Illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson
(Silver Whistle--Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997)
I am a vegetarian now, but when I was seven, vegetables were tolerated at best. In the case of peas, they were wholly rejected. I’d spread them all over my plate, trying to make it look like I’d consumed some of the original pea pile and then I’d profess to being full, willing to do without chocolate cake and ice cream just to be excused from the table to avoid another forkful of the unsavory green pellets.
Nowadays kids’ sports books are the equivalent to a pile of green peas. I dread them. It is a true challenge for a writer to take a high-action activity like a game of football and make it (nearly) as exciting on the page. I cringe over bottom-of-the-ninth, bases loaded, two-out stories. Can’t someone capture the essence of a regular day on the rink/field/court and make it memorable?
I’d say the picture book Hoops comes very close. Robert Burleigh’s text is sparse. It’s a game of pickup basketball, after all. Enough talk; just play! The first page is as follows:
And that is Burleigh’s intention for the entire book.
On one page, he writes:
Feel the asphalt burning beneath your shoes.
The two-of-you rhythm.
The know-where-everyone-is without having to look.
So succinct and yet so vivid!
Stephen T. Johnson’s pastel illustrations are potent bursts of color, capturing a diverse group of young players caught up in the action of the game. Any one of his illustrations would make a perfect poster to hang on the door of a boy who dreams of his future in the NBA.
I have come across many picture books transferred to YouTube videos but, alas, there is no such depiction for Hoops. This exquisitely illustrated ode to pickup basketball deserves a new generation of viewers. Rather than making a sport seem boring or turning it into a too technical manual, Hoops glorifies the variety of movement in the game and makes the reader yearn to get back out on the court.