I’m shamefacedly hooked on watching the Olympics this year, staying up much too late to get my fix of swimming, gymnastics, or whatever events happened to be featured on a given evening. I’ve been particularly keen to catch a few of the U.S. women’s field hockey games, because a close high school friend, Kate Reisinger, is one of the team’s managers, and I think it’d be so completely cool to just catch even a glimpse of her on the sidelines! During our senior year of high school Kate and I co-captained the varsity field hockey team, along with our friend Colleen. Field hockey was a HUGE part of our lives every fall. We had a coach, Anna Baldini, for whom we’d have done almost ANYTHING. She was amazing! Fantastic! And about as entertaining as any human being has a right to be.
I was recalling all of my best field hockey memories the other day and realizing, though, that I haven’t seen any of them represented in any of the middle grade or young adult fiction that I’ve read. At least, not that I can recall… And that got me thinking about all the other sports that are popular with kids in various parts of the country or even throughout the country that just don’t make many appearances in novels nowadays (not counting those included in the Matt Christopher books or Jake Maddox books or other sports-specific series). This surprised me. And it disappointed me too. With all the books coming out these days, shouldn’t we see a bigger range/better mix of sports being represented in children’s and young adult fiction?
I can name countless novels about kids playing baseball, many about kids playing football or basketball, some about kids playing soccer or kids riding horses (though the books really about equestrians almost all feature girls), and a few about kids playing softball (again, girls). When it comes to swimming, things get harder. Tennis? Diving? Trickier still. Lacrosse? Gymnastics? Almost nill. Archery? Forget it, unless it’s historical. Ice skating? Ice hockey? I could go on.
Or where are the books about kids who play three or four sports a year—a different one each season? Most really athletic kids tend to play one sport in the fall, one in the winter, and one in the spring. Where are the books about kids like them?
What I’d like to see most are books that are not about kids playing one of these oft-played, less-often-featured-in-fiction sports but books in which a kid happens to play one of them. In other words, I’d love to read a novel about a girl’s struggles with the social scene in which she blows off some of her frustration at field hockey practice. Or a book about a boy adjusting to a new school who starts fencing while he’s there. It’s always a bonus when a book will appeal to kids interested in a particular sport, but where other kids unfamiliar with it won’t get lost in all the sports chatter. You don’t have to know or love soccer, for example, to love Tangerine by Edward Bloor, in which soccer is a big part of the main character’s life. Even if you hate basketball, you’ll still love Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which there are some great basketball-playing scenes. I’m no equestrian, but my friend Kim Ablon Whitney’s book The Perfect Distance held my attention from start to finish, as did Carolyn Coman’s Many Stones, in which the main character is a swimmer.
Listed below are all the sports in the current Summer Olympic games and the upcoming (September) Summer Paralympic Games, plus those in the 2010 Winter Olympic games and 2010 Winter Paralympic Games, to get you authors and publishers thinking, scheming, writing, acquiring. A novel about judo, anyone? Or how about wheelchair curling? You might laugh, but if someone could write a book about wheelchair curling that’s even a fraction as compelling as Murderball, the award-winning documentary about quadripelegic rugby players, we’d have a real winner on our hands/shelves. That’s the kind of book to which I’d like to give a gold medal.
SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES
Track & Field
WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Ice Sledge Hockey
Short Track Speed Skating
SUMMER PARALYMIC GAMES
WINTER PARALYMPIC GAMES
Ice sledge hockey