She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

  She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, Philomel Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593114544, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  Ms. Clinton has written two other books in this series: She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, followed by She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History. Here the focus is on women in athletics, specifically on the Olympics. She opens with the statement: “It’s not easy to be a girl athlete. Girls are more likely to be told that sports are for boys.” Then she launches into a chronological tale of persistent women athletes, starting with Margaret Ives Abbott, the first American female Olympic champion (golf, 1900) and progressing through notable participants, ending with Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux (identical twins, hockey, 2010, 2014, and 2018).   Each short essay features biographical information, including obstacles faced by the athlete: Jean Driscoll’s spina bifida or Kristi Yamaguchi’s club foot, and a bit about their ground-breaking victories. The range of athletes covered includes women of different races and cultures, physical abilities, and even different ages; Kerri Walsh Jennings (beach volleyball, 2004, 2008) is shown holding her two children. For each athlete, the phrase ‘she persisted” is worked into the essay, describing the individual’s perseverance, along with an inspirational quote.

The illustrations by Alexandra Boiger are done with watercolor and ink, using mostly quiet, pastel colors. Despite the softness of the art, the women look strong and vital. There are many clever and imaginative design elements. Venus and Serena Williams are shown as children, looking through a tennis racquet, almost as though it is a window and then on the facing page, shown in three different tennis racquet vignettes, each playing singles but also doubles, in which they won three Olympic gold medals. Simone Biles, a superb all around-gymnast, is shown performing inside a faint, round circular American flag, in her red-white-and-blue team leotard.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The women’s achievements are depicted as the result of perseverance and individual effort (with the exception of some team sports such as soccer and the WNBA).  I did miss any indication (other than the opening sentence) that the women faced systemic sexism as an impediment to their goals. Clinton does mention that the Williams’ faced “vile racism and sexism” and that Ibtihaj Muhammad (fencing, 2016) had to chose a sport that would allow her to compete in a hijab. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Children interested in sports or the Olympics. The prose lends itself to read aloud and the artwork is quite absorbing, although it would work best one-on-one or with a small group.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? 920 (collective biography) or if that part of your collection doesn’t get much traffic, 796.4 (Olympics.)

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 18, 2020

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