Recently I asked all my 7th and 8th graders to respond to a reading interest survey. With the four language arts teachers involved, I have been analyzing their responses and sharing conclusions to help guide buying for classroom collections and the library. I shared with one of the teachers that out of his102 students who responded, 26 asked for more sports books. Where do I begin finding new titles?
Aha! Along comes John Coy with his basketball book Box Out to the rescue. While Box Out was released in June, 2008, by Scholastic Press, it didn’t land on my desk until this month. I admit to my students that I don’t spend much of my free reading time curled up with sports fiction, but I’m always willing to try the books they recommend.
Basketball fans both male and female will enjoy Box Out thanks to John Coy’s realistic and exciting game action. But there’s more! This turns out to be more than just a sports story (not that there’s anything wrong with being a sports story).
Box Out is also a story of how a teen deals with peer pressure, and the pressure of small town expectations to go along and not cause trouble. In this instance sophomore Liam deals with the excitement of his rise to the varsity basketball team; then his conflicting emotions when he realizes his coach leads students in prayer and pressures them to participate in religious activities; his plummet from popularity when he quits this team; and his rediscovery of his love of the sport through helping the girls team.
There are so many excellent reviews out there that I don’t even want to try to top them. Go to John Coy’s site to read some excellent reviews from people I admire like Joel Shoemaker and Rob Reid. SLJ and Booklist gave Box Out good reviews. Also check out:
Reading Junky’s Reading Roost
The YAYAYA’s had a mixed response
Naomi Bates YA Books review
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
While looking through the glowing reviews to Box Out, I did stumble upon one that danced around the issue that some small towns could be offended by the enforced separation of church and state. I can recognize that from my childhood and the pressure to conform. Whether you believe coaches should lead prayers or not, this title weaves delicately across the court of teenage pressure to conform while exploring and learning how to support your own beliefs.
I have a confession to make. The tipping point for me packing Box Out for my Spring Break was reading rumors (like in Debra Lau Whelan’s SLJ article A Dirty Little Secret and the AS IF Authors Support Intellectual Freedom blog) that some librarians hesitated to purchase Box Out because there was a minor supporting character that wouldn’t be approved of in their communities. I hurriedly raced through Box Out searching for this character. What a disappointment! All those people that were looking for controversy should actually read the book. You have to get all the way to page 261 to read two lines of controversy, but even then, the action moves on to focus on the main character and the exciting sports story. Wait, someone tries to throw the controversy back in their face on page 267, but no, it just wasn’t that important and disappears again.
For everyone wondering, Box Out is a successful basketball story and an entertaining read. Shame on anyone who self-censors this title without reading it. I appreciated the girls basketball action because there aren’t enough books out there that include girls. Looking at the website I see that John Coy has a new sports series coming out this March published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (not by Scholastic) – Top of the Order. I’ll be reading these to see if they’ll meet the needs of my middle schoolers.
As for other sports titles, I’ll be pulling in a wide variety of fiction/nonfiction/book and magazine titles. Stone Arch books has the Jake Maddox series for easier fiction and these circulate constantly. We have a large collection of Matt Christopher titles but they aren’t circulating. Is it because they are at shin height? Would moving them increase circulation? Is it the covers? Do the students want fiction sports titles or nonfiction?
I’ve been purchasing a large number of individual nonfiction sports titles and series for the major sports, but once they leave the "New Book Display", I haven’t bothered to promote them. Seems like the students are demanding more theme-oriented displays. How many different ways can I promote sports books? I’m seeking. Any answers?
*** Note that I had to make a correction above as to the publisher of Top of the Order. One thing I appreciate about blogs is the ability to go make corrections quickly. I appreciate Caroline’s pointing it out. ***