Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sports Books -- Learning to Love Matt Christopher

Sometimes, boys are a little harder to motivate in the reading department than girls. This isn't always true, but in my years of teaching I would say that in general, boys had a harder time finding stuff that interested them than girls, who tended to be more omnivorous in their reading preferences. For grade school boys who are interested in sports, Matt Christopher can be a real Godsend.

I only discovered him because my 6 year old son emptied his piggy bank during the Scholastic Book Fair at his school and came home with three books about football. Double Threat by Matt Christopher was one of those books. It's a book meant for independent readers; it has no pictures and runs 128 pages. However, it worked well as a read aloud book, too, and since my son is currently obsessed with football, he was willing to sit and listen to the whole book, which took us about 4-5 days to read.

What the book does is take a story and then weaves it around some sport -- in this case football -- incorporating lots of play-by-play action. My son was riveted. He even stopped playing with his legos to listen. The next morning, he brought it to the breakfast table and wanted me to read it while he ate breakfast. Talk about motivation.

I am thrilled to have found an author who may inspire my son to make the leap to true chapter books. Right now he's not really interested in abandoning books with pictures -- at least some pictures -- but these books may be what propells him to the next level. He is so obsessed with football and so keen to understand all the ins and outs of the game that I am looking for more of these to give him for Christmas.

Next spring, when he's playing baseball again, there are Matt Christopher baseball books for him to read. And in the fall, when we go back to soccer, there are soccer books as well. In fact, if you have a child that plays a sport, any sport, chances are good there's a Matt Christopher book about it. In addition to the mainstream biggies (football, basketball, soccer and baseball), hockey, snowboarding, skateboarding, and even such esoteric things as lacrosse have made it into Christopher's books.

I've only read Double Threat so I can't speak for every book on the list (and it's a long list -- check the inside back cover of any of his paperbacks), but the one we read was blessedly free of the OMGs that seem to dog kids' literature. The characters have problems that are age-appropriate, they work their problems out in a responsible way by the end of the book. Neat, tidy, not overly angsty. There's a lot of sport woven into the narrative, so you may find yourself lost in or bored by the long descriptions of passes, dog-leg plays, tackles or whatever. But don't underestimate the power of this type of interest-specific book. It can be a great springboard into more fluent reading.
Most, if not all, of Christopher's books are available in paperbacks and are very affordable. I checked with our local library and found 171 of Christopher's titles available, so if it's not your lifelong dream to amass a collection of sports books, you should be able to find them at your library, too.

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