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Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

illus. by Joe Morse. 32p. bibliog. photos. Carolrhoda. Mar. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-6617-1; ebook $12.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-8723-7. LC 2011021235.
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Gr 1–3—In 1891, a teacher named James Naismith invented a game that was destined to become a national sensation. The boys' gym class at his school was particularly rowdy. He needed to find an indoor activity for the energetic lads that was fun, but not too rough. Inspired by a favorite childhood game, he stayed up late one night typing the rules of his new game. With a soccer ball, two peach baskets, and the rules tacked to the bulletin board, Naismith introduced his idea to the unruly class the next day. In that first game, only one basket was scored, but the boys were captivated. During Christmas vacation, they taught their friends how to play basketball and soon its popularity spread across the country. Even women formed a team. By 1936, basketball became a recognized Olympic sport and Naismith was honored at the opening ceremonies. Morse's energetic illustrations add an old-fashioned charm to the narrative. Readers will also want to examine the endpapers, a reproduction of the original rules of the game typed by Naismith. This entertaining and informative story will delight young sports fans.—Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston, MA
This thrilling account of the birth of basketball is more a biography of the game itself than of its creators. The story begins with one James Naismith taking over an unruly gym class that had already run off two predecessors. He tries playing favorite sports indoors, but by the time they get to lacrosse not a player remains without some form of bandage. He needs a game where "accuracy was more valuable than force." And so, in a Massachusetts gymnasium, basketball is concocted. Coy understands the power of detail -- only one point was scored in the very first game -- and his tight focus on the game's initial season is immediately engrossing. Spare, precise language reflects the game's welcome sense of order as well as its athletic appeal. Morse's kinetic paintings, at once dynamic and controlled, fill the spreads, capturing the game's combination of power and finesse. And the stylized figures and restrained palette of blue, brown, purple, and gray fix the proceedings in the nineteenth century. Naismith's abiding respect for his students' irrepressible energy plays an important role in the invention of the game, and the book credits the entire crew ("James Naismith and that rowdy class") with the creation, adding a nuanced understanding of the value of sports and teamwork. An author's note and selected bibliography offer additional information, and a you-are-there facsimile reproduction of the original thirteen rules of basketball adorns the endpapers. thom barthelmess

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