The best books featuring non-traditional sports

Brooks Benjamin Author Of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights
By Brooks Benjamin

The Books I Picked & Why

Chess Rumble

By G. Neri, Jesse Joshua Watson

Book cover of Chess Rumble

Why this book?

Who said chess isn’t a sport? To be honest, I did before I read this incredible illustrated novel in verse. But after reading Marcus’s story in Chess Rumble by G. Neri, I changed my mind faster than a Queen can take out a lowly pawn. Marcus is in desperate need of an outlet. He’s dealing with some major personal issues at home as well as some major public ones at school. When he discovers chess, however, he quickly learns how much patience and control the game requires. Little by little, Marcus realizes that planning his moves on a chessboard isn't all that different from planning his moves in his own life.  

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Ghost, Volume 1

By Jason Reynolds

Book cover of Ghost, Volume 1

Why this book?

This sport might not be as non-traditional as some of those from my other recommendations, but before Ghost came out, readers were pretty hard-pressed to find a book featuring a track team. Thankfully, Jason Reynolds gave us the story of Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw. This book is written in such a conversational tone, it felt like Ghost was talking directly to me, telling me all about his life, his father, and why he’s no stranger to running. This book packs a wallop of an emotional punch, but you’re never left without a smile on your face as you learn about how Ghost finds a new family, a new father figure, and a new reason to run.

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By Laura Shovan

Book cover of Takedown

Why this book?

If you thought competitive wrestling was just for boys, then think again, because this book is bound to suplex that idea into submission for you. There’s so much to love about Takedown. Laura Shovan gives us two stories in one with a dual-POV narration by Mikayla and Lev. Both are packed with tension, humor, and their own unique voice. Combine that with the added bonus of a gender-stereotype-busting story and you’ve got all the makings of an amazing book with a very powerful message. 

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Black Brother, Black Brother

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Book cover of Black Brother, Black Brother

Why this book?

Sure, there’s no shortage of middle-grade books featuring bullies, but none of them give us an empowering story of a young boy facing his tormentor quite like Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Donte and Trey are biracial siblings who go to the same school, but it doesn’t take long for us to see why they get treated so differently. Trey is white-passing while Donte is not. Donte becomes the target of harassment by Alan, the fencing team’s captain, and ends up getting into severe trouble for something he didn’t do. But this isn’t a revenge story at all. It’s a rise-above story, a fighting-against-injustice story. With the help of a former Olympic fencer, Donte discovers how he can face off against his bully and show the powers-that-be that he deserves just as much respect as everyone else. 

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By Reem Faruqi

Book cover of Unsettled

Why this book?

If you love competitive swimming, this book is most definitely for you. If you don’t like competitive swimming, this book is still most definitely for you. The word count might be small with this novel in verse, but don’t let that fool you. Reem Faruqi’s melodic writing is positively packed with some of the most gorgeous and thought-provoking descriptions of Nurah’s family, culture, and dreams as an immigrant in the United States. We follow her heartwarming story as she earns a spot on a competitive swim team where she meets new friends, faces new challenges, and discovers that sometimes going with the flow isn’t the best way to truly shine. 

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