Then I learned of the sad passing of the “crown prince” of basketball Meadowlark Lemon at age 82 just recently so I dedicate this list to him. He brought so much joy to everyone with his basketball skill and humor.
Even though my kids are not currently playing basketball, I believe that basketball is for everyone. My kids’ elementary school uses the NCAA basketball playoffs for a March Madness Reading Competition that gets everyone reading like crazy in order to win an extra Physical Education session. The competition itself is more about reading than basketball, but each class draws a college team and extra points are earned if the team does well.
Basketball for sport. Basketball as music. Basketball to get kids reading. It’s very versatile!
Why not read basketball books this March to get in on the madness? What are your favorite basketball books? Thanks for sharing!
Multicultural Basketball Books for Kids
B is for Baller: The Ultimate Basketball Alphabet by James Littlejohn, illustrated by Matthew Shipley
You don’t have to be learning the alphabet to enjoy this romp through the greatest basketball players of all time. I really like how illustrator Matthew Shipley made each page like a portrait with a stunning colorful background. This makes the book a visual treat and really makes each individual player stand out. My 14-year-old son will love this book. He’s a big basketball fan! [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Basketball in Mexico, Japan and with the Greek god? Oh yes!
Bravo, Tavo! by Brian Meunier, illustrated by Perky Edgerton
There’s a drought in Gustavo’s village in Mexico and no rain means no new shoes even though his basketball shoes are falling apart. His father wants to resurrect the ancient irrigation ditches, the zanja, which run along the edge of their field but the villagers think this is a crazy idea. Gustavo and his father dig out the silt that filled in the zanja, all the way up the mountain. It takes them weeks to reach a spring and bring the water down to their field. Along the way, Gustavo loses his shoes and can’t play basketball with his teammates. One morning, he finds his shoes in their field, newly and beautifully repaired by the widow that lives up in the mountain. When the villagers learn that their corn fields are ripe with a harvest, they are finally ready to listen to his father. Now that there’s corn, his father can buy Gustavo new shoes but he decides that his old shoes have a magic tingle that feels just right. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Mount Olympus Basketball by Kevin O’Malley
Greek mythology meets basketball in this picture book of gods versus mortals. Team gods are looking pretty strong with a starting lineup that includes Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, and Hades. The mighty mortals have heroes Hercules, Achilles, Jason, Theseus and Odysseus on the court. It’s clear that the gods have an advantage with their powers but the mortals have strategy on their side. Who will win?
Try this picture book with basketball players, especially in 6th grade when they study Greek mythology. It’s a fun way to review the Greek gods and heroes! Percy Jackson fans will also love this take on basketball. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Slam Dunk, Vol. 1 by Takehiko Inoue
Takehiko Inoue played basketball in high school but he says his team wasn’t any good. He created this manga series based on that experience that has sold an astounding 100 million copies worldwide. In this first volume, Sakuragi has a crush on Haruko Akagi but she likes a basketball player who doesn’t give her the time of day. In an attempt to gain her affection, Sakuragi joins the basketball team and learns to slam dunk to impress her.
This is a basketball graphic novel set in Japan with similar social drama themes in Smile and Drama by Raina Telgemeir. [graphic novel manga, ages 12 and up]
Girls Are Ballers Too Books
I’m glad that there is a WNBA which was formed after the gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women’s National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. It gives girls role models that women can be ballers. These basketball books for girls emphasize that it’s game of skill acquired by practice through repetition rather than a genetic gift — a good life message for girls.
The Basket Ball by Esmé Raji Codell, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
When the boys won’t let Lulu join in their school-yard basketball team, she decides to host a ball of a different sort. She invites girls from coast to coast to join her ball … her Basket Ball. It’s not about dancing, it’s about shooting hoops. When the ball is over, it’s clear that girls need a league of their own and Lulu’s ball becomes a WNBA of sorts! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Hoop Queen (Kylie Jean) by Marci Peschke
Kylie Jean is able to join a basketball team by getting her grandfather to coach. He coached her dad so he’s happy to continue the tradition. There’s also the upcoming free throw charity contest. Learning basketball skills is not easy for Kylie Jean but she’s determined to be the queen of the court. With help from her big brother and a lot of practice, she just might do it! [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Game Time, Mallory! by Laurie B. Friedman
Mallory wants to join the new girls’ basketball league but her closest friends are too busy with dance. She signs up anyway, but it’s a tough slog for her to feel like she’s contributing to the team. It doesn’t help that some of the girls on the team who are very skilled are hard on her. She almost quits, but her coach encourages her to keep trying and her hard work pays off in their final game.
In basketball or any team sport, my girls have experienced a similar “pecking order” bullying that can come from the best girl on the team being unkind to girls who are not as skilled. This story and how Mallory handles it is a good life lesson for middle school girls as bullying comes in many forms including this one. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Belle of the Ball (Hoops #1) by Elena Delle Donne
Ms. Yingling Reads has a great review here:
Elle DeLuca is lucky that she enjoys playing basketball– she’s 6′ tall in the 7th grade, so everyone always asks. When a new coach changes her position, she is concerned that she isn’t as good a player as she could be. Add to her worries the fact that her private school has a mandatory cotillion that involves her dancing with boys much shorter than herself. She also has to wear a dress, which seems like a horrible idea. Her friend Avery tries to be supportive, and her mother, while very busy with her sports-loving siblings and special needs sister, also tries to help when she can. Elle eventually finds a dress that works and realizes that dancing can be fun under certain circumstances, and she also learns to hold her own on the basketball court in her new position. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts
Review from Ms. YingLing Reads: “Nikki is looking forward to playing on a competitive travel basketball team, especially since her friend Adria is also on it. It’s a struggle for her single mother to afford the fees, but basketball is what Nikki really loves. In order to help out, Nikki offers to babysit her high-energy younger brother after school. School is a bit of a struggle for Nikki, so she hopes to be able to have time to fit everything in. When her science teacher assigns a family tree project, she is upset for another reason; her mother had both children through artificial insemination and she doesn’t want anyone to know. Another student, Booker, also doesn’t want to do the project because his parents were drug addicts who abandoned him, and his kindergarten teacher adopted him. Nikki has a very motivated teammate, Kate, who has a very pushy father who wants to see Kate get a college scholarship. When Nikki overhears the two talking about Kate’s lack of height and wondering why she is wasting everyone’s time, this undermines her confidence and she starts to back off from taking shots. She starts to think that maybe she should add different skills to her game, and decides that the team could use someone who can make good three point shots. She doesn’t want to tell Adria about this, since Adria’s father has always coached her, so she asks Booker for help. When her grades drop, her mother threatens to make her go back to a county league. Nikki struggles with the challenges of balancing school work, team activities and friendship, as well as her new knowledge about her father, in this fast-paced, valued-added sports novel.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Grace Harlowe’s Sophomore Year in High School by Jessie Graham Flower
Aunt Claire’s illustrated introduction provides just the right amount of historical context for young readers: What was high school like in 1911? What were school sports like? How were they different for girls and for boys?
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Grace and her friends are back at school, and they are concerned about the basketball team. Grace has been elected captain, but Miriam wanted the position badly and isn’t happy. The junior team, captained by Julia, is being very mean to the underclassmen, and Grace is kerflummoxed as to why they are acting so reprehensibly. Julia even goes behind Grace’s back and gets permission from the principal to use the gym when the sophomores have already been granted it by a teacher. Since this is 1911, however, Julia is called on the carpet in front of a lot of the girls, humiliated, and made to apologize…
Some of the chapter illustrations are kept in, and the Gibson Girl quality of the outfits is amazing. Fantastic choice for girls who are in to the history of sports or historical fiction.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Too Short for Basketball Books
It might seem surprising that Michael Jordan and Chris Paul ever felt too short to play ball but their stories are told here by Michael’s mom and Chris Paul himself. Veteran sports children’s book author Mike Lupica has several basketball books, but this one was my favorite.
Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The tallest boy on the court is Michael’s nemesis but he blames his smaller size as the problem. He asks his mama how he can grow taller and she has a solution: put salt in your shoes and say a nightly prayer. Michael tries this for two months but he doesn’t grow at all.
His father gives him advice, “Being taller may help you play a little better, but not as much as practice, determination, and giving your best will. These are the things that make you a real winner.”
Was it the salt or the determination that made Michael grow into a six-foot-six-inch basketball superstar? It’s your call! [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul, illustrated by Fran Morrison
There’s great mom advice in Chris Paul’s book: “You’re a great basketball player, Chris. But basketball isn’t the only thing that matters. Your family matters. Your education does too. And worrying about your height won’t make you any better. Just do the best you can with the gifts you have.”
Chris also gets great advice from his grandfather, Papa Chilly: “Work harder than everyone else on the court and your size won’t matter.” His older brother C. J. has some wisdom to pass on too: “…when someone tries to fake you out, don’t watch their arms or their head. Keep your eye on their hips. Nobody goes anywhere without their hips.”
It’s clear from Chris Paul’s story that family means a lot to him. On the back page, I learned that Chris Paul led his high school team to the state finals. As a senior, he tallied 61 points in honor of his grandfather (Papa Chilly) who was tragically murdered just days. When Chris reached the 61-point mark (his grandfather was 61 years old), he intentionally missed a free throw, then took himself out of the game in a fitting tribute to the man who meant so much to him. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Basketball Stories That Inspire
Shaquille was inspired to write Easy Readers by his own 6-year-old son and by kids everywhere who could use an iPad or a computer but not read a book. Jeremy Lin is an unlikely basketball hero and his story reflects Michael Jordan’s in that faith, persistence, and hard work can convert dreams into reality.
Little Shaq by Shaquille O’Neal
It’s not the story itself that inspires in this Easy Reader but the fact that Shaquille O’Neal wrote it himself based on his childhood growing up in Newark New Jersey with his siblings and cousins. [easy reader, ages 6 and up]
Linspired: The Jeremy Lin Story by Mike Yorkey
Michael Jordan’s mother said that school work came before basketball and that’s how it was for Michael. His friends left him to play basketball while he had to go inside to do his homework. He dreamed of playing for the U.S. Olympic team at age 9, but first there was the middle school team to make. His mom advised him that if he wanted to reach his dreams, he better “get doing.” Dream big, work hard. His mom’s influence shaped Michael into the superstar that he became. Go mom! [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Basketball Books That Make My Final Four
I need one more outstanding book for my own final four but this is my start. If you only read one book on the list, make it last year’s Newbery winner Crossover. Keep kids reading with a nonfiction book that will keep kids flipping through. Finally, experience a gritty reality of final four excitement in the YA book The Final Four.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
A crossover dribble is a basketball maneuver in which a player dribbling the ball switches the ball rapidly from one hand to the other, to make a change in direction.
It might seem like an unlikely pairing: novel in verse with basketball. The Crossover manages to do just that, crossing over to attract readers of all stripes in a coming of age story of family, first love, sibling rivalry and basketball. Kwame Alexander writes in a way that simulates the crossover dribble; drawing us in with poetry and basketball, but switching it up in a story that breaks your heart even as it gives you want you are rooting for. [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]
Dough Boys by Paula Chase
In the companion to her acclaimed So Done, Paula Chase follows best friends Simp and Rollie as their friendship is threatened by the pressures of basketball, upcoming auditions, middle school, and their growing involvement in the local drug ring.
Deontae “Simp” Wright has big plans for his future. Plans that involve basketball, his best friend, Rollie, and making enough money to get his mom and four younger brothers out of the Cove, their low-income housing project.
Long term, this means the NBA. Short term, it means being a dough boy—getting paid to play lookout and eventually moving up the rungs of the neighborhood drug operation with Rollie as his partner.
Roland “Rollie” Matthews used to love playing basketball. He loved the rhythm of the game, how he came up with his best drumbeats after running up and down the court. But playing with the elite team comes with extra, illegal responsibilities, and Rollie isn’t sure he’s down for that life. The new talented-and-gifted program, where Rollie has a chance to audition for a real-life go-go band, seems like the perfect excuse to stop being a dough boy. But how can he abandon his best friend? Description from publisher [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Sports Illustrated Kids Slam Dunk!: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Basketball by The Editors of Sports Illustrated Kids
Try this nonfiction book of lists for reluctant readers who like basketball. From the Top 10 Hairstyles of basketball players to the Top 10 Little Guys to the best jerseys, players and teams, this book will keep kids turning the pages. This book uses engaging sports photography overlaid with small blocks of interesting trivia and information to keep kids reading. [nonfiction, ages 6 and up]
The Final Four by Paul Volponi
Gritty and realistic to the end, this chapter book ends in a satisfying yet unexpected way where winning is based on luck and skill, good guys don’t necessarily finish first, and losers are the ultimate winners. I highly recommend this book. Try it with boys who like basketball, and anyone who cheers for a team during the NCAA. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
More Great Recommendations from My Social Media Friends
@writesinla on Instragram recommends Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long-lost half-brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London where he belongs.
Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as crazy as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. Eight feet tall, in fact—plagued by condition called Gigantism and troubled by secrets that he believes led to his phenomenal growth.
In a novel packed with quirkiness and humor, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
Nerdy Book Club suggests A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner
Patrick Andrus raves about it:
Rip and Red are pumped to join the fifth grade basketball team. Basketball is their game and they are going to show that to everyone else. They are surprised to learn that Mr. Acevedo is also the new basketball coach. Rip is one of the star players while Red is an integral part of the team; just not on the court.
Rip has made it his “job” to protect Red at any cost. Red has some “issues” that can make it difficult for him to succeed at school. Rip wants to make sure that Red fits in with both the teachers and the other kids. He also wants him to find great success on the basketball court. The new fifth grade team, formed by Mr. Acevedo, doesn’t have the easiest of a season, but with the help of a nontraditional coach and Red, everyone on the team learns some pretty important life lessons.
This has to be one of the best middle-grade novels I’ve read in a very long time. I love it when I stumble across a title/author that I haven’t heard of and end up falling in love with the story. That is exactly what happened with this book. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Ms. YingLing Reads says “Strong Inside is a must purchase for any middle school or high school library.”
Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line by Andrew Maraniss
Perry Wallace grew up in Nashville, Tennessee at a time when many things were changing in the south. He had a strong family that believed in education and good behavior and grew up in a black section of town where he was shielded from some of the racial tensions of the time, although he was able to see glimpses of white culture that seemed appealing to him. He excelled academically and on the basketball court, so when the time came for him to go to college, he had a number of scholarship opportunities. At first, going to a school in the north seemed like a good idea, but when he had the chance to study at Vanderbilt, he saw the advantage of being a pioneer. What he did not foresee was that the worst discrimination was not necessarily the name calling, but the polite distance that was prevalent on the campus. There was certainly name calling when it came to his basketball career, and there were many times when he felt threatened and in danger– times when his teammates and coaches didn’t necessarily support or encourage him. With the companionship of very few other black players, Wallace did his best to do his best for his team and for himself.
This was a fascinating, very personal account of the effect that the civil rights movement had on one individual. It was also interesting to read about Wallace’s teammate and friend, Godfrey Dillard, who was from the Detroit area and who had very different reactions to the treatment he received. While modern readers may be aware of the different protest styles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, it’s all too easy to forget that private citizens also experienced a wide range of philosophies and emotions when it came to how their own personal rights were violated, and refreshing to see these diverse reactions portrayed. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
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