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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Junior Fiction for the Sports Minded

Middle grade books for young sports fans.

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


Book Cover Rocket Blues

As soon as a young reader says they’re a hockey player, I hand them a series of three books by David Skuy, which follows a boy named Rocket. The first, Rocket Blues, captures the complexities of a 13-year-old’s life. The dialogue rings true and the plot never wains. In this book, Rocket faces a mean coach and, despite his obvious skills, Rocket gets cut from the AAA team for being too short. To make matters worse, he loses his two best friends/longtime teammates in the process. Forced to join a losing AA team, Rocket must juggle his parents’ fresh divorce and his new home in a sketchy part of town. There are run-ins with local gangs and a mom with no car to take him to games. Through it all, Rocket learns to be a true team player, with a life beyond hockey. In the second book, Last Shot, Rocket is drafted to the OHL at age 16, and in the third, Ice Time, he’s at his first NHL training camp. Skuy has also written a series about soccer players. (Grades 4 to 7)


Book Cover The Hoop and the Harm

The Hoop and the Harm, by Jawara Pedican, set in Toronto, is written in an informal style that will appeal to middle school and high school kids. Fifteen-year-old Yoosie, aka Ukoku, plays basketball at a high level, but he’s in a rut and finds a therapist with whom he deconstructs his loss of interest in the game. Why has he lost confidence? Is it because his dad and brother have been in and out of his life? Why continue to play when those you used to play for are gone? And what happens when you see a fellow player get stabbed right in front of you on the court? Or when you, yourself, are seriously injured? The author accurately represents the internal thoughts of a basketball player, and the therapist character provides practical advice about coping with failure and insecurity. The description of action-filled games and real-world rivalry make this one a great read for any teen devoted to a life of sport. (Grades 7 and up)


Book Cover Sliding Home

Sliding Home, by Joyce Grant, is part of a Sports Series by Lorimer Press, offering realistic, action-packed books for reluctant middle grade readers. Set in Toronto’s Christie Pits, the tale follows some of the characters from Grant’s first book, Tagged Out. This one features an unlikely kinship between two teammates—pitcher Miguel and catcher Sebastian. Miguel works as a babysitter every night after school, helping to earn enough money to bring his father home from El Salvador, where his bakery is under constant threat by local gangs. Miguel’s mom works long hours, and to add to his stress, Miguel is the one who has to translate her communications with the immigration lawyers. Sebastian, on the other hand, has free time, new equipment and money to participate in tournaments. Miguel learns to trust not only Sebastian’s uncanny instincts in the game, but also his ability to help bring Miguel’s dad home. (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover Stealing Home

In the graphic novel Stealing Home, by J. Torres, illustrated by David Namisoto, the hook is baseball in the 1920s and 30s. The real story is a more personal one, about the internment of the Japanese during WWII and the relationship between a father and son. Sandy just wants to play catch with his father, a doctor who constantly puts his patients before family, and then suddenly their lives are changed. Realistic drawings capture the shock of going from a normal family life to the hardships of living in an internment camp. During a time of discrimination, the Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team (City Champions), unites a community. As the ending reminds us: baseball is sometimes a metaphor for life. (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover My Life as a Diamond

My Life as a Diamond, by Jenny Manzer, features 10 year old Cassie, who identifies as a boy. When the family moves from Toronto to Washington, it’s the perfect time for a haircut and a name-change to Caspar. Baseball-crazy, Caspar joins a team and tries to keep his secret whilst working on becoming a great pitcher. Kyle, a nasty kid on the other team, ends up revealing Caspar’s story at a very inopportune time, but Caspar learns to keep playing through it all. (Grades 3 to 6)


Book Cover Planet Hockey

Graphic novel, Planet Hockey, First Start of the Game, by J. Torres, illustrated by Tim Levins, with its cartoon-like graphics, is a fun take on dealing with the anxiety of recovering from a sports injury. When Isaac breaks his arm playing hockey, he finds himself avoiding the rink, falling further into the hockey gaming world. Reps from an alien universe recruit him and his one friend, Lily, to play for an underdog team (that look very octopus-like). Opposing teams defend themselves through blinding flashes, quick-release spikes and foul blasts of goopy debris, but Isaac uses his video game expertise to coach and finally overcome his fear of getting back on the ice. (Grades 3 to 5)


Book Cover Game Day

Game Day: Meet the People Who Make It Happen, by Kevin Sylvester, is an interesting read, showing kids that career paths are often stumbled upon. These are the jobs you don’t really think about when you’re planning a life in sport. There’s Jimmy MacNeil, the "greatest zamboni driver in the world," and Scott Lowell who collects pee as a doping control officer. Meet Brian Burnett who skis backwards as a cameraman capturing the action, and Ted Giannoulos, one of the first and most successful (chicken) mascots-for-hire. From tennis umpires to hat logo designers, each chapter includes a mini-bio with insider sport info, and some funny tales along the way.  (Grades 4 to 6)


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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