This roundup of Bookshelf Bests highlights a variety of compelling stories featuring main characters who face serious life conflicts while swinging bats, kicking soccer balls, shooting hoops, and running track.
Travel Team by Mike Lupica
This feel-good story of underdogs versus the odds introduces readers to 12-year-old Danny Walker, the son of a local basketball hero. He's just found out he didn't win a spot on the prestigious seventh-grade travel team, supposedly because of his small size. But the real reason may be an old rivalry between Mr. Ross, the father of the best player in town, and Danny's down-on-his luck dad, all of which prompts the creation of a new team with surprising power and potential. Subplots include a battle with alcoholism, divorce, and stepping up to challenges. Other big-win books by New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica include Heat, Summer Ball, and the Comeback Kids series.
Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff
A traditional softball game between two sixth-grade teams in rural Oregon is usually a friendly rivalry. But it's 1949 and the first game since the end of World War II, and two new girls on each team change the chemistry. Playing for the Bear Creek is Aki, a Japanese American girl who recently returned from an internment camp. On Barlow's side, there's Shazam, a tough-minded girl whose father was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite its complex format (the story is told from 21 different players' points-of-view following a game-stopping, violent incident), the book offers a compelling story about prejudice, forgiveness, the after-effects of war, and facing up to your mistakes through the drama of sports. Use this video booktalk to introduce readers to Bat 6.
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Tangerine is a coming-of-age story about a legally-blind soccer player, his bullying football-hero brother, and their parents, both of whom seem clueless about their sons' strengths and weaknesses. Filled with symbolism, metaphors, conflicts, and secrets, Tangerine very effectively uses sports and environmental conditions to deliver a much deeper story. Use these probing discussion guide questions to spur classroom discussions.
Run for Your Life by Marilyn Levy
Inspired by real people and events at a grim housing project in Oakland, California, this book tells the triumphant story of Kisha Carter, a 13-year-old girl for whom running becomes a ticket to a better life. Her decision to join the project's new track club is a catalyst for forming closer, more meaningful friendships, gaining a sense of belonging, and coping with increasingly difficult family circumstances. Always looming in the background, however, are the dark realities of physical violence, sexual abuse, guns, drug trafficking, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy. Positive role models characters include Kisha's track coach, Darren, and a teacher, Ms. Collins.