Monday, August 27, 2012

MMGM: Guys Read: The Sports Pages

It's been quite the summer of sport. I'm thinking Olympics here, and all the amazing tales from London 2012.  Right alongside that, the Guys Read project, brainchild of Jon Scieszka, followed up the Guys Read: Funny Business (2010), and Guys Read: Thriller (2011), with Guys Read: The Sports Pages (July 2012). Like the eye-catching cover, this is a huge golden trophy of a compendium.

I received an ARC from Walden Pond Press, and dived straight in. (Folks, there are going to be so many sports metaphors in this review that you're going to think you're ringside, or in the dugout, where all the action is.) The contributors' list got me salivating. The collection is book-ended by two of my absolute faves, Dan Gutman and Chris Rylander--a total one-two punch of delight. (I should say "home run of delight," because both stories are about baseball.)

In between, there's an inspired mix of fiction and nonfiction. In nonfiction, we learn about the career of hockey player Dustin Brown, captain of the Los Angeles Kings (which won this year's Stanley Cup.) We also read about the basketball career--and subsequent success as a sportscaster--of James Brown in "The Choice."

Sports covered in fiction include football (Tim Green's magnificent Find Your Fire, which is as much about the ups and downs of friendship as it is about hoisting a championship trophy); running track, in which Jacqueline Woodson (The Distance) cannily explores the mind and motivation of a Penn Relay runner who is failing to put his heart and soul into it; and mixed martial arts, in which Joseph Bruchac (Choke) dissects the training that Johnny "fish" undergoes to defeat his nemesis, the sneering Tipper Sodaman. There's also a tremendous basketball story by the always entertaining Gordon Korman (The Trophy), in which the Hollow Log Middle School Hammers become city champions, only to find their trophy stolen and their title at stake.

But, for my money, it's in the writing of Anne Ursu (Max Swings for the Fences), and Chris Rylander (I Will Destroy You, Derek Jeter) that The Sports Pages elevates baseball to its rightful place as "America's sport."
Anne Ursu
Chris Rylander

These two writers hang wonderful narratives on their sports stories. We cringe as Ursu's main character, Max Funk, enters a new middle school and tells lie after lie to impress a beautiful girl. In swinging for the fences, he strikes out--but there's a glorious twist at the end of the tale! (Read it to find out.)

And Rylander shows why he was given the SCBWI's 2012 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor. He is magnificent in this story, where our hero Wes swears revenge on Derek Jeter for humiliating him on television. I kid you not when I say that I laughed so much that, had I been drinking a chocolate milkshake while reading, I would now be the proud possessor of the world distance record for expulsion of chocolate milkshake through nose. (So make sure you're not drinking anything when you read Chris Rylander, folks.)

All in all, this is a tremendous addition to the Guys Read canon. And I have an ARC to give away. Just leave a comment with your favorite sport embedded, and you have the chance to win. International entries--and sports--welcome. I'll draw a winner by 9 am PST on Friday August 31st. (And for the record, my favorite sport is tennis.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Drover's Quest by Susan Brocker

From the jacket copy, courtesy of HarperCollins New Zealand:

Rumour is flying around the west coast gold fields that Tom McGee has struck it rich and found a nugget of gold as big as a man's fist. So no one is surprised when next his campsite is found wrecked and abandoned. Men have been killed for a lot less on the tough goldfields of 1860s New Zealand. 
But one person is convinced Tom is not dead. His headstrong daughter, Charlotte. Solving the mystery is not her first task, though. First, she must get to the coast. A skilful horse rider, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a cattle drive across the Southern Alps. To survive the dangerous drive over Arthur's Pass and to keep her identity hidden from the vicious trail boss, she'll need the help of her dog, her horse, and her father's friend, Tama. She knows she can do it - she has to - but what will she find? And will her new American friend, Joseph, help or hinder her quest? Charlie is in for the ride of her life - and the stakes couldn't be higher.
I've got my full review up on PROJECT MAYHEM today. Let me just say that I've become a fan of Susan Brocker's. Unfortunately, being a New Zealander, her novels are not widely available in this country. But over at PROJECT MAYHEM, you get the chance to win yourself a signed copy. So hie thee thither, and join the Mayhem!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Margo Sorenson's ISLAND DANGER

One of the best things about this blogging-and-other-social-media lark is all the GREAT people one meets! Heck, sometimes I feel I interact more with my blog "friends" than I do with my F2F (face-to-face) pals--and in that I'm including the great Don Vito who's just returned from his annual holiday in Sicily!

One of the writers I've recently met is Margo Sorenson. She's the author of 27 books for children, plus (to the Don's great delight) she speaks Italian, having lived in Italy as a child. She's also lived in Hawai'i, so we're all totally envious!

Aloha, Margo!

And Hawai'i is where her latest novel, ISLAND DANGER, (recently released by MuseItUp Publishing) is set. The main character, Todd Halliday, is being sent against his will to spend the summer with his uncle, aunt, and cousins on Oahu. He's visited before, and he chafes at his uncle's military bearing and at his cousin Chris' rule-following.

What Margo Sorenson does really well is get us into Todd's head. At the start of the novel, he's not a particularly likable 14-year-old, and he's dismissive of a number of things (especially his cousin.) But we come to understand that what he really wants and needs is attention. Initially, he goes about it all the wrong way, hoping to find an arms cache and get some media glory. However, during the course of the novel, he comes to realize that Chris is not the "dweeb" and tattletale he first thinks. Todd also stands up to one of his uncle's anti-Hawai'ian tirades, and comes to have empathy for a family of Hawai'ians camping in the forest. By the end of the novel, we've come to appreciate Todd and his growth as a person--which is something all good novels accomplish.

I really enjoyed ISLAND DANGER. It's a fast-paced and thrilling adventure, and would be particularly appealing to that hard-to-reach middle grade demographic that likes sports, surfing, and danger.

(By the way, another of the bloggers I admire, Deb Marshall, had a fantastic review of Island Danger last week, plus a great interview with Margo. And I think today is the last day to earn a chance to win a free copy of ISLAND DANGER--which is exclusively an e-book--from Deb. Head there now, and tell her the Don sent you. Or go straight to Muse It Up and buy it HERE.)