September 18 – Gymnastics Day

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.

About the Holiday

Initiated in the late 1990s, National Gymnastics Day encourages kids to explore this exciting sport. As part of this year’s National Gymnastics Day, gymnasts, families, friends, and enthusiasts from gymnastics clubs globally will participate in a variety of activities, including open houses, hand stand contests, carnivals, and fitness activities to build awareness of gymnastics and its benefits. Many clubs will use this as a way to provide opportunities for underprivileged children to participate in the sport. Why not find and attend a special event at a gym or gymnastics club today to celebrate!

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Christine Davenier

 

“In the village of Oneşti, Romania, a country rich with forests and mountains” Nadia Comaneci could often be seen swinging from tree branch to tree branch. She was a little girl who loved to play. She was “feisty and fearless,” attempting new things on a whim and always with a sense of adventure. Once while trying on a pair of roller skates, she skated right out of the store! Another time she was so impatient to ride her new bike that she pedaled off before her father could even tighten the screws. The bike “fell apart as she rode away.” And one year her love of climbing trees extended to the family Christmas tree, which toppled over on her, pinning her to the ground.

To channel all that energy, Nadia’s mother enrolled her in gymnastics lessons. Nadia’s eyes lit up when she saw the room full of ropes, ladders, bars, mats, and trampolines to discover, but she didn’t leave her new skills at the gym. Nadia and a friend cartwheeled around the school playground, capturing the attention of Bela and Marta Karolyi, who owned a gymnastics school. They invited the girls to join.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia was only 6 when she began studying with Bela and Marta. Immediately, she discovered that she liked gymnastics better than her school subjects. She progressed quickly from performing “a straight cartwheel on a line painted on the floor” to doing it on a low balance beam and finally to perfecting it on the high balance beam. She began learning harder and harder moves, “flying from bar to bar, from floor to vault, and high above the beam.”

At 9 years old, Nadia competed in her first National Junior Championship. Despite her skill and hard work, she fell from the high beam during a leap not once but three times. Nadia finished the competition in 13th place. Her disappointment only strengthened her resolve. She went back to the gym and continued to practice many hours every day. Her determination paid off, “and at the next National Junior Championship games, she won first place.”

The ultimate recognition of her skill came when she was chosen to be part of the 1976 Romanian Olympic team. The games were held in Montreal, Canada, and all eyes were on the returning gold medalists from Russia, Olga Korbut and Lyudmila Turischeva. But excitement soon filled the venue as Nadia performed on the beam, the floor, and the vault where she scored 9.9, 9.75, and 9.7 on a scale of 1 (the lowest score) to 10 (a perfect score). The next event was the uneven parallel bars on which Olga Korbut had just scored a 9.9. “Nadia mounted the bars. Now fourteen years old, she was a long way from the forests in Romania. But she swung around as easily as she had jumped from branch to branch as a little girl. The audience gasped as she twirled and whipped and flipped.”

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia dismounted and landed perfectly on the mat below as the audience “exploded with applause.” Nadia returned to her team to wait for her score. And wait…and wait. Finally, the score appeared on the board—1.00. The worst score. How could that be? “‘What is Nadia’s score?’” Bela asked the judges. “One of the officials held up ten fingers as a voice announced over the loudspeaker: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for the very first time in Olympic history, Nadia Comaneci has received the score of a perfect ten!’”

Because no one had ever achieved a 10 before, the scoreboards were programmed only for a high of 9.9. Nadia couldn’t bask in her accomplishment for long, however. She moved on to her next event—and her next perfect 10! “When the competition ended, she had earned seven perfect 10s.” At the medal ceremony both Olga and Lyudmila congratulated their competitor as the new Olympic champion. In all Nadia won five medals and became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

Nadia became a darling of the press. They surrounded her, asking “how it felt to have the world’s attention, if she had been confident she would win, and when she would retire.” She answered each reporter with enthusiasm and confidence, and promising that she was a long way from retiring. When she returned home, it seemed that all of Romania had come out to welcome her and her teammates—even the country’s president.

Now Nadia was famous all over the world. She returned to practicing and inventing new routines, preparing for other competitions and the 1980 Olympic Games. She had come far from swinging branch to branch in the trees of Oneşti, but she would always be that little girl who couldn’t sit still.

Karlin Gray’s compelling biography captures all the spunk and spirit of Nadia Comaneci that made the world fall in love with her at the 1976 Olympic Games. Adults of a certain age well remember watching her in astonishment as she seemed to effortlessly swirl, twirl, and flip through her routines, flashing her sweet smile as she waved to fans. In the first pages Gray reveals anecdotes of Nadia’s adventurous nature that will captivate readers even as they giggle at her predicaments.

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Image copyright Christine Davenier, courtesy of karlingray.com

The straightforward narration of Nadia’s trajectory from playground cartwheeler to Olympic champion enhances both the gritty determination of her studies with her coaches as well as the suspense of her competitions. All children—no matter what their talent—will draw inspiration from Nadia’s story, which includes disappointments as well as unbounded accomplishments. Gray’s lyrical language flows as smoothly as Nadia flew through the air and will land in readers’ hearts as a perfect 10.

From the cover, which sports Nadia in her iconic floor exercise pose, to the last page, Christine Davenier depicts the world of gymnastics with beauty and the kind of realistic details that create a classic. The two-page spread of the gym where 6-year-old Nadia learns to love gymnastics portrays the enormity of the space and the equipment for a small girl—as well as the enormity of her achievement.

Kids will love the almost “play-by-play” illustrations of how Nadia learned to perform her feats, from starting with a line on the floor to perfecting the high beam and more. Nadia is shown leaping, somersaulting, doing handstands, and even wavering and falling as she practices and competes. The thrill of the Olympic Games, from the opening ceremonies to the rapt and cheering audiences to the awards ceremony are drawn with stirring action, color, and attention to the specifics of that very special 1976 summer in Montreal.

An Afterword expands on Nadia Comaneci’s courageous life choices and career post-gymnastics and includes a timeline, notes, a selected bibliography, and websites for further study.

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still will fascinate kids and would be a very welcome addition to school classroom—as well as home—libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544319608

Visit Karlin Gray‘s website to learn more about her and to download fun activities!

View a gallery of artwork by Christine Davenier on her website!

Discover more about Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website!

As I take some personal days over the next couple of weeks, I am reposting some earlier reviews with updated interior art and links.

National Gymnastics Day Activity

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Rhythmic Gymnastics Ribbon

 

You can recreate the grace of rhythmic gymnastics with this easy craft! The swirling beauty of the ribbon makes any movement fun!

Supplies

  • 12-inch dowel
  • 6-foot length of ribbon
  • Paint the same color as the ribbon
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the dowel and let dry
  2. Glue the edge of the ribbon to one end of the dowel. Wrap the ribbon about ½ inch around the dowel and secure with glue. Let glue dry.

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

March 8 – International Women’s Day

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors by Tanya Lee Stone and Marjorie Priceman picture book review

About the Holiday

When the United States celebrated International Women’s Day in 1911, it paved the way for more extensive recognition of the contributions of women. Women’s Day stretched to a week officially in 1981 when Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Representative Barbara Mikulski of Maryland co-sponsored a Joint Congressional Resolution that established Women’s History Week. Six years later Congress named March as Women’s History Month.

March is a great time to discover and learn about the women who have shaped our country in all fields of endeavor from the arts to education to the sciences and beyond. Today we celebrate a woman who changed the medical profession forever.

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell

Written by Tanya Lee Stone | Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

 

Once upon a time there were no women doctors. Women weren’t even allowed to be doctors. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Fortunately, this one-time fact has entered the realm of fiction—all thanks to Elizabeth Blackwell. Elizabeth was not like other girls of the 1830s. She loved to explore and take on challenges. She could lift her brother over her head, and to toughen herself up she slept on the hard wood floor. To get a better look at the world she climbed to the roof of her house and leaned waaaaay out with a spyglass. What did she see? Maybe she saw her future. But it wasn’t what she imagined at the time. Blood made her queasy, dissection was disgusting, and being sick just made her want to hide from all the fussing.

But a comment by a sick friend, puts a bee in her bonnet. Mary Donaldson tells Elizabeth that she would much rather have been examined by a woman than her male doctor. “You should be a doctor, Elizabeth,” Mary says.

What a crazy notion, right? Well… Elizabeth can’t stop thinking about it. She asks around. Some people think it’s a good idea, but impossible; others just think it’s impossible. They believe women aren’t strong enough or smart enough and they laugh at her. By this time, though, Elizabeth is determined.

She applies to 28 medical schools, and they all say, “No.” But one day a “Yes” arrives in the mail. Elizabeth packs her bags. The townspeople all come out to see this new medical student, but they aren’t outside to welcome Elizabeth; they just want to whisper and point and stare. Surely, Elizabeth thinks, the students will be happy to see her.

But she receives the same reception on the college campus. In fact, she learns, the only reason she was accepted is because the men voted to let her in as a joke! Elizabeth knows how to handle it. She studies hard and gives her opinions, and soon she wins the respect of her fellow students—even if the townspeople still don’t accept her.

On January 23, 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell graduates from medical school with the highest grades in the class. She has become the first woman doctor in America! Many people hope that she would be the last. But as we know…she was Not!

Tanya Lee Stone magnificently imbues this short biography of Elizabeth Blackwell with enough mystery, conflict, and history for even the youngest readers to understand the type of girl and woman Elizabeth was as well as the challenges she faced. The details of Blackwell’s life that Stone includes are deftly chosen, and make her instantly recognizable and relatable to children. One line in the text written in the present tense amid the historical past transforms this biography into a universal story for all generations. Blackwell may have started out as a reluctant dreamer, but once she dared to believe she accomplished more than she or anyone could have imagined. It is what we want for all our children.

Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations, swirling with words, angled on the page and floating in white space, are as topsy-turvy as the world Elizabeth Blackwell created. Blackwell’s boldness is echoed in the rich colors and strong lines of the gouache and India-ink paintings, and the emotions she stirred in others—from derision to horror to admiration—are cleverly and exceptionally drawn in a minimal style on the characters’ faces.

Ages 5 – 9

Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company | ISBN 978-0805090482

International Women’s Day Activity

CPB - Doctors Clothespins

Doctor Clothespin Figure

 

Make one of these clothespin figures that honors International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month as well as everything doctors do to help us stay healthy.

Supplies

CPB - Doctors Clothespins on box

Directions

  1. Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
  2. Cut out the outfit you want your doctor to wear (color pants on your clothespin if you choose the lab coat)
  3. Wrap the coat or scrubs around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
  4. Tape the clothes together
  5. Wrap the cap around the head and tape it.
  6. If you’d like to display your clothespin doctor on a wire, string, or the edge of a box or other container, cut along the dotted lines of the clothes template.