Review: CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT by Nancy Churnin

churnin charlie

Most Americans know the story of Jackie Robinson, the black baseball player who broke his sport’s color barrier in 1947. Charlie Sifford, the first black PGA golfer, could be called the Jackie Robinson of golf, but Charlie’s situation was different. Golf is an individual sport with no teammates. Golf is frequently played at private clubs with significant leeway to determine who can play on their courses. Because of his persistence, and with the support of Jackie Robinson himself, Charlie Sifford became the first black PGA golfer in 1961.

Charlie Takes His Shot is Nancy Churnin’s new picture book biography of Charlie Sifford. Focusing on his life in golf, Churnin takes readers from the 1930s when Charlie is not allowed to play on the courses where he caddies, to 1967 when Charlie dramatically wins his first PGA tournament. Along the way, readers see how different types of prejudice keep Charlie out of professional golf, even when he wins the National Negro Open so many times they tell him to keep the trophy. Sometimes the bigotry takes the form of blatant harassment; other times the discrimination is more insidious. The narrative text invites readers to simultaneously imagine being a superior athlete and the victim of such racial injustice. When Charlie’s ball drops in the cup in the final scene, readers understand that the game of golf and American society are forever changed.

The life lessons in Charlie Takes His Shot are clear: stay true to your game, whatever it is; keep practicing and getting better at what you do; and find the people who will support you in your cause.

John Joven’s illustrations not only impeccably accompany the text, but they also strikingly capture various physical actions involved in golfing. In many picture book biographies, the older version of the subject bears little resemblance to the younger person, but as Charlie Sifford ages during the decades covered in this story, Joven masterfully portrays him at various stages of life.

The back matter includes an author’s note that discusses Charlie Sifford’s life in more detail and a thorough timeline contextualizing Sifford’s life and accomplishments.

Charlie Takes His Shot is a worthwhile addition to any collection, alongside Nancy Churnin’s other excellent picture book biographies, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game and Manjhi Moves a Mountain.

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