The Rookie Bookie

It’s time, once again, to bring you one of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Today’s post focuses on The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz.

This book is an interesting, quick read that will appeal to both math and sports enthusiasts, but I’m not sure how many upper elementary school students (the target audience for the SCCBA nominee list) will be able to follow all of the economics, statistics, and sports strategy talk presented in this book. I think they’ll enjoy getting to know the characters and seeing how they get into and out of trouble, but I think this book may be more suitable for middle grade readers than many of my little ones.

Mitch Sloan is the new kid at school, and he doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to fitting in. At his old school in California, he was bullied for being a nerd. He doesn’t want the same thing to happen here in Indiana, so Mitch tries out for the football team and attempts to tone down his love of math, money, and correcting people.

One person who seems to connect with Mitch immediately is Jamie, a girl who loves sports as much as Mitch does. She examines strategy just like he does, and he finally feels like someone finally gets him…and he absolutely does NOT have a crush on her.

One day, Mitch and Jamie take their love of sports to the next level, and they bet on a pro football game. Mitch uses his love of strategy and statistics to skew the bet in his favor, and, though Jamie is upset at first, an idea begins to take shape. What if they can get other kids at school to bet on some games? Mitch and Jamie could serve as middle-men–or bookies–and make a little money with no risk to their own wallets. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty soon, kids are lining up at Mitch’s locker to make bets and receive their winnings. Mitch and Jamie are making money, their “customers” are having fun, and Mitch feels what it’s like to be popular. He kind of likes the feeling, even though he wonders just how many of these people are really his friends.

Eventually, this business begins to spiral out of control, and Mitch and Jamie find themselves in more trouble than either of them have ever been in. (Who knew that operating a middle school gambling ring was against the rules?) Can their friendship recover from this huge mess? And can they find a way to redeem themselves in the eyes of their parents, their classmates, their teachers, and the whole school?

Answer these questions and many more when you read The Rookie Bookie!


I think The Rookie Bookie is a good fit for readers who enjoy football, particularly those interested in fantasy football or anyone who grew up in a town where high school football is a community-wide event. I also think this could be used as a novel study in a math class. It could help students with real-life applications of statistics and finance. Additionally, this book could teach some life lessons, like the importance of honesty, what it means to be a true friend, using talents to help others, dealing with bullies, and owning up to one’s mistakes and trying to make amends. 

While I do think The Rookie Bookie is more suited to middle grade readers, I know some of my older readers (4th and 5th graders) will enjoy it. Hopefully, they won’t decide to start up an elementary school gambling ring. We shall see.

War & Watermelon

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately. The only thing I can blame is the end-of-year craziness that comes with working in a public school library. Two weeks ago, we had PASS testing (and don’t get me started on standardized tests). Last week, my library had our third book fair of the year. (We raised around $4,000, but my clerk and I are exhausted.) While that was going on, the library remained open for the last week of checkout for the school year. Today, about 9 million books were returned…which now have to be shelved. So, when I get home in the evenings, what little time I do have that’s not devoted to housework, paying bills, or that most heinous of chores–mowing the lawn–goes to doing absolutely nothing. My desire to read has been almost nil, but I have hopes that things are turning around…

Yesterday, I read a book that a student brought to me. The book is Rich Wallace’s War & Watermelon, and one of my fourth graders brought it to my attention. She read it and came to the conclusion that it didn’t belong in an elementary library. Well, of course, I had to read it after that. This student is not one to go crazy over every little thing, so I really took her concerns seriously. (Not that I don’t take all other concerns seriously, but you know how people are. Some get their knickers in a bunch over nothing. This girl isn’t like that.) After reading the book, I have to agree with my student. War & Watermelon is not a book for an elementary school library…but it is a great addition to any middle or high school collection.

War & Watermelon takes place in the summer of 1969, and it explores what life was like for one almost thirteen-year-old boy during this time. Brody is a pretty typical kid. He likes football, he’s starting to be interested in girls, and he’s dealing with drama at home. Typical stuff, right? Well, kind of. This is also the summer of ’69. (Cue Bryan Adams music.) The Mets are winning, man just landed on the moon, the U.S. is at war in Vietnam, and Woodstock is about to hit New York. It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when his brother’s about to turn eighteen and become eligible for the draft. Tensions are high at home and everywhere else, and Brody often doesn’t know which way to turn. No matter what happens, though, this will be a summer that Brody will never forget.

War & Watermelon sort of fills in a gap in some historical fiction collections, but I really don’t think it’s a good fit for my school library. Elementary school kids probably wouldn’t understand some of the humor, and they probably shouldn’t understand some of the drug references. (Notice I said shouldn’t.) The main character does go to Woodstock, and many young readers (and their parents) might focus a little too much on the nudity and drug use present at the music festival instead of the message of peace it was intended to be.

I’ll be passing this book on to a local middle school, and I hope that students there will enjoy it. I just don’t think my kids are ready for this book. Do with that what you will.

Inexcusable

There are several unread books on my shelves that have been there for years.  One of my goals this year (and next year) is to get around to reading some of these books (mainly to make space for even more books).  This week, I decided to take a break from reading Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue (which is awesome…but long) and read one of these sadly neglected books on my shelf–Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.  This book was released in 2005, and I’ve been meaning to read it but never got around to it until now.  It’s a short, fast read that will appeal to reluctant readers, and the subject matter–what can only be called date rape–is a topic that should be explored with any and all teens.

Keir Sarafian is a “good guy.”  Ask anyone.  He doesn’t get into too much trouble.  He’s a great son and brother.  He’d rather cut off his own arm than hurt anyone close to him.  So, it’s absolutely impossible that he could have done what Gigi–the love of his life–is accusing him of.  No.  He absolutely couldn’t have raped her.

As Keir tries to figure out why Gigi is saying these awful things, he reflects back on the past year.  He thinks about the good times and bad, things he could have done differently, mistakes he made, and whether or not he really is a “good guy.”  What could have possibly led him to this point, and what will happen to him now?  Is there any way he can convince Gigi that this is all some huge mistake?  Or is Keir’s biggest mistake believing that he couldn’t do something this horrible?

It becomes clear to the reader pretty quickly that Keir is not the “good guy” he’s built himself up to be in his own mind, but it is interesting to see his thought processes.  What makes someone so delusional that they can’t see what’s right in front of them?  In Keir’s case, I think we can partially blame his father, who sees nothing wrong with getting wasted with his teenage son.  We can also partially blame sports culture.  This idea that athletes are above the law does nothing to help these guys when the you-know-what really hits the fan.  Mostly, though, the blame lies with Keir, who fails to take a long, hard look at his own actions.  It seems he’s always pushing the fault onto someone else’s shoulders.  After all, he’s a “good guy,” and he couldn’t possibly do something really bad.

In my opinion, Inexcusable is a good book for teen readers, especially those who don’t quite understand the true meaning and seriousness of date rape.  Some of the content and language is mature, so I wouldn’t put this book in the hands of middle grade readers.

Another book on this topic that you may want to consider is The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.  While Inexcusable looks at date rape from the male’s point of view, The Mockingbirds looks at the female perspective and what a girl can do to fight back when something this horrible happens to her.  Of the two of these books, The Mockingbirds is probably my favorite, and I will hopefully find time to read the sequel, The Rivals, soon.

Doppelganger

Note:  Throughout the next several weeks, I will be posting some booktalks that I wrote before I started this blog.  This one is for Doppelganger by David Stahler, Jr.  Enjoy!

He has no name.  He has no real family.  He is not even human.  He is a doppelganger.  His very nature commands him to kill and take on the form of his prey.  But he’s not at peace with his nature.  He does not want to kill.  He wants to be human, but we can’t always have what we want.  When his impulses become too much to bear, the doppelganger kills and takes on the form of Chris—all-star football player and your basic Mr. Popular.  But appearances can be deceiving.  It seems Chris is fighting his own demons, including an abusive father and a distant girlfriend, and the doppelganger takes those problems as his own as he begins to live Chris’s life.  He soon discovers that there is more than one kind of monster in the world.  Read Doppelganger and see how sometimes the truly monstrous actions come from those we’re closest to.

Gym Candy

Gym Candy by Carl Deuker is my latest read.  In fact, I finished it about ten minutes ago.  As you may guess from the title, this book deals with steroid use.

Mick Johnson is a high school student who lives for football, and he’s determined to do whatever he can to keep his edge, and I do mean anything.  He gets caught up in the controversial world of steroids, and things begin to spiral out of control.  There is no happy ending here.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I got the sense that Mick is more messed up than anyone knows.

This is a very powerful book and has the potential to start some meaningful conversations between athletes, coaches, parents, and teachers.  I hope to share this book with the football coaches and players at my school.  Gym Candy is an excellent book with an important message.