House of Sports


For Jim, there's nothing in the world like dribbling a basketall downcourt, hearing the squeak of his sneakers, feeling the pebbled surface of the bouncing ball, flying for the basket. Basketball is everything.

But Jim is short, and it's not easy being a short basketball player. He's worked hard to get onto the traveling team, and now he's determined to earn himself a starting position — if only his grandmother doesn't mess things up for him. Every weekend the family does ...

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For Jim, there's nothing in the world like dribbling a basketall downcourt, hearing the squeak of his sneakers, feeling the pebbled surface of the bouncing ball, flying for the basket. Basketball is everything.

But Jim is short, and it's not easy being a short basketball player. He's worked hard to get onto the traveling team, and now he's determined to earn himself a starting position — if only his grandmother doesn't mess things up for him. Every weekend the family does something with Nana, and sometimes Jim is forced to miss his Saturday practice. Coach Mondini isn't the type to understand if a player misses practice or arrives late....

Jim's parents tell him he can learn a lot from Nana, but Jim is worried that his obligations to her may lose him the one thing he cares about — his place on the basketball team.

Through a series of triumphs and tragedies at home, at school, and on the basketball court, plus time reluctantly spent with his elderly grandmother, twelve-year-old Jim Malone learns that there is a lot more to life than basketball.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her first novel, picture-book author/artist Russo (Goodbye, Curtis) gets off to a slow start but goes on to accomplish a number of difficult feats. First, the author creates a protagonist who is not always likable but usually three-dimensional, so that readers will stay with the story; and second, Russo describes the hero's maturation convincingly and movingly. Jim, a seventh-grader, seems to care only about basketball, doing poorly at schoolwork despite his brains and resentful of the time the family spends with Nana, his colorful, well-liked grandmother. His pleasure in winning a spot on the traveling team dims: in short order, he receives a failing grade on an essay, Nana has a stroke and Jim's aging dog has a crippling accident. Finally, after recognizing that both Nana and his dog are dying, Jim takes a hard look at himself and the person he hopes to become. While the point here is clear from the beginning Nana, an escapee of Hitler's Germany, is a vocal proponent of living one's life with passion and intelligence Russo's execution is sure. The dialogue flows spontaneously, even minor characters have complexities, and the optimism expressed flows naturally from the storytelling. Ages 8-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The best thing about the touching House of Sports is the things that it doesn't do. It doesn't give its young protagonist anything easily, and it doesn't have a particularly happy ending. In other words, it is like real life. Jim is a twelve-year-old who lives for basketball, and who is getting to the age where his grandmother embarrasses him not just by being a family member, but because of her accent, her displays of affection and her endless stories about the Holocaust. All Jim wants to do is play ball and to get out from the shadow of his perfect older brother and his offbeat parents—to become his own person, rather than the person everyone else thinks he is. Basketball is the metaphor for his personal life¾teammates come and go, the ref doesn't always rule in his favor, and no matter how hard he works, he isn't guaranteed a thing. Russo resists the impulse to give Jim any breaks, but that way, he learns that sometimes losing teaches you how to win, both in basketball and in life. This is not a sports novel but a coming-of-age story that happens to be about sports. Highly recommended. 2002, Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Donna Freedman<%ISBN%>006623803X
In her German-accented voice, grandmother Nana calls the Malone home the house of sports because of the constant activities of Jim and his older brother. Jim lives for basketball, and when Nana's invitation to the opera in New York City makes him miss an important practice, he finds himself in a circle of lies that become the truth. After he claims Nana is ill, she later has a stroke. During their trip to the city, she helps him with an essay that he is late in writing. His (their) essay about that trip is entered in a contest. With Nana in the hospital, Jim takes her laptop to keep her stories safe. Nana was supposed to have spoken at a Holocaust conference in Washington, D.C. Jim, this time voluntarily leaving basketball behind, stands in for her, telling her story. In the Malone house of sports, basketball is the backdrop for a full and loving family life. Russo successfully includes characters outside the family, drawing them fully without interfering with the flow of the story. Jim's best friend, Josh, cannot stand up to his overbearing father. Teammate Lisa talks with Jim about the importance of letting go those you love, but cannot talk as easily with her father after the death of her mother. All the stories come together beautifully as Jim realizes that the grandmother who embarrassed him by loving him so much is someone whose love he will always have with him. PLB $15.89. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, HarperCollins, 192p, $15.95. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Lynne Hawkins SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Seventh-grader Jim Malone is obsessed with basketball, much to the dismay of his tough, funny, and intelligent grandmother, who is a Holocaust survivor. The relationship between him and his 82-year-old Nana is at the heart of this rich and touching novel, which perfectly captures the many moods and thought processes of a 12-year-old boy. At first, Jim is irritated by the woman's slow ways and immigrant outlook. He gradually realizes, however, that they share a special bond, and that she is leaving him a rich legacy-the stories from her past. This understanding deepens after his grandmother has a stroke. When Jim finds the speech she had planned to give at a Holocaust survivors' meeting in Washington, he makes up his mind to deliver it himself, much to his family's astonishment. Other aspects of the novel deal with the protagonist's relationship with his teammates and his family, his first serious friendship with a girl, and his grandmother's death. Throughout, the author nicely balances the comic and the tragic, creating scenes that ring true. Some readers may be put off by the book's cover and title, thinking that it is only about basketball. They will be pleased to learn that this is really a novel about growing up.-Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Those who have never known the tense pressure of shooting a free throw in front of a home crowd may at least have felt the knot in their stomach when facing an expectant audience while giving a speech. Or the sorrows of losing a pet or of watching an older relative deteriorate and shrink into oblivion. In her first effort for an older audience, Russo (Come Back, Hannah, 2001, etc.) demonstrates that she is capable of conveying these complex emotions like the most experienced of writers. Jim wants life to be simple: he just wants to make the traveling basketball team, play, and win. Nana, who survived the Holocaust, wants him to open himself to the wondrous complexity of life, as found in opera, family, and writing. Guided by the other members of his family who are drawn by Russo with charming, funny, and realistic quirks, Jim begrudgingly comes to appreciate the times spent with Nana, albeit, perhaps, too late. Along the way, Jim is confronted at every turn with decisions to make-important decisions for a 12-year-old boy. Russo is believably, completely, in his head, as Jim uses the psychic strength he gains through sports to transcend to the broader life he must experience. Facing life, Jim and the others in his circle are drawn together in the small moments that make up the everyday triumph of humanity. One would need Jim's courage to overcome the cover illustration, neither evocative nor inviting, but if a middle reader joins Russo on this journey, he might just find that life is like basketball: there's more than one way to run the offense. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066238043
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/19/2002
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 8 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jim woke up seconds before the clock radio went off. He looked at the red numbers. Five forty-five. Abruptly a husky voice pierced the silence. "Baby, baby, baby-" A shadowy arm rose from the other bed and slammed down the top of the clock radio.

"Whatsa matter with you?" said Pete, Jim's brother. "It's friggin' Saturday! Why did you set the alarm?"

"Sorry," said Jim, trying to remember if he had set the radio or not.

Pete muttered something and tossed over and soon was snoring again. Jim lay there with one arm across his eyes to block the creeping daylight. Pete's snoring sounded like the broken muffler on Dad's old Volkswagen.

"Stop snoring!" Jim yelled. Pete didn't answer.

Jim stared at the wall of posters at the foot of his bed. Only sports posters: football, soccer, baseball, and, most of all, basketball. He looked up at the ceiling. There in the gray light he could barely make out the smooth, shaved head and the long, outstretched arms. Impossibly long. Jim often stretched out his own scrawny arms while lying on his bed and tried to imagine being as big as Michael Jordan.

Dad was tall, six-four. He said Jim had lots of growing to do. But Mom! Mom was a shrimp. Jim hated it when his grandmother Nana, Mom's mother, said, "But, Jim, you're already as big as I am, and you're only twelve!" Nana was even more of a shrimp than Mom!

There was no use trying to go back to sleep. Today was Saturday, but it was the most important day of the year. Jim couldn't stop thinking about the tryouts. He could see the shiny gym floor, hear the squeak of his sneakers, feel the pebbled surface of the ball hitting his palmas he dribbled downcourt. The coaches were sitting on folding metal chairs behind the basket. They were watching him approach. He pulled the ball back, then spun up like a corkscrew to lay the ball softly against the backboard before it dropped quietly through the net. Swish. A perfect layup. Today were the tryouts for the travel basketball team. The old days of town teams when everybody played, even Gary Bushnell, the spazziest boy around, were over. This was the next step, a team that played the best teams from other towns. Jim had to make this team. He had lived his whole life for this day.

Jim got himself out of bed. It was cold. The window over Pete's bed was broken, the wood rotted away. A pane of glass was missing, and Mom had taped a plastic bag from a package of English muffins over the space. It made a soft flapping noise.

When Jim pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen, he heard Jake yelping in his sleep. Jake, a yellow Lab, had his bed under the kitchen table. Jake was the warrior, the old fella, the great one. He had led a long, adventurous life: coming home with a porcupine quill in his nose, dragging a deer leg up to the back door, being caught by the animal control officer and sent to the shelter ten miles away. Jim crouched down to rub Jake's belly. "Hey, big fella!"

Jake raised his head and looked at Jim. In the old days Jake would have jumped up, banging into the table leg, wiggling his whole body with his wagging tail.

"You're so lazy!" said Jim. "Look at you!"

It was light outside. Jim pulled on his thick, white basketball shoes and laced them loosely. He grabbed his windbreaker from the hook by the door. Then he rolled up the bottoms of his pajama pants.

"Come on, Jake," Jim said as he unlocked the door. Jake stretched and yawned. "Let's go," said Jim, clapping his hands. "Time for some hoops."

The sky was a flinty gray, and a woodpecker was drumming away up in the maple tree. No cars were driving by, no snowblowers, no planes over the house, just the steady staccato of the busy woodpecker. Jim picked up the blue and white ball that was lying in Mom's snow-covered flower bed. It was the ball he had won last summer at basketball camp for being the MVP of his team. He held it in both hands and tossed it up a few times. It was cold and heavy. He dribbled it into the driveway over to the chalk marks still visible from yesterday's game of Horse. He set his feet, brought the ball up to shoulder height, and arced his wrists and hands as he released the ball in the direction of the basket. It hit the front of the rim and bounced out toward the flower bed. Jim ran to grab it, then took a quick jump shot and swished it. "He jumps, he shoots, he scores!" Jim sang out. Over and over, shooting from every side, listening to the wind in the trees, which sounded like cheering fans. He called to Jake, who was rolling on his back in the wet grass, "Watch this, old fella!" Jim played until his hands were numb from the cold.

When he went back inside, Jim found Mom up making coffee. "You're the early bird this morning," said Mom. "I thought you wanted to sleep late?"

"Not today," said Jim. "Today's the tryout. I've gotta be ready."

"Jim, it's only seven o'clock! The tryout's not for three more hours!"


"Take it easy, Jim," said Mom. "You don't want to wear yourself out."

"Mom, you never played sports. You don't understand. You have to get yourself psyched, pumped, ready to explode!!" Jim didn't want to hurt Mom's feelings, but let's face it, she was not an athlete. She was an artist! She spent all day in her little studio wearing one of Dad's old shirts, painting pictures, listening to that old-time music. When Jim and Dad were watching basketball on TV, Mom would come in and say something stupid like "Look at those uniforms...

House of Sports. Copyright © by Marisabina Russo. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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