Nothing beats the optimism of summer break! A chance for kids to relax, unwind, and not touch a school related skill for a solid 3 months! Tis the season for the sports nuts(parents and kids) to parade through youth sport camps, swing the bat every day, shuttle off to AAU contests in exotic locales like Iowa, or throw some iron around to beef up for the upcoming fall seasons.
Imagine this, though.......What if we carved some time out of our busy schedules and promoted another skill; another activity to exercise an often neglected summer muscle. The mind!
It's always interesting to me that a parent will demand 500 shots a day in the driveway, but not have a fleeting thought about doing 20 pages a day of reading. Are the two not equals?? Here's an idea: Let's keep our kids motivated to read this summer, and if they are not motivated readers, why not use the opportunity of a few homeworkless months to introduce some fantastic books.
I'll make it easy for you.
What I have included here is a list of 10 amazing nonfiction sports books that have been popular in not only my school library this year, but in many youth libraries throughout the country. These books are timely, relevant, well written, meaningful, and engaging. They teach, inform, enlighten, and entertain. If you are a public librarian, put these out on a "sports summer reading" display. If you are a parent, buy these books and place them in strategically obvious spots around the house for your teen. Or, you can just suggest them.
Quite simply, let's make it a goal to get our young athletes reading over the summer. It doesn't matter if they are reading fantasy, mystery, or sappy love stories. But since sports is already in their vocabulary, here is a list of sports related books that are sure to keep them interested and engaged. Just maybe--just maybe.......you'll find them outside lounging comfortably up against the basketball hoop pole, legs propped up on the ball, enjoying a good book. Dream on!!!!!!!
Here's the list--in no particular order. As a side note, just because a book is a young readers edition does not make it too "kiddy, or cheesy." Quite the contrary, I have found these books make young readers feel like adults, and reluctant boy readers feel like they have tackled something significant. Enjoy!
Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss
Brief summary: Story of Perry Wallace, a talented student athlete, who becomes the first African-American basketball player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University during the tumultuous late 1960s
Why? Kids are shocked to discover what African-American college players like Perry Wallace had to endure to participate in a game they loved during the civil rights era down south. Often I hear from kids while reading, "Did this really happen?"
Who would it be best for? Specific young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above. Maraniss also has an adult version of the book that would be great as a parent read-along.
The Playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life by Kwame Alexander
Brief summary: Poetry and inspiring lessons about the rules of life, as well as uplifting quotes from popular athletes in this motivational and inspirational book.
Why? This is a nice little book that will provide lots of inspiration for the young athlete, opening many doors of conversation about the connections between sports and life.
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably middle school and early high school.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Brief summary: Football and Native American history come together in this true story of how Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner created the legendary Carlisle Indians football team.
Why? Kids were astounded to read about some real origins of the violent game of football, and, as one student put it, what a "beast" of an athlete Jim Thorpe was!
Who would it be best for? Specific Young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above
Fire in my eyes : an American warrior's journey from being blinded on the battlefield to gold medal victory by Brad Snyder and Tom Sileo
Brief summary: Exactly one year after losing his sight in a blast while serving in Afghanistan, Snyder wins a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Why? Great story of courage and overcoming odds. Kids found Snyder's story extremely inspirational and unique. Stories of war heros are huge in high school. Combining war and sports is always a winner.
Who would it be best for? Adult format but very readable for grades 6 and up
Gunslinger : the remarkable, improbable, iconic life of Brett Favre by Jeff Pearlman
Brief summary: A biography of NFL quarterback and Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre, covering the life and football career of this colorful star
Why? Brett Favre was one of the most colorful and crazy characters ever to play the game. His true love for the game and freewheeling style had kids in awe. Everyone loves a rebel!
Who would it be best for? Adult format and lengthy--probably for the high school and above crowd
Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Brief summary: Kareem shares stories and wisdom from his decades-long relationship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden
Why? Are you kidding, a chance to peer into the minds and friendship of two legendary figures in basketball!! What's not to love!
Who would it be best for? Adult format --probably for the upper middle / high school and above crowd
Days of knight : how the general changed my life by Kirk Haston.
Brief summary: Kirk Haston discusses his time playing college basketball for Bobby Knight at Indiana University and the lessons he learned from "The General"
Why? Kids loved the lessons of Knight and his often unique (bizarre) methods of motivation! Haston is very engaging and easy to relate to as a player--the kind of guy you root for.
Who would it be best for? Adult format, but easily written with many sidebars and "Knightisms"-probably grade 6 and up
Rising above : how 11 athletes overcame challenges in their youth to become stars
Gregory Zuckerman with Elijah and Gabriel Zuckerman.
Brief summary: Athletes find discipline, hope, and inspiration on the playing field, rising above their challenging life circumstances--something many of our kids can relate to.
Why? What young athlete has not faced adversity yet? Whether injuries, home life, relationships, or disappointment have knocked on the door, this book shows any kid that there is hope.
Who would it be best for? For young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
Shoe dog : a memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight
Brief summary: Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares his story of how Nike came to be the mega corporation it is today
Why? Every school kid relates to Nike! Many who have read this were fascinated by the back story of the company and how Knight created this giant. A story they never knew!
Who would it be best for? Adult format--probably for the upper middle/ high school and above crowd
Legends : the best players, games, and teams in basketball by Howard Bryant.
Brief summary: A fun discussion of the best hardwood heroes. From Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan to LeBron James to Steph Curry, the book is a great collection of NBA champions and superstars.
Why? This book has started some great argument among kids about numerous basketball related issues. Now....are the Warriors good or bad for NBA basketball??!!
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
A couple of years ago, my then 10 year old son was constructing a rather elaborate Christmas gift list. To my surprise, at the top of the list was a Kareem Abdul Jabbar jersey--signed, of course. My first few thoughts were: 1. How cool that a LeBron era kid would acknowledge an iconic player from long before his time! 2. All that TV watching of ESPN secondary channels is paying off! 2. I'm a librarian for Pete's sake--does he really think I make enough money to buy a signed Kareem jersey!?
So, I settled on a framed poster. Kareem(Lew Alcindor) in his Milwaukee Bucks uniform. Forget the Lakers era. My love of Kareem started with the coin flip in 1969, when the only hazard coinage posed in my life was choking. But I wanted my son to know Kareem the Buck, so it was important to me that he was donning green. Anyways, the poster came with a promise we would find Kareem someday and get it signed, but we're still getting around to that.
Anyways, it has been fun sharing with my son the story of Kareem. It's not just a story about who he was as a player, but who he's become in the era afterwards. After all, the measure of an athlete is not the highlight reel from the court, but the wake of influence that he leaves while flying into the sunset. It's amazing to me just how much of an influential author Jabbar has become. I truly don't think many people realize the catalog of books he has put out since his playing days. Known as a reclusive figure in his Buck days, I'm not sure the Milwaukee crowd has a fair grasp as to just what a champion of the human spirit this man has become.
My most anticipated book of the year has been his latest book, Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court. Just released a week or so ago, the book details the intersection of two basketball legends, Coach John Wooden of UCLA and Kareem. Those of us who have read Coach Wooden's They Call Me Coach or The Pyramid of Success know of his unique ability to mentor basketball players not only in the game, but in life. Jabbar opens the curtains into his playing days at UCLA and his successful life afterwards and let's us see just how much influence the brilliant John Wooden had on him. It's a book of basketball, coaching, mentoring, philosophy and respect sewn into one. One thing is clear, we cannot grow into the people we wish to become without powerful mentors in our life. I'm sure Jabbar appreciates Wooden as a great sage and hand who graced his life, and whose spirit will continue to nudge him to greatness.
It's noble to hand a book like this to any teenager. It needs to be in every high school library. At a time when teens need to know that mentors are real and people can still be trusted in this world, Jabbar shows them that wisdom is found in relationships. Just because Jabbar and Wooden are not as freshly present in the memory of kids like LeBron or Coach K doesn't make their story any less important. There is no truth that wisdom ever ages out of style.
I want my son to appreciate Coach W, Kareem and their relationship, and the power of positive people in life. He will read the book with me this summer, and just maybe Santa will be watching so next Christmas he doesn't forget to load that signed jersey on the sleigh!