SWISH!: a STEM Basketball Challenge and Sporty Book List for Readers Aged 0 to 18
For many people, March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the year! Kids often get super excited about sports tournaments, and this one is especially fun to bring into the classroom. Incorporating sports into reading and STEM activities can excite and energize students who have a passion for athletics. This STEM basketball challenge is one of our favorite activities for this time of year and a fun activity for students of all ages.
For this challenge, kids will design and build a basketball hoop and a device for launching their ball. They will especially enjoy teaming up with each other and practicing shooting into the completed hoops.
One of our favorite things about this STEM project is that there are countless ways to do it and a huge variety of supplies that can be used! We used straws, wooden sticks, string, masking tape, cardboard, paper, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, plastic spoons, scissors and sharpie markers. We found all of these materials in our office - we love a project that repurposes things we already have! We made the ball ourselves, but you can also use a ping pong ball or just make one like us out of materials on hand. We included two examples of how students may build their hoops, but simply understanding the challenge is often enough to get their creative juices flowing!
In addition to this STEM project, we also created a collection of inclusive sports themed picture books as well as a list of sporty middle grade and young adult reads. This list features both fiction and nonfiction titles. All of these books can be found on our Bookshop page.
Testing the Ice: a True Story About Jackie Robinson
Author: Sharon Robinson | Illustrator: Khadir Nelson | Publisher: Scholastic Press
This book has been a favorite of ours for years. Yes, it is about Jackie Robinson - the baseball extraordinaire - but mostly, it is about who he was as a father (and it is written by his daughter). He may have been untouchable on the baseball field but like everyone else, he had fears and insecurities that sometimes stopped him from doing certain things. When his children needed his help though, he demonstrated how willing he was to do whatever it took to create special memories with them.
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball
Author: Jen Bryant | Illustrator: Frank Morrison | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Elgin Baylor was an impressive early player in the NBA who is credited for inspiring change within the organization. Readers will love learning about his unique playing style (and seeing how the illustrator captured it) and the quiet, yet powerful action he took to improve equity in the NBA.
Swish!: the Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying, Harlem Globetrotters
Author: Suzanne Slade | Illustrator: Don Tate | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
The Harlem Globetrotters are renowned today for their dazzling performances and basketball skill, but many people do not know the history behind the team. In this book, readers will learn how it was first created because the NBA refused to recruit Black players to their teams. Incredibly talented Black players showed the world that they were meant to shine on any team - Black or white, and professional basketball was never the same.
Author: Misty Copeland | Illustrator: Setor Fiadzigbey | Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Son’s Books for Young Readers
This is the first book in a new series by prima ballerina Misty Copeland. Bunheads chronicles the early life experience of Copeland, when she first discovered and started dancing ballet. It is full of perseverance, joy, and inspiration. It is certain to be a beloved book of dancers, dreamers, and anyone who ever wanted the courage to try something new.
When Langston Dances
Author: Kaija Langley |Illustrator: Keith Mallett | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Ever since Langston saw a dance company perform, all he wanted to do was dance ballet - to learn how to do all the beautiful and technical things he saw. His dreams are deeply and beautifully supported by his mother, and together, they find a dance studio for him to join. This is such a joyful and affirming book that breaks traditional gender constructs and shows us a Black boy who loves dance, and has the support of the people who matter most.
How to Solve a Problem: the Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion
Author: Ashima Shiraishi | Illustrator: Yao Xiao | Publisher: Make Me a World
This is the real-life story of Ashima, a world-class climber, who happens to only be a teenager. In the sport of climbing, boulders are called “problems” and Ashima has an especially unique way of looking at them and solving them. She maps out her ascent in her mind, and keeps trying, often failing many times, but using each new piece of information to improve her next climb. She has already conquered climbs that adults cannot. She is creative and inspirational, and a wonderful modern-day heroine.
Flying High: the Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles
Author: Michelle Meadows | Illustrator: Ebony Glenn | Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
This upbeat and rhythmic book is a fun read aloud for our youngest readers. Readers will learn about Simone Biles’s upbringing and the determination and passion she applied to pursuing her gymnastic dreams. We especially love the role her supportive family played in her success, and how children in foster care may relate to her experiences in this story.
Baseball Saved Us
Author: Ken Mochizuki | Illustrator: Dom Lee | Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Baseball Saved Us is about a baseball league that was formed in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. This book is inspired by real-life events, and features a family who desperately needed something to look forward to so they built a baseball field. Baseball Saved Us unveils a dark part of American history, and also showcases the strength and dignity of the Japanese Americans whose humanity was threatened.
Ho’onani the Hula Warrior
Author: Heather Gale | Illustrator: Mika Song | Publisher: Tundra Books
This book tells the story of Ho’onani, a person who does not strongly identify with male or female - she’s okay with being in the middle. She eventually overcomes the doubts in her mind and society’s expectations to lead an all-male hula troop. This book shows how we can make room for all people, and that every person deserves acceptance and support for their dreams.
Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory
Author: Julie Abery | Illustrator: Chris Sasaki |Publisher: Kids Can Press
Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a beautiful story told in short, rhythmic prose. When a science teacher observed children playing in the irrigation ditches on a sugar plantation, he offered to take responsibility for them and teach them how to swim. This inspirational story tells the real-life story of how one teacher with a dream coached his students all the way to the Olympics.
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: the True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon
Author: Simran Jeet Singh | Illustrator: Baljinder Kaur | Publisher: Kokila
This incredible story cannot be missed! It details the life of Fauja Singh, a Sikh man who never gave up on his dreams and went on to be the oldest man to ever run a marathon at the age of one hundred years old. It is an unforgettable story that will inspire children and adults alike.
Rudas: Ninos Horrendous Hermanos
Author/Illustrator: Yuri Morales | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Rudas is the follow-up to the book, Niños Wrestles the World, and includes Spanish vocabulary and lively text and illustrations. This book is about a little boy who loves to wrestle with imaginary monsters and welcomes two fabulous little sisters into his world.
More Picture Books
Pigskins to Paintbrushes: the Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes
Author/Illustrator: Don Tate | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
I Will Dance
Author: Nancy Bo Flood | Illustrator: Juliana Swaney | Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Mina versus the Monsoon
Author: Rukhsanna Guidroz | Illustrator: Debasmita Dasgupta | Publisher: Yali Books
Pele, King of Soccer
Author: Monica Brown | Illustrator: Rudy Gutierrez | Publisher: HarperCollins Espanol
The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field
Author: Scott Riley | Illustrators: Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien | Publisher: Millbrook Press
She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians who Changed the World
Author: Chelsea Clinton | Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger | Publisher: Philomel Books
Game Changers: the Story of Venus and Serena
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrator: James E. Ransome | Publisher: Simon and Schuster