A boy finds the courage and confidence he needs to be a basketball champion in Barnett’s picture-book debut, featuring action-packed illustrations by veteran artist Root (Born and Bred in the Great Depression, 2011, etc.).
Sixth-grader Maxx is smaller than his teammates and never gets picked as a starter on the basketball team. Fellow player Oscar challenges him to help the team defeat the Barbarians, who’ve beaten them badly in the past. Maxx, despite his nerves, says he’ll be there to show what he can do. A fantastic two-page spread then shows Maxx walking through packed traffic as he makes a journey through New York City from his school to Harlem’s famous Rucker Park, where many basketball legends have played. There, some of the players—including Big Bounce, Johnny Magic, Slam Dunk Sally, Cloud Walker, Marvelous, and Bubblegum Bobby—take Maxx under their wings to teach him the tricks of the trade. It’s hard to determine if these players actually help Maxx improve his skills or if he just gets more confidence in his existing abilities by playing where the greats have played. Later, back at school, Maxx gets a chance to play in the fourth quarter against the Barbarians. He makes a no-look pass that almost results in success, but his teammate’s shot is no good and the Barbarians score. With only seconds left, “All of a sudden, Maxx’s shoes began to spark! / Smoke poured out of them. The hall went dark.” He then makes an incredible jump shot that decides the game. Root’s illustration style is realistic, and her images give the book a sense of action. They also depict a wonderfully diverse cast, featuring players of many races and both sexes. The rhyming text contains what may be unfamiliar vocabulary for some readers, particularly those who don’t play basketball (“Maxx proved clutch”). Basketball fans, though, will be right at home with the language and enjoy this story of a young boy striving to make a difference and succeeding.
A great read for sports aficionados at the upper-elementary reading level.