What I know about sports could fit on an index card, but I do know a good children’s book. So here are some of our favorite children’s picture books about sports, from a mom who loves books and a kid who loves books AND sports. Boy Detective enjoyed these in his preschool and early elementary years, and I also genuinely liked them… even after reading some of them out loud half a dozen times! Side note: should children’s books be rated on how many times you can “read it again!” without wanting to throw it out the window?
Sergio Saves The Game by Edel Rodriguez. When he was very young, Boy Detective couldn’t yet read but had memorized every word of this book. I wish I had recorded him “reading” it. Even without my toddler’s narration, this is a funny underdog story about a penguin who just wants to be good at soccer, but never gets picked for the team. Can his newfound role as goalie help the penguins win the championships against the big mean seagulls? The other book Sergio Makes a Splash is also quite enjoyable. Rodriguez’s bold graphic style feels fresh and fun.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Kameeka is locked in fierce competition with Jamara for the title of Hula-Hoopin’ Queen of 139th Street. On the day of the face-off, though, Kameeka’s mother needs her help getting ready for Miss Adeline’s birthday party. Can Kameeka balance both? Probably not. I loved Kameeka’s passion and fierce competitiveness, but also her ability to apologize when it leads her astray. And in the end, she ends up more connected to the important people around her despite her mistake. (She is a kid, after all, they make mistakes sometimes! Just like grownups. ;) I’m a sucker for an artist who has mastered facial expressions, and Brantley-Newton is an all-star on that front. Also keep an eye on the furniture in this one. You won’t believe how much detail she’s included.
Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey, with illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon. With so many men fighting in World War Two, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League steps in to entertain the folks at home. Their debut is not without some drama, though, as public skepticism is high. We read this with Boy Detective when he was quite young. We had to explain some of the basics of historical context to him as we went along, but he got it pretty quickly and loved seeing the young women succeed. As a feminist mama, I loved the book’s explanation that the main character, Katie Casey, wasn’t “…good at being a girl… at least not the kind of girl everyone thought she should be.” However, I was disappointed that Gibbon’s otherwise charming, retro art portrayed all the “girls” playing for the league with the same body type: thin. All female athletes aren’t the same build. And as Kirkus Reviews notes, the book gives a misleading portrayal that women of color were included in the League. I still think it’s a good book, but those couple of flaws are worth a good conversation.
The Princesses Have a Ball by Teresa Bateman, with art by Lynne Cravath. A re-telling of the fairy tale about princesses who disappear from their rooms each night and dance the night away. These princesses, however, have a different passion. The local cobbler figures it out and helps the girls reveal their secret to their father the King. Consequences are not as dire as the girls had feared, and they all live happily ever after. Bonus: the princesses are all labeled as sisters, there’s diversity in skin color and appearance among them, AND at no point does the story feel compelled to give an explanation for that.
I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer, with art by Chris Eliopoulos. I have no idea how historically accurate this book is, but it’s good entertainment and makes some excellent points about racism, hard work, and fairness. The lessons it’s trying to teach are very explicit, no reading between the lines here. But it works because it’s a short book and the serious statements are interspersed with humor. The jokes are part of what made Boy Detective ask for repeat reads. And trust me, he was getting the anti-discrimination point of the story too. (We may be raising a rabble-rouser.) Robinson’s life and baseball are so intertwined, and it’s great for little sports fans to learn about how much some folks had to fight through just for a chance to play.
This one was in the books about friendship post, but it’s well worth including again here. And I promise the art isn’t as grey as this cover looks! Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Two boys, one Jewish and one African-American, live next door to each other. As they become friends, they discover that one is great at baseball and one at violin… but it’s backwards from what their families had hoped. Will the adults in their lives accept them? Lewis’s paintings bring a soft, nostalgic feel to the story without feeling dated. And the happy ending is another good conversation-starter, this one about being true to yourself.(Definitely better for slightly older kids because it does mention someone’s fingers getting broken in a concentration camp – that’s a heavy discussion for a three year old at bedtime if they haven’t already learned about that part of history.)
And that’s the list of our favorite kids’ books about sports!