Uneven to forgettable.

Short vignettes skim through the childhoods of a gathering of sports heroes.

The “True Tales” of the subtitle doesn’t necessarily mean riveting tales, as Stabler proves with these mostly ho-hum glimpses at sporting legends such as Jackie Robinson, Bobby Orr, and Danica Patrick (there are 16 personalities all told). The book is divided into three sections: future stars who had to battle money or gender issues; kids who got family encouragement; kids who learned it takes practice, practice, practice. There is no hope if you can’t coax a good story out of Babe Ruth, and Stabler can’t:  “So when Little George was seven, his parents asked a local official to declare him ‘incorrigible’ and to send him to a reformatory”—and the bulk of the entry focuses on young George’s development of a moral compass under the tutelage of Brother Matthias. So what if Peyton Manning was traumatized by dancing a tango in a school play? Many readers will already have experienced greater embarrassments, and the implication that dancing is an activity not befitting a football player is positively retrograde. “When his father first strapped a pair of ice skates onto his son’s feet, four-year-old Bobby [Orr] promptly fell onto the ice.” Not breaking news. Horner’s line drawings are a minor relief.

Uneven to forgettable. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59474-802-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015


Though a bit loose around the edges, a charmer nevertheless.

Tales of a fourth grade ne’er-do-well.

It seems that young Jordan is stuck in a never-ending string of bad luck. Sure, no one’s perfect (except maybe goody-two-shoes William Feranek), but Jordan can’t seem to keep his attention focused on the task at hand. Try as he may, things always go a bit sideways, much to his educators’ chagrin. But Jordan promises himself that fourth grade will be different. As the year unfolds, it does prove to be different, but in a way Jordan couldn’t possibly have predicted. This humorous memoir perfectly captures the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling many kids feel and effectively heightens that feeling with comic situations and a splendid villain. Jordan’s teacher, Mrs. Fisher, makes an excellent foil, and the book’s 1970s setting allows for her cruelty to go beyond anything most contemporary readers could expect. Unfortunately, the story begins to run out of steam once Mrs. Fisher exits. Recollections spiral, losing their focus and leading to a more “then this happened” and less cause-and-effect structure. The anecdotes are all amusing and Jordan is an endearing protagonist, but the book comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome with sheer repetitiveness. Thankfully, it ends on a high note, one pleasant and hopeful enough that readers will overlook some of the shabbier qualities. Jordan is White and Jewish while there is some diversity among his classmates; Mrs. Fisher is White.

Though a bit loose around the edges, a charmer nevertheless. (Memoir. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-64723-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020


An apt choice for collections that already have stronger alternatives, such as R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012).

A memoir of the first 14 years in the life of Australian Robert Hoge, born with stunted legs and a tumor in the middle of his face.

In 1972, Robert is born, the youngest of five children, with fishlike eyes on the sides of his face, a massive lump in place of his nose, and malformed legs. As baby Robert is otherwise healthy, the doctors convince his parents to approve the first of many surgeries to reduce his facial difference. One leg is also amputated, and Robert comes home to his everyday white, working-class family. There's no particular theme to the tale of Robert's next decade and a half: he experiences school and teasing, attempts to participate in sports, and is shot down by a girl. Vignette-driven choppiness and the lack of an overarching narrative would make the likeliest audience be those who seek disability stories. However, young Robert's ongoing quest to identify as "normal"—a quest that remains unchanged until a sudden turnaround on the penultimate page—risks alienating readers comfortable with their disabilities. Brief lyrical moments ("as compulsory as soggy tomato sandwiches at snack time") appeal but are overwhelmed by the dry, distant prose dominating this autobiography.

An apt choice for collections that already have stronger alternatives, such as R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012). (Memoir. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-425-28775-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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