Monday, February 16, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: Sports

I love books for kids, and I love sports. Some of the first books I loved as a kid we books about sports. I vividly remember reading my father’s Chip Hilton books at my grandparents’ house in Omaha, and In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson was a favorite. As an editor, I love sports books in different way. Sports are a dream for book publishers, providing a constant stream of drama and an ever-expanding cast of characters. And the audience is primed for it. Obviously, sports are a big deal in pop culture, but we also expect and respect writing about sports, for all ages.  Thinking about this subject today, though, I’m wondering whether we’re pushing enough, whether we’re giving the children’s book audience everything they’d be interested in. Or are we all crowding the easy roads?

On the fiction side, I have enormous admiration for authors like Chris Crutcher who put sports in their contemporary teen social contexts—they realize that the game isn’t confined to the playing field. I think books like these are an important complement to books that focus on the conventional on-field sporting drama itself (i.e., Matt Christopher, etc.).

Where’s the nonfiction analogy for young readers, though? If sports biography is the Matt Christopher of sports nonfiction for kids, where’s the Chris Crutcher? Where is the sports nonfiction for young readers that takes an unpredictable, provocative POV?

This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t feel like I know the category well enough to generalize about it confidently. I do know, though, that the more I read about college sports recruiting (something you know I do a lot of, if you’ve seen my Twitter feed), the more I think the social implications of sports are a huge deal for young people. Another example is this NY Times Magazine article about the basketball player Shane Battier. Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s still worth wading through the basketball arcana to get at the story of teenage Shane Battier. And Battier is a good example of the different perspective I’m talking about. Only a publisher with a freakishly large traditional sports bio series is likely to devote a book to him, but his story could be enormously interesting to young readers, if told well.

Are there nonfiction books that address this?


Wonders of Weird said...

For years and years I wrote sports features for magazines like US Kids and Child Life for exactly the reasons you've described here in your blog. And Chris Crutcher is my best friend. If you ever want a proposal or two, I MIGHT just be your girl. : )

Kelly Milner Halls
Children's Nonfiction Writer

lindsey-leavitt said...

I really enjoy Rich Wallace's fiction for the same reasons you mentioned--Wrestling Sturbridge is on of my favorites. Sports give you a natural timeline to follow, an inevitable climax.
Anyway, Shane Battier is awesome. I saw a human interest story on him when he played for Duke and thought the same thing. There's a story. Maybe with a touch of fantasy, though. The guy is the King Midas of basketball.
~Lindsey Leavitt