Sports Books

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Sports Books

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I’m an avid sports fan. How avid? Well, I used to contribute content for a fantasy football website. I shared partial season tickets for the Philadelphia Phillies before moving to NYC. I subscribe to ESPN the Magazine. I was even once a mediocre athlete, earning seven varsity letters during my high school career. There’s more, but I don’t want to terrify you.

Given the above revelations, it should come as no surprise that I’d love to find sports books for children. But not just any sports books for children: I want books that are fresh, intelligent, and about more than just the games on the field.

Blame it on my frantic fanaticism, but I’m very picky about the types of sports books I enjoy. Have you written about a ragtag group of losers who rally to beat the bad guys? Yawn. Does the hero believe in himself and score the winning touchdown/three-pointer/perfect triple axle despite overwhelming odds? Bo-ring.

I’m looking for stories that incorporate sports but don’t rely on common clichés like the unlikely triumph of underdogs or the homerun-to-win-the-game-on-the-second-to-last-page. I don’t want to be able to guess the ending 75 pages before it occurs. Just like a terrific game, a sports book should have surprises, memorable characters, drama, and something the audience has never seen before. You’ll also need to have a unique element to differentiate it from the scores of other movies, books, and TV shows that have come before it.

A key element for me is for the game action to be well researched and authentic. If a child plays a particular sport and you’re confusing terminology, chances are all verisimilitude flies out the window and you’ll lose the audience. Be careful, too, not to explain things too much: you’re not writing a manual on how to play the game, but a book that incorporates the action into what’s hopefully a rich story.

A good recent example of a sports novel that worked for me is Kurtis Scaletta’s Mudville. Mudville is more than a baseball book–it’s also a tall tale (the setup is that a game between rival teams has been postponed for 22 years due to non-stop rain) and a book about the importance of family. Scaletta’s knowledge of baseball shines through, but the game itself works in concert with deeper familial drama to create a story that transcends the normal sports story.

I also tip my hat to Mike Lupica’s books (not that the bestselling author and sports columnist needs another hat tipped his way). Even though his novels sometimes veer into familiar territory, Lupica knows the games so well that his works come to life through the sheer authenticity of the situations. I like, too, how he’s not afraid to mix in real life drama and difficult situations. His books, too, transcend the action on the field.

So when thinking of me for a sports book, know that I want works that feature authentic game situations, unique hooks that haven’t been done to death, and elements that push the story beyond whatever is happening on the field. If you have those elements in place, please send your projects my way!

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  1. As a non-sports person, I join you in tipping my hat to Lupica, who managed to write in a way that engage me in stories steeped in insider lingo and assumed knowledge that I don’t have.

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  2. I’m on it! Actually I’m in the middle of it, but these are good points for me to remember. Mine is not about the game, but the game is there.

    I agree about Mike Lupica. For years, classroom teachers told my son, “Oh, you like sports books? Have you tried Matt Christopher?” As if there was only ONE option. Those books served their cause for a year or so, but after 2nd grade, the hunt has been difficult for us. Lupica’s been a nice addition. BTW, my now 6th grade son started responding with things like, “Actually, I like to read Rick Reilly from Sports Illustrated. Do you have anything like that?” It got a lot of eye rolls, as if he was a lost cause. Sigh.

    Here’s a question though…how do people feel about a woman writing a middle grade sports book? Specifically baseball? I swear it’s not all huggy lovey.

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  3. I like Lupica’s books as well. Feinstein’s, not so much.

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  4. It’s not a book but if you haven’t seen it, check out the documentary “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29”. Nothing ground breaking… but enthralling all the same.

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  5. Min, obviously women can write middle grade sports books. Linda Sue Park, Sue Corbett, and Jennifer Holm have all done it. However, I’d keep my eyes on any guy writing a middle grade romance… 😉

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  6. KURTIS: Spinelli’s STARGIRL and LOVE, STRAGIRL.

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  7. Good call, Anita. I think Tom Sawyer would also fall into that category. 🙂

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  8. Also AM Jenkins wrote a football book.

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  9. Catherine Gilbert Murdock did a fine job with Dairy Queen and sequels, I might add…

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  10. So Chris, we know you’re interested in books that contain some element dealing with sports. And you’re interested in books for boys. But what about a book that deals with competitive swimming and is meant for upper YA girls? Is that a possible interest? Or a no way if it contains romance?

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