If you’re looking for a little history, some empathy and inspiration all in one book, I highly recommend The Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison (Chronicle Books LLC, 2016). Miller tells the fictional story of a young girl from the same town as Wilma Rudolph, who aspires to be the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee. The story is set when Wilma Rudolph is returning home for a parade in her honor after becoming the first woman from the United States to win three gold medals in one Olympics. Clarksville is a segregated town in the 1960s and the main character, Alta, is poor. Young readers will either relate to Alta’s situation or feel empathy, as a new girl struts into her life with brand new running shoes. Alta doesn’t have a “shoe-buying Daddy” and at first feels resentment toward this girl.
Miller’s delightful word choice and Morrison’s ability to draw expressive characters make this story engaging for all readers, drawing them into a time in the past that unfortunately is not so different than now for some. Parents and teachers can help readers ‘be in Alta’s shoes’ in much the same manner as Alta imagines ‘being in Wilma’s shoes’. I find the layered search for understanding powerful, and elegantly done in this book. Just learning about Alta and seeing how she negotiates disappointments in her life is inspiring, but don’t forget to read about Wilma Rudolph at the end for some history and to be really wowed by the power of human will to overcome obstacles.