
  • Peak survives being buried in an avalanche. Josh calls him “lucky,” and Zopa calls it “karma.”
  • When a helicopter finally shows up in the forest, Alessia says, “Thank God.” Peak responds, “Amen to that.”

by Alli Kestler

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

After the Shot Drops

After the Shot Drops follows the story of a friendship between two high school sophomores, Bunny and Nasir. Although they have been best friends since childhood, their friendship begins to deteriorate after Bunny transfers from Whitman High to a private, affluent, less-diverse school. Bunny, a rising star in high school basketball, has a dream for making it to the NBA. He is noticed for his athletic prowess, but the path to making his basketball dream may lead him to losing Nasir as both a friend and confidante.

Besieged with problems of his own, Nasir must prevent his impoverished cousin, Wallace, from becoming homeless. Wallace is in debt and on the verge of homelessness. In order to make money quickly, Wallace bets against Bunny’s team in the upcoming basketball state championships. However, thanks to Bunny’s amazing basketball skills, this plan quickly falls apart with terrible consequences for Wallace, Nasir, and ultimately Bunny.

After the Shot Drops is told in an alternating pattern of first-person accounts, thus weaving together a narrative about the lives of both main characters, Bunny and Nasir. Each chapter shifts between both characters, which allows the audience to create a sympathetic connection to each of them. Each character must find themselves amidst their drama making their struggles highly relatable. Although Bunny and Nasir become increasingly distant, the audience is treated to both the joys and sorrows from each of their perspectives.

Through the lens of basketball, Ribay demonstrates the awesome, yet sometimes divisive power of competitive ambition. In this touching story of friendship, readers will learn about the difficulties facing people of color in America. While the book does not directly address racism, certain instances and scenes poke holes in prevailing stereotypes in order to defy them. While there are a few violent scenes and swear words, Ribay strategically uses these devices to intensify the story’s drama.

After the Shot Drops is a face-paced, intense, and often empathetic story that highlights the difficulties of balancing friendships. Ribay’s exciting descriptions of basketball games and character building lead the audience towards forging a real and very moving connection with each character.

Sexual Content

  • Bunny and his girlfriend, Keyona, exchange intimate kisses while standing next to traffic. “Some passing car beeps its horn, and then another car honks at us, and then another like it’s become a thing everyone’s doing. We start laughing even as we’re still kissing”
  • While at the victory party, Bunny fantasizes in a direct, suggestive manner about his new friend Brooke. “To be honest, I try to not look at her butt, but it’s right there and it’s looking real nice in those jeans”

Violence

  • In an act of revenge against Bunny’s betrayal, Wallace convinces a hesitant Nasir to paint the front of Bunny’s house with a smattering of eggs. Wallace “cocks his arm back and chucks the egg. It hits the brick of the Thompsons’ row house with a small but oddly satisfying ”
  • After making a few bad bets on local sports, Wallace is punched in the face at a party by one of the gamblers as a warning. “[The stranger’s] fist cracks into the side of Wallace’s jaw, and Wallace drops to the ground like a sack of bricks”
  • To sublimate his guilt, Nasir plays a shooting video game in which he kills Nazi zombies. “I pull the trigger the moment the Nazi zombie shambles out of the darkness and into my crosshairs. Head shot. Blood, brain matter, and skill fragments spray the wall.”
  • After falling further in debt with the gamblers, Wallace tells Nasir that he faces pretty fatal consequences unless he is able to pony up the money. Specifically, Wallace reflects on the story of a former late classmate as he says, “Word on the street is that the bullet he caught by accident was meant for someone who fucked with these guys.”
  • During the heat of the third quarter in the state championship game, Bunny takes an elbow directly to the face. The opponent “looks to the outside like he’s going to pass but then pivots, swinging his elbows—clocks me right in the nose.” He was knocked unconscious with a nearly broken, bleeding nose.
  • A heated shouting and punching match begins between Bunny and Wallace. Bunny sees “Wallace standing there, holding something and pointing it at me – he shifts, and it glints, catching the light from one of the faraway streetlamps. It’s a gun.” Wallace aims and shoots Bunny straight in the chest. Bunny is quickly rushed to the hospital after massive blood loss but eventually makes a full recovery.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While skipping out on class, Bunny’s peers at St. Sebastian’s attempt to get him to smoke weed for his first time.
  • After going to the movies with Nasir, Wallace lights up a joint. Wallace “fishes a blunt from his pocket and lights up right there in front of the theater.”
  • Nasir and Wallace attend a house party in which many guests are using drugs and alcohol. “Most [people here] look like they’re college age, and most have a drink in one hand and a cigarette or blunt in the other.”
  • After winning a game without Bunny playing, the St. Sebastian’s team celebrates by throwing a classic high school party laden with cheap alcohol and drugs. “There are red cups arranged in a triangle at either end. Two guys are trying to toss a Ping-Pong ball into the cups on the opposite end.”
  • After winning the state championship, Nasir and Bunny catch up in their neighborhood but are approached by a drunk Wallace, who is brandishing a gun. Nasir notices Wallace approaching “… as soon as I see his tall figure making its way toward us, kicking up the snow like a playground bully kicking over some kid’s block city, I know something’s not right. He’s swaying, clutching a bottle in a paper bag in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.”

Language

  • While Nasir and Wallace are at the cinema, they encounter Bunny and his girlfriend Keyona, whom Nasir had a crush on. Wallace finds Bunny, Nasir and Keyona and says “There you are, Nas. Shit, I thought you abandoned my ass.”
  • After coating Bunny’s house with eggs, Wallace tells Nasir to “[g]et this shit out of your system, or I’ll empty the rest of this carton on his house myself.”
  • Inside the Thompsons’ row house, Bunny and Keyona are studying while they hear the muted thumping of eggs against the side of the house. Keyona says, “I’m sorry that people can’t let it go. That you have to deal with this ignorant shit.”
  • Wallace rebukes Bunny in an attempt to further ingratiate himself with Nasir. “Wallace spits. ‘Man, fuck Bunny.’ And even though he’s expressed similar sentiments before, his words feel laced with a new level of malice.”
  • While driving Nasir to a party in their neighborhood, Wallace colorfully expresses his frustration with the lack of available parking. “Wallace slams his fists on the steering wheel. ‘Goddammit, motherfucking, bitch-ass, motherfucker,’ he mutters around the cigarette.”
  • Wallace tries to convince Nasir to befriend Bunny again in order to make him lose an upcoming game as he says “I know this isn’t easy for you, Nas, and I know I can be a dickhead some of the time – okay, a lot of the time – but I appreciate you trying to help out me and G[randma].”
  • With words flitting through his anxious mind, Nasir reflects on his plan to force Bunny to sit out for the rest of the season. “ Fearful. Friendless. Fucked.
  • After a string of seemingly unfair calls made by a basketball referee, one of Bunny’s teammates exclaims loudly, “Bullshit!”
  • In the state championship game, Bunny believes the referee is making unfair calls and cries, “Bullshit!”
  • At the park, an inebriated Wallace confronts Bunny saying, “Fuck you.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • To renew their friendship, Bunny takes Nasir to St. Sebastian’s and to the school’s library, which is large. Nasir says, “What’s up there. . . God?”

 by Daniel Klein

 

The Missing Baseball

There’s nothing eight-year-old twins Zach and Zoe Walker love more than playing sports and solving mysteries. And when the two worlds collide. . . well, it doesn’t get any better than that! So when a baseball signed by Zach’s favorite major league player goes missing, the search is on! Luckily, amateur sleuths Zach and Zoe are on the case. Can they solve the mystery and find the ball before it’s lost for good?

Zach and Zoe are positive characters who are kind to each other. Even though they are competitive, they do not get upset when they lose. While the sibling’s parents do not appear in the book often, the kids talk about the lessons their parents have taught them, including being a good teammate and not jumping to conclusions. The twins’ mom also reminds them that, “It’s not the souvenirs that matter. It’s the memories that go with them.”

Even though the story has a positive message, the message is repeated often and tends to sound like a lecture. While most of the story takes place at the siblings’ school, most of the illustrations only show the siblings. The only other boy that appears in a picture is Mateo, who some think stole Zach’s ball. The short chapters and illustrations that appear every 4 to 7 pages make The Missing Baseball a quick read. However, emerging readers may struggle with some of the vocabulary.

The Missing Baseball blends mystery and sports into a story that younger readers will enjoy. The story’s positive lessons and kind main characters are some of the book’s best features. While parents might not connect with Zach and Zoe, the story is a quick read and will appeal to parents looking for a book to read aloud to their child. Old readers who are ready for a more developed plot may quickly become bored with the Zach & Zoe Mysteries. The Ball Park Mysteries by David A. Kelly would be a better choice for fluent readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Shadow Over Second

Nicky Chong is set to beat the RBI record with his baseball team, the Peach Street Mudders. The problem is that people accidentally keep saying things to jinx Nicky, who is very superstitious. What’s worse is that the kid who currently holds the record, Sam Jolly, might be trying to sabotage Nicky’s chances.

Shadow Over Second is primarily about Nicky overcoming his reliance on superstitions. Nicky is a good baseball player, but he seems to believe that he does well because he has highly specific routines before each game. He believes that if he doesn’t complete the routines, then he won’t perform well. In the end, Nicky’s mom helps him understand that his superstitions are nothing more than that—superstitions. In addition, Nicky learns that his ability is far more important than any jinx.

The current RBI record holder is Sam Jolly, who is older than Nicky. Nicky’s team has to play Sam Jolly’s brother’s baseball team, which is a point of tension for both Nicky and Sam’s brother, Stick Jolly. Trying to sabotage Nicky’s shot at the record, Stick locks Nicky and his teammate in the shed right before a game. In the end, Nicky realizes that it was Stick who locked them in, and Nicky confronts him. The resolution is peaceful, and Nicky takes the high road. Instead of continuing to be angry, Nicky forgives Stick.

Shadow Over Second will mostly appeal to elementary readers who like baseball, as it is a very short book with a straightforward and simple plot. Although baseball terminology and gameplay are large parts of the book, it is easy for non-baseball players to understand. Shadow Over Second may bore older readers who are looking for more complex character development and storytelling. Middle school baseball fans should check out Heat by Mike Lupica.

Shadow Over Second is part of the Peach Street Mudders Series; the other books follow stories about Nicky’s other teammates, and they do not have to be read in order. Each book focuses on a different baseball player on the team. Readers who enjoy baseball will be glad to find that the Peach Street Mudders have many baseball-related stories to tell. Although Shadow Over Second is quite short, it contains good lessons for kids about integrity and not placing superstitions above hard work and ability.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nicky’s friend and teammate Turtleneck “punched him lightly in the shoulder.” It’s a playful nudge.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Stick Jolly, younger brother to Sam Jolly, laughs at Nicky. Stick says, “Bet you thought that RI was going to help your stupid team pull ahead, didn’t you?”
  • Nicky realizes that Stick was the one who locked Nicky and his teammate Turtleneck in the shed. Nicky tells Stick, “I know what you did, Stick. And I think it stinks.”

Supernatural

  • Nicky is superstitious and goes through a “ritual . . . each time he prepared to bat.” He describes it, saying, “First he tapped his right foot with the bat. Then his left. Then he took two swings. Finally, he stepped into the batter’s box and touched the outside left corner with the bat, then the right. Only then did he face the pitcher.”
  • Nicky wants to beat the RBI record, but he is afraid that “talking about his chances might jinx him.”
  • Nicky “rapped his knuckles on the bench” to counteract his teammate talking about Nicky’s chances at beating the record.
  • Nicky knocks the saltshaker over at dinner. He then “grabbed a pinch of salt and tossed it over his shoulder.”
  • Nicky asks his dad to save him a four-leaf clover if he finds one while mowing the lawn because he “could use a little extra luck.”
  • Nicky’s mom isn’t superstitious whatsoever. She tells Nicky, “You and your superstitions. Sometimes I think you really believe in that stuff.”
  • After getting locked in the shed, Nicky claims that “dark forces are working to keep me from reaching the RBI record.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Alli Kestler

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse

Babe Ruth was a star on the Boston Red Sox. He pitched like a dream and slammed home run after home run. But Babe Ruth was also trouble. So in 1919, the Red Sox sold him to one of baseball’s worst teams, the New York Yankees.

With Babe Ruth, the Yankees became legendary champions. And the Red Sox? They seemed cursed. Every time they made it to the World Series, they lost. Could the Red Sox ever put Babe Ruth’s baseball curse to rest?

Both sports fans and non-sports fans will find Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse interesting. Throughout the book, Kelly does an excellent job defining baseball lingo and explaining the significance of events. For example, in 1915, Ruth hit four home runs. “Four might not sound like a lot, but the entire team only hit ten home runs that year!” Even though there is some play-by-play baseball action, snippets of Babe’s personal life are integrated into the story and will keep non-sports fans flipping the pages as well.

Babe Ruth isn’t portrayed as a perfect person and the book doesn’t shy away from Babe’s terrible behavior. However, the author’s note explains that Ruth acknowledged that he was a “bad kid. Ruth tells readers this not so that they will imitate him, but so that they can understand him. He wants us to know that people (like him) can learn from their mistakes and still do great things.”

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse uses short chapters and easy vocabulary which makes the book accessible to young readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages and show the players in action. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers too.

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse makes reading non-fiction fun. The book is full of interesting facts about both Babe Ruth and the Red Sox. Despite this, readers do not need to know a lot about baseball in order to enjoy the book. Whether you’re looking for a book to do research or just want to learn more about the Red Sox, Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse would be an excellent book to read. Kelly explains all of the reasons some people believed the Red Sox were cursed but doesn’t give his own opinion. In the end, the reader must determine for themselves, did Babe Ruth curse the Red Sox?

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Barrow, Babe’s coach, came to his hotel room to see if Babe was in bed, “Babe Ruth exploded. They couldn’t tell him what to do! If Barrow ever came into his hotel room again, he would punch him in the nose!”
  • During a Red Sox game against the Yankees, A-Rod was “saying angry things to the pitcher. Boston’s catcher, Jason Varitek quickly tried to calm A-Rod down. . . Varitek had had enough. Out of nowhere, he took his big leather catcher’s mitt and stuffed it in A-Rod’s face. . . Players began fighting.”
  • During a game, Gavin, one of the fans, tried to catch a home run ball. The “ball smashed into his face! Thunk. Blood splattered everywhere! The ball knocked out Gavin’s two front teeth.”
  • During a game between the Red Sox and the Yankees, the fans were upset and “they threw cups and trash onto the field!” Riot police came and “knelt down along the sidelines in their blue uniforms and helmets.” After that, the fans calmed down.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • “. . .Babe Ruth was wild. He ate and drank too much.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Peak

Fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello has climbing in his blood. Both of his parents have climbed some of the largest mountains in the world, and his biological father, Josh, is still a renowned mountaineer. When Peak is arrested for scaling a skyscraper in New York City, he’s sent to live with Josh in Thailand rather than face time serving in a juvenile detention center.

But Josh has other plans—namely, that he’s going to get Peak to summit Everest, making Peak the youngest person ever to do so. Despite Josh’s sketchy, press-oriented motivations, Peak gives Everest a chance. But Everest is unforgiving even for experienced climbers. Any mistake could mean death.

Peak is an exciting mountaineering book that discusses climbing terms in ways that are easy to digest for readers unfamiliar with high-altitude climbing. For instance, Peak describes high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) to illustrate the sorts of dangers that climbing at high altitudes can have on the human body. Although nothing is particularly graphic in this book, it does describe seeing corpses and people suffering from HAPE.

Peak’s personal journey throughout the book is commendable. Peak’s main emphasis is on his family, who he loves dearly. His mother raised him, and his excellent relationship with his younger half-sisters (“the Peas”) highlights his fundamentally kind and caring personality. While climbing Everest, Peak’s friendship with another fourteen-year-old Tibetan boy named Sun-jo shows how much they depend on each other to make it to the summit. Their friendship is a focal point of the book because Peak grapples with his competitive nature while knowing that Sun-jo should have the honor of being the youngest person to summit. This conflict comes to a satisfying resolution, and Peak and Sun-jo’s friendship remains strong.

Peak also struggles with his feelings about his biological father, Josh. Peak is wary of Josh’s motivations. Their relationship, although fractured at the beginning of the story, begins to mend as Josh and Peak learn more about each other. Although their relationship is unlike Peak’s closer relationship with his mother, Josh starts to have a place in Peak’s life.

Peak is the first book in this series, and the next books also detail Peak’s climbing adventures. Peak is a good introduction to the series because it explains climbing facts while also creating a fun and interesting story about Peak’s climbing adventures. Climbing and being on top of the world are important for Peak, but love for family and friends top any mountain that he could scale. While reaching the top of Everest is temporary, family lasts a lifetime.

Sexual Content

  • Peak briefly recounts his parent’s relationship. He says, “I was conceived in a two-man tent under the shadow of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. At least that’s when my mom thinks it happened.”
  • Peak overhears a climber talking about Josh. The climber says, “Josh is so cute! What do you think he’d do if I snuck into his tent one night?” The person’s friend responds with, “I don’t think that’s included in the permit fee.”

Violence

  • Peak gets arrested for illegally scaling and tagging a building. A detective tells Peak, “I just talked with your mother. She said that I had her permission to beat you to death.”
  • Peak scales skyscrapers for fun, and he often ends up in newspapers as a mystery climber. A boy tries emulating him and he “fell from the Flatiron Building. He’s dead . . . The boy had all [of Peak’s] news articles pinned up in his bedroom . . . the fall was enough to kill him.”
  • Peak describes high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). He says, “Here’s how HAPE works: Your lungs fill with fluid, you can’t breathe, you go into a coma, then you die.”
  • Sun-jo gives Peak a rundown on the history between Tibet and China. Sun-jo explains, “The people’s Republic of China invaded Tibet fifty years ago. Since that time over six thousand Buddhist monasteries and shrines have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed or jailed.”
  • Peak, Zopa, and Sun-jo arrive at Base Camp “just in time to see Josh get into a fistfight with someone. At 18,044 feet, though, it wasn’t much of a fight. An older, red-faced man took a swing, which Josh easily ducked and countered by pushing him in the chest. The man landed on his butt in the snow. After this it was pretty much over except for the shouting.” Josh had told the man (as had the man’s doctor), that the man was in no shape to go further up the mountain.
  • Peak hears about someone dying on Everest. One climber says that the man who died “stepped out of his tent in the middle of the night to pee. Idiot was wearing slippers. He slid two hundred yards down a slope into a crevasse so deep the Sherpas say he’s probably still falling.”
  • A porter, or a Sherpa, tells a story about a yak that he purchased. An avalanche had almost buried them, and the yak ended up with two broken legs. The porter tells Peak, “There was only one thing to do. I unsheathed my knife and cut his throat.” The porter ended up sleeping in the carcass for warmth.
  • Several climbers die on Everest from HAPE. Peak and Zopa hear that “[the other two climbers] had died at Camp Six two hours after Zopa talked to the distraught German climber the previous day.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some climbers smoke cigarettes. Zopa “bought up several cartons of cigarettes to sell to them.”

Language

  • Light profanity is used somewhat often. Words include: moron, idiotic, dang, shut up, lame, lousy, and pooped.
  • At Base Camp, a man denies that he has a heart condition. He yells at the doctor, “That witch doctor of [Josh’s] doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” It is meant to be derogatory.
  • Josh jokingly tells Peak that Josh is “in debt up to [his] crevasse,” which makes Peak laugh.
  • Peak meets Holly, a reporter who he refers to as “a pain in the crevasse.”
  • Josh tells Peak that getting a fourteen-year-old to climb Everest has “more sex appeal” for attracting people to his climbing company.
  • There is a German doctor at Base Camp, and some of the climbers don’t like her. As a result, they say malicious and untrue things. Peak overhears one of them say, “Straight from Nazi Germany, if you ask me. I think she’s here to perform experiments on us, not treat us.” Another climber mutters, “Heil Hitler” when the doctor’s name is mentioned.
  • Josh tells Peak that he won’t be allowed to summit because the other climbers don’t want him to. Josh explains, “I’m sorry, Peak. I’ve been a jackass about this. They’re right. This is their climb. They’re paying the tab.”
  • As Peak is leaving camp, Josh waves. Peak “returned the wave with a gesture of [his] own,” insinuating that Peak held up his middle finger at Josh or something to that effect. Josh responds with “his trademark grin.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Peak and Josh stop by Mount Everest before going to Chiang Mai. Peak is surprised and says, “For a climber, saying that you are stopping by Everest is like saying you’re going to stop by and see God.”
  • Josh’s friend Zopa used to be a sirdar, or Head Sherpa. According to Josh, Zopa is “a Buddhist monk now. Lives at the Indrayani temple. The Lama there has given him permission to forgo his vows for a few weeks to take [Peak] up to Base Camp.”
  • Before going up Everest, all of the climbers go through a puja, which is “a Buddhist blessing ritual.”
  • For the puja ceremony, Peak and Sun-jo build a cairn and raise flags. Peak explains that “as the flags flutter in the wind they release the prayers written on them and pacify the gods.”
  • Peak makes “a special prayer flag” before he attempts the summit.
  • Peak tells his sisters about the prayer flags. Peak says, “There’s a prayer written on the flag. When it blows in the wind the prayers go up to God. If you put the flag really high on a mountain the prayer gets to God faster.”

by Alli Kestler

Prime-Time Pitcher

Seventh-grade baseball pitcher for the Monticello Middle School team, Koby Caplin, wants nothing more than to lead his team to victory this season. He’s definitely got the pitching chops to help his team succeed. When a local TV station wants to do a documentary showing local youth sports, they pick Koby to be their star. Unfortunately, this causes a rift between Koby and his teammates when Koby lets his new stardom get to his head.

Matt Christopher’s Prime-Time Pitcher deals with the issue of how the arrogance of individuals affects team sports. Koby is a good pitcher. Other players and students notice this fact, including student journalist Sara Wilson. Sara puts events into motion as her articles focusing almost solely on Koby’s pitching, which causes the news station to select Koby for their documentary.

Koby’s older brother, Chuck, helps Koby understand that the success of the team rests on the team and not just Koby. Chuck and Koby’s teammates help Koby understand that teamwork is more important than individual stardom. When Koby’s arrogance causes his teammates to distance themselves from him, Chuck shows Koby how his behavior needs to change if Koby really wants to do well in baseball and still have his teammates be his friends.

Prime-Time Pitcher is a short, straightforward story that will appeal to younger baseball fans. Koby’s story isn’t uncommon in youth sports (or professional sports for that matter), and the lessons he learns about being a good teammate and person, are applicable to all people, especially those who play team sports. The book contains sections of baseball trivia questions, which will appeal to both baseball fans and readers who like trivia.  Most importantly, the lessons Koby learns can be applied to all areas of life, not just baseball. Readers who love baseball but want a more complex plot should add Soar by Joan Bauer and The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • After a game, Sara asks Coach T. a series of questions. Sara asks for Coach’s prediction of how the game was going to go, and Coach replies, “I don’t make predictions—that’s for carnivals and fortune-tellers.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Alli Kestler

The Gold Medal Mess

Five friends are ready for their school’s Olympics field day. There will be relay races, archery contests, and more! But not everyone wants to play fair—in fact, someone is trying to ruin the events! Can the kids in the Most Valuable Player club solve the mystery, save the Olympics, and take home the gold?

The Gold Medal Mess introduces five diverse friends—Max, Alice, Luke, Kat, and Nico. The kids work well together in order to find the culprit. None of the kids are well developed, but there is room for each character to grow in later books in the series. However, Luke is portrayed as silly and lazy. For example, when his friends ask Luke if he wants to practice archery, Luke says, “The only way I’m going to win is if they give out medals for not doing homework!”

The story’s plot is easy to understand and readers will enjoy following the clues to see if they can solve the mystery before the culprit is revealed. Large black and white illustrations break up the text and help readers understand the plot. The story’s dialogue and quick pace are engaging. However, struggling readers may have a difficult time with some of the vocabulary.

The Gold Medal Mess has a good blend of mystery and competition which makes the book appealing to a wide range of readers. The simple plot will entertain beginning readers but may be too simple for more advanced readers. Ellie Steps Up to the Plate by Callie Barkley and the Little Rhino Series by Ryan Howard & Krystle Howard will also appeal to sports fans.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While running a race, the contestants fall down. “And like the first kid, their feet flew out from under them and they rolled onto the ground too! Before long, the runners from all six teams had slid out on the grass.” The kids slipped because someone put oil on the grass.
  • During the tug-of-war competition, “the tug-of-war rope broke in half” and the “teams tumbled backward!” Someone intentionally cut the rope.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Capital Catch

Mike and Kate are about to face their biggest, most important mystery yet! Why? It involves the president of the United States! The president’s brother is a catcher on the Nationals baseball team, and someone is stealing his equipment! Can these super-sleuths help the commander in chief catch a criminal?

Mike and Kate are excited to explore Washington D.C.’s historical landmarks. While on a White House tour, Mike meets the president! This leads to Mike and Kate trying to discover who is stealing from the president’s brother, who is a baseball player. While Mike and Kate investigate, the kids don’t sneak around or go to restricted areas. Instead, they use their powers of observation and their interview skills to solve the mystery. Readers will enjoy following the clues along with Mike and Kate.

Capital Catch is an easy-to-read story that uses short sentences and dialogue to keep readers interested. Black and white illustrations appear every 3 to 5 pages. Most of the illustrations are a full page. They help readers visualize the characters and understand the plot. The book ends with Dugout Notes, which give even more baseball facts. Even though Capital Catch is the 13th book in the series, the books do not build on each other, so they can be read out of order.

Sports-loving readers will enjoy Capital Catch’s mystery and baseball action. Parents will appreciate how Mike and Kate are polite to others and do not put themselves in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, the thief was predictable and the culprit doesn’t reveal why he was stealing Chip’s baseball equipment. Despite this, baseball lovers will enjoy the combination of mystery and baseball action. The Little Rhino Series by Ryan Howard & Krystle Howard will hit the mark for young readers who want more baseball action.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Drat is used once as an exclamation.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Black Brother, Black Brother

Donte is black, and the white kids at Middlefield Prep won’t let him forget it. They especially won’t let him forget that they like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey, more than Donte. To make matters worse, the administration turns a blind eye when the students harass Donte. When Donte gets bullied and arrested for something he didn’t do, he feels immensely frustrated and helpless.

Then Donte meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Jones begins to train Donte to take on his main bully: the Middlefield Prep fencing captain, Alan. With support from his friends, family, and the folks at the youth center, Donte begins to unpack the systemic racism that has sought to hold him down all his life.

Through Donte and his family’s eyes, Black Brother, Black Brother tackles systemic racism head-on. Jewell Parker Rhodes shows a range of characters including those who willingly ignore the racism, those who show microaggressions, and finally those who are outright racist like Alan. This book is unflinchingly honest in how it deals with how others treat Donte differently than his brother Trey, who has lighter skin. Even the police treat their father, a white man, differently than their mother, a black woman. These experiences are presented openly and honestly, and in a way, that younger readers will be able to understand.

Donte and the other characters are fully fleshed-out people. Donte and Trey’s relationship shows their solidarity and brotherly love as well as the moments where Donte feels insecure around his older, more popular brother. Their relationship with their parents is also lovely, as they are protective of their sons.

The local Boys and Girls Club has a wide range of characters who bring life to the story. The most prominent of these characters is Donte’s coach, former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Arden helps Donte grapple with the patience and fortitude required in fencing and in life. Arden’s personal experiences and frustrations show Donte how to conduct himself, and by the end, Donte is an excellent fencer who isn’t afraid to stand up for himself.

Black Brother, Black Brother is an important book that illustrates how racism operates on many levels, and how deeply it affects people of all ages. While this book will appeal to people who like fencing, it is a must-read for all people of any age. Through Donte’s experiences, readers will learn about people from various walks of life and the importance of individual courage. Donte may not be real, but he is certainly not the first nor the last student to be judged on the basis of race when he and every other student should be judged based on the content of their character.

Sexual Content

  • Donte meets twins Zarra and Zion. Donte says, “Zarra’s beautiful. First time I ever thought that about a girl. Deep brown eyes. A wide smile. Glowing black skin. I can’t think of anything to say. Not even my name.”
  • A few girls at school wave at Donte. Trey jokingly says, “Got game, little brother. Girls are going to be calling you.” Donte thinks, “Problem is I won’t know if they like me for me. Or because they like Trey. (Zarra would like me for me.)”
  • When Trey meets Zarra, Donte says, “My brother smiles goofily. I groan. He thinks Zarra’s beautiful, too. If he becomes a competition, I’ll lose.”
  • Donte says that one of the girls from school, “has a crush on Trey. (She knows I know.) Trey hasn’t figured it out yet.”

Violence

  • Another student threw a pencil in class and “it hits Samantha. Donte didn’t throw it, but Ms. Wilson turns from the whiteboard and looks at [Donte] anyway.”
  • At his very white private school, Donte is subjected to plenty of racist words and actions. For instance, Donte’s brother Trey is white-passing, so other students mock Donte by calling him “Black brother.”
  • Donte experiences microaggressions from his peers and adults in his life. Donte describes, “Of all the kids in the school, the police found it easy to arrest me. Why was Mrs. Kay scared? Why did Mr. Waters seem to enjoy my troubles? Worse, why did Headmaster call the police on me? Since I’ve been at Middlefield, the police never came for anyone else. Is something wrong with me?”
  • Donte’s mom notes some real-life stories of police brutality against black people. She says, “Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun, killed. Twelve and he’s dead.”
  • Donte describes a video he sees, saying, “there was a video loop of a school officer pulling a girl from her desk, slamming, dragging her across the floor.”
  • Donte and Trey play-wrestle in the kitchen. Donte describes, “I shove Trey. Rebalancing, his hand swipes and the milk falls to the floor. Trey shoves back. I clutch his waist. He pushes back, clasps me around my back. We wrestle. Our shoes slip. Trey’s long leg sweeps behind my knee. I fall. My shirt soaks up milk.” This lasts for about a page.
  • The boys’ fencing team knocks Donte down. Donte describes, “I fall flat on my face. Each teammate gets a dig, a stomp, a step on me. Trey is flailing, trying to shove them away.”
  • In the seventies, another fencer on Coach’s Olympic team, Jonathan Michael, harassed Coach for being black. Coach describes, “Michael bullied me. Called me terrible names. Threatened me. He’d convince Coach I’d broken curfew even when I hadn’t. Convince teammates everything went wrong because of me.”
  • Alan trips Donte. Donte says, “My mask rolls forward. I drop my foil trying to break my fall. A painful shock sears my wrist.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After being tripped and hurting his wrist, Donte asks for Advil.

Language

  • The captain of the fencing team, Alan, “says ‘black’ like a slur. Says it real nasty. Like a worse word. A word he thinks but doesn’t dare say.”
  • Donte’s mom tells Donte, “Take off your hoodie. People might think you’re a thug.”
  • Inappropriate language is occasionally used. Words include: nuts and stupid.
  • During a fencing match, Alan yells, “Hey, black girl!” at Zarra.
  • Another fencer, Jonathan Michael, says some very rude things to Coach while Donte and another young fencer watch. Michael’s young fencer tries to shake hands with Coach, but Michael bats the kid’s hand away. Michael then says, “You don’t shake hands with someone dishonorable.”
  • Someone leaves a note for Trey. Donte sees the first part that says, “Why play with…” but he doesn’t look at the rest because, as he says, “I don’t want to see a hateful word.”

Supernatural

  • Donte is black and experiences discrimination at his private school where most of the other students are white. Because of this, Donte wishes that he “were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zarra brings in books about women in fencing. She mentions that in the 2016 Olympics, a woman named Ibtihaj Muhammad won team bronze, and that “she’s a Muslim American and fences in a hijab.”

by Alli Kestler

 

Breath Like Water

Susannah Ramos became a world champion swimmer at 14. But two years have passed, and she has yet to reclaim her former glory after an injury. Susannah is fighting through the lapse, but she feels like she’s floundering at the one thing she loves most in the world – swimming. When a new coach with a new training strategy and a charming new teammate named Harry Matthews enters her life, Susannah begins a painful fight back to the top of the ranks.

During her dramatic comeback, romance blossoms between Susannah and Harry. But Harry has secrets of his own, and the pressure of competitive swimming and other outside forces work to pull the pair asunder. Susannah must work to balance her own needs and the needs of her loved ones. She must also figure out which wonderful things in life, like friends and swimming, are worth the struggle.

One of the most prominent storylines of Breath Like Water deals with Susannah’s journey as a competitive high school student-athlete. Jarzab intelligently writes about Susannah’s experience with constant pressure from intense coaches and her teammates. The coaches in particular stand out because of their interactions with Susannah and her teammates. They give an intensive look at what it means not only to work hard but to work with intelligence. The swim competitions are well-paced and show Susannah’s thought process as she’s competing.

Told from Susannah’s point of view, this story shows her as a likable but tough kid. Breath Like Water spends a good amount of time detailing Susannah’s recovery from a shoulder injury. The story also shows Susannah’s mental and physical struggle that comes from being a competitive athlete. These parts of Susannah’s journey show her frustration and determination to be better. Susannah faces adversity at every turn, and she takes the emotional and physical pain with as much grace and dignity as could be asked of a sixteen-year-old.

Another prominent storyline deals with the relationship between Susannah and Harry. They quickly go from friends to dating. Susannah learns that Harry has dealt with bipolar disorder for much of his life. This book tackles the difficult parts of Harry’s life, including his past drinking problems and self-harm, and he does relapse during the novel. Susannah and Harry learn how to cope with their insecurities and neither character is villainized for who they are. Things are not perfect for the pair, but they care about each other and work to make their lives better.

Breath Like Water is a refreshing story that intertwines competitive swimming with Susannah’s growth into young adulthood. The heart of the novel is in the love Susannah has for swimming, for Harry, and for her family. Susannah wants to make it to the Olympics, but she learns that win or lose, she has to love herself and love what she does. This book is excellent for those who want an exciting, and often times harsh, look at the reality of competitive swimming. Breath Like Water reads like a love letter—to family, to friendship, and to the water that keeps us all afloat.

Sexual Content

  • One of Susannah’s former swim teammates is pregnant, much to everyone’s surprise as she was slated for the Olympics. When Susannah asks how, her friend replies, “Don’t make me explain where babies come from. My version does not involve storks.”
  • Harry shows up at Susannah’s house early in the morning. She sees Harry and thinks, “The sight of him does funny things to my nether regions.”
  • Susannah likes Harry, and Harry likes Susannah. Susannah thinks about her feelings and says, “I’ve had crushes—I’ve even been kissed a few times, by a boy at swim camp a few summers ago—but nothing close to Harry.”
  • After beating her time at Nationals, Susannah kisses Harry. She narrates, “Before he can say anything else, I bracket his face with my hands and press my lips to his lips in a long, hard kiss that leaves my head spinning…Harry lifts my chin with his fingers and takes my lips with his, easing them apart. His palm comes to rest on my jaw and his other hand drifts to my hip, drawing me in by the waist.” They continue to kiss periodically throughout the book.
  • Harry keeps touching Susannah’s leg with his foot, and Susannah thinks, “He’s got sneakers on, and I’m wearing jeans, and we’re in public, but the image of his barefoot gently touching my bare leg as we lay wrapped around each other in bed keep flashing through my mind.”
  • Susannah is worried about having sex. When she asks Harry if he’s a virgin, he “shakes his head slowly.”
  • Susannah walks in on her sister Nina and another girl “making out on Nina’s bed.” They tell Susannah that they’re dating. Nina later comes out to her parents as pansexual.
  • Susannah and Harry have sex. Susannah narrates, “I love the weight of him, the soft hair on his legs tickling my bare ones, the sharpness of his hip bones digging into mine . . . I sigh as he kisses my throat, my collarbone, the space between my breasts, letting myself drown happily in the sensation of knowing someone loves the body that I never could.” The scene is described over a couple of pages.

Violence

  • Harry has bipolar disorder. When he was young, he “did stupid stuff. Defaced a public building, got into fights with other kids. I was drinking and taking pills, and I . . . I cut myself, sometimes . . . Where no one else can see.”
  • While in a depressed state, Harry “cuts himself too deep” and then calls Susannah for help. Susannah calls 911. When she arrives at his house, she sees “travel-size bottles of alcohol scattered underneath Harry’s desk.” Harry’s parents decide to take him to the youth ward of the psychiatric hospital – one that he’s been to before.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Susannah and her friends go to a house party with other high schoolers. Susannah notes that most of the students “have red Solo cups in their hands, which I’m sure do not contain soda.”
  • Susannah’s mom sends Susannah’s dad out on an errand run before the tamalada, a tamale-making party, to pick up “last-minute groceries, liquor, and other supplies.”
  • Nina, Susannah’s older sister, “has appointed herself bartender” for the tamalada. The adult relatives get a little tipsy during the tamalada.
  • When he was eleven, Harry found out he has bipolar disorder. According to Harry, he “didn’t know how to control [his] emotions or understand what was going on with [him], so [he] started stealing vodka from Bruce’s liquor cabinet and getting drunk in [his] room whenever [his] parents fought.”
  • For his bipolar disorder, Harry is on a list of meds. He lists them saying, “I’m on a mood stabilizer, and Prozac . . . I also take Xanax for anxiety, and Ambien to help me sleep when I need it.”
  • Susannah tears the labrum in her shoulder, and the doctors, “gave [her] some good drugs” to fight off the pain.
  • Susannah’s mom takes Susannah to get prescribed birth control from the gynecologist.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently throughout. Profanity includes ass, fucking, shit, and damn. People flip each other off on a few occasions as well, though in jest.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Harry and Susannah use the Jewish community center’s pool to practice, and Harry mentions that his stepdad is Jewish.
  • Every Christmas, Susannah’s family hosts a tamalada, where family, friends, and neighbors are invited for a massive “tamale-making party.”
  • Susannah mentions that her parents were raised Catholic but that they don’t go to church.
  • Father Bob, Harry’s friend, and mentor, visits him in the hospital and runs into Susannah. Susannah thinks about her relationship with God. She thinks, “I’m not sure I believe in God, or the wisdom of priests for that matter. The closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience is a really great race.” Susannah and Bob speak for several pages about the Bible and Carl Sagan, both of which Bob is fond of.
  • When Susannah’s mom found out that she was pregnant, she said, “I’m not a religious person, but I prayed to a god I’m not even sure I believe in that I would be the sort of mother a little girl could look up to.”
  • Susannah compares her position in the Olympic trials to the other competitors. She says, “I’m like a mortal who somehow wandered up a cliffside to Mount Olympus and is looking for a place to sit among the gods.”

by Alli Kestler

One on One

Chloe Gordon is super excited to attend summer soccer camp with her soccer sisters and fellow Breakers team members, Makena Walsh and Val Flores—even though she’s not quite as skilled as the other girls and her parents would rather her be spending her time practicing ballet.

When Chloe arrives, she discovers that the Breakers’ arch rival, Skylar Wilson, is rooming down the hall. Chloe worries that her camp experience will be more stressful than fun. Will the soccer sisters be able to band together and ignore Skylar’s bullying? Can Chloe overcome her fear of not being good enough in time for the big inter-camp match?

Former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker Andrea Montalbano creates a fast-paced soccer story that teaches the value of determination. Readers will relate to Chloe, who is being targeted by Skylar, who has learned how to hide her bullying behavior. Besides the bullying, Chloe also struggles with self-confidence. After all, her mother doesn’t think Chloe should be on the team because “If you can’t be the best, why bother doing it at all?”

Even though One on One has a stereotypical plot, readers will enjoy its fast pace as it combines soccer and bullying into an engaging story. Told from Chloe’s point of view, One on One doesn’t just focus on the game; the story also gives a glimpse of Chloe’s home life, which adds humor and depth to the story. Chloe is a likeable character who has relatable conflicts both at home and at soccer camp.

One on One teaches about Brazil’s culture. Flavia, a camp counselor from Brazil, agrees to help Chloe with her soccer skills. When Chloe doesn’t make the team, Flavia is upset because Chloe doesn’t understand that winning isn’t always the most important thing. Flavia is also frustrated that the campers do not realize how privileged they are. Instead, “all you girls complain if the water is too warm or if you can’t win or if the field is not perfect. You have everything right in front of you, but yet you cannot see it.” Flavia shares her story, which gives Flavia’s cultural perspective as well as highlights the discrimination that girls in Brazil face. For example, in Brazil girls are expected to play with dolls, not soccer balls.

One on One’s high interest topic, advanced vocabulary, and short chapters make the story accessible to proficient readers. While One on One is the third installment of the Soccer Sisters series, each book can be read as a stand-alone book. While the story focuses on sports, the snippets of family life and drama off the field make One on One a book that all readers will enjoy. The book ends with questions, information on soccer in Brazil, a glossary of soccer terms, and a short biography on Olympian Brandi Chastain. Through Chloe’s experiences readers will learn lessons in sportsmanship as well as the importance of practice, determination, and keeping your word.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Skyler attempts to take down another player, Val. “At the last possible second, just as Skyler launched herself into the air, Val pulled the ball back. Skyler’s legs reached out for Val, but Val was too quick. Skyler flew through the air and landed with a thud.”
  • Chloe attempts to hit the ball into the goal, “but at the last second, another player got in front of her, knocking her to the side and clipping her above the eye with an elbow.” After the jab, Chloe has a black eye.
  • A food fight erupts in the cafeteria. “Chicken cutlets started flying. Pizza missiles landed on the wall… Edible pandemonium reigned. It was like a scene from an old movie Chloe’s father would have liked.”

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “OMG” is used six times. When the girls get to camp, someone says, “OMG, this place looks like Hogwarts!”
  • Heck is used five times. For example, someone asks Chloe, “What the heck is going on here? Are we going to play some soccer or what?”
  • Skyler calls three girls losers several times. She also makes snide remarks at Chloe, such as calling her a princess.
  • Someone calls Skyler an idiot.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When someone calls three girls losers, Chloe “prayed Makena wouldn’t take the bait.”

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

The Wild Boars soccer team is made up of explorers. The 12 members ventured deep into the caves at Tham Luang, further than even some seasoned cavers. They were bold with their exploring, looked out for one another, and worked well as a team. However, their adventurous spirit was met with bad luck when the team and their assistant coach became trapped in the cave. With the wet season approaching in Thailand, the mountain where the cave was located was saturated with water and when it started to rain, the caverns began to flood.

When the team went missing, rescuers and problem-solvers were called to action to rescue the team. In order to save the soccer team, rescuers would need a well-thought-out, coordinated plan. It was going to be a huge undertaking. The book takes the reader through the timeline of the rescue mission and dives into broader topics that color the event. Soontornvat highlights the importance of STEM in the mission and goes into the scientific details about the cave and how the water and sediment affected the mission. At the same time, there are subsections in the book that go into the historical and cultural context of the local community.

Buddhism and meditation is an important piece of this nonfiction story. Part of what made the mission successful was that the soccer team did not panic and they were able to focus their energy with meditation. “When thoughts of hunger, pain or shame come in through one window, you can notice them, and then let them float right out the other window, keeping the room of your mind clear from all that clutter.” The Wild Boars were trapped in the cave for 18 days and they needed to look within to ease their pain. The subsections on Buddhism and meditation are a great introduction to Eastern religion and meditation practices. Without overwhelming the reader with specifics, the book takes these concepts and displays them in a way that is relatable to a younger audience.

Soontornvat also touches on geopolitical issues that are present in Thailand, such as immigration and religious persecution in neighboring countries. While the story is focused on the rescue mission, Soontornvat uses the experiences of the Wild Boars’ assistant coach, Coach Ek, to understand asylum-seekers. Coach Ek was forced to migrate to Thailand from Myanmar to escape the armed conflict. Migrant children face tough odds as they often do not have the necessary support systems to help them. Coach Ek considers himself lucky to have found the Wild Boars because he was able to find community and serve as a mentor to the soccer players.

The photographs in the book bring humanity and a sense of urgency to the story, as well as highlight the scale of the rescue mission. Many of the pictures were taken during the mission. The massive undertaking of bringing the Wild Boars to safety is captured with photographs of heavy machinery, the elaborate sump systems, and camo-wearing Navy SEALs. The book has a cinematic feel to it and the fast-paced life-or-death story keeps the reader turning pages. With loads of first-hand accounts, artifacts, and photos, the reader will feel immersed in the rescue mission.

One of the underlying themes of the book is that collaboration and teamwork can accomplish amazing things. There is no shortage of heroism in this story as people from all over the globe pitch in to save the boys. Donations are made, scuba experts consulted, farmers help with the sump system and the soccer team supports each other during the trying times. For the team, their support for each other was paralleled through the lens of soccer, helping to make it relatable to young readers. “Through their time on the soccer field, they know what it feels like to work as a team to tackle something that seems impossible.” Despite the danger of being trapped and impossible odds, through collaboration and sheer willpower, the boys are brought to safety.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tham Luang has a mythology of the Sleeping Lady which visitors pay their respects to at a shrine. In the story, “he [a servant who loved the princess] was captured and killed by the king’s soldiers. The heartbroken princess killed herself. Her blood became the water flowing in the cave and her body became the mountain.”
  • When discussing the probability of the soccer team’s survival, Major Hodges says, “if they are in there, they’re probably dead, and if we’re lucky, we will find their remains.”
  • When contextualizing the background of Coach Ek, it is said that “groups such as the Rohingya of Myanmar, have fled their ancestral land because they are persecuted and murdered by their own government.”
  • While making plans for a recovery, there is a reminder that “a dead body requires a recovery. Rick’s experience as a firefighter has trained him to be unemotional about such things, but trying to maneuver a lifeless body through the twists and turns of a sump is a grim and dangerous task.”
  • One of the Navy SEALs dies during the rescue effort. “When Saman’s partner finally emerges, he is pulling a lifeless Saman behind him. The other SEALs rush to revive him, but it’s too late.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The soccer team is sedated during the rescue mission. “Dr. Harris has finally decided to give the boys a sedative called ketamine. Ketamine is a common drug used during surgeries when the patient needs to be unconscious.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The caves at Tham Luang “house giants who were defeated by the Buddha himself.”
  • Before the Wild Boars go to bed, Coach Ek “tells them all to pray together.”
  • When discussing meditation, a background on Buddhism is given. “It was through meditation that the Buddha arrived at the pillars of his great teachings that guide all Buddhists today. The Buddha taught people how to free themselves from the suffering that is a natural part of life.”
  • The Thai variety of Buddhism is often intertwined with other spiritual beliefs. It is written that “spirits are everywhere; they can be gentle and protective, or moody and vengeful. Either way, spirits should be treated as respectfully as the living.”

by Paul Gordon

Latest Reviews