Picture Book Review: LaDonna Plays Hoops by Kimberly Gordon Biddle

LaDonna Plays HoopsLaDonna Plays Hoops written by Kimberly A. Gordon Biddle, illustrated by Heath Gray

From Goodreads: This is an inspirational and contemporary story of a young, African-American girl who goes to visit her grandma for a family reunion. While there, she tries to become the family hoops star. She wonders if she has the skill and the will. The story presents subtle, everyday events that teach life lessons.

Two years ago LaDonna played her cousin Tyrone in basketball and lost. That loss stung and now, two years older and wiser, she wants a rematch. Or at least she thinks she does. Her dad reminds her that whether or not she wins or loses, the practice will be good for her. LaDonna is by turns confident that she’ll beat Tyrone and nervous that she won’t be able to. She’s grown in the last two years and even gone to basketball camp, but Tyrone is also bigger and has more practice under his belt. He rather rudely reminds her that he plays on a basketball league. Fortunately, LaDonna doesn’t let a scraped knee or her nerves get the best of her and she handily wins the match.

This was such a fun read with lots to love. LaDonna dresses girly with leggings, a skirt, and a lot of pink, but she loves sports. She’s all confidence and swagger on the outside, but inside she’s afraid she won’t be able to take Tyrone’s title as family hoops star. Biddle clearly has a good read on kids and I love that the text and illustrations don’t paint LaDonna as anything more than a kid. So many times we see girls who like sports represented with boy clothes and body language and an all consuming confidence. Grandma calls her a tomboy at one point, but in reality LaDonna didn’t stick out from the group of kids in the family.

I also love that her whole family is clearly waiting for this rematch to happen. They all stare when Tyrone shuffles in off the basketball court to the backyard where LaDonna is jumping rope with a gaggle of other cousins. They all scowl as Tyrone tries to call a foul on LaDonna and won’t let him get away with it. And they all cheer as Tyrone meets his match. I imagine the adults of the family talking over the phone about this rematch, wondering if it will happen, who will initiate it, and speculating on who will win. I also imagine all the kids listening in on these conversations and wondering too about it. So when it comes time for the highly anticipated game, everyone is all ears and eyes. Her cousin Veronica quickly steps up to watch LaDonna’s pet frog for her during the match.

The illustrations are bright and colorful and cute. The cartoony style lends itself perfectly to such a light and funny family story. LaDonna’s family is shown to be primarily African American, but there are a few white folks in it too. Grandma lives in a clean, suburban neighborhood and it’s good to see a middle class African American family represented in kidlit. It shouldn’t be such a rarity, but it is.

The book would be great in a sports themed storytime as well as in classrooms with sports fans. Even better, the books shows that girls can enjoy and be good at basketball and all kids will benefit from being exposed to that narrative. In terms of ages, I would say first through third grade, but the lack of both racial and sporty girl representation might push this up into fourth grade. Kindergarten ages would probably be fine, especially if you learn the song that goes along with it (see below).

One last thing to add, I happen to know the author of this book through my last library and she told me she would be reading her book at a local Barnes and Noble. I took my daughter to hear the reading and get a copy signed. Not only were there cookies, stickers, coloring sheets and pencils, but Biddle has also written a little song that her husband plays on the ukulele while the two sing it during the read aloud. It was charming to say the least. And also catchy. Looking at the picture I used in this post, it seems that you can now get copies of the song to learn. 🙂

It is also worth noting that this book is available from the publisher with a special dyslexic font. I think this is both fascinating and wonderful. The story is high interest and the font can help readers who normally struggle.