Fearless, caring sports fiction.

SASQUATCH IN THE PAINT

From the Streetball Crew series , Vol. 1

A crisp tale of sports, smarts and what it means to be your own man or woman—or boy or girl, if you happen to be 13.

It seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be, say, one of the best basketball players in history and also write tightly entertaining novels for kids, but there you have Abdul-Jabbar. Surely Obstfeld added polish and framing, but this obviously is a work of someone intimate with sports and, by extension, how sports can serve as metaphor for a way of being in the world. Here, newly tall eighth-grader Theo Rollins is trying to find his way between the brainiacs and the basketball players. Along the way, he meets Rain—aka Crazy Girl—a sort of “girl with the dragon tattoo” minus the heaviest baggage. Characters, both friend and foe, feel real; there is talk of abandonment as well as serious comments about the skewed vision Americans have of Islam. The deepest running narrative pivots around sports, but the story has much to give. Theo’s cousin’s taxonomy of basketball players is broadly applicable: There are the happy-go-lucky, the self-conscious and “those who never want the game to be over, because each minute is like living on some planet where you got no problems....[They are], for that brief time, in a place where everything they thought or did mattered.”

Fearless, caring sports fiction. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7870-5

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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A stellar collaboration that introduces an important and intriguing individual to today’s readers.

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BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI

From the Becoming Ali series , Vol. 1

Two bestselling authors imagine the boyhood of the man who became the legendary boxing icon Muhammad Ali.

Cassius was a spirited child growing up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky. He had a loving home with his parents and younger brother, Rudy. Granddaddy Herman also was an important figure, imparting life lessons. His parents wanted him to succeed in school, but Cassius had difficulty reading and found more pleasure in playing and exploring outdoors. Early on, he and Rudy knew the restrictions of being African American, for example, encountering “Whites Only” signs at parks, but the brothers dreamed of fame like that enjoyed by Black boxer Joe Louis. Popular Cassius was especially close to Lucius “Lucky” Wakely; despite their academic differences, their deep connection remained after Lucky received a scholarship to a Catholic school. When Cassius wandered into the Columbia Boxing Gym, it seemed to be destiny, and he developed into a successful youth boxer. Told in two voices, with prose for the voice of Lucky and free verse for Cassius, the narrative provides readers with a multidimensional view of the early life of and influences on an important figure in sports and social change. Lucky’s observations give context while Cassius’ poetry encapsulates his drive, energy, and gift with words. Combined with dynamic illustrations by Anyabwile, the book captures the historical and social environment that produced Muhammad Ali.

A stellar collaboration that introduces an important and intriguing individual to today’s readers. (bibliography) (Biographical novel. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-49816-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: yesterday

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.

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CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND

An African-American youngster is happiest when he can play his harmonica with his bluesman grandfather until tragedy removes the music from his life.

Clayton Byrd idolizes his grandfather, a popular bluesman. But his mother disapproves of her father’s music and of Clayton’s joining Cool Papa Byrd and other bluesmen in the park. Clayton’s father tries to make a place in his life, but the things he likes to do cannot compare to the music. When Cool Papa Byrd dies suddenly, Clayton’s pain is almost unbearable, made worse when his mother gets rid of the records and instruments that Clayton expected would be his way of maintaining that special connection. School becomes as difficult as home, and counseling with the church pastor doesn’t help. Hoping to find a place with the remaining bluesmen, he meets up with a group of street boys making their way with beat music and dance. When he plays his harmonica and the crowd responds, the boys form an uneasy alliance that is threatened when the police intervene. Clayton’s love of his grandfather and his music is wonderfully drawn, as is his grief when he loses them. His mother’s unresolved issues with her own childhood inform the story appropriately for young readers. The conjunction of two African-American music genres, both born of struggle, is a colorful backdrop for this lively story.

Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-221591-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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