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Review: Dragon Hoops

Book Cover

Even before Dragon Hoops was released, it was getting a lot of buzz. Colby Sharp featured it in on his YouTube Channel. Brigid Alverson mentioned it in her column about titles to look forward to in 2020. It’s been all over Twitter and Instagram. It’s no wonder, because Yang has garnered many awards: He’s won a Printz Medal and an Eisner Award, he was appointed the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and he has even written Superman! But I think this time, the whispering is not only because this is a great book from a great author/cartoonist, but because it’s a departure from his other books.

Dragon Hoops
By Gene Luen Yang. Color by Lark Pien. Art Assistance by Rianne Meyers and Kolbe Yang.
01: First Second, 2020
Grades 9 and Up

Dragon Hoops is part memoir and part chronicle of the basketball team from Bishop O’Dowd High School, where Yang worked as a teacher. In searching for a new story idea, Yang decided to follow the school’s basketball team while they set out to win their first state championship. The team had been in the championship seven times but had never taken home the trophy.

Yang chronicles the story of each of the diverse members of the team. He starts with coach Lou, who was an alumnus of the school and played with the well-known yet controversial coach Digger Phelps. A few were young men from the inner city, who did not want to share all of their struggles. Another was an exchange student from China who wanted to badly play on an American Team. One student was a member of the Sikh religion. Each player has an interesting slant to them, though not a whole lot of drama. It’s almost sort of ordinary.

Yang intersperses the story with interesting history, such as the story of how basketball was invented, the history of how basketball came to China, and the story of the first NBA superstar, George Mikan. In addition, the story is peppered with his own struggles and insecurities about writing the book as well as the pivotal moment when DC Comics asked him to write Superman. All this, while Yang tried to balance his family life too.

There is so much meat to the story, even with the slice-of-life aspect, and it is . packed with lots of basketball action. I think the storytelling style is a bit sophisticated and better suited to high school students, but some middle school kids, especially those into basketball, can and will enjoy the story.

The artwork is fast paced, with swishing and dunking, and keeps eyes moving around the page. The palette shifts from sepia tones or muted colors when delving into the historical parts of the story to very quiet colors everywhere else. There is a lot of yellow in the book.

This is going to be a very successful graphic novel and will make noise come award seasons. Committees won’t forget this title. Rightly so. The unique story has much appeal and will be an easy sell with the basketball cover and great story.

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Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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