Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What does it take to be a champion?

If there's one "truth" I've noticed it's that not everyone is a "reader" (by which I mean a person who loves to read books and regularly does). I have four children and 2 of them are definitely readers. Taylor isn't. And that's okay - there's nothing wrong with that - not everyone enjoys books like I do. Taylor would rather be riding his skateboard or bike or playing baseball or golf or swimming or doing any number of other activities. The problem is that teachers assign kids to read (darn those teachers!) and grade them on it. And since Taylor won't just sit down on his own and pick up a book, I have him read to me and we’ve read a lot of books together that way. The key is to find a good one that will interest him, and Heart of a Champion by Carl Deuker was perfect.

Heart of a ChampionSeth's dad died when he was just seven years old, and he's struggled ever since. Several years later he becomes friends with Jimmy Winters, a very talented and baseball-obsessed kid with a perfectionist father who drills him constantly on the fundamentals of playing the game. But baseball gives Seth a direction he didn't have before, and while he's never as good as Jimmy he makes the high school team and his school performance improves and he becomes an honor student.

While baseball is the driving subject of the book another prominent theme is the lack of a father in Seth's life. Unfortunately for Jimmy, his alcoholic father isn't a role model either, and it isn't long before his parents get divorced, giving the two boys one more thing in common. But Deuker is careful to emphasize the differences between the two - Seth's father died while Jimmy's left - and it affects each boy differently. But another prominent theme is the lure of alcohol for teenagers, and the devastating effects it can have. I thought the different attitudes the boys had toward drinking were interesting as well, and how some people can be more susceptible to its grasp.

We picked this book from Taylor's 8th grade summer-reading list because it sounded better than the others. And if you look at some of the online reviews you'll see a lot of kids who say they don't ordinarily like reading but they loved this book. We really liked it, too. The play-by-play is full of action and the fundamentals of "how" a player should think are shown repeatedly, in marked contrast to another baseball book we read, The Big Field by Mike Lupica (this book is much better). The narration by Seth comes across a bit flat for most of the book, but it makes sense when you get to the end. Initially I also thought the ending was almost too abrupt, but realized upon further reflection that it gives the message a forcefulness that might otherwise have been lacking. While the story revolves around baseball it has much larger implications to life, and will resonate with lots of kids.


  1. A lot of my reluctant readers loved the Mike Lupica stuff. I'll have to pass along Heart of a Champion as well.

  2. I think this is a great book for those reluctant readers... well, the boys who like sports, anyway.