Monday, March 13, 2023

MMGM- All the Sports Books!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Lowe, Chaunté . Boundless
7 March 2023, Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this memoir of her early life, Lowe discusses the challenges that she faced growing up in the small town of Paso Robles, California. Her mother worked hard to make ends meet, and to provide a life for Lowe and her two half sisters. When Lowe was just four, she saw Florence Griffith Joyner compete in the Olympics, and wanted to eventually achieve that level of excellence and celebrity. She did have a few opportunities to participate in sports, but faced a series of challenges. While her mother did her best to provide for her daughters, the family was food insecure and sometimes were unhoused. A disastrous marriage left her mother injured and once again evicted from her apartment. A constant in Lowe's life was her paternal grandmother, who took her on various outings and stepped in when she needed a stable living environment. Once Lowe didn't have to worry about food or a bed to sleep in, she was able to work on her athletics in middle school, excelling at several different track events, but especially the high jump. She worked hard in school, volunteered at a local rec center, and got a paying job in order to earn money so that she could be on sports teams as soon as she was able to. Her goal was to get a college scholarship so that she could get an education and have different opportunities as an adult. She managed to do this, and was a member of the 2004 Olympic team. 
Strengths: At the beginning of the calendar year, the library lesson often involves talking to students about goal setting. It's alarming how many students never examine their purpose or goals in order to make progress on them. They don't even seem to think that they need to turn in classwork! Lowe is a positive example of having goals early on and working toward them despite significant obstacles. Lowe is frank about issues like having tattered clothing, having to visit the local food pantry, and feeling awkward about getting free lunch at school, although hunger was a frequent problem for her. She does describe a supportive network of friends and family who tried to help, and focuses on her education as a path to a better future. This is a great message that many of my students need to hear. 
Weaknesses: I wish this had been a bit more focused in its approach, and had ended with more information about Lowe's career. I doubt that any of my students will have heard of her, since they were not born in 2004. 
What I really think: The teachers at my school have been asking students to do more with memoirs, and sports figures are always a popular choice. This investigates issues surrounding poverty but also emphasizes Lowe's resiliency in a way similar to Wilson's Brown Girl Dreaming, Ogle's Free Lunch, Johnson's Reaching for the Moon, and Noah's Born a Crime.

Mendez, Jasminne. Aniana del Mar Jumps In
14 March 2023, Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, Aniana's life with her family is portrayed as she struggles to balance her love of swimming with her worsening physical condition in Galveston, Texas. Her Dominican mother was traumatized by losing her twin brother to drowning in a storm, and as a result is uncomfortable with Aniana's love of swimming. Her father has been helping her sneak off to swimming and hide the signs of this from her mother, but sometimes too much swimming causes her joints to swell, and she often walks in the morning like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Eventually, she can no longer hide this, and her parents take her to the doctor. There are inconclusive tests, referrals to specialists, and finally, a diagnosis: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. From there, steroids, pills for pain and inflammation, and physical therapy take over her life. She still hopes to try out for a swim camp, and while her father is amenable, her mother still is completely fearful any time Aniana is near the water. Even after the swim coach tells her mother that swimming could help the arthritis, she is unswerving. Will Aniana be able to convince her mother that she is more than her disease, and that she should be given the chance to live her own life, even with her limitations?
Strengths: I can't think of any other middle grade novels that deal with JIA, and few that deal with autoimmune disorders that drastically impair a child's activities. It's important to show diversity in physical conditions along with cultural connections, and there are relatively few novels with Dominican American characters other than Hilda Eunice Burgos' books as well. Aniana's insistence of continuing to swim despite the objections of her mother, and her practice of sneaking around in order to continue, seems absolutely true to life. There are lots of good details about swimming as well as dealing with her disease. 
Weaknesses: I'm always super picky about novels in verse. This one at least mentions haiku and tankas, but relies heavily on shape poems, which never seem particularly poetic and are harder to read. This did have a more poetic feel than some other novels in verse. 
What I really think: This strikes me as one that fans of Fipp's Starfish might like, but which is not my personal favorite. While it's interesting to see Aniana's struggles with JIA, her mother's emotional reactions took much of the focus off Aniana's problems. I wake up every morning figuring that by the end of the day, everyone I love might be dead, so have trouble with books portraying people struggling with grief. This is actually a helpful life philosophy, and allowed me to not miss any work when my father died because I wasn't at all surprised. Farid's Wave or Guidroz's Samira Surfs are also trauma informed novels in verse that might pair well with this book. 

Bowen, Fred. Off the Bench
March 14th 2023 by Peachtree Publishers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Chris (Kris in the E ARC) Hall loves basketball, and he's super impressed that his older brother Dylan is doing so well on his high school team. There are colleges interested him, which may help him with scholarships. Chris feels like he plays a good game, too, but he and his friend Mason are worried that the won't make their middle school team. Luckily, they both do. Their coach is good, the teammates get along, and practices stretch their abilities, but Chris can't shake the fact that he isn't a starter. Dylan has always been one of the first five in the game. Mason is a bit miffed that his friend can't let this go, because he's lucky if he gets to play a minute every game. Chris' parents tell him about famous "sixth men" who don't start but who are almost always brought into the game because their playing is strong. Chris tries to internalize it, but it's hard to do when the starters seem to get all of the interest. Dylan and his sister Joni support him, and he starts to feel a little better about his sixth man status. Will his skills be showcased in a critical game after all?
Strengths: This book has players' stats, diagrams of the court, and lots and lots of play-by-play descriptions to entice sports fans, but also has a lot of good philosophical musings and character development to make teachers happy. I'm in the middle of a book project right now, so paying attention to the sorts of things teachers ask kids about the books they read. Bowen slam dunks character development, plot arcs, and conflict (man vs. self!), while still constructing a page turning and exciting story. I always learn something about sports when I read his books, and love that he cites real players and gives a lot of historical background. The updated covers are perfect, and this book will be a starter for sure! 
Weaknesses: I admittedly skim a lot of the sports descriptions, looking only to see if there are any shreds of character or plot development occurring on the court. My students, of course, linger on those parts!
What I really think: Bowen's books are an automatic purchase for me because they are exactly what some of my readers need and want. They are a comfortable length (about 150 pages), have enough sports information that I'm not entirely sure what's going on because I haven't seen a basketball game since 1974. Elementary and middle school libraries should have all of these titles in the collection, and multiple copies of Hardcourt Comeback! 

Roberts, Russell and Jacobs, Timothy. 
100 Athletes Who Shaped Sports
Sourcebooks Explore, 2003 (updated 2022)
Copy provided by the publisher

Given the wide range of sports (including motor sports) covered in this volume, 100 people does not seem like enough! This even takes a deep dive into four athletes from ancient history and a few from before the 1900s. The timeline at the bottom of the table of contents shows the distribution of entries from over the years, and is a nice touch. Bethany Hamilton and Colin Kaepernick seem to be the only two additions to the original 2003 version, but since I haven't seen that one, I might be wrong. It is helpful that the people are listed in order of birth. I wonder if surfer Duke Kahanamoku was in the previous edition.

The only glaring omission that I saw was the absence of Babe Didrickson Zaharias. Since she really was the best all around US athlete of the 20th century, it was surprising that she wasn't included. 

I was impressed that there is a good cross section of women athletes as well as athletes of color, and appreciated that people like bowler Marion Ladewig and martial artist Ip Man were included. There are plenty of collective biographies who cover well known figures, but it is harder to find lesser known figures. Each entry is packed with information about the person's life, their sports records, and their legacy. 

If you are just starting a biography collection for a school, or looking to refresh the books you have and add a lot of diverse people, this series is a great way to do that. 


  1. Thanks for sharing each one. I shared some sports books today, too, know that readers are interested in them, boys and girls.

  2. Always great to see a good selection of books for girls who are athletic. They all sound appealing, but "Aniana del Mar Jumps" In really grabbed my attention. Like you I have seen no books on JIA. And I reviewed one book many years ago about a girl with Lupus. Autoimmune diseases are prominent among children. I knew a young girl with JIA years ago and she could have benefited from such a read. Great selections. I jotted down some great titles. Love your shares!

  3. I love all of your sports-related picks today, Karen! I'm drawn to Aniana del Mar Jumps In, if only because autoimmune conditions are seriously so common—I technically have one myself and know at least 4 other people who do—yet they're rarely discussed in books. But I do get your points about the issues with verse in the book, and I definitely think so many MG books tackle grief (too many, frankly), when it is a topic that needs a much defter touch than it often gets. Thank you so much for all the thoughtful reviews!

  4. I enjoyed Boundless. Made me wish I was still that much of a go-getter.

  5. It seems to me you have found something for just about everyone with this post! I am in awe of how much you read and write every day. Thanks for the post.