Sports books for reluctant teen readers

The other day I had the privilege of performing one of my favorite tasks as a librarian: an extensive reader’s advisory interview. The conversation started with a woman asking if we had a list of Reading Counts books. I explained that, since it is a pretty extensive list, we typically recommend that a student (or parent or teacher) choose a book and we will then check to see if it is on the list. When I asked if she had a certain title in mind, she told me that her son has to read something from the list for school, but he doesn’t like reading. I asked about her son’s interests and hobbies, and eventually settled on looking for sports books.

Winger. The first book I recommended, Winger (written by Andrew Smith and illustrate by Sam Bosma), is the story of a fourteen-year-old rugby player at a boarding school that is both hilarious and heartbreaking at intervals. The summary from the author’s website:

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Since it’s heavy on the humor and the graphics, I thought it would be a good choice for a reluctant reader. Of course, our copy was checked out, so I quickly looked for some alternatives.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.My second pick, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, isn’t something I would classify primarily as a sports novel, but there’s enough tension surrounding Junior’s decision to join the basketball team that I think it could be called a sports book. The summary from the Amazon:

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

The narration is also light and humorous, even at some of the darker parts of the story, and it is on several YALSA book lists, including the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults — two of my go-to’s for reluctant readers.

The Running Dream. I also suggested Wendelin Van Draanen’s The Running Dream as something with a more serious, reflective side. The summary from Amazon:

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She’s not comforted by the news that she’ll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don’t know what to say, act like she’s not there. Which she could handle better if she weren’t now keenly aware that she’d done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she’s missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that’s not enough for her now. She doesn’t just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.

I wasn’t as sure about this recommendation because I didn’t know whether a reluctant male reader would relate to a female amputee well enough to enjoy the book, but it got excellent reviews and won the 2012 Schneider Family Book Award.

A few hours later, I realized I hadn’t included any nonfiction titles in my recommendations. I don’t read as much nonfiction as I’d like, and I don’t remember coming across any reviews or buzz about sports-related YA nonfiction recently, but I’m sure there are great books out there. If you can think of any, please let me know in the comments!

The woman left with a few books and a relieved expression. I hope she comes back to let me know what her son thought of our choices!

I know this list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.


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