Ready All? Row! Pulling along with the Boys in the Boat

BookendsLynn: I read the adapted version of The Boys in the Boat: the True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics (2015) without having read the original. So I came to this book as most teens would, with very little prior knowledge. I have to admit that my expectations weren’t high. How exciting could a book about nine guys in a boat be?

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James BrownMunch, munch! That is the sound of me eating my words. What a fascinating, heartfelt, and compelling story this turned out to be. Thank you, Daniel Brown, for giving me this vivid time-traveling experience, plunking me down in Depression-era Washington, and introducing me to characters I’ll never forget.

And of course, this is about much more than nine guys in a boat, although now, thanks to Brown, I feel as though I’ve turned into a knowledgeable fan of rowing. It is also a Depression-era story told from an unusual perspective, a revealing look at the culture of both the time and the sport, and fascinating look at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It is about teamwork, sacrifice, character, and one nail-biting season.

Brown handles these many subjects expertly while using one extraordinary young man, Joe Rantz, as the focal point. There is an intensity to the pacing that matches the sport and once, started, this is a book that is impossible to put down. Give this one to sports fans, history buffs, and everyone who loves a triumphant underdog story.

Munch, munch! That is the sound of me eating my words.

Cindy: A longtime employee at our local independent bookstore asked me what I was reading last week. When I told her about this adaptation for young readers, she said, “Yes, we have it over there, but, really? Some boys row and row and win a race. It doesn’t sound very exciting.” I set her straight with the full set up and a few key scenes—for example, the day when Joe’s father and stepmother packed up their younger children and their few belongings and drove away, leaving 15-year-old Joe behind at the vacated house to fend for himself. Joe’s resiliency, work ethic, and longing for a place to belong makes him a perfect candidate for one of the highly-prized spots in “the boat.” Coaches of any sport who need their team to work together should read this motivational book, too, and then get their athletes to read it.

Rowing is not as popular a sport as it was in the 1930s, and most of my students here in the Midwest have never seen a rowing race. I reviewed this book from an ARC and the back matter included “The Art of Rowing,” with a diagram of the boat and details of the seven-step rowing pattern that is repeated 30-40 times per minute throughout a race. I wish I’d looked at this before reading the story and I will mention it in my booktalks. I did find this clip of the 1936 Olympic race so I can show my students the real footage of the Boys in the Boat in action! The 4+ race is first, and the 8+ race starts near the 3-minute mark. Ready all? Row!



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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