I am not a sporty person. I am not raising sporty kids. I am married to a sporty guy, but apparently his genes skipped a generation. However, we do all like to read (sporty guy included). These are books that are well written and plotted, so if you are trying to encourage a sporty kid to read, they might give these a try. That said, my non-sporty self liked these a lot. The sports created a cool setting and background or plot element, but were part of the greater themes of friendship, fitting in, self-improvement, or something else.
Strike Three, You’re Dead by Josh Berk is a mystery. I’m assuming – or hoping – that it’s the first in a series, because after the title online it says (Lenny and the Mikes). These guys made me laugh. Lenny’s two best friends are both named Mike, so one is called Other Mike, which never really got old. Lenny and the Mikes love the Phillies, but instead of playing ball, it’s Lenny’s dream to be an announcer. When he wins a contest, it seems like his dream is going to come true.
When he’s in the press box getting ready to announce his one inning, he meets the new phenom pitcher who takes the mound for the first time and then collapses and dies! Lenny and the Mikes try to figure out what happened (How else are they going to spend their summer?). Some might think the mystery is obvious, but honestly, I was so charmed by these characters that I didn’t really care. They did end up with a girl in on the action (a girl who is not named Mike), but I liked the focus of the boys’ friendship, which is somewhat rare in novels that try to reach the masses by having boy-girl best friend duos.
Losing It by Erin Fry is another book that I liked for its strong male friendship (with no token girl, except for the ones that the guys are crushing on). Bennett is also a baseball fan. He and his dad like watching the Dodgers, eating snacks, and hanging out like men. It helps them deal with or forget the death of Bennett’s mom. But when Bennett’s dad has an attack and goes to hospital, Bennett ends up living with his estranged aunt Laura.
Bennett’s dad has a long road of recovery ahead of him, so he’s stuck with Laura and her healthy ways. And to be honest, since his dad’s attack is related to being overweight and sedentary, Bennett begins to think about shedding his extra pounds and getting healthier himself. When he sees a sign-up for the cross country team — no experience needed — he decides to give it a try. He and his best friend P.G. have done it all together — hanging out, eating junk food, and being last in gym. Will Bennett’s new lifestyle put up a wall between them?
This was a great easy-to-read story of resilience with the realistic middle school setting featuring bullies, crushes and coaches who all affect Bennett in different ways.
Ultra by David Carroll is a Scholastic Canada book (which I received for review), so I’m not sure it’s available here in the U.S. (yet — I hope). This was a fun novel about 13-year-old ultra-marathoner Quinn Scheurmann. The book’s first page sort of gets the reader’s heart thumping with this disclosure:
It’s always exciting to read something that you you don’t think you should be reading, right? Quinn story of running 100 miles — yes 100 miles in a row — is told by using the interview, plus Quinn’s own narrative during the race. There are also flashbacks, mostly dealing with his dad, who is absent but we don’t know why.
I don’t think you have to be a runner to appreciate this story. I think that kids will feel empowered and root for Quinn who is not competing in some race for kids, but going up against adults in such an extreme challenge that most do not finish (or even try). The book was exciting, the subject matter was intriguing, and Quinn is a likable guy. These elements combined to make this an extremely readable book.
Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack features fraternal twins Owen and Russell Evans. Owen plays basketball; Russell is a brain. That’s the way it’s always been, and the brothers are happy with that. But when a new coach comes to the middle school, he asks (orders??) tall and lanky Russell to try out for the team. Russell’s dad is excited and encourages him to work on some of his skills, and Owen just wants him to keep from embarrassing him in front of his teammates.
When Russell’s height overshadows his lack of experience on the court and he makes the team, there’s a big shift. Russell is surprised that he likes the attention on the court, but will his Masters of the Mind team suffer with some of his focus on the court? And will Owen accept that Russell isn’t completely one-dimensional? For that matter, will Russell accept the fact that he can be a mathlete and an athlete?
The story is told in alternating chapters from Owen’s and Russell’s points of view. This story is as much about coming of age and figuring out who you are and how you’re going to get there as it is about shooting hoops. Of course sibling rivalry (and loyalty) looms large as well.
These reviews are linked up to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.