Tag Archives: kidlit

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

Soaring and Believing {Book Review – Courage to Soar by Simone Biles}

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

From the publisher:

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

Simone Biles’ entrance into the world of gymnastics may have started on a daycare field trip in her hometown of Spring, Texas, but her God-given talent, passion, and perseverance have made her one of the top gymnasts in the world, as well as a four-time winner of Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.

But there is more to Simone than the nineteen medals—fourteen of them gold—and the Olympic successes. Through years of hard work and determination, she has relied on her faith and family to stay focused and positive, while having fun competing at the highest level and doing what she loves. Here, in her own words, Simone takes you through the events, challenges, and trials that carried her from an early childhood in foster care to a coveted spot on the 2016 Olympic team.

Along the way, Simone shares the details of her inspiring personal story—one filled with the kinds of daily acts of courage that led her, and can lead you, to even the most unlikely of dreams.

My thoughts:

Written for tween age and up, this autobiography follows Simone from her early life in foster care through her gymnastics journey to the Olympics.

Each chapter starts with an inspiring quote from an author, athlete, or otherwise accomplished person. Simone also sprinkles in inspiring statements throughout her narrative, typically as she learns the lessons they grow from. These motivational lines can apply to anyone with a goal, which helps expand the book’s readership.

“…a person can only fail if they stop trying, if they refuse to pick themselves up and try harder.” – Simone Biles, Courage to Soar

The writing tone is casual and quality is average, but accessible. The chapters progress mainly chronologically (with a few backtracks), culminating with her recent Olympics experience. Readers gain insights to the many pressures that come with elite gymnastics. Faith discussion is limited, as comments were generally more about praying that God would make this or that happen and recognizing talents as God-given. If you’re looking for a deeper look into the author’s faith, you won’t find it in this book, but readers can still learn more about her dedication and perseverance. This book isn’t meant to make one think and analyze, but instead provides entertainment, background about a role model, and a few inspiring moments along the way.

What athlete or role model have you read about recently?

Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Swimming with Faith: The Missy Franklin Story by Natalie Davis Miller (Zondervan, 2016)

Book Review – Swimming with Faith: The Missy Franklin Story by Natalie Davis Miller

Swimming with Faith: The Missy Franklin Story by Natalie Davis Miller (Zondervan, 2016)

About the Book (from the publisher):

Swimming with Faith: The Missy Franklin Story by Natalie Davis Miller (Zondervan/Zonderkidz, 2016)

Missy Franklin is one of the most talented swimmers in the world. She is a four-time Olympic gold medalist and currently holds the world record in the 200-meter backstroke and American records in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke. She was Swimming World’s World Swimmer of the Year and the American Swimmer of the Year in 2012. This story tells of her rise in fame and humbleness in the sport.

My Thoughts:

My kids and I enjoy watching the Olympics and marveling at what our bodies can do with training, dedication, and respect for what God gifted us. With the Summer Olympics coming up, this seemed like an opportune time to read about one of the US’s Olympics athletes, swimmer Missy Franklin.

You can read this book to learn much more, obviously, but Missy grew to love swimming from a young age and began swimming competitively at age 5. With natural aptitude shining early on, a desire to improve, and extremely supportive parents, she competed in her first Olympics in 2012 at age 17. She’ll be returning to the 2016 Olympics this year.

Geared towards perhaps around third grade reading level and up, this book presents information about Missy’s childhood and training in a fact-focused way. The book offers highlights of her swimming career, side notes about how her faith spurs her journey, and excerpts via other media interviews of quotes from Missy, her parents, and coaches. The matter-of-fact approach and short chapters make this a quick read, but the organization of the chapters can be a bit cumbersome at times. The first chapter overviews her whole story and the second chapter then overviews her process of getting into swimming, but in doing so, we jump back and forth chronologically, which can be a bit confusing to read. Beginning in the third chapter, readers find the timeline flows more naturally. Several statements and sentiments are repeated across chapters unnecessarily (particularly a fixation on Missy holding off on receiving prize and endorsement money for years to remain ‘amateur’ status to be able to compete on high school and college swim teams). While these oft-repeated facts are important to Missy’s story and understanding her character, but I feel it’s a bit of a disservice to readers to repeat them so frequently from chapter to chapter (and sometimes even within chapters). The information about her faith is brief, but can still be inspiring for readers exploring trust and their own faith.

The book reads more like a series of articles, which some readers may enjoy, others may not. Certainly, Missy’s story of dedication, perseverance, eagerness to help others, and learning to trust God’s timing will encourage many young readers pursuing their own dreams with God-given talents.

In this year’s Olympics, from what I found, Missy will be competing in the 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle, and the 4x200m freestyle relay. We’ll be watching out for her! She also keeps a fairly active Twitter account to follow along some of her swimming journeys.

Which athletes inspire your families?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

February 2016 - Picture Book and Middle Grade new releases mini-review series on Instagram

New Book Review Series on Instagram

So, every February for the past couple of years, I’ve done a little mini-review series over on Instagram where I feature one KidLit book per day. (Last year was #PictureBookBiographies!) Each day this month on Instagram, I’ll feature one amazing picture book or middle grade novel published between January 2015 and February 2016, and share a 1-4 sentence review along with it.

February 2016 - Picture Book and Middle Grade new releases mini-review series on Instagram

2015 was an amazing year for high-quality children’s literature that makes us think, grow, expand our experiences, hope even in darkness and brokenness, and spread love. And 2016 is looking astounding.

I won’t be able to share all of my favorites, but I can share 29 superb books to share with the young readers in your life (and enjoy yourself!). We’ll share on Instagram with the hashtag #PBandMGNewReleases.

Join me over on Instagram for one daily post, and please share some of your family’s favorites in the comments! After the series is over, I’ll post a round-up of all the books and reviews here on the blog.

What are some of your family’s favorite new releases last year and this year so far?

Picture Book Biographies Instagram Series {undergodsmightyhand.com}

28 Awesome Picture Book Biographies

Back in February, I did an Instagram series of 28 mini-reviews of picture book biographies. I loved reading for that series and sharing those books, and I’m finally getting to list all of the books in one place here!

Picture books are an awesome medium for biographies because they can inform, encourage, tell an amazingly relatable story, and inspire all in 1500 words or less (and usually 1000 words or less). They’re useful for people/social studies in classrooms/homeschool, as well as introductions to special events or topics. Plus, most are written uniquely or beautifully and can be great mentor texts for kid writers and grown-up writers!

Read below for the title/author/illustrator for each book, plus a link to my mini-review on Instagram for each book.

Picture Book Biographies Instagram Series {undergodsmightyhand.com}

28 Awesome Picture Book Biographies

Basketball Belles by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins

Basketball Belles by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins (Holiday House, 2011) – My mini-review

Before John was a Jazz Giant - Carole Boston Weatherford, Sean Qualls

Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Henry Holt, 2008) – My mini-review

Eleanor, Quiet No More - Doreen Rappaport, Gary Kelley

Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley (Disney-Hyperion, 2009) – My mini-review

Wilma Unlimited - Kathleen Krull, David Diaz

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2000) – My mini-review

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! - Jonah Winter, Kevin Hawkes

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Arthur A. Levine books, 2012) – My mini-review

Nelson Mandela - Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013) – My mini-review

Ben Franklin's Big Splash - Barb Rosenstock, S.D. Schindler

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Calkins Creek, 2014) – My mini-review

When Marian Sang - Pam Munoz Ryan, Brian Selznick

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002) – My mini-review

Rosa - Nikki Giovanni, Bryan Collier

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Henry Holt, 2007) – My mini-review

On a Beam of Light - Jennifer Berne, Vladimir Radunsky

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (Chronicle, 2013) – My mini-review

The Noisy Paint Box - Barb Rosenstock, Mary GrandPre

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPré (Knopf, 2014) – My mini-review

The Tree Lady - H. Joseph Hopkins, Jill McElmurry

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Beach Lane Books, 2013) – My mini-review

The Boy Who Loved Math - Deborah Heiligman, LeUyen Pham

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Roaring Book Press, 2013) – My mini-review

Words Set Me Free - Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, 2012) – My mini-review

The Iridescence of Birds - Patricia MacLachlan, Hadley Hooper

The Iridescence of Birds: A Story about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Book Press, 2014) – My mini-review

The Camping Trip that Changed America - Barb Rosenstock, Mordicai Gerstein

The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial, 2014) – My mini-review

Queen of the Falls - Chris Van Allsburg

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg (HMH Books, 2011) – My mini-review

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library - Barb Rosenstock, John O'Brien

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by John O’Brien (Calkins Creek, 2013) – My mini-review

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise - Jan Pinborough, Debby Atwell

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell (HMH Books, 2013) – My mini-review

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? - Tanya Lee Stone, Marjorie Priceman

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Henry Holt, 2013) – My mini-review

When the Beat was Born - Laban Carrick Hill, Theodore Taylor III

When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Roaring Book Press, 2013) – My mini-review

The Right Word - Jen Bryant, Melissa Sweet

The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans, 2014) – My mini-review

Mama Miti - Donna Jo Napoli, Kadir Nelson

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, 2010) – My mini-review

Seeds of Change - Jen Cullerton Johnson, Sonia Lynn Sadler

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler (Lee and Low, 2010) – My mini-review

Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride - Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Disney, 2009) – My mini-review

Manfish - Jennifer Berne, Eric Puybaret

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) – My mini-review

The Streak - Barb Rosenstock, Terry Widener

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener (Calkins Creek, 2014) – My mini-review

Emmanuel's Dream - Laurie Ann Thompson, Sean Qualls

Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz and Wade, 2015) – My mini-review

Even more great picture book biographies have come out since I did this series, and more are being published in the future! What are some of your family’s favorite picture book biographies?

Disclosure: I either own the books above or checked each out from our library system. I was not given any for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates and GrapeVine Studies. If you click on an Amazon link or a GrapeVine Studies link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

3 Books that Could've Been Finalists for the Cybils Awards {undergodsmightyhand.com}

3 Books that Could’ve Been Cybils Finalists

The last two months of 2014 were spent reading, reading, reading. While that’s not too much out of the ordinary, I was reading many more easy readers and early chapters books than normal because of being a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils awards. The whole experience was amazing, fun, and beneficial as a reader, writer, and reviewer. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have been a panelist!

Our panel picked our shortlist together, which was posted at the beginning of the year. (See all the finalist lists here.) The final discussion we had was awesome – full of in-depth book talk and passionate responses to books that struck our hearts. Narrowing a list of solid books with a mix of literary merit and kid appeal to only 7 books was tough! Because of our limit, we had to knock a few books off the final shortlist that many of us would’ve kept on if we could.

3 Books that Could've Been Finalists for the Cybils Awards {undergodsmightyhand.com}

Three of My Favorite Books that Could’ve Been on the Cybils Shortlist

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014) – Oh my goodness, this book. This book follows Lucy and her family as they travel to her aunt’s farm in North Dakota to help stop rising floodwaters from reaching the house. Lucy, the oldest in her family, has a special bond with Teddy, the youngest, a 2-year-old. The family thinks Teddy can’t talk, but Lucy knows he can as he sings perfectly to her every night. Lucy feels she lacks talent since she can’t sing or make other music as the rest of her family can, but the family encounters a situation where Lucy is forced to find her voice to help.

This book tells its story in an incredibly moving tone, one that will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading the story. Quiet in ways and seemingly about “slice-of-life” situations, this book tells a powerful story of trust, connection, growth, self-forgiveness, and love. For a book geared towards 2nd-4th graders, it dives deeply into important themes any kid (or adult!) with family-like relationships can understand. The family relationships are unique, the conflict interesting, and the growth inspiring. As I shared on my Instagram account, this book is like a mix between A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (one of my top 10 books I’ve ever read in any genre) and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (an incredible novel in verse for young readers).

The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness by Lauren Myracle

The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry (Dutton, 2014) – Ty is a goofy, lovable second grader learning to navigate the wilds of 7-year-old life, amongst school happenings and family relationships. His teacher creates a project where each student needs to complete an act of kindness and prepare a verbal presentation for the class by the end of the week. Ty struggles to figure out who he can help as he encourages his friends, aids his baby sister, and more.

I love the tone of this book. Both the family and kid-to-kid conversations feel realistic, and the book offers a positive message without being too “preachy.” This early chapter book is fun and funny to read, offering defined characters and unique aspects of situations, largely because of Ty’s energetic personality. (He follows such a rambling thought process that I can relate to as an adult, too!) I love how this book shares a different family dynamic with a wide age range between siblings, differing relationships between siblings, and parents that aren’t the stereotypical “dumb” or “mean” that you often find in mainstream chapter books. (I love when a book shows that parents need to learn and grow, too!) A great read aloud for 1st graders or individual read for 2nd-4th graders.

The Sea Monster by J.E. Morris

The Sea Monster (A Steve and Wessley Reader) by J. E. Morris (Scholastic, 2014) – Steve and Wessley are two best friends taking a day at the park. Steve sees something in the pond and thinks it’s a sea monster! Wessley says it’s just a stick. Who ends up being right?

This easy reader offers simple sentences for growing readers and a relatable concept (mistaking an object for something else) with subtle humor in the conversation that ensues between Steve and Wessley. The entire story is told through dialogue and funny back-and-forth humor even preschoolers can pick up on. The illustrations are some of the best parts of the book, including a subplot of a bear falling asleep in the background and a duck reading his book. And, if you enjoy this one, be sure to pick up The Ice Cream Shop, an even more hilarious Steve and Wessley book!

Stay tuned to the Cybils website for the final winners, picked by the Round 2 panelists and announced in mid-February!

Cybils logo

What are some of your family’s favorite easy readers and early chapter books from 2014?

Disclosure: I was not required to blog about any books I read as a Cybils panelist. I’m only sharing these because I loved them, and you might love them, too!

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.