An illuminating and inspiring—if somewhat rose-colored—chronicle of the life of a world-class athlete.

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SERENA

THE LITTLEST SISTER

A picture-book biography of tennis champion Serena Williams.

Serena was the youngest of five sisters, behind, in birth order, Yetunde, Isha, Lyndrea, and Venus. The sisters used old, donated balls to play tennis in their hometown of Compton, California; they weren’t very bouncy but would later help Venus and Serena as “good practice for Wimbledon…where the balls bounced lower because the tennis court was made of grass” (Serena would go on to win seven Wimbledon titles). Emphasis is placed on the deep and “unbreakable” bond among the five sisters. Ahanonu’s style emphasizes flat swaths of digital color, and as a result readers may need to rely on the sisters’ relative sizes and hairstyles to pick out Serena. As Gray tells it, Serena was gifted at tennis, but her father didn’t feel she was ready to compete—so she won her first match after secretly signing up for a tournament Venus was competing in, the beginning of an incredible career that has continued to make history and has consistently been supported by her sisters’ love and encouragement. Though focusing on the sisterly bond is commendable and introducing the three older sisters refreshing, alluding to but never naming racism feels disingenuous, especially given the racial injustice Williams has endured. Later images of the Williams sisters at their predominantly white Florida tennis academy only partially compensate.

An illuminating and inspiring—if somewhat rose-colored—chronicle of the life of a world-class athlete. (afterword, biographical note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62414-694-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Page Street

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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Blandly laudatory.

I AM WALT DISNEY

From the Ordinary People Change the World series

The iconic animator introduces young readers to each “happy place” in his life.

The tally begins with his childhood home in Marceline, Missouri, and climaxes with Disneyland (carefully designed to be “the happiest place on Earth”), but the account really centers on finding his true happy place, not on a map but in drawing. In sketching out his early flubs and later rocket to the top, the fictive narrator gives Ub Iwerks and other Disney studio workers a nod (leaving his labor disputes with them unmentioned) and squeezes in quick references to his animated films, from Steamboat Willie to Winnie the Pooh (sans Fantasia and Song of the South). Eliopoulos incorporates stills from the films into his cartoon illustrations and, characteristically for this series, depicts Disney as a caricature, trademark mustache in place on outsized head even in childhood years and child sized even as an adult. Human figures default to white, with occasional people of color in crowd scenes and (ahistorically) in the animation studio. One unidentified animator builds up the role-modeling with an observation that Walt and Mickey were really the same (“Both fearless; both resourceful”). An assertion toward the end—“So when do you stop being a child? When you stop dreaming”—muddles the overall follow-your-bliss message. A timeline to the EPCOT Center’s 1982 opening offers photos of the man with select associates, rodent and otherwise. An additional series entry, I Am Marie Curie, publishes simultaneously, featuring a gowned, toddler-sized version of the groundbreaking physicist accepting her two Nobel prizes.

Blandly laudatory. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2875-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An inspiring introduction to the young Nobel Peace Prize winner and a useful conversation starter

MALALA'S MAGIC PENCIL

The latest of many picture books about the young heroine from Pakistan, this one is narrated by Malala herself, with a frame that is accessible to young readers.

Malala introduces her story using a television show she used to watch about a boy with a magic pencil that he used to get himself and his friends out of trouble. Readers can easily follow Malala through her own discovery of troubles in her beloved home village, such as other children not attending school and soldiers taking over the village. Watercolor-and-ink illustrations give a strong sense of setting, while gold ink designs overlay Malala’s hopes onto her often dreary reality. The story makes clear Malala’s motivations for taking up the pen to tell the world about the hardships in her village and only alludes to the attempt on her life, with a black page (“the dangerous men tried to silence me. / But they failed”) and a hospital bracelet on her wrist the only hints of the harm that came to her. Crowds with signs join her call before she is shown giving her famous speech before the United Nations. Toward the end of the book, adult readers may need to help children understand Malala’s “work,” but the message of holding fast to courage and working together is powerful and clear.

An inspiring introduction to the young Nobel Peace Prize winner and a useful conversation starter . (Picture book/memoir. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-31957-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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