The Children’s Book Review | June 16, 2016
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Age Range: 5-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (2016)
What to expect: Olympic runners, sports, friendship, segregation, historical
Alta loves running almost as much as she loves Wilma Rudolph, the three-time Olympic gold medalist. Best of all, Wilma Rudolph is from Clarksville, just like Alta. Wilma had worn a leg brace and flour-sack dresses as a kid, but she grew up to be a hero.
Everyone knows Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville. Alta can sprint faster than anyone and dreams of someday having gold medals of her own.
That is until Charmaine shows up – and she has new shoes. Alta’s never had new shoes; instead hers are hand-me-downs with holes in the soles. But Charmaine’s shoes are “Shoes to strut in. Shoes to run in.” She claims they’re just like Wilma’s, too. When Charmaine says she’s the fastest kid in town, Alta tells her to prove it. They race to the mailbox and back, and Alta wins fair and square. But during their second race, a tangle of feet leaves Alta on the ground. The girls fight, and both go home angry.
When the day of Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade dawns, Alta and her friends have made a spectacular banner. It’s difficult to carry, and they struggle to race to the parade with it. But Charmaine swoops in. “We’ll do it like Wilma’s relay,” Charmaine says, taking up a side. In the end the girls all make it to the parade in time, and even wave to Wilma Rudolph herself. Alta and Charmaine realize they’re both the quickest kids in Clarksville, and friends to the end.
Pat Zietlow Miller perfectly captures the essence of little girls who adore a hero like Wilma Rudolph. In addition to the touching story, there is a history lesson at the back of the book about Wilma Rudolph and her triumphant running career. It was informative and thought-provoking. Some of the issues, like segregation and poverty, would be excellent talking points with elementary-school children. The book provides an compelling story as well as interesting historical narrative.
Frank Morrison, winner of the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, paints Alta, Charmaine and her friends with careful attention to detail and beautiful richness. You can feel the heat on the pavement, the excitement and determination of the girls and the angst and pleasure of their lives. The book touches on the important topic of segregation in 1960 and racism in Clarksville, as well as Wilma Rudolph’s humble beginnings and heroic rise to stardom. I was so interested to learn that Wilma Rudolph refused to have a celebration and parade in her honor unless the events were integrated, and that those events were some of the first integrated events in Clarksville. She was not only a hero on the track, but in her hometown. It’s clear why these adorable girls look up to her so much.
About Pat Zietlow Miller
Pat Zietlow Miller began her writing career in college as a sports reporter and has had a fascination with Wilma Rudolph ever since. Pat is the author of several picture books and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
About Frank Morrison
Frank Morrison is the Coretta Scott King Honor Award–winning illustrator of many books for young people. He lives Atlanta, Georgia
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, by Pat Zietlow Miller, was reviewed by Denise Mealy. Discover more books like The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with A.N. Kang, Adventure, and Cats.
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