Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber 

“Press Box: Women and children not admitted.” So read the press pass that Mary Garber had to wear as a reporter at sporting events. It was embarrassing, even insulting, but in the 1940s, sports—and sports reporting—was a man’s world.

Mary didn’t let that stop her. She never let anything stop her really. As a kid, she played quarterback for her local football team. Later, as a reporter, she dug in her heels and built up her own sports beat. For close to fifty years, Mary shined the spotlight on local heroes whose efforts might otherwise have gone unnoticed. “‘That’s Miss Mary Garber,’ one boy said at a soapbox derby. ‘And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.’”

This is the story of a woman who pursued her dream and changed the world.

If you’re looking for an inspirational story that will encourage young readers to follow their dreams, then Miss Mary Reporting is the book for you. While the story focuses on the hard work and dedication that made Miss Mary an excellent reporter, the story also shows how others helped Miss Mary along the way. In addition, the book briefly mentions the segregated Negro leagues as well as Jackie Robinson and the discrimination he faced.

While Miss Mary’s story is inspirational, younger readers may have a difficult time sitting through a reading of the book because of the text-heavy pages. Each page has four to seven complex sentences and the text includes difficult vocabulary. The full-page illustrations use muted tones that reflect the serious topic of discrimination. The illustrations will give readers a peek into the past because it shows the clothing, hairstyles, and other aspects of the time period. Readers who want to learn more will find an author’s note, a timeline, and a list of more resources at the end of the book.

Miss Mary’s biography will inspire readers and show how one woman impacted the world of sports. However, the heavy topic makes the picture book more suited to older readers. While Miss Mary’s story is interesting, it’s not necessarily entertaining; the book is best read by those who have an interest in sports and journalism. Readers who would like to learn more about women in sports should also read Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Before the Ever After

ZJ’s dad, “Zachariah 44” Johnson, is a football star and ZJ’s entire world. He has always been there for ZJ and his mom. Zachariah 44 is a source of pride for the neighborhood and his fans. But after his most recent football concussion, ZJ’s dad has been different: Wild mood swings, forgetting ZJ’s friends’ names, even forgetting ZJ’s name. ZJ finds himself watching as the father that he loves deteriorates before his eyes. Clinging to his friends and mom, ZJ dreams about what life was like before the ever after.

Told in verse by ZJ, Before the Ever After highlights important moments that ZJ remembers about his father—the good and the bad. This is a story that pertains to head injuries in the NFL in the early 2000s and how they were dealt with. It specifically highlights the impact these injuries had on the families of these players.

In a way, ZJ is narrating a tragedy about his father’s fall from football star to a father that can’t remember his own son’s name. ZJ and his mother deal with the situation as best they can, and ZJ’s stories of the good times with his father carry a strong nostalgic tone. ZJ is elementary to middle school-aged, and the way he understands and relays information is perfect for younger readers. ZJ also plays football, but his relationship with it is complicated as ZJ tries to come to terms with the sport that his father loved so much. Although this story is about ZJ’s father, it is very much ZJ’s story as well.

Although Before the Ever After isn’t very long, Jacqueline Woodson carries us along with simple yet powerful verse that conveys the somber tone of ZJ’s particular voice. Throughout the course of the novel, ZJ learns that the things we love in life become a part of us, whether it’s a hobby or career or a person. Those things that we love unconditionally live in our memories, good and bad. By the end of the book, ZJ’s narration is mostly in the present rather than in the past, showing that he’s starting to accept his new reality. Although what happened to his father will never be okay, ZJ isn’t alone, and that’s the most important lesson of all.

Sexual Content

  • ZJ’s mom takes his dad to the doctor, who tells ZJ’s dad that he can’t drive anymore. ZJ narrates, saying “the doctor said to Daddy, / Look on the bright side. You have this / beautiful chauffeur. / Then he winked at Mama. / Look on the bright side, my daddy said / back to the doctor. / You’re a total chauvinist.”

Violence

  • “Zachariah 44” Johnson (also referred to as Dad) is a professional football player, so football-related pains and injuries are abundant. Once, Johnson describes, “His whole body . . . / is 223 pounds of pain / from toes to knees, from knees to ribs, / every single hit he took yesterday / remembered in the morning.”
  • One day, Ollie and ZJ are playing tackle in the yard when “Ollie tackled [ZJ] so hard, [his] head hit / the ground / and [his] nose bled.” Ollie felt terrible about the situation.
  • ZJ notes that “[his] dad probably holds the Football / Hall of Fame record / for the most concussions. Even with a / helmet on.”
  • This book takes place during the late nineties through the early 2000s. The topic of Y2K and what comes with the millennium comes up in conversation. ZJ talks about “this guy on the radio [who] said the world / was going to end / when we got to the new millennium. / That it was gonna explode—a whole / ‘nother big bang / but this time, instead of the earth being / created, / it was just gonna burst into smithereens / and all of us would be gone from here.”
  • ZJ’s dad’s mental state deteriorates throughout the course of the book from years of many concussions. Dad often forgets things and gets irrationally angry, and he sometimes will “slam the door so hard / the whole room shook.”
  • ZJ says that when he was a little kid, his grandma would say, “You’re about to get yourself / in deep water.” ZJ explains, “Deep water was a spanking from her.”
  • Football-related violence is sometimes described. ZJ notes that one time, his dad “got hit so hard, a / vein broke / in his left eye / and it stayed bloodred for days and / days.”
  • ZJ and his friend Ollie have a snowball fight in the park, and ZJ looks for specific gloves. He says, “I don’t know why / but those gloves seem to have a / superpower / when it comes to shaping snowballs and / firing them / at the sucker who didn’t duck fast / enough.”
  • ZJ gets tackled during a touch-football game. ZJ describes, “I’m going down, tasting snow and / dirt and spit / and something else too. / Blood.” ZJ, thinking about his dad’s injuries, quits football then and there.
  • ZJ’s dad punches out a window in the bedroom. ZJ says, “I’m half asleep when I hear the glass, / shattering once, then again as it’s / falling. / I hear my mother screaming and run to / their room, / where my daddy is standing at the / window, his arm through it, / and cold air blowing in.” The scene lasts for a couple of pages, and it’s clear that ZJ’s dad is confused about what’s happening.

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • ZJ says that Ollie’s mom Bernadette comes over and drinks “sometimes, if it’s a Friday night, / one glass of wine.” Bernadette jokes, “Any more than that. . .  / and I forget my own name.”
  • After ZJ’s dad forgets who ZJ’s friends are, they ask “was your dad drunk?” and “maybe it was drugs.”
  • The doctors want to prescribe some “experimental drugs” to help ZJ’s dad cope with his migraines, memory loss, and anger.
  • ZJ describes some of the pills that his dad takes, saying, “there’s the pill that makes his feet / swell. / And the one that blurs his vision. / And the one that makes it hard for food to stay / in his belly. / And when none of those pills work, / there’s another doctor to see.”
  • ZJ remembers his dad’s earlier birthday parties, before people had stopped visiting them: “the ones who used to fill up our house, / their wineglasses clinking, / their laughter echoing through the / rooms.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • ZJ’s best friend Ollie was left on the doorstep of a church as a baby. As a result, “a preacher and his wife found / and kept [Ollie].”
  • ZJ talks about the toll that his dad’s condition is taking on his mom. ZJ says, “Last night I found my mom outside / standing on the deck, looking up at the / sky. / Are you counting stars? I asked. / No, she said. I’m looking for God. / If anyone has any answers, I guess / God would.”
  • ZJ’s mom prays to herself, saying “In Jesus’s name, I pray. Amen.”

by Alli Kestler

Top Prospect

Travis is starstruck when Elvis Goddard, head coach for the Gainesville Fighting Gators, comes to his house to offer his older brother, Carter, a football scholarship. Carter isn’t the only one who gets an offer.  When Coach G sees Travis’s talent as a quarterback, the coach offers him a scholarship even though he’s just an eighth-grader. This once-in-a-lifetime offer turns Travis into an overnight sensation, landing him VIP access to the Gainesville University gym and football field, an interview with ESPN, and instant popularity at school.

Meanwhile, Carter is learning the ropes of being a college football player. He and his roommate, Alex, start part-time jobs at a car dealership under the guidance of Walter Henry. Walter secretly gives Carter hundreds of dollars, something for which the Gainesville team has already been investigated. Carter feels guilty but accepts the money. When Alex tears his ACL in a football game, he miraculously recovers.  Alex confesses that he is taking steroids to help his healing process. Although Carter doesn’t agree with Alex’s decision, Carter promises to keep it a secret.

Back home, as Travis graduates eighth grade and enters high school, the pressure of keeping a scholarship gets more intense. He is chosen as the high school quarterback, but he feels used because the coach just wants a job at Gainesville University. For the three players, everything is going according to plan until Alex collapses from an apparent heart failure at a football practice and dies. Carter knows the real reason for Alex’s death—the steroids—but chooses not to tarnish Alex’s name by sharing his secret.

Shaken by Alex’s death, Travis’s skills deteriorate. During a game, Travis injures his elbow and must begin a slow, painful recovery. After a devastating loss of a game that costs Travis’s team the championship, Walter Henry offers Travis steroids. Travis hesitantly accepts the steroids, but he decides to ask for Carter’s advice on whether or not he should take them. Carter, knowing the steroids killed Alex, blows up and attacks Walter. Although Walter is investigated, nothing happens to him; however, Coach Goddard resigns, and Travis’ scholarship is withdrawn. Even though Travis is heartbroken, he is happy to be relieved of the pressure of keeping a scholarship.

Football players and fans will enjoy Top Prospect because it explores different aspects of football. The story explores multiple football issues including steroid use, the never-ending pressure to perform well, and under-the-radar payment from sponsors. Readers will relate to Travis’s, Carter’s, and Alex’s passions for football. However, the games and practices are tediously described, which might bore readers. In an afterword, Paul Volponi recounts a few real-life stories of eighth graders being offered college scholarships that inspired this book.

In addition to football issues, Travis also goes through personal issues. Travis’s parents are divorced, and he has to deal with his dad’s emotional and physical distance. The story is told mostly from Travis’s point of view, but there are also several short chapters from Carter’s perspective. Carter is initially frustrated to always have Travis tailing behind him, but the time they spend together ends up strengthening their relationship. Besides his brotherly bond and love of football, Travis is not a relatable character. He overcomes many conflicts, and he learns not to push himself too hard and to always be honest with Carter. However, Travis does not change as a person. He is self-centered and is never humbled. There is no real plot to the story, and the book ends abruptly. However, Top Prospect will suit older readers looking for a football-intense story.

Sexual Content

  • Travis recounts a date with Lyn, a girl he has a crush on. Travis “had even worked up the nerve to kiss her by the end of it. My first real
  • Travis goes to a party where “five or six cheerleaders kissed [him] hello on the cheek.”
  • Travis, a freshman, is going on a date with a sophomore. His mom has “the talk” with him and tells him, “This is an older girl. I just want to make sure that you’re ready for these relationships.”
  • At the movies, Travis runs into Lyn, who is on a date with a junior boy named PJ. Before the movie starts, PJ “gave [Lyn] a quick kiss,” which makes Travis jealous.

Violence

  • During a Gator’s football game, Carter blocked a defender. “You could hear the huhh of air leaving that defender’s lungs as Carter flattened him like a pancake.”
  • During a Gator’s football game, Alex tears his ACL. “Alex caught a cleat in the turf while he was making a sharp cut. His left knee twisted with a ton of torque, buckling beneath him. He fell to the field screaming in pain, with both hands clamped around his knee.” As he is brought to the locker room on a cart, he “slammed the cart’s metal railing so hard [Travis] thought he might have broken his hand.”
  • During a game, Carter gets tackled in mid-air. “At the height of [Carter’s] leap, a defender hit him in the thigh, sending Carter into a mid-air backflip. He crashed into the ground.”
  • During a game, Travis takes his first sack of the season. “A heavyweight lineman…pounded me pretty hard. But I went with his momentum and didn’t try to fight his force. I bounded up off the ground right away.”
  • During a game, one of Travis’s D-backs “absolutely drilled” the opposing team’s receiver, “burying his shoulder pads into the receiver’s chest and causing the loudest pop [Travis had] heard in a long time.”
  • During a game, Travis decides to ram into a senior linebacker. Travis “lowered [his] right shoulder and stuck it square into his midsection. The crowd let out a roar as my body shook from the collision. But that all-state linebacker flew back almost as far as I did.”
  • During a game, Travis dives for a football that lands close to his feet. Travis “got to the football first and tucked it beneath [him] when the Bruiser slammed into [his] left elbow. A bolt of pain shot through [his] entire body. Then it happened again and again as other players piled on top.”
  • Believing Coach Harkey, the Gainesville fitness coach, gave Travis the steroids, Carter “grabbed [Coach Harkey], running Harkey back against a wall… [Carter] tried to shove that vial down Harkey’s throat.”
  • When Carter realizes Walter gave Travis the steroids, Carter drives to Walter’s dealership. Carter “aimed the car straight for [Walter], jumping the curb… By the time Walter looked up, [Carter] was almost on top of him… [Carter] slammed on the breaks, stopping just a few feet away, nearly pinning him against the glass of the showroom.” After Carter gets out of his car, he “grabbed Walter by the collar and rammed him against the hood of the car.” Then, Carter “punched [Walter] in the solar plexus.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Alex tells Carter he is taking PEDs to help his knee recover quickly.
  • Alex explodes on Carter and Travis for talking too loudly while he is trying to sleep. Carter knows this is a side effect of Alex taking PEDs. In his inner thoughts, Carter thinks, “PEDs—that was the only way I could explain what I’d witnessed.”
  • Walter Henry tries to give Travis steroids to help his elbow heal. Walter justifies using steroids by saying, “Travis, steroids are everywhere in society. They’re in the feed we give chickens and cows to make them healthier. These are for humans… The mildest you can take. Just a few steps above aspirin or Tylenol. But instead of making pain, they heal the problem at the source and promote growth… It’s what plenty of scholarship athletes do to compete when they’re injured.” Walter gives Travis “two vials of pills.”
  • When Walter initially offers Travis steroids, Travis tells him, “I can’t. They’re drugs. Anyway, it’d be cheating.” Later that day, though, Travis “talked [himself] into believing [he] really wouldn’t be cheating… taking steroids would be about getting healthy, not about becoming a better player. [He] already had the talent in the first place.”
  • Walter hands Travis the steroids and gives directions for taking them. Walter “produced two vials of pills. ‘It’s a seven-week cycle,’ [Walter] explained. ‘The first four weeks, you take the ones in the container with the blue stripe. The next three weeks, take the ones from the red. They’re stronger.’”

Language

  • When Travis is offered a scholarship, Carter wonders, “Why was I busting my butt in the weight room and staying up nights studying the playbook?”
  • When Travis does an ESPN SportsCenter, his mom asks if it’s live. When he nods, she mouths, “My God!”
  • Damon, a member of Travis’ football team, fumbles a ball and calls himself “a moron” and “a fat idiot.”
  • Alex tells Carter they need to talk, and Carter wonders if it’s about Alex’s mom or “God forbid, somebody from the NCAA heard about Walter’s money.”
  • After a bad first half of Travis’s football game, his coach furiously yells at the players, “If you’re going to get your butts whipped, at least keep your heads up!”
  • When Travis shows Carter the vial of steroid pills, Carter asks him, “Who gave you this crap?”
  • When Carter realizes Walter Henry gave Travis the steroids, he says, “God, I should have seen it.”
  • When Carter tells Coach Harkey he knew Alex was taking steroids, Harkey says, “Relationships aren’t easy. Lord, I only wish I’d had a better one with Alex Moore.”
  • Travis “wished to God [he] could have been there when Carter beat [Walter’s] behind.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In testimony to Alex, Coach Goddard says, “[Alex] was totally committed to fight back from his injury and to play to the very best of his God-given abilities… I’m sure that his spirit and memory will remain a vital part of this team.”
  • Carter says, “After the EMTs put Alex in the ambulance, we all held hands in a circle and got down on one knee to pray.”
  • After swearing he will never tell anyone about Alex taking PEDs, Carter says, “God bless you, fam.”
  • After he dies, Alex’s jersey hangs inside his open locker. “Players passed by it and crossed themselves or bowed their heads, like it was a sort of shrine.” Travis “ran [his] fingers over the fabric, trying to feel Alex’s spirit.”
  • Carter tells Alex’s mom he took steroids. She responds, “I’ll let God judge my son’s mistakes.”

by Jill Johnson

Backfield Boys: A Football Mystery in Black and White

Jason and Tom are two best friends from New York who love to play football. They are stoked when they are accepted to Thomas Gatch Prep (TGP), a private boarding school in Virginia created specifically for athletes. After their first week of practice, Jason, who is white, expects to be placed as a wide receiver because of his speed. Tom, who is black, expects to be placed as a quarterback because of his strong arm and accuracy. But when Jason is assigned as a quarterback and Tom is assigned as a wide receiver, the boys start to suspect racial bias. As the year progresses, Tom and Jason, along with their roommates Billy Bob and Anthony, start to notice deep-seated racism in the school.

Tom and Jason discover that there have been zero African Americans that have played as quarterbacks at TGP. Determined to expose the racism at the school, Tom and Jason enlist the help of two reporters: Teel and Robinson. These two reporters have already heard about the underlying racism at TGP, but they’ve never had enough evidence to prove it. As the football season gets underway, Tom and Jason gather more evidence of racism. Tom is never put in any of the games. All of the students were assigned roommates, and there are no interracial rooms. One of the biggest stories they find is that Mr. Gatch, founder of TGP, invited a former KKK grand wizard to speak at a school he worked at thirty years ago. The boys are stunned that the founder of their school has ties to the KKK, but it’s still not enough of a story for Teel and Robinson to publish.

In addition to attempting to expose the racism in the school, Tom, Jason, Anthony, and Billy Bob deal with the everyday pressures of high school, including deciding on who to take to the school dance. Fortunately, Billy Bob uses his southern charm to win over a group of senior girls, providing himself and his friends dates. Their big news break occurs at the school dance. The dance is going well until Mr. Gatch yells at Tom and Anthony for dancing with their dates, who are white. His explosion lands him and his school in the public eye.

A couple of weeks later, the head football coach, Coach Johnson, calls a meeting, but only the white coaches are invited. Coach Johnson announces he is leaving and the new head coach is a black man, which causes uproar. Coach Johnson says, “We all have to make sacrifices in today’s world. Bad enough we had to put up with a black president in this country.” The meeting is further evidence of racism and when the media hears a recording of the meeting, the story explodes in the media. The school is split into those who support Coach Johnson and those who don’t.

There are underlying real-world, political elements in Backfield Boys. Trump is referenced a few times. For example, Tom, Jason, Anthony, and Billy Bob sit with their friend Juan del Potro and other Hispanic students at lunch. Tom comments, “Donald Trump would not like our table.” Juan adds, “He’d want a wall down the middle of it.” After the story of the coaches’ meeting is published, “Fox News was having what felt like a field day with the story, the issue to them being that the United States was being destroyed by ‘chronic political correctness.’” The main characters are obviously not supporters of Trump and have no reserves about expressing their political and religious opinions.

Backfield Boys describes, in detail, many football games, which will satisfy football fans. Tom and Jason always know which plays will work best, which is unrealistic since this is their first year playing football. Tom, Jason, Anthony, and Billy Bob don’t have any flaws and are always presented in a positive light, which makes them unrealistic characters. They are extremely mature and witty for their age, providing the book with good humor. They are admirable in that they could have chosen to just leave TGP, but they decided to stay and work towards exposing the racism in the school. The story drags at times, and the climax comes at the very end. Backfield Boys is about football, but it is also about underlying racism that still exists in sports today.

Sexual Content

  • Billy Bob stands up to Mr. Gatch after being yelled at for dancing with a black girl. Grateful, Zoey “walked a few steps over to Billy Bob, leaned down, and gave him a long kiss on the lips.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jason and Thomas want to tell the coaches they are in the wrong positions, but they don’t think it will go over well. Jason says, “I was only with Coach Reilly a couple of minutes, but my sense is that he’s a serious jerk.”
  • While he is checking for students who want to go to church, Coach Ingelsby insults Jason’s Judaism. After Coach Ingelsby leaves Jason’s room, Jason says, “Go with God, you jerk.”
  • A football player who was yelled at and blamed for hurting his teammate dropped out of TGP. Anthony says he doesn’t blame him because “Bobo did everything but call him the n-word.”
  • Robinson knows it will not be easy to prove Coach Bobo is racist. He says, “[Coach Bobo] may be a racist, but he’s no dummy.”
  • After Billy Bob performs a play Coach Johnson didn’t call, Coach Johnson tells him to “sit your butt down the rest of the night.”
  • Gatch, the owner of TGP, is furious that Tom is dancing with Toni, a white girl. He shouts, “Good God, do you expect me to just stand here and watch while you paw this beautiful young girl?”
  • Tom tells Teel and Robinson about Mr. Gatch’s response to him dancing with a white girl, and how that proves Mr. Gatch is a racist. “We got [Mr. Gatch]. He did everything but call Anthony and me the n-word.”
  • After making a good play during a football game, Billy Bob tells Coach Johnson “You’re welcome for saving your butt – again – tonight.”
  • When the coaches discover that the new head coach is a black man, Coach Ingelsby says, “Well, I sure as hell am not working for a goddamn. . . ” The book goes on to say, “And then he said it, the n-word.”
  • “What the hell?” and hell are used several times.
  • “My God” and “Oh, my God” are used several times as an exclamation.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • During football practice, Jason runs the fastest out of everyone. Tom jokes, “Wait until they find out you’re Jewish. They’ll want to drug test you.”
  • Billy Bob tells Jason he is the first big city kid he has ever met. Jason replies, “Maybe I’m the first Jewish kid you’ve met, too.” Billy Bob asks Jason if it was scary living in the West Side of Manhattan, and Jason answers, “Probably no scarier than it would be to be Jewish in Gadsden.”
  • Jason and Thomas joke with each other during a blessing. An upperclassman whispers, “Hey, freshmen, you need to shut up and show some respect during the blessing.”
  • After a prayer is finished, an upperclassman asked them, “What’s the matter, you big-city boys don’t believe in God?” Another student chimes in, “Are you Muslim or something? You pray to Allah?”
  • When the two upperclassmen question Tom, he replies, “You pray to whomever you want, and I’ll pray to whomever I want, and we’ll leave it at that.” Billy Bob jumps to Tom and Jason’s defense by saying, “I go to church every Sunday and pray to the Lord Jesus Christ, just like you do. But at this school we’ve got folks from all over, and we all better learn that not everyone’s the same as us.”
  • The chaplain at TGP prays, “Dear Lord, we thank thee for our food today. May we be faithful stewards of thy bounty. Grant us the grace to walk where your son Jesus’s feet have gone.”
  • During a school prayer, “Jason wouldn’t bow his head for a prayer mentioning Jesus as the son of God.”
  • “Tom didn’t bow his head because he believed that all prayer should be silent and private.”
  • At the end of practice on a Saturday, Coach Johnson tells the football team to, “Pay your respects to the Lord in the morning.”
  • Jason stays at the school while Billy Bob and Anthony take a bus to go to St. Michael’s Catholic church. Jason recalls the school forms saying, “If the Protestant services offered on campus on Sunday were not deemed appropriate, transportation to churches of their denominations in the area would be supplied.”
  • Coach Ingelsby asked Jason if he was going to church, and Jason responds, “I’m Jewish.” Coach Ingelsby retorts, “So Jewish people don’t go to church?” Jason tells him, “Coach, if you’re Jewish you go to temple, not church. And, generally speaking, you go on Friday night or Saturday morning.” Coach Ingelsby asks, “Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus Christ, do they?” Jason answers, “Most Jews believe he existed. They just don’t believe he was the son of God.” Coach Ingelsby tells Jason he feels sorry for him because he is “missing out on salvation.”
  • On Sunday mornings, the school library is closed. There is a sign that says, “God first, studies second.”
  • Tom tells Jason that Coach Ingelsby asked him about Jason’s Tom jokes, “Well, at least Billy Bob and Anthony are in church. Maybe God will tell them how we can deal with this place.” Jason responds, “Not sure even he has the answer to that.”
  • After he and Tom talk to the reporters about a possible news story for TGP, Jason jokes, “Let’s go see if our good Christian roommates are back from church yet.”
  • While interviewing Tom and Jason, a reporter tells them the coaches reference God a lot in their media interviews. “There’s a lot of giving all the glory to God. You’ll find that’s big at TGP.”
  • While being interviewed in the locker room, the players hide when Coach Johnson walks in. The reporter whispers he hopes Johnson went back into his office. Billy Bob says, “Hope might not be enough. We might need to say a prayer.” Tom whispers back, “All glory to God.”
  • Tom runs into Coach Ingelsby, who is making his weekly church rounds. Coach Ingelsby asks Tom, “No worship again today for you?” Tom replies, “No offense Coach, but how or when I practice my religion, whatever it may be, is really my business alone.”
  • After a football game, Coach Johnson “drops to one knee” and says, “Now let’s give thanks.” Since everyone else knelt, Jason knelt too. He “felt awkward at these team-prayer moments but knew he would feel more awkward if he remained standing. He bowed his head.”
  • At the end of a football game, Coach Johnson prays, “We thank you, Lord, for the great execution of our defense and the wonderful pad level from our O-line.” Jason wants to crack up “at the notion that God paid any attention to TGP’s defensive execution or pad level.”
  • When Coach Johnson’s prayer is finished, Coach Ingelsby tells Tom and Jason, “Nice of you two to kneel along with your teammates.” Jason responds, “I believe in showing respect for all religions, Coach. Mine and others.”
  • After a game, Coach Johnson tells the players to take a knee and prays, “Lord, let these young men learn from the mistakes they made tonight.”
  • During the school dance, the football coaches try to separate Tom and his dance partner, Toni, because they are an interracial couple. Tom’s friends are also part of interracial dance partners. As Toni stands up for herself, Tom “was hoping and praying the other girls were giving similar responses to being ordered to change partners.”
  • Tom describes the plan for him and his friends to meet reporters. “All four of us will be going to church tomorrow – even Jason, the godless Jew.”
  • A football player notices Jason heading to church. He asks, “Hey, what’s a Hebrew doing going to church?” Jason, as a cover up, replies, “I’m thinking about converting.” To get the football player off their backs, Billy Bob jokes, “It’s the Lord’s day. How about giving it a rest?” When the football player doesn’t respond, Jason thinks, “Invoking the Almighty seemed to do the trick.”
  • “Amen to that” is used several times as an agreement to a statement someone says.
  • “Thank God,” is used several times.

by Jill Johnson

Deep Zone

Ty just made the team that will play the seven-on-seven tournament for middle-school athletes, coached by former NFL star Mark Bavaro. If his brother Thane’s NFL team makes it to the Super Bowl, they would be living their football dream: both brothers playing for a championship game in one weekend. Unfortunately, Thane injures his knee in a game and is out for the season. Still, Thane supports Ty as they travel to Miami with Ty’s team. There, Ty meets Troy, another football player his age who has an uncanny knack for guessing which way Ty will run. Will Ty be able to outsmart Troy in the championship game?

In addition to football, Ty has other worries. Ty is visited by Agent Sutherland, who is assigned to protect him and Thane from the mob. Last season, Ty accidentally gave the mob inside information so they could bet on who would win the Super Bowl. Now, two mobsters are loose and may have Ty marked as a target.

Football fans will appreciate the large amount of football terminology, descriptive game scenes, and discussions of strategies. Ty and Thane have a great relationship, and readers will be impressed by all the things they get to do as a result of Thane being in the NFL, such as riding in limousines and going to exclusive parties. While the lavish lifestyle is realistic, these scenes do not help advance the plot and make it difficult to relate to the characters.

Even though the mobsters add mystery to the plot, they are completely inept and do little to make the main characters shine. Unfortunately, Ty is not very relatable because he is one-dimensional. However, he has a couple of positive personality traits, such as being caring and hardworking. The story can drag at times, and although satisfying, the climax doesn’t come until the very end of the book. Deep Zone is a book for football fans looking for an easy read.

 Even though the publisher recommends Deep Zone for readers as young as eight years old, there are scary scenes, such as Ty and Troy being kidnapped by mobsters. Deep Zone is the last book in the five-book Football Genius series. The books follow Ty and Troy’s stories separately, and they meet in Deep Zone. Although Tim Green summarizes the story thus far so readers can understand Deep Zone, reading the previous four books would make the plot easier to understand.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a game, Thane catches a ball and gets tackled. Thane “got hit by all three Ravens players at once. Thane’s body pinwheeled in the air, and he landed somewhere in the pile of arms and legs right at the goal line.” He injures his knee.
  • Ty swings a bat at an intruder in his house. “Ty reared back and swung the bat. It connected with something. The man yelped and fell at Ty’s feet . . . Ty swung the bat again. Klunk. The man collapsed in a pile.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Troy’s dad tells the two mob men to “have a drink” to celebrate winning a lot of money. Ty hears “the clink of glasses as they toasted their success.”

Language

  • A fan for the opposing team shouts, “You stink!” at Ty.
  • Heck is used several times. For example, Thane turns quickly and re-injures his knee. He says, “Man, that hurt like heck.”
  • Ty calls himself a “stupid chicken” because he is easily scared.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Agent Sutherland tells Thane, “Thank God everything worked out.”
  • Thane’s uncle Gus “nodded like a Sunday school teacher.”
  • When Ty is stuck on a swamp tour and it starts to storm, he “closed his eyes, crossed his fingers, and said a prayer.”
  • Ty thinks he is about to die, so he “prayed to God there was a heaven and that he really could be with his mom and dad. But he was afraid heaven wasn’t true . . . Afraid God was just words. He didn’t think that, but he couldn’t help being afraid.”

by Jill Johnson

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

In 1907, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania became one of the most innovative football teams in the United States. Lead by Ivy League graduate Pop Warner and star player Jim Thorpe, this team would go on to challenge the most prominent football teams of the day, including Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.

This narrative nonfiction story highlights the history of football and of the United States’ direct involvement in the mistreatment of Native Americans. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first government-run boarding school meant to assimilate Native Americans into white society. The school opened after the Black Hills war and centuries of violent conflict. Native American children were taken from their homes to live in military-style schools, where they were not allowed to dress in traditional Native American clothing nor speak their native languages. This practice became standard in the U.S., effectively cutting children off from their parents and their cultures. This is the context that surrounded Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football team. It is a history unknown by most and not widely discussed.

Undefeated weaves the history of football and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team into the United States’ treatment of indigenous people. Sheinkin masterfully presents history without holding back on the grim reality of boarding schools or the overwhelming obstacles Native American students faced both on and off the football field. Sheinkin effectively balances a creative narrative nonfiction style with more strait-laced historical aspects. These two facets create an engaging view of a lesser-known aspect of one of the United States’ favorite sports without sacrificing accuracy or becoming boring.

The football-heavy parts of this story delve into the danger the players faced before football was modernized. Sheinkin makes the game descriptions digestible even to those who don’t know football or the sport’s history well. Undefeated takes readers through the highs and lows of practices and games, giving readers the feeling of being there in real-time. Ultimately, Undefeated shows a love for football that is untarnished by time.

Undefeated is not a typical football story about the underdog team fighting for first place. The story is far more complicated and interesting, and it breathes life into its historical cast of characters. History rarely comes with clean-cut lessons, but Undefeated presents the need for perseverance when the going gets tough. The world that Jim Thorpe and his classmates from the Carlisle Indian School lived in was unfair to them, and their stories deserve recognition in American history. Their legacy lives on in one of America’s favorite pastimes and their influence upon football will carry forward for generations to come.

Sexual Content

  • Jim Thorpe liked classmate Iva Miller and told her upon meeting her that, “‘You’re a cute little thing.’ Iva was not impressed.”

Violence

  • Jim Thorpe attempts to try out for the football team, but Pop Warner sends him out to get tackled by the current varsity players. No one can touch Jim, though, because he’s incredibly agile and fast. Warner yells, “Hit him down so hard he doesn’t get up!”
  • Football-related violence occurs throughout the book. One memorable line comes from the first official American football game in 1869. During the game, “One of the Rutgers men, George Large, took a blow to the head and came up woozy. He stayed in the game. For the rest of his life, Large would boast that he was the first man ever injured playing American football.”
  • The football-related violence is heightened because early football had few real rules. In one description, “[The play] wasn’t over until the man with the ball quit moving. So while he squirmed and wriggled forward, more defenders piled on, and plays ended in massive, writhing mounds, inside of which guys would throw elbows and knees, scratch and bite, spit and choke, until the refs could untangle the heap.”
  • When Jim was young, his father Hiram “strode into the river in his boots, grabbed [Jim], hauled him out to deep water, and dropped him in the current. Hiram then waded back to the bank and watched.” This was Hiram’s way of teaching Jim how to “man up.”
  • Hiram carried “bullets in his belt.”
  • The story discusses the historical treatment of Native Americans by the United States government, including the Indian Removal Act of 1830. For instance, “President Andrew Jackson explained the objective in bluntly racist language. Native Americans were surrounded by what Jackson called ‘a superior race.’” Describing the Trail of Tears, Sheinkin writes “an estimated four thousand people died of disease, cold, and starvation before the nightmare journey ended.”
  • Of a town near Jim’s birthplace, one stagecoach driver said you could, “stay for half an hour and see a man killed.”
  • Losing one of Jim Thorpe’s childhood games came with a price. Anyone who fell behind or lost had to endure the slapping machine. He describes it as, “This consisted of scampering on hands and knees between the legs of others in the game, assisted by a brisk paddling.”
  • Jim hiked 23 miles home from school and Hiram “gave Jim a whipping” and took him straight back to school. This happens several times, as Jim tended to skip school and return home.
  • A player from Georgia died during a football game. The player “hit the ground headfirst . . . The blood drained from his face. His eyes were open, his lips quivering. A doctor ran onto the field and diagnosed a fractured skull . . .  he died the next morning.” Similar injuries and deaths are described in similar detail.
  • Thorpe and two of his teammates were going to the baseball field when a large white man stepped in their path. The white man said, “When a white man approaches, you get off the sidewalk and get into the street.” In response, Thorpe punched the man in the face, and the trio “walked around [the white man’s] fallen body to the baseball field.” They then “spent that night in jail.”
  • The Carlisle Indian School staff mistreated students, and the 1914 Congress investigated the claims. Students “came forward to testify about skimpy meals for non-athletes and cruel treatment, including beatings, by teachers.”
  • Coach Pop Warner reported that “If a player was too good-natured or easygoing . . . the coach would tell one of his own mates to sock him in the jaw when he wasn’t looking and then blame it on the other team so as to make him mad.”
  • As a child, Pop Warner stood up to his bullies. “One of the class bullies grabbed Pop’s hat, tossed it into a slushy puddle, and stomped on it . . . In a burst of rage, [Warner] pounced on the bully, knocked him down, and started pummeling him.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Jim grew up near Keokuk Falls. The story was that “it was a place where even the pigs got drunk—a whiskey distillery near town dumped used corn mash behind the building, and hogs gorged on it and staggered down the dirt streets.”
  • After a game in Chicago, “the [Carlisle] players collapsed onto couches at their hotel and lit up cigars.”
  • Pop Warner smokes during practices with the Carlisle players.
  • The Carlisle football players were allowed to drink at the local bars, which “weren’t supposed to serve Carlisle students, but exceptions were made for football players.”
  • Jim Thorpe occasionally smokes cigars.
  • After a game, “Thorpe and Welch sat together with glasses of beer.”
  • Thorpe and his daughter Charlotte told stories one night “over drinks.”

Language

  • Profanity is limited. Derogatory terms include “sissy” and “crippled.”
  • Many derogatory names are referenced in quotes toward Native Americans. For instance, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School fought in land disputes against Native Americans on behalf of the U.S. He said, “I had concluded . . . that as an army officer I was there to deal with atrocious aborigines.” In another example, newspapers referred to the Carlisle football team wins as “scalpings” and “massacres.” This occurs somewhat often throughout the book.
  • Pop Warner’s childhood nickname was Butter— “It was not a compliment . . .  [His classmates] pelted his broad backside with beans shot through straws, and pebbles launched from slingshots.”
  • When the first group of Native American students was brought to the Carlisle Indian School, “the townspeople waved their arms and made grunting sounds—mimicking their idea of Indian behavior.”
  • Pop Warner had a colorful vocabulary and used it during some practices with the Carlisle players, who did not appreciate his rudeness. The book quotes Pop as saying such things as, “Play @#$& football!” and “What in the %&*# you think you’re doin’?” It does not use the actual swear words.
  • At one point, Thorpe says to Pop “Aw, hell . . . what’s the use of going through ‘em when I can run around ‘em?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Alli Kestler

Catching Jordan

As a quarterback, senior Jordan Woods dreams to play in the big leagues. The only problem? She’s a girl. That doesn’t stop her from pursuing a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. When a new quarterback comes to town, she realizes that she will have some competition for her position on the field—and for her heart. Ty Green, the new quarterback, is extremely good-looking. Jordan has an instant crush on her competition, but he isn’t her only problem.

Her father, a starting NFL quarterback, won’t come to her games, and she’s under the scrutiny of college recruiters. To make matters worse, her best friend, Sam Henry, is in love with her. But Jordan doesn’t know how Sam feels, and it soon becomes complicated when Sam reveals his feelings. Jordan must figure out how to stand out on the football field and how to navigate dating relationships and young love.

Catching Jordan is a story that pulls readers in with realistic struggles. All her life she has had to fight against the world telling her that a girl could never stand up and play at the college level. Her own dad, a former NFL player, doesn’t want her playing out of fear of injury. She also has trouble trying to navigate dating and love, something she has always avoided out of fear of losing the respect of her teammates.

Although the story has some cliches, Jordan’s character makes reading Catching Jordan worthwhile. Readers will fall in love with Jordan. Even though Jordan is considered “one of the guys,” she has the same emotions as any other girl.  Whether she is venting about her father, or trying to figure out how to kiss, her voice comes across as real, honest, and funny. Readers will be able to connect with Jordan, who will take them on an emotional ride full of laughs and tears.

Even though the story features football, at the heart of the story is fun, flirty romance. However, the story isn’t just about love; it is also about overcoming obstacles and never giving up. Jordan isn’t afraid of standing up for what she believes in and she is willing to reach for her dream, even if it seems unattainable. The strong character development and interwoven football plays make Catching Jordan an excellent read for mature readers. Although the story appeals to sports fans, anyone who wants to read a fabulously fun story should pick up Catching Jordan.

Sexual Content

  • Henry speaks about a cheerleader saying, “I’d never fool around with Kristen—I have standards, you know.”
  • While joking around with some of the players, Henry says, “We’re a package deal.” JJ responds jokingly, saying, “That’s ‘cause all you ever think about is your package.” Just after this joke, JJ starts kissing Lacey, a cheerleader. They “start kissing as if winning the state championship depends on it.”
  • Jordan thinks about how she’s never had a boyfriend or even been kissed when her “friends are off hooking up with cheerleaders.”
  • Jordan asks why Henry is so confused about who he wants to date. He says, “I dunno. . . the sex is okay. . .” She asks him, “Why do you keep sleeping with girls you aren’t dating?”
  • Jordan says that JJ owed her because she covered for him once when “he’d been making out with Lacey and had lost track of time.” Later, Lacey asks Jordan if JJ has mentioned her. Jordan thinks to herself, “You mean, besides to tell me you guys slept together in the back of your mom’s car last night?”
  • Mike’s best friend Jake makes an inappropriate joke, saying, “I can teach you math in bed, Jordan. You know, I’ll add the bed, you subtract the clothes, you divide the legs, and I’ll multiply.” Later, Jake makes another comment saying, “Damn, Jordan. You should play tight end because your ass is wound tighter than a baseball.”
  • After Jordan tells her brother Mike about crushing on Ty, he says, “You might get hungry for his hunk of man meat.”
  • Jordan spends extra time getting ready in the morning to impress Ty. She wears lace underwear saying, “Provided they stay the hell out of my butt crack, they might make me feel sexier later on today.” Speaking of her bra, she says, “It shows off my boobs.”
  • Ty tells Jordan about the night he spent with Henry and some girls. “Henry and Marie made out for, like, an hour. . . Pretty soon I’m the only person still wearing clothes.” He does not describe anything that happened.
  • JJ asks where the fake baby that Jordan and Henry are taking care of for school is, and she replies, “He’s with his father, who’s probably sleeping with Marie Baird right now.” JJ says, “She’s a damn nice piece of ass.” Jordan responds, “Don’t be such a pig.”
  • Jordan is dared to jump in the lake in her underwear. She does, and Ty follows suit and jumps in with her in only his underwear. They start to kiss and become physical. “He drags his hands across my stomach, dipping a fingertip into my belly button, and I feel his mouth on my shoulder. . . I inch my fingertips across his shoulders and elbows as I move my mouth to his throat. . . I shiver when he runs a finger across my bare stomach, right above the elastic of my boy shorts, before exploring my body with his lips.” The scene lasts two pages.
  • Two girls talk badly about Jordan in the bathroom, upset and confused about why Ty would want to be with Jordan instead of them. They say, “Maybe he just wants to screw her because she’s a virgin.” They go on to say, “Maybe she’s a slut.”
  • Jordan is nervous that people will think badly of her when they find out she and Ty are dating. She tells Henry she’s afraid people will call her a “slut.” He responds saying, “Of course not. . . because I think you have to sleep with more than one person, possibly several, to be considered a slut.”
  • Jordan and Ty sleep together. It does not go into any detail. “And I just have to have him. Every bit of him. Now. . . A little while later, we’re still clinging to each other under the covers.”
  • Jordan talks to JJ about how she feels conflicted about dating Ty when she doesn’t know if she loves him. JJ says, “Hey, if the sex is good, what else do you need, eh?” She replies, “Well, um, I bet sex might be better if you’re actually in love.”
  • Jordan and Henry finally decide to become girlfriend and boyfriend. They make out in their hotel room, but don’t do anything else. The scene is not detailed. “We make out for what seems like hours, pausing only for cookies and champagne.”

Violence

  • Jordan gets sacked during a football practice. “I fly backward, slamming to the ground, my head rattling around inside my helmet. Ow.”
  • Jordan says that last year after a game, “JJ punched a guy from Northgate High for grabbing my butt after a game. ‘Show Woods some respect! Or I’ll kick your ass.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Henry and Carter go to a party. The next morning Henry texts Jordan saying, “Carter got trashed and made out with the freshman from lunch.”
  • A cheerleader brings drinks to a hangout at Jordan’s house. “‘Who wants a drink?’ Lacey asks, pulling these lame piña colada wine coolers out of her bag and passing them out to the other girls.”
  • Jordan and Henry drink champagne the night they finally become official. They are underage. “He opens his wallet and pulls out a fake ID, showing it off for me.”

Language

  • There is an extreme amount of foul language in this book. Jordan, the main character and narrator, uses “hell” and “shit” regularly.
  • Profanity is used in extreme. Profanity includes: “hell,” “asshole,” “ass,” “badass,” “idiot,” “shit,” “bullshit,” “shitload,” “damn,” “damned,” “fucking,” “fucked,” “fuck,” “bitch,” “whore,” “tool,” “slut,” “man-slut,” “dyke,” and “skank.” For example, someone says, “If I lose my confidence, I’m going to play like shit, and shitty players don’t get offered spots on Division 1 teams like Alabama.”
  • “Oh my God” and “Jesus” are both used as exclamations.
  • One of the cheerleaders and an opposing player both call Jordan a “dyke.”
  • Jordan calls some of the cheerleaders the “local bimbos” and one of them a “floozy.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Jordan is thinking about the cheerleaders’ lack of knowledge about football. “Especially since he’s been spending time with girls who think a Hail Mary is a prayer to Jesus’s mom.”
  • Henry likes to say that Jordan should start “living life like I’m going to hell tomorrow.”
  • Jordan is thinking about Ty and how he is from Texas. “Texans take their football seriously. It’s practically a religion down there.” Later on, she says, “A Texas football player who doesn’t kneel down and pray to the Cowboys every Sunday?”
  • Jordan and Henry remember when they were younger and they went to Carter’s church Halloween bazaar. “It’s been nine years since Carter invited us to that Halloween bazaar at his church. . . all the booths were Bible-themed. The church had converted this long dark hallway into a replica of the inside of a whale’s stomach, so people could experience what it was like for Jonah after he was swallowed.”
  • Jordan plays poorly at a football game while a scout is watching. She says that she will “pray to the football gods to give” her another chance.

by Hannah Neeley

The Roar of the Crowd

Manny has always been a star on the soccer team. This year, he has decided to try football instead. Manny is determined to get in the game even though it’s his first year as part of the Hudson City Hornets. Manny doesn’t want to sit on the bench, but compared to the other guys, Manny isn’t big. When he tries to tackle the offense, he ends up eating dirt. When the team loses, the coach sits Manny on the bench. Manny needs to prove that he is as tough as anyone else out on the field. Can he prove to his coach, his teammates, and himself that he belongs on the field?

Sports lovers will enjoy the play-by-play football action, both during the games and on the practice field. Many boys will relate to Manny because even though he is small, he still wants to make an impact on the field. Manny knows he is fast, but he worries because, “the other players had everything that he didn’t have—strength, height, confidence.” Throughout the story, the football players appreciate Manny’s efforts and even consider him part of the team, even though he sat on the bench for the entire game.

Although the story focuses on football, Manny’s family also appears frequently. Manny’s two-parent family is portrayed in a positive light. Manny’s little brother adores him, which adds depth to the family dynamics. One drawback of the story is a brief conversation in which Manny and another boy talk about a girl who is “short but built.” During the conversation, the boy makes it seem as if every girl in school “is after” the star football player. Because many children model behavior in books, parents may want to have a conversation about this event.

The simple plot and easy-to-understand vocabulary make The Roar of the Crowd an easy read for younger readers. Readers will learn the importance of focusing on an individual’s strength and never giving up. However, there are better sports books for younger readers, such as Soar by Joan Bauer or the Ballpark Mystery series by David A. Kelly.

Sexual Content

  • Another boy tells Manny that a girl is “out of your league.” The boy said that she is “after Firorelli” who is a football player. The boy jokes that the girl “can probably run him down faster than you could.” The boy thinks that “every girl in the school seems to be after him (Fiorelli).”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Manny was tackled, he said “crap.”
  • When someone shoved Manny, he said “screw you.”
  • A football player said “crud.”
  • The boys say butt occasionally, such as “Get ready to sprint your butt off, man.” Manny also told his friend that he “ran my butt off.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Manny and his family attend mass on Sunday morning. “But all during the sermon he thought about those kickoffs, how he’d been so overpowered by the blockers.”

 

Latest Reviews