Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

I’m not into basketball, and I’ve never heard of Elgin Baylor, but after seeing this book on so many “BEST of 2020” lists, I took a look. Jen Bryant – stellar! Frank Morrison – amazing! Welcome to a new year and my first Perfect Picture Book Friday recommendation ABOVE THE RIM, winner of the 2021 Orbis Pictus Award.

The winner of Keila Dawson’s giveaway celebrating the launch of OPENING THE ROAD is Rhonda Brown. Congratulations! (OPENING THE ROAD is a great companion and segue to today’s PPBF feature…)

9781419741081_p0_v1_s600x595Title: Above the Rim, How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

Written by: Jen Bryant

Illustrated by: Frank Morrison

Abrams, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-12

Themes/topics: basketball, civil rights, perseverance


On a steamy summer day in 1945, a boy and his brothers played stickball in the street.

There were plenty of nice parks in Washington, DC, where people swam or played tennis, basketball, and baseball. But the child was black, and those parks were “whites” only.


Hall-of-famer Elgin Baylor was one of basketball’s all-time-greatest players—an innovative athlete, team player, and quiet force for change. One of the first professional African-American players, he inspired others on and off the court. But when traveling for away games, many hotels and restaurants turned Elgin away because he was black. One night, Elgin had enough and staged a one-man protest that captured the attention of the press, the public, and the NBA.

Above the Rim is a poetic, exquisitely illustrated telling of the life of an underrecognized athlete and a celebration of standing up for what is right.

Activities and Resources:

History: Dig into a few of the civil rights events mentioned in the story.

Connect text to text: Read another story about sports and civil rights such as one about Jackie Robinson. Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two.

Writing: Choose one of the pages that describes Elgin Baylor shooting the basketball. What does the author do to make you really feel the action? Write about yourself and one of your moves playing a sport you enjoy.

Explore the back matter and see what catches your interest!

Why I like this book:

First off, with creators Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison, my disinterest in basketball was overcome. I read a lot of picture books and am always looking for ones that inspire, WOW! I type up the text of truly special books to use as a “mentor text” to analyze and learn from. Typing up this text showed the depth of craft – word choice, pacing, page turns, use of repetition, key ideas, and merging and intertwining threads of basketball and civil rights. Anyone who reads my books can guess I’m fascinated with structure of story – and that may be part of why this story grabbed me as an author. Primo!

And…the story is just so powerful, beautiful, and important. Readers caught up with the basketball story will ride that flow right into life and its challenges. I urge you to check it out!!

Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

10 thoughts on “Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

  1. What an amazing story. I’m like you, not a huge basketball fan and don’t know the game. But this inspiring story is so much more depth to it! I have a great grandson that would enjoy reading this story. Perfect share for MLK Day. Thank you for the recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Isn’t it telling how a good writer can pique your interest in a subject you aren’t interested in? Jen Bryant is fabulous! I also have to say that the stylized basketball player on the cover is wonderful. Here’s another to add to my growing pile, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

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