a list of…five zippy twists on sports (inspired by the summer athletes)

Around the World, by John Coy, illustrated by Antonio Reonegro and Tom Lynch

It all starts with a game of hoops in New York City, namely, a game of Around the World.  Jamal and Tanika, brother and sister, have hardly begun their game when they’re drafted into a pick-up game on a neighboring court.  The fivesome dribble, pass, rush and shoot with gutsy flair, when all of a sudden…

zing! We’ve landed in Perth, Australia, in the middle of a similar game.  It’s happening simultaneously, so it’s a moonlit game along the tranquil, aqua waters of the Indian Ocean where the players call one another “mate.”  Amazingly, a few quick lay-ups and rebounds later we find ourselves bursting on the scene in Shanghai, China where an indoor game is on between Xu, Chen, Zhang and Wang.  As a basket swishes, we hear Wang call out the score, “san-si!”  It’s three to four.

This game of Around the World spins us through ten different games of b-ball, a thrilling journey of action and mad competition, with players who speak to one another in different languages, play in wildly different settings, own all sorts of unique names, yet are united in their love for basketball.  Great concept.  The comic-book style illustrations are superb!  They pulse with movement and the tension of the game; their dramatic colors, angles, and lines yank us into the games and open up each new location compellingly.  The text is almost all in ultra-brief sports-commentary style lingo in cartoon text boxes.  Great for a reluctant reader.  Also included are a short glossary of foreign phrases and the rules for playing your own game of Around the World.  Love this!!  Ages 7 and up.

Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Randy Riley is not a star athlete.  He’s not even an average athlete.  Randy Riley is just plum no good at baseball.  Sigh.

But…Randy Riley is a science nut.  He absolutely loves tinkering with robots and spying stars through his Space Boy telescope.  It just so happens that one day while scanning the sky Randy sights something…strange!  alarming!  catastrophic!  It’s a massive fireball streaming through the atmosphere, and it’s headed straight to his town!  Yikes!

The problem gets worse when no one will take Randy’s sighting seriously.  This leaves matters entirely in Randy’s hands and oh my does he ever handle things fabulously!  With as much grit and stamina as any Olympian, Randy sets about the task of saving the day.  His ingenuous method, involving robots and, of course, baseball, will definitely put a grin on your faces!

Chris Van Dusen is a genius himself.  His clever, lighthearted story is written in rhyme, employs delightful vocabulary, and catapults dear Randy Riley into awesomeness.  Outer space plus robots plus baseball — what more could a kid ask for?  Meanwhile, Van Dusen’s characteristic Jetson-style gouache illustrations are bold, florescent-bright, energetic, leading us around the story with fantastic perspectives.  Great fun for 6 and up.

D.W. All Wet, written and illustrated by Marc Brown

“It’s too hot!” shouted D.W.  (Methinks we might all echo her during this crazy hot summer here in Minnesota.) So, Mother and Father and Arthur and D.W. go to the beach.  Sounds lovely, right?  But D.W. is not pleased.  She has no intention of dipping even her pinky toe in the water.  Instead she builds sand castles…and grouses.

When Arthur suggests a walk, D.W. is pleased as punch to clamber up for a piggy-back ride and holler directions to him.  Her plan is to guide him up to the ice cream shack on the hilltop.  But Arthur has another idea, and before D.W. can stop him, he’s galloping down to the water with a squawking D.W.  Splash!  What will D.W. do?  Happily, after a little hysteria, D.W. discovers that she loves the water, after all.

This is one of the first books featuring D.W., published back in 1988.  While we did not immerse ourselves in all things Arthur, we did love this book, read it probably a hundred times, and still find ourselves quoting  persnickety, bossy, hilarious D.W.  Lots of kids can relate to D.W.’s nervousness around water and will be gladdened by her utter change of heart.  Preschool and up.

Mrs. Armitage on Wheels, written and illustrated by Quentin Blake

Eccentric Mrs. Armitage with her spindly legs, hawklike nose, wire-rimmed spectacles and mousy-brown pony tail…is a complete dear.  She’s the most up-beat, can-do, get-‘er-done, gal on the planet.  Just now she’s got a keen bicycle and her lovable dog, Breakspear, and she’s off for a fine tootle around the countryside.

In two shakes, however, Mrs. Armitage discovers that her bike would be better if it had a nice loud horn.  So, she buys three.  Good loud ones.  When moments later her chain comes off, Mrs. Armitage doesn’t skip a beat.  She pops it back on in no time, but…ook.  Greasy, grimy hands.  “What this bike needs,” said Mrs. Armitage to herself, “is somewhere to wash your hands.”  Presto — she further amends her bike.  You can see where this is going, but I think you will be surprised by all the necessary additions Mrs. Armitage makes to her bicycle until …disaster strikes!

Even disaster can’t keep sunny Mrs. Armitage down, though, and this book ends with a great big happy surprise, and a jolly shaking of our heads as we exclaim, “Oh, Mrs. Armitage!”

Hands down, one of our favorite books and favorite characters.  Quentin Blake is the king of quirky, humorous stories.  These, and  his brilliant ink and watercolor illustrations have propelled him to the top of the list of favorite British author-illustrators.  I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn’t like this book, and there’s further Mrs. Armitage adventures to scope out as well.  Preschool and up.

The Hare and the Tortoise, retold and illustrated by Helen Ward

Here’s the ancient Aesop fable about the foolish, overly-confident hare and the slow-but-sure tortoise, told succinctly, but  lavishly, gorgeously illustrated by Helen Ward.

Ward fills the pages with animal on-lookers from all the corners of the Earth — a garden dormouse and a fennec fox, a fantastically fast peregrine falcon and an incredibly slow loris.  Here is fur in beautiful tones, fascinating hooves and brilliant feathers, stripey badgers and spotted cheetahs, softly colored,so striking against the pure white pages.  The illustrations are drawn in ink and painted in watercolor and gouache, and let me just say that it is a complete treat to pour over them.  The tale itself is here a springboard to considering the wonders of the animal kingdom.  

To complete the book, three jam-packed pages give us keys to all the unusual animals seen in these illustrations so we can name creatures such as an okapi or a bongo.  Ward also relates scads of fascinating information about the pictured animals in text suited for mid-elementary and up, particularly focusing on the various speeds, or slownesses, of all these wondrous beings.  It’s a really beautiful book featuring a classic tale.

Here are Amazon links for all these sporty stories:

Around the World

Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit

D.W. All Wet (D. W. Series)

Mrs.Armitage on Wheels

Hare And The Tortoise