Gravity by Sarah Deming (9780525581031)
Once Gravity found her way to the Cops ‘n Kids gym, a place with no address, she couldn’t stop going. There was a smell the gym of boys and sweat, and it gave her a real reason to hit something and hit it hard. As Gravity got older, she got better at boxing, quickly becoming a young boxer to watch in the circuit. She headed undefeated into meets that could lead her to the Olympics, but her home life was a mess. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic who was best when she was ignoring Gravity and her little brother. Her father had left, returned and then disappeared again. Now Gravity had a way forward, a way to create a future for herself and her brother separate from her mother. All she had to do was win, and she worked hard and wanted it badly. But nothing comes easily, especially in boxing.
I must admit that I’m not usually a fan of sports novels, but Deming’s novel of Gravity and her battles to make it out of poverty and abuse caught me and held me in its sweaty arms. Deming herself has personal knowledge of boxing as a New York City Golden Gloves champion and boxing journalist. She takes that knowledge and allows readers to see beyond the physicality and violence of boxing into the art and skill of the sport. Her writing is fast paced and the bouts themselves are readable, understandable, and sometimes bloody.
Gravity is a fantastic heroine, someone who is resilient and strong both in her heart and her body. She is confident but not overly so, someone that readers will relate to and understand deeply as she is shown so clearly and vividly in this novel. Gravity is also someone who loves deeply, including family and her coach. This novel doesn’t shrink away from sex either, nicely never shaming the participants either.
A gripping, feminist sports novel that will grab readers and not let them go. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Over 100 years ago in Paris, there was a postman named Lalouche who thanks to his job delivering the mail was nimble, strong and fast. He lived a quiet life with just his pet finch and a view of the Seine River. When his job was replaced with an electric car, he was forced to turn to boxing to support himself. At first, he was laughed at because he was so small and slight, but once he got in the ring, he proved that those same postal service skills made him a great boxer. Soon he was pitted against The Anaconda in a major fight. What happens when Lalouche finally meets a boxer just as strong, nimble and fast as himself?
This is going to be one gushing review, since I complete adore this picture book. Olshan’s writing strikes just the right balance between history and humor. His text is completely readable and ideal to read aloud to a group. The names of the wrestlers are delightful: The Piston, The Anaconda, The Grecque. The story is satisfying and complete, one of those picture books that is all about the tale it is telling, much to its credit.
Blackall is the ideal illustrator for this quirky French picture book. She plays with proportions and size here, creating wrestlers that dwarf the little Lalouche. Her cut paper illustrations have a great dimension to them, the layers of paper creating shadows and depth. I love the warmth of the world she creates in her version of Paris, everything faded, watermarked and somehow familiar.
Highly recommended, this picture book would make a stellar pick to read aloud to elementary classes thanks to its boxing, action and humor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
Jimmy the Greatest by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng
Jimmy lives in a small village in Latin America where there is nothing but a small church and a little gym. Thanks to that little gym, Jimmy and the other children in town spend their time learning to box. Since Jimmy didn’t have much else to do, he started to train. He wanted to become a famous boxer and get his mother the icebox she needed. It all changed though when his trainer, Don Apolinar, gave Jimmy a box of clippings and books about Mohammad Ali. Jimmy started reading all about Ali, started wearing his glasses, and even shadowboxed while continuing to read. Jimmy learned about respect and dignity from Ali, creating his own sayings from Ali quotes. He grew into a great boxer. When Don Apolinar left the village for a larger city, Jimmy stayed behind and kept up the gym and opened a library.
This picture book took my breath away with its ending. As Don Apolinar headed to the bus to leave town, I assumed that Jimmy was joining him or following close behind. Instead, Jimmy stays where he is and continues to pass on the training he received and share his inspiration and learning with others. It is a tribute to those who stay in their home communities and make a difference. Jimmy learned a lot, let his dreams flow, and still stayed, not because he felt trapped or stuck, but because he wanted to.
Yockteng’s illustrations are filled with warm, yellow light. They display the barren environment around the village, the lack of things to do, and yet they also show a community of bright-colored shacks and friendly people. There is a beauty to the barren landscape and certainly a beauty to the people themselves.
Highly recommended, this book pays homage to the local hero, the person who stays and makes a difference. It’s one character that is often missing in children’s picture books and it’s great to see such a wonderful tribute. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.