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Kids will race to read ‘The Quickest Kid in Clarksville’

You are the best kid … at something.

You can run the fastest. You can jump the highest. You’re the best skipper, the best hopper or the best dancer. But what if there was somebody better than you? See what might happen in “The Quickest Kid in Clarksville ” by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison.

Alta was the fastest runner in Clarksville, Tenn., and everybody knew it.

She wasn’t as fast as Wilma Rudolph, but Alta was close, and that made her dream. What, she wondered, would it be like to have three Olympic gold medals hanging around her neck? Would Wilma bring her medals to the parade she’d be riding in? The parade was tomorrow; Alta and her friends were even making a banner for it.

And then some girl Alta had never met before came “sashaying” over with the brand-spankingest, whitest shoes Alta had ever seen. She said her name was Charmaine and her shoes sparkled — they were just made for running. Alta’s shoes had holes in them but shoes can’t tell who’ll win a race. Not even Wilma had the best things, at first.

Alta challenged Charmaine to a race — and won.

Charmaine challenged Alta to another race — and Charmaine won.

Alta was sure that was because Charmaine tripped her. Or because Alta’s toe was poking out of the front of her shoe, which really made her sad because Mama said those shoes had to last.

On parade day, while Alta and her friends were finishing the banner, Charmaine came by, strutting “like she’s queen of the block.” Alta wasn’t having any of that; she far preferred to remember that Wilma Rudolph, the fastest woman alive, was coming to town to be in a parade. Maybe she might even see the banner, and she might wave.

As Alta started to run to the parade route with the banner, she suddenly realized that the banner was heavy and awkward. It wrapped itself up and caught the wind. It was long, too. There’d be no way she’d get to the parade in time.

How would she ever make it?

Who likes to lose? Nobody, that’s who, but there are times when losing isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes, it means winning and “The Quickest Kid in Clarksville ” shows your child how that works.

There’s a lot of sass and attitude inside this book, and charm all over: the main character has scads of it, in fact, but it’s a confident boldness that kids just can’t miss. Thanks to artwork by Morrison, the fierceness never leaves Alta’s face, even when her new adversary steps into the ‘hood — a frenemy who’s surprisingly equal to Alta — leading to a show-down, an ultimate olive branch and an ending that’ll make you smile.

If your kids are curious, Miller also includes a page on the real Wilma Rudolph, putting this book into further prospective. That may be too much info for younger readers, but 5- to 8-year-olds might find “The Quickest Kid in Clarksville ” to be the best.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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