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The Picture Book Buzz

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I absolutely adore Simone Biles. So many other athletes have crumbled and quit when they missed a chance at being on their national team. But it just made her train harder. Develop phenomenal skills. And strive for perfection. Though she often isn't perfect, being human and all, she captured my heart, and the nation's, as we've watched her compete for the past seven years - becoming the most decorated, celebrated, and talented gymnast the world has ever known.

I was so excited to see the dynamic duo of Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn team up to create a picture book biography about her. They created one that beautifully shows how Simone Biles has always soared.

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles

Author: Michelle Meadows

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (2020)

Ages: 4-8



Biography, gymnastics, resilience, determination, and Olympic dreams.


A lyrical picture book biography of Simone Biles, gymnastics champion and Olympic superstar.

Before she was a record-breaking gymnast competing on the world stage, Simone Biles spent time in foster care as a young child. Nimble and boundlessly energetic, she cherished every playground and each new backyard.

When she was six years old, Simone's family took shape in a different way. Her grandparents Ron and Nellie Biles adopted Simone and her sister Adria. Ron and Nellie became their parents. Simone was also introduced to gymnastics that same year, launching a lifelong passion fueled by remarkable talent, sacrifice, and the undying support of her family.

From her athletic early childhood to the height of her success as an Olympic champion, Flying High is the story of the world's greatest gymnast from author Michelle Meadows and illustrator Ebony Glenn.

Opening Lines:

Simone is on the move,

watch her go, go, go!

Climbing up, dangling down,

swinging high and low.

What I Loved about this book:

I am impressed with the way Michelle Meadows encapsulates Simone's early life in foster care and adoption by her Grandfather within the constraints of tight rhyming quatrains. Doing it in a way that kids can sense, if not outright know, what's going on. And adults are able to fill in what they are comfortable with. Struggle, uncertainty, and fear become "warm meals to eat and a yard to roam," and then a hopeful airplane trip with her grandfather.

Sandwiching this somber, rocky start, Michelle and Ebony Glenn capture Simone's joy and enthusiasm in moving, jumping, and tumbling. You can't help but smile when you see Simone's face, as she soars on the trampoline.

Text © Michelle Meadows, 2020. Image © Ebony Glenn, 2020.

Ebony's gorgeous digital illustrations are so full of movement and emotion, capturing Simone's spirit and drawing the reader into her experiences. Wait until you see Simone and her sister Adria's faces when the rain forces a field trip cancellation - oh, such disappointment. They beautifully expand the sparse text as in these two spreads, where the almost unbearable sadness of separated siblings is followed by utter elation at being adopted.

Text © Michelle Meadows, 2020. Image © Ebony Glenn, 2020.

Michelle did a great job structuring the book to show how all throughout Simone's life, every down - rough life, separation, cancelled field trip, missing the national team, has been followed by an up - foster family, adoption, discovery of gymnastics, and a gold medal. The change or recovery spurred by family, love, and ultimately lots of hard work. Michelle and Ebony poignantly depict Simone's struggles, sacrifices, and sheer determination that ultimately brought her from a young gymnast "shooting off the vault like a rocket blast," through a crushing defeat at U.S. nationals, to the phenom who's created two unbelievable moves and earned the most medals ever in gymnastics history.

One of my favorite spreads is Ebony's depiction of Simone's signature floor move - "The Biles." This image and the cover show how Simone continues to soars like the little girl on the trampoline so many years ago.

Text © Michelle Meadows, 2020. Image © Ebony Glenn, 2020.

I love that Michelle uses words like shimmy, consistency, phenomenal flair, and breathtaking in her text. Overall, this is an absolutely delightful biography that combines engaging and energetic illustrations with succinct rhyming text containing a wonderful range of vocabulary. The back matter contains fun photos, additional facts and information about Simone's family, coaches, and signature moves. As well as additional sources. It's a great book for those who love gymnastics, biographies, and especially - Simone Biles.


- make a gymnastics paper chain ( Now, design your own leotards.

- practice some gymnastics basic skills - somersault, a bridge, bear walk (hands & feet on the ground), frog hop, balance beam (a strip of tape on the ground), donkey kick (hand & feet on ground, kick up with both feet), balance on one foot, and gallop sideways.

- do you have a family ritual or tradition? Write a story, or draw a picture, of this tradition.

- read She's Got This by Laurie Hernandez and Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still by Karlin Gray. How are the books similar and different? Are there characteristics the three girls share?

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Michelle Meadows & Ebony Glenn (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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