Friday, November 20, 2015

Jake Maddox: Gymnastics jitters by Margaret Gurevich, illustrated by Katie Wood

At my first book club for 1st - 3rd grade, I asked all the kids what they were interested in. One of the reasons I did that was my plan to introduce them to more books that were centered around their interests. One mentioned gymnastics, so I found a Jake Maddox sports story and took it home to read first so I could booktalk it.

"Jake Maddox" is a pen name that includes a number of different authors writing sports stories. Rather like Carolyn Keene or Franklin Dixon. The Jake Maddox sports series feature a wide variety of sports at an easy reading level, featuring both boys and girls and with a quite decent rate of diverse characters as well.

This particular title features gymnastics team captain Dana and her teammates in a lesson on good sportsmanship. They have just one a trophy and are nervous about their next opponents, the Superiors. Supposedly, they play dirty and will do anything to win. They have some little spats but after a talk with their coach the Raiders, led by Dana, take the high road. After a practice where everything goes wrong, their coach gives them the day off. When they come back and compete in the meet, things go great, the Superiors are nowhere to be seen (some of them sabotaged the equipment) and their team wins the gold.

The black and white line drawings show a diverse cast of girls, although all have similar body types and sparkle. No, I don't know how they got a black and white picture to convey glitter, but they did. Back matter includes a brief glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and some gymnastics facts.

This 65-page beginning chapter book is not great literature. The story is a little choppy and the girls are interchangeable, the ending is rather trite and predictable. But that doesn't matter. When I'm selecting beginning chapters, I look for a readable text, engaging storyline, subjects that interest kids, and, if I can find it, at least some diversity. This book may not be as beautifully written or illustrated as some beginning chapter books, but kids at this age need a wide selection to pique their reading interest and this adds to that variety.

Verdict: This isn't what most people would think of as a typical book club book, but I'm focusing on letting the kids pick books that interest them. This meets the needs of both my book club readers and my library patrons as well. I'd still love to see better-written beginning chapter books featuring diverse kids, both girls and boys, playing sports, but until then I'm perfectly happy handing this out. I recommend that every library have at least some of the Jake Maddox titles.

ISBN: 9781434239082; Published 2012 by Capstone; Purchased for the library

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