Welcome to SPORTY GIRL BOOKS. At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about any sport that interests them. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with The Distance to Home author Jenn Bishop

I am so excited that in only a few days another girl's baseball book will be out in the world. The Distance to Home is about an all star pitcher named Quinnen. Here's a blurb about the book:

Last summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They were headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley. 
 This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound? 

Today I am interviewing the author of The Distance to Home, Jenn Bishop. Jenn is a former youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Jenn lives just outside of Boston, where she roots for the Red Sox.

Your main character plays baseball. Why baseball? Were you a baseball player

when you grew up?
I grew up playing softball in my town’s league – though to be honest, I was never that good and certainly not as talented as Quinnen – and am an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox. But the true inspiration for the baseball elements in The Distance To Home came from attending a Kane County Cougars minor league game back when I lived in Chicago. My husband’s a huge Oakland A’s fan and the Cougars were at that point their minor league affiliate. At the game, we sat behind a couple that seemed to know an awful lot about the players (okay, we were eavesdropping a little) and so we chatted with them only to discover that some of these players stayed in their house for the summer as part of the team’s homestay program. How cool, right? (Life goal. Truly.) In earliest version of the book, Quinnen was a superfan of the Bandits but not actually a ballplayer herself. It was in revisions with my agent that her being a star pitcher developed into the final version in the story.

Tell us a little more about your main character, Quinnen.
Quinnen’s the kind of kid that I think – I hope! – a lot of readers can see themselves in. She’s got an impulsive streak, but she also has a heart of gold. What readers will find in the book are essentially two different Quinnens: last summer’s and this summer’s. Quinnen’s journey is finding her way back from the Quinnen she is when the book opens in the current summer, quiet and reserved and still full of remorse, to the Quinnen of last summer, vibrant and spunky and full of love for playing baseball.

Even though The Distance to Home is a baseball book, it's about so much more than baseball. How did you decide how much baseball to include?
A good rule of thumb for me has been what the plot dictates. In this case, in the “last summer” chapters of the book, baseball was a big part of Quinnen’s identity, and her team was moving forward to a tournament, so we see the key moments in that journey. In the “this summer” chapters, we see Quinnen’s love for the Bandits at minor league games and around the ballplayers, since her family is hosting one. I was thrilled to be able to include an author’s note and glossary, which I hope makes the book more accessible to readers who aren’t as familiar with baseball as Quinnen is.

Do you have any favorite sporty girl reads?
One that absolutely loved was Audrey Vernick’s The Kid from Diamond Street, a non-fiction picture book about Edith Houghton, who tried out for a professional women’s baseball team in 1922 as a ten year old and made the team (!!!). She was also the first female scout for Major League Baseball and her life story is about as cool as they come. I wish I’d had this book as a young girl – what a woman to look up to!

What is your all time favorite book?
How about my favorite dozen? This is a really hard question, as I have so many favorites. I guess if I had to pick one, right now I’d say A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. That one grabbed me from the first page and never let go.

Any big plans for the book release?
I’m having a launch party at my favorite local indie bookstore, Porter Square Books, on the big day. I’m also planning to tweet some of my favorite Red Sox players in the hopes that they might retweet about the book. Fingers crossed!

The Distance to Home will release on June 28. Make sure to preorder a copy! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Warm-Up for the 2016 Summer Olympics with SPORT-O-RAMA

To find this book via Shop Indie-Bookstores
Countdown! It’s only 51 days until the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio! If asked, I’m sure many female Olympic competitors will share an anecdote about watching the Olympics on TV as a child and daydream about a day when they might stand atop a podium watching their country flag rise above the crowds to the sound of their national anthem. I wonder what sports books they might have read as a child that provided similar inspiration? I came across a non-fiction picture book, SPORT-O-RAMA, by award-winning Canadian illustrator Benoit Tardif that I think would be a contender for a future superstar's “books that inspired me as a child” list.

What makes SPORT-O-RAMA so engaging are the simple, yet delightful illustrations in bold, primary colors and the subtle sense of humor displayed throughout. Each of the 23 sports from Badminton to Volleyball includes brief descriptions of the venue (court, pool, rink) and equipment (birdie, saddle, sailboat), plus fundamentals (tailwind vs. headwind and bump vs. block).

The illustrations are informative like those for golf that show the difference between golf clubs: a wood, iron, and putter and rowing that show the stroke phase of drive and recovery. A few entries, however, are confusing like the fencing entry shows a lamé (jacket) and eight lines of parry, but unless you’re familiar with the sport, it’s not clear what they mean even though the back matter does include a helpful description of each sport along with a glossary.

Readers are sure to giggle at the golfer who hits an “unplayable ball” into the mouth of a “real alligator” or the girl, a black belt judoka, does an arm lock on an opponent who exclaims, “Oh, no! Not again!” And who doesn’t like halftime entertainment? A clever middle spread illustration provides a search and count challenge.  SPORT-O-RAMA, full of word play and introductory vocabulary, is a fun read for little sporty girls to older sporty girls who are looking forward to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

For more information about Benoit Tardif via Kids Can Press

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sporty Girl Book Review: The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson

Thanks to NetGalley for the eGalley of THE FLIP SIDE.

In THE FLIP SIDE by Shawn Johnson, main character Charlie Ryland's Olympic gymnastic dreams are clear but Charlotte Ryland, Charlie's public school persona isn't quite as sure. After all, public school comes with grades, student government, boys, and prom--all of which are distractions as Charlie approaches her Olympic qualifying competition.

And there's that other small issue--no one at school has figured out that Charlotte and Charlie are the same person. It's this secret that builds tension through the novel and keeps the reader wondering. What will happen when her best friend Zoe, and the other students finds out about Charlotte's secret double life?

Shawn Johnson, with A.L. Sonnichsen, give us a wonderful inside view of how athletes struggle to separate the public and private parts of their life. If you look at Shawn Johnson's YouTube channel or other social media, it seems that there is little divide. However, this books reminds us that we never really know the people we see on TV. Celebrity necessitates dual personalities in order to stay sane, or in order to "embrace the crazy," as Charlie says in the book. It is during these inside peeks at the challenges elite athletics face that the reader hears Charlie's most authentic voice. We get to witness how many sacrifices young athletes make to compete at the Olympic level and how when things get difficult, it's fellow athletes they turn to for support. "If you can't fall apart with us," Gwen (her gymnastics best friend) says, "where can you fall apart?" (p. 252)

There were a few times when I was pulled from the story by a voice that felt too adult for Charlie. During those lapses, I could make a case that she had to grow up quickly and had media training, but I didn't think that the formal construction of some of her speech with friends or with other adults was authentic. 

I also wondered how it was that her school best friend, Zoe, never ever went to her house and saw the walls of medals and gymnastics pictures. Even the authors riff that her dual identity disguise, glasses and a different hair style, was lame in a Clark Kent/Superman way.

Still, the depiction of a close-knit family that supports Charlie's lofty goals and makes sacrifices right along with her seemed spot on.

While I had a few craft concerns, the book kept me turning pages. Like an NBC Olympics human interest story, THE FLIP SIDE has the athlete-overcoming-adversity plot line that a reader can count on.

For other great gymnastics titles, see yesterday's post Happy Book Birthday's: June is Coming Up Gymnastics.

For an interview with Shawn Johnson with Justine Magazine click here.

Read an excerpt here

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Happy Book Birthdays! June is coming up Gymnastics.

There's a weird sort of hive mind in the world of publishing and today's post is evidence. Three great books about gymnastics are having their book birthdays today. So if you are a reader who dreams about round-off back handsprings or if you regularly land on a balance beam that is four inches wide today is your day too. 

Happy #bookbirthday to Karlin Gray author of NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

From Goodreads:
Nadia Comaneci was a feisty and fearless little girl who went from climbing trees in the forests of Romania to swinging into history at the 1976 Olympic Games, where she received an unprecedented seven perfect scores in gymnastics. But as readers will see in this first-ever illustrated picture book about Nadia’s journey to Olympic gold, the road from small-town girl to world-class athlete was full of many imperfect moments. Expert illustrations that capture the energy and fluidity of Nadia's exuberant gymnastic routines and referential back matter round out this inspirational story of determination and overcoming adversity. A perfect 10.

Happy #bookbirthday to Caela Carter author of TUMBLING (Viking Books for Young Readers).

From Goodreads:

Grace lives and breathes gymnastics—but no matter how hard she pushes herself, she can never be perfect enough.
Leigh, Grace’s best friend, has it all: a gymnastics career, a normal high-school life…and a secret that could ruin everything.
Camille wants to please her mom, wants to please her boyfriend, and most of all, wants to walk away.
Wilhelmina was denied her Olympic dream four years ago, and she won’t let anything stop her again. No matter what.
Monica is terrified. Nobody believes in her—and why should they?
By the end of the two days of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, some of these girls will be stars. Some will be going home with nothing. And all will have their lives changed forever.

Happy #bookbirthday to Shawn Johnson and A.L. Sonnichsen authors of THE FLIP SIDE (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers).

From Goodreads:

From gold medalist and reality TV star Shawn Johnson comes a debut YA novel inspired by her own experiences as an elite teenage gymnast—just in time for the Summer 2016 Olympic games.
Charlie Ryland has a secret.
She may seem like your average high school sophomore—but she’s just really good at pretending.
Because outside of school Charlie spends all her waking hours training to become one of the best gymnasts in the world. And it’s not easy flying under the radar when you’re aiming for Olympic gold…especially when an irresistible guy comes along and threatens to throw your whole world off balance.
Inspired by her own experiences as a fifteen-year-old Olympic gymnast, gold medalist Shawn Johnson writes a delightfully entertaining novel about chasing big dreams and falling in love, all while trying to keep it real.
A longer review will follow this week!

As we journey on the Road to Rio this year, I predict that you'll see a lot more books with female athletes. Let's hope that publishers go beyond the well-known sports of soccer, swimming, and gymnastics. I'd love to see a rowing book (ahem, wish it were mine), fencing, or canoeing (see other little known Olympic sports here.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Book Review: MVP Series by David A. Kelly

I first discovered David A. Kelly's mystery series when my son was in second grade. He was a reluctant reader at the time but how could he resist a book with a ballpark on the cover? He found the series engaging because not only did he get to explore behind the scenes with a group of kids solving a mystery, he was also able to explore the area. My daughter was excited to read them too. When we'd go on vacation to places with ballparks both kids would recognize scenes in the book.

David A. Kelly's new series, Most Valuable Players or MVPs, is just as entertaining except instead of exploring ballparks, this time a group of kids solve mysteries the revolve around different sports.

In the first book, The Gold Medal Mess, Alice, Kat, Max, Nico, and Luke are getting ready for the school Olympics when they find a note for someone threatening to cancel the games. After showing the note to adults, the kids decide to investigate themselves, piecing together clues along the way. I won't tell you want happens, but by the end the kids have a chance to participate in sports and solve a mystery and the reader can follow them along for the ride.

While these series may not be specifically sporty GIRL books, the diverse cast of characters in both series includes sporty girls, sporty boys, and girls and boys who do not play sports. In other words, a group of kids that look just like any group of elementary kids. Which is awesome. I highly recommend both series for any young reader.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sporty Book Birthday! GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE by Paula Stokes

Today is the book birthday for GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, the wonderful new young adult novel by Paula Stokes from Harper Teen. (Advanced Reader Copy provided by the author.) It’s never too late to catch up on your Paula Stokes reading. We have an interview with her about her 2014 release THE ART OF LAINEY or you can check out Paula’s Facebook, Twitter or Website.

Shop Indie Bookstores

 So why do I say this book is wonderful? It’s layered. With GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, Paula Stokes gives us a sporty girl book featuring tennis, a romance based on friendship, and a deeply serious look at mental illness.

Maguire has been through a lot in her young life. In her early teens her father, uncle and brother were killed in a car accident while she walked away without a scratch. Later, a roller coaster careened off the tracks and again she was fine in the midst of suffering. But when her candle set the neighbor’s home on fire things became all to clear for Maguire. She was bad luck, cursed. Her very presence was sure to injure others. At least that’s what she believes. In order to control her world she does safety checks, avoids public transportation, won’t drive with others and hides away from others. It’s not until she meets a wonderful behavioral therapist that things start to change for her.

Maguire’s concrete desire drives the plot and keeps the reader squarely in Maguire’s court. “I want to see where my dad grew up, see my grandma again, meet all my relatives” (Stokes, 28.) The problem? Grandma is in Ireland and Maguire is sure if she’s on that plane, it’ll go down and no one will survive. The reader realizes that the task is large but she is rooting for Maguire every step of the way.

The reader isn’t the only one rooting for Maguire. Stokes has surrounded Maguire with other characters who challenge and support her. The romantic lead is tennis star, Jordy who also sees Dr. Leeds. The friendship between Maguire and Jordy grows believably over time and while there are plenty of references to Jordy’s hotness, I was pleased to see that Stokes allows these teens with issues to take it slowly—and uses humor to build their relationship. Maguire and Jordy have an easy banter that doesn’t feel forced or overly scripted.

The other thing that evolves slowly is Maguire and Jordy’s individual mental health treatment successes. There are no silver bullets when it comes to dealing with mental health issues and early on in the book, when Maguire is ready to be "fixed," Dr. Leeds explains that that isn’t how therapy works.

“You’re not a toaster, Maguire. You’re not here to be fixed…The first thing you need to realize is that mental health is fluid. It’s not like you have an infection and a doctor gives you antibiotics and then you’re cured. No matter what the two of us accomplish together, you’re still going to have good days and bad days…”(Stokes, 27.)

Maguire’s good days come through hard work. She creates a series of goals to work through her PTSD and OCD issues. The goals are presented in a list-form that is seamlessly integrated so it doesn’t stop the flow of the story. (Way to go designers!)    

I did have a few concerns: the friends in her new high school sometimes feel like they stepped off a teen movie set, and there was one point when I jotted down that a scene could have been slowed down to unpack the emotional impact for Maguire.

The most important note I made was, “I don’t want to stop reading!” and if you’re anything like me—GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE, will be on your shelf of sporty girl favorites. 

Reading fiction heightens your awareness and is a catalyst for connections. At the same time I read GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE (April 2016), the magazine Women’s Health published a fabulous article, “Which One of these Women Has Mental Illness,” about the stigmas and realities of living with mental illnesses and the National Center for Health Statistics released their report on suicide. Suicide rates in this country have consistently and constantly increased. A slow rising line that symbolizes the mountain that seems insurmountable for so many who take their own lives. If you are living with any type of mental illness including anxiety, or depression, or if you know someone who is, please get help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1800273TALK (8255)
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline –1‑877‑SAMHSA7 (1‑877‑726‑4727)

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Most elite athletes have inspirational stories of how they became a world-class competitor. For some it’s natural ability plus determination, for others it’s childhood circumstances paired with unlikely opportunities. KIDATHLETES by David Stabler and illustrated by Doogie Horner is a part of the Kid Legends series and this collection of tales of sixteen famous athletes including these five female pioneers who are not only relatable but also sure to inspire sporty girls:
Billie Jean King (The Girl Who Ran on Racket Power)
Danica Patrick (Girl without Fear)
Gabrielle Douglas (Grace under Pressure)
Babe Didrikson Zaharias (A Girl for All Seasons)
Julie Krone (And the Marvelous Mischievous Pony)

I’ve always enjoyed “did you know” articles and books that share lesser known facts and tidbits. I have to say that KID ATHLETES, a biographical collection of famous men and women, did not disappoint.

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick may have been squeamish around bugs and swimming in the ocean as a little girl but at age nine a fearless Patrick discovered the thrill of driving fast in a go-kart. I learned something new; I did not know that her mom had worked as a snowmobile mechanic or that she left high school to move to England and join a race-racing team.
Before the infamous Bobby Riggs tennis match, Billie Jean King had to overcome roadblocks to competition placed by tennis official Perry Jones (also known as a “czar”) to compete. She also scrimped and saved loose change to buy her first tennis racket ($8).  I do have a critique with the opening of this entry: “Before Billie Jean King, tennis was a sport played by wealthy women in frilly white dresses She made it possible for anyone, from any background, to dream of one day winning the U.S. Open or Wimbledon championship.” While Billie Jean King certainly broke down barriers, Althea Gibson was winning Championships and breaking down barriers years earlier.
How many kids are drawn to a sport via the influenced of a sibling? Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas learned how to do a cartwheel from her older sister and that eventually led down a path to a gold medal in gymnastics at the 2012 Olympic Games. Throughout her career she shows poise and strength on gymnastics apparatus but choosing to ignore several incidents of bullying shows a different type of poise and strength.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, considered the greatest female athlete of the twentieth century, was tough from the get-go – as a baby she defied the constrained of her crib and I doubt many athletes also could add to their resume they performed with a traveling circus.  

The first woman to be inducted into the Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, Julie Krone was drawn to a pony named Filly as a child. This is a heartwarming tale that comes full circle and a delightful introduction to this trailblazing jockey, especially timely now that we’re in Triple Crown season.

What do these women have in common? They are all amazing athletes but first they were just a kid who you might have sat next to you in third grade or who lived in the house down the street. In addition to the easy-to-read narrative, the humorous drawings make this an entertaining, enjoyable read.