Black History Month: Athletes

Here’s my last post for Black History Month. It’s been a joy to create these. I hope you’ll read ’em all!

game changer cover image

Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game, by John Coy, illustrated by Randy DuBurke
published in 2015 by Carolrhoda Books

Before “I Have a Dream,” before Brown vs. Board of Education, even before Jackie Robinson’s dramatic entrance to the major leagues, an entirely secret moment of integration took place. On a basketball court in North Carolina.

game changer illustration randy duburke

The fact that this game, between the North Carolina College of Negroes team and the Duke University Medical School squad, had to be kept so intensely under the radar, is, frankly, horrifying. But the leadership of Coach McLendon and Coach Burgess, and the willingness of these young men to take part, is beautiful. 

game changer interior coy and duburke

Randy DuBurke’s masterful figurative work here is gorgeous, exhilarating, with a classy, vintage touch. As we head into March Madness, this is one you should not miss, for ages 5 and up.

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Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, by Ann Malaspina, illustrations by Eric Velasquez
published in 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company

This breezy-fast biography-in-verse tells of a marvelous athlete who pushed past racial barriers and soared to the top of the world, becoming the first black woman to win Olympic gold. That was in 1948, at the London Olympics, and it was the only gold for the American women’s track and field team that year.

touch the sky interior malaspina and velasquez

Delightful biography, vivid illustrations, and some nice historical photos to accompany the Author’s Note. Ages 5 and up.

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Something to Prove:The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio, by Robert Skead, illustrations by Floyd Cooper
published in 2013 by Carolrhoda Books

There are a lot of books about Jackie Robinson, but here’s one about Satchel Paige, who was in the spotlight a decade before Robinson broke into Major League Baseball. Although he was one of the greatest pitchers ever, Paige entered the baseball world when Negro League players were still separated from white players by a stone wall of racism.

something to prove interior skead and cooper

In 1936, Satchel Paige was requested to come to California and pitch against a young kid named Joe DiMaggio, just to see what kind of stuff Joe was made of. Here is the story of that game. Brought to life for us by Floyd Cooper’s fabulous illustrations, this one’s for baseball fans ages 5 and up.

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Henry Aaron’s Dream, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Matt Tavares’ recounting of Hank Aaron’s life is vivid and engaging, and his artwork is a home run. (Could not resist one corny pun.)

henry aaron's dream illustration matt tavares

I was captivated by the story of this slugger’s pathway to the top. The earliest players in the major leagues faced such formidable, disgusting obstacles and did so with courage and grace. An Author’s Note adds lots of detail to the history and there’s a whole page of stats — just the ticket for a true fan, ages 5 and up.

wilma unlimited cover image

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz
published in 1996 by Voyager Books, Harcourt

Wilma Rudolph’s inspiring life includes overcoming a sickly childhood and — incredibly — a leg crippled by polio, and that is truly something to cheer about.

wilma unlimited illustration david diaz

She went on to surmount obstacles of gender and race to compete in Track and Field at the 1960 Rome Olympics where she blew away the competition and amazed the world. It’s a Cinderella story if ever there was one. David Diaz’s bold, cubist-leaning illustrations are stunning. Rich colors and textured, photographic backgrounds fill every page with strength and character. An exceptional book for ages 5 and up.