Picture Books About Sports for People Who Don’t Like Sports
I have to admit that I am not an avid sports fan. Luckily, there are many well-written books about sports that I still find interesting because of their intriguing characters or plot points. Since the summer reading theme for this year is “Go for the Gold” and the summer Olympics are only a couple of months away, here is a timely list of 10 picture books that are good picks for sports lovers and non-lovers alike.
Fall Ball by Peter McCarty
Fall is a season synonymous with back-to-school, falling leaves, and…football! McCarty’s adorably simple book about a group of kids who play football with Sparky the dog in the park after school on an autumn day will bring back memories, even if you were more likely to be the kind of kid who read inside instead. This is a great late summer read to evoke the forthcoming cool weather when it is still blazing hot outside, as the swirly illustrations and muted colors can’t help but make the reader yearn for fall (and football season.)
Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan
Salt in His Shoes is a book about a young Michael Jordan, written by his mother and sister. It is a sweet tale of growing up; in Michael’s case, “up” has a very literal meaning. Young Michael Jordan likes to play basketball in the park with his older brothers and bemoans the fact that he is shorter than the other boys. When he asks his mom, “how can I grow taller?” she tells him to put salt in his shoes and pray every night. After many years of patience and hard work, Michael grows up to be a 6’6” basketball superstar. This book is a great reminder for children that even Michael Jordan was once small.
Mia Hamm: Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm
In this autobiographical picture book, Mia writes about her experiences as a young girl on her soccer team. One day, when young Mia is unable to score a goal after many tries, she announces she is quitting because she would rather quit than lose. She quickly realizes that she misses playing soccer and that her love of the game is more important than winning. This is a great book to read to children, regardless if they play sports or not, to teach them that loving to do something is more important than succeeding at it—even if you happen to be the best female soccer player of all time.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss
Marissa Moss is best-known for her Amelia’s Notebook series, but her biography of the female pitcher Jackie Mitchell is also worthy of attention. Jackie Mitchell is known as “the girl who struck out Babe Ruth.” In 1931, at the age of 17, Jackie pitched against both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in an exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts, and struck out both of them despite Babe Ruth claiming that women were “too delicate” for baseball. This biography brings much-deserved attention to a forgotten historical figure who was well ahead of her time.
Henry Holton Takes the Ice by Sandra Bradley
Henry Holton’s entire family are hockey players, and from a young age he is primed to become one as well. Henry takes to the ice with ease, but the second he is handed a hockey stick it doesn’t feel right. He wants to spin like an ice dancer. Henry tells his family he wants ice skates instead of hockey skates, but they ridicule him. One day, grandma comes for a visit and tells Henry she used to be a figure skater but abandoned the sport when she discovered hockey. She gives him her old ice skates, and Henry finally shows his family that ice dancing, not hockey, is the sport for him. This book is a fun story about challenging gender roles in sports, because girls can play hockey and boys can ice dance.
Playing to Win: The Story of Althea Gibson by Karen Deans
This biography tells the story of Althea Gibson, the first African American to win Wimbledon. Growing up, Althea often got into fights with other kids in her Harlem neighborhood until she discovered that competing in sports provided an outlet for all of her energy. She was a natural at tennis, and rose to prominence as a professional tennis player during a time when African Americans were forced to sit in the back of the bus. When Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator Elbrite Brown watched videos of Althea Gibson, he felt that she was as graceful as a ballerina, and his expressive illustrations provide a sense of movement to capture her restless spirit.
The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Tonya Bolden
The late Muhammad Ali is remembered not only for his athletic prowess and undeniable charisma, but also as a fighter for social justice. This picture-book biography takes the reader through Ali’s life, from his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky to his early boxing career and, later, his conversion to Islam and protest of the Vietnam War. One does not need to be a boxing fan to be transfixed by Ali’s larger-than-life personality. Coretta Scott King-award winning illustrator R. Gregory Christie provides the bold illustrations, which interplay with the text in fun and unexpected ways.
Luke Goes to Bat by Rachel Isadora
Rachel Isadora is a well-regarded author and illustrator of many children’s books, and her heartwarming tale of young boy in 1950s Brooklyn does not disappoint. Luke is excluded from playing stickball with the other kids in his neighborhood because he is too small, until one day the team is short a player and he subs in. Luke strikes out during his first turn at bat and is very discouraged. His grandmother tells him, “Not everyone plays like Jackie Robinson all the time. Not even Jackie Robinson.” When she takes him to a Dodgers game, Luke witnesses Jackie strike out twice before hitting a home run to win the game, giving him the courage to keep playing ball.
Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 by Ernest L. Thayer
Christopher Bing won the Caldecott for his adaptation of this famous poem, which was originally published in 1888 in the San Francisco Examiner. The poem starts, “The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.” Despite a shaky start, Mudville manages to load the bases, and the crowd is anxious for renowned player Casey to come to bat and win the game. After much fanfare, anticipation, and build-up, Casey strikes out. Bing cleverly utilizes historic memorabilia to make his illustrations resemble a scrapbook, including period baseball cards, ticket stubs, and advertisements. There are fun details to see on every page, making this an interactive book that children will love to revisit.
Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare by Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco often writes about her childhood, and this book is an amusing retelling of the rivalry she had with her older brother, Richie, growing up. Richie plays hockey and Trisha dances ballet, and neither of them have much respect for the other’s hobby. One day, when Richie and his friends make fun of Trisha, Trisha dares Richie to dance in her recital. Richie agrees, as long as Trisha will play in an upcoming hockey match. The switch does not go off without a couple of hitches, but ultimately, the siblings learn to appreciate each other’s hobbies. Polacco’s illustrations are appropriately over-the-top, and the real-life photos of her and her brother on the end pages add authenticity to the book.
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray
This book is a fitting pick as we gear up for the 2016 summer Olympics. Long before there was McKayla Maroney, there was Nadia Comaneci. Nadia, who is arguably the most famous female gymnast of all time, helped to popularize the sport. At the age of 14, she was the first Olympic athlete to receive a perfect 10 and the youngest Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. Not only did she receive the first perfect 10, she received seven of them for her home country of Romania in the 1976 Montreal summer games. This book about a young girl’s determination to always keep moving is inspiring to read.