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Culture Children's Books
The Big Game
Danny Owens plans to follow in the footsteps of his Super Bowl champion father, and his upcoming seventh-grade football season might earn him a spot on the high-school varsity team. His father’s unexpected death gives him new determination, but it also leads to violent outbursts and incomprehensible grief. Then Danny’s English teacher catches him cheating on a test and discovers he can’t read. Danny reaches a tipping point when he must choose between his image and his future. Green, a former NFL player, leaves out any mention of God but provides compelling sports writing and a picture of common grace. (Ages 12-15)
Fourth-grader Zayd Saleem is small for his age, but that’s only one of the obstacles keeping him from playing basketball on the Gold Team. His Pakistani-American parents would rather he play violin, but with tryouts looming, he decides to skip rehearsals and practice basketball—without their knowledge. Zayd learns his lesson as punishment ensues and his basketball aspirations seem squelched. Khan’s series opener portrays a likable sports-loving protagonist and a traditional, tight-knit Muslim family that values honesty, tough love, and generational perspective. Aside from its unique cultural viewpoint, parents should know this book contains two misuses of God’s name. (Ages 7-10)
Soccer School Season 1
Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton
Soccer enthusiasts will enjoy this humorous take on the sport’s parallels with a range of educational subjects. “Every class here is about soccer,” the book begins, and Chapter 1 covers biology with details about a soccer player’s diet and digestive system (including some toilet humor). First published in Britain, Soccer School contains some “subjects” that are more believable than others, with fun facts about goat mascots and soccer on Mars. Reluctant readers will enjoy the authors’ vast soccer knowledge coupled with comic-style drawings—but end-of-chapter quizzes contain undiscussed trivia that is confusing. (Ages 8-12)
Charlie “Chuck” Bell grieves the premature death of his father and struggles alongside his mother to face life without him. When Chuck starts acting out, his mother sends him to spend the summer with his grandparents in Washington, D.C. Here he finds healing through his grandfather’s tough love, his grandmother’s cooking, and his cousin Roxie’s cajoling on the basketball court. Set in 1988, this prequel to Alexander’s Newbery Medal winner, The Crossover, provides the backstory of Jordan and Josh’s father and similar parallels between adolescent struggles and sports. Bursts of graphic-novel-style panels enhance Alexander’s nonrhyming poetry. (Ages 10-12)
Young athletes can fall victim to sports idolatry, and Joshua Cooley’s new book, The Biggest Win (New Growth, 2018), seeks to combat this with a compelling message about finding our identity in Christ. The book highlights six Christian NFL players from the 2017 Super Bowl–winning Philadelphia Eagles team. Each speaks about his commitment to Christian discipleship amid the pressure, trials, and fame that come with professional sports. Cooley, a sports writer and children’s minister, intersperses interviews with players and good storytelling with Scripture verses and Biblical insight.
Another book for budding athletes: C.J. Mahaney’s pocket-sized Don’t Waste Your Sports (Crossway, 2011). It provides a concise Scriptural framework on sports that is digestible. Mahaney writes, “Sports are a gift from God. But as soon as you introduce them to the human heart, things get complicated.” —M.J.