I get asked again and again for book recommendations that will appeal to kids who are sports-obsessed. These novels and middle grade books are great sports books for kids that will help pass the time when the weather is not conducive to getting out there on the field. I've tried to include books about a variety of sports. Besides the big three—basketball, baseball and football—you will find sports novels featuring young athletes who ice skate, play tennis, run track, and more.
These sports books for kids focus on fiction (bonus points if you spot the sole nonfiction book) and are aimed at kids ages 8 and up. Anyone who has ever tried to find a sports book for their child has come across the vast supply of books written by Matt Christopher. I haven't included any on this list, instead giving you alternatives that you might have overlooked. (Note: book titles are affiliate links that earn from qualifying purchases.)
More sports books for kids:
Soar by Joan Bauer. I loved this book. Jeremiah has a weak heart which keeps him on the sidelines. His adopted father moves a lot, and when they move to a new town with a demoralized baseball team embroiled in scandal, Jeremiah becomes the motivating coach they need to lift them up. Wonderful writing makes this a book not just for baseball fans.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Ghost is the first book in a series of sports-themed novels by an excellent middle-grade author. Castle Crenshaw, nicknamed "Ghost" because of his talent for running away, is drawn into the local track team. Ghost, who lives with his hard-working single mother, isn't sure he fits in with the team. He's not the only one on the team that struggles, however, but with the help of supportive adults, the kids find their way. I enjoyed this book and appreciated the way Reynolds created complex individuals who struggle with difficult choices, even when they make the wrong decisions.
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mike Cochrane. Molly decides to join the boys baseball team at school. Grieving after her father's death and not getting the comfort she needs from her mother, Molly hopes that baseball will keep alive her memories of her dad, who taught her how to play. A lovely book, not just about the game but about keeping up relationships with the people we love.
Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Alexander’s wonderful verse novel about twin brothers is touching, relatable and extraordinarily engaging. Josh narrates his story of coming to terms with his brother’s new girlfriend, sibling rivalry, the pressure and joy of playing ball and his relationship with his father. This book does have a sad ending and I recommend it for kids ages 10 and up.
Booked by Kwame Alexander. Perhaps your sports fan is a reluctant reader. Free verse, like that in Booked, is actually great for reluctant readers. It flows rapidly and the pages are much less dense (and therefore less intimidating). Long winded description is replaced by to-the-point emotional experiences and action. Kwame Alexander's book about 12 year old Nicky is marvelous. Nicky is navigating the usual middle school drama; he is looking forward to a soccer tournament, trying to figure out how to talk to a girl, and dealing with his parents' separation. During his journey he learns to love books, and discovers that maybe his father's love of words isn't so bad after all.
Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas. This graphic novel tells the story of Enith Brigitha, who is not looking forward to having to take swimming lessons in middle school. Enith's elderly neighbor, Etta, used to be a swimming team captain and takes on the task of coaching Enith. Despite her insecurity about swimming, Enith improves with hard work and competes with her team, the Mighty Manatees.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. I myself do not gravitate towards the graphic novel genre, but both my boys love them and my older son though Roller Girl was "awesome." Astrid signs up for roller camp and it is through participating in roller derby that she discovers her inner strength.
Children of the Longhouse. This is a historical novel narrated in alternating viewpoints between Ohkwa'ri and his twin sister Otsi:stia. The siblings are Mohawks living in the 15th century in what would later become upstate New York. Ohkwa'ri tells the elders he heard another boy planning activity that would break a peace accord with a neighboring tribe. His resentful new enemy plans to get his revenge during a game which is a predecessor of lacrosse.
The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship Between a Boy and a Baseball Legend by Sharon Robinson. 8 year old Steve lives in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Some of community are upset when they hear African-Americans are to be their new neighbors. Steve, an ardent baseball fan is elated to discover that his new neighbor is Jackie Robinson! A wonderful and thoughtful book about community, friendship and breaking barriers.
Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. It's fun to put a classic book on the list. It's been many years since I read this particular book, but I ate up the entire "Shoes" series when I was a kid. For ice skating fans, Skating Shoes is another one not to be missed.
Step Up to the Plate Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami. It's 1945 and Maria, a biracial girl in California (her father is from India, her mother is from Mexico) wants to play softball on a team organized by her teacher. At the same time, her multicultural community is feeling the strains of institutionalize discrimination. I don't know of any other children's book that addresses the experience of Indian-Americans during this time period - fascinating and enlightening, but also a great story of a determined girl.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park. Maggie is a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan thanks to her fireman friend, Jim, who teaches her all about keeping track of the scores. When Jim gets drafted and sent off to Korea, he and Maggie correspond until he suddenly stops writing back. When he returns from Korea, Maggie is determined to help him heal. I liked how Maggie was persistent in her desire to help her friend, and made such an effort to learn about Korea. Her maps and notes are included in the story, which takes place over several years. You may be put off with the idea of your kids reading a book that involves the Korean War, but please don’t be.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. This is a nonfiction book about one of America's great athletes. It is sometimes listed as being aimed at a YA audience, but my 12 year old read it and proclaimed it "excellent." I think it's good for sports kids to read not just about their hero's accomplishments but about their real life struggles as well.
The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang. After a family tragedy, Chinese-American Peter Lee tries out for a Little League team and his father ends up being the coach. Set in the early 1970s, Shang tells the story against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the women's liberation movement and other social upheavals. A sensitive story about a family learning to heal.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord. This is a really wonderful story about a 10 year old who moves with her family from China to Brooklyn. In her attempt to understand American culture and be accepted, she focuses on baseball as an entry point, making new friends along the way.
Baseball Card Adventures Series by Dan Gutman. My son has read all of these books and love them. There are 12 books in the series to date. Young Joe Stoshack travels through time every time he touches a baseball card. Adventures ensue as Joe meets the ball players, learn about their lives and (sometimes) tries to change history. A great series for kids to learn about sports and history. In Jackie and Me, Joe also learns about the experiences realities of racism.
The Comeback by E.L. Shin. Maxine dreams of going to the Olympics, but her immediate goal is getting through Regionals. She's also navigating the trials and tribulations of sixth grade while also getting in practice time on the rink. As the only Chinese American in her class, she endures microaggressions from classmates and begins to doubt herself. Kids will love this fantastic story about a likable character and the thrill of competition.
In Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner, seventh grader Clare's talent for skating is spotted at a local show and she quickly becomes enmeshed in the world of skating, with its pressures and rivalries. This realistic story of a girl who discovers her strengths and navigates relationships while pursuing her dreams is a good independent read for ages 8 and up.
The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John Ritter. This is another book my son loved. Dillontown is in danger of losing its field to development and things aren't looking good. But then, the mysterious Cruz de la Cruz arrives (on horseback!) and claims he has the secret to hitting. Will he bring hope back to Dillontown? Ritter has a number of sports novels for kids, so check your library shelves!
Ten: A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint. Maya lives in Malaysia and loves soccer, but her community thinks girls shouldn't play.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. In this Newberry award-winner, Jeffrey "Maniac" Magee, an orphan, whose antics and extreme athleticism challenges his racially-divided community. Excellent storytelling by Spinelli make this a must-read book for any middle-grade reader.
Million Dollar Goal (series) by Dan Gutman. I have to be honest and say I didn't read any of the book in this series. I brought them home, my son read them and he enjoyed them. I just didn't feel like spending my time reading (yet again) about sports. I wanted to include the series on this list, however, because the series includes books about a huge variety of sports, including bowling, basketball, golf and more.
Guys Read: The Sports Pages, ed. by Jon Scieszka. A fun collection of 10 sports themed short stories by stellar children's authors. Guys Read is a series aimed at encouraging boys to read, but girls will love the books, too. Authors include Anne Ursu, Jacqueline Woodson, Joseph Joseph Bruchac and Dan Gutman. A variety of sports are represented. I highly recommend the whole Guys Read series.