Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament (The Infinity Rainbow Club #3) – Jen Malia

Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament by Jen Malia, Peter Francis
Also by this author: Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge, Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit
Series: The Infinity Rainbow Club #3
Published by Beaming Books on March 12, 2024
Genres: Children's
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Perseverance, thought Connor. To not give up even when it is hard to keep going.

Connor loves practicing taekwondo at his dojang. Having ADHD means he has to work a little harder to keep his focus during sparring sessions, but that doesn't stop him from mastering new forms and rising through the taekwondo ranks. However, when Wyatt--Connor's nemesis--starts training at the same dojang, staying focused suddenly becomes a lot harder. Can Connor persevere and find his focus in time for the big tournament?

Written by a neurodivergent author with three neurodivergent children, Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament meets a longstanding need for chapter books written from the perspectives of kids with ADHD and is the perfect addition to any young reader's shelf.

The Infinity Rainbow Club is a chapter book series featuring five neurodivergent children in a club at their elementary school. The club provides a safe space for stims and different communication styles to be accepted and celebrated.

The Infinity Rainbow Club continues! The first two installments of this series were among my favorite middle grade books I read last year. The series features a group of kids with various neurodivergences and tells a story about their unique experiences and challenges. It’s meant to be a teaching tool to help other kids understand the experience of a neurodivergent friend and explain why they may act or feel a certain way. Jen Malia goes above and beyond in positively representing neurodivergence as a difference in thinking. For kids with autism (book 1), OCD (book 2), or ADHD (book 3), there will be a definite sense of seeing oneself and hopefully being able to understand themselves better by viewing their neurodivergence through the lens of a character rather than through the lens of self. They are wonderfully written, highly engaging, and every school library should have multiple copies.

Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament focuses on Connor, who has ADHD. Connor is dealing with the fact that his taekwondo nemesis has recently moved and is now a teammate instead of an opponent. It’s not easy. He also has to deal with his struggles with staying focused. There’s an especially poignant example that Malia gives about Connor jumping ahead to the end of a word problem instead of taking it step by step. In clear, simple, relatable ways Malia is able to show how Connor’s brain works differently, express Connor’s frustration, but all in a way that doesn’t view Connor or ADHD as “bad.”

The book doesn’t just give practical examples of what ADHD looks like for Connor, but also spells it out plainly at the beginning. “Connor had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder…for Connor, ADHD meant that he often lost his focus, moved around a lot, and acted without thinking first.” Those plain and simple descriptors help kids understand with clarity what ADHD is and what it isn’t. Tellingly, although Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament uses the terms ADHD and “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” in the beginning—because that is the medical definition of Connor’s neurodivergence, Malia shies away from those terms later in the book. There’s a lot of loaded language in that term. Deficit for whom? Hyperactive how? The medical model language portrays ADHD as “bad;” Jen Malia and The Infinity Rainbow Club series portrays it as different. That’s an important and life-affirming distinction.

One thing I will say is that, because of the abundance of Taekwondo terminology, young readers may find this book to be a bit more difficult to read. Malia does a great job explaining the Korean terminology that is used (and there is, helpfully, Connor’s Guide to Taekwondo in the back of the book), but I do think it is something to note.

I love The Infinity Rainbow Club. I can’t wait to see which of the kids Malia might focus on next!