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Review of Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

sheinkin_undefeatedstar2 Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School    Roaring Brook    280 pp.
1/17    978-1-59643-954-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-59643-955-9    $9.99

Football icon Jim Thorpe is the indisputable star of Undefeated, although other compelling narratives come into play, including those of the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School, legendary coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, and the game of football itself. The book’s “First Half” identifies the discriminatory societal and political factors (including the Indian Removal Act) that “shaped the world Jim Thorpe and the other Carlisle School students would grow up in.” Sheinkin follows Thorpe’s and Warner’s separate trajectories until 1907, when the teenage Thorpe (who was Sac and Fox) tries out for the Carlisle football team, coached by Warner. The “Second Half” takes a deep, season-by-season (and often play-by-play) dive into Carlisle’s remarkable football history and the sport’s evolution from a barely controlled brawl to its more nuanced modern-day structure — thanks in large part to Warner, Thorpe, and the other Carlisle teams’ innovative play. Brief, action-packed chapters evince Sheinkin’s consistently multi-layered approach, as he connects various subplots (including Thorpe’s domination of the 1912 Olympics and subsequent scandal), includes noteworthy cameos (Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Geronimo make appearances), and uses genuine cliffhangers for a propulsive reading experience. In direct address, Sheinkin (Bomb, rev. 11/12; Most Dangerous, rev. 9/15) encourages readers to challenge their assumptions regarding key figures and consider important contemporary questions (“in the twenty-first century, should any team, at any level or in any sport, continue to call itself the Indians?”). Production values — thin paper and light-colored captions — are less than ideal; thorough back matter includes extensive annotated source notes, a list of works cited, photo credits, and an index.

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Patrick Gall

Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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