I’m not very knowledgeable about football, but I wanted to learn more by starting a list. But then I found this story about Jasen Bracey:
He lost his vision at age 7. Now 15—and still blind—he’s a starting quarterback.
I love how sports are a backdrop for the stories that showcase drama as well as the best version of humanity. So I’ll be reading these books to add in my own opinion and adding to this list. Can you please help me out? What are your favorite children’s and YA books about football? Thanks so much!
p.s. Have you been following the Washington NFL email scandal?
Washington NFL email scandal: Everything we know so far about investigation that led to Jon Gruden resignation
Gruden is just one piece of a larger puzzle
On Oct. 8, The Wall Street Journal reported that the NFL’s investigation into Washington’s culture included the examination of more than 650,000 emails from team staff. Among those emails were exchanges between Gruden and Bruce Allen, then Washington’s team president and a longtime confidant of Daniel Snyder — one of which saw Gruden use a racial trope to criticize NFLPA executive DeMaurice Smith. On Oct. 11, The New York Times reported that the emails revealed that Gruden had actually engaged in a pattern of “misogynistic and homophobic” language from 2010-2018, criticizing everything from the idea of gay players and female officials, and exchanging pictures of topless Washington cheerleaders.
NFL’s toxicity goes beyond Jon Gruden’s email scandal
The initial investigation — which was aimed at examining multiple allegations, including sexual harassment, surrounding the Washington Football Team — unearthed the 58-year-old coach’s offensive messaged after parsing through roughly 650,000 emails. But only Gruden’s have been released thus far.
“I say you have 650,000 emails and we’re supposed to believe that the scant few that have been released are the only ones that bear offensive content? I have this amazing bridge in Brooklyn that I’ve got to sell you,” Zirin said. from CBS Sports
Congressional Committee to Probe the NFL’s Handling of Gruden Email Scandal
The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday
While there’s no way to know exactly how the NFL will respond to the request from committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, it seems more than possible that the league will turn over the 650,000 emails it gathered (but kept secret except for leaks) during the course of investigating the workplace culture in Washington with Daniel Snyder in place as the owner of the D.C. franchise.
The Oversight Committee requested a response by November 4, so the clock is ticking for the NFL to make its play. from Inside Hook
Football Books for Kids
Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler
Mo Jackson loves football and he just so happens to be African-American. He’s the smallest one on his football team but that’s because he’s also the youngest. Coach Steve keeps him mostly on the bench with him but he’s training Mo to be their secret weapon. Mo practices catching a buttered football. When a big play is needed, no one expects Mo to catch the ball, but he does! [Level 2 Easy Reader, ages 5 and up]
In Honor of Broken Things by Paul Acampora
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In the West Beacon suburb of Philadelphia, we meet three disparate students at the combined junior/senior high, all of whom have their own problems. Oscar’s younger sister Carmen has just died after a long bout with cancer, and he’s having trouble going back to school. He’s a good football player, and the school has lost a couple of games in his absence, so the principal is hoping he will return to the field soon. Noah is just starting at the school after years of being homeschooled, in the wake of his father moving out. He is much smaller than Oscar but excels in all of his academics. Riley is also new to the school, having left inner-city Philadelphia after her mother, a waitress, was held up at gunpoint at work. The two have moved to be near Riley’s uncle, who is the priest at the local Catholic church that Oscar and Noah attend. The three meet in an art class, where they are working with clay. Noah’s parents are both potters and ran a business out of their garage, which is struggling since his mother is not dealing well with the breakup of her marriage. Oscar has a surprisingly deft hand, and Riley struggles with the most basic details, but they all try hard to come up with a project for a school showcase. They also find support from each other at a time when they desperately need it, and their paths cross in odd ways. Riley’s mother, while fighting with Riley, manages to hit Oscar with her car in the parking lot of school. Oscar has run out of class, where they were making Day of the Dead decorations, and he just couldn’t handle it. Noah blames himself for the accident since he was yelling at Oscar. Oscar isn’t badly hurt, but cannot play football for a while, and it is eventually discovered that a more lasting injury to his hip that will keep him from playing was caused by the sport itself. Since football was Oscar’s ticket to college and away from the pretzel factory where his parents work, he has to recalibrate his dreams. Luckily, he has new friends to help him.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Play Like a Girl by Misty and David Wilson
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Misty is a little worried about going into 7th grade; her best friend Bree is being a little weird, hanging out with Ava, who is more into appearances and boys. Misty enjoys playing football, and when the boys she plays with tell her that she can’t play with them because they are all trying out for the town’s league, she decides to try out as well. Because she and Bree played basketball together, she convinces Bree to go out as well. Conditioning is really tough, and a lot more work than Misty expected, but she works at it and feels she is making good progress. While there are some boys, like Cole, who give her a hard time, most of the players acknowledge that she is as good as they are and leave her alone. Some, like Ben, are supportive and give her some tips, since she is not all that familiar with football. Bree isn’t enjoying the experience, and eventually drops out, and Ava continues to be mean about what Misty wears and how she acts. When school starts, Misty gives herself a makeover and comes to school with an uncharacteristic amount of makeup, dyed blonde hair, and flashier clothes, but this only makes Ava make fun of her more. Luckily, two cheerleaders, Jenna and Amanda, are impressed with how Misty comports herself on the field, and they start hanging out together. There are other things going on in Misty’s life– her mother is tired and cranky because she has infant twins and doesn’t get a lot of help from her other three children. Misty’s stepfather is really supportive of her football playing and encourages her to continue. The coaches, too, are really supportive and don’t give Misty a hard time. Still, being the only girl on a football team can be hard, especially since Misty doesn’t have Bree’s support. As the school dance and the end of the football season approaches, will Misty be able to find a good balance in her life?” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
Kneel by Candace Buford
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This is a very timely book, and brilliantly incorporates social issues with football in a nicely nuanced story. While Marion’s unfair arrest, Dante Maynard’s death, and the resultant community outrage take center stage, there are undercurrents of the players’ college aspirations, family interactions, and budding romance to bring the political problems close to home. One of my favorite parts was when Russell’s father explains how his own football career, in the 1980s, played out, giving details of racial discrimination that help explain his actions toward his son’s activism. The assignment of If Beale Street Could Talk helps give Russell perspective and assists him in finding his voice.
Other books mentioned in Ms. Yingling Reads review of Kneel:
“While fictional titles Feinstein’s Backfield Boys (2017) and Bradley’s Call Me By My Name (2014) as well as the nonfiction books Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City (2018) by Hoose and Strong Inside (2016) by Maraniss all combine sports with discussions of racism, all of the authors are white men.
It’s increasingly important to make sure that the stories of Black characters are told by Black authors, so it’s good to see Buford enter the young adult field with this stirring account of racism set against the background of sports in the south.”
Backfield Boys: A Football Mystery in Black and White by John Feinstein
“On day one, they’re stunned when the coaches make Tom a receiver and Jason a quarterback, a complete contradiction to their skill sets and training. Suspecting deep-seated racial bias, the boys speak out, risking both their scholarships and their chance to play. Soon local newspaper reports begin a secret investigation, and as tensions rise, Jason and Tom must decide how much they’re willing to lose in their quest to expose the ugly remnants of a racist past that still linger in contemporary jock culture.” from the publisher [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley
“Growing up in Louisiana in the late 1960s, Tater Henry has experienced a lot of prejudice. His town is slow to desegregate and slower still to leave behind deep-seated prejudice.
Despite the town’s sensibilities, Rodney Boulet and his twin sister Angie befriend Tater, and as their friendship grows stronger, Tater and Rodney become an unstoppable force on the football field. That is until Rodney sees Tater and Angie growing closer, too, and Rodney’s world is turned upside down and threatened by a hate he did not know was inside of him.
As the town learns to accept notions like a black quarterback, some changes may be too difficult to accept.” from the publisher [young adult, ages 12 and up]
“By winning the state high school basketball championship in 1955, ten teens from an Indianapolis school meant to be the centerpiece of racially segregated education in the state shattered the myth of their inferiority. Their brilliant coach had fashioned an unbeatable team from a group of boys born in the South and raised in poverty. Anchored by the astonishing Oscar Robertson, a future college and NBA star, the Crispus Attucks Tigers went down in history as the first state champions from Indianapolis and the first all-black team in U.S. history to win a racially open championship tournament―an integration they had forced with their on-court prowess.” from the publisher [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Sidelined by Kara Bietz
“Julian is looking forward to his senior year in Meridien, Texas. He wants to play football and hopefully get scouted for a college scholarship. He’s been living with Grandma Birdie since the death of his father, who also played football and had been hoping to set up a community center for kids in town. When his grandmother has a “surprise guest” for him, he never thinks that it will be Elijah. Elijah and his family moved away suddenly several years before, and Julian was devastated not only because the two had been friends for a long time, but because he hoped that after the two shared a kiss, they might be more than friends. Now, Elijah is back at school and living with Birdie and Julian until his mother, teenage sister, and her baby can move to town. Elijah’s father is in prison, and everyone in the small town suspects that Elijah is just like his father. Since he was accused of trying to steal fundraiser money before his family left town, it’s a hard thing to shake. However, he’s not like his father, and he’s a bit upset that in his absence, Julian had a boyfriend, Reece. When Elijah gets back on the football team, there is some tension. One of the issues is that the team always pranks their rival school before the big game, and Julian wants to put an end to this tradition because he thinks his father would want that, but when he finds out the truth about his father, things become complicated. Can Elijah and Julian navigate their shared history and find a way to go forward?
What About Will by Ellen Hopkins
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Trace’s brother Will is five years older than he is. He was a football player until he was involved in a bad tackle that left him with a facial nerve injury, anger management issues, and lots of pain. This lead to depression and deepened the rift between the boys’ parents. Their mother fronts a band and had a decent amount of success, and their dad works security in a casino near their home in Las Vegas, and when the problems with Will got bad, their mother left the family and went on tour. It’s been a year since the divorce, and Trace spends a lot of his time at home alone. His father works, and Will leaves without much explanation. Will does have some friends and plays on a baseball team, but he misses his mother and the way their family used to be. When a new girl, Cat, joins the team, some of his teammates are against a girl playing, but after a rocky start, Trace realizes that he and Cat share a lot of interests, and also each has some family problems that they don’t share with everyone. Cat’s older brother has run away from home, and she’s moved to Las Vegas with another brother and her father, who is a fairly famous former baseball player. Her mother is staying in California in case her brother comes home. Cat does well on the team, and she and Trace start a solid friendship. Trace is the only one who sees that his brother is becoming more withdrawn, and seems to be getting into drugs, based on his furtive actions, new friends, and frequent odd demeanor. Trace wants to tell his father but is afraid that he will then fight with Will. He does confide a bit in neighbor Mr. Cobb, who served in Vietnam, and tells Will about some of his experiences in the war, and about his career as a nurse, and encourages Trace to tell his father about his brother’s behavior. Even though it escalates to the point where Will steals money from Trace and even takes his baseball glove that Cat’s father signed, Trace is reluctant to share this, especially since his father is dating Lily, who works at the senior facility where his grandfather lives. Trace does reach out to his mother, but she brushes him off, promising to visit when it is clear that she won’t. When Will’s behavior puts him in a life and death situation, will Trace finally be able to let his family know what is going on, and will they be able to pull together to help Will get through?” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in World War II America by Bradford Pearson
In the spring of 1942, the United States government forced 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona and sent them to incarceration camps across the West. Nearly 14,000 of them landed on the outskirts of Cody, Wyoming, at the base of Heart Mountain.
Behind barbed wire fences, they faced racism, cruelty, and frozen winters. Trying to recreate comforts from home, they established Buddhist temples and sumo wrestling pits. Kabuki performances drew hundreds of spectators—yet there was little hope.
That is, until the fall of 1943, when the camp’s high school football team, the Eagles, started its first season and finished it undefeated, crushing the competition from nearby, predominantly white high schools. Amid all this excitement, American politics continued to disrupt their lives as the federal government drafted men from the camps for the front lines—including some of the Eagles. As the team’s second season kicked off, the young men faced a choice to either join the Army or resist the draft. Teammates were divided, and some were jailed for their decisions. [adult football biography]
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Sheinkin is a master storyteller, reminiscent of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist though I don’t he was. He weaves the backstory to the Indian Boarding Schools including the underlying racist history behind it seamlessly into a page-turner of Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, and the rise of football in which the Carlisle Indian School was its most unlikely team to succeed. But succeed it did, going on to a season in which they would best the Ivy Leagues, then the most competitive in this new sport. Sheinkin doesn’t shy away from calling out bigotry or exploitation especially in telling a simultaneous backstory of Pop Warner which leaves a complicated legacy.
In some ways, this is the rise and fall of superathlete Jim Thorpe. Had he been born at a different time, the outcome would be very different. In more modern times, he would be sitting on a multi-million dollar contract in football. Instead, Jim Thorpe’s future is constrained by racism, despite being quite possibly the best athlete of his generation. For non-football fans like myself, this is a page-turner fascinating read. For those who like history or football, it’s a must-read. Sheinkin’s meticulous research comes through, building a compelling story that feels very pertinent today even though it’s our history. [nonfiction historical fiction, ages 10 and up]
p.s. Related posts:
Sports-Specific Book Lists for Kids
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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.