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."
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.)