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Morelli isn't just writing about a cross-country race run by a young girl, perhaps 11, with brown skin and flushed cheeks. The girl prepares at the starting line with her teammates. There is the crunch of gravel, large hills, and twisting paths, captured in soft-focus watercolors. It is a true quest, right down to the moment of stumbling and scraping her knee. "I remember crying, feeling defeated. My heart hurting, stomach in knots." Readers are there at the start of the race, and at the end, when the girl crosses the finish line, the wind at her back, a cramp receding in the rush of accomplishment. In the voice of the narrator that is both strong and true, the story has a simple, empowering message: that even to the fleet of foot there will be moments of self-doubt, injury, and pain. Diaz's scenes carry readers along with various perspectives and styles, from the close-up of the girl's determined face to the ghostly outlines of the moment when she falls and drags herself back up.
VERDICT A necessary purchase; a surprisingly poetic glimpse of the heart of the athlete, with a welcome, winning heroine. STARRED REVIEW-- "School Library Journal" (9/1/2020 12:00:00 AM)
I see your strength. I see your fight. I see you running and never stopping. Falling and never stopping. Fighting and never stopping.
What Lucia Morelli and Maine Diaz bring to I AM DARN TOUGH has grit and persistence and strength and universality. And it's a brilliant and beautiful and important and unputdownable book. A picture book that doesn't stop and delivers solid with each read.
More of this always. In books and in those who read them. And in all those mighty girls who see themselves mirrored throughout.--Matthew Winner "The Children's Book Podcast" (8/13/2020 12:00:00 AM)
A runner's high is an exhilarating mix of relief and tenacity. Running is largely a solitary and quiet activity, combining muscle memory and mental strength. A race puts this book's protagonist, who has light-brown skin and straight, black hair in a ponytail, together with other runners; all present female. She lines up at the start, runs at her own pace, and finishes strong. Her friends and teammates, a merry band of casually diverse girls, are supportive, yet the text understands that the girl's race is hers alone. What Morelli and Diaz do remarkably well is show what the girl thinks about and sees with each step and how that fuels her to keep going and not give up. Diaz's illustrations prove that anyone who runs has a runner's body; the stereotypical vision of what a runner looks like is a misconception. In the middle of the book are two illustrations that leave lasting impressions: The first abruptly ends the soft images seen heretofore when the girl falls and scrapes her knee; a stark, almost aggressive smear of blood is rendered with sharp, jagged lines. In the second, the girl breaks the fourth wall and stares out at readers. Her gaze is so straightforward and penetrating that it's almost startling, yet it feels simultaneously compelling, daring readers to look away first. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 48.6% of actual size.) A tender introduction to the discipline and community that running provides to its athletes. (Picture book. 5-8)-- "Kirkus Reviews" (6/30/2020 12:00:00 AM)