Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon

Every step forward is a victory.

Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to the school that was miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger, determined to meet his full potential.

Fauja never, ever stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and to become the first person over 100 years old to complete a marathon.

The picture book begins with a forward by Fauja Singh where he writes about his disability. Despite people teasing him, he never stopped believing in himself. Fauja says, “Doctors couldn’t figure out why I had trouble walking as a child, nor could they figure out why I was able to begin walking and, eventually, running. I think of it as a reminder that all of our bodies are different—and so are our experiences with disabilities.”

Every reader can benefit from Fauja’s story, which highlights the importance of perseverance and determination. Despite his disability, his mother continued to remind him, “You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” With every small step, Fauja became stronger and eventually reached each of his goals—to walk, to farm, and to run a marathon.

Fauja’s story comes to life with fun, brightly colored illustrations. For example, when Fauja is stretching, a bird perched on his arm does the same stretch alongside him. While most of the illustrations focus on Fauja and his family, illustrations that portray more people show diverse groups. Even though Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 2 to 7 sentences, and some sentences are complex.

If you’re looking for a motivational biography, Fauja Singh Keeps Going is the book for you. Even though Fauja faced hardship and discrimination, he focused on the positive and kept working to achieve his goals. He did not let the negative comments of others bring him down. Instead, “As he ran, Fauja thought about all the things people from his village said he would never do. . . They thought he was too old to run and yet, here he was, running 26.2 miles at the age of 100.”

Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a must-read because it shows the power of positive thinking and believing in yourself. In addition, Fauja’s story will encourage readers to “try your hardest, and always choose yes when you meet a challenge.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Fauja lived in England, he “learned that some people in the United States were attacking Sikhs for how they looked.”
  • While running a marathon, “someone shouted racist and hateful words at him. Other people joined in. Fauja brushed it off. He knew he had a strong spirit.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Fauja began to walk, “his parents were so happy, they shared prayers of thanks and distributed parshad to the entire village.”
  • At the end of the book, there is a one-page section that gives more information about Fauja and how his religion, Sikhism, affected his life. “Sikhs believe in treating everyone equally, serving others, working hard, and living with honesty and integrity.”

The Running Dream

Running is the thing that makes Jessica feel most alive. So when she loses a leg in a tragic accident, she is shattered—inside and out.

The doctors say she’ll walk again with a prosthetic limb, but to Jessica, that is cold comfort. Walking isn’t running, and at this point just standing up causes her to shake. As she struggles to re-enter her life, Jessica gets to know Rosa—a girl with cerebral palsy—and begins to see that her future is full of opportunities. Soon Jessica starts to wonder if it is possible to cross new finish lines.

The Running Dream is told from Jessica’s point of view, which helps the reader understand her myriad emotions. Jessica’s story unfolds in five sections and each section focuses on one aspect of Jessica’s experiences. Understandably, at first, Jessica wonders why the accident happened to her. Why was she the one to lose a leg? However, the story also shows Jessica’s healing process and how she comes to better understand others because of her disability. Rosa, who has cerebral palsy, helps Jessica with her transition back into school. Through Rosa, Jessica learns that Rosa’s “biggest wish wasn’t to cross a finish line or have people cheer for her. It’s to have people see her instead of her condition. That’s all anybody with a disability wants. Don’t sum up the person based on what you see, or what you don’t understand; get to know them.”

Each chapter of The Running Dream is three pages or less, which keeps the action moving. Dividing the book into sections also helps the reader understand the changes that Jessica is going through. Even though the book focuses on Jessica’s recovery, The Running Dream is also a book about friendship, community, and finding hope.

The Running Dream was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award. The engaging story shies away from profanity and other objectionable material. Instead, the story is propelled by Jessica’s conflicts and relationships. Anyone who has ever been injured or who loves to run will connect with The Running Dream. However, Jessica’s story includes enough high school drama, sibling conflict, and parental problems to capture everyone’s attention. The conclusion ends on a hopeful note and shows how Jessica’s injury has made her a better person.

Sexual Content

  • Jessica has had a crush on Galvin. He tells Jessica how he feels about her and then gives her “a long, salty kiss.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the hospital, Jessica is given morphine and other medication for the pain. Jessica says, “The nurses are nice about my pain meds. It’s the only way I get any sleep.”
  • After Jessica gets home, she begins, “pushing the clock on my pain meds. Taking them early. Slipping in an extra one when I really need it.” When Jessica’s parents find out, they take the pain meds away from her.

Language

  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Lu

Lu’s birth was a miracle, and he’s used to being the only child and track star in the house. That is until Lu’s parents break the news that he’s going to be a big brother. In the final installment of the Defenders Track Team, Lu grapples with his father’s drug-dealing past, his mother’s unusual fruit masterpieces, and his own fears. All the while he’s trying to pick a name for his new sibling and help his team win the end-of-season track championship. Lu struggles while running hurdles; it’s the one race where he can’t seem to get past the first twelve steps.

Lu builds on the growth of the characters in the previous three books. However, Lu spends more time tackling personal integrity, drug abuse, and forgiveness. Lu’s teammates, family, and coach help him learn how to be a compassionate person who rights his wrongs, and he becomes a big brother that his little sibling can look up to. By now, the Defenders track team is a full-fledged family, and the end of the novel wraps up their journey together.

Reynolds knows how to write young teenagers’ voices. Lu’s voice strikes the balance between self-confident and insecure. He’s a great runner, and he’ll be sure to tell everyone about it, but the thought of running hurdles makes him afraid. Lu worries, would he be a good big brother? Can he face his childhood bully and show him kindness? Lu is a good kid, but his ability to overcome his fears and not let them consume him makes his character compelling. Lu even inspires others around him to be better by demonstrating integrity and eventually apologizing for his actions.

Lu is a good end to the series. Unlike the first book, not a lot of big events occur. Despite this, the story never seems to drag, and the smaller plot points carry more weight as they develop the characters. Reynolds’s straightforward style and vernacular usage are fun, and they help make the story believable and interesting.

Readers will enjoy the end of the Defenders Track Team series because it neatly ties up all the characters’ conflicts and ends on a compassionate note. If the reader has read the previous three books in the series, they should definitely read Lu because these books take themes like family, friendship, and track and give them life. Most importantly, these books ask the reader to always be the best version of themselves.

Sexual Content

  • Patty teases Lu about a girl named Cotton, but Lu says “Patty was only teasing me about Cotton because she thinks I like her and we should go together. But I don’t. I do. But not like that. Not all the way. But she cool. But go together. Grease face? Nah.”
  • Lu’s parents occasionally hug or kiss in greeting. When Goose, Lu’s father, returns from work, Lu’s mom “leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.”

Violence

  • Lu and his family playfully slap each other on the arm. For instance, when Lu hears about being a big brother, Dad “popped me on the arm with the back of his hand” out of excitement about the big secret.
  • Ghost playfully “slapped [Lu] on the arm” while getting a ride home after practice.
  • Lu fantasizes about throwing an orange at Kelvin, his childhood bully. In his daydreams, he “cocked [the orange] back like a pitcher, and fast-balled it at his ugly face.”
  • There are references to previous books when Ghost’s dad tried to kill Ghost and his mom. According to Ghost, Mr. Charles “saved our lives. He hid my mom and me in his storage room.” No other details are given.
  • Lu and his teammate Aaron get into a fight when Aaron trips Lu while running. Lu says Aaron “charged me and shoved me with his whole body, and I flew to the ground.”
  • It is implied that Ghost gives Lu a wedgie. The team was chatting with Lu when “one of them thinking it would be funny to give me a wedgie.” The wedgie is played off as friends goofing around.
  • It is implied that Kelvin was abused at home, probably by a parent since it is also mentioned that he went to live with his grandparents. While at the basketball court, Lu sees that Kelvin has “no blue-and-purple spots on his arm. No marks.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A former runner referred to as “the Wolf” now has a drug addiction and begs for money. After giving him a dollar, Coach Brody says to Lu, “To me, that’s embarrassment. Not the dope—that’s illness. But to let something get in the way of your full potential…” There are many references to Wolf’s addiction throughout the book.
  • Lu’s dad, Goose, explains how he started selling drugs at 15. His dad says, “I’ve told you that before, and you know I’m not proud of it.” This is the extent of the conversation. Later it is revealed that Goose sold the Wolf “his first hit.”
  • Coach Whit convinces her brother and former track star, the Wolf, to check into a rehab center. Goose brings Lu along because Goose works with people struggling with addiction, and he wants to give Lu a chance to see what he does.
  • While sitting in the rehab center, Lu talks about the pamphlets he reads. Lu says, “I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like forever, reading these papers about detox, and how sometimes before they can even start real treatment they have to let the drug pass through people’s bodies, and how terrible it feels to, like get all the stuff out of you.”
  • At the dinner table, Goose drinks a beer. Lu says, “Juice for Mom. Beer for Dad. Milk for me.”

Language

  • The book is written in the main character’s vernacular, so the grammar is often purposefully incorrect, like when Lu says, “lightning so special it don’t never happen the same way or at the same place twice.”
  • A couple of times, Lu is flippant towards his parents. Early on, when he describes listening to his mother, he says, “I swear, sometimes she just be talking to be talking.”
  • Lu says that Shante Morris “looks like a horsefly” because “her eyes kinda made her look like she was always surprised how nasty those cupcakes were every year. Ha! Sorry.”
  • Words like shut up, dang, fool, stupid, and hater are all used frequently throughout the book.
  • Lu has albinism, so characters will make comments about it. For example, he notes that in his yearbook people write “Have a nice summer, you fine-o albino.”
  • When his dad is late, Lu considers calling him a “booboo-faced clown.”
  • Lu’s family has plenty of playful banter, like when Lu returns from practice and his parents tease him by saying, “You smell like bananas” and “stinky son.”
  • Lu has a laundry list of nicknames for a kid named Kelvin (“Smellvin”), who made fun of him for his albinism.
  • Two pages are dedicated to the things that Kelvin has said to Lu. Some of the more creative insults on the list include: “You look like a cotton ball dipped in white paint,” “Like milk. Like somebody supposed to pour you over cereal,” and “Like grits with no butter.” Of Kelvin’s appearance, Lu says, “It don’t even look like he was born, but instead was built, but together in some kind of blockhead bully factory.”
  • Coach Brody and Goose knew each other as kids, and Coach Brody would make fun of Goose for his stutter. Coach told Goose, “You sound like a choking Chihuahua.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Lu refers to his birth as “a miracle,” and at one point he says that his mom having another child was “magic.”

by Allison Kestler

Sunny

Sunny is a murderer. At least that’s what he thinks. Sunny’s mother died giving birth to him. To make matters worse, Darryl (his dad, who makes Sunny call him by his first name) acts like everything Sunny does is wrong. The only time Sunny feels like he is doing something right is when he wins races. Sunny is the number one mile-running champ at every track meet, but he doesn’t care about that. Actually, he hates running…but Sunny runs because it seems like the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is to win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. When Sunny stops running mid-race one day, he puts forth his first step into reclaiming his own life and making amends with the tragedy of his mother’s death.

With the growing conflict with his father, Sunny needs his friends on the track team more than ever.  Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard beats of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. But as he practices for this new event, can he let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside?

Told through Sunny’s diary entries, the third installment in Defenders Track Team series explores Sunny’s transition from long-distance runner to discus-thrower. When he begins letting his mother’s running dreams go, Sunny finally starts on his journey towards finding his own rhythm. Sunny is a story about grief, forgiveness, honesty, and letting go of the screams within. Discus allows Sunny to let go of his mother’s running dreams so he can become his own person.

Sunny’s diary entries reveal his pain and emphasize that he feels very much alone in the world. Despite his generally “sunny” outlook, Sunny and his father’s emotional relationship is most poignant in the story. Their shared moments of grief humanize them, and the end of the book shows the beginning of their healing process in their relationship and in their shared trauma over Sunny’s mother’s death. In the end, the world isn’t perfect for Sunny, but he finds a certain peace within himself as he is able to release the emotions he’s been bottling up.

The supporting cast is a small, but powerful force in Sunny’s life. Sunny’s homeschool teacher, Aurelia, has a lighter, sillier personality that contrasts with Darryl’s relatively stony demeanor. Both are important parental figures for Sunny. Coach Brody and Sunny’s teammates, Lu, Ghost, and Patty provide their friend with unconditional support. They even encourage Sunny when he chooses to take up discus rather than run. Sunny’s diary entries show that he cares deeply about those in his life as well. These characters help bring out Sunny’s uncompetitive and kind nature, and these traits make it easy to root for his success.

Sunny is thought-provoking, and the novel’s strength lies in Reynolds’s ability to develop interesting characters. The descriptions of Sunny learning how to dance and throw the discus are fun, and they blend well with his unique narration style. Sunny is a compelling read because it builds on the already diverse, emotionally intelligent world that Reynolds created in the previous two books. Sunny reinforces that the support of friends and family make all the difference in someone’s journey, but that there’s only one person who can take that first step to make the change.

Sexual Content

  • None

 Violence

  • When one of the other runners, Aaron, makes a snide comment towards Sunny, Sunny’s friend Lu “put his fists up and said he had those two things to throw right at Aaron’s face.” Coach Brody breaks up the group before any fighting can occur.
  • Aaron and Lu frequently argue because Aaron feels that he is in competition with Lu, and he is often unkind. During a track meet, Sunny sees “Aaron push Lu after the stretches.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in college, Aurelia was a drug addict and went to rehab.
  • Mr. Nico, Sunny’s neighbor and owner of a puzzle company, comes over and “smokes cigars with Darryl [Sunny’s father] whenever he’s here.”

Language

  • Words like stupid and weird are used frequently.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Alli Kestler

Patina

Ever since Patina and Maddy’s mom got diabetes and lost her legs, their lives have changed dramatically. Now they go to the fancy Chester Academy and live with Aunt Emily and Uncle Tony. Patina has fears other than trying to fit in at her school, though. She’s afraid “The Sugar” will take her mom from her too. Patina is finding that no matter how fast she runs, she can’t outrun her fears.

Even worse, Patina’s attitude has slipped, and Coach is making her run in a relay with the people she argues with. Depending on her teammates, especially the ones she doesn’t get along with, seems, well, impossible. When her aunt and Maddy get in a car crash, Patina realizes that depending on others is necessary. When her uncle steps in, it only shows further that she isn’t alone and doesn’t have to be the parent to her younger sister—or herself. She doesn’t have to do everything alone, including the relay. It’s okay to wait for the handoff, both in track and in life.

In the second installment of Reynolds’s Defenders Track Team series, Patina takes over as narrator. Tragedies shape her life: when she was young, one morning her dad never woke up. Her mother then developed Type II diabetes, or what she calls “The Sugar,” and lost her legs. Now, Patina lives with Emily and Tony, and although they’re good people, Patina misses her parents. For someone with her history, it’s no wonder why Patina runs with a chip on her shoulder. Anything less than first place, as far as she’s concerned, is losing. Because she runs for Ma and Maddy, she feels that anything less than first is her failing her family.

Patina is intense and often confrontational, but her fierce loyalty and love for her family make her relatable. With the help of her coaches and teammates, she is able to let go of her independent streak enough to let others in. Patina shows that the world needn’t be entirely on anyone’s shoulders. Not all burdens, especially emotional ones, should be carried alone.

Reynolds has a knack for writing unique characters in specific situations that, despite their specificity, contain universal themes. The power of each book in this series resides within the characters’ capacities to overcome their daunting situations. Patina knows her mom is living on borrowed time and that one day, she will lose her, too. What makes Patina strong is that she’s able to keep running, and she runs for her mom, her sister, her adoptive family, and her teammates. Family, blood-related or otherwise, remains a key component of the Defenders Track Team series, and particularly in Patina’s life.

Patina is a strong sequel to Ghost. The returning cast and newcomers blend together to create a realistic environment for Patina and her cohorts to flourish on and off the track. Track fans and non-sport readers alike will find that this story places importance on friendship and family. Patina’s story emphasizes one of the really beautiful parts of life: no one is ever really alone.

Sexual Content

  • Sunny likes Patina. They stretch together at practice and Sunny stares at her legs. Patina thinks, “Was Sunny checkin’ me out? If he was, now was not the time. Also…no…gross…stop it…right now…seriously.”
  • Cotton, Patina’s friend, likes Lu, who is one of the other runners. Cotton says to Patina, “’You think if I wink at Lu on the track, he’ll wink back?’”

Violence

  • Patina and Krystal, another runner, get into an argument while practicing the relay. Krystal says to Patina, “What makes you better? Your white mother?” To which Patty goes on a page-long rant that ends with her saying, “Better watch who you playin’ with.” Coach Whit “grabbed [Patina] by the arm and dragged [her] off the track to the gate.”
  • Patina has a temper. When she gets mad, she will imagine “breaking invisible teacups.” This is her way of dealing with grief and stress.
  • Patina thinks that she was “about to give Krystal a good old-fashioned Beverly Jones Funky Zone beat-down.” She does not do this.
  • Patina teases Lu, another runner, about Cotton. Then Patina ays to Lu, “Don’t deny my girl, Lu, or I’ll leave you laid out across this track.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Patina’s aunt Emily is on “heavy-duty pain meds” after her surgery and is a little loopy.

Language

  • Stupid, fool, and shut up are all used frequently.
  • Of two girls in Patina’s class (Taylor and Teylor/TeeTee), Patina thinks, “They’re like attached at the ponytail and call themselves T-N-T, which is funny because most of the time I just wished they’d explode.”
  • Patina has names for the different types of kids in her school. She thinks, “The mess of hair-flippers, the wrath-letes (kids feel like it’s a sport to make everyone’s life miserable), the know-it-alls, the know-nothins, the hush-hushes…The YMBCs (You Might Be Cuckoo)- the girls who wear all black and cover their backpacks with buttons and pins- and the girls whose boyfriends, brothers, and fathers all wear khaki pants.”
  • At one point, Patina’s nicknames for Taylor and Teylor are “Bony McPhony and her cousin Lie-Lie.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Patina’s mom (Ma) references God and Jesus frequently. There is a scene in their church where Patina says that Ma yells, “Yes, Lawd! Yessssss!” After, Patina thinks that Ma is in a good mood because “Ma’s all high off Jesus.”
  • Ma prays for people throughout the book. In one instance, she says to Patina, “You know I pray for you. I pray God put something special in your legs, in your muscles so you can run and not grow weary.”
  • Patina thinks church is “a whole lot of talk about grace and faith and mercy and salvation, which, to me, all just equaled shouting, clapping, and singing in a building built to be a sweatbox.”
  • Patina explains Ma’s religiousness. She thinks, “after Dad passed, that’s when Ma got all churchy-churchy. The beginning of catching the spirit and dancing in the aisle and ‘praying of peace in the eye of the storm.’”

by Alli Kestler

Running Full Tilt

Summer is ending, which means Leo is about to start at a new high school. His family just moved from a neighborhood to a more secluded house because of his older brother, Caleb. Caleb has autism and cognitive delays, which have gotten him into trouble a few times, like when he broke into his neighbor’s house and started asking them random questions. While Leo’s family’s move may have left the neighbors with more peaceful lives, Leo’s life is anything but serene. Caleb has taken to attacking Leo in the middle of the night, and Leo can’t figure out why. To escape these fits and calm his anger, Leo goes for long runs.

Subsequently, this newfound talent for long-distance running lands Leo a spot on the cross-country team where he meets Curtis, the fastest runner in school. Seeing Leo’s potential, Curtis takes him under his wing. He devises running strategies for each meet, and he and Leo climb to the top of the state ranks. Leo also meets and eventually dates Mary, an artistic girl with piercing green eyes. Throughout the year, Leo’s relationships with Curtis and Mary grow, and they help him appreciate his brother. Caleb even picks up running and, with Leo’s help, runs a half marathon.

One day Leo comes home elated after qualifying for state at a track meet. His celebration is short-lived though, as his parents have tragic news. Caleb drowned in a community pool. Leo can no longer run away from his problems with his brother; he has to find a way to cope.

Running Full Tilt is told in the first person from Leo’s point of view, which will help readers connect with him. Readers will watch Leo grow as a brother, boyfriend, and friend. Although he isn’t always the best boyfriend, Mary teaches him it’s okay to confide in others. Curtis becomes a big brother to Leo, helping him be a stronger runner and person. Curtis, Leo, and Mary are very witty; readers will enjoy reading their playful banter. Runners will appreciate Currinder’s vivid depictions of races, strategies, and maybe even pick up a few tips.

In addition to being an excellent book for runners, Running Full Tilt also deals with the implications of having a family member with cognitive issues. Mary tells Leo she thought Caleb looked “normal,” causing Leo to jump to Caleb’s defense: “Who’s to say what’s normal?” Leo feels guilty for “always being a step ahead” of Caleb when he is the younger brother, which he suspects is the reason for Caleb’s outbursts. Leo’s parents are unhappily married (it’s hinted that both are having an affair) and deal with Caleb’s behavior in different ways. Leo and Caleb have their fights, but Leo learns not to dwell on them and appreciate the good days. Running Full Tilt is a good book if readers want to be invested in the characters. They are flawed yet endearing, and readers will relate to them. It is a fast-paced, entertaining story that will both break and warm readers’ hearts.

Sexual Content

  • Leo hears a guy called Itchy and thinks, “I figured Itchy was probably just some dude from their football team with ringworm or a bad case of jock itch.”
  • Stuper, one of the guys on the track team, was absent because he was at the hospital. His friend Rosenthal explains, “He’s got a bad case of poison ivy… he ducked into the woods to go to the bathroom. He wiped himself with it… At first he wouldn’t tell his parents. He thought it was herpes because he’d just seen pictures of it in health class… we reminded him that the only way you can get herpes is through sexual contact.” The guys laugh, suggesting Stuper has never had any sexual contact.
  • At the end of their first date, Leo and Mary kiss. Leo “slowly leaned toward her and closed my eyes, then felt our lips touch. I felt her hands gently moving up to my biceps… I just couldn’t believe how sweet her skin smelled and how soft her lips felt.” When they get back to Leo’s house they kiss again, but the kiss is not described. Leo thinks, “I probably should have kissed her longer.”
  • Leo sees his mom at the movie theater holding hands with a man who is not his dad. This upsets him because his parents are still married. Mary suggests his mom is having an “emotional affair.” Leo thinks, “I fought hard to block the images forming in my mind.” He asks Mary, “Like friends with benefits friends?” Mary answers, “No, it’s not like that. It’s like having some huge crush on someone but not really acting on it.”
  • At a Halloween party, a guy has “a potato dangling out of his fly from something that resembled a coat hanger.” He explains he is dressed up as a “dicktater.”
  • After Curtis tells Leo to “grow some balls” and rescue Mary from the guy who is flirting with her, Leo says, “screw you.” Curtis replies, “Leo, that’s fine by me. I’m not on that team, but I’m an enlightened individual. I’ve got no problem if you are.”
  • Leo says that he and Mary are “acting like old people, the kind who never get off their porches to do anything. That was, until Mary’s mother began dating some new guy. Then we started getting to know each other in new ways.”
  • Leo talks about how cold it is to run in the winter and how it affects his body. “Winter training included running in temperatures so frigid that even after a warm shower I didn’t see portions of my anatomy that had recently become very important to me for six hours. When I considered Mary in the equation, I wondered if it was all worth it.”
  • After running a race in the sleet, Curtis tells Leo, “If I don’t get under a hot shower soon, there’s a serious chance I’ll never see my testicles again.”
  • Leo’s family goes to the Special Olympics in Ford Leonard Wood. Leo asks his dad why there are so many massage parlors. His dad answers, “There are about ten thousand young men on that military base. And very few women. Do I have to give you a lesson on the birds and the bees, Leo?” Leo assures his dad, “I think I get it.”

Violence

  • Leo describes what it’s like being a distance runner in a race. “They run in packs, with steel spikes sharp as steak knives attached to their feet. Inside a tight pack moving at close to four-minute-mile pace, the spikes like barracuda teeth slashing at calves and shins from front and back, elbows and fists box for position.”
  • Leo witnesses a freshman being bullied. “The ringleader, a burly guy wearing a football jersey with the name Glusker plastered over numbers, had his victim down on his knees, hands behind his back, pushing a tiny peanut across the tile floor with his nose. Glusker guided the kid by nudging his ass with the tip of his Timberland boot along a parade route lined by laughing upperclassmen.”
  • Caleb is angry because Leo gets a higher allowance. Leo notices Caleb is getting agitated, and finally Caleb “smashed into me from behind. I smacked my head against an end table and collided with the wall… He slapped my head with one open hand and started pounding the other side of my face with his fist. Then he grasped my throat with his right hand and started trying to jab his left thumb into my eye… I fought to grab a handful of his hair with one hand and his ear with my other, and I pinched and pulled with everything I had before he finally screamed and released me.”
  • While Leo folds laundry, Caleb attacks. “He took me by surprise when he jumped me, but I managed to pull his hair, knee him in the groin, and take off running.”
  • Caleb attacks Leo in the middle of the night. Caleb “had trouble pinning me with his knees in the darkness, but he managed to slap my head a couple of times before going for my eyes. I got a knee into his crotch, pulled his hair, slipped out from under him.”
  • When Caleb attacks Leo in the middle of the night, Leo usually “smacked him on his back a couple of times [with a Little League bat], he usually rolled off me, and if that didn’t work, I pinched and pulled his ears and hair.”
  • Leo finds Caleb having a seizure. “Caleb was on the floor thrashing and writhing. His eyes were rolled back in the sockets, eyelids fluttering, and he was making this terrible wheezing sound like he couldn’t breathe. Both arms were stiff and extended, and his head lifted and thudded against the tile floor… His lips and face began to turn a strange bluish gray.” Leo and his parents bring Caleb to the hospital, and Caleb is okay a few days later.
  • At a Halloween party, Glusker mistakes Curtis for a guy who is dating his ex-girlfriend and beats him up. “Glusker came barreling across the lawn and blindsided Curtis, rolling him onto his back and pummeling his head with his fists… Curtis’s nose was gushing.”
  • Leo and Curtis are running on a golf course when they see a buck dart out from the forest. “The buck was in mid-stride when it suddenly stopped and fell to its side. The shaft and quill of an arrow were plunged deeply inside its heart… I looked at the fallen buck, its torso still rising and falling slowly, its legs still clawing at the earth as it clung to life.” Two men with bows emerged from the forest, and one “pulled a pistol from his pack, ready to finish off the job.”
  • Caleb was in a bad mood all day, so Leo was ready for him to attack that night. Caleb “came at me quick and had my shoulders pinned with his knees and both hands around my neck in seconds. I thrashed and kicked. He went for my eyes with one hand, pushing two fingers deep into my left socket… I grabbed the baseball bat tucked beside my mattress and smacked his shoulder blades sharply three times before he rolled off me.”

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Leo’s dad comes home late, and “he had a sheepish grin on his face like he’d already had a few.” Leo’s mom is upset with her husband for coming home late and for drinking. To try to make amends, Leo’s dad “grabbed two glasses from the cabinet. He snatched some ice cubes from the freezer and poured some vodka. When he set a glass next to Mom… she nudged it away with the tip of her knife.”
  • Leo goes to a Halloween party, and there is “a birdbath filled with ice and beer in the corner of the yard.” Leo and Curtis don’t drink because they have a race coming up.
  • Leo and his friends watch a guy flirt with a girl, then lead her away from the party. Curtis complains, “Why can’t I do that?” His friend responds, “I think she’s already had a few.”
  • Mary is drinking at a party. Angry with Leo for not calling her, she takes “another sip of liquid courage” and fusses at Leo. She says she waited all week for him to call and even drove past his house a few times. After she confesses this, she is ashamed and says, “I can’t believe I just told you all that crap.”
  • While Leo and Curtis are running on a golf course, they see two hunters “toting a couple of Budweisers.”
  • After visiting Caleb at the hospital, his dad “came into the kitchen, went directly to the cabinet, and poured himself a drink.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: damn, crap, holy crap, ass, jackass, smartass, shit, holy shit, chickenshit, bullshit, shit-eating, dipshit, shitload, shitting, frickin’, freakin’, hell, bitching, pissed, and prick.
  • “Christ,” “for Christ’s sake,” “Jesus,” “God,” and “Geezuz” are frequently used as exclamations.
  • After witnessing some guys bully a school janitor, Leo asks Mary, “Did you see what those morons were doing to the guy?” Mary responds, “What those idiots were doing was wrong on so many levels.”
  • Curtis tells Leo to “sit his butt down” when he calls Mary over to their lunch table.
  • When Leo sees a guy flirting with Mary, Curtis tells him to “grow some balls” and go rescue her. Leo replies, “screw you” and gives him “the one-finger salute.”
  • After Curtis yells at a man for killing a buck, the man tells him, “Why don’t you and your little faggot friend just run along.”
  • Leo’s maternal grandmother and his dad dislike each other. Leo’s grandmother frequently calls his dad “Flat Ass,” and his dad frequently calls her “Bubble Butt.”
  • When the track coach tells the track team they will be practicing inside due to the cold weather, Curtis complains, “Only wusses run indoors.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Caleb keeps talking to Leo even though it’s late, and Leo “wished to God my older brother would stop talking nonsense and just close his eyes and go back to sleep.”
  • Caleb frequently asks Leo riddles that only make sense to himself. Caleb asks Leo what kind of car God drives and when Leo can’t answer, Caleb shouts, “God drive brown Thunderbird Ford!”
  • Every night, Caleb tells Leo, “Good night, Leo. God love you.” Leo wonders what Caleb means. “Did God love me, or him?”
  • After planting a nickel in a bully’s sandwich, Leo feels a hand touch his shoulder. He is scared, but turns around to see it’s a girl. He thinks, “Thank God.”
  • After going for a run, Leo finds Caleb sitting in the grass. Caleb “smiled and laughed as he talked about God and the Thunderbird Ford.”
  • Leo takes Caleb to the pool. In the car ride, Leo “spent the twenty-minute drive listening to Caleb laugh and chatter away about God and rocky road ice cream.”
  • Leo’s mom asks if Leo wants fish sticks or cheese pizza for dinner. He explains, “Our family abandoned the church a couple of years ago, but Mom still harbored some residual Catholic guilt and clung to a few traditions like no meat on Fridays.”
  • Leo invites Curtis over for dinner. Caleb insists they pray before eating dinner. In response, Leo whispers, “Amen!” to himself, and Curtis mouths, “Jesus!”
  • Caleb prays “his unique version” of grace: “Blessed our Lord, for these our gifts, about to receive, from my bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
  • After Caleb attacks Leo, Caleb asks him, “God not punish you?” and, “Jesus love you?” Leo answers no, God will not punish him, and yes, Jesus loves him.
  • Every time Caleb attacks Leo, he asks, “God not punish you, Leo?” Leo wonders what Caleb means and assumes when Caleb says “you,” Caleb means himself. Leo thinks, “‘For some reason he seemed to have a fear of God – even after we stopped attending church. How did someone like Caleb, who often struggled to understand the world around him, become so concerned about God—some abstract, invisible force that we barely mentioned in this house?” Every time, Leo assures Caleb God will not punish him.
  • Caleb’s dad threatens Caleb with committing him to the hospital after finding out Caleb has been attacking Leo at night. His dad gets frustrated and screams, “Jesus!” Caleb yells, “Make God angry!” His dad responds, “You’re making God and me freakin’ angry,” and Caleb apologizes, “Sorry God!”
  • Leo overdid it during track practice. “I spent the next two minutes bent over, clutching my knees, praying I wouldn’t throw up lunch.”
  • While Leo and his mom wait for Caleb in the emergency room, Leo thinks, “I couldn’t tell if her lips were trembling or if she was mumbling prayers.”
  • When Leo and Mary talk on the phone, there is a long silence that is finally broken by Mary. Leo thinks, “Thank God she was the one who finally spoke.”
  • Mary and Leo go to the movie theater but can’t find a parking spot until “the parking gods made a spot miraculously appear right in front of the theater.”
  • During a date, Leo wonders, “how in God’s name I’d scored a date with this girl.”
  • When they arrive at a party, Curtis tells Leo they are not drinking because they have a race coming up. Leo replies, “As you said, we shall treat our bodies as holy temples, Curtis, until our mission is completed next Saturday.”
  • During a race, Leo hopes he will have enough energy to overtake the lead runner. “I opened my stride on the downhill, breathed deeply, and said a quick prayer that I would have enough strength for when it was time to do the real work.”
  • While driving, Mary asks Leo for his life story. Leo thinks, “May the traffic gods be with me.” He hopes they’ll arrive at their destination soon because he doesn’t want to tell her about his life.
  • Leo asks Curtis why he runs, and Curtis responds, “I run to keep my demons at bay.”
  • Before Caleb participates in the Special Olympics race, he tells Leo, “Poke Leo’s eyeballs out middle of the night!” Leo says to not talk about that right now. Caleb says, “Sorry, Leo! What sorry mean?” Leo responds, “Sorry means God not punish you.”
  • When Caleb requests Long John Silver’s for dinner, his dad tells Leo, “Start praying that damn restaurant is still open.” Leo “starts praying.”
  • Mary asks Leo why Caleb makes little piles of grass in their yard. Leo jokes, “Our family belongs to a pagan cult that worships the moles that reside in the underworld. Our winter-solstice ceremony is fast approaching. Caleb has been commissioned by the high priest to create the burial mounds where we will make sacrifices.”
  • Caleb drowns in a swimming pool. Leo’s mom starts to say, “You know, Niles, I was the one who said-” Leo’s dad assumes she is starting to say it’s his fault Caleb drowned, and he explodes: “Oh no, Elise. You think I haven’t thought about letting him go swimming by himself? I hope to God you’re-” He is interrupted by Leo telling his parents to pull themselves together.
  • Leo approaches Caleb in his casket. He whispers to him, “Peace, brother. God love you.”
  • After seeing Caleb in the casket, Leo sobs. He composes himself and “stared blankly at a picture of Christ with his arms raised, thinking about all the times I had assured Caleb that God loved him.”
  • Curtis asks Leo why Caleb’s funeral is open-casket, and Leo says, “I think it’s a Catholic thing.”
  • Leo’s grandfather tells him he’s going to teach him how to play cards. Leo’s grandmother disapproves, saying, “For the love of God, let go of the past, Bernard.”

by Jill Johnson

Back on Track

Addison loves to run – she may even be the fastest runner in sixth grade. Unfortunately, she has no way of knowing because her mom won’t let her join the track team. Addison has to babysit her little brother, Charlie, every day after school while her mom works. When Addison’s PE coach specifically asks her to join the team, she and her best friend Sofia devise a plan. Addison secretly joins the track team and finally gets to pursue her passion.

The lies pile up though, and Addison can’t help feeling guilty. Finally, after lying about going to Sofia’s house when she really is going to a track meet, Addison gets caught. Although her mom ultimately decides Addison can stay on the track team, Addison is still punished for lying and has to make sacrifices, including waking up earlier for school.

Addison is a typical, likable twelve-year-old. She doesn’t always think through her decisions, like when she feeds Charlie ice cream for dinner and he ends up getting sick. She isn’t bitter about having to babysit Charlie. She appreciates how hard her mom works and doesn’t ask for new track shoes because she knows they can’t afford them. But every now and then, Addison wants the opportunity to be able to be a carefree sixth grader.

Back on Track is part of the Jake Maddox JV Girls series, a series of standalone sports books. Back on Track has a simple plot, short chapters, easy vocabulary, and a relatable main character. It is good for reluctant readers. At the back of the book, there is a glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and tidbits about track and field. Readers, especially those who run track, will enjoy reading the descriptive race scenes and easily relate to Addison’s passion for running. Although Addison is well-developed, none of the secondary characters have depth.

While Back on Track is a sports book, the story focuses more on the importance of honesty and sacrifice. The story focuses on Addison’s inner battle over whether she should tell her mom she joined the track team. Even though Addison ends up getting what she wants, she still appreciates the sacrifices her mom and Charlie make for her. Now that they are in the stands cheering for her, Addison enjoys the track meets more. She expresses this in her thoughts during her final race: “[Addison’s] family had made big changes just so she could run. She wanted to make them proud.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

Ghost

Ghost (or Castle Cranshaw, as he would rather not be known) knows how to run all too well, and since the night his father tried to shoot him and his mother, running is all he can do to handle his wild emotions. When he shows up at a running practice, Coach Brody sees Ghost’s natural talent and insists he joins the team with one condition: that Ghost keep his head straight. For Ghost, who has a knack for running into trouble, this might be the most difficult task of all.

Ghost speaks to audiences that are otherwise underrepresented in middle grade literature, as Ghost and his friends are a diverse bunch. Ghost himself lives in a poverty-stricken part of the city. The novel tackles weighty themes like absent/abusive parents, race, and substance abuse; it contextualizes them through the lens of a thirteen-year-old who is learning to come to grips with his rage and fear. Ghost’s story in particular examines the effect of his father’s drinking and imprisonment on Ghost’s emotional state. Characters like Coach Brody and the other runners help him comprehend his situation, and their story is one about forging a new family through track.

As a character, Ghost can be arrogant. He delivers snap judgments of others. At times, he makes questionable decisions, including a major plot point where he shoplifts shoes because he cannot afford them. Despite these traits, he’s a sympathetic character who embodies what it’s like to be a kid dealing with a difficult home life, and emotions like humiliation, rage, and fear. By the end, Ghost realizes he “was the boy with the altercations and the big file. The one who yelled at teachers and punched stupid guys in the face for talking smack. The one who felt…different. And mad. And sad. The one with all the scream inside.” By the end, Ghost learns how to manage his emotions in a healthier way, as running track gives him a productive outlet.

Overall, Ghost is an entertaining read, and Reynolds does a good job delivering realistic characters that display both good and bad qualities. The plot is smart, straightforward, and doesn’t fall into predictable stereotypes. The biggest strength of the book is its ability to relate to students who otherwise don’t have a voice in middle school literature.

Although Ghost will resonate with those who love sports, any reader who has felt lost will relate to Ghost. The story shows how much of an impact one person or team can make in a kid’s life. Ghost is a must-read because it presents a growth in emotional maturity and shows that anything is possible with a support system and self-discipline.

Sexual Content

  • Ghost briefly mentions that Damon started a rumor at school. Damon “told everybody that I kissed a girl named Janine, who was the only pretty girl who liked me, but I didn’t.”
  • Some of the other runners tease Patty about having a crush on Curron, another runner. She quickly dispels that idea when she says, “Ain’t nobody got a crush on Curron!”

Violence

  • In a drunken rage, Ghost’s father tries to shoot Ghost and his mother. As they run away, Ghost “saw him, my dad, staggering from the bedroom, his lips bloody, a pistol in his hand… As soon as she swung the door open, my dad fired a shot… I didn’t look to see what he hit, mainly because I was scared it was gonna be me. Or Ma. The sound was big, and sharp enough to make me feel like my brain was gonna pop in my head, enough to make my heart hiccup.”
  • Ghost makes an offhand comment when he thinks about his mom meeting Coach Brady. Ghost says, “I’ve seen those weird shows where psychos pose like coaches and stuff and get you caught up and the next thing you know my mother’s in jail too for handling this guy.”
  • Another student bullies Ghost and strikes him with a chicken drumstick. The bully says a series of insults, and then the bully “threw the chicken wing at me. It hit me in the chest… I brushed the over-fried wing off my lap, opened my milk carton, took a swig, and then, with all my might, beamed the container at Brandon’s head…before he could even make a move, I had picked up my plastic tray and whacked him over the head.”
  • Ghost watches a fight break out between a group of men on the basketball court. One man, nicknamed Sicko, pushes someone. Ghost says, “A fight. As usual. Stupid Sicko pushed the wrong guy… And then Pop got into it. And then Big James. Then Big James’s girl. And then some other girl.”
  • Coach Brody details his father’s abuse. Coach Brody says that his father “punched me in the mouth when I was fifteen because I asked him to change the channel on the TV.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ghost’s father is an alcoholic, which Ghost talks openly about throughout the novel. Ghost says, “It was three years ago when my dad lost it. When the alcohol made him meaner than he’d ever been.”
  • Ghost observes the drug addicts hanging around the basketball courts. He says, “And junkies. They’d just be zombied out, roaming around the outside of the court… Goose was the dope man… Super flashy, but an all-around nice guy. Well, except for selling drugs.”
  • Coach Brody talks about his own father’s addiction and overdose. Coach says that his father “was an addict… Three weeks later, he…he stole my medal for a twenty-dollar high. He overdosed, right there on those steps.”

Language

  • Slang and otherwise grammatically incorrect sentences are used in dialogue to simulate authentic speech. For instance, Ghost says, “running isn’t anything I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”
  • Ghost frequently insults people’s appearances. For instance, upon seeing Coach Brody, Ghost says that Coach looks like a “turtle with a chipped tooth.” Later he calls Coach “this bowling-ball-head coach.”
  • When describing people, Ghost will sometimes refer to their race. For example, “milk-face running boy” and “fancy, white-black boy.”
  • Ghost compares a bully to Jack from Lord of the Flies, calling him a “power-hungry dummy.”
  • Ghost and the other kids frequently use words like dang, stupid, weird, crazy person, and jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ghost references God once, saying, “His skin was white. Like, the color white. And his hair was light brown. But his face looked like a black person’s. Like God forgot to put the brown in him.”

by Allison Kestler

 

Latest Reviews