cover of book shows Trudy swimming from an underwater point of viewSue Macy writes big, bold picture book biographies of female athletes. Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm is a gorgeous book that begins with Trudy in the Channel and follows her swim, hour by hour, to a new world record.

I loved the details of her swim–how she swam to the strains of music blasted from a phonograph on the boat that was keeping pace with her; how she managed to eat fried chicken passed to her in a net and drank chicken broth from a baby bottle while she swam. I loved the lively quotes Macy includes, like, “England or drown is my motto.” Macy is great at describing an athletic event so that you as a reader feel like you are there, just as breathless with anticipation as the spectators who were really there.

But in this book I especially loved the art. Matt Collins also illustrated two other Macy books I love, Roller Derby Rivals and Basketball Belles, but in this book, his illustrations make the book. He paints from shifting perspectives. Sometimes we’re looking down at Trudy, as if we were on the board. Sometimes we see her at sea level, as if we were swimming next to her. Sometimes we see her from shore. On one of my favorite spreads we see her from under the water, and we also see the threat of luridly pink jellyfish lurking about her. The swim took fourteen hours, and Collins uses the shift to darkness to increase tension. In one memorable spread, he paints how it must have looked when English drivers trained their cars’ headlights on the water to form a beacon for Trudy, to show her which way to swim in the dark.

I didn’t notice the endpapers on my first read of the book, but was delighted when I went back and looked at them again. The front endpapers show Trudy walking into the water. On the last endpapers, we see a movie-maker in place, ready to film her emerging from the water.

One thing I love about Sue Macy’s books is her back matter. This book includes an Afterword that tells about Trudy’s deafness and about how she overcame a spinal injury later in her life. There’s an “Author’s Note” that discusses why Trudy’s birthdate is often misstated. There’s a short essay on “Sources and Resources” about why one newspaper had much better coverage than any other, as well as lists of Macy’s sources. And there are also source notes, attributing all the quotes in the book. I was fascinated to see that Macy also provided attribution for some of her other assertions (for example, that Trudy’s coach had failed twelve times in his attempt to swim across the Channel); usually source notes in picture books are limited to direct quotations.

A great read about a scrappy, determined swimmer.

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins. Holiday House: 2017.

Children with book around a globe


I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

This book, about a landmark moment in jazz history, is written with a jazz-inspired narrative voice, playing with literary convention–there’s no end punctuation in the entire book–and dabbling with different poetic devices, like rhyme, alliteration, and onomatopoeia, without ever committing to one. The story’s told with staccato phrases in shotgun bursts. Ransome uses rich and vivid words. She describes sound “rippling and rumbling” and describes the experience of watching a performance:

Fast fingering

Drums thumping

Trumpets trumping

The back matter is longer than the text itself, which I always love when a book has intrigued me like this one did. I’m anxious to get more of the story and can usually find it in the back matter. Here, Ransome tells us “More about Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson,” provides a time line, and gives a “Who’s Who in Jazz.”

Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black and White Jazz Band in History, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Holiday House: 2014.

Historical fiction can be used to present troubling topics in a controlled way appropriate for young children. In this historical fiction, Yamasaki skillfully tackles a difficult subject–World War II Japanese-American internment camps. Her story shows the triumph of brotherly kindness and courage, without glossing over the institutional cruelty of the camps. Her narrative voice is spare. She uses few adjectives and descriptions to tell her story, but it is deeply moving. The story comes out of Yamasaki’s own family history. I only hope more writers find such beautiful family stories to share!

Fish for Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki. Holiday House: 2013


best noses

Sorry, we don't have that EAN, yet In this inventive nonfiction picture book, each page is written in the voice of an animal who is arguing about why its nose (or ear or eye) is the “best.” These are great examples of persuasive writing, and along the way we learn a lot about how animals specialize to fit their individual environmental niches.

This form begs to be replicated: choose another animal or another body part, and make your best argument. It would be a great mentor text when teaching persuasive writing, or even a fun springboard for dinnertime debate.

This book is a translation from the Swedish.

The World’s Best Noses, Ears, and Eyes by Helen Rundgren, translated by Helle Martens, illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius. Holiday House: 2013.


 Despite the title, this book doesn’t have anything to do with school or classes (check out Snow School if you’re looking for an animals-school comparison). Instead, it’s a clever rhyming picture book outlining the different characteristics of vertebrate classes: amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.

Lord uses rhyming couplets, each with 7 or 8 syllables. She establishes a strong rhythm that carries throughout the book. In fact, when I closed this book and opened the next one on my stack, it took me several pages to stop trying to wrest those (prose) lines into her very chant-able rhythm.

There’s lots of great information packed into her rhymes. Did you know, for example, that mammals, “People, rabbits, even deers,/all of them have stick-out ears”?

A handy chart in the back matter lays out for you the characteristics she’s covered, an exception to the common characteristics, and some of the species in each class.

Animal School: What Class Are You? by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Michael Garland. Holiday House: 2014



“Crash!” This book plunges us into the action with its first word. We follow Toughie Brasuhn and Gerry Murray’s roller derby rivalry as we read about one day’s match. We also get a glimpse of the way sports came to television. Sue Macy’s narrative voice is fast and engaging; her present tense third person narration could almost be a sports announcer’s voice giving us a blow by blow account.

In a picture book, the writer doesn’t have many words to get the reader involved at the story and to build the historical scaffolding. Macy gets around the difficulty of explaining the rules of the game by using an illustration on the first spread that has a crowd clustered around reading a poster titled “Roller Derby Rules, 1948.” With that out of the way, she plunges us into the match, into the rivalry, and into the engaging story.

Macy’s back matter includes period photos, an interesting discussion of how she went about researching the topic. It also includes a cautionary note about what parts of the book are dramatizations rather than strict historical fact.

Check out this great 2 minute trailer, narrated by Sue Macy and loaded with amazing period photos.

Roller Derby Rivals, by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins. Holiday House: 2014