Rip and Red are best friends whose fifth-grade year is nothing like what they expected. They have a crazy new tattooed teacher named Mr. Acevedo, who doesn't believe in tests or homework and who likes off-the-wall projects, the more "off" the better. And guess who's also their new basketball coach? Mr. Acevedo! Easy-going Rip is knocked completely out of his comfort zone. And for Red, who has autism and really needs things to be exactly a certain way, the changes are even more of a struggle. But together these two make a great duo who know how to help each other—and find ways to make a difference—in the classroom and on the court.
With its energetic and authentic story and artwork, A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner is a fresh, fun book about school, sports, and friendship.
“Cartoony illustrations lend energy and personality to the likable cast of characters. A school story with heart.” —Kirkus Reviews
This title has Common Core connections.
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About the Author
Tim Probert has illustrated children's books (Pickle), advertisements, promotional material, and worked in animation production. He lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
A Whole New Ballgame
A Rip and Red Story
By Phil Bildner, Tim Probert
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Phil Bildner
All rights reserved.
* * *
I bolted toward the chain-link fence. Red shot for the gate. In full stride, I slipped my backpack down my shoulders, and as soon as Red grabbed the metal post and spun into the schoolyard, I flung the bag over the fence.
Red caught it by the straps just before it touched the grass.
"Boo-yah!" I hammer-fisted the air.
"Bam!" He held it up. "Every time, Mason Irving!"
Mason Irving. That's what Red calls me. Everyone else calls me by my nickname, Rip.
I held out my fist. Red gave me a pound.
At 7:25 every morning, I meet Red at the end of his driveway, and we walk to Reese Jones Elementary. Orleans Lane to Key Place to Niagara Drive. Then when we get to RJE, I toss my bag, Red catches it, and we zigzag through the portables — the second- and third-grade classrooms — and head for the new playground.
It's our walk-to-school routine. Red likes routines.
But this morning wasn't like other mornings. Because today was the first day of fifth grade.
At RJE, all the fifth graders have Ms. Hamburger, and yes, that's her real name, and no, I'm not going to make any jokes, because if you go to RJE, you've heard them all. Ms. Hamburger's been teaching fifth grade ever since RJE opened twenty-five years ago.
"I hope Ms. Hamburger lets us sit at the same table," Red said.
"I heard she assigns seats at the beginning of the year."
I grabbed the granola bar from my jeans pocket, snapped off a piece, and flipped it to Red.
"I hope Ms. Hamburger lets us bring snacks to class," he said. "I hope she lets us keep water bottles at our table."
We reached the walkway to the playground.
"You ready?" I said.
"Ready as I'll ever be, Mason Irving."
I shook out my hair and brushed back the locks above my ears. "On your mark, get set ..."
We whipped our bags onto the benches and tore across the sand toward the jungle gym. We speed-walked the balance beam and then split up — Red darted for the climbing wall; I went for the monkey bars. I swung across the rungs, two-at-a-timed the steps to the upper deck, and waited for Red. Then we dove for the spiral slide. I went down first.
"Boo-yah!" I shouted.
"Bam!" Red followed.
Obstacle-coursing the jungle gym is another part of our walk-to-school routine, our favorite part.
We scooped up our bags, and as we left the playground, we tapped the wooden posts with the solar lights. Two summers ago, when the community built the playground, Red and I helped put in those posts.
I pulled the granola bar wrapper from my pocket and crumpled it tight.
"Irving with the crossover dribble," I said, pretending to announce the play-by-play. I made a move for the garbage. "He stutter-steps toward the key ... breaks right ... shoots ... nothing but the bottom of the can! Oh, what a move by Rip!"
"We're playing basketball," Red sang — the intro song from Xbox. "We love that basketball."
Not only was today the first day of fifth grade, but it was also the first day of the fifth-grade basketball program. Red and I were playing hoops together for the first time.
Until now, Red hadn't been allowed to play hoops at school.
We turned onto the sidewalk in front of the school and headed up the circular drive. Like always, we timed our arrival perfectly, reaching the doors just as the first buses pulled up and the first bikers and scooter riders pulled into the racks.
Red likes being on time. He does better when he's on time.
"Where's Ms. Darling?" he asked, tightening his fists into knots. He shook them next to his eyes. "Where's ... where's Ms. Waldon?" I looked around. "I don't know."
The principal, Ms. Darling — yes, that's her real name, too — always stood between the double doors, saying good morning and telling kids, "Take off your hats when you enter the building." Ms. Waldon, the parent coordinator, always sat at the desk under the announcement monitor in the main hall.
But not today.
We strutted down the K-1 hallway — fifth graders strut, especially down the K-1 hallway — and then headed up the stairs by the bathrooms.
The K-1 hallway staircase is the only staircase Red uses.
On the second floor, we passed the library and sped up as we got closer to Room 208, Ms. Hamburger's room.
"You ready?" I asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be, Mason Irving."
When I reached the doorway, I stopped dead in my tracks.
The person standing in front of the classroom was not Ms. Hamburger.CHAPTER 2
* * *
A man stood at the front of Room 208.
He looked like a cross between the barista at Perky's, the coffee shop my mom always complains about because it's so expensive (even though she stops there every morning), and the bassist from Elephant Sponges, this band I saw on YouTube. The man had long, dark hair, piercings up and down both ears, and braided leather bracelets.
I checked Red. His shoulder brushed against mine, and he'd turtled his neck like he was hiding. He tapped his thigh — pinky-thumb-pinky-thumb-pinky-thumb-pinky-thumb — real fast.
When Red's nervous, he pinky-thumbs his leg.
"You okay?" I said softly.
"Where's Ms. Hamburger?" "I don't know."
"Is Ms. Hamburger still our teacher? Where's Ms. Hamburger?"
"We'll find out."
The man motioned for us to come in.
The desks were arranged in tables, four seats at each, and since Red and I were first to arrive, we had dibs. I tapped him on the arm and led us to the front table on the far side. We sat down with our backs to the window.
Red likes to face the door.
"Who is that?" He hunched forward.
"Where's Ms. Hamburger?" His knees bounced against the underside of his desk.
I placed my hand on his leg.
I can touch Red. So can a few grown-ups. But Red doesn't really like it when people touch him.
The other kids began to arrive:
Melissa dropped her volleyball and checked the number on the door three times before walking in. Bryan backpedaled to the table in front of the cubbies. Diego swung the tie strings on his knit hat, raised his grab-and-go breakfast bag, and then headed for a seat in the middle of the room.
Melissa, Bryan, Diego — I know all the kids. All the fifth graders know one another. How could we not? We've been together our entire time at RJE.
But we're the last one-class grade. All the lower grades have three or four classes, which is why the portables now take up half of the schoolyard.
The man at the front of the room didn't say a word until Avery rolled in.
"Do you have enough room?" he said. He took a step toward her wheelchair and then backed away.
She curled her lip. "Who are you?"
"Where do you prefer to sit?"
"Prefer? Are you the teacher or something?"
"I'll explain once everyone's here."
"Whatever, dude." She wheeled next to Melissa, pulled out the chair, and parked.
* * *
"I think that's about everyone," the man said. He glanced at the clock by the door and then reached for the iPad in the pen tray of the board. "Day one and all twenty-six of you are ready to go before the bell. Outstanding."
He tucked his hair behind his ears and looked at each table.
"I'm Mr. Acevedo," he said, tapping his chest. "I'm going to be your homeroom and Language Arts — ELA — teacher this year. Starting today, we'll be spending the first one hundred twenty minutes of every school day together. Well, except for today. We have early dismissal today. So we only get sixty minutes today."
Suddenly, Mr. Acevedo leaped into the air and kicked together the heels of his high-tops. But on the way down, his toe caught the back of Olivia's chair, and he stumbled into the shelf of red binders next to the board.
"OMG!" Olivia shouted.
"Sick!" Danny said.
Red grabbed my shoulder and ducked behind me.
Some kids laughed.
Mr. Acevedo steadied the shelf and then rushed over to Olivia. "Are you okay? Did I kick you?"
She shook her head.
"Phew." Mr. Acevedo cringed. "Awkward."
"I'll say," Trinity said.
More kids laughed.
Slowly, Red sat back up, but his knees still knocked against his desk.
"Thank you." Mr. Acevedo waved his iPad like a performer waving to the audience. "Thank you very much." With his other hand, he brushed some hair off his face. "This is my very first day as a teacher, so I wanted to do something memorable. But now I'm thinking I probably should've practiced that jump once or twice before giving it a whirl in front of everyone."
"I'll say," Trinity said again.
More kids laughed.
"Well, look at it this way." Mr. Acevedo shrugged. "I guarantee you'll never forget your first moments of fifth grade — when your new teacher nearly face-planted in front of the class."
He swiped his screen, took a moment to read, and then placed the iPad back in the tray.
"Before we get started here," he said, "let's get some of the basics out of the way. First, I'm not a big fan of homework. You won't be getting much from me."
"That's what I'm talking about!" Jordan said, shaking his thumb and index finger at Bryan across his table. "I like this guy already."
A few kids clapped.
"Second," Mr. Acevedo said, holding up two fingers, "I'm not a big fan of worksheets. In fact, I hate worksheets. Now I know we're not supposed to use the H-word here at RJE, but when it comes to worksheets, I make an exception. There will be no worksheets in this classroom."
He picked up a poster tube from the floor by the board, slide-stepped to the door, and peeked into the hall. Then he charged across the room and leaped onto his desk, which was next to our table.
"I hereby declare our classroom an NWZ!" He raised the tube and posed like Thor. "This room is a No Worksheet Zone." He pried off the end, shook out the bright orange poster, and unrolled it.
"I'll hang this later," he said. He hopped down. "What else?" He placed the poster and tube on his desk and headed back to the front of the room. "Oh, you see these jeans?" He brushed his legs. "I'll be wearing them pretty much every day. So if you want to make fun of that, go right ahead. But rest assured, I do change my shirt, socks, and underwear daily. I also shower and brush my teeth regularly. I expect that you will do the same. Our classroom will not be pungent, and if you don't know what pungent means, look it up."
I'm pretty sure I knew what pungent meant. Mom calls my sneakers pungent when I wear them without socks over the summer and they stink up my whole room.
I checked Red. His feet were flat on the floor, his eyes fixed on Mr. Acevedo.
"Phew, I'm gassed." Mr. Acevedo headed for his desk again. "I say we take a break. I'm a big fan of breaks. We learn more effectively when we take breaks. So for the next fifteen minutes, feel free to do what you like — read, write, draw, talk to your classmates, find your cubbies, put your belongings away. Just remember, you're in fifth grade now. You know how to behave in a classroom. I don't have to go over that."
I was glad he wasn't going to lecture us. I got enough of that at home.
Mr. Acevedo opened his top desk drawer and pulled out a book. "For the next fifteen minutes, I'm reading." He reached back into the drawer and pulled out another sign. This one he hung around his neck:
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]CHAPTER 3
Rip and Red
* * *
Fifteen minutes later ...
Mr. Acevedo closed his book and took off the sign.
"Let's do a little housekeeping," he said, heading back to the front of the class. "There are twenty-six of you in here, and right now I don't know any of your names. That needs to change quickly." He swiped the screen. "Let's do the attendance thing. Who's my first victim?"
"I am," Jordan called out.
"Are you Jordan Adams?"
"You thought you were my first victim because your last name starts with A?"
"Well, Jordan Adams, you're not my first victim. I'm not an alphabetical teacher. My last name's Acevedo. When I was in school, I had to go first way too many times. Alphabetical is boring and predictable. I don't like boring and predictable. I like exciting and unpredictable." He tightened an earring. "Anyway, when I asked who wanted to be my first victim, I meant it more as a rhetorical question, and if you don't know what rhetorical question means, look it up."
I'm pretty sure I knew what rhetorical question meant. It's one of those fake questions you're not really supposed to answer.
"When I call your name," Mr. Acevedo said, "please raise your hand, and let me know what you want to be called. What name do you prefer? Then tell me something about yourself. Something serious, something funny, something kooky, whatever you want. One thing." He peeked at his screen. "Where's Sebastian King?"
Sebastian raised his hand. "Call me Sebi."
"Sebi it is. Tell me one thing about yourself, Sebi."
"I like to doodle and draw."
"I'm a doodler, too." Mr. Acevedo patted his chest. "Feel free to doodle away in here. Xander McDonald?"
Xander sat next to Sebi. He raised his hand. "Call me X."
"Is anyone in your family going to beat me up if I do?"
"I hope not."
"I hope not, too. X it is. What's your one thing, X?"
"I love the Beatles." He lifted up his sweatshirt and pulled down his Beatles tee.
Mr. Acevedo swiped the screen. "Blake Daniels?"
"I'm Blake Daniels." Red's hand shot up. "Everyone calls me Red. So you should call me Blake Daniels. I mean ..." He covered his face with his hands. "You should call ... you should call me Red. Call me Red."
"Red it is. I take it people call you Red because of your hair?"
Red nodded. His knees bounced against his desk.
Red has thick blondish-red hair. It covers his ears and neck. Red doesn't comb his hair very often.
"So what's your one thing, Red?"
Red moved his hands from his face. "I don't like it when people touch my hair."
"I don't like when people touch my hair either," Mr. Acevedo said. "Give me another one, Red."
Red's fingers snapped back to his cheeks. "Another what?" He swayed his shoulders from side to side.
"Another one thing," Mr. Acevedo said. "Tell me something else. What's another one thing?"
Red clasped his hands behind his neck, hunched his shoulders, and squeezed his head with his arms. That's what Red does when he's nervous and confused. Sometimes he squinches his face real tight, wrinkling his eyes, nose, and forehead. I call that Red's old-man face.
I don't like Red's old-man face.
"Say something basketball," I whispered.
"What?" Red glanced at me, looked back to Mr. Acevedo, and then faced me again.
"Say something about the Warriors."
Red moved his elbows from his head and turned back to Mr. Acevedo.
"The Golden State Warriors are my favorite basketball team," he said.
Mr. Acevedo pumped his fist. I held out mine to Red.
Slowly, Red lowered his hands and touched my knuckles.
Half a pound was better than no pound.
"I hope I get this one right," Mr. Acevedo said. "Mariam ... Tehrani?"
"That's right," Mariam said. She pointed to Olivia and Grace across her table. "You can call us OMG."
"Why's that?" Mr. Acevedo asked.
"Because of our names," Mariam said. "Olivia's starts with O, mine starts with M, and Grace's starts with G. OMG."
"BFFs," Mr. Acevedo said. "And what's your one thing, Mariam?"
"I love scary movies and ghost stories. Wait. Is that one thing or two?"
"We'll count it as one. Mason Irving?"
I raised my hand. "Call me Rip."
"It's a basketball nickname."
"Rip it is. Rip and Red, sitting next to each other. I like that. Easy for me to remember. What's your one thing, Rip?"
I smiled. "I don't like when people touch my hair."
"You don't, Mason Irving?" Red said, puzzled.
"Well, I would understand if you didn't," Mr. Acevedo said. "A buddy of mine has dreadlocks like yours. No one's allowed to go near them."
Up until last year, I always buzzed my head, or should I say, my mom always buzzed my head. I only started growing my hair in fourth grade.
"So what's your one thing, Rip?" Mr. Acevedo asked.
"I do basketball play-by-play."
"Fascinating. I hope I get to hear you."
* * *
"Now that we've gotten that out of the way," Mr. Acevedo said after he finished taking attendance, "let's ..."
Xander's hand shot up.
"Yes, X?" Mr. Acevedo pointed.
"Where's Ms. Hamburger?"
Other kids raised their hands.
Mr. Acevedo motioned to Gavin.
"Where was Ms. Darling this morning?" he asked. "Is she still the principal?"
"Is Ms. Waldon still the parent coordinator?" Attie called out.
Mr. Acevedo pointed with his chin to Trinity.
"If you're only our ELA teacher," she said, "who are our other teachers?"
"Are we switching classes?" Attie called out again.
"Wow. Questions, questions, questions," Mr. Acevedo said. "I'll answer all of them. I promise. But not until tomorrow. We only have about ten minutes left today, and I really want to finish this chapter." He held up the book he was reading during the break. "But I will answer Attie's last question. Yes, you are switching classes."
"Where do we go?" she asked.
"I'll let you know on your way out. But right now, these pages are calling to me." He knocked the cover. "Please make sure you have something to read in here at all times. I don't care what you're reading, so long as you're reading something. In Room 208, we're committed to reading. We're committed to reading every day." He picked up his do-not-disturb sign, slipped it around his neck, and sat cross-legged on his desk. "Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of Room 208, Unexpected."
Excerpted from A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner, Tim Probert. Copyright © 2015 Phil Bildner. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Rip and Red,
Ready to Ball,
A Free-Throw-Shooting Machine!,
Teacher's Theater Time,
Happy Reading Day!,
Crashing the Boards,
Passing and Picking,
24 and 32,
The Games Begin,
Bulldozed and Blitzed,
In the Amp,
Shaking Things Up,
Massacre at Millwood,
Happy Writing Day!,
A Very Good Man,
Speedy and Ri-Dic-U-Lous,
Testing the Limits,
The Nasty Nine,
About the Author,
Also by Phil Bildner,