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6 Middle Grade Books About Off-Beat Sports for Young Readers

by Donna Gephart

One word that strikes fear into my heart? Dodgeball.

When Mr. Rizzo, our gym teacher, said it was time for dodgeball, I created a reason to visit the nurse’s office. I didn’t want a big rubber ball hurtling toward my head with great speed.

Similar feelings of dread overtook me during basketball, baseball, football, and every other sport with, well, a ball that could potentially injure me. I needed to find a sport with a tiny, non-threatening ball or none at all.

In middle school, I loved being part of Mr. Richardson’s after-school Ping-Pong Club. I could put spin on that ball like nobody’s business. And I won second place in my school’s talent show competition for my mad hula-hoop skills. Not everyone could spin a hoop on one finger, while dancing around stage in a black leotard to the 1974 disco song “Kung Fu Fighting.” And clearly, that was a good thing.

So, where are the middle grade books with characters like me who didn’t feel comfortable playing traditional sports? Right here:

  • Roller Girl

    by Victoria Jamieson

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    In this graphic novel, while Astrid’s best friend goes to dance camp, Astrid become infatuated with roller derby and joins a camp. She endures bumps and bruises to improve her skills in a sport she grows to love. This delightful book inspired me to find a roller derby competition in my area, and it turned out to be a wildly fun evening.

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  • Chess Rumble

    by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

    Marcus finds himself in trouble when he fights with his fists. A chess master at his school teaches him to fight his battles on the chessboard and to think strategically about the game ... and his life.

  • How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy

    by Crystal Allen

    In this hilarious, heart-rending novel, 13-year-old asthmatic Lamar Washington is the “maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler at Striker’s Bowling Paradise.” Unfortunately, he strikes out with the girls. And he has to find a way to gain his dad’s attention, like his trophy-winning, basketball-playing older brother does before he messes everything up. You’ll fall hard for Lamar in this wonderful novel.

  • Ghost

    by Jason Reynolds

    Ghost (Castle Crenshaw) has been running all his life, but for the wrong reasons. When an ex-Olympic medalist turned coach sees Ghost’s raw talent, he gives Ghost an opportunity to be on an elite middle school track team. Can Ghost deal with his past and his problems and get himself on the right track, both figuratively and literally?

  • In Your Shoes

    by Donna Gephart

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    In my new novel, Miles Spagoski has a lot to worry about, like all the ways he could die, including of embarrassment in front of the new girl in school, Amy, who wishes writing were an Olympic sport. The only place Miles feels completely comfortable is on the lanes at his family’s bowling center, which is in for some big changes. Miles learns there’s more to bowling and life than trying for that perfect game. And a side character, Tate — a book-loving, always-knitting, blue-haired girl — trains for weight lifting competitions in her spare time.

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  • Raymie Nightingale

    by Kate DiCamillo

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    Raymie Clark is absolutely sure that if she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, she’ll get her picture in the paper and her father will notice and come back home. All Raymie has to do is good deeds and master the art of baton twirling. She learns more about life than twirling during her lessons, where she meets two other girls, shy Louisiana Elefante and tough Beverly Tapinski. The three girls form an unlikely friendship and learn that they have to rescue each other.

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