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. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
My picture book posts were published and then occasionally expanded between 2012-2015, with reviews based on reading with my kiddo between preschool age and about eight years old. As of 2023-24, I’m freshening up my lists and adding more recs.
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 sequel 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.
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. 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!