cover image A Whole New Ballgame

A Whole New Ballgame

Phil Bildner, illus. by Tim Probert. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-30130-9

Rip and his best friend Red, who is on the autism spectrum, can’t wait to be on their school’s fifth-grade basketball team. But budget cuts, a focus on test prep, and a new teacher/basketball coach with tattoos, ear piercings, and a wealth of unconventional ideas are shaking things up. Rip isn’t sure that Mr. Avecedo’s methods will work (on or off the court), especially when he has to work on a group project paired with a hostile classmate, Avery, who uses a wheelchair. But through Mr. Avecedo’s guidance, Rip, who some see only as “the black kid who plays basketball,” and his classmates learn to see beyond the labels society places on them. The book’s messages about teamwork, test-prep dependency, and stepping outside one’s comfort zone can be overpowering, but this warm slice-of-life novel from Bildner (the Sluggers series) engages and entertains even so. Probert’s energetic illustrations match the positive exuberance of the story as both test day and the big game approach. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Aug.)