Tag Archives: sports

Come On, Sporto! Read a Book

Like it or not, sports dominate our society.

And for many kids, sports are a major part of their lives. Sports, in proper context, can teach so many positive things. Working toward a common goal, teamwork, discipline, and physical awareness are only a few of the many positive things people, and especially kids, can take away from sports.

What about in middle-grade literature? Is there a good representation of sports in this field?


There are many great writers producing quality sports books. For example, there are the books of Matt Christopher, Chris Crutcher, and John H. Ritter, books by former professional athletes, like Tim Green and baseball Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken, Jr., and there are even great titles from sports reporters Mike Lupica and John Feinstein.

Hothead_CoverFootball GeniusThe Underdogs

For a sampling of some middle-grade sports titles, check out this excellent list of middle grade sports books from Kirkus or Michael Sullivan’s list of sports-themed boy books.

One place you will not find many sports-themed books, though, is on the awards list. For some reason, maybe because they are not considered intellectual or high-brow enough, sports titles are left off the main stage of juvenile literature. I scanned through the Newbery Award historical listing and found only three titles that would even in the least bit appear to a kid as being a sport book. Only one, though, an honor book in 1935, appeared to be centered on a sporting activity. That’s a serious omission of sports-themed books from the Newbery award list. Enough of an omission to require further study to evaluate if this is a trend within the entire spectrum of children’s literature awards.


Why are sports books important? In my opinion, it is because they are gateway or bridge books for the middle grade reader. The sports topic is familiar to many kids and gives the developing reader a great place to jump into more difficult literature and/or topics. The familiarity with the sports environment and ability to associate with the characters keeps the reader engaged as they mature in their reading skills and expanding interests.

How are sports used in middle-grade literature? Sports grab the interest of target readers. Sports have inherent drama, excitement, and character interactions, which are familiar to the middle-grade reader. The sport often becomes a hook to help catch the reader. Would the Harry Potter series be the same wildly popular Harry Potter series it is today without Quidditch? J.K. Rowling’s use of Quidditch early in the series was one of the hooks (one of many!) she used to grab the audience by the hand and lead them into the wonderful world of Hogwarts. Then, as the series shifted from middle grade to young adult, the use of Quidditch faded as the characters and issues they faced matured.

Sports make great fiction and the relatability of sports to the middle-grade reader makes a greater appeal for sport books. The very nature of sport and competition lends a great dramatic background in which to set a story.


Sports also make great non-fiction. A background of a sport, especially a world sport or an emerging sport, makes for interesting reading. Biographies of athletes and coaches have always been some of my favorite reading. It is always an inspiration to read of the triumph many athletes have accomplished over the hurdles in their lives. Non-fiction sports books can present a vibrant and alive history as no textbook can.

Take the performance of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Munich amidst the background of Nazi Germany as an example. One can probably find the basic detail of this particular showdown in many history books, but the background and detail as told in the non-fiction titles, JESSIE: THE MAN WHO OUTRAN HITLER by Jesse Owens and Paul G. Niemark, and JESSE OWENS: I ALWAYS LOVED RUNNING by Jeff Burlingame, bring the triumphant story to life for the young reader.

Jessie Owens Hitler                Jessie Owens I Always

Do sports books deserve a seat at the table of juvenile literature?

They sure do. These books are important offerings to bring readers through the rocky developmental period between early readers and lifelong readers.
Sports hold a major place in our modern society. Kids relate to sport, which means they can relate to sport in their literature as well.

Let them read sports!

Batter Up!

About the Author

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.wordpress.com. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


March Madness in the Bookshelves

Hello, my name is Tracy and I’m college basketball-obsessed. It’s been three minutes since I watched a men’s NCAA game, and I’m quite sure I’ll sneak away** from this post to check out another. I’d like to say my family is supportive of my attempts at recovery, but they’re not much more functional than me. And in the case of my 16-year-old son, I’d say he’s got it worse. At least I’m not constantly checking scores on my phone.

(Why yes, it is an ancient flip-phone. What’s your point?)

In addition to love-love-loving college basketball, I adore reading. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there for middle-grade readers who enjoy this sport. While I couldn’t find any books aimed at young people on the art and science of bracketology, I did find a broad array of fiction with basketball playing a prominent part in the story.


Tracy’s note: While author says she personally is “not tall, not very coordinated, and has no hustle,” Mills wrote a convincing story about a reluctant basketball player who makes funny observations on his way to becoming a player.


Tracy’s note: Grimes does a beautiful job writing in verse about what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl who lives and breathes basketball, and then experiences both physical and emotional changes that affect how she views the boys she used to only see as competitors.


Tracy’s note: Being the mom of a long-time basketball player, this story, told from the point of view of three sixth-grade boys and one girl, rings absolutely true regarding parental expectations, highs and lows of competition, and the politics of team sports. While this book definitely would hook young readers, I think parents would also enjoy and benefit from these narrators’ insights.


Tracy’s note: Stanford loves basketball so much he’s willing to be tutored in English by “the world’s biggest nerdball, Millicent Min” so that he can be on the team. I can relate, seeing as I have to get these blurbs evenly spaced before I can get back to my beloved games. Aargh!

THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richardson

Tracy’s note: This story of 10-year-old Marcus and his twin Mia doesn’t contain basketball action, but instead delivers a message about how it’s okay to dream of being a basketball star as long as you have other dreams, too.

DRAGON ROAD by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road cover

Tracy’s note: I’m interested in reading this book about a 1939 Chinese American basketball team, but stopped when I realized the protagonists are recent high school graduates (the book was shelved in the juvenile section of  my library but is at minimum an upper middle-grade story). If I can find time between games, I’m going to continue reading this.

The NCAA brackets have now been set. I watched Selection Sunday with my two sons as the teams and initial match-ups were announced, and am giddy with anticipation. Happy March Madness, everyone! The first games aren’t until tomorrow so you still have plenty of time to pick up a book. Please add any other basketball-inspired books in the comments and also tournament favorites or predictions.

**I watched the last minutes of the Wisconsin – Indiana game.  Shhh!

Tracy Abell wishes her free throw percentage was higher because, you know, they’re FREE throws. 

Announcing: The Midgrade Football League!

Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens for winning a football game during last night’s Destiny’s Child reunion concert. I have always admired the Ravens for being the only literary-themed franchise in professional sports, and they get bonus points for picking a dark, 19th-Century poem filled with themes of heartbreak and death.

literary football

Also considered: the Longfellow Waysides and the Miltonian Lost Paradise.

This championship team and its three authorial mascots (ravens named Edgar, Allan, and Poe) have inspired me to imagine a league of our own with names based on works of middle-grade literature. These might include:

Atlantic Division

  • The Connecticut Tesseracts: Named after the four-dimensional constructs in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
  • The Washington Bridges: Named for the titular construction project in Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson.
  • The Mixed-Up Files of New York: Named after this blog (and also From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg).
  • The Mississippi Thunder: Named for a farmhand in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.
  • The West Virginia Beagles: Named for the dog in Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Pacific Division

  • The Seattle Yonders: Named for A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, and based in a city that’s a long way from Chicago.
  • The California Whipping Boys: Named for the character in The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman.
  • The Green Lake Holes: Named for the products of hard labor found in Holes by Louis Sachar.
  • The Alaska Wolves: Named for the pack encountered in Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.
  • The Seoul Shards: Named after the pottery pieces in Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard.

Have ideas for additional teams? Leave them in the comments!

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the “Galaxy Games” series of midgrade sports and sci-fi from Tu Books at Lee & Low Books. Visit him at http://gfishbone.com.