December 1, 2016 Booklist 41 www.booklistonline.com
cal prisoners, were herded onto a cattle car
and sent to a work farm in rugged, remote
Kazakhstan. Her mother’s gift for barter
and the friendships of similarly afflicted
families sustained them for two years of
extreme hardship and near starvation. Mihulka, now in her late eighties, does her best
to convey the experience as perceived by a
young girl. Her narrative has undeniable
value as a document. As a story intended
for a young audience, it does at times fall
short and may not effectively keep younger
readers hooked. Still, this memoir has power
and does the necessary work of prompting
readers to try to imagine what it’s like to be
among the millions of children undergoing
similar upheavals in the war zones of today.
Legends: The Best Players, Games, and
Teams in Basketball.
By Howard Bryant.
Jan. 2017. 368p. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399169052).
796.323. Gr. 4–7.
Bryant continues his series on the history of professional American sports with a
decade-by-decade account of the rise of the
NBA (and ABA) from the 1950s to the 2016
Finals this past June. Rather than present a
rigidly systematic chronicle or an indigestible barrage of names and statistics, he begins
chapters with highlight reels of each era’s leading players and teams and then follows with
amplified tributes to select stars of the court,
breathless tales of hard fought Finals, rosters
of colorful nicknames, and tallies of top 10
teams, players, and epic performances—all
with fulsome explanatory comments. Aside
from brief glances at drugs and racial issues,
the author rarely, if ever, looks past the court
action to the players’ private lives or pre- and
post-professional careers. Complete basketball newbies will flounder, but readers with
a basic grasp of the game’s rules, jargon, and
history will find this a trove of awesome athletic feats, game-changing stars of the past
and present, and rich fodder for heated arguments. —John Peters
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem
By Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Cozbi Cabrera
Jan. 2017. 128p. Bloomsbury, $18.99 (9781619635548).
811. Gr. 5–8.
Inspired by poets of the Harlem Renais-
sance, Grimes showcases 15 of their short
poems and follows each with one of her
own, in which every word in a line, or lines,
from the original becomes the last word of
a line in the new work. Her poems, draw-
ing from the works of poets such as Paul
Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes,
add contemporary dimensions to time-
less themes, such as growing up in hard
times and finding the strength, hope, and
courage to carry on. Most of her free-verse
poems are written from a kid’s point of
view, though a few reflect the thoughts and
advice of adults. Fourteen accomplished Af-
rican American illustrators, including many
winners of Coretta Scott King illustrator
awards or honors, contributed illustrations
for Grimes’ poems. Though most of the pic-
tures were not available in final form, the
two seen in color are strong, distinctive, and
vibrant. This anthology has plenty to offer,
including effective introductions to Harlem
Renaissance poets, well-expressed ideas and
images, and, for young writers, a challeng-
ing way to turn admiration into inspiration.
A Song about Myself.
By John Keats. Illus. by Chris Raschka.
Mar. 2017. 40p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763650902).
821. Gr. 1–4.
Lively, bright watercolors bring a poem
by English Romantic poet Keats into the
realm of a contemporary child’s experience.
The poem is divided into four sections, and
Raschka keeps to the original language and
spelling. Phrases such as “This Knapsack /
Tight at’s back / He rivetted close” and
spellings such as “ghostes” and “postes” are
clarified with context clues. Adults may
need to help children learn that “Miller’s
thumb” and “Tittlebat” are types of fish, but
little ones will enjoy the sounds of the words
even if they don’t fully grasp the meanings.
A thick, colored arrow runs through each
section, emphasizing that the boy is on a
journey and giving the whole book a helpful
visual structure, and, by the end, the arrow continues pointing onward, suggesting
the journey is ongoing. An illustrator’s note
outlines Keats’ life and career and explains
that Keats included the poem in a letter sent
to entertain his younger sister. This playful
poem about exploration and wandering is
a lovely complement to Raschka’s signature
loose style. —Lucinda Whitehurst
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the
Power of a Protest Song.
By Gary Golio. Illus. by Charlotte Riley-
Feb. 2017. 40p. Lerner/Millbrook, lib. ed., $19.99
(9781467751230). 782.42165. Gr. 3–6.
At first glance, the picture-book format
seems an odd choice for this minibiography,
directed at middle-schoolers, of jazz legend
Holiday and her signature song about the
horrors of lynching. The vivid imagery of
the lyrics and the reality underlying them
are strong stuff for young sensibilities. The
lengthy, text-heavy narrative follows the chal-
lenges Billie Holiday faced as a light-skinned
black musician (she was often hidden from
white patrons but was “too white for an all-
black band”) before segueing into her first
introduction to Abel Meeropol’s “Strange
Fruit” and the effects the song had on au-
diences. Riley-Webb’s full-bleed acrylic
illustrations are remarkably effective. Often
abstract, they portray the jazz world and racial
tensions of the era just before the civil rights
movement. Adults will immediately catch
many of the oblique references, though un-
informed middle-graders will remain clueless.
The format and back matter make this most
useful in a classroom setting where it should
prompt a discussion about one of the darkest
times in U.S. history. —Leon Wagner
Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born.
By Gene Barretta. Illus. by Frank
Jan. 2017. 40p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $17.99
(9780062430168). 796.8. K–Gr. 3.
After 12-year-old Cassius Clay, as he was
known then, had his new red bike stolen,
he practiced at the gym and learned to fight
back against injustice wherever he saw it. Illustrations in oils in rich browns, shades of
grays, and white highlights show the fighter
Muhammad Ali in many action poses exhibiting his strength and lightning speed. The
strong diagonals in the compositions portray
movement and excitement, from boyhood to
boxing matches. A “POW!” in a large font
peppers several pages as Ali conquers bout
after bout to win 56 out of 61 professional
fights. The People’s Champion, he was one of
the most recognizable athletes in the world,
whose poetic statements are legendary (“Float
like a butterfly, sting like a bee—His hands
can’t hit what his eyes can’t see!”). Back matter
gives more information about his life in the
ring, his conversion to the Nation of Islam,
his struggles with Parkinson’s, and his death,
on June 3, 2016. Sure to provide inspiration
for young readers. —Lolly Gepson
Our Very Own Dog.
By Amanda McCardie. Illus. by Salvatore
Feb. 2017. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763689483).
636.7. PreS–Gr. 1.
McCardie narrates a story from her own
childhood in this engaging nonfiction picture book. Amanda is four years old when
her parents bring Sophie home from an animal shelter, and they made sure they were
prepared for their new companion, with “a
cozy bed and blankets, bowls for food and
water, a toy to sleep with and one to chew,
a ball, a leash, and a collar.” Teaching commands and going out for walks are just a few
of the many daily activities needed to keep
Sophie healthy and happy. Even though
Sophie sometimes gets in trouble, Amanda
and her folks are surprised when Sophie gets
interested in a dog show. Rubbino’s lively
multimedia illustrations in bright colors
and expressionistic strokes nicely capture
the playful atmosphere of McCardie’s genial, straightforward text. Factual dog tips
in smaller print run alongside the main text,
and additional info about dog care and behaviors reinforce the book’s focus. Little ones
looking for helpful pointers about dog ownership will be well served by this breezy take.