Neymar: A Soccer Dream Come True (Mina Javaherbin)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Neymar: A Soccer Dream Come True, written by Mina Javaherbin and illustrated by Paul Hoppe, the real-life story of Neymar Jr., one of the biggest soccer stars in the world.

Growing up in Brazil, Neymar Jr. lived and breathed soccer; he spent all the time he could playing and practicing. His father had once played, but had to quit his pro career after an accident, but he passed on his love of soccer to his son and encouraged Neymar Jr..’s passion for it. At a local amateur match, a coach sees potential in young Neymar Jr. and offers to coach him, which earns him a spot in the local club. Eventually Neymar is even accepted to a prestigious trial with Real Madrid in Spain, but he finds that he misses his home, and especially his family. His father agrees to take him back to Brazil, much to the shock of Neymar’s friends and fans. But as it turns out, a talent like Neymar’s, combined with his drive and the support of his family, is destined to grow no matter where it’s planted.

This one was great! We don’t read a lot of sports books because JJ’s not into sports yet, but this is one of those sports stories that transcends the fandom. The main focus is Neymar Jr.’s childhood and rise as a soccer star, but it’s interspersed with lessons that are applicable to fans and non-fans alike, such as responsibly, the importance of hard work and family, and knowing when to trust your instincts, even if the world calls you crazy. The first-person narrative helps the reader connect with Neymar Jr., and the warm, energetic illustrations are cozy yet exciting. The length is great, and JJ enjoyed it. A great story for fans of soccer or simply lovers of a great story. Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb And The Boston Marathon (Annette Bay Pimentel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb And The Boston Marathon, written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer, the inspiring story of the first woman to compete in the famous race.

Bobbi loves to run. The second her school bell rings, she’s off. Running is when she feels happy and free, and brings her joy like nothing else. Every year, the famous Boston Marathon passes by her town, and Bobbi watches the runners as they pass, itching to join. When she is old enough, she spends a year training for the Marathon, traveling across the country and running on all kinds of terrain. And when it comes time to sign up for the 1966 Boston Marathon, Bobbi sends in her application, and is cruelly rejected. Women are not “physiologically able” to run 26.2 miles, her rejection letter states, “and it’s against the rules besides.” Bobbi is crushed, but she makes a decision: she will race, whether they will have her or not. When the day comes, she sneaks into the race as it starts, and soon learns that to change the rules, sometimes you have to break them.

An amazing story, beautifully told. Bobbi’s story is certainly inspirational, and the text does a great job of laying out the plot in an exciting yet informative way. It draws the reader into Bobbi’s world, from her inability to find running shoes for women, her drive to finish the race for her female spectators, even a great scene where the male runners show her support and solidarity when they realize she is female (a great message for young male readers in a decidedly girl-power book). The art is also an immersion, using paint and collage to create spreads filled with depth and passion, so visceral that the reader can feel the wind in their hair. The length is fine for even smaller bookworms, and JJ loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

The Golden Girls Of Rio (Nikkolas Smith)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Golden Girls Of Rio by Nikkolas Smith, a celebration of the gold-winning female athletes of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In the summer of 2016, on the world’s stage, a handful of young female athletes captivated, awed, and inspired. But before these young women were champions, they were little girls from all across America, who worked hard and practiced tirelessly to become the best in their sports. They made friends and formed teams along the way, and were invited to represent their country in the largest athletic competition in the world – and all of them triumphed. Michelle Carter became the first US gold medalist in shotput, while Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel broke multiple swimming records between them. And of course, The Final Five, the multiple gold medal-winning gymnastics team, including Simone Biles, the most decorated US gymnast of all time.

A cute book that celebrates some seriously awesome women. If you weren’t enraptured by the female US athletes during the Rio Olympics, you weren’t watching, and it’s great that there is a book that celebrates not only their achievements, but the immense amounts of determination and hard work that went into reaching gold. The digital art is a little uneven, lacking depth at times but creating great abstract visuals at others, and is the one place where the book struggles. Otherwise, the length is fine, and JJ definitely enjoyed it. One personal note: since the book was published, members of the Final Five have gone on to be prominent figures in the #MeToo movement, and instrumental in prosecuting one of the worst monsters and most corrupt institutions brought to light in this reckoning. So in my very biased opinion, any book that celebrates them as athletes and women deserves to be shared with every little reader. Baby Bookworm approved.

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen (Marissa Moss)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen, written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by C.F. Payne, a girl-powered true story of the one of the first female professional baseball players.

On a sunny day in April of 1931, a small minor league team called the Chattanooga Lookouts were preparing for an exhibition game with one of the best major league teams in the country: The New York Yankees. Reporters and fans filled the stands, many to see the Lookouts’ pitcher: Jackie Mitchell. As a little girl, Jackie was told by nearly everyone that girls couldn’t and shouldn’t play baseball – but her father believed in her, as did her neighbor Dizzy Vance (a professional pitcher himself), so they trained her. Jackie practiced relentlessly, and at the age of only seventeen, found herself in front of a jeering crowd, up against one of the most talented ball clubs in history. But what Jackie did next was extraordinary – she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back, stunning the crowd and making baseball history.

Very, very cool. I was vaguely aware of Mitchell, and was pleased to hear about this book when it was recommended to us so that we could learn more (as depressing postscript, Jackie’s success embarrassed many of baseballs higher-ups, and her contract was voided a few days later by the baseball commissioner, who declared the game “too strenuous” for women. Mitchell continued to play for small clubs, but retired six years later, tired of being used as a novelty). The story on its own is uplifting and empowering, and centers on the theme that greatness takes hard work and belief in oneself as well as opportunity. The illustrations are lovely, using a nostalgic, realistic style that fits the humble and determined protagonist. A good length, and JJ was enthralled by the end. An awesome story about an inspiring female athlete, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Thanks to Christine Nault for the recommendation!)