Fifth grade is, as the title indicates, a whole new ballgame for best friends Rip and Red.
Mason Irving is called Rip by everyone but his best friend, Blake Daniels, nicknamed Red. Rip is “the black kid with the hair who lives and breathes basketball.” Red is the kid on the autistic spectrum who can’t really play basketball, except that he’s a phenomenal free-throw shooter. The duo is part of a class at Reese Jones Elementary, where students are known by simplistic tags—the kid in the wheelchair, the kid who gets to wear a hat, “the kid who still drools.” Rip knows that’s how people see them, but he also knows “that’s not who we are,” and after a year with Mr. Acevedo, “the man with the piercings and tattoos,” the class transcends differences and labels and becomes a community of friends. Unlike many school stories for this age, Bildner’s is gentle, inspiring, and full of affection for children, born of his own years as a teacher. If the students are inspiring, so is Mr. Acevedo, who risks his job to do such radical things as reading aloud and encouraging free reading. (He’s supposed to be preparing the kids to take tests!) Probert’s cartoony illustrations lend energy and personality to the likable cast of characters.
A school story with heart. (Fiction. 8-12)