Back in early August, Doret Canon of the wonderful blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, wrote to thank me for linking to her and ”put in a request for a YA novel featuring girls playing sports. Any sport will do.” I misread her as asking for recommendations for such YA novels when she was in fact asking me to write ‘em. (What can I say August was kind of mental for me.) I was ashamed to discover that all I could think of was Catherine Murdock’s Dairy Queen series and my own How To Ditch Your Fairy. It transpired that Doret knows more about YA sports books than anyone else on the planet. We soon got to talking about books, sport, and YA about girls playing sport.
Justine: What came first for you a love of sport or a love of books?
Doret: Oh, man, that question is hard. I’ve loved sports and books for so long. Though I have to say books.
Justine: Me too. Do you remember the first book you read that was about sport?
Doret: Growing up I didn’t read sports books. It wasn’t until I started to work at a bookstore that I started to combine my love of both. In the mid 90’s a children’s biography of Satchel Paige by Lesa Cline Ransome and James Ransome—that book stopped me cold and said come here. And, I was like Shut Up, a bio on a Negro League Player, here I come. I had to read it right there.
Another biography—Wilma Unlimited (Wilma Rudolph) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz. Again I had to read the book on sight. I loved both biographies and I quickly learned sports and books go so well together.
Justine: How did you come to love sports?
Doret: I get it from my dad who is a big sports watcher himself. Baseball is my first and favorite. Growing up I used to love watching baseball games and giving my dad the scores. Any sports fan knows there is an art to giving the score.
Justine: Absolutely. That’s very similar to how I got into it. Watching cricket in the summer with my family.
Which are you most obsessed with? Or are you an equal opportunity sports lover?
Doret: Yeah, I pretty much enjoy watching any sport. In high school I would set my alarm so I could wake up to watch the Wimbledon finals. At the time I was also really into the NBA and would stay up late to watch West Coast playoff games.
I wasn’t born with the coordination to play but I have the mind for them. The announcer could be speaking Portuguese but I’ll still watch and understand. I’ve just always gotten sports.
Justine: Ah. So you have what I call “sports brain.” You can sit down and pick up any sport lickety split and then you have to be careful not to get addicted. (During the last Olympics I kind of got addicted to handball.)
Are there any sports you don’t like? (I can’t come at golf or American football.)
Doret: What? No American Football? I love the strength of that game. With the Olympics it’s usually volleyball that gets me in. Car Racing. I get the excitement in the last 5 laps but 500? That’s too much.
Justine: American Football seems designed to fit ad breaks on TV. Also I don’t hold with a sport that has entirely different teams to play offense and defense (and where most of the key decisions are made on the sidelines). One of the things I love about cricket is that you get to see players struggling to do something they’re not that good at: i.e. the fast bowler struggling to bat. It’s why I don’t approve of the designated hitter rule in baseball. It’s fun to watch the pitcher struggle with a bat.
I don’t like car racing either. But then I hate cars. Volleyball is awesome. I even like beach volleyball.
Doret: Have you heard of Beach Tennis? Just learned about it last week. Still not sure what I think of it.
American Football designed to fit ad breaks on TV? Man, that’s harsh. Think of football players as position specialists with something to prove. Football players don’t want to let the other side down. That’s especially evident on a 4 and goal play. Both sides are so determined for that one yard, it’s beautiful to watch. We may never agree about Amercan Football but we will always agree about Baseball. Pitchers should hit. I hate the DH rule as well. Some pitchers are actually starting to look halfway decent with a bat. Evolution at work. Did you know, this year in Japan for the first time a female pitcher was called up to the majors? Eri Yoshida, she is 17. I don’t know how she is with a bat but she’s supposed to have a wicked knuckball.
Justine: Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on Gridiron. Glad you hate the DH rule though.
Beach tennis? Ha! I’ll have to check it out. I love regular tennis. Especially doubles.
Did you have to go searching for YA and middle grade books about girls playing sport?
Doret: A few months back I went on a serious reading kick with book featuring girls who play sports. It started because a sports blog I visit mentioned the 37th anniversary of title IX. The book and sport loving female that I am I didn’t think the anniversary should be ignored. I did have to make an effort to find a lot of the books but it was worth it. I discovered some wonderful new books. Though it’s frustrating that there aren’t more books about girls playing sports. The ones that are out don’t get much exposure. Girls playing and loving sports is not a new concept it goes well beyond 37 years. YA is geared towards girls and maybe even Middle Grade fiction to some extent, yet there’s such a limited amount of books featuring female athletes. I am so over the let’s put a girl on the boys’ team. It’s nice that male authors are recognizing female athletes but it’s not enough. Publishers need to realize girls play and love sports too.
And on a side note—Last year I read a book called Out of His League by Pat Flynn, an Australian author. The main character is a great Rugby player in Australia he moves to Texas to finish high school. He joins the football team and even introduces a few rubgy plays. It was a very fun read. Is it easier to find sports books with girls in Australia?
Justine: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know whether there are many girl sports books at home. Hopefully people reading the interview will be able to tell us.
Justine: Could you explain a little bit what Title IX is? (Quite a few of my readers aren’t from the US.)
Doret: Explain a little bit about title IX? You didn’t say anything about homework!
Justine: I’m sneaky that way.
Doret: I will happily do it and go for a little extra credit while I am at it. Title IX was passed in the United States in June of 1972. It requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Title IX extends past the field into the class room. As far as sports goes money must be fairly distributed for boys’ and girls’ teams. Before its passing girls’ schools teams were under funded or completely ignored. Even with the passing of Title IX, many people still dismissed female athletes including tennis champion Bobby Riggs. In Sept 1973 Billie King defeated Bobby Riggs in three sets. 40 million people watched that match know as Battle of the Sexes.
“I just had to play . . . Title IX [the ban on gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs] had just passed, and I . . . wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation.”
You gotta love what Billie Jean King said and did. There are some moments in sports that transcend beyond the game. In the U.S. King defeating Riggs is definitely one of those moments.
Justine: You get the extra credit! Thank you.
What do you think of the theory that girls who like sports don’t read? (I’ve had several girls write and tell me that they loved How To Ditch Your Fairy despite all the sport in it. On the other hand, I had another girl write and tell me she loved it because she’s a point guard. She comes from a family of basketball playing twins.) There does seem to be a conviction that girls have zero interest in sports books.
Doret: I haven’t heard that theory. Though I have heard that sports books featuring girls don’t sell. How can girls buy books they don’t know about. I always feel bad when a girl comes into the bookstore still in uniform mind you, searching for sports book and I have nothing to show them. It totally sucks. Also it sends an awful message to girls who play sports, that they must hunt down stories that reflect a big part of who they are. Let’s just hope that sports self esteem is working because under representation is bad for anyone’s psyche.
Justine: You said it. I can’t think of any girl sports books that have sold really well. I’m hoping that’s just ignorance on my part. Can you think of any really popular girl sports books?
Doret: No, you’re right there aren’t any sports books featuring girls that have sold really well. But, they haven’t been given a chance. It seems like such an obvious market and I don’t know why it’s being ignored. There are readers waiting and wanting and I am not just talking about the athletes. There are others like myself who simply enjoy and appreciate the games.
I would like to think the idea that girls don’t like sports is changing. A few years ago I was in a store and saw pink baseball gloves. Last Saturday while waiting for the train I saw a dad tossing a football back and forth with his little girl. They were on their way to a college football game. The other night on ESPN highlights, they showed a dad giving a foul ball to his daughter, she threw the baseball back onto the field. These girls may never play but there is no denying that they being raised to enjoy and appreciate sports. If girls don’t like sports then who are the pink gloves for? If girls don’t like sports, why is the WNBA still around? Hmm I wonder what would happen if a basketball book was marketed to female fans at a WNBA game or a softball book at the Softball World Series.
“For the past several years ESPN has televised the Big League Softball World Series, yet the competition has garnered so much attention that the network has decided to move this year’s final game into prime time television.”
People must be watching (and playing) softball for ESPN to move it to prime time, and it can’t be all men. Woman are all over ESPN as players, fans announcers and analysts. My television is constanly turned to that channel, so the idea that girls don’t like sports sounds ridiculously outdated to me.
Justine: I so agree! The idea that no girls like sports is nuts. Sadly, it persists in publishing. I wonder if it’s part of the whole boys don’t like to read thing. The idea being that boys would rather be outside playing sports (or their X-box). So that even if girls do like sports then they won’t like reading because sports-obsessed kids don’t read. I am unconvinced. Reading and sports are not opposites.
Do you get a lot of girls looking for sports books?
Doret: We get a few girls looking for sport books. Probably more girls aren’t seeking out sports books because they are conditioned not to, a reader can take “no we don’t have anything for you” until they just stop looking. That whole boys don’t read thing is ridiculous as well. Anyone who thinks a sports-obsessed kid wouldn’t like books about sports, has never read a sports book. If they did they’d know sports books are written by fans, athletes and players. They would realize that the best sports books describe the indescrible plays, making fans and players feeling lucky for getting it, and feel sorry for those who don’t.
Justine: So true! Publishers have to be more proactive. If the books aren’t there then people can’t find them, and you’re right, they stop looking. The publishers have to stop using the “there’s no audience” excuse when they have no evidence that that’s true. Drives me nuts.
Doret: Yes, it’s an awful cycle, I always get mad thinking about it.
Justine: I have been very interested to see that many of the reviews of HTDYF did not mention that the book is set at a sports high school and almost all the characters are athletes. The focus is on the fairies.
Doret: I loved the idea of an all sports school in HTDYF. I was very happy at the mention of cricket, don’t get much of that State side. Though I must say I felt teased. There was wonderful talk of cricket in HTDYF but no match. My sports brain was all ready to enjoy a game. I could see reviewers talking over that part of the HTDYF if they only cared more about the fairy aspect. I know sports fans would love the idea of a sports school though they would want more games. Writing that I realize, it must be hard for authors to satisfy all readers, sports related or not.
Justine: It is, indeed, tricky. Though I did fail with HTDYF. There was a lot more sport in the earlier versions but descriptions of games really bogged the book down and I wound up having to cut them. (Much to my sadness.) I found it really interesting that I couldn’t find a way to have it be a true spots novel and also be the novel that it is. I truly did try. I do have plans for a basketball novel—WNBA to be exact—at some point in the future. It’s on the list. (It’s a very long list though.)
Doret: A WNBA novel? Sweet. As much as you love basketball I know it will be great. I used to love basketball until the Knicks wouldn’t stop drafting guards. Bastards, took my joy. Now I just do playoffs and March madness.
Justine: But you could follow the Atlanta Dream! Their transformation this year has been totally amazing. From worst in the league last year to making the playoffs this. And I love their shoot and run style of play. They have Angel McCoutrey (not sure I’m spelling that right. Spelling’s not my strong suit.) who’s been on of the best rookies this year and has a hell of a career ahead of her. Frankly I enjoy the WNBA way more than the NBA. (Though I just watched the worst game ever on ESPN 2. Damn those refs.)
And, yes, the Knicks are a disaster. Have been a disaster ever since they traded Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy left. They have truly horrendous management.
Doret: Maybe I will watch a few of the playoff games. When the WNBA started the Liberty drafted Rebecca Lobo, (I am from NY) I always thought she was just okay player, and not someone to start a team around sure enough the LA Sparks seemed to win all the time. At the time Atlanta didn’t have a team so I couldn’t watch or go to any games. I do enjoy women’s college ball. Refs can be awful sometimes, all I can do is scream at the TV, and it makes me feel slightly better.
Justine: Ugh. Refs. I mean, yes, it’s a tough job. They don’t get paid enough. And the fans hate them. But I have seen too many games ruined by over officiating. I quite like Lobo as a commentator but, yeah, her pro basketball career was underwhelming. You do not want to get me started on the management of the New York Liberty!
Let’s end on a positive note: What are your five favourite girls playing sports books?
Doret: Boost by Kathy Mackel—Basketball, fans of Murdork’s Diary Queen series will enjoy this.
Soccer Chicks Rule by Dawn FitzGerald—A must for girls who enjoy Meg Cabot and playing on their field of choice.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park—Baseball, like me this protagonist isn’t a player, simply a lover of the game.
Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr—Basketball, a very beautiful multi-layered story. It’s one of the few featuring people of color.
A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Green—A biography of Mamie “Peaunt” Johnson. One of three women to play in the Negro Leagues and the only pitcher.
I am going to try and be smooth here and slip in two more, making 7 the new 5:
The Ring by Bobbie Pyron—Boxing and Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley Hockey.
I really enjoyed both books. I love that both have female protagonist playing sports that some wouldn’t consider lady like. No one should be limited by gender or race.
Justine: That’s exactly the note to end on. What Doret said, No one should be limited by gender or race.