Tag Archives: Team

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

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My tween boys read the first two books in the Streetball Crew Series and recommended I read book one because there is a Muslim character and I’m a fan of the basketball all-star author who draws on his own life and experiences growing up in the story.  It is 265 pages, an AR 4.5, and while the story is decent, and I enjoyed the majority of it, I didn’t love it.  I was not thrilled at the choppiness of the story telling and ultimately the way Islam was presented.  Obviously there are plenty of Muslims that will occasionally eat pork and who get violent as they get more religious, but I don’t think it is the norm and definitely isn’t a message most middle grade Muslim readers would identify with, nor want non Muslims assuming about Muslims as a whole.  The book randomly has a sudden Muslim chapter toward the end and attributes some threats on the main character as being from Muslims becoming more devout.  The main character is not Muslim, this is a side character and her family, and you don’t find out til the book is nearly over that she is Muslim. I worry how younger readers will be affected by the negativity toward Islam, as it really isn’t explored or even part of the story.  There is enough going on in 8th grade Theo’s life with out the insertion of religion.  I was glad I read it so that I could discuss it with my boys, but I would encourage the book for more middle school aged kids, if at all.  The book involves basketball as a subplot, but has larger life lessons and developments away from the game.  Do be aware one of the young characters smokes cigarettes, there is female objectification talk among the male characters, racism is discussed, there is some physical assault, and beer, R-rated movies, tattoos, branding, and dating are mentioned in this coming of age book.

SYNOPSIS:

Theo is 13, in 8th grade, and over the summer has grown six inches.  He identifies as a science nerd and a geek and is on the Academic Olympic team at his school.  He now, however, finds himself on the school basketball team, and has no idea what he is doing.  Towering over everyone, he is assumed to be good, but his lanky body and new found size brings him ridicule and teasing. His life long best friend, a fellow geek, can’t figure out why he won’t just quit the basketball team, but Theo is oddly enough,  enjoying the concept of team, and suddenly being recognized in the halls.  When he joins a pickup game to improve his skills however, he gets in a fight with another kid, get’s threatened by some guys on motorcycles, and teased by a weird girl named Rain.

Outside of school it is just Theo and his police officer dad. Theo’s mom has recently passed away and the two are creating a new normal, that is until Theo finds out his father is giving online dating a try.   After the first abysmal basketball game, Theo is forced to go visit his cousin in LA who is a tiny bit older than him, but much rougher.  He constantly teases Theo and puts him down.  He claims to be a great musician, but no one has ever heard his music, and suddenly on this visit, he seems a bit more insightful, which has Theo confused. 

With Theo being pulled in multiple directions, he risks being kicked off the basketball team, moved down to alternate on the Brain Game Team, killed on Friday by the motorcycle gang and to top it all off, a CD of his cousins music has been stolen from Theo’s backpack and band has gone viral with one of the songs.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is a coming of age book for boys.  I feel like there are a lot of girl books out there, but this one really does get into a young males head.  It isn’t always pretty, and while women/girls are at times objectified in his thoughts and while chatting with his friends, I think he realizes it and doesn’t treat or talk to women in a negative way.  I like that race is discussed as he is one of 14 black kids in his school of 600.  There are times when he or his family are treated different for their skin color, but his mom never allowed him to accept it to be a reason for not being the best ‘you’ and she would make them put money in a jar any time they blamed race for something bad happening, a tradition they continue even though she has passed.  I like the pop cultural references, a lot of books overdo it, this book makes it pretty smooth and relatable.

*Spoiler Warning* So Rain, turns out to be Matar, Arabic for Rain, she has convinced her aunt and uncle to let her change schools while her parents are in Iraq (her mom is Iraqi, her father a Quaker from Pennsylvania) and call her by her American name and let her wear American clothes (no hijab).  The motorcycle villains, are her cousins, who were trying to find her and were threatening  Theo to try and find out where she was.  Their frustration with her behavior and dress is what prompted them to hit Rain which made her run.  Rain and Theo discuss why after September 11, she was tired of being accused of being a terrorist and so she wanted a fresh start.  Her uncle and aunt are noted as being nice, but clearly the devout Muslim cousins are what will be remembered.  She also discusses sometimes eating pork, that hijab is modesty in the Quran, not a requirement to cover your hair, and that she is Muslim, but doesn’t know if she will be when she is older.

The book didn’t find its flow for me until nearly half way through, maybe about page 100 or so.  It seemed to struggle to get all the characters introduced, flesh them out, and then decide what the book should be about.  Once it got through all that it flowed better, but still left me confused as to why there was a spontaneous breakfast party, why a lawyer would so quickly get involved in the music case, why Theo was withdrawing from his friends, why Rain wouldn’t just talk to Theo, how Rain had friends she could stay with after just starting at the school, how Rain could switch schools without her parents there. Really the Rain character in general seemed really forced.

FLAGS:

I listed most of the potential concerns in the opening paragraph so that anyone, like me that would think, ‘oh fabulous a middle grade sports book by a Muslim author’ would be aware that there are a few potentially concerning elements.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club selection, it is a little all over the place, my 11 year old disagrees and thinks it would be a great book club read, so I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Video interviews with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about the book:

https://video.disney.com/watch/sasquatch-in-the-paint-with-kareem-abdul-jabbar-4e8f920a40dec5fcc9be6a5d

 

Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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It is great to see a beautiful hijabi on the front of a sports book, written by a non Muslim, published by a major publisher, and having the story have nothing to do with the cloth on her head, but rather the skills on the court.  Teaching lessons about teamwork and self-worth, there is a whole series of these books about different sports with different main characters, and this one focuses on volleyball and a girl named Asiyah Najjar.  I’d maybe recommend this 63 page book to kids starting to feel confident with early chapter books, but more on that later.

SYNOPSIS:

Asiyah plays rec volleyball and enjoys it, but when her friend Lucy convinces her to try out for the traveling team, she has to not just be good enough to make the team, but focused enough to not let her teammates down.  With daily practices, comedian Asiyah feels like everyone is taking the new team way too serious and she questions if she wants to continue.  She loves playing the piano and with school work, her time is being consumed by volleyball.  When she overhears her friends doubting her commitment to the team, she, with the support of her brother, decides to dig deep and give it one last, serious, try.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Asiyah mentions in the first chapter that she is nervous about the traveling team, because of her hijab and that people in town know “what it is, and why I wear it,” she says.  She never mentions that she is Muslim or why she wears it, just states that the people around her know. Religion and faith are never brought up again.

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There are some slightly off things in this book for me.  According to the publisher, the book is meant to appeal to 8-11 year olds,  but to me, the style of the book is aimed for 6-8 year olds.  Those who need pictures and a large font and big spaces between lines and short chapters.  The illustrations, however, in the book make the main character and her friends seem like high school students, with their heavily makeup looking faces, or at least middle school with the main character wearing hijab.  After reading the book, twice, I still don’t know how old the main characters are.  They seem pretty independent, but then when Asiyah’s parents have to run some errands, her brother Rad walks her and Lucy to volleyball practice, like an escort.  

That’s another thing, of all the ethnic or religious names that could have been chosen, Rad seems like an odd choice in that it will come across as funny to readers and kind of mitigate the amazingness of having a socially accepted female Muslim athlete on the cover, again, just my opinion.

Another slightly confusing thing for me is that the book is a “Jake Maddox book,” but he isn’t really the author.  After looking in to it, I think it is more like a series or type of sports book that other’s write for and include his standards, “each of his stories is stamped with teamwork, fair play, and a strong sense of self-worth and discipline (http://www.capstonepub.com/consumer/products/digging-deep/).” The book is ok for 2nd graders, the lessons learned will resonate in the moment and teach a point, but the characters will be quickly forgotten.  The book has questions at the end and a glossary of volleyball terms which would be great for kids interested in volleyball.  

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FLAGS:

Clean, the characters listen to music and Asiyah plays the piano.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this for a book club book, but with the standards of sportsmanship and the integrity I’d probably have it in my classroom.  The book is a super short read, so reading it would help boost struggling reader’s confidence, and with so many books in the series, if the child likes sports, they will have lots of options with positive messages to engage with.

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Captain Lilly and the New Girl by Brenda Bellingham illustrated by Clarke MacDonald

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This book is part of First Novels, a collection of books in Canada that focuses on easy to read early chapter books that encourage kids to transition from leveled readers, while getting to know a single character in a realistic contemporary world.  There are a lot of Lilly books, but this one caught my attention because of the hijab wearing girl on the front, presumably the “new girl.”  At an AR 2.8 this 64 page book is great on so many levels, and really does meet the First Novel goal of presenting a simple theme and showing the main character grow.

SYNOPSIS:

Lilly is changing soccer teams, and only finds solace when many of her school friends will also be joining.  While each of the girls has different opinions and levels of enthusiasm about the team, they all are committed to one another as the “Wolves” stick together in a pack.  This loyalty is tested when a new girl is brought in to fill in for an injured wolf.  The foreigner, from America, wears a scarf, and just like with soccer, there are a lot of differing thoughts on the matter.  The reader see what Lilly feels as it is told from her perspective, which makes the issue not so much about the hijab itself, but about how a 9 or 10-year-old thinks and processes new concepts.  Ultimately, the Wolves as individuals and a team, have to decide what to do when an opposing team says that Sara has to take off her hijab if she wants to play.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book is real, with strong independent girls.  The side characters aren’t cookie cutters of each other, they all have personalities and quirks, and I love that they don’t all agree, yet they all can make it work.  The book’s catalyst is the hijab, but it isn’t preachy and it is presented and understood through a non-muslim elementary-age character.   I don’t think Islam or Muslim is even mentioned, nor any culture, she is American, and the book takes place in Canada.  It addresses safety regarding the hijab, comfort in wearing sweats and not shorts, and being hot in a long sleeve shirt, issues that any reader can understand and ponder about.  The book isn’t gripping, but for the age group and the intent, it is spot on.  The font, spacing, size of the book, and simple illustrations, urge kids to read a “chapter book” and think about something they may not have ever thought about before.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does say words like “suck,” but it isn’t disrespectful.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this as a Book Club book, because the kids can read it fairly quick, but I would probably read it aloud to kids and have them discuss, or have them somehow read it in groups and discuss.  There are a few websites that can help facilitate the discussion, but kids would definitely have opinions on how the situation was handed, how they might handle it, and what they think of the team’s sponsor.  

https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?a=1&tid=40533

Click to access FirstNovels_Series_ActivityGuide.pdf

http://www.formac.ca/firstnovels