Cover of Martina & Chrissie shows Navratilova and Evert playing tennis“History” means something different to an 8 year old than to a 58 year old. What is “memory” for me is definitely “history” to him. Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports fits into that gap nicely. It tells the story of the rivalry between tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The most distinctive thing about this book is the strong narrative voice. It is meant to be read aloud and the narrator’s voice catches the ebbs and flows and emphases of spoken language. The book opens by acknowledging, in this strongly conversational tone, the gap between history for kids and memory for grown-ups: “You see those two names on the cover? Martina and Chrissie? You know who they are, right? No? NO?! Wow, okay.”

Throughout the book, that narrative voice shapes the way you read the book:  “Martina was out of shape. REALLY out of shape. And Chrissie won. Easily.”

It’s done so deftly and it’s so easy to read aloud, that it looks easy. But it is carefully wrought craft.

The back matter includes a timeline and a list of sources. The art is acrylic and oil. Since I remember the conversation about tennis stars’ fashion choices at the time, I love that the art faithfully reproduces their changing hairstyles through time. But since the text is silent on that point, I do wonder if kids might be confused about who is who in the pictures sometimes.

This is one book that you’ll definitely want to read aloud to somebody. And the narrative voice subtly makes sure you’ll do it in exactly the right way.

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist. Candlewick: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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

Close-up of Mickey Mantle's face as he watches for a pitch.Last week I looked at a deeply serious book by Jonah Winter. Today I look at another of his books, Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet, which has a completely different tone. This is an enthusiastic biography of a famous baseball player. As Winter notes in the front matter, Mantle “had a rough childhood” and is “famous for having suffered from the disease of alcoholism,” but this book doesn’t address those dark elements of his life. Instead, it’s an upbeat celebration of his amazing athletic accomplishments.

The narrative voice in this book is engaging and folksy:

“And that kid was fast. As legend has it, he learned how to run like the wind while darting to the outhouse, armed with a bat, pursued by the fearsome family rooster. You can look it up!”

The narrative switches back and forth between past and present tense. We hear all about Mantle’s growing-up years in the past tense, but when the story switches to the moment Mantle is discovered, we plunge into the present tense. A New York Yankees talent scout sees Mantle playing ball:

He walks up to Mickey and asks him how old he is.

“Sixteen,” Mickey tells him.

Too young for the major leagues.

Still, he asks, “Would you ever be interested in playing ball for the Yankees?”

he story switches back to past tense after Mantle has been discovered:

Here’s what happened: Mickey’s boyood dream came true–at age nineteen, the Yanks brought him up to the majors…

We switch back to present tense at another life-changing moment for Mantle, during the description of a World Series game where he was seriously injured, an injury he never fully shook, and then back to past tense to end the book.

The tense changes are artfully done–it’s easy not to even notice them–but they work to create the narrative arc of his life.

C.F. Payne’s art is wonderful, and don’t forget to notice the endpapers. Any Yankees fan will love them.

Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by C.F. Payne. Schwartz & Wade, 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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

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.

On cover of The Kid from Diamond Street a girl leans jauntily on baseball bat.I love stories about gutsy women. I love stories about gutsy kids. Here’s a book about both–a gutsy girl.

Edith Houghton loved baseball. But in the 1920s there were no Little League teams for girls. Didn’t matter. She kept playing, and when she was 10 years old (ten!) she joined a professional team. She was by far the youngest and tiniest member of the team, which required her to find ways to alter her uniform so it wouldn’t fall of of her. But it didn’t stop her playing ball.

In fact, she played so well, when she was 13 she was invited to be part of an exhibition team representing the US playing in Japan. This book tells the story of how Edith Houghton began playing ball and then the great adventure of her trip abroad with her teammates.

I was floored that I had never heard of this remarkable girl. I loved seeing Japan through her eyes. Vernick chooses wonderful quotes that keep the point of view strictly Edith’s. (I did wish that the quotes had been attributed in the back matter.)

Vernick and Salerno teamed up for another great baseball book about unlikely players, Brothers at Bat. This one is a great book for baseball fans, for gutsy women, and for passionate kids.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2016.

Children around a globe. I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.A 1

Cover of book showing many men, including athletes in full uniform, surrounding a tiny woman holding a pencil and a notepadMiss Mary Reporting is vintage Sue Macy–it’s the rollicking story of a woman breaking barriers in the world of sports. But this time, the woman isn’t an athlete but a reporter.

This picture book biography tells the story of Mary Garber, one of the first and arguably the most prominent early female sportswriter. We learn about many of the stories she covered–from football to Soap Box Derby racing–and about her experience reporting on Jackie Robinson as he broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

Mary Garber not only reported on a trailblazer but also became one in her own right. She insisted on covering black high school athletic events, not just ones from the white schools in her hometown of Winston-Salem. And of course being a female sports reporter brought its own set of challenges. Something as small as a press pass could prove a challenge for her:

Even after she was allowed in [the press box], Mary had to wear the football writers’ official press badge, which proclaimed, “Press Box: Women and Children Not Admitted.

As you would expect in a book about a reporter, the narrative voice is straightforward and sometimes reportorial. The back matter is lively and helpful. I especially loved seeing all of the quotes in the book–13 in all!–fully attributed.

C.F. Payne’s illustrations reminded me of editorial cartoons. They’re fun to look at and good cartoon likenesses of famous faces.

This video is long, but if you watch even a few minutes of it, you’ll be able to see the real Mary Garber and hear her voice.

BasketballAre you ready for the Sweet Sixteen?

Chips? Check.

Cold drinks? Check.

Stack of nonfiction picture books?

Here are three great basketball books that every basketball fan–and every picture book fan!–will love.

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball, by John Coy (Carolrhoda: 2013). The unlikely story of the beginnings of basketball and its first rule-maker, James Naismith. The book recently won a South Carolina PBA 2015-2016 library award, and their library system put out a lively book trailer.

Cover of Hoop Genius with portrait of inventor James Naismith.



Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map, by Suc Macy (Holiday House: 2011). The rollicking story of the first women’s intercollegiate basketball game, between Stanford and Berkeley.


Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy (Carolrhoda: 2015). Suspense-filled story of the first desegregated collegiate basketball game, played in secrecy in 1944. The story of the game was kept under wraps so that the coaches wouldn’t be arrested or lynched. It’s a triumphant, well-told story. Cover of book titled Game Changer shows two basketball players, one leaping toward the basket with the ball in his hand.





Cover of book, showing a black basketball player leaping toward a basket while a white player watches, mouth open in surprise.“On Sunday, March 12, 1944, at eleven in the morning, when most people were still at church, a group of basketball players who thought they were the best in the state of North Carolina piled into two cars. The members of the Duke University medical School team knew they were playing a game, but they didn’t all know where they were going or who their opponent would be.”

I’m not even a basketball fan, but the opening of this book gripped me, and the suspense-filled writing kept me turning pages. It tells the true story of the first desegregated intercollegiate basketball game. It was unofficial and was kept secret for years–even a newspaper reporter who learned of it sat on the news–because announcing it would have meant, at best, arrest for the two coaches, who were flaunting North Carolina’s laws against “race-mixing” or, at worst, a lynching from the Ku Klux Klan.

In this book we sneak into the gym with the ball players and watch their game. The white players, who had a nearly perfect record going into this game, came to admire the skill of the black players, who represented an entirely new style of play–aggressive, fast, and physical. When the official game was over, the players, still giddy over the game, decided to play a second, pick-up game, where they mixed the two teams and played Shirts vs. Skins. And when that game was over, the black players invited the white players into their homes for an afternoon of socializing.

The art in the book is mostly in blues and yellows. the drawings (charcoal?) are vivid and active.

I’d never heard of this secret game before I read this book. I’m thrilled to share the story of it with my kids.

Check out this video of an elderly John McLendon talking about basketball and its founder.

Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy, illustrated by Randy DuBurke. (Carolrhoda: 2015)


pedroI’m the fifth child in my family and was always delighted to have teachers mistakenly call me by a sibling’s name–I knew it could only mean good things for me. So the central relationship in this book, two brothers who sometimes envy each other but always admire and help each other, resonated with me.

This is the story of two great baseball players, Ramon and Pedro Martinez, and how they came to leave the Dominican Republic to play in the American big leagues and how their relationship grew and changed over time. Tavares tells the story with short, muscular sentences. He’s good at talking baseball but never loses focus on the central brother-to-brother relationship.

This book has a hefty word count–over 1700 words!–so it’s not for the quick bedtime read or the impatient toddler, but there’s plenty here for baseball fans and older kids who take the time to savor it.

Trailer for the book.

Growing Up Pedro, by Matt Tavares. Candlewick: 2015.


This wonderful book could be a primer on ways to make a picture book glow.

On the first page I already start to fall in love with the breezy, funny narrative voice:

In the old days, most girls came to America with a dream, but all Tillie Anderson had was a needle. so she got herself a job in a tailor’s shop and waited for a dream to come and find her. One day it rolled right by her window.

The story of this early female bicycle racer unfolds with rollicking, unexpected word choice:

Tillie dreamed of the speedy, scorchy, racy kind of riding

and with page turns that brilliantly build suspense:

Tillie had found that riding in dresses and skirts meant spilling, not speeding, falling, not flying. So…[page turn] Tillie used her noodle and her needle to make something entirely different from what was sold in the ladies’ shop where she worked.

I cheered for Tillie all the way through to the funny surprise ending, amazed and happy that such a remarkable woman really lived.

Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History, by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy. Knopf: 2011.

In honor of the World Series, here are some great recent nonfiction picture books about baseball:

You Never Heard of  Willie Mays?  Jonah Winter also wrote You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss. Haunting and inspirational story of a semi-pro player in a Japanese American internment camp in World War II.

 Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares. Fascinating biography of the legendary baseball player.

 Who’s on First? by Abbott and Costello. Transcription of the classic comedy act with funny pictures.

 Baseball Is by Louise Borden. A love poem to baseball.

Go Giants!