Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Basketball Disasters by Claudia Mills (2012)

This chapter book series by Claudia Mills has as its central character a fourth grader named Mason Dixon. Besides having a name that is also a line of demarcation outlining four states, Mason’s main “gimmick” as a character is that he often sees new experiences as disasters. In the first book, Pet Disasters, Mason tries to adjust to having a pet he doesn’t really want, and in Fourth Grade Disasters, he is surprised when he learns he is required to participate in the school choir. Judging from the way the events of these past books are summarized in this third volume, Basketball Disasters, each new situation ultimately has a positive resolution, and as you might expect, the same is true of Mason’s experience with basketball.

Mason’s best friend, Brody, is a sporty kind of kid, while Mason is not. Still, the boys like to do things together, and Brody somehow convinces Mason that joining a basketball team is a good idea. Mason is skeptical to begin with, and becomes more so when his father volunteers to be their coach. Not only is Mason worried that the team will shun him if he stinks, he’s also got a competitive streak and wants the team - which has few players, and not many with experience - to win a game now and then. Things seem dire, though, especially when Brody proves to be the star player, and Mason suffers an injury that threatens to keep him out of the final game of the season.

Though this book deals with a lot of cliches - an underdog team, a parent coach, a last-minute injury, a well-timed shot by the team’s worst player, etc. - there is something about the writing style that really stands out. Especially unique is the well-developed friendship between Mason and Brody. It reminded me a lot of the close friendship between Suze Kline’s Horrible Harry and his best friend, Doug. Both pairings deftly walk the line between boyish mischief and heartwarming brotherly love in a way that I think boys and girls can both relate to. Many children’s books provide comfort in anxiety-provoking situations by inserting a wise adult or older child who has navigated the unfamiliar territory before. What’s nice about this story is that Mason often comes around to appreciate new experiences because of his best friend’s gentle encouragement.

Though this is probably not true of all the books in the series, this particular story was pretty action-packed, and the exciting basketball scenes won’t disappoint those kids who look for sports-related books. The story also includes a secondary plot involving a bully’s dog and an elderly lady, which will appeal to animal lovers. The overarching pessimism of Mason also prompts an easy comparison to the Alvin Ho books, as well as to Daphne’s Diary of Daily Disasters series.

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