November 17, 2017

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March Madness & Hoop Dreams | Great Books about Basketball

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Hoops fans are gearing up for the 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament, which takes place from March 17 to April 6. From picture books to YA novels, nonfiction works to tall tales, this selection of titles will captivate B-ball enthusiasts with sizzling courtside action and solid storytelling.

basketballbellesBasketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map. by Sue Macy. illus. by Matt Collins. Holiday House. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823421633.

Gr 2-5—Agnes Morley, a high-spirited young woman who grew up working on her family’s New Mexico ranch and preferred breeches and spurs to ruffled skirts, narrates this true tale. Sent by her mother to Stanford in the hopes that the university would make a lady out of her, Agnes nonetheless took part in the first-ever hoops matchup played between two women’s college teams at Berkeley in 1891. This from-the-court account includes brawling action, a close score, and the resounding message that “a lady can be tough and strong as well as refined and polite. She can even play basketball.” Exuberant artwork and vibrant text bring history to life.

beastlybasketballBeastly Basketball. by Lauren Johnson. illus. by Eduardo Garcia. (Sports Illustrated Kids Graphic Novels). Capstone/Stone Arch. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781434264909.

Gr 4-8—Invited to join his school’s downtrodden basketball squad after his kung fu studio closes down, Joe shares his martial arts skills with the other boys to help build discipline and cooperation. Each player is eventually assigned a style that suits his particular strengths (Oscar is a “tiger—ferocious yet stealthy,” while Tim is “goofy and agile—a real funky monkey”). After a month of hard work, the Beasts—each wearing his designated animal on his jersey—are ready for a stellar season. Energy-packed artwork, simple dialogue, lighthearted humor, and a powerful message about teamwork make this graphic novel a good pick for reluctant readers.

crossoverThe Crossover. by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544107717; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780544289598.

Gr 6-10—“A bolt of lightning on my kicks…/The court is SIZZLING/My sweat is DRIZZLING/Stop all that quivering/Cuz tonight I’m delivering.” Seventh-grader Josh has the skills to back his swagger, as does his brother Jordan, twins coached by their one-time pro-baller dad and encouraged by their straight-shooting mom. Though they have their differences—Josh plays forward and wears dreads, while his shooting guard brother gets his head shaved monthly—the two are inseparable on court and off…until Jordan lays eyes on the new girl at school, which is only the beginning of a season filled with changes and challenges. Expertly crafted poems mix basketball metaphors, an authentic voice, and a meaty range of moods and emotions to introduce a memorable protagonist who’s got game—and plenty of heart.

thefinalfourThe Final Four. by Paul Volponi. Viking. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670012640; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142423851; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101566954.

Gr 8 Up—This absorbing novel opens during the NCAA semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome as the powerhouse Michigan State Spartans take on the underdog Trojans of Troy University in front of 56,000 roaring fans. While the nail-biting game heads into triple overtime, flashbacks introduce four of the star athletes, peeling back their on-court personas to reveal backstories filled with hard-won accomplishments and anguish, emotional highs and lows, and the trials of growing up. Supplemented by journal entries, newspaper accounts, live TV interviews, and play-by-play announcing, Volponi’s crisp narration tells a gripping tale while also airing controversial issues about amateur athletics.

foultroubleFoul Trouble. by John Feinstein. Knopf. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375869648; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780375871696; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780375984549.

Gr 8 Up—Forward Terrell Jamerson, considered the top high school basketball player in the country, and his teammate and best friend, point guard Danny Wilcox, navigate a senior year teeming with pressure on and off the court. Though coached by Danny’s clear-thinking and protective father, the boys are aggressively—and sometimes unscrupulously—pursued by college staff, sporting goods company reps, and self-serving agents. The viewpoint shifts between the two protagonists: the hot-tempered Danny, who would do anything to protect his friend, and the sometimes naïve Terrell, who is well aware of how his decision will affect his family’s future. Blending tense game action with an eye-opening look at the college recruitment process, this novel keeps readers turning pages until the final whistle is blown.

HomecourtSTATHome Court. (STAT: Standing Tall And Talented). by Amar’e Stoudemire. illus. by Tim Jessell. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780545431699; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545387590; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545473996.

Gr 3-6—Loosely based on the childhood of NBA All-Star Stoudemire, this series opener introduces 11-year-old Amar’e, nicknamed STAT by his dad (“It stood for Standing Tall And Talented. That’s how he wanted me to act and who he wanted me to be.”). Far from hoops obsessed, the likable boy prefers to play just for fun, also spending time participating in other sports, hanging out with his friends, keeping up his honor roll grades, and working for his landscape business owner dad. However, when a group of slightly older bullies take over the neighborhood court, Amar’e comes up with a cleverly thought-out solution that also proves he’s got skills. Straightforward language, page-turning action, and inviting black-and-white illustrations tell a fast-reading tale of friendship, family, and figuring things out.

HORSEH.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination. by Christopher Myers. illus. by author. Egmont. 2012. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781606842188.

Gr 3-6—After restating the rules (one player makes a shot that the other has to duplicate or get a letter: “Spell ‘horse’ and it’s ‘Giddy-up, you’re out’”), two creative kids play this familiar game at a basketball court in the city, quickly escalating beyond traditional moves—“layup, jumper from half-court, bounce shot”—and begin to shoot for the moon…literally. Starring two gracefully lanky B-ballers, this celebration of soaring imaginations, friendly one-upmanship, and easy-going athleticism is illustrated with lithe paintings and collaged photos. The audio version (Live Oak Media, 2014), narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers, recently won the 2015 Odyssey Award and is a fantastic supplement to the print book.

hoopgeniusHoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball. by John Coy. illus. by Joe Morse. Carolrhoda. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780761366171.

Gr 1-4—In December 1891, a young educator in Springfield, MA, reluctantly took over the bored and boisterous all-male gym class that had already driven two instructors to quit. The quest for a fun activity was on, and after trying indoor football, soccer, and lacrosse (all too rough), James Naismith finally found success with a game played by arching a soccer ball into a peach basket (the only receptacle readily at hand). Delightfully burly mustache- and muscle-packed artwork and lively text make for a riveting read-aloud.

nextNext. by Kevin Waltman. Cinco Puntos. 2013. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781935955641; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955658.

Gr 7 Up—Pushing 6’3” and scorching hot on the court, freshman Derrick Bowen has his sights set starting as point guard at Indianapolis’s Marion East High, but senior Nick Starks already owns the position and is determined to box him out. Coach Bolan wants D-Bow to concentrate more on his fundamentals than his flash, resulting in time on the bench. Meanwhile, an invitation for Derrick to transfer to and play for an elite private school in the suburbs has his family divided, and he can’t seem to stop making a fool out of himself in front of the girl he likes. Filled with multidimensional characters and lyrically presented hoops jargon, Derrick’s first-person narrative blends breathless game action with meaty quandaries about cooperation, self-realization, and coming-of-age. D-Bow returns for his sophomore year in Slump (Cinco Puntos, 2014).

planetmiddleschoolPlanet Middle School. by Nikki Grimes. Bloomsbury. 2011. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781599902845; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781599907277.

Gr 5-8—Baggy jeans–wearing, basketball-jamming, self-confident Joylin has always felt content with who she is, “But lately,/my outside has been changing/and my inside keeps telling me/more is on the way./Trouble is,/I’m not sure/I’m ready.” In this accessible, free-verse novel, the 12-year-old narrator candidly describes the woes and wonders of adolescence. As longtime friendships shift and change, she begins to notice boys, and, suddenly, it doesn’t seem as easy to define herself—on or off the court. Humorous, heartwarming, and empowering.

sasquatchSasquatch in the Paint. by Kareem Abdul-Jabar & Raymond Obstfeld. (Streetball Crew.) Disney-Hyperion. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423178705; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781423192541; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781423187851.

Gr 5-8—After a six-inch summertime growth spurt, eighth-grader Theo Rollins finds himself transformed from under-the-radar science geek to basketball squad centerpiece. Everyone expects big things, but Theo, uncomfortable in his new body and unfamiliar with the game, is struggling. Gradually, he realizes that he loves hoops but improvement will require dedication, the willingness to balance extra practice with school work and other commitments, and some soul searching. Often laugh-out-loud funny, this satisfying sports story stars a relatable protagonist, features a case of strongly drawn characters, and soars with truths about friendship and self-discovery. The series continues with Stealing the Game (Disney-Hyperion, 2015).

slamdunkSlam Dunk!: The Top Ten Lists of Everything in Basketball. Sports Illustrated Kids. 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781618931290.

Gr 4-8—Ranking everything from the greatest players to game-winning shots, brick-wall defenders to high-flying dunkers, memorable quotes to distinctive coiffures, this handsome book is packed with fan-thrilling visuals and facts. Snappy paragraphs introduce do-or-die game situations and recount career highlights, while dazzling full-color and black-and-white photos dramatize the action on the hardwood as players dribble, drive, shoot, and defend. Fun for browsing and perhaps arguing about placements with friends.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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