Posts tagged ‘Sports’

Spinning

Spinning.jpgTitle: Spinning
Author/Illustrator: Tillie Walden
ISBN: 9781626729407
Pages: 395 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.

In New Jersey, the discipline and tension of practice had terrified me. But I found myself missing it. The screaming, the crying, the exhaustion. It seemed so far away now. I had hoped that the simple familiarity of synchro would make me feel comfortable here. But even that didn’t work out as planned. I quickly found out that skating here operated on an entirely different system than the one back in New Jersey. Formations had different names, levels and titles changed, even judging was different. The one part of my life that I thought I understood was plunged into confusion with everything else. (57-58)

Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir recalls her years of competitive figure skating. Starting when she was five, the sport had been her only focus, monopolizing her time outside of school and dictating who she was close with during her childhood. While we don’t see many details about her early years, we get the impression that they were joyful. When she finished fifth grade her family moves from New Jersey to Texas. After that move, her parents were less involved in the sport then she was, often making her feel alone. “Skating changed when I came to Texas. It wasn’t strict or beautiful or energizing anymore. Now it just felt dull and exhausting. I couldn’t understand why I should keep skating after it lost all its shine.” (139) She relied on the small acts of friendship and camaraderie in her teammates, and even found forbidden romance. But when that abruptly ended and her art pursuits bring the joy and feelings of accomplishments that she was no longer feeling with ice skating, she quit without looking back before starting her senior year of high school.

It’s a story of trying to find your place in the world. Tillie is struggling throughout the novel with her identity of an ice skater being the only way she and others see herself. Latching on in turn to her first girlfriend, her coaches, and fellow skaters, she’s looking for the support and attention that skating previously provided her before moving. The slow unspooling of the years of early practices, taxing competitions, and disconnectedness with her fellow skaters begin to take their toll, and readers can empathize in those feelings that something has got to give. “I was starting to realize that skating wasn’t what it seemed. I always thought of it as simply a sport. But with that sport came a lifestyle. And it wasn’t optional.” (262) Once she finds an alternative for this lifestyle in art, she is allowed to find a passion that ice skating had been lacking. Bright patches of yellow emphasize light sources and break up an otherwise monochromatic color scheme, with focus on faces except in cases where wide lens landscapes mimic the reflective internal narration and the emptiness that Tillie is feeling.

But by the time I finished the story, I found myself in the same position as Tillie. Why did I continue? While yes there is the revelation at the end that she finally builds enough courage to quit a sport, it’s quickly over and is hardly the climatic finish were were hoping for. “How easy it was. I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t done this sooner. But I didn’t have an answer. Even now, I’m still not sure. [… After the last lesson] I cried whole way home with my eyes wide open.” (362-370) After the monotony of skating, I would have liked to see her evolution post-skating, especially the development of her artistic aspirations. While I connected with her feelings of loneliness, it was difficult to connect with her when skating was such a major part of her little character development. Traumatic events are alluded to but never elaborated, and I feel like she is still holding herself back from connecting with readers. A contemplative collection of nostalgic considerations, possibly best suited for when you are facing your own moody state of stagnation.

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Meditate With Me

Meditate with Me.jpgTitle: Meditate With Me: A Step-By-Step Mindfulness Journey
Author: Mariam Gates
Illustrator: Margarita Surnaite
ISBN: 9780399186615
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

 

Imagine a jar full of water and glitter in any colors you choose. […]
Your mind is like that glass jar, with shiny thoughts and feelings zooming this way and that.
But you can use your breath and body to set that busy mind down flat.
Gently, just like that. Swish!

With little introduction, the book leads children through a short meditation. Five animals (a rabbit and elephant who are clothed as females, a cat and bear shown as male, and a pig of indeterminate gender) act out the instructions presented. The narrative is uneven, sometimes in labored rhymes (“Now notice your breath, / in and out through your nose / Is the air cool? Is it warm? / Can you feel in your body where it goes?”), other times in straight prose. The drawings are bright, colorful, engaging, and uncluttered, although reading it while the text encourages students to close their eyes might prove counterproductive. The jar of glitter imagery and the encouragement to be still and quiet in order to listen and identify how you feel and what you hear is well suited for the age, but hardly groundbreaking as they are common in the practice. A summarizing “Four Easy Steps to Meditate with Me” neglects any mention of emotional awareness, which the book spends several pages exploring “What does happy feel like in your body? Make a happy face.” Possibly read through, have a discussion, and then adults could use only the words to guide students through their own efforts. A well-meaning introduction to the idea of meditation, but children might need prompting to picking-up the picture book and the practice.

Ghost

Ghost.jpgTitle: Ghost
Series: Track #1
Author: Jason Reynolds
ISBN: 9781481450157
Pages: 181 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.

So on and on it went, the whistle blowing, one by one, boys and girls on the line, sprinting down the straightaway. Each of their times being recorded. Some were faster than others. Actually, most of the vets were pretty fast, but nobody was faster than the pretty boy, Lu. Nobody. And the coach kept saying stuff like, “Lu’s still the one to beat,” which was kinda pissing me off because . . . I don’t know. It just made me think about this kid Brandon at school, who always . . . ALWAYS picked on me. Not even just me, though. He picked on a lot of people, and didn’t nobody ever do nothing about it. They just said stupid stuff like, Can’t nobody beat him. Same kind of rah-rah this bowling-ball-head coach was kicking about this kid, Lu. It’s just . . . ugh. I mean, he was fast, but honestly, he wasn’t that fast. […] (15)

After challenging and holding his own against the fastest kid on the track team, Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw finds himself being recruited to that same team by Coach Brody. Ghost however isn’t used to running for anyone but himself. Training is difficult without the proper shoes, and his natural speed doesn’t always hold up against the training that the other athletes have received. If he keeps getting in trouble at school, he’s going to find himself off the team that he never dreamed he wanted to be a part of, much less stay on.

What I liked most about this story was that it featured an African-American but the plot didn’t revolve around the fact that Ghost was African-American. It wasn’t a civil rights or slavery or gang story. It’s also an appreciated change of pace that we see a sports story that doesn’t revolve around basketball or football or even baseball, but a sport that doesn’t always get its due recognition. While yes, Ghost’s family is not perfect and he’s suffered some things that most families don’t have to face, it was primarily background and the main focus was on Ghost and the track team. His teammates suffer from a variety of issues in their home life, which are easily shared with the group during an intimate gathering, even though they are supposedly secrets that they keep hidden from everyone. Couch becomes a role model and big influence in his life with surprisingly little effort. For someone who never has played or even considered playing a team sport, Ghost also quickly acclimates to the idea of regular practices and following directions and decisions made by this guy he just met. While I can’t speak for the realism of the track meet scenes, I’m glad the focus was on the track practices and events directly related to Ghost’s membership on the team, instead of slowing the pace of the story with extraneous scenes in school or at home. I expected more attitude from Ghost, especially after we see how he and Couch are introduced. But that bravado falls away and never resurfaces to the levels we witnessed initially, which is slightly disappointing that we can’t see a person of color maintain his attitude and assured nature and still succeed. Supposedly the first book in a series, I wonder if future titles are going to focus on Ghost, his other teammates, or some so far unmet character. Overall, an engaging read if you’re willing to overlook the ease with which the characters come together.

Roller Girl

Roller GirlTitle: Roller Girl
Author/Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
ISBN: 9780803740167
Pages: 240 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, c2015.

“By the way, did you see this in the program? There’s a junior roller derby camp, starting this summer.”
“What?! Let me see! Please!”
“It starts next month, right after school lets out.”
And just like that, my fate was decided. I was going to be a roller girl. (24-25)

Astrid’s mother periodically takes twelve-year-old Astrid and her friend Nicole to events for “evening of cultural enlightenment”. Usually they consist of concerts or museums, but this time around it’s a roller derby match. Astrid is hooked from the very beginning, even though she doesn’t own skates and doesn’t know how, and is eager to sign up for the upcoming junior roller derby camp. Nicole though, has not caught the bug, and Astrid worries about attending without her only friend. When she gets there, Astrid realizes that while it may look like fun, it’s also a lot of work, and she’s worried that while she might look like a roller girl with newly dyed hair, is she really ready to compete?

Fans of Raina Telgemeier will celebrate that there is another bold, brightly colored, friendship based, girl centered graphic novel for them to find and check out. Astrid is just a tiny bit clueless when it comes to her good friend Nicole and will just not accept that the two could have such drastically different interests. Her acts of rebelliousness — like dying her hair and lying to her mother — are realistic. This non-traditional sport has been gaining popularity and cultural presence, I think ever since the Drew Barrymore movie came out. Author/artist Jamieson is a competitor in real life, and takes the time to explain the game to readers in a way that allows them to learn along with Astrid. I loved that her single-parent family was presented in such a way that I didn’t even notice until the end that her father isn’t mentioned once. We don’t know what happened, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not central to the plot and Astrid has a loving, involved, and supportive parent who acts like a parent. Highly recommended.

H.O.R.S.E. A Great Game of Basketball and Imagination

H.O.R.S.E.Title: H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination
Author/Illustrator: Christopher Myers
Narrators: Dion Graham and Christopher Myers
Music: Mario Rodriguez
ISBN: 9781606842188 (w/ CD)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher: Live Oak Media, c2014 (audio) Egmont USA, c2012 (hardcover)
Awards: Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book (2013), Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production Winner (2015),

One day at the basketball court…
Hey, want to play a game of horse?

With those few words, a game that’s as much imagination as it is trash talking and skill, two boys start a game of H.O.R.S.E. The objective is to make a basket using a basketball in the most creative way you can that will prevent your opponent from making the same shot. With flights of fancy involving hands, feet, tongues, skyscrapers and space shuttles, the big question is, who’s the winner?

Although it’s questionable that a single shot is thrown, that’s not the point. The point is this book is pure smack talk. The most quotable line exchange: “Didn’t know I could go left, did you?” “You’re probably a specialist in left … left back, left behind, left out.” The sound effects — such as bouncing balls, scraping chalk on a blackboard, or traversing the stars — are well-connected with the dialogue, and a sound track gives an upbeat, city vibe to the whole production. I’m so glad that there are two narrators, leading an authenticity to the listening experience that starts from the title and continues through the author’s note read by the author. The two narrators even argue over what the page turn signal is going to be! The illustrations keep the focus on the game and the boys, with minimal background details interfering. The dialogue is printed in two different colors, making it easy to distinguish between the speakers. It reminds me of Andy Griffiths “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” short story from Guys Write for Guys Read, the original Guys Reads book edited by Jon Scieszka, and you could probably pair the two for a smack talk themed read-aloud session.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. […]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Brothers at Bat

Today’s suggested theme for Picture Book Month is heroes. Well apparently last week’s post on the creator of Batman was one week too early (hehe). However, yesterday’s theme was friendship, and these guys featured in this true story definitely showcase the meaning of friendship, playing baseball together as friends and brothers for years.

Title: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
Author: Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
ISBN: 9780547385570
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

I have a hard time imagining what life would have been like for this unique family. The Acerra family had sixteen children, and all twelve boys played baseball. If they grew up in today’s world, they would be featured in a reality television show. Instead, they lived their life and played baseball as a family, and stayed together throughout it all. Eventually, the whole family/team was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame!

While we don’t get a lot of factual or enumerated statistics, what do we get is a nice story that emphasizes the family. It’s written in a tone that mimics the oral tradition quality, making readers feel as if they are sitting around a dinner table hearing the stories from someone who was there, either growing up with the family or watching from the sidelines. That feeling probably comes from the fact that the author sat down to dinner with two of the surviving brothers to talk about their past. There’s a real connection made, and I know I was relieved to find out that all six brothers who went of to fight in World War II made it home alive. Vernick brings that emotion home by saying “Mama Acerra cried each time a boy walked in that door.” The artwork lends itself to that old-time feel as well. You can get a really good glimpse inside Steven Salerno’s thought process by checking out his blog, where almost exactly a year ago he gave us a glimpse at this book pre-publication.

As the snow flurries start falling and families start gathering for the holidays, you might want to take this book home and spark discussion of what family life was like for previous generations. Or maybe just use it to remind yourself that winter only lasts so long, and eventually thoughts will turn again to spring and baseball.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Perogyo over at Perogies and Gyoza.

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