Elem./MG – Spectacular Sports (Series NF)

Doeden, Matt. Spectacular Sports. Millbrook Press, 2021. $25.99 each. $208.32 Set of 9. 64 p. Grades 5-8.

Coming Up Clutch: The Greatest Upsets, Comebacks and Finishes in Sports History. 978-1-512-42756-1.
It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run. 978-1-728-41716-5.
The College Football Championship: The Fight for the Top Spot. 978-1-467-71897-4.
The Final Four: The Pursuit of College Basketball Glory. 978-1-467-78780-2.
The NBA Playoffs: In Pursuit of Basketball Glory. 978-1-541-54153-5.
The Negro Leagues: Celebrating Baseball’s Unsung Heroes. 978-1-512-42753-0.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Quest for Hockey’s Biggest Prize. 978-1-541-57838-8.
The Super Bowl: Chasing Football Immortality. 978-1-512-42754-7.
The World Cup: Soccer’s Global Championship. 978-1-512-42755-4.

This reviewer read It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run in the Spectacular Sports series. This series offers meticulously-researched, well-written information, tons of sports statistics, and interesting full-color illustrations about high-interest sports topics that middle-level readers will be excited to learn more about. Each book in the series addresses a different major event in sports or sports history. The books include short chapters with catchy titles, captioned photos and diagrams, a glossary, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This series contains worthwhile additions for any upper elementary or middle level library that needs to add colorfully-illustrated, high-interest books about popular sports topics to its collection. (Title Reviewed: It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run.)

796s Sports          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Much Ado about Baseball

LaRocca, Rajani. Much Ado About Baseball. Yellow Jacket, 2021. 978-1-499-81101-8. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Trish is annoyed with her mother for making her move again. It’s challenging enough being a girl who plays baseball, without being the new kid too. But she is determined to make what may be her last season of baseball awesome. Until she discovers Ben, the boy she beat in last spring’s regional Math Puzzler competition, is on the team. This could be a complicated problem to solve. Ben, who is reluctantly playing ball this summer, does not need Miss Math Puzzler genius showing him up in baseball, too. So the two 12-year-olds begin the season at odds with each other, despite the efforts of Ben’s pal Abhi, who quickly befriends Trish as well. But when Ben and Trish each receive a puzzle book in the mail, they quickly realize that the team’s sudden success may be tied into their ability to solve the puzzles, and they soon pair up. But the course of true love, whether math or baseball, never did run smooth. And with the machinations of a Puck or two, there is no guarantee of a solution to this Midsummer mess. This companion book to LaRocca’s Midsummer’s Mayhem delightfully pairs baseball, math, and Shakespeare in a lighthearted plot about friendship and family, relationships that are frequently complicated. Ben, Trish, and Abhi all have frustrations with their families, as well as negotiating friendships and self-esteem issues. A community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides the context for a bit of Puckish magic, and a few fey individuals who wish to make the mortals look foolish. Readers who are not familiar with the Bard’s work still will thoroughly enjoy the book, but those with a knowledge of the play will enjoy the subtle (and eventually not so subtle) parallels running through the story. Trish and Abhi are Indian, Ben is white.

THOUGHTS: A blending of math and baseball may not attract all readers, but one does not have to be a fan of either to enjoy the book. LaRocca enthusiastically explains both, so readers may pick up an appreciation by the end of the story.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Kneel

Buford, Candace. Kneel. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-40251-6. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Kneel follows Russell who is a talented football player from a small town looking for a full ride scholarship to escape. However, Russell’s teammate and best friend, Marion is unfairly arrested and then benched for the rest of the season, Russell decides to take a stand.  In doing so, Russell sets off a chain of events that he never saw coming and refuses to back down from. In the end, will Russell be able to enact the social change that his community desperately needs, or will he have to pick between social justice and football?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly written, and felt extremely realistic. I enjoyed that each character felt unique to me, in how they dealt with racism as well as how they interacted with each other. This wasn’t too technical with football, which I appreciated as someone who isn’t familiar with football.  I would highly recommend this for a high school collection, and feel this would also make a great book to teach in a high school literature class.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

When practice runs late, Russell and Marion know that breaking down on the parish line between Monroe (their side of town) and Westmond (the wealthier side of town) is not the best spot to be. A few weeks ago the untimely death of teen Dante Maynard, who was killed by a white police officer for “looking suspicious,” rocked the local black community. The fact that Russell’s car could draw unwanted attention for its condition doesn’t add to his limited options as darkness approaches. Instead of the cops, though, Bradley Simmons, a varsity football player from Westmond, pulls up in a shiny BMW, and he taunts Russell and Marion about last year’s playoff whipping which ended with Marion being seriously injured and jeopardizing his football future. The pent up frustration doesn’t end, and animosity explodes when Monroe meets Westmond at center field for the coin toss. Unfair, one-sided refereeing leaves Russell injured. To make matters even worse, the cop that killed Dante Maynard is on game security, and he takes Marion off the field in cuffs. Though Russell promises Marion he’ll “handle this,” the deck is stacked against the boys, their team, and their community. Due to his pending charges, Marion is benched and barred from the team until his situation is resolved. In an instant, his only way out disappears. Russell realizes the only way to take a stand is to take a knee, and the repercussions of his action are more than he imagined. If the only way out of his situation is through a Division I football scholarship, what lengths will Russell go to in order to earn his spot, and will he have to give up his beliefs to make it happen?

THOUGHTS: Timely and thoughtful, Kneel transports readers right into the racial tensions. Readers will feel for Russell and be angered by the actions and the lack of action from local authorities. A must have for high school collections, this title also would pair well with classics and other contemporary titles dealing with similar topics.

Realistic Fiction         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG/YA – Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition

Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Levine Querido. 2021. 978-1-646-14045-9. $18.99. 383 p. Grades: 7-up.

A Native Ojibwe professor of Ojibwe language and culture at the University of Bemidji in northern Minnesota, Anton Treuer has compiled a thorough exploration of Native American history, past and present. Formatted as questions and answers, Dr. Treuer separates the material in essays on the following topics: terminology; history; religion, culture, identity; powwow; tribal languages; politics; economics; education; social activism; perspectives. Among the subjects discussed are how to refer to Native Americans (which term to use), explanation of different customs and ceremonies, justification for reservations, criticism of imposed governmental removals and Indian schools, gender identity, women’s roles, and marriage in Native American community, identification of Native inventions and discoveries, and discussion of incidents connected to Native Americans. The information, albeit short, is noteworthy because of the wide variety covered. Students can use the detailed index to research Native American life; all ages can benefit from educating themselves on the Indigenous people whose home colonizers disrupted. Dr. Treuer writes in a relatable style, often posing his own carefully crafted opinions on some sensitive subjects and providing a personal touch to otherwise expository writing. This guidebook adapted for young readers is an essential purchase for school libraries. In addition to the index, the book includes photographs, recommended readings, and notes.

THOUGHTS: Each section of this book begins with quote(s), and I was surprised to see under the History heading one by Adolph Hitler. Rest assured, Treuer is reinforcing the devastation of Native American history, compared with Hitler’s annihilation of people. Treuer’s father, Robert Treuer, was an Austrian-Jew who escaped the Holocaust because of his mother’s efforts in securing transport to England and then, America. Dr. Treuer is steeped in his own mother’s Ojibwe heritage, and his non-Native father was also an advocate for Native American rights. Easy to use as a reference tool or for cover-to-cover reading, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, fulfills a need in everyone’s school collection and supports the continuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.

970 History of North America          Bernadette Cooke   School District of Philadelphia
908.9 History of Ethnic and National Groups

Elem. – Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken?

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken? Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01706-6. 112 p. $6.99 (paperback). Grades 3-5.

In a fun, new nonfiction series from Dan Gutman, two kids (Paige and Turner) take turns trying to top themselves with the lesser known (yet still fascinating) facts of famous people. In fact, Muhammad Ali was a chicken when it came to flying, but they also discuss his bravery in the ring and standing up against the Vietnam War and social justice issues. With quotes and stats and illustrations along with the two narrators, the text is broken into curious and quick digestible bits of information. After some basic background, readers learn about the boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Ali for religious reasons. The stories about childhood are relatable for students, and the decisions from his fighting to his adulthood are explained in understandable terms without too much sugar coating. Ali was the Greatest for his showmanship and personality as much as his muscle and willpower, and Gutman gets into all those skills with interesting detail. Even teachers and adults will stop as they read to say, “Wait! What?” and want to learn more!

THOUGHTS: More titles are coming in this new series, including Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. Fans of the Weird School Fact books and the Who Was? biographies naturally will gravitate towards this nonfiction book.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks

Tsui, Bonnie, and Sophie Diao, illustrator. Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-23948-8. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Gerhardt grew up surfing little, medium, and big waves (her favorite!) on Oahu’s North Shore, which is famous for its huge waves, some of which top the height of a five-story building. As one of just a few girl surfers, Sarah struggled to find the right size surfboards and wetsuits; luckily, she found a circle of friends that included a surfboard shaper who made boards that were just right for her. She later moved to California, where her new home was near Mavericks, the famous big-wave surf break. With its monster waves, “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls” was a dangerous place to surf, and no woman had ever done it … until Sarah! Illustrator Sophie Diao captures Sarah’s history-making ride, and its epic scale, in a made-for-storytime flip-up page. Throughout Sarah and the Big Wave, Diao’s digitally rendered artwork beautifully captures the ever-changing colors of the ocean and the power of its biggest waves. A timeline of milestones in the history of women and surfing complete this fantastic picture book biography.

THOUGHTS: This upbeat, inspiring true story is positively swell.

Picture Book Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League

Bullaro, Angie. Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 3-6. 

Manon Rhéaume began playing backyard hockey with her brothers before the age of 5, but it wasn’t until her dad’s team needed a goalie that Manon started playing on a real team. In fact, Manon’s father told her to keep the goalie mask on before taking the ice because people weren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team in 1977. By 1984, Manon’s talent spoke for itself. She was the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and she continued to prove critics wrong as she played at higher and higher levels of boys’ and men’s hockey. In 1992 Manon became the first woman to play a game in any of the four men’s major US professional sports when she played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Angie Bullaro’s picture book biography nicely details Manon’s hard work, courage, and perseverance in making her hockey dreams come true. An Afterword by Manon herself encourages readers to work hard no matter what, saying “Don’t let ‘no’ stop you.”

THOUGHTS: An interesting addition to picture book biography collections.

796.962 Hockey          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD
Biography

Elem. – I Like Sports…What jobs are there?

Martin, Steve. I Like Sports…What Jobs Are There? Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2020. 978-1-610-67088-1. 48 p. $15.99. Grades 3-6.

Many athletes and sports fanatics out there dream of being a professional and all of the fame and glory and riches that comes with it. In truth, as we know, the odds are minute to make it to that level, but that shouldn’t discount finding a career in sports that can combine passion and talent. This useful and well designed book by Steve Martin and illustrated by Tom Woolley aims to highlight 25 different jobs that elementary students may not consider when discussing careers. Each position has a short personal introduction, then a quick day in the life outline, and a great pros and cons list. The personas shown and sports mentioned are a diverse and inclusive mix across gender and racial lines. A sample of the featured jobs range from trainers to sports journalists and photographers to sports nutritionists, mechanics, and agents. With a perfect job match infographic at the end, aspiring athletes and fanatics may just find their way into the wide world of sports!

THOUGHTS: While I’m not seeing this as a series yet, I can see other books like this helping with career ready assignments. Further research links and databases could even help create a research assignment or poster project. I like the positive nature of the book and leaving athletes open to many opportunities and other skills such as math, health, and communications. Recommended.

796 Sports          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – Wide World of Esports (Series NF)

Mauleón, Daniel. Edge Books: Wide World of Esports. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.54 ea. $86.16 set of 4. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Athletic Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Basketball, Football, Soccer, and More!
Fighting Game Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and More! 978-1-543-57355-8.
First-Person Action Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and More! 978-1-543-57353-4.
Online Battle Arena Esports: The Competitive Gaming World of League of Legends, Dota 2, and More! 978-1-543-57354-1.

Part of the Edge Books: Wide World of Esports series, Athletic Esports not only makes the introduction those unfamiliar to the world of competitive esports, for the readers who are already interested in competitive esports, it takes a closer look at the competitive leagues within the most popular athletic esports, such as basketball and football, including facts about player drafts, tournaments, and cash prizes. Also included are a history of athletic esports and a chapter on equality in esports.

THOUGHTS: Even students who think they know everything about competitive esports will learn something from reading this book. It is a good addition to elementary and middle school libraries where informational nonfiction circulates well.

794.8 Video Games          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD