A Sports Novel in Verse: Beanball by Gene Fehler

Terrible things can happen in sports. Seasons, careers, and even lives can end in the blink of an eye.  Although Beanball covermany of us cheer on participants in both youth and adult sporting events, we all know that entertainment can turn to horror in a split second. This sort of unfortunate turn is what happens to a young baseball player in the verse-novel Beanball by Gene Fehler. At the center of the plot is Luke “Wizard” Wallace, a star player on his high school’s baseball team who is unable to remove himself from the path of an errant fastball. This awful occurrence and its effects on a community are the focus for the rest of the book.

The story is told from the perspectives of a large cast of characters, some who witness the event and others who know people who were involved. After reading the book, this seems like the only possible way for this story to be told as well as it is. Readers are able to get many different viewpoints on this  event and its aftermath. For example, the umpire from the game is the one who describes the terrible life-changing moment:

“I still see it all in slow motion,

hear the sounds:

The pitcher shouting

A crack, but not like when ball hits bat or helmet.

The sound of bone shattering.

Then silence. I know it lasts only for a split second,

but with Luke lying there, it seems more like an eternity

before screams come from everywhere.

Probably even from me,

but I don’t remember that.”

Others who offer their perspective include the devastated pitcher who threw the ball, Wallace’s girlfriend, teammates, teachers, and many others. Readers get real insight into the characters, especially when outward appearances are much different from the thoughts running through their heads.

Throughout the book, I enjoyed the sprinkling of fantastic figurative language that Fehler used, especially for the injured Wallace whose life has fallen apart and he is trying to make some sense of how to put together the pieces. While Wallace is in the hospital and he is not sure what will happen, many people come to visit him, though he does not generally show any appreciation for these visits; however, his feelings tell a different story:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped on a desert island.

Once in awhile a ship comes in.

But not to save me.

Not to take me away.

A visitor shows up and then leaves.

The ship sails into the sunset,

and I’m alone again.”

Even though this is a book with a central focus around a sport, I would recommend this novel to readers who may not necessarily like sports books. Anyone who enjoys realistic fiction and who wants to see how characters deal with the trials they are faced with should pick up this book. Due to some repeated use of minor curses by an aggressive coach, as well as the terrible event at the center of the plot, Beanball is probably most appropriate for middle-grade readers.

Check out Beanball by Gene Fehler today!


Sibling Collaborators in Writing

As I’ve been reading recently, I noticed that I finished two books that were created by sibling teams so I decided to write a quick post about these two different series.

 Babymouse: Queen of the World by: Jennifer and Matthew Holm

 The first book in the Babymouse series follows a young mouse who must deal with things at school that all children come across: finding friends, dealing with homework, and un-sticking a jammed locker, amongst other issues. Most of all Babymouse wants to be invited to the slumber party of the “queen” of the school, Felicia Furrypaws. The reader watches as Babymouse devises different ways to get herself invited to this big event.

This is a fun graphic novel that can be handled by children moving from picture books to chapter books, but will be enjoyed by older students, too, who will have a better grasp of some of the humor and see themselves in the role of Babymouse. Funny illustrations and Babymouse’s creative imagination combine for an enjoyable fantasy read for elementary school students.

To view a few videos related to the Babymouse series, check out the following blog from teacher and super reading advocate Colby Sharp.


Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by: Kate and Sarah Klise

This novel is written entirely in the form of correspondence between various characters who are dealing with a middle-school’s leaking water fountain. The plot progresses quickly from this simple problem to uncovering a full-blown scandal. There is a light mystery in the book dealing with why the town’s creek went dry three decades ago, though many readers will uncover the truth long before the protagonists do. The main draw of the book is the inventive way the story is told and the humorous interactions throughout. I especially liked the headstrong Florence Waters (the character names are all derived from wordplay) who is designing the new fountain based on students’ drawings and who puts the middle-school’s principal in his place. This is an amusing read that can also be used as a great mentor text for helping younger students understand the format of a letter.

I will most likely read other books from both of these series in the future because of the light-hearted work done by these sibling teams. Do you have any other favorite sibling collaborators? I can think of other family teams (the McKissacks, the Tashjians), but no other teams of siblings. Maybe I will come across more in the future as I read across genres.

As a reminder, I am still looking for pictures of classroom libraries for a post I am putting together for September. There are already some great submissions so keep them coming. Please send all pictures of classroom libraries (and a few lines of description, if possible) to shane DOT jensen29 AT gmail DOT com by September 2nd (I have pushed back the submission date).  Thank you for taking the time to do this during the hectic start of the year.

The Effect of One Exceptional Child – Wonder by: R. J. Palacio

“And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.” – Auggie Pullman

In Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Auggie Pullman was born with a genetic defect that almost killed him. Luckily for Auggie and the people in his life he survived, but his face is forever misshapen. He has had to go through countless surgeries and the gawking stares of people in his town, yet his tenth year on this planet will prove to be his most challenging as he goes from being home schooled to attending the local middle school. This is a difficult experience for any student as cliques form and children battle to be cool. For Auggie, this can be a nightmare. Fortunately the story ends up being one of family, friendship, and bravery, with many positive events occurring to balance out the negatives in Auggie’s life.

I liked this book for the voice that Palacio was able to create for her different characters. What especially helped was the fact that the story is told from multiple perspectives, so the reader gets a sense of what it is like to walk around in Auggie’s shoes, as well as how his condition affects the people around him. Too often books like this only get one side, but it would be naive to think only one perspective is needed.

As I got into the story, it immediately made me think of other novels about children with exceptionalities that made them targets for the ridicule of their peers. In both Firegirl and Larger Than Life Lara, the title characters are viewed by their fellow students as ‘freaks’ and are not welcomed to their schools. Auggie goes through this same experience of standing out for being more than just a new kid. Because of the strong first-person narration that is included in Wonder, the book links even more to Out of My Mind. This is another novel that I felt tied closely to this book because people expect a lot less of the protagonists due to the genetic afflictions they have, when really these are bright young people who deserve praise for being courageous in less than ideal situations.

While reading about Auggie, I wondered about the medical term for what he had until the book eventually mentioned the name: mandibulofacial dystosis, otherwise known as Treacher-Collins syndrome. I had never heard of this before, though I did attend high school with a boy who I believe had this syndrome. I am proud that my high school self did not treat him as Auggie’s peers would have, but I am ashamed to admit I did my fair share of staring and never went out of my way to speak to him.

Wonder makes readers reflect on how they interact with others in life. I think it is important for all children and adults to read this book due to the powerful feeling of empathy that they will gain. On the side of my blog I have posted a badge with ‘Choose Kind’ written on it to help me remember how I need to treat my students as well as my peers. If you would like the same badge, you can click the image and be taken to the author’s website for one of your own.

Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much. – Blaise Pascal