A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner – Review by Patrick Andrus
While at NCTE this past November, I was browsing the exhibit hall. I came across this title (and the upcoming sequel) at one of the publisher’s booth. This discovery also allowed me to meet Phil and chat with him for a few minutes. He was one of the coolest guys I have met. I was excited to read the book to see if it would be a fit for my fourth grade readers.
Rip and Red are best friends. They have been buddies for as long as they can remember. The boys are about to kick off their fifth grade year. Learning they will be in the same class brings a sense of relief and excitement to both of them.
When school begins the first lesson they learn is that the teacher they were to have has “left” and there is a replacement. His name is Mr. Acevedo. The boys aren’t sure what to think of him because he isn’t like your “typical” teacher. Mr. Acevedo’s teaching methods are quite different; he doesn’t believe in test preparation, and he lets the kids read and write while standing on the desks.
Rip and Red are pumped to join the fifth grade basketball team. Basketball is their game and they are going to show that to everyone else. They are surprised to learn that Mr. Acevedo is also the new basketball coach. Rip is one of the star players while Red is an integral part of the team; just not on the court.
Rip has made it his “job” to protect Red at any cost. Red has some “issues” that can make it difficult for him to succeed at school. Rip wants to make sure that Red fits in with both the teachers and the other kids. He also wants him to find great success on the basketball court. The new fifth grade team, formed by Mr. Acevedo, doesn’t have the easiest of a season, but with the help of a nontraditional coach and Red, everyone on the team learns some pretty important life lessons.
This has to be one of the best middle-grade novels I’ve read in a very long time. I love it when I stumble across a title/author that I haven’t heard of and end up falling in love with the story. That is exactly what happened with this book.
Once I started the book, I could not put it down and thought about it even when I wasn’t reading it. The story had everything. Two awesome characters that supported each other, an incredible teacher role model, sports, friendship, and lots of great life lessons.
As I read it I just kept thinking how much my fourth graders would enjoy the story of Rip and Red. I’m lucky to have grabbed the ARC of the next book in the series and am quite excited to continue reading about the adventures of Rip and Red.
I could tell that Phil is a former teacher because he gets kids and he gets teachers. It was a true pleasure to read. This novel is the perfect book for readers in third, fourth, and fifth grade. The chapters are short, there are lots of incredible illustrations, and the story moves along at a wonderful pace that will keep the attention of any reader. The book would also make for a great read aloud. I have just selected the book as my next “Breakfast with Books” book club selection and we will be Skyping with Phil later in January 2016. I hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did. Happy Reading!
Patrick Andrus is a fourth grade teacher in Eden Prairie, MN. His number one goal for his students is to create an internal passion for reading and books. He makes it a daily habit of visiting the Nerdy Book Club Site. Several years ago he started his own blog that you can find by visiting http://readwonder.blogspot.com. He is also an active member on Twitter and his screen name is @patrickontwit. He had the honor of presenting with the Nerdy Book Club at NCTE this past November in Minneapolis and is hoping to attend Nerd Camp this July in Michigan. He is truly embracing his inner NERD!