It’s hard to talk about the sports genre without stereotypes coming into play. Most boys like sports and most girls don’t according to society, and although obviously not an ultimate truth it does have some truth. Generally boys like to talk, watch, and play sports more than girls. Of course girls like to play sports too and this doesn’t make boys any better, but from my experience this is usually the case. Another generalization is that boys don’t like to read and girls don’t. Again, this is absolutely not fact and there are plenty of boys who love to read and girls who don’t. But, if we take a look at the literature available to young readers at the chapter book level (around grades 3-5), there is insight to why this kind of thinking may exist. Although the past decade has really made a shift to expanding the sports and other boy-friendly/adventure genre (huge shout out to James Patterson), when I was growing up I remember how difficult reading was for my brother. He was a grade above me and loved sports, just like the rest of his friends- woke up watching Sports Center and soccer/basketball/baseball practice after school with some kind of tournament over the weekend. While I was an avid reader, my brother said he “hated it.” Why? Because all the books we read in school didn’t interest him, since all he was interested in was sports. And since not everyone like sports those weren’t the books we read in class. So he thought reading was boring and dumb and wanted no part of it.
That is, until one of his teachers introduced him to Matt Christopher. Matt Christopher wrote his first sports story in 1954 and continued on until his death in 1997. He’s written over a hundred books, and has a great interactive website where you can pick what sport you want to read about and it shows you all the books he’s written about that sport. Some of the books continue the story of one of the characters while some of the books stand alone. My favorite is Nothin But Net, a story about basketball player Tim Daniels going to summer camp with his less than athletic friend Billy. The story is about how Tim deals with the pressure of having a not popular friend and how he handles a friend getting bullied. His books take the setting of sports to deal with real issues that are relevant to his readers and how to navigate such tricky terrains. He also wrote biographies of professional players.
When my brother started reading Matt Christopher, it wasn’t a miraculous moment where he all of a sudden became a huge bibliophile. It did however show him that not all books are boring and some of them can even be interesting, making him open to the idea of branching out from time to time. Being a typical little sister (and since my mom bought every Matt Christopher books she could find when my brother finished the first one so there were a ton around the house), I started reading them too. And I loved them.
So here’s a huge thank you to Matt Christopher for his work of bringing the excitement of sports to print. You’ve done a huge service to the world of children’s literature.