Monday, September 26, 2022

MMGM- Inaugual Ballers and Victory. Stand!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

I am ALWAYS a fan of sports books for middle grade readers, since so many children are involved in athletics. While boys' football and basketball books are my most popular, it's always great to see other sports, especially girls' sports. If you are not a fan of either playing sports or reading about them, remember that your students ARE. I'm always glad to answer e mails and point people to lists of great sports books. The two today are excellent. 

Maraniss, Andrew. Inagural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team
September 13th 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

If you have read any of Maraniss' work like Strong Inside or Singled Out, you know that his books are submersive experiences where we get to know so many historical figures in a swirl of well explained current events. I felt almost as if I were a young basketball player myself, preparing along with Nancy Lieberman and Gail Marquis to go to the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, the first where there was a competition for women's basketball. Since the women were all just a few years older than I am, I know well the social conditions that existed at the time, and Maraniss explains those well for younger readers who will be surprised at how few girls and women played sports, and at how little funding and support girls' sports had. Even though my mother played basketball in high school (half court, of course), she never told me back int he 1970s that playing sports was a feminist act. If she had, I would have taken a lot more interest in my 5th grade softball team!

One of the more interesting parts of the lead up to the women's Olympic team is Maraniss' sensitive exploration of how women in sports were percieved in the 1960s and before. "The casual sexism of the day was relentless in its ubiquity." I was definitely in the demographic that was told we could never beat a boy at a game, and that our purpose (as defined by none other than writer Paul Gallico in 1936) was to "look beautiful"! In the same way that my students are shocked that I wore skirts to school every day, they will be shocked that the members of the team had to work so hard just to be able to play basketball at all. 

This reminded me quite a bit of Swaby's Mighty Moe in the way it followed not only the players, but also the coaches, through their childhoods and up to the tryouts for the team and the Olympics themselves, from which the US very nearly pulled out due to issues with China and Taiwan. There are a number of pictures, and I found myself making bookmark after bookmark about different people (like Bunny Sandler, who worked on Title IX, or the absolutely incomparable Billie Jean King) and events. One excellent reason to buy  this book is that it is such a great starting point for history research. Why isn't there a biography of Luisa Harris, the only woman ever drafted in the NBA? Or one about Coach Mildred Barnes, who jogged in the 1940s? I have a long list of people whom I can only hope have written memoirs, since I want to know so much more about their stories. 

Maraniss does an exceptional job at describing the sports aspect of this, but also delivers the information about the feminist perspective in an up-to-the-minute way, clearly understanding the divisions between the different generations of feminism, and briefly mentioning some of the problems with different stages of the movement. 

This book is the perfect choice for young women players who don't know how good they have it, for young men who probably wouldn't care quite so much if a girl was on their team, and for those of us who remember just how far away the summer of 1976 is. I loved everything about this book, from the Harlem Globetrotters-esque cover (the television cartoon show version, not the exhibition team, although thinking about either one has me humming "Sweet Georgia Brown" to myself for days) to the nail biting Olympic competition to the back stories of the players. There's even an excellent afterword that talks about the effects of that team, and how the woman who played on it have viewed the progress women have made in sports since. 

We need to remember the past, because we live during a time when we can't take for granted that we will keep the rights that our forebearers fought so hard to gain. 

Smith, Tommie, Barnes, Derrick and Anyabwile, Dawud (illus.)
Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist or Justice
September 27th 2022 by Norton Young Readers
ARC provided by TvS Media Group 

If you've read John Lewis' March trilogy, you know that graphic novels can be a great way to introduce tough historical events to young readers. The visuals are especially striking when showing conditions that young readers have never seen; the dirt floors of the Smith's house, the fields in which they worked, and the clothes that they wore are all easily understandable when seen in pictures. This seems like a small thing, but my students have trouble understanding that the world wasn't always the way it is right now. Since the resurgence of Civil Rights issues we've seen in the last few years, it's important for young readers to really understand how severe the mistreatment of Blacks was in the 1960s so that they can see there has been some progress made. Otherwise, it's all too easy to give up hope. 

Smith's story is ordinary and remarkable at the same time. Born in 1944, he came from a large family who sharecropped, which meant that even at a young age, he was expected to be in the fields working, and may only have gone to school a few months out of the year. When he was still fairly young, his parents decided to move from Texas to California in hopes of bettering their lives. A truant officers told his parents that the law in California required children to go to school, so Smith was able to hvae this advantage. There was constant, casual racism, and not as many Black students at the schools, but he was still able to not only get an education but to get involved in the sports program. Because he had forward thinking, understanding coaches, he was able to develop into an outstanding all around athlete. 

When he went to college, it was a culture shock. The illustration of his wearing overalls to San Jose University might seem laughable to today's readers, but the difference between city life and country life, even forty years ago, was quite striking. Smith knew that the way he was treated when his family was working on farms wasn't right, but when he got to college, he met other Black people who helped him understand this treatment and develop ways to work against it, which lead to his eventual heroic gesture at the 1968 Olympics.

This was a whole generation after Jackie Robinson's entry into sports in the 1940s, but things had not changed much. Black athletes still had to deal with discrimination, but things were changing. The "Freedom Summer" of 1964 changed the attitude of many, and Dr. Martin Luther King's marches showed the world that treatment of Black people needed to change. Smith was aware of all of these events, and worked as hard on his schoolwork as he did on his athletics so that he would have the tools he needed to get ahead in a world determined to hold him back. 

Readers may be familiar with the iconic picture of Smith and John Carlos on the winners' stand in 1968, but will be riveted by the story of what lead the men to mount their protest in the way that they did, and also by the ramifications of their actions, and how those affected their lives. I hadn't known that Smith had to deal with death threats, or that he taught at Oberlin College, so there was a lot that I learned from this book. 

Barnes' illustrations are perfect for the era; they have a feel of Stan Lee's work, which always stood for equality, and a little bit of a Mad Magazine vibe, which was always on the cutting edge of social commentary in this era. The ARC is in black and white, white seems to fit thematically with the content. The words aren't crowded on the page, as is the case in some graphic nonfiction titles, and Barnes does a great job showing the motion of athletics on the page. 

Readers who loved the graphic novel version of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Booked will be enticed to pick this book up, and those interested in Black history will be enthralled. Victory. Stand! is a great book to use to introduce history to reluctant readers, who will no doubt find themselves going down quite a rabbit hole to research the characters and events that they find as they read about Smith's life. 


  1. Victory. Stand! Sounds amazing.

  2. I'm always on the lookout for good sport's books. I hadn't heard of this one but will be looking for a copy tomorrow. Off to a great school year. A little busy but I like it that way.

  3. These both sound good, but Victory Stand sounds like I need to read it soon. Thanks for telling me about these books.

  4. I wasn't involved in sports in the 60s and 70s, (I pursued ice skating and skiing), so I never really thought about women involved in sports was a feminist thing to pursue. Victory Stands looks like it will be a hit with teens who love graphic novels. And it is a great way to insert some history. Great shares today!