The Wonderful World of Sports Books for Kids

By Suzanne Hawley, MLS

A six-year-old named Josh raced into my library shouting, “I want a real book! Where are the real books?!” Once I’d directed him to the picture books about trucks and construction vehicles, he was well-pleased. However, that six-year-old soon became an emergent reader, and he wanted titles that showed kids doing the kinds of things he liked. Knowing Josh was excelling in Little League Baseball, I suspected a good title for him would be “Babe Ruth Saves Baseball” by Fred Murphy. Not only was it about a sport he loved, but it was “real”—a biography—and despite the negative impressions people may have about the Babe, this title introduced a man whose “character and exciting style of play redeemed baseball from the Black Sox scandal of 1919.” Josh loved it, and from there on we frequently put our heads together to find the “best” sports books for him.

Fortunately, I raised boys who, following in their father’s (and mother’s) footsteps, loved sports. So in our household, Christmas presents consisted largely of a variety of sports equipment, books, and not much else. What would they do on days when they couldn’t go out to play with that equipment? Why, read sports books, of course! Their father introduced them to John R. Tunis when I brought home “The Kid from Tomkinsville” from my library. My husband had frequently spoken of the pleasure he found in reading Tunis’ books while growing up and I wanted to see what they were about. He was so thrilled to see a copy of it that he began reading it to our boys that night.

According to Wikipedia:

“Tunis' work often protested the increasing professionalization of sports in America. He believed that amateur participation in sports taught values important for good citizenship like perseverance, fair play and equality, and that the emphasis on professional sports was turning America into a country of spectators. His sports books also tackled current social issues such as antisemitism and racial equality.”

Times haven’t changed much, have they?

Alas, John R. Tunis’ titles were a little too advanced for Josh and his friends, as they searched for early chapter books.

Matt Christopher was a “fan favorite” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He has written more than 100 fast-paced, action-packed books. Many like “The Dog that Pitched a No-Hitter” are in The Passport to Reading series for emergent readers. Series are comfortable for such readers because they often have the same characters, and once kids find one in the series that they like, they are happy to discover more.

These days, girls as well as boys want sports books. The Ball Park Mysteries, by David A. Kelly, is another series for early chapter book readers. Not only do these titles feature a girl, Kate, they even throw in some history. There are currently 15 in the series and another soon to be released. The main characters, Mike and Kate, solve some interesting mysteries. For example, in “The Capital Catch,” the president’s brother is a catcher on the Nationals baseball team, and someone is stealing his equipment! Mike and Kate must find the culprit.

Mike Lupica’s titles come next for the 10-12-year-olds. For general sports fans, and particularly basketball fans, "No Slam Dunk" is a fine example of a sports title that includes character-building and touches upon some contemporary issues that kids are dealing with. The following is taken from the Hornbook review:

“As seventh grader Wes Davies's basketball team competes for a championship, his Navy-veteran father sinks into PTSD-caused alcoholism. Meanwhile, Wes's showy team nemesis ‘Dinero’ challenges Wes's commitment—drilled into him by his father—to above all be a good teammate. Short chapters alternate between on-court action and Wes's home life.”

Tim Green, a former NFL defensive end, writes primarily for the middle grades and has a few YA titles. In “Football Hero,” he tells the story of a boy who lost his parents in a tragic accident and lives with his nasty uncle, who is caught up in gambling. The book deals with the mafia, bullying, and the lessons of right and wrong.

Ghost” is the compelling opener in Jason Reynolds’ Track series. Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw suffers from the trauma of his father aiming a gun at his mother and him three years ago. He alternates between running away and having “altercations.” By happy accident, the track coach discovers his ability to run and makes a deal with him: if he stays out of trouble, he’s on the team. That’s easier said than done for Ghost. Booklist says, “This is raw and lyrical, and as funny as it is heartbreaking. It tackles issues such as theft, bullying, and domestic violence with candor and bravery, while opening a door for empathy and discussion. This is an absolute must-read for anyone who has ever wondered how fast you must be to run away from yourself.”

Shamini Flint’s “Ten: A Soccer Story” takes place in 1986 Malaysia. May, the spunky daughter of a mother of Indian descent and a white English father, is a passionate soccer fan. Despite her Indian grandmother’s protests that good Indian girls don’t play soccer and the determination of her classmates at the all-girls convent school that soccer is a boy’s sport, she achieves her dream. She recruits enough girls to field a team. Soon, though, she realizes that playing soccer is the least of her problems. Now she’ll have to face racial problems, fitting in, and the divorce of her parents.

Sports books not only appeal to the children who love sports, but also convey lessons to kids about caring for each other, the importance of relationships, how to work with a team, and character traits that will resound throughout their lives.

Here is a list of titles to satisfy even the most ardent young sports junkies in your library: Sports Books for Kids.