I Am Darn Tough, by Licia Morelli,  illustrated by Maine Diaz

 I Am Darn Tough, by Licia Morelli,  illustrated by Maine Diaz, Tilbury House, 9780884487807, 2020 

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

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  A young athlete, about 11, bends into a crouch at the starting line. It’s race day and she’s number 5, running with a pack of girls. This unique picture book sums up the grit athletes need to overcome exhaustion and physical pain and even manages to conjure up the feeling of the runner’s high. Although the language is simple, the text manages to convey a lot about determination. Morelli writes in first person as the girl races along, psyching herself up for a big hill: “Taking a deep breath in and out. Telling myself that I’ve done this before and I can do it again.” The (probably) digital art work is realistic and has the slightly dreamy look of watercolor, with a cool, outdoor pallet of pale greens and browns, accented with red: the girl’s sneakers, the jagged cut on her skinned knee when she trips, her red face as she pants with exertion, the red ribbon tied around her wrist. The narrator has light brown skin and straight black hair pulled into a ponytail. Children might see her as Latinx or East Asian while the other runners are racially diverse. I thought this was a very unique and much needed story about sporty girls and one that should have universal appeal. I really appreciated that Morelli emphasized the effort and love of the sport. Although the narrator is the winner this time, you sense that the story would have been the same, even if she hadn’t been first across the finish line.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This would be a nice read aloud for a class lesson on determination and self-talk. A PE teacher might be able to use this as an activator for a unit on running or a family making a commitment to a 5K for charity could use it to explore strategies that will help them be successful.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

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

Date of review: November 14, 2020

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