Patina (Track #2)

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Image Credit: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds/Vanessa Brantley Newton

 

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m kicking off this year on Read It Real Good by inviting a friend to share a review. I met Chisom Onyeuku last year at Kweli Journal’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in NYC. Not only is he a kind person, he cares a lot about diverse books, representation and great stories, so it was a no-brainer to invite him here to share a bit of his writing with you. ūüôā He’s currently working on a middle grade novel titled Life in the Flats. If you’d like to talk to him about his review, you can find him on Facebook.

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Review by Chisom Onyeuku

~*~

Sports stories have always been some of my favorites. When done right, they can encapsulate action, adventure, romance and highly personal stakes. For that reason, I was excited to pick up the first book of Jason Reynolds‚Äô Defenders track series, GHOST, especially after I found out it was about a black boy coming into his own. GHOST was easily one of my favorite reads of 2017 and so when I found out that there would be a sequel, I knew I had to read it. PATINA picked right back where GHOST left off. What makes PATINA great is that although it takes place in the same ‚ÄúDefenders‚ÄĚ universe, Patina‚Äôs story feels markedly different from Ghost‚Äôs. I love how the track becomes a catalyst for Patina to find comfort amidst some difficult circumstances and I enjoyed the interactions between Patina and her teammates.

When I encountered Patina at the beginning of the book, I was elated that, through her eyes, we get to watch Ghost finish the race from the end of the previous book. I won’t spoil the race but Jason expertly plays on the audience’s expectations to create a suspenseful scene. From there, we fully cross into Patina’s story arc.

Like Ghost, Patina has deeply personal reasons for running track that resonated with me as a former athlete. More importantly, they resonated with me as a person. Like every great novel, I found myself not only empathizing with the main character but also her friends and teammates. I appreciated that Jason introduces Patina’s surface motivations for running track before delving deeper into the story.

The pace of the book is much like a 400-meter dash. Out of the gate, Patina is running to prove to everyone that ‚ÄúPatty ain‚Äôt no junk.‚ÄĚ By the 200-meter mark, she‚Äôs dealing with challenges of school and adapting to her new teammates. And the last 100 meters are focused on her family. After all of these stretches, we finally have a moment of quiet with Patina and her uncle. Like the diner scene from Ghost, I was caught off guard by how close that moment brought me to tears. It gave me time to appreciate Patina‚Äôs journey and growth but I was also reminded that no matter what she had been through, she still had her family and friends. She didn‚Äôt have to bear the weight of her struggles alone; a lesson that we should all be reminded of from time to time.

Like Patina, I had teammates that became friends who I now consider family. I feel like I’m watching that bond form between The Defenders. A large portion of the story revolves around Patina’s work with her relay teammates. Luckily, Ghost, Sunny and Lu are never too far away. You can see how much their bond has evolved since their formation. Even though PATINA stands alone, the story still feels part of something bigger. I consider that one of the markers of great series writing.

Jason has a knack for drawing you in with his writing and taking you on an emotional roller coaster. Growing up, I didn’t see myself in a lot of literature. However, I did when I encountered Ghost for the first time. Patina could have easily been a teammate and friend of mine. As I walked with them through their respective journeys, I was reminded of why I love sports stories so much. No matter what you bring to the track or to the page, you will always walk away with more than you brought to it.

 

 

Recommended for: 5th Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Diversity, Teamwork, Track and Field, Sports, Middle School Life, Determination, Black Girl Magic
Book Info: Patina by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2017 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450188

 

 

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Ghost: Track #1

Ghost

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has¬†“scream inside.” Many people would quickly¬†label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the¬†“bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns¬†a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become¬†closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he¬†finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of¬†creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly,¬†he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life.¬†Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early¬†that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines¬†the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

Sometimes it’s better to be friends than rivals, especially when you’re working towards the same goal!

In The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Alta’s role model is¬†the amazing sprinter¬†Wilma Rudolph.¬†The story takes place in 1960 when everyone in Clarksville, Tennessee is preparing for the big parade to celebrate Wilma’s 3 Gold Medals¬†at the Rome Olympics. Wilma is the fastest woman in the world and Alta is the fastest kid in Clarksville. She’s confident in her feet. Problem is there’s a new girl named Charmaine who’s just as confident in her speed and struts around like she rules the block! It doesn’t help that she has shiny new sneakers while Alta’s are worn down. Nevertheless, Alta challenges¬†her to a race! ¬†On parade day, Alta and her friends struggle to get¬†their¬†bulky banner to the parade site and reluctantly accept Charmaine’s help. Relay-style (just like Wilma and her team) they arrive at the parade to celebrate their champion! Representation really matters and I can’t imagine how much Wilma meant to young black girls in the 60s (and now!).

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

I enjoyed the writing of this book; there’s a nice rhythm and just the right amount of sass and confidence. Morrison’s beautiful watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the words. Just take a look at the cover! Alta knows exactly who she is! Throughout the story, we see determination, confidence, worry, shame and happiness on her face and in her body language. My favorite spread is¬†when she’s ready to run, banner in hand with furrowed brows, chanting “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph” in her head to boost her heart and her feet.

Just gorgeous!

P.S. Check out author Pat Zietlow Miller’s awesome Nerdy Book Club post about the process of making this book/finding the right story. Also check out this great photo of Wilma with her parents during the parade! ‚̧

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Friendship, Rivals, Relationships, Teamwork, Sports, Track and Field, Black Girl Magic, African American, Diversity, History, Segregation, Clarksville TN, Wilma Rudolph, Rhythm, Read-Aloud
Book Info: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2015 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452129365

Look What Brown Can Do!

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Image Credit: Sweetberry Books, T. Marie Harris/Neda Ivanova

I don’t know about you but I’m very aware of the fact that I come from greatness. Though I can’t tell you much about my ancestors, I DO know that they lived and loved and are the reason why I’m here today.

The excellent thing about Look What Brown Can Do!¬†is that it’s about empowerment, specifically black empowerment. For a young black child, reading this book can cloak them in a blanket of comfort, pride…and inspiration! For other children, it’s a great book about¬†black history/accomplishments that can inspire them too. The book is sectioned into art, music, business, science and more. T. Marie Harris writes an¬†encouraging sentence about what brown can do and then we see photographs and descriptions of three important black heroes. In many ways, this book is a simpler version of the Empak Black History Series¬†and is more “young kid friendly” because of the fun illustrations.

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Image Credit: Sweetberry Books, T. Marie Harris/Neda Ivanova

Neda Ivanova’s digital illustrations are cute. It’s beautiful to see little brown children dream of being scientists, doctors, athletes, artists and government officials. I was especially drawn to the cover! I happened to see it online one day and thought to myself, “Oh that looks interesting!” I love the different shades of brown hands and arms busy creating and dreaming together.

This book is the first in Harris’ upcoming ‘Black Like Me’ series which will feature stories that celebrate blackness and everyday life. She writes that sometimes it’s nice to read a fun story with your children that has black characters but doesn’t¬†necessarily focus on race. I SO agree. Though there’s always a need for those books, it’s refreshing¬†to read about kids of color…just being kids!¬†I’m pleased to know and share this book. Please check out Look What Brown Can Do!

P.S. You can check out T. Marie Harris’ website at http://www.lookwhatbrowncando.com and follow her on Twitter at @T_MarieHaris.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: History, Black History, Black Excellence, Encouragement, Inspiration, Leaders, Occupations, Dreams, Read-Aloud, Science, STEM, Government, Arts, Sports, Medicine, Business, Beg. Reader, Community
Book Info: Look What Brown Can Do! by T. Marie Harris/Illustrated by Neda Ivanova, 2016 Sweetberry Books, ISBN: 9780692483862

Wilma Unlimited

WilmaUnlimited

Image Credit: Harcourt Brace & Company, Kathleen Krull/David Diaz

I love to watch track. I was lucky enough to see Usain Bolt in my town of Daegu, South Korea a few years ago. Whew! The speed and athleticism. Wilma Rudolph is an inspiration not only because of her athletic accomplishments but also for the hurdles she had to cross in her life to achieve greatness.

Born the twentieth child in her family, she was small and sickly though full of energy. Her family gave her love but there wasn’t much they could do when she was stricken with polio around age five. On top of her physical ailments, she was a black girl in segregated Clarksville, Tennessee. There was only one doctor in town who treated blacks and he was fifty miles away! Despite her struggles, Wilma was¬†extremely determined and even while wearing braces on her legs, she worked on her strength. One day at church, she stood up without her braces, walking confidently down the aisle.

Wilma’s 100m dash win at the 1960s Rome Olympics. Woooo!

From then on, she was off! She got stronger and stronger and played basketball in high school. Though she was a skilled basketball player, she was scouted for track-and-field and got a full ride to Tennessee State University. In 1960, she headed to¬†Rome for the Summer Olympics. This powerful¬†woman left her competitors in the dust (with a twisted ankle!) and 3 gold medals later, she was the fastest woman in the world!! ‚̧

The illustrations of Wilma Unlimited are beautiful. They’re a mix of acrylic, gouache and watercolor with spreads that use photographs for backgrounds. I love this effect. The page where Wilma and her mother triumphantly wrap her steel brace in a box to send back to the hospital is surrounded by a¬†photograph of a cardboard box marked “fragile.” Diaz’ style is wonderful. His human figures have long bodies, wide eyes, strong noses, large hands and remind me of Greek figures on ancient vases.

Have a young runner? A child with boundless energy? Check out this beautiful biography about one of our greatest athletes!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Segregation, African-American, Inner Strength, Determination, Polio, Sports, Track and Field, Fastest Woman in the World, Olympics, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Faith, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull/Illustrated by David Diaz, 1996 Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN: 9780152012670

Growing Up Pedro

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

Let me get this off my chest…I’m not a baseball fan and I think that’s why it took me so long to pick up this book. I didn’t read it until I decided to participate in a Twitter Chat (SharpSchu) to discuss it.¬†Sometimes I have to remind myself to open my eyes and embrace everything. I’m still¬†not big on baseball but Growing Up Pedro isn’t just about baseball; it’s about the amazing relationship between brothers Ram√≥n and Pedro Mart√≠nez.

The size of this picture book is large; it’s designed to be opened wide and fully experienced. As soon as you open the first page, you’ll see a sweeping landscape of the Dominican Republic in 1981 and little brown boys playing stickball. This sets the tone of the story where we’ll learn how two great baseball players came to dominate American baseball.

GrowingUpPedro

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

From an early age, Pedro admires his big brother Ram√≥n’s skill and they practice together, throwing balls at the ripe mangos hanging from the trees. Eventually Ram√≥n makes it to the LA Dodgers in 1985 and when he leaves for America, Pedro becomes more determined than ever to follow him. Ram√≥n learns from his struggles and¬†makes sure¬†that Pedro is better in English than him when he’s ready to join him in the Major Leagues. Pedro isn’t as big as Ram√≥n (this will cause some to doubt his ability) but his heart is just as big if not bigger. Heart pumping full of determination, he makes it to the Minor-Leagues just as his big brother is making waves on the Dodgers.

The brothers end up on the Dodgers, together. But before he knows it, Pedro is traded to Montreal! He continues to shine due to his inner strength and the support of his big brother. He DOMINATES as a pitcher and eventually surpasses even his brother in skill. Pedro goes to the Red Sox and later Ramón joins him again and together they lead the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series. Throughout their career, the Martínez Brothers are the pride of the Dominican Republic and never forget where they come from.

Tavares’ watercolor and gouache illustrations are dynamic. As I mentioned earlier, the wide, sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. I particularly enjoy the scenes of young Pedro and Ram√≥n against the green trees, in shorts and caps, playing baseball with their friends and having fun! Baseball lovers will appreciate the almost photorealistic paintings of the brothers during their prime, pitching on the mound with determination in their eyes. If you’re looking for an excellent story about brotherhood, love and reaching for your dreams (oh and baseball ūüėČ ), pick up Growing Up Pedro!

P.S. If you buy this book, be sure to remove the jacket and check out the cover!! It’s really cool and brings the story full circle. Also, this book will be published in Spanish soon! SWEET!

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Brotherhood, Ripe Mangos, Siblings, Relationships, Role Model, Admiration, Dreams, Determination, Coming of Age, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Friendship, Baseball, Biography, Sports, Sports History, Pedro Martínez, Ramón Martínez, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Dominican Republic, Inner-Strength
Book Info: Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763668242

Roller Girl

Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), Victoria Jamieson

Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), Victoria Jamieson

Okay! Are you ready?? One thing I learned from being a children‚Äôs bookseller is that graphic novels are HOT! Kids are eating them up. Maybe it’s because they think it ‚Äúisn‚Äôt really reading.‚ÄĚ Maybe it’s because of the success of comic-like books like¬†Diary of a Wimpy Kid¬†but young people are rushing to the bookstores and libraries to find fun graphic novels to read. One of the best new graphic novels for kids is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. All you need to know about this book is ROLLER DERBY and DRAMA‚Ķare you sold yet?? ūüėČ

Jamieson’s spunky main character Astrid is transfixed by her fist roller derby bout and assumes her best friend Nicole will join her for roller derby camp in the summer. Little does she know that Nicole has other ideas. Their friendship is tested and Astrid realizes her strength and determination as she strives to be like her idol Rainbow Brite, the coolest jammer (scorer) on her city’s adult team, The Rose City Rollers.

This is a great tweeny (is that a word??) graphic novel because tweens will relate to the struggles Astrid goes through. She matures, becomes more confident, gains friends, has angsty moments with her mom and finds her passion for roller derby. Jamieson’s art style is fresh and relatable and she creates a great book about growing up. This is one of my favorite graphic novels at the moment and roller derby fans of all ages will definitely love this one.

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Girl Power, Tween Life, Sports, Roller Derby, Friendship
Book Info: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, 2015 Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), ISBN: 9780803740167