Saturday, April 26, 2008


We often joke with the kids that we don't have enough time for our first life much less Second Life, Sim City or the host of virtual reality games. But there is a parallel to real life that has been with us since the very beginnings of civilization and in which people have always invested huge amounts of time and effort - Sports.

Sports is so much more than just a set of games. There are broad arrays of life-lessons and values to be derived from competitive games - playing as a part of a team, giving your best effort, perseverance beyond the point of exhaustion, learning to win and lose with grace, and how to keep your head under pressure. All of these things are, of course, important life lessons, that are absorbed on the field rather than through conscious learning. The idea of sports as a metaphor for life was captured by Theodore Roosevelt in a speech he made at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910, the year after he left the Presidency.

Theodore Roosevelt always had an especial fascination for me as a child. He seemed to be a President that in a way transcended the presidency and remained, to his benefit, more human and admirable as a human, than the constraining mantle of the presidency permits most other holders of that office to be. He said and did so many things beyond his term of presidential service that his historical mark would have been made without his having been President. Most of all, from a child's perspective, it just seemed so clear that he would have been the President with whom it would have been most fun to spend some time.

And what does this have to do with sports? Well, it is because when I think of the balancing of mind and body, of contemplation and action, the pursuit of excellence in both arenas, there are few characters that come closer to both articulating that aspiration and actually achieving it than Theodore Roosevelt. For those of us dedicated to bringing the full adventure and pleasure of reading to our children, there is also the physical world to be balanced against that world of the mind and Roosevelt was one of the most advanced practitioners of that balancing act.

Perhaps his most famous quote came from a speech he made at the Sorbonne in Paris, in 1910, the year after he left the Presidency (see Thing Finder on the homepage for the whole text which is well worth reading in toto). What most people remember is his call for action in the lines:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

However, a little later he expands on this to say:
There is need of a sound body, and even more need of a sound mind. But above mind and above body stands character -- the sum of those qualities which we mean when we speak of a man's force and courage, of his good faith and sense of honor. I believe in exercise for the body, always provided that we keep in mind that physical development is a means and not an end. I believe, of course, in giving to all the people a good education. But the education must contain much besides book-learning in order to be really good. We must ever remember that no keenness and subtleness of intellect, no polish, no cleverness, in any way make up for the lack of the great solid qualities. Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution -- these are the qualities which mark a masterful people. Without them no people can control itself, or save itself from being controlled from the outside. I speak to a brilliant assemblage; I speak in a great university which represents the flower of the highest intellectual development; I pay all homage to intellect, and to elaborate and specialized training of the intellect; and yet I know I shall have the assent of all of you present when I add that more important still are the commonplace, every-day qualities and virtues.

The sports genre in children's books is well represented in terms of volume. There is a lot to choose from. I must admit that I am not well positioned to know the truly stellar books in this category. When growing up, moving about as often as we did in foreign countries, for some reason, we just did not have that many children's books that were about sports. Couple that with my own very wide (lots of different types of sports played in different countries) but very meager achievements on the sports field, and I feel distinctly fraudulent in providing much in terms of guidance and recommendations.

That being said, I am sure that the TTMD community will provide input to refining this initial list. There are a couple of scenarios where we think this list of sports books might be of interest. The first scenario is one in which your child is a reluctant reader, but a sports enthusiast. You may be seeing all their time invested out on the field and none in reading. The second is the reverse: your child shows little to no interest in sports but invests a great deal of time in reading.

I think I may have mentioned this at some point in the past year, but we saw the power of books to help capture the interest of a reluctant reader who was doing little if any reading. It was in Australia and one of our close friends there had two sons, the older of whom was an avid and enthusiastic sportsman who was making no progress whatsoever towards becoming a reader. The breakthrough came when she married these two worlds by presenting him the rule book for his favorite sport, cricket. Suddenly he had a book he really wanted to read. There are many paths to the world of reading and as long as it gets you there any one of them is the right path.

For reluctant readers who spend much of their time playing in competitive sports, it is fortunate that, while there may be a comparative dearth of deep and richly written sports books, there are plenty of good stories. Another bonus is that many of them are part of a series, thus allowing the child to get hooked on one book and then to discover that there is a whole set of books similar to the one he just enjoyed.

The opposite scenario, of course, involves the avid reader/reluctant sportsman. This imbalance is not necessarily healthy (one of ours is of this ilk) and among the many ways of encouraging them to get outside and to be more physically active is to feed them gripping, action-packed sports stories. It has not worked in our particular circumstance but it can.

So here are a series of books that cover many situations in the arena of sports stories; books from which the child can learn the rudiments of a sport, stories in which all the attributes of a good sport are on display - competition, respect for one's opponent, teamwork, perseverance, effort, etc., stories that are gripping because they are tightly plotted and strong on action.

Please let us know your additional suggestions and thoughts.

Picture Books

The Berenstain Bears Go Out for the Team by Stan Berenstain Suggested

Arthur Makes the Team by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Marc Tolon Brown Suggested

Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig Suggested

Take Me Out To The Ballgame by Jack Norworth and illustrated by Jim Burke Recommended

Independent Reader

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball by David A. Adler and illustrated by Susanna Natti Suggested

S.O.R. Losers by Avi Suggested

Allie's Basketball Dream by Barbara E. Barber and illustrated by Darryl Ligasan Suggested

All Star Fever by Matt Christopher and illustrated by Anna Dewdney Suggested

Goalkeeper in Charge by Matt Christopher and illustrated by Robert Hirschfeld Suggested

The Dog That Pitched a No-Hitter by Matt Christopher and illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos Suggested

Thank You, Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen and illustrated by Richard Cuffari Suggested

Owen Foote, Soccer Star by Stephanie Greene and illustratde by Martha Weston Suggested

Honus and Me by Dan Gutman Highly Recommended

Jackie and Me by Dan Gutman Highly Recommended

The Million Dollar Shot by Dan Gutman Suggested

The Littlest Leaguer by Syd Hoff Suggested

Here Comes the Strikeout by Leonard Kessler Suggested

Molly Gets Mad by Suzy Kline and illustrated by Diana Cain Bluthenthal Suggested

About the B'nai Bagels by E. L. Konigsburg Recommended

Froggy Plays Soccer - by Jonathan London and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz Suggested

Grandmas at Bat by Emily Arnold McCully Suggested

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee Recommended

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Rodney Pate Suggested

Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish and illustrated by Wallace Tripp Suggested

Dirt on Their Skirts by Doreen Rappaport and Lyndall Callan and illustrated by Earl B. Lewis Suggested

The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John H. Ritter Suggested

Bobby Baseball by Robert Kimmel Smith and illustrated by Alan Tiegreen Suggested

There's a Girl in My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli Suggested

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer and illustrated by Christopher H. Bing Suggested

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