Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #1: Read a book about sports

This challenge was a 2-for-1 deal: I got to cross off the "Read a book about sports" part of the challenge and I got to finish a book that was for a new book club I joined.

About six years or so ago, a dear friend of mine had her murder mystery bachelorette weekend at the Harry Packer house in a small Pennsylvania town called Jim Thorpe. I fondly remember the place, with its small town charm and scenic mountain views. I also remember not knowing who Jim Thorpe was or why a town had been named after him. When I asked someone local who Jim Thorpe was, the answer I remember getting was "a football player." After reading this young adult non-fiction title, I now know that he was not only a football player during the nascent stages of the game, but also an Olympic medalist, baseball player and athletic legend and that his story is as compelling as it is tragic.

Jim Thorpe was born a member of the Sac and Fox nation of American Indians. As a young child, he was sent away to a boarding school known as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded by an Army captain with the goal of not only assimilating Native Americans, but in the process, stripping away their Native identities by separating the children from their families, culture, language, and heritage. Jim Thorpe's given name was Wa-Tho-Huk and it had been changed upon his arrival to Carlisle, just as every Native student's name was forcibly changed to represent more Western sensibilities. Jim, from an early age, had problems with authority and often ran away. He was, however, a very gifted athlete and, though small in stature for a football player, was eventually recruited to play football for the Carlisle team due to his speed and agility.

At the time of his enrollment at the Carlisle school, football was a brand new sport, played very differently from the game we know today. Carlisle was considered the immediate underdog, still forming a workable team and brand new to a game of increasing popularity. When Jim Thorpe joined the team, no one could ever have imagined that the small, underdog, overworked, and underestimated team would go on to break record after record and that they would become legendary in the annals of football after beating Yale, Harvard, and other bigger, richer, and whiter schools. It is important to note that, aside from being a story of an underdog, less experienced and sparingly funded team, it is also the story of a team of Native Americans and their struggle to maintain their identities in a world that did everything possible to deny their culture. The football games became symbolic of this struggle and the ascendance of the Carlisle team and Jim Thorpe is all the more satisfying.

The book also describes Jim Thorpe's Olympic victories as well as the controversy surrounding his medals. Without giving too much away, I found this part of his story to be the most heartbreaking. The author does an excellent job of bringing Thorpe's story to life. Written for a young adult and up audience, the historical aspects of the book are kept readable and accessible. The descriptions of the many football games within the book are somewhat technical but still, very accessible. I'd recommend this book to teens who like sports and for that very often assigned project of reading a biography. (Invariably at the reference desk, the kids want a sports hero. This would do nicely.) This is sure to engage readers of Native American historical figures as well as sports fans.

1. Read a book about sports.
2. Read a debut novel.
3. Read a book about books.
4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
6. Read an all-ages comic.
7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
8. Read a travel memoir.
9. Read a book you’ve read before.
10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
12. Read a fantasy novel.
13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
14. Read a book about war.
15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
17. Read a classic by an author of color.
18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
19. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.
20. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
21. Read a book published by a micropress.
22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.

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