Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Monday, September 24, 2012

New(ish) Book Review

Edited by Jon Scieszka (Guys Read, The Time Warp Trio) and illustrated by Dan Santat (Time Out Kids, The Replacements), Guys Read:The Sports Pages is the third volume in the Guys Read Library of Great Reading (preceded by Guys Read: Funny Business and Guys Read: Thriller). Like the previous installments, GR:TSP is a collection of works by a number of popular writers for young readers, including Chris Crutcher, Tim Green, Gordan Korman, and Anne Ursu. The pieces are united by a common theme—in this case, sports—but written in a variety of styles.

Anne Ursu’s “Max Swings for the Fences” is an amusing short story about a tennis player who moves to a baseball town and tells a little lie that rapidly spins out of control. Gordan Korman’s “The Trophy” is a fun tale about an elementary basketball team that sets out on a quest to find its stolen championship trophy. Dan Gutman’s “How I Won the World Series” is a clever creative non-fiction piece about favorite teams and sports superstitions.  And both Dustin Brown’s “Against All Odds” and James Brown’s “The Choice” are autobiographical, but Dustin recounts his journey to the NHL in a sort of snap-shot essay (I’m defining that as an essay with various topic headings), while James tells his life in basketball as a narrative.

And for a volume with just ten entries, Scieszka has “covered his bases” well, representing baseball, basketball, football, track, mixed martial arts, and (at least a mention of) tennis. I guess it could have been more inclusive, but the stories told are more important than the sports that serve as their settings. And at any rate, baseball, basketball, football, track, and MMA are probably the most popular sports among boys 8-12, anyway.

Guys Read: The Sports Pages
Edited by Jon Scieszka
Walden Pond Press, 2012
Illustrations by Dan Santat
What I’ve liked most about this series (thus far) is that the writers selected manage to craft intelligent, character-centered stories that demonstrate a meaningful change in their protagonists (while still being fun and interesting and page-turnery).  The stories in this collection are no exception.  Sure, at times, some characters' actions are certainly more in service to plot than to character development, but there are also shining examples of interesting protagonists with complex problems that drive the stories forward.  In Tim Green’s “Find Your Fire,” Jake is confronted with a life-changing situation that actually pits him (and his new selfish, angry motivation) against his best friend. The title character in Anne Ursu’s “Max Swings for the Fences” is 100 percent responsible for the mess he gets himself in, and we squirm uncomfortably along with him as he struggles to clean it up. And in Chris Crutcher’s “Meat Grinder,” we see the impact a single peer in his corner has on young, suffering Mack.

It’s not without its (minor) faults, but the clear language, swift pace, and solid variety in Guys Read: The Sports Pages makes it a perfect pick for boy readers—especially reluctant ones.

Recommended for ages 9+.

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