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Children's Nonfiction Basketball

Hoop Genius

How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

by (author) John Coy

illustrated by Joe Morse

Lerner Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Jan 2013
Basketball, School & Education, 19th Century
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2013
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 7 to 11
  • Grade: 2 to 5
  • Reading age: 8 to 9


Taking over a rowdy gym class right before winter vacation is not something James Naismith wants to do at all.

The last two teachers of this class quit in frustration. The students—a bunch of energetic young men—are bored with all the regular games and activities. Naismith needs something new, exciting, and fast to keep the class happy—or someone's going to get hurt. Saving this class is going to take a genius.

Discover the true story of how Naismith invented basketball in 1891 at a school in Springfield, Massachusetts.

About the authors

John Coy is the author of young adult novels, the 4 for 4 middle-grade series, and nonfiction and fiction picture books including Hoop Genius, Game Changer, Their Great Gift, Dads, and If We Were Gone. He has received numerous awards for his work including a Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, and the Burr/Warzalla Award for Distinguished Achievement in Children's Literature. John lives by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

John Coy's profile page

Joe Morse is an award-winning illustrator and artist. His work has graced everything from billboards in England to coins in Canada. He directs the Illustration Degree program at Sheridan Institute outside of Toronto. Joe lives in Toronto with his wife, the illustrator/designer Lorraine Tuson, and their 2 children.

Joe Morse's profile page


  • Winner, National Endowment for the Humanities Nonfiction Booklist for Young Readers
  • Commended, Louisiana Young Readers' Choice
  • Long-listed, Virginia Readers' Choice Award
  • Nominated, Illinois Monarch Award
  • Winner, Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year
  • Nominated, Star Of The North Picture Book Award
  • Winner, South Carolina Book Award
  • Winner, South Carolina Book Award
  • Nominated, North Carolina Children's Book Award
  • Winner, Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices
  • Winner, Booklist Top 10 Sports Books for Youth
  • Nominated, Black Eyed Susan Book Awards
  • Winner, Cream of the Crop for Children's and Young Adult Literature

Editorial Reviews

"This thrilling account of the birth of basketball is more a biography of the game itself than of its creators. The story begins with one James Naismith taking over an unruly gym class that had already run off two predecessors. He tries playing favorite sports indoors, but by the time they get to lacrosse not a player remains without some form of bandage. He needs a game where 'accuracy was more valuable than force.' And so, in a Massachusetts gymnasium, basketball is concocted. Coy understands the power of detail—only one point was scored in the very first game—and his tight focus on the game's initial season is immediately engrossing. Spare, precise language reflects the game's welcome sense of order as well as its athletic appeal. Morse's kinetic paintings, at once dynamic and controlled, fill the spreads, capturing the game's combination of power and finesse. And the stylized figures and restrained palette of blue, brown, purple, and gray fix the proceedings in the nineteenth century. Naismith's abiding respect for his students' irrepressible energy plays an important role in the invention of the game, and the book credits the entire crew ('James Naismith and that rowdy class') with the creation, adding a nuanced understanding of the value of sports and teamwork. An author's note and selected bibliography offer additional information, and a you-are-there facsimile reproduction of the original thirteen rules of basketball adorns the endpapers." --starred, The Horn Book Magazine


"This book is a delight for athletes of all ages, especially basketball fans. Morse's crisp, angular illustrations capture the essence of the late 1800s with meticulous detail. Coy chronicles the struggles of Naismith as he desperately tries to engage his rambunctious students indoors during the winter months. As a result, he invents basketball, a sport that requires skill and physical activity. Though this story will mostly appeal to boys, the women who played basketball wearing long skirts will intrigue girls. The text is sparse, but it works harmoniously with the illustrations. Facts are well-researched, and presented in a way that is approachable for young readers. An author's note includes additional details about Naismith's life along with a selected bibliography. Naismith's story offers an excellent way to reach reluctant readers when launching a research project or collaborating across disciplines." —Library Media Connection


"In 1891, a teacher named James Naismith invented a game that was destined to become a national sensation. The boys' gym class at his school was particularly rowdy. He needed to find an indoor activity for the energetic lads that was fun, but not too rough. Inspired by a favorite childhood game, he stayed up late one night typing the rules of his new game. With a soccer ball, two peach baskets, and the rules tacked to the bulletin board, Naismith introduced his idea to the unruly class the next day. In that first game, only one basket was scored, but the boys were captivated. During Christmas vacation, they taught their friends how to play basketball and soon its popularity spread across the country. Even women formed a team. By 1936, basketball became a recognized Olympic sport and Naismith was honored at the opening ceremonies. Morse's energetic illustrations add an old-fashioned charm to the narrative. Readers will also want to examine the endpapers, a reproduction of the original rules of the game typed by Naismith. This entertaining and informative story will delight young sports fans." —School Library Journal


"This spirited picture-book retelling of the now-legendary invention of basketball emphasizes how a peculiar set of conditions shaped the rules of the game that James Naismith would offer to his class of college physical-education students in 1891. It had to be an indoor game, it couldn't be too rough, and it had to make a class of energetic but bored young men feel it was worth learning and playing. Thirteen typewritten rules, one soccer ball, and two peach baskets later, the men were off and running (but not while holding the ball—no traveling even then). The fun here is in the contrast between Coy's straightforward narration and the stylized mayhem of Morse's cast of maroon-shirted, all-American-looking college guys. Although not a word is printed about the roughness of their previous indoor amusements, Morse's pictures depict the steady accrual of bandages, slings, and casts as games shift from indoor football to indoor soccer, to—holy smoke!—indoor lacrosse. More details (like the name of the school) would have been helpful, but readers will readily forgive the omission in light of the informative author's note, the appended photograph of Naismith and his team, and the endpaper reproduction of the historic rules originally posted on the gym bulletin board. A selected bibliography of adult sources is also included." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books


"Sports origin stories are surprisingly rare in picture book land, despite the obvious appeal. Coy's story about the dawn of basketball in 1891 is a bit sparse with detail, but nonetheless offers an interesting account of the factors that went into devising the game. James Naismith, in despair over the rowdy gym class he taught in Springfield, Mass., wanted a sport that emphasized accuracy over force and minimized contact. There's a bit of Otto Dix in Morse's distinctive paintings, with their angular contours and somber, blue-tinted skin, which lends an incongruous, though not displeasing, coolness to the notably hot-blooded sport." —The New York Times Book Review


"In December 1891, James Naismith, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, was looking for a way to channel the energy, impatience, and eagerness of his male students. Recalling a game he knew as a child, called Duck on a Rock, he invented a lesson using an old soccer ball and two peach baskets to minimize contact injuries and emphasize finesse and accuracy over brute strength. Pretty quickly Naismith knew he was onto something: though only one basket was scored the entire first game, his students didn't want to leave gym class. Over Christmas vacation, the kids taught the game to friends, and soon a group of women teachers from a nearby school dropped by to learn the new sport. By 1936, Naismith's game had become an Olympic event. Well researched with material artifacts and primary sources, this classic story is boosted significantly by big, blocky, muscular illustrations in muted tones that effortlessly mix tongue-in-cheek whimsy with serious action. Anybody who plays the game or watches it ought to find this pretty engrossing."—Booklist


Other titles by Joe Morse