Fred Bowen, author of the All-Star Sports series and most recently, Perfect Game, explains why sports are an ideal subject for young readers.
As the author of 18 sports books for kids, I sometimes get asked the question, “Are you just going to write about sports?” The question implies that sports are lightweight subjects for a book, even a kids’ book. But it seems to me that sports are a perfect subjects for kids. Here’s why.
First, like music, art, and drama, people have been interested in sports and athletic achievements for thousands of years. The Greeks had their Olympics, and the Romans had their gladiators and chariot races.
When friends return from visiting Rome, I’ll often ask, mischievously, whether they visited “the ballpark.” When they ask what I mean, I say, “the Colosseum.” After all, the Colosseum was a ballpark.
That rich history is why I include a chapter of sports history in every one of my books. It gives my young readers the feeling that their teams and games are part of something that has been going on for a long, long time.
Second, sports are something kids really do. Kids don’t usually solve mysteries, go on fantastic adventures, or practice wizardry. But kids play sports.
When I visit schools to talk on the writing process, I always ask, “Who plays sports?” So many hands go up that I have had to change my presentation slightly to make sure no one feels left out. Now I always add, “I’m sure the kids who don’t play on a team play something on the playground or after school.”
A recent survey by the National Federation of High School Associations determined that participation in high school athletics went up for the twenty-fourth consecutive year. The bottom line is that playing sports has become as common as owning a pet or taking music lessons, so it seems a natural subject for kids’ books. And a great way to get reluctant readers reading.
Third, sports are the place where many kids tackle some important issues, such as fairness. Nothing quite teaches the history of America’s troubled racial past like the story of Jackie Robinson. Kids sense how unfair it was that a terrific player was kept off the field just because of the color of his skin.
Sports are also the place where many kids ask themselves what they are willing to do to win. In my books Winners Take All and Touchdown Trouble, the characters must decide whether they will win by cheating or taking advantage of a referee’s mistake, respectively. These are not easy questions because we live in a competitive culture that admires winners.
Finally, kids’ books should allow readers to explore their feelings and emotions. Those feelings and emotions are present in sports. Being on teams and playing games force kids to deal directly with the joy of winning and the disappointment of losing. Playing their games, kids have to sort through many conflicting and confusing feelings.
For example, some kids may be jealous of a teammate or friend who is better than they are at a sport. Or figure out how they can help their team even though they are not going to be the big star. Sometimes kids who play sports have to learn the most painful lesson of all: that you can try your hardest and things still won’t turn out as you had hoped.
History, high interest, important issues, and raw emotions. Sports is such a rich and fertile subject, I can’t understand why people ask, “Are you just going to write about sports?” I think the question should be why aren’t more kids writers writing about sports?