Basketball Rivalries

Hoop GeniusCindy: This Saturday my #1 nationally ranked Indiana Hoosiers will play Lynn’s Purdue Boilermakers in Bloomington, IN. You know where we will be at 2 p.m. EST! Where was I? Oh, yes, the blog…basketball. Lynn and I love college basketball, as most of you know, so we have been delighted with the recent basketball books that have bounced our way. A new nonfiction picture book,  Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball (Carolrhoda Books 2013) is a winner.

Reading the opening sentences will grab students’ attention:

In December of 1891, James Naismith, a young teacher, took over a rowdy gym class that had already forced two teachers to quit. He didn’t want to, but nobody else would teach that class. The students hated the boring exercises and gymnastics that they’d been doing over and over. So Naismith decided to try something fun…indoor football.

That doesn’t go so well, nor does his next few attempts to liven up the class without incurring more injuries among his young, energetic charges.

He needed a totally new game where, to avoid tackling, no running with the ball was allowed.

And since the custodian was out of cardboard boxes, the infamous peach baskets came into play and the game of basketball was born.

Coy brings life to this sport’s early history and Joe Morse’s illustrations are perfect for the text. As with his earlier illustrations for Casey at the Bat (Kids Can Press 2006), they will appeal to older students as well as the traditional picture book audience. This would make a great read-aloud for a rowdy gym class today.

Lynn:  Well, SOME of us are looking forward to the Saturday game and some of us are dreading it.  Sadly there is no chance my poor young Boilermakers will be rated #1 this year but a good Paint Crew member keeps on cheering whatever the odds.  We do love college basketball and Cindy is so right about our delight with the new basketball books that leaped to our attention this year like Paul Volponi’s The Final Four (Penguin/Viking 2012) that we reviewed back in October.

boy21Another book with a strong basketball component is Matthew Quick’s outstanding Boy21 (Little,Brown 2012), one of my favorites of the year.  Set in a working class Philadelphia suburb ruled by an Irish mob and beset by racial violence, high school senior Finley and his girlfriend Erin both play varsity basketball and dream of one day escaping the town together.  Finley, the one white player on the team is liked by everyone and gets along more on hard work than talent.  When his coach asks him to befriend the troubled grandson of family friends, Finley does what his coach asks despite his uneasy recognition that Russ is a mega-watt talent who could take over his position on the team.  Russ won’t play basketball and in fact Russ, whose parents have been murdered, says he is really an alien, Boy21, sent to earth to observe.   Finley has painful secrets of his own and the boys’ friendship, so skillfully depicted, helps them both to address their issues and begin to heal.  While basketball isn’t the major focus of the story, it is a central issue and the those basketball scenes and the sports-related issues are wonderfully authentic.  Quick’s excellent pacing resembles a well-played game and the unfolding story provides just as many surprising and suspenseful moments as it surges to the buzzer-beating ending.  This one is a sure winner.

And, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out this video clip of Colorado high school junior Anna Olson’s amazing full court throw in the final seconds of a game. She throws it the length of the court, it lands on the floor six feet in front of the rim, bounces up and grazes the front of the rim, bounces off the backboard, circles the rim, and drops in to win the game. Amazing. How can you not love this game?




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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