Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Flashbacklist- The Basket Counts

Christopher, Matt. The Basket Counts
Published September 3rd 1991 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Originally published in 1968

Mel Jensen and his family have just moved to Trexton, where only one other Black family lives. Mel's father, a dentist, is sure that the neighbors will warm to them once they get to know the family. Mel's friend, Darryl, is also Black, and it is noted that his father is an electronics engineer. Both Mel and Darryl play basketball, and enjoy being on the Hillcrest Titans team for the most part. The part they don't enjoy is the poor sportsmanship exhibited by Caskie, a neighbor, and Stoney. While Caskie occasionally yells racial epithets on the court (he calls another player a "spic" and is reprimanded by the coach and pulled out of the game), he generally concentrates on ignoring both Mel and Darryl. Mel is angry, but tries to be the best teammate he can be. He hopes that Caskie will come around after Mel rescue's Caskie's family's kitten, but the two remain on frosty terms. This tension starts to affect Mel's game, but eventually Mel and Darryl help save Stoney from drowning when he goes through the ice, and Caskie and Mel have an uneasy peace.
Strengths: Christopher, who died in 1997, wrote great sports books with lots of on court sports action, with enough of a serious plot and character development to make for a well rounded book. The books are a good length, and move quickly. So many are still available, and this one was updated just a bit. (There's another title from the 1960s where a character is lame because of polio, and that is also updated.) If you have these books in your library collection, dust them off and get them out there. 
Weaknesses: Matt Christopher was not Black, and this was written in 1968. For the time, it was very progressive, and the race issue probably plays out much like this today. Of course, there are some dated moments, like the two Black families being identified by their profession (my father, who is 86, identifies EVERYONE this way, and usually ads some physical description as well, so it might be generational). 
What I really think: Not sure that this would be published today, but thought it held up well and I will be keeping it. The book is still available in multiple formats from Follett.

Christopher, Matt. No Arm in Left Field
April 28th 1987 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (first published 1974)
Library copy

Terry and his family have moved to a predominantly white suburb, and things are going pretty well. He makes a good friend, Mick, and joins the local baseball team. Problems arise when he is given a hard time by Tony, who picks on Terry because he is Black and because his throw is weak. This causes tensions on the team that threaten to ruin their season. Can Terry improve his skills and lead the team to victory despite Tony's idiocy?
Strengths: The success of Christopher's work hinges on copious amounts of sports play-by-plays interspersed by Serious Issues. The books are short, with large font, and are perfect for students who aren't huge fans of reading and need a book for a project or test. Most are still in print, although this title is only available in an E book format. They are very progressive for their time, and hold up well today. My favorite interchange was between Terry and Tony's brother, Harry. Harry says "That kid brother of mine was brainwashed by out parents a long time ago, and it's going to take some doing to change him. I'd like Tony to realize that the color of a person't skin has nothing to do with what he believes in and how he lives." There's also a nice scene where Mick asks Terry about Tony's behavior. Terry says he's okay with it; he's been treated that way before. Mick clearly thinks that the behavior is still NOT okay. 
Weaknesses: In Matt Christopher's world (remember, he died in 1997, and the vast majority of his writing was done before 1975), being Black means that there are always some people who will give you a hard time. On second thought, this might be what makes the book still relevant today. 
What I really think: Would I buy these books again? Maybe not. Will I weed them as overly dated? No. 


  1. I remember reviewing The Basket Counts several years ago on the Boys Read blog. and had pretty much the same reactions you did. BTW, Matt Christopher lived in Rock Hill, SC which is just below Charlotte. I didn't start working for the library until 1998, so I don't know if he did any author visits here, though I'm sure he did.

  2. My brother ate up Matt Christopher's books in the 70s. It wasn't until I picked one up for his sons that I read it and was disappointed in the quality and story. However, I will give him credit for including diverse characters. My favorite sports series, the Blue Sox books by Duane Decker, had none at all although I did love them.