Looking for basketball books for kids to read? Check out the best selections of this amazing sport, both fiction and nonfiction.
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 skills 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 for kids? 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 their 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 a 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]
Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss
“Perry Wallace was born at a historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year, his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.
The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head-on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.” from the publisher [middle grade, ages 10 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 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 a 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 schoolwork, 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 flummoxed 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. A fantastic choice for girls who are into the history of sports or historical fiction.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Tough Call by Kelsey Blair
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This had so much good information about basketball and game strategy, and the referee training was fascinating. I loved that Malia took responsibility to earn money in order to play. It was realistic that because she couldn’t drive, she was assigned games at her own school. It was interesting that she had never thought about WHY her school was rivals with Boundary, and after she makes friends with Carlos, she asks around and comes to the conclusion that the kids there are just the same. There’s just enough family and friend drama to move this along, and it’s great the characters are a little bit older.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Double Foul by Craig Battle
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was fast-paced, funny, had interesting characters, and had a nice turn with the girls being involved in sports. Young readers will love that Winston is evil and root for Mack and his fellow campers to take down the short-short, tube sock-wearing villain and return their camp to its average roots. There are enough basketball play-by-plays that I got confused, which means there is just enough basketball for my sports fans.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Greer’s mother has a relocation help business, so she is always being dragged off to meet the children of clients. Kids her age generally don’t want to talk to her, but when she meets Jackson Oates and his mom at the habitual coffee shop, he’s different. Friendly, smart, helpful, funny– Greer instantly likes him. The problem? Greer is so uncomfortable about her large breasts that she retreats from a lot of social connections, and figures that Jackson will immediately make new friends and ignore her. He does make friends, including her best friend Maggie’s brother and a lot of other baseball players, but he still continues to talk to her. Usually more concerned with advanced academics than other activities (which can often involve people looking at her), Greer becomes interested in volleyball and tries out for the team. It’s difficult to play with a sports bra squeezed over her regular, but the coach sends her a link to a garment called “the Stabilizer” that works wonders. Greer makes the teams, but another hurdle is getting a uniform to fit her 30H figure. Greer and Jackson’s families spend some time together, and his problematic younger sister takes to Greer. At the same time, Maggie is involved with the school production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and is being her usual outspoken self when questioning the wisdom of doing such an outdated play. Greer is hopeful about volleyball and Jackson until events complicate matters and she almost disengages, retreating into her XXL sweatshirts instead of confronting her problems. Will she ever be able to make peace with herself?” [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Fifth Quarter by Mike Dawson
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Lori Block plays on a basketball team, but she and her friend Sophia only get to play in the fifth quarter, when points aren’t being scored. They struggle with some issues, like double dribbling or a weak defense, but love basketball. Lori would like to do better, and maybe get on a travel team, so her parents enroll her in basketball lessons. Fourth grade is a time of a lot of tears, and Lori is easily upset by things like Sophia not wanting to play basketball at lunch, and her mother running for town council. She’s worried that her groups of friends don’t like her, especially since one friend’s father is running for the same position her mother is. When a friend shows up at her basketball lessons, Lori isn’t very kind, and her friends call her out on her lack of support, although Lori continues to make hurtful remarks. She enjoys playing basketball with one fifth-grader, Jordan, and occasionally plays with Jordan and her friends at recess. She goes to a summer camp and calls her father to come and get her at night. He is able to persuade her to stay. Lori’s game starts to improve, her mother’s campaign finishes up, and she is able to concentrate on school and basketball once again.” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
“TAKING UP SPACE is the story about a basketball player struggling to feel good about her body and herself. TAKING UP SPACE is for readers who love basketball, YouTube cooking competitions, and friendship stories. This book will start honest conversations between parents and kids, students and teachers, and among friends about just how hard it is for most of us to feel good about ourselves and in our bodies.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Misako plays basketball with her good friends, but when her family moves from Japan to New York City, she misses being on the team. Her parents are excited to go to a new city, but they are soon busy with their own adjustments. At her private school, Misako runs afoul of the captain of the basketball team, Emma, and doesn’t want to stand up to her and get on the team. She does manage to make two friends, Nala and Henry. Nala is interested in Japanese culture, especially Harajuku fashion– she has a huge collection of wigs and a lot of kawaii clothing. Emma is mean to her as well. When Emma thaws a bit towards her and may let her on the team, Misako distances herself from Nala and even goes shopping with the basketball girls on Nala’s birthday. Nicco, Misako’s cat, starts to talk to her, saying that he is her spirit guide, and tries to guide her through these difficulties at school. Misako also befriends the captain of the boys’ basketball team (whose name I can’t remember and couldn’t find in the E ARC), and the two start a tentative romance. Once Misako gets on the team, she has to juggle working towards the championship with her new romance and her friendship with Nala.
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 for kids, 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]
The Basket Counts by Matt Christopher
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Christopher, who died in 1997, wrote great sportsbooks with lots of on-court sports action, with enough of a serious plot and character development to make for a well-rounded book. The books are a good length and move quickly. So many are still available, and this one was updated just a bit. (There’s another title from the 1960s where a character is lame because of polio, and that is also updated.) If you have these books in your library collection, dust them off and get them out there.
Matt Christopher was not Black, and this was written in 1968. For the time, it was very progressive, and the race issue probably plays out much like this today. Of course, there are some dated moments, like the two Black families being identified by their profession (my father, who is 86, identifies EVERYONE this way, and usually ads some physical description as well, so it might be generational). ” [middle grade, ages 8 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
Linspired reveals the remarkable journey of the ultimate underdog, Jeremy Lin, superstar of the New York Knicks and the first American-born player of Chinese/Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. [middle grade biography, ages 8 and up]
Dream Big: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Excellence by Deloris Jordan, illustrated by Barry Root
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]
Epic Athletes: LeBron James by Dan Wetzel
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This started with the big championship game in 2016 that was such a big event in Cleveland, then traveled back to follow James’ complicated and difficult childhood and his entry into professional ball. The story wasn’t told in a maudlin or overly emotional way but made it very clear that childhood events shaped James’ personality.
The best part of this book, and the main reason I’m buying it, was the description of all of the philanthropic projects with which James’ is involved. It is heartening to see someone who struggled and became successful go back and try to give others a boost as well. Because this concentrates on James’ childhood and beginning career, I feel okay with the fact that he will go on and accomplish other things that won’t be reflected in this particular book.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Marco and Isaac have been best friends for years, and as 6th grade approaches, they have big plans. Marco, who excels academically, hopes to play basketball in order to attract the attention of his father, who doesn’t visit much and who doesn’t think he is “manly” enough. Isaac struggles with his schoolwork and hopes to be better at remembering to turn in assignments, hoping that this will cause fewer fights among his parents, who are getting divorced. Isaac’s father is an alcoholic who can’t be relied on to take care of Isaac or to be sober when he has to pick him up. Middle school gets off to a decent start, and Marco finds some new friends in his able and talented classes, classes Isaac is not in. Isaac finds some friends on the basketball team, but they are not always kind to Marco, who tends to rock his dweebishness without apology. The only class the two have together is gym, which includes the stressful locker room experience. Byron, who is a good basketball player, is particularly unkind, which eventually causes the coach to bar him from playing.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany by Andrew Maraniss
“1936 was a turbulent time in world history. Adolf Hitler had gained power in Germany three years earlier. Jewish people and political opponents of the Nazis were the targets of vicious mistreatment, yet were unaware of the horrors that awaited them in the coming years. But the Olympians on board the S.S. Manhattan and other international visitors wouldn’t see any signs of trouble in Berlin. Streets were swept, storefronts were painted, and every German citizen greeted them with a smile. Like a movie set, it was all just a facade, meant to distract from the terrible things happening behind the scenes.
This is the incredible true story of basketball, from its invention by James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891, to the sport’s Olympic debut in Berlin and the eclectic mix of people, events, and propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic that made it all possible. Includes photos throughout, a Who’s-Who of the 1936 Olympics, bibliography, and index.” from the publisher [young adult nonfiction, ages 12 and up]
We Are Family by James LeBron and Andrea Williams
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“James is still hugely popular with my students, and I am impressed with the philanthropic work that he has done in Akron. Like Derek Jeter, he had a difficult time growing up and is determined to give back to his community in a really admirable way. This story definitely shows some of those difficulties but did not fall into the stereotypes that older books embraced about inner-city life. Yes, things are tough, but it’s not all abusive fathers. Jayden’s mom had been going to law school, and his grandmother is a retired high school English teacher. Dex’s mother is struggling to balance work and school. Pizza parlor owner Roddy chose to stay in the area with his daughter instead of pursuing college. There are some opportunities, but life doesn’t always work out the way we want, and that’s a good message we don’t see much. There are enough details about basketball that will attract young readers and enough about real-life struggles that adults will appreciate. ” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Basketball Kids’ 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]
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This is best described as a graphic novel memoir of Mr. Yang’s writing life combined with a history of the Bishop O’Dowd school basketball team. Unsure of what to write about next, Yang draws inspiration from the school where he teaches. While he didn’t participate in basketball himself, he is drawn to the team, which does very well but has struggled to bring home a championship. The coach, Lou Richie, was a student at the school, so has deep ties to the community and the basketball program. He agrees to let Yang tag along with the team to get information for his new book. At the same time, Yang struggles with his work-life balance, since teaching and working on his graphic novels are time-consuming, giving him less time with his family. The book covers not only the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons’ season in 2015 and the players involved in that, but also former players and games, Yang’s growing understanding of what sports can mean to students, and basketball history from Naismith to current players.” [young adult graphic novel, ages 12 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 doughboy—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 doughboy. But how can he abandon his best friend? Description from the publisher [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Rivals by Tommy Greenwald
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“The Walthorne Souths Panther and the Walthorne North Cougars are bitter rivals, a conflict which is heightened due to the economic disparities in the schools. Alfie is a sports reporter for South and works with Mr. Rashad, the media advisor, to run a radio show as well as a blog. She interviews Carter and Janeece about the basketball teams, but it is only after she makes comments about a player on the North team, Clay who injured after being pressured to play, that she gets a lot of attention. Austin is the captain of the North team and the son of a ballplayer. He’s under a lot of pressure to do well, and even get private instruction on how to improve his game from Coach Cashen, who also supervises a local travel team. Carter’s family struggles, and when his father loses work as a house painter after an incident involving breakage of a pricey statue that may have happened when his father was drinking on the job, Carter hopes to get onto the travel team so that one day he can get a college scholarship. Told in texts, snippets of radio interviews, and posts on chat boards, Rivals shows many facets of how sports teams don’t always revolve around just the sports, and how adults sometimes favor players for reasons that have nothing to do with the game. In addition to the problems behind Clay’s injury, Alfie’s reporting also uncovers a girls’ basketball player who is living out of district and leads to the resignation of a coach after an ill-considered remark. How will the two teams, as well as their players, continue their seasons with all of the controversies swirling around?” [middle grade, ages 10 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]
Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“The treatment of grief and moving forward in this book is so well done. Yes, Carlos is dealing with horrible, overwhelming loss, but he also knows that he is lucky to have his aunt and uncle. There is talk of being in counseling, and the aunt and uncle are supportive but not enabling. Add to that the fact that Carlos’s trauma is not the whole story, and that’s what makes this especially good. The kids have to band together to save the gym from evil developers and city government while playing basketball. Yes! It is possible to have serious issues in a book that is hopeful and interesting and not soggily sad.” [middle grade, ages 8 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]
Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez
“Juan has plans. He’s going to get out of El Paso, Texas, on a basketball scholarship and make something of himself—or at least find something better than his mom Fabi’s cruddy apartment, her string of loser boyfriends, and a dead dad. Basketball is going to be his ticket out, his ticket up. He just needs to make it happen.
His best friend JD has plans, too. He’s going to be a filmmaker one day, like Quinten Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro (NOT Steven Spielberg). He’s got a camera and he’s got passion—what else could he need?
Fabi doesn’t have a plan anymore. When you get pregnant at sixteen and have been stuck bartending to make ends meet for the past seventeen years, you realize plans don’t always pan out, and that there some things you just can’t plan for…
Like Juan’s run-in with the police, like a sprained ankle, and a tanking math grade that will likely ruin his chance at a scholarship. Like JD causing the implosion of his family. Like letters from a man named Mando on death row. Like finding out this man could be the father your mother said was dead.
Soon Juan and JD are embarking on a Thelma and Louise–like a road trip to visit Mando. Juan will finally meet his dad, JD has a perfect subject for his documentary, and Fabi is desperate to stop them. But, as we already know, there are some things you just can’t plan for…” from publisher [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryan, Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Review by KidLit Frenzy:
“I am not surprised that Elgin Baylor protested how he was treated compared to his white teammates. Bryant does a masterful job of placing Baylor into the timeline of the 1950’s and 1960’s Civil Rights Movement with images and references of Rosa Parks, the Little Rock 9, and the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in. Bryant’s poetic writing brings refrains that act as a chorus to a song. All of this is paired with Morrison’s dynamic paintings.” [nonfiction biography, ages 7 and up]
More Great Recommendations from My Social Media Friends
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
@writesinla on Instagram 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 a 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]
A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner
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]
Thanks a lot, Universe by Chad Lucas
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This is exactly the type of “sad” that my students crave: catastrophic family events that cause the children to get by on their own. Brian’s emotions are understandable, and informative, especially for teachers who might have students who are in similar family circumstances. The teachers are exceptionally understanding, and model good behavior. Brian has to be punished, but it is in a thoughtful way. Ezra’s emotions are well portrayed, and I liked that he had good support from his sister and from most of his friends. Even his friend who was a bit jerky treated him reasonably. The inclusion of basketball is always good. ” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Truly Tyler by Terri Libenson
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Tyler is on the basketball team and has good friends there, but is also very interested in art. His friends don’t quite understand this, nor does his father, who lives far away with his new wife and only seems to ask Tyler about basketball when they talk on the phone. When art class has a comic book project, Emmie is over the moon that she gets to work with her crush, Tyler, but she second-guesses every remark he makes, and can’t stand the things that his friends say to her. The more into the project Tyler gets, the more he steps away from basketball, and the more trouble his friends give both him and Emmie. His ex-girlfriend, Celie, is especially mean. Emmie also is very nervous about her new friend Sarah, and the things that others say about Sarah’s fashion sense. She starts to distance herself so that people don’t make fun of her for hanging out with Sarah. Emmie is also consumed with doubts about her relationship with Tyler– she likes being with him, and they have fun sharing their interest in art, but she can’t stand when others refer to her as “Tyler’s downgrade”. Eventually, both Tyler and Emmie make peace with their own feelings and are able to enjoy being friends.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Gym Class Hero by Martin Parks Kalmbach
“Stevie Kalkannes’ friends call him the “Gym Class Hero” because, despite his skills on the basketball court–“Known as the best three-ball shooter in the school, I could rain threes, teardrops from the sky”–he has refused to play for the Jackson High School team. But during his junior year, a new coach comes to town, and Stevie decides he might want to start living up to the legacy of his star older brother, Benny. Stevie makes the cut, even though he spends all his free time pining after the new girl at school, Mindy Desrosiers. Despite Stevie’s inexperience with romance, he and Mindy manage to hit it off–though she proves to be a more complicated girlfriend than he expected. The stress over Mindy and various unresolved emotions surrounding his family and basketball may be at the root of his new problem: missing key free throws at the end of games. But help comes from unlikely sources.” [young adult, ages 15 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.