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News & Reviews

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory



Kids Can Press

(pub. 5.4.2021) 40 pages

Author: Julie Abery

Illustrator: Chris Sasaki

Character: Soichi Sakamoto

Overview: "The inspirational and little-known story of a dedicated teacher who coached Hawaiian swimmers all the way to the Olympics, beautifully told in simple rhyme. When the children of workers on a 1930s Maui sugar plantation were chased away from playing in the nearby irrigation ditches, local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto had an idea. He offered to take responsibility for the children --- and then he began training them how to swim... The children worked hard under the dedicated Sakamoto's guidance, and their skills improved. They formed a swim club and began to dominate in swimming events around the world. And then one day, the proud Sakamoto saw an impossible dream come true --- Olympic gold!" Tantalizing taste:

"Valley Isle.

Lush terrain.

Migrant workers

cutting cane.

Dawn to dusk

they toil away.

Children left

alone to play.

Melting in the

midday sun,

diving, swimming,

having fun."


Policeman's on his beat.

Children scatter

in the heat."

And something more: Julie Abery explains in the Author's Note: "From his classroom window, a local science teacher named Soichi Sakamoto would watch the children swim [in the murky water of the sugar plantation irrigation ditches]. Sakamoto decided to speak to the owners of the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, offering to take responsibility for the children if the company would allow them to keep swimming in the irrigation ditches... Although not a good swimmer himself, he researched swimming strokes and applied his science background to come up with innovative training techniques... Finally, in 1948 Sakamoto's impossible dream came true. .. the Three-Year Swim Club's own Bill Smith took a glorious win in the 400-meter freestyle race- an Olympic record and Olympic gold!"

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

The Story of the First Women's National Skateboard Champion



Farrar Straus Giroux


(pub. 2.23.21) 48 pages

Author: Tootie Nienow

Illustrator: Erika Medina

Character: Pattie McGee

Overview: "There Goes Patti McGee! walks us through Patti's first place win in the women’s division of the 1964 National Skateboard Championship. She wowed the judges with with what would become her signature move―the rolling handstand. Inspiring and unapologetic, Patti McGee proves that anyone can skate." Tantalizing taste:

"Around and around, back and forth, up and down, and just for fun, she cartwheeled and walked handstands.

That's it! Patti thought. Skateboard is all about having fun. And this trick is the most fun!

Then the work began. Five hours a day!

Feet together. Toes pointed.

Crash! Crash! Crash!

It wasn't easy. Her arms ached and her knuckles bled.

On the day she balanced perfectly for six seconds, she knew was ready."

And something more: Tootie Nienow explains in the section Where Is She Now that "Patti McGee continues to inspire young skaters. At the Venice Annual Ladies Skateboard Jam in Los Angeles, Patti coaches skaters as young as five years old. She loves to help them hone their skills and tells them to 'skate every day.' In 2018, Patti embarked on a border-to-border tour from San Diego, California toVancouver, Canada... Wherever she goes, she shakes hands and gives hugs to everyone she meets, wanting to make people feel special and believe in their dreams, because that's how people accomplish the extraordinary... just like Patti did."

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

The Story of Ella Baker


Margaret K. McElderry Books

(Simon & Schuster)

(pub. 6.9. 2020) 48 pages

Author: Patricia Hruby Powell

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Character: Ella Baker

Overview: "Long before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, Ella Baker worked to lift others up by fighting racial injustice and empowering poor African Americans to stand up for their rights. Her dedication and grassroots work in many communities made her a valuable ally for leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and she has been ranked as one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement. In the 1960s she worked to register voters and organize sit-ins, and she became a teacher and mentor to many young activists." Tantalizing taste:

"All over the South

Ella made speeches

about freedom -

voting -

rights -

words straight from her heart

to the hearts of her audience.

Then she'd ask


And something more: Patricia Hruby Powell writes in the Author's Note: "Anyone who worked for the Black Freedom Movement (or for the Women's Movement) in the 1960s knew Ella Baker. But because she worked behind the scenes and didn't care about the spotlight, nor believed in following a charismatic figure or being followed, she is less known than she should be."

Where to find Jeanne Walker Harvey books

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