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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.

Picture Books

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

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Runner

Author: Kathleen Krull | Illustrator: David Diaz | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Catching the Moon: the Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream

Author: Crystal Hubbard | Illustrator: Randy Duburke | Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Middle Grade Books

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

Author: Uma Krishnaswami Publisher: Tu Books

Jayla Jumps In

Author: Joy Jones | Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company

The Million Dollar Race

Author: Matthew Ross Smith | Publisher: Aladdin

Black Brother, Black Brother

Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes |Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Marshmallow and Jordan

Author: Alina Chau | Publisher: First Second

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance

Author: Donna Barba Higuera | Publisher: Levine Querido

Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream

Author: Hena Khan | Illustrator: Sally Wern Comport | Publisher: Salaam Reads

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

Author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang | Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks


Author: Kwame Alexander | Publisher: Clarion Books

Before the Ever After

Author: Jaqueline Woodson | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Ten Thousand Tries

Author: Amy Makechnie | Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Young Adult Books

Here to Stay

Author: Sara Farizan | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

After the Shot Drops

Author: Randy Ribay | Publisher: Clarion Books


Author: Yamile Saied Mendez | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

He Said, She Said

Author: Kwame Alexander | Publisher: Amistad


Author: LJ Alonge | Illustrator: Raul Allen | Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap

Check Please

Author: Ngozi Ukazu | Publisher: First Second

The Final Four

Author: Paul Volponi | Publisher: Speak

Home and Away

Author: Cam Montgomery | Publisher: Page Street Kids

Pick Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court

Authors: Mark Ronson, et. al. | Publisher: Candlewick


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