The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Moves Make the Man

The Moves Make the Man


Author: Bruce Brooks


Page Length: 252  


Reading Level: 8


Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jerome Foxworthy, an intelligent African American, spots Bix Rivers playing baseball one year prior to the composing of the story of Bix.  Bix catches his attention because Jerome has never seen anyone who has mastered the skill and art of baseball like Bix.

Jerome is the only black student attending the junior high school in his neighborhood.  Jerome’s first love is basketball and he goes to try-outs for the school team, but is not allowed to play because of his color. After Jerome’s mother is in an accident, Jerome decides to enroll in a home economics class so that he can cook for his brothers while his mother heals.  He discovers he is not the only male member of the class, Bix Rivers; the talented baseball player also belongs to the class.  The boys immediately bond and Jerome teaches Bix to play basketball in the evenings. 

As the boy’s relationship grows, Jerome learns that Bix cannot tolerate any form of lying, or “his definition” for lying. This intolerance for non-truths has caused significant repercussions in Bix’s life which Jerome tries to understand.

REVIEW: This is a well-written book that has great character development and descriptive writing.  The description of the game of basketball (p. 59), the reference of “white man’s disease” (p. 95), and Bix’s view of friendship (p.159) are examples of Brook’s excellent writing skills.  The bond of friendship between Bix and Jerome is one that young men can relate to, in that; males accept each other just as they are.  The boy’s both have family issues that are also common to the young teen-age male.  In addition, racial issues are a sub-plot that Jerome must deal with throughout the story. 

I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book because of the drama and conflict the characters encounter as they move through their first year of junior high   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Setting, Theme and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Learning the Game, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Hardball


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

What Athletes Are Made Of

What Athletes Are Made Of

Author and Illustrator: Hanoch Piven and Sarah Thompson

Page Length: 34

Reading Level: 5.1

Genre: Biography

Career Connection: Professional Athletes

SUMMARY & REVIEW: This book is for the sports lover written by a sports lover.

We learn that Muhammad Ali had a “big mouth”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coached high school on an Apache reservation, Babe Ruth had a huge appetite, Jesse Owens proved Hitler wrong, Tiger Woods considers himself a “Cablinasian”, David Beckham once wore pink nail polish to match his girlfriends, and Pele played with a soccer ball made of a sock stuffed with newspapers. These are just a few facts that packed into this creative book filled with 23 mini-biographies of athletes. Each biography is 5-10 sentences long.

The first page provides the reader an introduction to why athletes and sports games are enjoyable to watch and respected. The author begins each mini biography with the following line:

“Athletes are made of…”

At the end of each biography, the author provides the reader with a “Did You Know” fact relating to either the athlete or his/her sport.

At the end of the book, a “Post-Game Recap” with statistics and career highlights of all the athletes is featured.  

The following athletes are highlighted in this book: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, Joe DiMaggio, Jeff Gordon, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Diego Maradona, Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Jesse Owens, Pele, Babe Ruth, Michael Schumacher, Annika Sorenstam, Jim Thorpe, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

The sports represented in this book include basketball, tennis, boxing, cycling, soccer, baseball, racing, track and field, football, golf, pentathlon, and decathlon.

This is a very creative book. It not only provides the reader a clear and concise biography of each athlete, each individual is illustrated using traditional drawings as well as objects. For example, Tiger Woods’ eye brows are illustrated using “nails”. Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s legs are illustrated using “rulers”. Lance Armstrong’s mouth is illustrated using a “rubber band”.

The only criticism I have with this book is that the majority of the athletes students may not recognize. This book may not be engaging for students if left to read on their own. However, providing insight into unfamiliar athletes provides the teacher and student an opportunity for new learning. The addition of mini-biographies will help students engage with the book as compared to other lengthier biographies. Students will most likely recognize Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

Students with a passion for art will enjoy this book. This would be a great book to share with art teachers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: art, biography, compare/contrast


RELATED BOOKS: What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven, Xtreme Sports Fast Track by Joe Layden, Amazing But True Sports Stories by Hollander

ART CONNECTIONS: (art work website of the author)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

December 19, 2010

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt: Book Cover

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy


Author: Gary D. Schmidt


Page Length: 219


Reading Level: 5.5


Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story is set in 1912 in Phippsburg, Maine. Turner Buckminster and his parents have recently moved to the small coastal town from Boston, Massachusetts.  Turner’s father is the new town minister.  Turner is not accepted well by the townspeople, primarily for the way he plays baseball.  While out throwing rocks, Turner meets Lizzie Bright, an African American girl who lives on an island just across the bay.

While Turner befriends Lizzie, the townspeople decide that the residents of Malaga Island (Lizzie’s home) should be taken off the island so that the island can be transformed into a resort.  Meanwhile, the deacons of the church and Mrs. Cobb keep the minister informed of his son’s wrongdoings. Subsequently, Turner is forbidden to go to Malaga Island and sentenced to read and play the organ for Mrs. Cobb in the afternoons. This punishment turns into a chance for Mrs. Cobb and Turner to bond. Lizzie also joins the two as she comes to listen to Turner.

When Mrs. Cobb dies, she leaves her home to Turner. When Turner decides to move Lizzie and other residents of the island into the vacated home, Turner’s father supports his son (however much of the congregation turn on the minister).  An accident ensues and the minister is ousted from the church. As a result, Turner and his mother are forced to move into Mrs. Cobb’s vacant home. 

After the minister’s death, the town falls into terrible debt, and all too late the people of Phippsburg find that their racial prejudice and greediness left them with virtually nothing.

REVIEW: This book is based on actual events that occurred in Maine in the early 20th century.  The writing is very descriptive and many similes are used.  It would be an excellent novel to read in connection with the social issues of the time

The relationship that Turner experiences with the whales on pages 79-80 and 214-216 are chilling. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Similes, Descriptive Writing, Character, Theme, Setting, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Leon’s Story, Mississippi Morning

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: A Time to Kill (1996), Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko: Book Cover

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Page Length: 225

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connections: Electrician, Prison Warden, Prison Guard     

PLOT SUMMARY: Moose is not happy about the move his family has made to Alcatraz, the island that holds many famous prisoner’s hostage. His dad took the job as an electrician and prison guard, in the hopes that they would be able to place Moose’s older sister, Natalie, in a special school in San Francisco. Natalie displays signs of Autism, but in 1935 (the setting of the story) the disease had not been diagnosed. Moose is in the 7th grade and loves baseball and a good game of catch.  However, there are no boys his age on the island.

Because Moose is required to stay with Natalie every afternoon after school, he loses the one friendship he established with his schoolmate, Scout, in San Francisco.  He and Natalie form friendships with the younger children on the island and the warden’s daughter, Piper. While trying to stay out of trouble with the warden and trying to find a way to rekindle Scout’s friendship, Moose relentlessly looks for a way to keep Natalie happy and to find a convict’s baseball for Scout.

Meanwhile, his mother earnestly tries every possible avenue to ensure Natalie’s acceptance into the private school while his dad works and tries to keep the dysfunctional household in peace.

REVIEW: This is an excellent story based on historical facts about life on the island of Alcatraz in the depression years of the 1930’s.  Although the characters are fictional, they are based on authentic lives on the island during the time Al Capone was serving his sentence for tax evasion.  

The characters of the story are well-developed and the portrayal of Natalie’s symptoms of Autism is authentic.  Al Capone’s character is minimal, however, mystical in capturing the interest of the reader.  An author’s note and discussion questions and activities are included in the back of the book.

I would recommend the book for any teen or adult to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical Context, Character, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Mr. Capone, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, Children of Alcatraz: Growing up on the Rock


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Al Capone (1959)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Baseball in April and Other Stories


Baseball in April and Other Stories

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 111

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Gary Soto wrote a collection of eleven short stories told by young teen-age Latino kids living in California.  The stories reflect everyday happenings of young people and their feelings about friendship, love, success and failure.

REVIEW: Although the stories are about everyday happenings, they remind the reader to reflect on his own dreams and desires of both the past and the future.  The book was similar to the style written in The House on Mango Street but the stories were more appealing to both genders and more current to the lives of teens today.  The book would be excellent to use as a source for teaching writing.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing, Narrative Writing, Compare/Contrast, Theme, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: The House on Mango Street

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Crazy/Beautiful (2001) and Save the Last Dance (2001)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Maniac Magee

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Maniac Magee

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Page Length: 184

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Maniac Magee was not born with the name Maniac.  He earned it due to his many athletic antics that he performed in his neighborhood.  He was born Jeffrey Lionel Magee.  He was orphaned at a young age and moved in with his very mean aunt and uncle. After eight miserable years with his aunt and uncle, Maniac ran away.  He literally started running and didn’t stop for a very long time.

In search for a home with a real address, Maniac took up residence at the zoo, until he moved in with the Beale’s, an African American family on the east side of town.  This didn’t workout after awhile, so Maniac left the Beale’s and met Grayson.  Grayson was a former minor league baseball player; and, he and Maniac made a home together.  However, it didn’t last forever.

REVIEW: This is a great book to read as a class novel.  It has excellent character development and teaches about prejudice, love, and family. It is highlighted with tales of the all-American sport of baseball.  As Maniac Magee becomes a legend, he draws a racially prejudice town together, and he helps them learn to accept each other. Maniac makes me think of Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Setting, Sequence of Events, Point of View, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Crash, Max the Mighty

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pay It Forward (2000)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008

Haunting at Home Plate

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Haunting at Home Plate

Author: David Patneaude

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 4.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nelson lives for baseball. The team seems play-off bound when their coach is suspended and no one is available to coach the remaining players. Nelson convinces his cousin Mike to take on the team. As the team begins to come together, they realize strengths they never knew they had. The boys learn how to really hit and become contenders for the championship. Yet as they practice, strange things begin to happen. Messages are left in the home plate dirt with the initials A.K. Mike tells the team the stories of Andy Kirk –a kid who died when he fell from the tree behind home plate. Who is really leaving these mysterious messages? Is the ghost of Andy Kirk haunting the field?

REVIEW: Baseball fans will love this book. The pacing is excellent – the added “ghost” story angle is entertaining. History is intertwined with the entry from 1946 and the talk of boys having been off fighting in the war. The author addresses how much Nelson longs for his father’s interaction and attention; the author makes a point of dad getting a job at home so that he can be there for his family. This book would be good read for sons and fathers and even girls who have played or enjoy the game of baseball. There is another story within the book of Gannon and his verbally abusive (trying to live his dreams through his son) father. The reader feels Gannon’s humiliation and pain at his father’s public displays and his struggles to please someone who will never consider his efforts enough.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict, foreshadowing, elements of plot, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Gannon’s excessive verbally abusive, angry father

RELATED BOOKS: Thin Wood Walls, Colder Than Ice, Deadly Drive, Framed in Fire, The Last Man’s Reward, A Piece of the Sky


RELATED MOVIES: “Angels in the Outfield,” “The Sandlot,” “A League of Their Own”



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

Jackie’s Nine

Jackie’s Nine

Author: Sharon Robinson

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: Sharon Robinson wrote the book Jackie’s Nine as a tribute to her dad, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American professional baseball player.  The book is written in nine chapters, each giving tribute to one of the values Jackie Robinson lived by.  Each chapter includes a story from Jackie’s life, and one from Sharon’s life to describe the particular principle. Sharon, also, includes at least one selection about one of her personal heroes who has touched her life in someway.

The values shared begin with courage and end with excellence.  Those values helping to reach that end objective of excellence are:  determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, and commitment.  Some of the celebrities who Sharon shares stories about are Christopher Reeve, Pee Wee Reese, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan,  Roberto Clemente, Muhammad Ali, and Oprah Winfrey.

REVIEW: Sharon Robinson has followed in the footsteps of her dad, mother and brother who have all been inspirations of life to the people of the United States.  Sharon experienced her own particular hardships before she reached the age of 23, losing her brother in a car wreck and her dad just a year later, to a massive heart attack.

She shares how she took control of her life getting her nursing degree, later retiring and joining the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball as Director of Education Programming.  She launched Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life, an educational program using baseball-themed activities as teaching tools around the country.  Breaking Barriers is based on the nine values presented in this book. 

This is a very inspirational and motivational book for young teens to read. The selections are brief but informative.  Authentic pictures of Jackie, Sharon and the celebrities are featured which bring the stories more to life.  This book would serve as a good “teacher read aloud” or the selections could be read individually and used as writing prompts.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Writing prompts, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Promises to Keep, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:The Jackie Robinson Story”, “Brain Pops: A Social Studies Movie about Jackie Robinson”, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 23, 2008

Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

Author: Sharon Robinson          

Page Length: 64

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY:  Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, writes a narrative biography of her father’s life.  She begins with a brief history of the beginning of America and how it was a black and white world. 

She goes on to tell of how the view of the people of the United States changed over the next 200 years towards African Americans.  She includes in the text, the changes her dad experienced during his life as the first African American to play major league baseball. She tells of the struggles he went through to break the “ Jim Crow Barrier”. Also, she includes descriptions of her parent’s relationship, their family life, and life after Jackie’s career as a baseball player.

She tells of the fight for equal rights that her father was very active in during the l960’s and how he promised to help change life for the African American people of the United States.

REVIEW: This is the third and best biography I have read about Jackie Robinson.  I enjoyed the narrative form of writing that Sharon Robinson used.  Also, included, were excellent photographs, which chronicled Jackie’s life and events that have occurred after his death which celebrate the great man he was.

I think this is an excellent book for boys and girls who like baseball to read.  Also, it is a good book for those who are interested in the Civil Rights movement to read because Jackie Robinson was an advocate for Civil Rights in his years after baseball.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Character, Compare/Contrast, and Cause and Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, Jackie’s Nine

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Jackie Robinson Story, Brain Pops: A Social Studies Movie about Jackie Robinson, Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 12, 2008

Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

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Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

Author: Peter Golenbock

Illustrator:  Paul Lee         

Page Length: 32

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY:  Hank Aaron was born on February 5, 1934 to two loving parents.  His father had visions for him to play baseball, his mother wanted him to make a difference in the world.  The story is about Hank’s childhood, is beginning in league baseball, and his professional career.

REVIEW:  This is a short, easy to read, nicely illustrated book of Hank Aaron’s life.  I enjoyed it because it presented a different side of an African American family in the early 1900’s.  Although poor, Hank was able to get an education, have hope and pursue dreams.  He did experience some racial ridicule as broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, but his praise and support from the rest of the world completely outweighed the bad.

This is a good book for the reluctant reader who enjoys sports because it is short.  However, there is enough information where a concise report could be written about Hank Aaron’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: Jackie’s Nine, Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, When Willard Met Babe Ruth


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 11, 2008

The Boy Who Saved Baseball

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The Boy Who Saved Baseball

Author: John H. Ritter      

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Twelve-year-old Tom Gallagher is trying to save the old Lucky Strike Park in Dillontown from developers who want to build new houses and shopping centers.  The land and the park are both owned by Doc Altenheimer, Tom’s friendly old neighbor.

At a town meeting, Doc announces that he had planned on selling the land, which would bring him an income of $6 million dollars, but after speaking with Tom, had decided to let a baseball game decide the outcome.  The game is to be with the local Dillontown team and the new summer camp team. 

Tom and his parents start the town baseball camp the next morning with nine players—six boys and three girls.  The surprise player is Cruz de la Cruz, who rides in on his pony from the mountains.  He tells the group he is on a mission from God.  From that point on, Cruz becomes the leader of the team.  He convinces Tom to go with him to visit Dante del Gato, an old professional baseball player who led the San Diego Padres to the 1980 World Series, then quit baseball and became a recluse in the mountains outside Dillontown.

Dante agrees to help coach the team and practice begins!  Many of the townspeople back the team and Tom learns some history that happened between Dante and his mom years ago.

REVIEW:  This is a great book for baseball or any sport lover to read. The characters are carefully developed so that the reader can easily visualize each of them.  The story is fast-paced with an old baseball legend, a boy on a pony who carries a laptop, some physics and lots of baseball action.

Dante gives a great definition of anticipation on page 92 and tells why he quit baseball on page 116.  For all baseball fans, it is another story about “the love of the game.”

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause and Effect, Compare and Contrast, Plot, Characters, Setting, Sequence of Events, Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Choosing Up Sides, Over the Wall, Under the Baseball Moon

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  “For the Love of the Game” (1999), “Field of Dreams” (1989), “The Sandlot” (1993), “The Natural” (1984)

RELATED WEBSITES: 6-8 Boy who saved baseball.pdf  

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 6, 2008

Blue Eyes Better

Blue Eyes Better

Author: Ruth Wallace-Brodeur

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The Drummond family has suffered a terrible loss. Scott is dead. Tessa and her family will never be the same. Tessa’s tormented by her brother’s death. She feels responsible and she can’t face telling anyone why. Her mother withdraws and cries constantly; she doesn’t seem to care or even notice Tessa anymore. Mom and Scott were always so much alike. Tessa really feels that having blue eyes like Mom’s would have been better. Tessa struggles to go on without her brother and without her mother’s support. Can the Drummond family overcome their grief and move on together, or will Scott’s death be too much for them to bear?

REVIEW: This was a stirring, emotional story. The reader experiences Tessa’s loss and her longing for her mother to notice her. The book really lets the reader feel what it would be like to lose a brother, feel guilty for not saving him, and to have a parent shut themselves away when you needed them most. I would recommend this as a read for anyone who has ever lost a family member – especially a sibling (although the book will appeal more to girls).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, point of view, characters, author’s purpose, generalizations, mood, tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: dealing with death, guilt, and depression

RELATED BOOKS: Home by Five, The Godmother Tree, Stories from the Big Chair, Callie’s Way, One April Vacation, Olive’s Ocean


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor



Author: Will Weaver

Page Length: 240

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s 1971 and Billy Baggs is a star pitcher for the farm team. Billy and the farm team are arch rivals against Archer “King” Kenwood and the city team. Both boys have more in common than they realize: a longing for the same girl, controlling fathers, demanding home lives, and a love of baseball. High school baseball is approaching and the coach needs both the boys as future teammates. When the last farm vs. city game of the season erupts in violence, the coach hatches a plan. The boys will have to spend time living each other’s lives. Will King and Billy be able to get along long enough to survive their time together? Can they overcome their differences and come together in time to make the team?

REVIEW: I really enjoyed reading this book! I loved the lessons Weaver teaches about tolerance for one another, how things aren’t always as they seem, being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and more. This book provides many teachable moments worth discussion. Worth the read – but probably better appreciated by students who have lived in both rural and urban settings or who at least understand the differences between the two. I think that many students will be able to identify with Billy, King, and even Suzy.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, compare/contrast, cause and effect, summarization, theme, setting, plot, conflict, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild sexual encounter, mild language: pg. 85 “Gina floated on her stomach … as naked as a jaybird,” pg. 87 “keep showing off your titties,” violence (fighting)

RELATED BOOKS: Striking Out, Farm Team, Saturday Night Dirt: A Motor Novel, Full Service, Red Earth, White Earth


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 7, 2008

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Author: Phyllis and Zander Hollander

Page Length: 140

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Nonfiction

REVIEW: 87 true stories about the accomplishments and lives of athletes are contained in this book. Some of the stories are unbelievable, yet very real. The majority of the stories are about baseball players and managers (about 20%), however sports such as football, basketball, and hockey are also highlighted. Each story is a ½ page to 2 pages in length that makes this book enticing to those with a short attention span. Black and white photographs accompany some of the stories. Some of the passages cover teams that have played in Texas.

Here are some highlights: the longest baseball game in history lasted 33 innings over the course of 8 ½ hours (pages 14-16). A baseball game was once called off due to grasshoppers (page 28). The highest scoring baseball game racked up 45 runs (page 45). Tom Dempsey was a successful NFL player given that he only has half of a right foot and a stub for his right hand (page 57). An inspirational football coach in Kansas coached from the confines of his wheelchair (page 65). Wilt Chamberlain, famous basketball player, once scored 100 points in a single game (page 91). 

Other stories in the book include a batboy that was ejected from a game, a baseball player with only one arm, a referee with only one eye, and a golfer who made 3 holes in one in less than 30 minutes!

Many of the stories are about one-time accomplishments or “miracles”, while other stories describe extraordinary individuals who overcome diverse odds. I would recommend this book to any sport lover.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjective usage, technical vocabulary (related to sports)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mention of an “adult magazine” (page 124)

RELATED BOOKS: And Nobody Got Hurt 2!, Baseball in April and Other Stories, National Football League: Behind the Scenes

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Miracle on Ice” (1981), “The Stratton Story” (1949), “Hoosiers” (1986)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

June 23, 2008

Black Diamond

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Black Diamond

Author: P. McKissack & F. McKissack

Page Length: 184

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: This is an interesting story about the origin of the Negro Baseball Leagues. There are few accurate historical records to give a clear picture of creation of this league. However the authors have attempted to assemble several sources together in order that the reader may have a glimpse of how the “American Sport” of baseball segregated it’s African American players from white players during the turbulent time of the Civil War and slavery.

Slave owners did not favor their slaves participating in baseball because it was not as profitable as other sports such as boxing and wrestling. However, as time went by, African-Americans who desired to play baseball found ways to participate as their own teams.

The white players in baseball were more concerned about “skin color” than the managers and owners of the teams. However, because the number of players exceeded that of management, segregation remained strong in the early days of the sport. There were some African-Americans who gained access to the “white” baseball teams by passing off as Cubans. Cubans were allowed to play with whites. Elements of segregation, discrimination, and contradictions flow throughout this book in an attempt to show the true environment in which African-Americans lived and played.

Ironically, once the Great Depression occurred and many white men left the country to fight in the World War, blacks were able to “slide in” and play vacated baseball positions in which they normally were banned.

In the Negro Base Leagues, the players participated in multiple positions on the field. Balls were caught bare-handed. They also did not have access to the resources and money that their “white teams” had. However, the Negro Leagues played not for fame or fortune, but for the love of the game. In their travels across the country, they were able to spread a sense of feeling that equality could be achieved through a common bond called sport.

In 1945, Jackie Robinson signed a contract to be the first African-American to play for a major league baseball team. He would later move on to become the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. What is ironic about Jackie Robinson is that he had been participating in sports alongside whites before he came to major league baseball because college sports and the Olympics were integrated before Major League Baseball.

This book includes great photographs, captions, player profiles, timelines, and a bibliography for further reference.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: compare/contrast (page 98), Logical Arguments (Chapter 11), Hero Theme (Chapter 11), vocabulary (pirating, RBI, barnstorm – pg 26)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: derogatory words (pages 18, 20, 139), elements of racial prejudice and beatings

RELATED BOOKS: When Willard Met Babe Ruth, Jackie’s Nine, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), “Negro Baseball Leagues” (1946)

RELATED WEBSITES: (vocabulary & biographies) (extension on book to include women) (resource to use with the movie “The Jackie Robinson Story”) (activities, glossary, timelines)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 8, 2008

Stealing Home The Story of Jackie Robinson

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Stealing Home The Story of Jackie Robinson

Author: Barry Denenberg

Page Length: 116

Reading Level: 5


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, is a story not only of a great athlete, but of a great African American.  His career began in 1947, as the first black professional baseball player; and, with it, he launched a movement for equality in the “very public eye” of America.  Denenberg tells the story of Jackie’s life with man facts, details, and records which would interest the avid baseball fan.  However, he also shares the struggles Jackie endures as an African American in the early decades of the 20th century.


Jackie Robinson came from a large athletic family raised by a mother with dreams for a better life for her children than she had lived. I was surprised to learn that Jackie attended UCLA and was the first four-letter athlete.  With this history, it was hard to believe the discrimination that was shown to him as he tried to enter Major League baseball.


Jackie served in the army during World War II where he felt the first major impact of the way the country, as a whole, viewed whites and blacks.  He was wanted by the white soldiers to play on their football team but was not allowed to sit next to them in the dining hall.  Jackie tired of this treatment quickly and Denenberg writes a quote from Jackie (p. 29) which got him transferred to Camp Hood, Texas.


After serving his time for his country, Jackie was recruited by Branch Rickey and became the first black player of Major League baseball.  It was an exciting but scary time for Jackie and his family.  It didn’t take Jackie long to break batting records and home-run records but it did take awhile to break the racial barriers.


The barriers were broken, however and with Jackie’s rise to fame he was considered a baseball hero who had the courage and humility to confront racism for black people, both on and off the field.


I enjoyed reading this book because of the vulnerable humanitarian way Denenberg presents Jackie Robinson.  The story is not only of Jackie Robinson but of the perils African Americans suffered prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  This would be a good book for baseball lovers and a good novel to read in the study of the Civil Rights movement.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

March 10, 2008

Joey Pigza Loses Control

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Joey Pigza Loses Control

Author: Jack Gantos

Page Length: 196

Reading Level: 6


PLOT SUMMARY: Joey Pigza is an eleven year old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He reveals to the reader some of his exploits that occur whenever he has that crazy feeling inside. Joey currently lives with his mom and his Chihuahua, Pablo. Joey’s mother understands his problems and has taken Joey to the doctor; his medicine helps keep him in control and deters him for acting impulsively.


Mom takes Joey to visit with his father for the summer. Dad has supposedly cleaned up his act and is looking forward to making up for lost time. Joey arrives to dad and grandma. Grandma smokes like crazy in between being hooked up to her oxygen tank and being seized by coughing fits. Dad is well intended but often off track. Joey tells dad that he never gets a chance to talk too. As the story progresses, we see that dad is likely ADHD just like Joey. He self-medicates with cigarettes and alcohol (all things he is not supposed to be doing anymore). Joey and his father bond when Joey becomes the pitcher on his dad’s baseball team. They enjoy each other’s company, but there are many hurdles to overcome in their relationship.


One night dad drinks too heavily and determines that neither he nor Joey need their patches anymore. He crumples Joey’s patches and disposes of them. Joey begins to feel himself slipping out of control again; despite the fact that he really would like to be a normal kid, Joey can’t control his responses. Things heat up when Joey tries to protect dad and lies to mom about what’s going on at dad’s house. Joey’s guilt begins to consume him. Dad begins to pressure Joey to stay with him permanently. As everything around him begins to spiral out of control, Joey heads to his safe haven. Who will save Joey? Will dad ever realize that he needs help? Will Joey be forced to choose sides?


REVIEW: What was fascinating about this book was that you almost have to be ADHD to appreciate it. On the other hand, it was a fascinating look at what it might really be like to be ADHD. Gantos’s descriptions of the uncontrollable chaos in Joey’s mind and his outrageous actions really create sensitivity within the reader to the fact that Joey can’t help. The reader empathizes with Joey’s desire to be normal, but the same time, the reader realizes that just can’t happen without his medication.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would definitely appeal more to boys. The episode Joey experiences on pages 140-142 might be a great read aloud and discussion of what it would be like to have ADHD and how it would affect your social and academic life (a great written response activity). Analyzing Joey at the beginning, middle, and end of the story would be a great activity (a bubble flow map). Overall, this book was an easy read. I’d even recommend it for teachers who work with ADHD students. 




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


February 28, 2008

No Problem

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No Problem

Author: Dayle Campbell Gaetz

Page Length: 87

Reading Level: 2.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Curt is a high school student facing the pressures of academics, work, girls, friendship, and his parents. Curt is a talented baseball pitcher; his father dreams of Curt making it to the big leagues. Having almost made it to the major leagues himself, Curt’s dad puts pressure on him to achieve perfection and dedicate himself completely to the sport. Curt tires of the constant criticism and pressure. His coach notices him tending his arm and offers a bottle of muscle relaxers to take only when he really needs them. Curt’s world begins a downward spiral. Under extreme pressure, he begins to take the pills to sleep or relax. While working his part-time job, he meets and becomes enamored with Leah, a girl who is herself struggling with an issue (an alcoholic father). He falls for Leah but finds himself pursued relentlessly by Rachel, an older, flirtatious girl. Rachel offers Curt a ride home and before he knows it, he has taken his first hit of cocaine. As Curt’s addiction grows, his world falls apart. Coach takes him out the game and he storms off the field. He alienates his parents and his friends. Leah finds about his time with Rachel and his drug habit. Mom and dad are suspicious. A confrontation is coming. A choice has to be made. Will Curt come clean about his drug habits and seek help or will his life spin further out of control?


REVIEW: This story follows the traditional ORCA book format. The sentences are simple, the chapters short, and the subject level is high interest. As a reader, I dislike how briefly such important and vast subjects are touched upon and dismissed.  Even though some students are lower level readers, they can appreciate the depth and emotional dimensions of the issues presented in these books. I wish that they delved a little deeper and really examined the causes and effects of such issues.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: These books would work well for independent reading. In addition, teachers could have students analyze the causes and effects of Curt’s drug use and addiction. Students will likely be able to relate to many of the issues addressed in these novels. 




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


February 17, 2008

When Willard Met Babe Ruth

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When Willard Met Babe Ruth

Author: Donald Hall

Illustrator: Barry Moser

Page Length: 42

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Mix of Fiction / Non-fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: This book reminds me of the times I would tag along with my father to baseball games trying to get players to autograph my baseballs. It was not my favorite thing to do, but I did walk away with a lot of memorable experiences.


It’s hard to tell whether or not this picture book is based on real-life experiences or is purely fictional. The time period begins at 1917. The main character in this story is a 12 year old boy named Willard Babson. He spends his days helping his dad on a farm in rural New Hampshire and playing baseball during his free-time. One day a car slides into a ditch near Willard’s home. The “roadster” contains a man and a woman. Willard and his father recognize the man as Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox. Before Babe Ruth leaves Willard, after his car is rescued from the ditch, he hands the boy his own glove. Willard never forgets this. 


Part of the story is set during The Great Depression. And at a time when money is scarce, going to a baseball game is seen as a special occasion. Knowing that Willard loves baseball, his father and mother agree to take some money out of a “special jar” to pay for the cost. Willard and his father travel to Fenway Park to watch a “double-header” between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Browns. Between the two games, Willard and his father watch Babe Ruth warm-up. It is at this time that Babe Ruth recognizes Willard as the kid from New Hampshire. Willard reminds Babe that he gave him his glove. At that, Babe gives Willard a ball.


Excited from his venture out to Fenway Park, we see a poem from Willard on page 18, that captures his excitement. His poem is printed in the local paper, and Willard wins an award for his work. As time passes in the story, we see events in Willard’s life that are paralleled by events that are occurring in Babe Ruth’s life. Two lives of vast difference except for the love of baseball.


Elements of history are contained in this book as Willard grows older. Elections occur, wars cease, marriages happen, babies are born, and World Series are won/lost. As a man, Willard ends up working for the Transcript writing stories for the sports section. Willard and his wife conceive a daughter in which they name Ruthie (after Babe Ruth). One birthday, they surprise Ruthie with 3 tickets to Opening Day at the Braves Field. Ruthie’s trip to Boston for the first time, reminds Willard of his trip to see Babe Ruth. As Willard and Ruthie arrive at the stadium they are able to see the great ball player. Babe Ruth is surprised to see Willard after so long. He writes “Happy Birthday from Ruth to Ruth” on Ruthie’s scorecard. He also says that if he hits a ball today, it will be for her birthday.


REVIEW: This book is a simple story about the love of baseball, the admiration of a great player, and the beauty of life that many times finds itself making a “full-circle”. The story ends essentially where it began. The last page is a brief biography of Babe Ruth, the real-life ball player that is considered to be, by many, the greatest.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context (baseball beginnings, Great Depression), Poetry, Sequence of Events




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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