CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2000
"Okay," Roy demanded, "let's see your stuff, you little geek." I squeezed the ball tightly in my hands. Whether I got a basket or not, I knew I was going to lose. Roy scowled at me angrily and the kids behind me began to jeer. I took a deep breath and bounced the ball nervously. Roy lunged forward. Instinctively I fed the ball through my legs and cut around him to the left, leaving him grabbing for air. I broke for the basket, but I was hit hard from behind. The ball squirted loose.In this satisfying, action packed beginning novel, Nick and Kia, the best basketball players in grade three, ask Marcus, the best player in grade five, to be on their team for the school's three-on-three basketball tournament. By practising together and playing a thinking game of basketball, they eventually win the tournament.
Nick and Kia are typical eight-year-olds, obsessed over basketball cards and struggling to comply with their teacher's requests at school. Marcus, living with his father in the "complex," is a tough, yet fair 10-year-old who laps up Nick's mother's attention and food. Nick's workaholic father and loving stay-at-home mother provide Nick, Kia and Marcus with support and structure until Nick's mother's wallet goes missing and she suspects Marcus of stealing it. Nick faces the final game under a cloud of anger and despair, as he fears that his parents will accuse Marcus of theft. Nick's parents are well drawn, compassionate people with real concerns about their son's making friends with a very needy boy.
The dialogue rings true and yet remains at a level comfortable for the young readers who will be attracted to his book. The basketball scenes are exciting and just technical enough to sound cool and professional without becoming jargon-filled. Young players will feel the pleasure of recognition, and non-players will be quite able to follow the action.
Who will read this book? In Manitoba's public schools, children do not play organized basketball until the grade 6 level. The likelihood of grade three students playing this wonderful game at the level described in this book, or, indeed at all, is remote. Consequently, the school's phys ed teacher's organizing a tournament (that is played at recesses!) is a bit of a stretch. The size of the print, the students on the cover and the presence of black and white drawings seem to place the book about at the grade 2 or 3 level. Older students who face similar friendship and sports challenges need short, well-written books like this, but the protagonists would have to be older.
It is very obvious that Eric Walters has coached basketball and that he loves the game. Perhaps, if young readers pick up this book, they will also be drawn in to the action and thrills that basketball creates.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Henry G. Izatt Middle School in Winnipeg, MB.
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