Spring fever is in the air so why not play ball with students' mounting interest in the start of baseball season and warm weather activities? This month's Bookshelf Bests highlights a variety of stories about main characters who experience life lessons while swinging bats, kicking balls, shooting hoops, running races, riding bikes, even playing simple schoolyard games. Whether you read them aloud or suggest them to independent readers, these book selections are sure to entertain and enlighten.

Grades K-2
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon
The rest of the animals on the farm think Duck is crazy to be riding around the farmyard on a bike. Those webbed feet weren't made for pedaling! But as soon as some local kids park their bikes by the barn, Duck's incredulous friends jump at the chance to give biking a whirl. Soon, there are all sorts of four-legged creatures lodged on tricycles, two-wheelers, even a bicycle-built-for two. Vivid illustrations make this comical story about doing the impossible a very entertaining read-aloud.

Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day by Barbara Park
The irrepressible Junie B. Jones thinks she has kindergarten field day all figured out. She's determined to captain Room 9 to victory over Room 8. There's one big problem though—Room 9 is on a losing streak and Junie B. is partly to blame. As much as her teacher says the day is about having fun (not winning and losing), the kids in Room 9 feel dejected. Their last chance is the pull-up contest which pits Strong Frankie from Room 8 against William, the seemingly weakest link in Room 9. Consider using this adaptable Junie B. Lesson Plan with Captain Field Day as well as other books in the popular series.

Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey
Author Shana Corey hits a home run with this fictional story inspired by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the origins of the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The story follows the athletic passions of Katie Casey, a girl who prefers "sliding to sewing, batting to baking, and home-runs to homecoming." She finally gets her chance to play in the big leagues when Phillip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, forms the all-girl league during World War II. A great way to celebrate Women's History Month and welcome the arrival of baseball season. Corey also demonstrates her knack for historical fiction picture books in Milly and the Macy's Parade, mentioned in November's Bookshelf Bests. For insights on how Corey develops her book ideas, check out her Author's Note.

The Greatest by Kenny Rogers and Don Schlitz
Based on the lyrics to Kenny Rogers' poetic song, The Greatest follows the thoughts of a young boy alone on the baseball field with his bat and ball. Through the play-by-play narration, readers realize the boy imagines himself to be the "greatest player of them all" in a clutch at bat. The momentum builds as he gives himself a pep talk in an effort to end the game with a big hit. He fails to make contact, once, twice, three times and the game is over but the narration continues unfolding with a twist. He's still "the greatest player of them all" because "even I didn't know I could pitch like that." Success is just a matter of perspective. A sweet, simple, and effective way to help children see there are many ways of looking at situations. The book is available with a CD of the song.

Grades 3-5
El Chino by Allen Say
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more unique athlete-biography than the story of Bong Way "Billy" Wong, the American-born son of Chinese immigrants who became a matador in Spain. The journey takes readers from Billy's youth in Arizona, where he was a high school basketball star to his career as an engineer and the vacation in Spain that changed his life. Billy's inspirations include his late father's belief that "In America, you can be anything you want to be" and an unflinching desire to be recognized as a gifted athlete despite his small build. For more insight on author/illustrator Allen Say, check out this Scholastic student interview.

Atalanta's Race: A Greek Myth by Shirley Climo
Abandoned as a baby by her royal father (because she's not a boy) and adopted by a hunter, Atalanta grows up to be a fleet-footed, strong, independent-minded young woman. Her many triumphs in athletic competitions throughout the land gain the attention of the king. A reconciliation ensues but the king still wants a male heir. So, he's disappointed when Atalanta rejects one suitor after another. Then, she suggests a contest—she'll marry the man who can outrun her in a race.

The Million Dollar Kick by Dan Gutman
Most kids would be excited about the opportunity to kick a soccer ball in a million dollar contest. Not Whisper Nelson, a self-conscious, awkward 13-year-old. The last time she played she was in the third grade when she was humiliated after scoring a goal for the opposing team. The story follows Whisper's waffling thoughts and actions as she tries to overcome her fears and anxieties. Dan Gutman's Million Dollar Shot follows a similar storyline but revolves around a boy and basketball. Also popular with boys is Gutman's Baseball Card Adventure Series. In the first book, Honus and Me, a valuable and magical baseball card takes young Joey Stoshack on a time-travel adventure to 1909 when baseball great Honus Wagner played for the Pirates and dominated the National League. Other books in the series include Babe & Me, Shoeless Joe & Me, Satch & Me, and Jackie & Me.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
This Newbery Award winner focuses on Maniac Magee, a boy who becomes legendary for his running abilities. In fact, he ran 200 miles to get away from his warring aunt and uncle and finally stops when he gets to Two Mills, where he helps a town overcome racism and finds a place to call home.