Elem./MG – Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association

Bowen, Fred. Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2022. 978-1-534-46043-0. 99 p. $19.99. Grades 3+.

Sports writer and popular middle grade author Fred Bowen teams up with illustrator James E. Ransome to present a lush walk through hoops history. Young basketball fans who view Michael Jordan as ancient will enthusiastically expand their knowledge of the sport. Working with 75 years of history, Bowen does a respectable job of selecting individuals, teams, and events to highlight, beginning with a well crafted summary of the game’s creation. Readers will ooh and aah over nuggets of information from the early days of the sport, from players hitchhiking to games, to the development of the 24-second clock in an effort to resuscitate the league. Along the way, the book, divided into four quarters comprised of short, easily digestible chapters, features numerous luminaries, the names fans should know. Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J to name just a few, as well as less known but equally important players. But the book does not just dwell in the past; current players such as Stephen Curry are included as well. The picture book sized volume concludes with four pages of league statistics, as well as a comprehensive index. Complementing Bowen’s easy to read prose is Ransome’s artwork. An unusual approach for a sports book, the illustrations leap off the page, conveying the action and excitement of the event, as well as the power and athleticism of the players. The only downside to this approach is the complete lack of captioning, unfortunately leaving readers in the dark as to the identity of the individuals pictured. This is a delightful volume to skim, skip, and browse as well as read cover to cover. 

THOUGHTS: The subject and the writing both should attract middle grade and older readers, but the size of the book may make it a less practical option for older students.

796.323   Basketball            Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Falling Short

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-88172-4. 292 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Sixth graders, Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, are best friends, next door neighbors, and complete opposites. Isaac is a tall, basketball star who struggles in school; smart as a whip, Marco gets mistaken for a kindergartner because of his short stature. What both of them share is mutual love and care and problematic fathers. Unable to cope with his alcoholism, the loving but troubled Mr. Castillo is estranged from his wife and son. On the other hand, Marco’s parents are divorced, and his father would rather write an alimony check than visit his son. The boys’ warm friendship stands up to the pressure when the pair start Mendez Middle School in California. Marco classifies the different students like fish, some are aggressives and some are community minded. In Falling Short, author Ernesto Cisneros makes a solid case that being community minded is possible and preferable. Having almost failed fifth grade, Latinx Isaac has to prove that he can make the mark, and perhaps ease some of his parents’ stress. Mexican-American and Jewish Marco, too, wishes to impress his neglectful father, a jock, who dismisses Marco’s scholastic achievements. The basketball team is a choice that fits both boys’ needs: Isaac can coach Marco in baller moves; Marco can be Isaac’s loyal study buddy. Determined to escape the taunts of the school bullies–especially basketball eighth grade standout, the looming Byron–Marco takes on becoming a basketball player as an intellectual pursuit. Motivated by Marco’s relentless efforts to learn how to play ball, Isaac disciplines himself to complete all homework assignments. Their bro’mance gets them through their respective feelings of inadequacy in either sports or studies and their family issues. Marco skips an elective course and completes Isaac’s missed homework assignment. Isaac convinces Coach Chavez that Marco will be a valuable player on the team. Told in alternating voices that mix feeling with humor, the story reaches a climax when Isaac’s dad suffers a car accident while driving drunk right before the big basketball tournament. To add to the tension, Marco’s errant dad comes to see him play at the tournament. Reading how these true friends push each other to achieve their goals and affirm themselves in the process imitates the deft moves of a satisfying game and does not fall short.

THOUGHTS: Author Ernesto Cisneros mixes lots of details in Falling Short that cater to the typical middle school student: description of basketball plays, mention of well-known basketball players, team spirit, an explosive farting episode. It also touches on the awkwardness and helplessness kids can feel when dealing with parental flaws. The book includes some nice touches that point to a better world: Coach Chavez throws Byron, the bully, off the team when he finds out Byron humiliated Marco; Marco has a short teacher who can be both self-deprecating and inspirational; there is a girl on the basketball team; some of the other team members also look past Marco’s lack of height and see his kindness. Spanish phrases are scattered throughout the book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Thanks a Lot, Universe

Lucas, Chad. Thanks a Lot, Universe. Amulet, 2021. 978-1-419-75102-8. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Brian and Ezra, both 13 years old, are classmates at school, and on the same basketball team. But that’s where the similarities end. Ezra, who is biracial, appears to Brian as cool, confident, and popular, while Brian, who is white, suffers from crippling social anxiety (or Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome, as he labels it). Ezra thinks Brian seems interesting, but doesn’t go out of his way to befriend the boy until the bottom drops out of Brian’s life. On his 13th birthday, Brian awakens to discover that his father has disappeared (to evade capture by police) and his mother is unconscious from a drug overdose. In the ensuing days, Brian tries to keep his life together, after he and his younger brother, Ritchie, are placed in foster care. But eventually Brian takes Ritchie and runs away. Ezra soon gets involved in the search for Brian, and after locating the brothers, makes it his mission to befriend the young man. Along the way, Ezra is trying to understand himself as well. His circle of friends is evolving, as some of the boys become interested in girls, while Ezra is coming to terms with the fact that he is gay, and has a crush on Brian. Two well adjusted high school students provide a sounding board for both boys as they attempt to navigate the life they have been given. While racial issues are touched upon, mental health takes center stage. Brian is terrified he will be labeled “crazy” since his mother suffers with mental health issues. While these seventh grade boys are far more comfortable discussing their feelings and expressing concern for each other’s emotional well-being than your average middle schooler, the book is a marvelous, feel-good display of masculine friendship. The story, alternating between Ezra’s and Brian’s point of view, grabs hold from the opening page, and doesn’t stop until the end. Brian and Ezra are both such sympathetic characters readers will wholeheartedly root for them to find happiness. And maybe all those really nice people are what make the book so heartwarming.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended. While there may be too many unrealistically nice people in the story, including a helpful police officer, a teacher who takes in Brian and Richie, and a pair of high school teenagers who befriend Ezra and Brian, it is worth it for the good feelings it engenders. There is no perfect ending – dad goes to prison, Ezra loses a friend, mom is still unstable – but the book still leaves you smiling. With main characters that are 13-years-old and in 7th grade, this book should have wider appeal than just middle grade. The timely issues of race and mental health make this a great fit for 7th and 8th graders. Hopefully readers will take to heart the message to befriend and understand shy kids, and to look out for each other. Perfect to pair with The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Brian, who suffers from Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome (SAWS), as he calls it, is used to having a rough time in junior high; he is a good basketball player, but feels too shy to talk to his teammates off the court. He often deals with bullying, and his dad wants him to be tougher and stand up to those who make him even more socially miserable. Then, life gets much harder when his dad suddenly leaves the family. Suddenly, Brian is taking care of his younger brother, navigating foster care, and still dealing with his social anxiety, bullies, and every-day adolescent stress. Luckily, a support system shows up to help when Ezra, a teammate from basketball, and a group of caring adults step in. Meanwhile, Ezra is dealing with uncomfortable tension between his childhood best friends, his growing interest in music and playing the guitar, and his changing feelings about boys.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful story about supportive friends in times of struggle. The characters in the story experience the difficulties of growing up and demonstrate the positive influences that good people and good friends can have during a teen’s formative years. This book also portrays several positive coming-out experiences and sensitively handles the struggles of a LGBTQ+ teen.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Science Gets Physical (Series NF)

George, Enzo. Science Gets Physical. Crabtree Publishing Company, 2020. $10.95 ea. $65.70 set of 6. 48p. Grades 5-9.

Physical Science in Basketball. 978-0-778-77557-7.
Physical Science in Cycling Sports. 978-0-778-77634-5.
Physical Science in Football. 978-0-778-77635-2.
Physical Science in Snow and Ice Sports. 978-0-778-77650-5.
Physical Science in Street Sports. 978-0-778-77651-2.
Physical Science in Water Sports. 978-0-778-77652-9.

Science meets sports in this series aiming to educate readers about the science behind popular sports. Organized into six chapters, each book explains how physics plays a part in the technique and function of each sport. Each book includes a science experiment readers can complete at home to gain a real understanding of the physics explained in the previous chapters. Glossary terms, Learning More, and Index sections help readers understand and navigate through the nonfiction text as well as encourages readers to learn more about the physics of sports. There are plenty of sidebars and photographs that highlight how the scientific theories explained in the text are demonstrated in the real world through contemporary sports.

THOUGHTS: A useful text for athletes seeking an advantage on their competition and for students eager to learn the science behind popular sports. It is a good addition to a collection of sports books and a good offering for teachers of physical science to share with students who may be reluctant to learn about science. The text and captions are easy to read and informative while the colorful, modern photographs make the information feel relatable.

796 Sports     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball

Bryant, Jen, and Frank Morrison. Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-4197-4108-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 3-6.

“Whenever Elgin played, people stopped what they were doing and watched.” Elgin Baylor had that kind of effect on the game of basketball, but that was not all. As he grew and played, he also learned and watched what was happening in the world around him. He saw civil rights leaders bravely and peacefully standing up (or sitting down) for change. When Elgin finally made the NBA, he was still facing many forms of discrimination, and now it was his turn to act. “Sometimes you have to sit down to stand up.” The lessons from this poetic biographical picture book by the stellar Jen Bryant are sure to land with young sports fans; meanwhile, the stretched artistic oil paintings portray a man that seemed larger than life in an ever changing time. Just watch and see the impact this book could have on your young readers!

THOUGHTS: Elgin Baylor may not be a household name for young fans, but if they stop and discuss it, they will see how the work of LeBron James, Jackie Robinson, and others are intertwined with his leadership and talent. The timeline at the end offers its own intertwined path between civil rights events and Elgin’s career. A very worthy addition to picture book biographies.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – History of Sports (Series NF)

Abdo, Kenny. History of Sports. ABDO Books, 2020. $20.00 ea. $120.00 set of 6.  24 p. Grades K-3. 

History of Basketball. 978-1-532-12738-0.
History of Baseball. 
978-1-532-12737-3.

History of Football. 978-1-532-12739-7.
History of Golf. 978-1-532-12740-3.
History of Gymnastics.  978-1-532-12741-0.
History of Soccer 978-1-532-12742-7.

History of Baseball gives a brief history of baseball, from the beginning to current times. The game of baseball is briefly explained; however, it is not an in depth explanation. There is a table of contents, glossary, and an index, as well as a page with a QR code that can be scanned for additional information. There are several full color photos found within the book  to demonstrate the different aspects of baseball that are being discussed.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introductory resource to help students learn how to use nonfiction books. This will definitely help any student who is not familiar with baseball to do research; however, it is extremely simple at times. Overall, this is a nice addition to an elementary nonfiction collection but not necessary.

796 Sports          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy

Elem. – Sports Zone Series NF

Sports Zone. Capstone Press. 2020. $20.99 ea. $167.92 set of 8. Grades 3-6.

Chandler, Matt. Boys’ Lacrosse: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57425-8.
—. Football: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57357-2.
—. Gymnastics: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57358-9.
—. Tae Kwan Do: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57431-9.
Williams, Heather. Basketball: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57356-5.
—. Girls’ Lacrosse: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57427-2.
—. Hockey: A Guide for Players and Fans 978-1-543-57359-6.
—. Soccer: A Guide for Players and Fans. 978-1-543-57429-6.

Girls’ Lacrosse: A Guide for Players and Fans is an immersive resource filled with a wide variety of lacrosse information, specifically for girls who would want to play this sport. This book contains the history, rules, gear required, strategies, and even additional information on this subject. While there is crossover between boys and girls in this sport in terms of rules and regulations, this book specifically discusses rules and information meant for females who would play this sport. This book is a great resource for those who are interested in learning more about lacrosse!

THOUGHTS: I appreciate the great detail, photographs, captions, and glossary items found within this book. It is very visual and appealing, all the while providing information. This book was well written in discussing how the rules vary between male and female lacrosse, informing the reader that there are many similarities, but there are some differences. A great read for anyone, male or female, who may be interested in this sport.

796.36 WIL          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Talkin’ Sports (Series Nonfiction)

Talkin’ Sports. The Child’s World, 2020. $20.00 ea. $160 set of 8. 24 p. Grades 3-6. 

Buckley, James. Talkin’ Baseball. 978-150383-571-9.
—. Talkin’ Basketball. 978-150383-574-0.
—. Talkin’ Lacrosse. 978-150383-576-4.
—. Talkin’ Motor Sports. 978-150383-577-1.
—. Talkin’ Soccer. 978-150383-573-3.
Gigliotti, Jim. Talkin’ Football. 978-150383-572-6.
—. Talkin’ Golf & Tennis. 978-150383-578-8.
—. Talkin’ Hockey. 978-150383-575-7.

“Play sports? Watch sports? Talk sports!” That’s the tagline for this series highlighting special sports terms, insider phrases, comical or descriptive terms, and player nicknames. Fans of these sports will want to check up on their lingo–historical and modern-day–and add some understanding to their use of it as they go. They may even think of plenty more to add to the mix. For example, “The slugger ripped a frozen rope into the gap and pulled up with a two-bagger.” Baseball translation: “A powerful hitter smashed a line drive (further defined) between two outfielders (further defined) & ran to second base.” These books will cause laughter, and comments such as, “that’s right” or “I didn’t know that was why…” as fans feel a bit more at home watching, playing, and talking sports. For the uninitiated, these books can solidify the lingo.

THOUGHTS: A fun series suitable for upper elementary and middle school. ( Titles reviewed: Talkin’ Baseball and Talkin’ Football.)

796 Sports          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

This Way Home

thiswayhome

Moore, Wes and Shawn Goodman. This Way Home. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-375-99019-9. 245 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Elijah Thomas is a high school basketball star, and he and his two best friends are competing in the neighborhood adult league championships for prize money as well as recognition. They become entangled with a violent gang, Blood Street Nation, when the gang leader offers to supply them with new shoes and jerseys. When the boys, with encouragement from their mothers, decide to not wear the jerseys that bear the gang logo, the gang retaliates by killing one of the trio of best friends. The contrast and conflict are palpable – Elijah is grief stricken at the same time as he should be celebrating for not only winning the tournament but also for being recruited by a university basketball coach. The side story is one of Elijah connecting with and learning from a retired army officer who teaches him responsibility in his father’s absence. THOUGHTS: Although several elements in the story line are unrealistic, including the teenage boys’ acquiescing to their mothers’ wishes and the ending with the demise of the gang, I would recommend this book to teenage students who claim to hate reading, particularly to urban youth who will recognize the neighborhood violence that threatens their life dreams.

Realistic Fiction; Urban       Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

The Crossover

crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0544107717  238 p. $16.99 Gr. 5-8
Twelve-year-old twins Jordan (JB) and Josh (Filthy McNasty) Bell are opposites except for their love of basketball.  Fueled by talent and their once-pro father’s support and example, they exhibit early skill in the game.  Josh is the only middle schooler who can slam dunk, and JB owns a fabulous three-point shot.  But change is brewing, in the form of a girlfriend for JB and health problems for Dad, and Josh, the narrator, captures the highs and lows of basketball and life.  Dad and assistant principal mom provide a family unit strong on love and discipline.  When Josh’s jealousy leads him to an in-game fight with JB, his parents suspend him from the game.  Avoiding doctors and his wife’s attempts at a better diet, their dad is hospitalized in a coma from high blood pressure.  The amazing free-verse poetry novel soars in Alexander’s hands; the rhythm and joy of playing on the court shines through, as does the weightiness and confusion faced by the Bell family.  A story of family, basketball, and endurance, bound to delight fans of basketball, jazz, and wordplay.  A fantastic book talk or read-aloud, this story could be used for examinations of novels in verse, rhythmic writing, sibling love and rivalry, family struggles, and character growth.
Realistic Fiction; Verse                     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School