My kids were introduced to volleyball in San Antonio, Texas when we went to visit a close friend of my husband’s from their college golf days. He also has three children, and his oldest had started playing volleyball in first grade. She patiently taught my two daughters how to bump and set the ball in her backyard. Years later, when my oldest daughter quit soccer, she decided to give volleyball a try again.
At five feet, three inches, my daughter is an unlikely volleyball player, but she practiced her overhand serve until it was powerful and accurate and made her high school freshman team (not an easy feat because her high school is usually a contender for the state championship, if not the actual winner). From there, she joined a club volleyball team and learned to be a defensive specialist, a libero. A series of four concussions in fifteen months cut her volleyball experience short. Now that she’s at art college at Rhode Island School of Design, there is a volleyball team that she says is made up of short Asian girls. The risk of concussion is low, she thinks, so perhaps she will join them one day.
This book list is for my daughter. My husband and I are proud of her for starting over in a new sport. I noticed, also, that there are not many children’s picture books with volleyball themes. Perhaps volleyball is a sport that kids start in middle school like where we live as opposed to San Antonio. In our area, soccer is the sport that most kids start at an early age such as kindergarten.
How about you? When do kids learn volleyball where you live? It is a big sport for girls? What books am I missing? Thanks for sharing!
Volleyball Easy Readers
Riley Fetter, Star Setter by J.L. Anderson, illustrated by Karl West
This was the youngest book I found with a volleyball theme. It’s an easy reader and uses humor to drive the story. Riley Fetter loves volleyball but her classmates are new to the sport and find the rules confusing. It’s a cute story that introduces the basic concepts of volleyball: serve, bump, set, and spike. This skill level of volleyball, though, is probably advanced for kids who are reading this book. There is a balloon practice activity at the end that is perfect for introducing these skills to this age group. [easy reader, ages 5 and up]
Early Chapter Books with Volleyball
You Can’t Spike Your Serves by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Jorge Santillan
Sports Illustrated Kids has a sports early chapter book series that is a tad easier than the Jake Maddox series. Each page is illustrated with about a half-page of text. In contrast, the Jake Maddox series will have one full-page illustration per chapter but the rest of the chapter is just text. The storyline to this book revolves around raising money for uniforms for Alicia’s friend from cheerleading camp. She decides to host a volleyball tournament to help her friend’s team. [early chapter book, ages 5 and up]
Beach Volleyball is No Joke by Anita Yasuda, illustrated by Jorge Santillan
I’m waiting for this book from my library which is closed during coronavirus so I’ll update when my library reopens.
Jake Maddox Volleyball Books
None of my three kids read the Jake Maddox series growing up, so I didn’t realize until reading the books for this list that Jake Maddox is not an author, it’s just a brand name for this sports series of early chapter books. Each of these books is written by a different author but they all follow the same general format though each has a different volleyball angle and writing style.
Volleyball Victory by Jake Maddox, illustrated by Katie Woods
A new coach certainly can be a big adjustment and Andrea isn’t sure if she agrees with her new coach’s back-to-basics approach to volleyball. He also has her playing a new position; one that she’s not sure she’s good at. Will her team be able to win games with this new approach? I think this is a realistic situation in sports so I was happy to see it introduced in this way. I also really like how the coach focused on skill development over winning. I think that’s a great message for kids and adults. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Digging Deep by Jake Maddox, text by Wendy L. Brandes, illustrated by Katie Wood
Asiyah likes to have fun, but sometimes she takes it too far on the volleyball court. When she switches teams from the rec league to the travel volleyball, Asiyah has to decide if a higher level of focus is right for her. Will she let her best friend and teammates down or will she rise to the occasion? [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Volleyball Dreams by Jake Maddox, illustrated by Katie Woods
This was the only Jade Maddox book in the first person and that threw me off. In this case, the first person works because the character is a mean girl bully on the volleyball court, and the reader gets in her head as she learns to become a more empathetic team player. There are certainly girl bullies in team sports, so I liked how this book addressed the backstory of why girls can act like bullies. There is another storyline of the beach volleyball court in the part being destroyed to make room for a new factory that isn’t really resolved in the end. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Jump Serve by Jake Maddox, written by Bob Temple, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning
A pair of girl bullies are the theme in this book about competitive volleyball. Ella and Laura are dismayed with a pair of girl bullies from a rival team join her team. Things are worse when Laura is out with an injury and Ella is forced to play with the bullies who hog the ball. Unless their team chemistry improves, her team won’t have a shot to win the championship. But when Ella and Laura’s team is about to play the girl bullies’ old team, they realize that those girls were in a toxic environment. With the big game coming, Ella and Laura need to find a way to get their team to work together. Readers who don’t play volleyball will relate to girl bully dynamics and the story models communication and teamwork as a way to break the bullying cycle of mean girls. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Volleyball in Middle Grade
Digging Deep by Elena Delle Donne
This is one of my favorite middle-grade volleyball books. Elle is six feet tall in 6th grade so naturally everyone expects her to be a basketball star. And, it turns out, she is a great athlete. But the dynamic on her basketball team isn’t great. the coach is too intense and previous center, Bianca, bullies her because she is the new center. Elle makes the difficult decision to quit the basketball team to join other extracurriculars including an anti-bullying club at school. When Lauren gets injured on the volleyball team, Elle gets recruited and finds that she likes the more laid back vibe of this team. It’s a difficult balance to maintain friendships with old teammates while being on a new team. When Lauren recovers and can rejoin the volleyball team, Elle must decide which team makes her happier. Elle’s autistic nonverbal and wheelchair-bound sister adds an additional layer of diversity to the cast of characters. [middlegrade, ages 8 and up]
The Bandit of Barbel Bay (Fantasy Sports No. 2) by Sam Bosma
This is the perfect book for kids who like fantasy, manga, and volleyball. I know that’s a strange combination but try it with readers who like the Amulet series as well. The story starts off with a girl (who looks like a boy) playing baseball and things seem straightforward until she hits the ball out of the park and it has to be swatted back by the coach. It seems to be the sun that needs to be returned to the sky or some other celestial object. Thus the girl, Wiz, sets off on an adventure. She’s accompanied by an older man, Mug, and they are to return to the pyramid with treasure. They lose the treasure in a new world and have to win it back through a beach volleyball tournament against all kinds of creatures. Volleyball is a new sport for Wiz and Mug so the reader also gets an introduction to the sport. I’d sum up this book as Sports + Fantasy + Graphic Novel. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Back Row Dynamo by Jake Maddox, text by Leigh McDonald
Jake Maddox also has a JV series which seems to have a high/lo approach. The text is high interest for older kids but the words are not as complex. Kids reading the Jake Maddox chapter book series with illustrations will find it an easy transition to “graduate” to no illustrations. In this story, Ellie is amazing in the back row but struggles at the net. When she finds a group of younger girls trying to learn volleyball on their own, she organizes her team to help coach them. In helping these younger girls, she finds that her own skills are improving as well, especially at the net. I really like the message of this book. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Spike It! by Matt Christopher
The Matt Christopher series transition nicely for fans of Jake Maddox. In this story, volleyball is the setting to more complex family issues when Jamie Bonner’s father decides to remarry and she now has a new step sister her own age, Michaela. When Michaela ends up on the volleyball team, this is too much for Jamie because volleyball is her safe haven. It turns out that Michaela is good at everything including volleyball, which makes Jamie jealous. Will Jamie be able to accept Michaela both at home and on the court? The championship game is riding on it. This hits all the right notes to attract readers who might not play sports. The complex dynamics of a newly blended family are well developed. But for those experiencing divorce and remarriage, this would be a comforting story even for readers who don’t play sports. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Spiked by Steven Barwin
I’m waiting for this book from my library which is closed during coronavirus so I’ll update when my library reopens.
Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Millicent Min is an 11-year-old girl genius with no social skills or friends except for her Grandmother Maddie. While Millicent can rationalize her solitude, her parents and grandmother co-conspire to socialize her. They force her to play volleyball and to tutor an annoying Chinese American kid, Stanford Wong, who is the polar opposite of her. Things look up for Millicent when she makes her first friend, Emily, at volleyball. But things come to a head when Emily finds out that Millicent and Stanford are lying to her as they both try to hide their tutoring arrangement from her. And to make matters worse, Maddie decides to move to England. Millicent is a genius, but can she figure out how to repair her friendship?
This novel plays on the theme of the stereotypical Asian geek/genius and Lisa Yee captures the voice of the Millicent Min, Girl Genius so perfectly that you cringe for her as much as you root for her. She’s added an atypical Asian American character, Stanford Wong, who’d you think would be a geek as well, but Stanford is a struggling student but good looking jock. Yee is a vibrant voice for Asian American children’s literature. Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time also tells this same story from his point of view. [middle grade, ages 9 and up)
Volleyball in Young Adult
Crimson Hero by Takanashi Mitsuba
This seems to be a very popular Japanese manga series about a girl, Nobara Sumiyoshi. Her controlling mother wants her to take over the family business, a traditional restaurant that has been in the family for generations and is typically taken over by the eldest girl. She is the next in line but lives for volleyball. She runs away to Crimson Field High School where she starts a female volleyball team but struggles to pay for her uniform and sports fees. Worse, her younger sister now has to take over her responsibilities at the restaurant and she’s just in middle school. When her younger sister is about to be sexually assaulted by the son of an important customer, Nobara must rush to the rescue. But can she also make it back in time for the big volleyball game?
I really liked how the author adds sidebar about her life in creating this hit manga series. It’s an intense job that costs her sleep! I personally had a little trouble keeping track of all the characters, especially the boys because they look like girls, but that could be because I started on book 3 instead of at the beginning of the series. It is possible to read out of order because there a plot summary at the beginning of book 3 to catch the reader up. [manga, ages 12 and up]
The epic crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
I suspect the timing was off for the Rick Riordan Presents, but this series hits all the high points of a Rick Riordan book: humor, Chinese mythology, epic battles where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, the protagonist discovers her mysterious bloodline and latent superpowers. Also, like a Riordan book, while the readership is categorized as a young adult, it also appeals to a much younger audience.
In this book, Genie Lo is the only child of divorced, low-income Chinese parents who live in the Bay area. Right from the start, Yee explores a demographic not really seen in KidLit. Genie is focused on academic achievement to go to an Ivy League college, but she is sidetracked when a mysterious transfer student joins her school. He turns out to be the Monkey King, and he needs her help to rid the town of monsters out of Chinese folklore who threaten to destroy her hometown. She must harness the powers within her to fight this battle both on earth and in other dimensions. In the meantime, she also has to maintain her grades and not freak out her best friend. But her new latent powers do explain her unusual height and her volleyball skills also come in handy for crushing the unworldly monsters.[young adult, ages 12 and up]
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