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Winning sports picture books

Cheating marathoners; a trailblazing sports reporter; a girl shortstop; and an illegal integrated b-ball game. Here are some nonfiction sports picture books that capture the dramatic action both on and off the track/field/court.

mccarthy_wildest race everMeghan McCarthy’s The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon describes America’s first Olympic marathon, which took place in St. Louis during the World’s Fair. It was a zany one, with cheating runners (one caught a ride in a car), contaminated water, pilfered peaches, and strychnine poisoning. McCarthy’s chatty text focuses on a few of the frontrunners and other colorful characters, shown in her recognizable cartoonlike acrylic illustrations. A well-paced — and winning — nonfiction picture book. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)

vernick_kid from diamond streetEdith Houghton was “magic on the field,” a baseball legend of the 1920s. Playing starting shortstop for the all-women’s professional team the Philadelphia Bobbies, she drew fans to the ballpark with her impressive talent. Besides that, Edith — “The Kid” — was just ten years old. The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick relates, in conversational text, Houghton’s life on the team. Appealing digitally colored charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations by Steven Salerno evoke a bygone era of baseball. (Clarion, 5–8 years)

macy_miss mary reporting“It seemed that Mary was born loving sports,” writes Sue Macy in her affectionate portrait of a pioneering journalist, Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber. It was during WWII that Garber “got her big break” running the sports page of Winston-Salem’s Twin City Sentinel while the (male) sportswriters were fighting in the war. For much of the next six decades, she worked in sports reporting, blazing trails for female journalists. Macy’s succinct text is informative and engaging, her regard for her subject obvious. C. F. Payne’s soft, sepia-toned, mixed-media illustrations — part Norman Rockwell, part caricature — provide the right touch of nostalgia. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)

coy_game changerJohn Coy’s Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game (based on a 1996 New York Times article by Scott Ellsworth) tells the dramatic story of an illegal college basketball game planned and played in secret in Jim Crow–era North Carolina. On a Sunday morning in 1944, the (white) members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team (considered “the best in the state”) slipped into the gym at the North Carolina College of Negroes to play the Eagles, a close-to-undefeated black team coached by future Hall of Famer John McClendon. Coy’s succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. Illustrations by Randy DuBurke nicely capture the story’s atmosphere and its basketball action. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)

From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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