Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller

Cover image for Be Strong.

Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781250221117)

Being strong doesn’t just mean that you can make it to the top of the climbing wall in gym like Cayla. The young narrator has been told by her family that being strong will get you through life when hard times hit. But some days she can’t even lift her heavy backpack. So she asks her father how she can be strong. He tells her that strength is showing up like when they help people who have lost their homes. Her mother says strength is speaking up, like when her mother worked to get a crossing guard at a busy street. Her grandmother says it means not giving up, like her starting to run. So the girl figures out what the means for her, how she can help those around her, how she can speak up and change the way things work, and how if she keeps on trying she can reach her goals both on her own and with some help.

Miller cleverly plays against the stereotypical definition of strength early in this picture book. She shows that yes, physical strength is definitely strength and then proceeds through the rest of the book to show the other aspects of strength, including resilience, determination, speaking up, setting goals, and asking for help. Miller’s text is simple and reads aloud well. She nicely walks young readers through what strength is, allowing them to see it both in themselves and others.

Hill’s illustrations show a diverse cast of characters in an urban setting. The young narrator is Black and her community of classmates and others are a variety of races and religions. The illustrations are bright and friendly, inviting readers into a world where children can make a difference.

A vibrant look at strength and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone

Cover image for Fast Pitch.

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone (9781984893017)

Shenice is the captain of the first girls softball team in the league that is entirely girls of color. There’s a lot of pressure on her to perform and to play the role of captain, inspiring others with her belief that they can not only win that single game, but also win the entire championship. As Shenice and the rest of the team put up with microaggressions and outright racism from other teams and their communities, she finds out the reason that her grandfather left professional baseball. Shenice meets her great-uncle Jack, a man savvy enough to not speak about this in front of her parents, but also elderly enough that getting the full story takes some time and effort. As her grandfather’s history is revealed, Shenice realizes that she might have a chance to clear her grandfather’s name for a crime he didn’t commit, and the reason he was pushed out of baseball entirely. Now she just has to keep focused on both finding the proof and also leading her team to victory. It may be too much for one person to handle!

Stone has created a book that speaks at once to both modern racism and then to systemic racism and its impact on Black people in the past and today. This is done in a personal way, so that readers experience the racism that Shenice and her friends are shown at their games. The clever use of family history will lead readers and the characters to explore the past and how it serves as a lens for what is also happening today.

The characters in this book are particularly well drawn. Shenice herself is determined, passionate and skilled. Uncle Jack is fabulous, funny and sly. Then there is the team, the one that stands by their captain, even getting into some trouble along the way as they all work to solve the mystery together.

Game on! Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.