My family didn’t have a television until I was around six or seven and even after that, it was more often a piece of furniture than an active source of entertainment. Most of my earliest memories of sports come from either playing them or reading about them. As I have been thinking about sports gifts to promote on Dear Sports Fan, I realized that even today, when it’s so much easier to find live sports on TV or streaming over the internet and the number of sports documentaries, radio shows, and podcasts is almost countless, books are unmatched in their ability to stimulate the imagination of young sports fans. Here are a couple of my childhood sports favorites and a trio of books by a friend of mine who writes slightly odd and extremely enjoyable children’s books. Any of these would be a great holiday gift for the young sports fan in your family or social circle!
Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars by Walter Brooks
The Freddy the Pig series was my favorite as a child. I was even a proud member of a Freddy the Pig fan club! Freddy is the leader of a farm of talking animals in Upstate New York. With the benevolent permission of the farmer, Mr. Bean, Freddy pretty much runs the farm as well as being a reputable detective, explorer, and in this book, baseball manager. In the process of investigating the disappearance of one of the community of Martians living in the area, Freddy goes undercover the manager of a mixed Martian and circus animal baseball team. Published in 1955, this book is full of wonderful era-appropriate characters and plot twists, like the head of the ABI (Animal Bureau of Investigations), J.J. Pomeroy (J. Edgar Hoover, anyone?) as well as the very 1950s Martians and their flying saucer.
I really can’t recommend these books enough. If you want to pair this one with one of the earliest and best of the series, buy a copy of Freddy The Detective too.
Ice Magic by Matt Christopher
The premise of this book is that a youth hockey player’s fortunes in the rink are predicted by the results of his nightly games on one of those table-top hockey games that are like foosball but with little hockey players on tracks. Matt Christopher was a prolific writer of sports books for children — he wrote well over 100 books — and I must have read a bunch of them but this one was particularly memorable. I think it played some role in making hockey my favorite spectator sport from a young age.
A trio of baseball books by Jonah Winter
Jonah Winter writes children’s books in the spirit of the early Muppets. They’re wonderful for kids and won’t drive you totally mad even if you have to read them out-loud every night for months on end. In these three biographical books about baseball stars from the 50s through the 70s, Winter emphasizes not just his subjects’ achievements on the field but also the challenges they faced as African American, Jewish, or Hispanic baseball players.