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FantasyLeagueWhoever thought I’d really like a Mike Lupica book, but I totally liked Fantasy League.

Twelve-year-old Charlie Gaines, nicknamed the “Brain”, knows everything about football. He watches the games, studies the stats and somehow sees things that others miss: how teams line up for certain plays, how the stats highlight some unique talent a player has. He’s also a master at Fantasy Football, using all the information he’s garnered.

His best friend Anna’s grandfather, Joe Warren, owns the L.A. Bulldogs, an expansion team with a history of losing. Her uncle Matt is the team’s general manager and is getting flack from the media because of the team’s lackluster performance. Anna knows almost as much about football as Charlie and they love watching games and talking football, especially how they would turn the Bulldogs around.

When Anna suggests that Charlie do weekly football podcasts, he thinks she’s lost her mind but goes along with it. Charlie’s coach in his Pop Warner league hosts an ESPN radio show and decides to broadcast a portion of Charlie’s show, giving him minor celebrity status.

At Anna’s urging Charlie suggests to Joe Warren that he draft an older quarterback who will probably be dropped by his current team. He is astonished when Warren takes this advice. Word gets out that Warren is taking suggestions from a twelve-year-old and both Charlie and Warren take considerable grief from the media. When Warren acts a second time on Charlie’s advice, the media has a field day. Will these choices prove positive for the Bulldogs?

Throughout this, Charlie is also player/assistant coach in a Pop Warner league, not confident that he is talented enough to contribute to the team’s performance.

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica is the feel good book of the year. Charlie and Anna are truly best friends. It is heartwarming to see a friendship develop between septuagenarian Warren and Charlie, whose father left when he was young. Mr. Warren becomes friend/father/grandfather rolled into one. Lupica touches on family, illness, self-confidence and more in an easy reading, enjoyable way. While the plot is predictable, the action and characters make Fantasy League a fun read. Primarily geared to boys, female sports fans might enjoy this as well.

 

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Jordan Sonnenblick writes great books. He somehow manages to blend serious issues with humor to come up with readable, fun middle grade books and so it is with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.

Peter Friedman is an ace pitcher. He gives 110%. So when his arm begins hurting, he keeps going, going, gone…at least his pitching arm, that is. The doctors say he’ll never pitch again. Actually, he’ll never play baseball again.

Since he was a kid, he’d go on photo shoots with his grandfather, a professional photographer. So, Peter takes a photography class, in order to replace his sports passion with a hobby. In class he meets the adorable Angelika, who seems to like him.

Curveball is the photography version of Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, another great book, in which the protagonist writes poetry when he’s sidelined with mono.

In Curveball, Peter grapples with: (a) telling AJ, his best friend and baseball teammate, that he’ll no longer be able to play baseball, (b) the telltale signs that his grandfather may have Alzheimer’s Disease and (c) the ins and outs of the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship of a high school freshman.

I remember vividly loving the grumpy nursing home character Sol from Notes from a Midnight Driver. Well, in Curveball, Grandpa is exactly the opposite. He’s loveable, supportive, fun. AJ is a great best friend, the kind that can be a pain sometimes, but always cares. Angelika is the perfect girlfriend.

Sonnenblick continues his winning streak with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. I’m glad to see he hasn’t lost his grip. It’s an all around winner.

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