A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass.

STEALING THE GAME

From the Streetball Crew series , Vol. 2

Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld (Sasquatch in the Paint, 2013) team up for another exploration of the intersection of sports and life conduct.

Chris is a good, quiet kid who likes to keep his head down. As he says, “I was friendly to everyone but friends with no one.” Still, if the machinery of thought made much noise, Chris would be a one-man band. For a 13-year-old, he does considerable shrewd, high-ground thinking, as do his friends (“You know,” one says, “not talking about things doesn’t actually make them disappear”). Where it really shows itself is on the basketball court, where he plays a savvy, court-wise game. Enter his brother, Jax, a golden boy who appears to have fallen from the pedestal upon which his well-intentioned parents have placed him, and Chris’ still waters are about to feel a hefty stone break their surface. Add his classmate Brooke, a sharp girl with plenty of her own baggage, and a waterspout is in the making. The authors’ light hand allows readers to inhabit the characters; to taste the value of respect, dignity and vulnerability; and to embrace the elemental joy of sports—all without ever feeling like they are being tube fed. The shifting structure of the story and a clever series of blind alleys keep readers on tenterhooks.

A deft, understated sports thriller with a solid moral compass. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7871-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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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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