Monday, September 19, 2022

MMGM- Shot Clock and Dinged

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Butler, Caron and reynolds, justin a. Shot Clock
September 6th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Tony lives in Oasis Springs, a housing complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where many of the residents are Black and economically disadvantaged. His father works two jobs, and his mother is often indisposed, suffering from a condition that sounds like bipolar disorder. Tony loves to play basketball, and his best friend, Dante, is an outstanding player and well as a fantastic student and community member. When Dante is shot and killed by a police officer, Tony's world falls apart. He and Dante's brother, Terry, were going to try out for the travel team Dante was on, the Sabres, but both boys are struggling in the wake of Dante's murder. For Tony, it means finding it hard to focus, but for Terry, it means episodes of rage and the feeling that nothing matters, and he might as well join a local gang. Coach James, who grew up in Oasis Springs, is a committed coach who wants to show his players that there is more to the world than their Milwaukee neighborhood. Terry makes the team, but Tony does not. Coach James offers him a position as a statistician, so that he can be part of the team and use his math skills to help the players. Tony doesn't like the idea at first, but eventually sees the merit, and enjoys working with Kiara, the coach's smart daughter. The whole team is affected by Dante's death, but some deal with it better than others. KO refuses to listen to Tony's strategies based on statistics and isn't a good team player. He eventually leaves to play on a rival team. The Sabres have the opportunity to play at a championship in Orlando if they can do well enough during the season, but it's not easy. Tony's mother ends up going to the hospital, and his father takes him and his sister to stay with Big Mama for a while. Tony loves being away from the city, in a larger, quieter house, but the family's life is centered in Oasis Springs. The community is dealt another blow when the policeman who shot Dante is found not guilty and is returned to his regular beat. There are a lot of protests and community involvement, and Tony and Terry must find a way to balance their love for their community with their need to find a way out of it through basketball. As the coach says, they can always come back after they get an education. 
Strengths: Like Buford's Kneel, this book deftly combines lots of sports descriptions (including Bowen style score boards on the pages during some of the games) with an underlying theme of social justice and community. Unlike Kneel, it is geared to an upper middle grade audience in respect to language and the way the social justice elements are presented. Dante's shooting happens off page, and the book is more concerned about the effect that this occurence has on the character's ability to go forward. And they do go forward. Coach James and his team are an excellent system of support for both Tony and Terry, even though Terry gets sucked into the seamy side of Oasis Springs for a while. Tony's family is very supportive, even though they have their share of challenges. Butler and reynolds' preface gives a very detailed view of the book they envisioned; they wanted young Black men to see their lived experiences in the pages, but also to see a hopeful outcome. My favorite part was that Tony's basketball skills are not enough to get him a college scholarship, his math abilities might be enough to get him involved in sports through another avenue. It was also very clear that there is a LOT of work involved in being successful in sports, a message many of my students could use. This would be an excellent book for an 8th grade core novel unit. 
Weaknesses: reynold's It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit had a more Young Adult pacing, and he is still adjusting to writing middle grade. The story wasn't as focused as it could have been, and younger readers would find it helpful to know more about what exactly happened with Dante. I've noticed a huge difference in what my students like to read since the pandemic, and concentration isn't what it used to be. At almost 300 pages, this is a bit on the long side. Think of this as Deuker level of sports writing, not Bowen level.
What I really think: I'm definitely purchasing this one, because there is a LOT of basketball, as well as social justice issues. It will be a fantastic choice for my stronger 8th grade readers, and would be an excellent choice in high school as well. I really appreciated that while the setting was in the inner city, the language was never "gritty"; there are even a few episodes where "bump" is used as a euphemism for the f-word. There was definitely a lot of effort put in to balancing the various aspects of this story, and in the end, the authors successfully pulled off the book they describe wanting to write in the preface. Nice mix of things. There should be more collaborative efforts between athletes and writers.  
Greenwald, Tommy. Dinged.
September 6th 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Back in the world of Walthorne football originally visited in Game Changer (2018) and Rivals, which covered basketball) we meet Caleb Springer, a freshman whose skills are good enough that he's on the varsity team. Some of the older players, like Ron, resent him a little bit, but he's a good team player, recognizing things like "the sag" that can cause a team to lose, and bolstering his teammates when he sees this happen. His father, "Dinger" Springer is a local celebrity who runs a car dealership, and trades heavily on his NFL career. He has some friends at local colleges who are interested in Caleb. Caleb understands how important his football career is to his dad, as well as to his entire school,  but has some doubts about the safety of the game. He's taken a couple of blows that have left his ears ringing and his head pounding, and is torn between wanting to shrug these off and taking them seriously. The balance tips a bit when he starts to notice that his father is becoming forgetful and is often easily angered. Caleb's girlfriend, Nina, who is very supportive but has her own interests in her rock band, Fluffy Pillow, is concerned about both Caleb and his father, when he confides in her. Caleb isn't quite ready to acknowledge that his father's memory is failing, and both he and his mother are willing to make excuses, even when they are called by the police to come to the dealership and retrieve Dinger, who has decided to sleep on top of one of the cars. Caleb knows that he could probably have a good high school career, enjoys being the subject of adulation, and knows that getting a football scholarship to college would help out his family. What is increasingly unsure is whether the perks of continuing to play football are worth occasionally suffering hits to the head. As his father's conditions continues to deteriorate, Caleb knows he has a choice to make. Along with the narrative of Caleb's story, we have interviews from school journalist Alfie, text messages between Caleb and Nina, and even some of Nina's original rock lyrics. 
Strengths: As with any football book, there are the things that I enjoyed, and the things that my students want to read. This is a great mix of both. I liked the structure of the chapters, broken down into "Clouds", "Storms", and "Sun", and the flow of the storyline went very smoothly. Nina was a fantastic character, and her relationship with Caleb rivaled that of Tessa and Caleb in Heldring's The Football Girl, which is my favorite sports book of all time. They were both supportive of each other even though they had very different interests, and they really talked to each other in a meaningful way. Caleb's family dynamic is also good, with both parents being involved in his games and team life while also having concerns of their own. What my readers will enjoy is the details of Caleb's games (I haven't seen a football game since about 1976, so I'm not the best judge of this facet), the interplay between teammates, and Caleb's glimpse at college football. Not only that, but the cover is really appealing. Hopefully, young readers will think long and hard about how and why they play football after reading Caleb's story, although I doubt very much that they will tear up the way I did at the final scene! 
Weaknesses: None with the book, but a lot with society's view of football, as Greenwald discusses in an afterword. Gordon Korman's Pop came out in 2009, Klass's Second Impact and McClafferty's Fourth Down and Inches in 2013, Steve Almond's adult nonfiction, The Case Against Football in 2014, Lupica's  Lone Stars in 2017, and Herbach's YA Cracking the Bell in 2019. Why are young people still playing football? I hope that the updated helmet technology helps, and I did have one student who played football in middle school because he loved it so much, but switched to cross country in high school, but I still worry about the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury on these young people. 
What I really think: Basketball and football are definitely the most popular sports with my students, and I am always thrilled when I get a well written sports book that not only entertains, but also causes readers to think. I've long been a fan of Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson series, and have been very impressed by the 25 books he's written in eleven years. I have to say, though, that his sports books are particularly well crafted, and this third entry into the realm of upper middle grade sports literature makes me think that he has really found his calling in this genre. Purchasing two copies right away, and well probably add a third if I have money in the spring. 


  1. You've shared such good points about these sports, particularly football & its aftermath from head injuries yet I see why they are so alluring to young people. Thanks for sharing both!

  2. I know tons of kids that would've enjoyed these sports themed books. So happy you get to highlight them for your students. I'm a little late to MMGM so here's a link in case you're interested.

  3. Both of these books sound really excellent for MG readers.

  4. This is a great write up. You make good points about the sports, but if it helps getting kids reading I think it's a good choice.

  5. I don't usually read books with football or basketball, but these both sound like important stories and really well written. I'm putting them both on my list. Thanks for your reviews.

  6. Thank heavens for coaches to redirect kids during difficult time. Sports is outlet and a way to focus on community. Also like that it addresses mental illness. Out of curiosity, do you have concerns that a topic like this will be banned? I've reviewed a lot of PBs like "Something Happened in Our Town" that was mild and child-appropriate, but banned. Just curious how your school responds.

    1. Ms. Yingling6:30 PM EDT

      My community is fairly progressive, so I don't have any qualms about purchasing it. Also, since it has a basketball on the cover, it's unlikely that adults will care to delve deeper into the topic. We'll see, I guess!