I’m not that into sports. Don’t play them, don’t follow them, often don’t understand them. My kids have never been that into team sports either. We get our physical activity from biking, ice skating, and running from bees.
Though I am not into sports, I occasionally pick up a kids’ sports book. Team sports form such a large part of many kids’ lives today, that I think a genre dedicated to this fact is good and even necessary. But are the books fun to read? Like everything in books and life, the answer is sometimes.
Tackling Dad, by Elizabeth Levy, looked promising. Fun, double-meaning title and cute cartoon cover indicated a humorous read. Oh, well.
Seventh grader Cassie loves football and is invited to join the middle school team with her best friend as the kicker. While the team accepts having a girl kicker, they are less happy having Cassie right in the middle of tackle football. She is also fought by her mother and father who don’t understand her desire to play a boys’ game.
There is a lot of build-up of the tension between Cassie and her father that never really goes anywhere. I’m still not really sure why he is so firmly against her playing. Though to be fair, it may have been in the book and I just tuned out, because the story wasn’t all that interesting. Girl on a boys’ team is a great starting point for some humor, but the book drifts more to the serious side and not in a good way. The football scenes are probably pretty good, given that I didn’t follow them. They read to me like, “Blah blah blah Cassie blah blah blah the ball.” So I suspect there is some real football action there.
Now compare that book to L.D. Harkrader’s Airball: My Life in Briefs. Starting premise of the book is a boy who is not good at basketball joins the seventh-grade team so he can meet the town’s greatest basketball player from the pros. Pretty typical. Then add on page 16 that the boy is convinced that the pro is his father. More interesting. Then add that the team of seventh-graders are awful basketball players, so the Coach pulls an Emperor’s New Clothes on them regarding their new “stealth” uniforms. Okay, now you’ve got me. Very funny, very enjoyable, and very different. There is also plenty of actual basketball playing for the sports fans.
Last year I discovered a great, non-funny sports book about the sport of fast-pitch softball. In MadCat, by Kathy Mackel, seventh-grader Cat finds that her little softball team has a chance of taking it to the next level, and she couldn’t be happier. But the next level involves a new harsher coach, losing favorite teammates, and lots of pressure. There is some humor in the book, but overall the story focuses on the stress and strain of the sport. Again, plenty of actual game time that softball fans will enjoy.
Now, the best sports book I have ever read. The book recommended for young adults, that every adult soccer fan should read. The book that could change the kids’ sports genre forever. This masterpiece is Keeper, by Mal Peet.
It begins with an interview of a famous soccer player, El Gato, who has come up the ranks from a small logging village in the South American jungle. The interview becomes anything but standard as El Gato reveals that his secret to being the best goalie is his first coach a ghost. As a kid, he gives up soccer because he is too clumsy, and he begins exploring the jungle. One day he strays off the beaten path, and finds an oasis of green field and a soccer goal. He is met by a ghostly Keeper, who runs this clumsy kid through his paces and compels him to return again and again to the best coach and player he will ever know. And then the book gets weird.
I could not put this book down, even through the very specific game playing sequences. It. Is. Incredible.
And if you’re not done with sports books yet, guess what? There’s still more. Jen Robinson reviewed Free Baseball yesterday, and BookMoot reviewed Travel Team on Monday. I would looooove it if I could get some other kids’ lit fans to join in the fun today with a favorite sports book. Come on, FuseNumber8, Chicken Spaghetti, Big A little a, Bookshelves of Doom, what do you say? GottaBook, you can write a sports Fib if you like. Remember flash mobs? How about flash blogs? Maybe we’ll start a new trend, like the annoying success of Greg’s Fibs (just kidding).