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A basketball ace, a designer of space, and an ultramarathon race


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Feb 16, 2024
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Wat Takes His Shot: The Life & Legacy of Basketball Hero Wataru Misaka by Cheryl Kim, illustrated by Nat Iwata (Lee & Low Books, 40 pages, grades 2-5). Wataru Misaka was an active child, growing up in Utah as a second-generation Japanese American, or Nisei. His father taught him the Japanese word gambatte, meaning to do your best, and Wat took the lesson to heart, pushing himself to work hard in school, on the basketball court, and later, after his father died, to help support his family. During World War II, Wat’s family escaped being sent to concentration camps, since they didn’t live on the coast, but they still faced discrimination. At the University of Utah, Wat slept under the bleachers in the gym when the segregated dorms were full. He made the college basketball team, but at first didn’t get to play and was barred from away games. When he did get on the court, spectators yelled racist slurs at him. Keeping in mind gambatte, Wat never gave up, eventually leading his team to a national championship. He was recruited by the Knicks, becoming the first player of color in the BAA (later the NBA). After being released from his contract, Wat returned to school and got his engineering degree. He excelled throughout his life, at work, in the community, and on the golf course and bowling alley. The last page shows him exchanging jerseys at a meeting with Asian American NBA star Jeremy Lin. Includes a lengthy author’s note, a photo of Wat in 2008, and a list of sources.

Basketball fans will enjoy this biography, although it’s a bit lengthy with quite a bit of historical context, making it perhaps a better choice for older kids. The history is fascinating, though, with lots of action-packed illustrations, and the lesson in perseverance is an inspiring one.

Mr. Pei’s Perfect Shapes: The Story of Architect I. M. Pei by Julie Leung, illustrated by Yifan Wu (Quill Tree Books, 40 pages, grades 1-5). As a boy in China, Ioeh Ming Pei was fascinated by the volcanic rock statues in his grandfather’s hometown of Suzhou that took shape over many years from water falling on them. His love of structure continued as he grew up, sketching buildings he saw being built in Shanghai before coming to America at the age of 18 to study architecture. He rose to fame in 1964 when Jackie Kennedy selected him to design the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. His innovative designs and ways of seeing shapes led to other famous buildings like the Louvre Pyramid and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He returned to Suzhou at the age of 90 for the installation of an art museum he had designed for the city, admiring once again the rock statues he had seen as a child. Includes a timeline and additional resources.

Although I’ve heard of I. M. Pei I didn’t know the many famous buildings he designed. His innovative way of thinking and problem solving is emphasized in the text and especially the illustrations, which show of the beauty of the modernistic architecture Pei helped create.

Daughter of the Light-Footed People: The Story of Indigenous Marathon Champion Lorena Ramírez by Belen Medina, illustrated by Natalia Rojas Castro (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, grades K-4). Lorena Ramírez has become an unlikely ultramarathon champion, competing in races wearing the traditional clothing of her Rarámuri (meaning “light-footed”) people: a skirt and rubber-soled huarache sandals. The story takes place over the course of sixty-mile race, during which she reflects on her past that has brought her to this point. Growing up in a remote corner of Mexico, she became a strong runner by herding goats and cows, playing ball games with her siblings, and walking for hours to buy food. At the end of the race, she is the first to cross the finish line. Includes a two-page note with additional information about Lorena and a list of sources.

Lorena Ramírez’s story is fascinating, the way she has become a champion in an unconventional way, holding onto her people’s traditions and honoring them in the way she dresses. The beautiful illustrations show the people, animals, and landscape of her home. I do wish books like this would give the introductory information at the beginning so the reader (at least this reader) isn’t trying to figure out what is going on throughout the whole story.
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