The Name of the Game: Sports | Series Nonfiction

Amateurs and professional sports enthusiasts alike will devour these series on basketball, pro-wrestling, fishing, and more.

1704SMS-Sports-CVsIf the nonfiction section is a team and the books are its players, you don’t want to see your first-round draft picks riding the bench. Selecting sports nonfiction can be daunting, particularly if one isn’t super keen on athletics, but the rewards of a robust, well-chosen sports section can’t be oversold. Reluctant readers and browsers will benefit most from these titles, which are informative without progressing like a reference text, explanatory without being dry, and organized without feeling like lists. So what will give you the biggest bang for your buck? After all, your team has a solid salary cap that you can’t ignore and an eager fan base clamoring for more. Some of the series below deliver on high-interest factors, while others are a bit off target. Fortunately, we ran the gauntlet for you, so settle in to “armchair quarterback” your way to a win!


Challen, Paul. What Does a Catcher Do? ISBN 9781499432947.

––––. What Does an Infielder Do? ISBN 9781499432831.

––––. What Does a Pitcher Do? ISBN 9781499432916.

––––. What Does an Outfielder Do? ISBN 9781499432879.

ea vol: 32p. (Baseball Smarts). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 3-5 –This series methodically works its way through each baseball position, describing the roles of each player and their importance to the team. Required gear, necessary skills, and conditioning are described in detail. Readers already familiar with the game will recognize that catchers have different equipment than shortstops, but the books dig deeper, describing why particular physical assets such as great speed, agility, and reflexes are even more essential for shortstops than they are for catchers. There’s a fair amount of overlap among titles when basic game play, the role of managers, and sportsmanship are discussed, but this series is a complete package—like a balanced ball team, it works best when all the players are present. VERDICT Worth the purchase if you can buy all four. If that’s not feasible, pass.

Derr, Aaron. Baseball: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Scott Angle. ISBN 9781634401296; ISBN 9781634401357.

––––. Basketball: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Scott Angle. ISBN 9781634401302; ISBN 9781634401364.

––––. Hockey: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Jim Kelly. ISBN 9781634401319; ISBN 9781634401371.

––––. Soccer: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Scott Angle. ISBN 9781634401326; ISBN 9781634401388.

––––. Tennis: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Scott Angle. ISBN 9781634401333; ISBN 9781634401395.

––––. Volleyball: An Introduction to Being a Good Sport. illus. by Scott Angle. ISBN 9781634401340; ISBN 9781634401401.

ea vol: 24p. (Start Smart: Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Red Chair. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.99.

Gr 1-4 –An ambitious take on game play basics. Fictional story lines are used to relate key traits with an emphasis on sportsmanship. This allows the author to describe the bones of each activity while avoiding a dry laundry list of instructions. Bright illustrations and several photographs accompany the text. “Fast Facts” text boxes and sporty jokes have little to do with the actual action on the page, but don’t distract too deeply from the narratives. However, the frequent shifting between second and third person in the texts is distracting and will likely trip readers up. While the focus on being a gracious winner or loser is commendable, the series’ execution is not sufficient to allow it to live up to its own goals. VERDICT Skip it.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Talk Like a Baseball Player. ISBN 9781482456929.

––––. Talk Like a Basketball Player. ISBN 9781482456981.

––––. Talk Like a Football Player. ISBN 9781482457025.

––––. Talk Like a Hockey Player. ISBN 9781482457063.

––––. Talk Like a Race Car Driver. ISBN 9781482457100.

––––. Talk Like a Soccer Player. ISBN 9781482457148.

ea vol: 32p. (Let’s Talk Sports!). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 2-4 –Sports lingo explained in simple terms for the uninitiated; students already familiar with the games are unlikely to learn much. Main texts provide overviews of each game, while “Learn the Lingo” sidebars explore play-related slang (e.g., made shots in basketball are “buckets” and hockey sticks are “twigs.”). Full-page photos, paired with low word counts, make these great for emergent readers. However, while informative, there are a few stumbles. Players are identified by name in photos but not by team, and only some are accompanied by their position. For instance, in Baseball, Matt Harvey is labeled as a pitcher but Félix Hernández is not. Also, Hernández’s name is without accent marks. VERDICT Consider for collections in need of an introduction to sports; an additional purchase otherwise.

Rosen, Michael J. Fishing Gear. ISBN 9781608187737; ISBN 9781628323818.

––––. Fresh Fish. ISBN 9781608187713; ISBN 9781628323795.

––––. Gone Fishing. ISBN 9781608187720; ISBN 9781628323801.

––––. The Perfect Spot. ISBN 9781608187744; ISBN 9781628323825.

––––. Tackling the Box. ISBN 9781608187768; ISBN 9781628323849.

––––. Take the Bait. ISBN 9781608187751; ISBN 9781628323832.

ea vol: 32p. (Reel Time). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Creative Education. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.99.

Gr 3-5 –Practical advice for budding anglers and maker activities at the end of each book make this a standout set. While there is some overlap, the titles complement one another, from tools and tackle in Fishing Gear, Take the Bait, and Tackling the Box to selecting the best, freshest water in which to find fish in Perfect Spot and Gone Fishing. Kids heading out on fishing trips will develop knowledge and confidence. Descriptions of fish behavior, anatomy, and species in Fresh Fish are accompanied by large photos that feature close-ups of fish as well as children and adults working together. The clear, succinct writing is easy to understand, and the huge fish heads on the cover are attention-grabbing. VERDICT When it comes to kids and angling, there aren’t many fish in the sea. This set’s a catch!

Scheff, Matt. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Faces. ISBN 9781680784947.

––––. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Heels. ISBN 9781680784954.

––––. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Matches. ISBN 9781680784961.

––––. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Rivalries. ISBN 9781680784978.

––––. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets Exposed. ISBN 9781680784985.

––––. Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Teams. ISBN 9781680784992.

ea vol: 32p. (Pro Wrestling’s Greatest). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 2-4 –In countdown style, pro-wrestling’s greatest stars and moments are described. The photos are splashy and bold, just like the sport itself. From classic “faces” (good guys like John Cena) to terrible “heels” (bad guys like CM Punk and Vince McMahon), the stars are covered. Not much detail is provided, but the writing is engaging enough to keep browsers satisfied. Notably, Secrets Exposed provides insight into how wrestling mats are constructed as well as life outside the ring for wrestlers, including day jobs; the issue of drug abuse is also addressed. Rabid fans of the sport may not learn a lot of new information but those with developing interests will gain just enough history to hopefully want more. VERDICT A well-done, but not completely necessary, update to pro-wrestling sections.

Middle to High School

Ackerman, Jon. Make Me the Best Volleyball Player. ISBN 9781680784923.

Graves, Will. Make Me the Best Basketball Player. ISBN 9781680784879.

Kortemeier, Todd. Make Me the Best Baseball Player. ISBN 9781680784862.

––––. Make Me the Best Hockey Player. ISBN 9781680784893.

––––. Make Me the Best Soccer Player. ISBN 9781680784916.

Myers, Dan. Make Me the Best Football Player. ISBN 9781680784886.

Myers, Jess. Make Me the Best Lacrosse Player. ISBN 9781680784909.

Stone, Ken. Make Me the Best at Track and Field. ISBN 9781680784855.

ea vol: 48p. (Make Me the Best Athlete). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 4-7 –Using famous athletes as examples, this series outlines drills to help tweens improve specific skills in a variety of popular sports. Titles single out aspects of the game that current athletes including hockey’s Sidney Crosby, soccer’s Lionel Messi, and football’s Aaron Rodgers perform with perfection. Asides call out additional outstanding players, past and present, for more insight into achieving sports greatness. Defensive and offensive aspects are covered, and no sport uses the same athlete twice (even Make Me the Best Hockey Player, which could use Wayne Gretzky for nearly everything), so readers will likely be introduced to stars with whom they are less familiar. When possible, a mix of male and female athletes are featured, providing balance. Colorful, well-placed photos and uncluttered organization will make this series a hit with many readers. VERDICT This first purchase stands out from the crowd.

Aretha, David. Top 10 Craziest Plays in Football. ISBN 9780766083066.

––––. Top 10 Games in Football. ISBN 9780766083141.

––––. Top 10 Quarterbacks in Football. ISBN 9780766083189.

––––. Top 10 Teams in Football. ISBN 9780766083103.

––––. Top 10 Wide Receivers in Football. ISBN 9780766083226.

––––. Top 10 Worst Injuries in Football. ISBN 9780766083028.

ea vol: 48p. (Sports Greats). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Enslow. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.93.

Gr 4-7 –Light sports writing provides snapshots of players, full games, or intense moments in football history. A mix of players old and new offers what kids are looking for—a view of what they’re familiar with and a look back at the storied past. The stories are not super comprehensive, as they wrap up in two pages max, but could inspire extensive research in some eager readers. Professional football, its athletes and games, are celebrated, as are NCAA college games, which are highlighted in Top 10 Craziest Plays as well as Top 10 Games. VERDICT The real standouts are Top 10 Craziest Plays and Top 10 Worst Injuries, which are full of strong, detailed writing. Otherwise, a fine additional purchase.

Bowker, Paul D. Total Lacrosse. ISBN 9781680785067.

Ervin, Phil. Total Basketball. ISBN 9781680785029.

Kortemeier, Todd. Total Baseball. ISBN 9781680785012.

––––. Total Hockey. ISBN 9781680785050.

––––. Total Soccer. ISBN 9781680785074.

Lawrence, Blythe. Total Gymnastics. ISBN 9781680785043.

Monnig, Alex. Total Volleyball. ISBN 9781680785081.

Wilner, Barry. Total Football. ISBN 9781680785036.

ea vol: 64p. (Total Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 5-8 –Thorough overviews make this series an ideal starting point for middle school research projects. The origins and histories of each sport are detailed and include descriptions of major past and present stars. The wide variety of authors has positives and negatives; their expertise is obvious, but there isn’t much cohesiveness from one book to the next. For example, Total Lacrosse includes detailed how-to’s for several of the game’s skills, but the majority of the other volumes focus much more on history. Also one bit of weird wording in Total Basketball will leave readers confused, as both LeBron James and Stephen Curry are said to have won a 2016 title but neither is specified in the text (James won the NBA championship with the Cavaliers, Curry won the MVP). VERDICT As the titles do not overlap or have much in common, purchasing them à la carte for your community’s needs makes sense.

Frederick, Shane. Basketball’s Record Breakers. ISBN 9781515737599; ISBN 9781515737636.

––––. Hockey’s Record Breakers. ISBN 9781515737582; ISBN 9781515737629.

Hetrick, Hans. Baseball’s Record Breakers. ISBN 9781515737605; ISBN 9781515737643.

––––. Football’s Record Breakers. ISBN 9781515737612; ISBN 9781515737650.

ea vol: 32p. (Record Breakers). bibliog. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.32. pap. $8.95.

Gr 4-7 –Lively writing brings record-breaking moments across various sports to life with lots of colorful photos and trivia tidbits. Readers will be amazed at how long some records stand and how quickly others fall. Hockey’s Greatest Records includes all-time goal scorer Wayne Gretzky, and Basketball’s Record Breakers notes Wilt Chamberlain’s most points scored in one game—records that have held for a long time and may never be broken. Other records, such as single season home runs discussed in Baseball’s Record Breakers, include the infamous late-1990s record chase and the steroid controversy that followed. The appearance of the Sports Illustrated Kids logo throughout is sure to lure in readers, especially sports buffs. Proceed with caution; like all record books, these could become outdated very quickly. VERDICT Good fodder to satisfy browsers.

Hammelef, Danielle S. Top Soccer Tips. ISBN 9781515747222; ISBN 9781515747284.

Jones, Jen. Top Dance Tips. ISBN 9781515747246; ISBN 9781515747307.

Rissman, Rebecca. Top Basketball Tips. ISBN 9781515747192; ISBN 9781515747253.

––––. Top Softball Tips. ISBN 9781515747215; ISBN 9781515747277.

Schwartz, Heather E. Top Ice Hockey Tips. ISBN 9781515747239; ISBN 9781515747291.

––––. Top Volleyball Tips. ISBN 9781 515747208; ISBN 9781515747260.

ea vol: 32p. (Top Sports Tips). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.99. pap. $7.95.

Gr 4-7 –Written with gendered pronouns, these books target girls but would benefit all readers. Each begins with tips on where to search for teams, leagues, or classes to join. In addition to explaining basic game play and rules (or different styles in the case of Top Dance Tips), the importance of stretching, training hard, and eating right are emphasized. Photos and written descriptions of exercises and stretches provide good visual cues. The series is not without small issues; the writing is a little dry, Top Soccer Tips has a confusing field diagram with the teams intermixed on the field instead of separated, and the text occasionally contradicts itself (Top Dance Tips says to hold stretches for 30 seconds, Top Basketball Tips only says 10). But for readers specifically seeking a girl-centered approach to sports, these books fit the bill. VERDICT A strong, additional selection to diversify offerings.

Hetrick, Hans. Breaking Barriers. ISBN 9781515744344; ISBN 9781515744467.

––––. Heroes Under Pressure. ISBN 9781515744351; ISBN 9781515744474.

Lyon, Drew. Against All Odds. ISBN 9781515743804; ISBN 9781515744412.

Tougas, Joe. Heroic Comeback. ISBN 9781515744368; ISBN 9781515744481.

ea vol: 32p. (Real Heroes of Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.99. pap. $7.95.

Gr 4-7 –Spanning several sports in each volume, these read more like record books and are exceptional in their inclusion of athletes with whom casual sports enthusiasts will not be familiar. Against All Odds will inspire readers with stories of athletes such as Terry Fox, who attempted to run the length of Canada after he lost his right leg to cancer. Even the least heart-wrenching stories will serve as bridges, encouraging students to do more research on these fascinating athletes who are heroes in more ways than one, each making huge impacts both in- and outside their respective sports. The strong writing and inclusion of many photographs make these titles exceptional selections. VERDICT A top pick for tweens.

Luke, Andrew. Air Sports. ISBN 9781 422237052.

––––. All-Terrain Sports. ISBN 9781 422237069.

––––. Mountain Sports. ISBN 9781 422237076.

––––. Snow Sports. ISBN 9781422237083.

––––. Water Sports. ISBN 9781422237090.

ea vol: 48p. (Adventurous Outdoor Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Mason Crest. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $20.95.

Gr 5-9 –With in-depth descriptions, text-dependent questions, and extension research topics, readers are introduced to a wide variety of alternative sports. Each book begins with what may be familiar, such as rock climbing in Mountain Sports, and escalates quickly to things like canyoneering. While some of the content in titles such as Snow Sports might be mostly familiar (with the exception of the Japanese snowball fight competition, Yukigassen), others including Air Sports have many activities people may have never heard of. QR codes link readers to supplementary content to deepen understanding through visual learning. VERDICT If alternative sports are underrepresented in your middle and high school nonfiction section, this is a solid supplemental choice.

So which series came out on top? Creative Education’s “Reel Time” stands out for exploring a great tradition with modern considerations. Capstone’s “Real Heroes of Sports” will make students realize that the best athletes have more to offer than “W”s; they’re total packages with hearts, brains, and courage to boot. Capstone’s “Record Breakers” is great for browsers, while PowerKids’ “Baseball Smarts” is ideal for more in-depth exploration. ABDO’s “Make Me the Best Athlete” features so many popular athletes with vivid explanations of why they’re successful, readers won’t help but feel inspired to practice till they’re perfect. For older readers, ABDO’s “Total Sports” has some truly engaging selections to entertain students. With books like these around, it’s readers who will be the real winners.

Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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