Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekend Theme: Sports

In honor of the start of the football season I thought I would share some books that are sports themed for all ages of readers. I hope to share something for both sports fans and those reluctant to watch sports. All my life I grew up around sports. I am the daughter of a referee; I spent many hours watching my father play softball during summers as well. All during high school I would attend countless games watching my brother play tennis, football, and basketball. I became an avid fan of sports during college as well, going to football, hockey, and basketball games. When there is a high-stakes game, I want to be watching! As a teacher I have been able to connect with students who are interested in sports, impressing eighth grade boys with my fantasy sports knowledge, challenging a fifth grade class to name more baseball teams than me, and even taking my class to a live hockey game, spending time before the game to prepare them with lessons about what to expect. What I found was that universally, children love sports. Furthermore, when given the chance, students will make connections to others through sports, even to literature.

Mickey & Me

Mickey & Me is from popular children’s author Dan Gutman. It's a great choice if you are looking for a series book that can hook readers. This book is also interesting because the book is actually historical fiction and is set in the 1940’s. Mickey & Me is part of a series (& Me series) about a young kid Joe who travels in time to meet famous players. Among the sub plots for Joe are a father in the hospital, a bratty little cousin, time travel, equal rights, and even World War II. While this historical fiction novel opens the opportunity to discuss many of these historical events, the sport theme is more like a vehicle for adventure.

Joe Stoshack has the magical ability to travel through time to whatever year baseball card he is holding. When his father is in a car accident he learns about a 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie card hidden under the floorboard in his room. Joe has the task of going back in time to save Mickey Mantle from hurting his leg in a game in 1951. Joe finds the card but gets mixed up with his cousin’s cards for another player named Mickey Maguire. Mickey Maguire is female baseball player in an All American Girls Professional Baseball League (think of the movie ‘A League of Their Own’). Joe becomes involved with the team learning about the all female league in the process. Finally, at the end of his trip back in time, Joe does meet a young 13 year old Mickey Mantle on a train. Joe is able to obtain Mantle’s autograph just before he returns to 2003. The book also contains a section called “Facts and Fiction” which outlines real characters, places, and events.

Overall I enjoyed the read. I liked the surprise element of there being two Mickeys. I could see intermediate students enjoying this book especially because it’s a series. Author Gutman has a great sense of humor and kids will just eat this stuff up. Mickey & Me and the other Baseball Card Adventure Books are perfect for targeting sport loving boys (and girls) who also want adventure in their books.

Travel Team

Among sports books, Travel Team is a star. In his novel, Mike Lupica was able to do what the other authors cannot always accomplish: He told a powerful story full of strong characters all using sports as a background. As an added bonus, anyone who knows sports will instantly trust Lupica as a sports authority, because he knows his stuff. He can talk basketball, football, baseball: any sport. When he mentions a famous professional athlete, chances are Lupica has met the player and that too offers him credibility. If you are not knowledgeable about sports, Lupica will become your teacher. His sports background isn’t even the best thing about the his book, it’s the well written plot of the book that pulls you in to learn about characters with real problems, dialogue that sounds like it could come from a real home or classroom, and drama that real adolescents can relate to themselves.

In Travel Team, Danny Walker is a gifted basketball player despite being the shortest kid in his grade. His skills remind everyone in his little town of his father who was also small and talented and made it to the NBA for a season until he ruined his body in a car accident. Now Danny rarely sees his father except for watching clips of him on YouTube. When Danny doesn’t make the local ‘travel team’ his father, Richie, comes back to town and starts a team for his son. The ragtag group of kids lack skills, height, and commitment. They struggle through the season until a series of events give them hope for the play-offs.

Wow, I loved this books and I have enjoyed all of Lupica’s books. I thought Lupica’s Million-Dollar Throw was a really great book as well. Travel Team is the type of book that has something for everyone, both boys and girls will like this book since it’s driven by such a solid storyline. The audience on this book solidly middle school readers. If you are in the classroom, this book would really benefit from a book talk. (A book talk is when a teacher or guest introduces the book with a few plots points to get people interested in reading more.) If you haven’t yet checked on Lupica’s writing, run to the bookstore and pick up one of his YA novels.

Z is for Zamboni 

From Sleeping Bear Press comes another installment of their alphabet books.  This book is similar to ones you have seen for in stores for a variety of topics like sports, nature, and geography.  I have read ones for a few different states and nature topics and this book follows the same pattern.   The illustrations on each page are beautifully done with nice details for sports lovers of all ages.  Lil Guy got this book as a gift for his second birthday.  He sure enjoys it and is interested in pointing to the pictures as we read together.
Z is for Zamboni, each letter shares an aspect of the game of hockey.  What I like about this book is that it doesn’t just rely on simple objects, but also introduces us to different parts of the game including Hall of Fame players and special events in the history of hockey.  Each page has a short “read-aloud-able” rhyme but also includes a few detailed paragraphs sharing more details.  Adults and children can both learn from this kind of book.  Some of my favorite pages are; “L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup” , “ Q is for Quebec” , and of course “Z is for Zamboni”.

Lil Guy is only 2 years old but has been to a dozen live hockey games, so the book was perfect for him.  He recognized many parts of the game of hockey.   I think this is a book that will be something that he can enjoy for years because of the parallel text on each page.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Sleeping Bear Press books to readers of all ages.  I was so pleased when Lil Guy got this as a gift; I think they would make an excellent gift for children ages 3 – 8. I plan to check for the books at my local library too, I can’t wait to start learning more!

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