In the fourth book of the Rip and Red series, the two boys have one last basketball thrill ride before the end of fifth grade.
It’s fifth-grade graduation time for Rip and Red, and this year’s festivities are going to be extra special because Reese Jones Elementary is also celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. As part of the gala, Hoops Machine, the exhibition basketball team, is paying a visit, and Rip may be playing a surprise role. But he and his friends need to finish their schoolwork first, which includes taking a newly required standardized test. However, when the students of Room 208 begin to question the need to take the test, a mini opt-out movement gains momentum. When the administration gets wind of this rebellion in Mr. Acevedo’s class, Hoops Machine, middle-school basketball tryouts, and walking at the graduation ceremony are in jeopardy. So is Mr. A’s job. But luckily for Rip, Red, their classmates, and their teacher, when you stand up for what you believe in, the people you’ve touched along the way rally to your corner.
Most Valuable Players is the fourth book in the Rip & Red series, written by Phil Bildner with illustrations by Tim Probert.
About the Author
Phil Bildner is a former New York City public school teacher and lives in Newburgh, New York. The author of many booksincluding Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans and The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope, and Apartheid in South Africahe speaks at numerous schools and libraries every year.
Tim Probert also illustrated Kim Baker's novel Pickle. He lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Stumbling over her too-big-for-her-body puppy paws, Bubba chased after the flying Frisbee. When it was almost directly overhead, she sprang off her hind legs, leaped as high as she could, and caught it in her mouth.
"Boo-yah!" I shouted from across the backyard.
"Way to go, Bubba Chuck!" Red shook his fists over his head.
My best friend, Red, calls my new dog by her full name. Red calls everyone by their full name. To Red, I'm Mason Irving. To everyone else, I'm Rip.
"Hand," Red called. He knelt by the steps to the deck and held his open palm next to his knee.
As Bubba galloped back across the yard, her floppy ears and the red Frisbee bounced with each stride.
"Release," Red said firmly when she reached him. "Release."
She dropped the Frisbee into his palm.
"Good girl, Bubba Chuck." He rubbed her head. "Good girl."
I'd been asking Mom and Dad for a dog for a gazillion years. Okay, maybe more like begging for a dog for a gazillion years, so when Mom took me to the shelter over Easter vacation, I was mind-blown shocked.
Let me tell you, a five-month-old pit bull mix is the best elementary school graduation present of all time. No doubt!
I leaned back on my hands, kicked out my legs, and crossed my feet. "What are you getting for graduation?" I asked Red.
"I don't know." He shrugged.
"Suzanne better hurry up," I said. Suzanne is Red's mom. "She's running out of time."
"She knows what she's getting me," Red said, "but she won't tell me."
I shook out my dreadlocks. "I'll ask her at dinner tonight."
"She won't tell you."
"Maybe she will." I tossed my Philadelphia 76ers mini basketball from hand to hand. "And when she does tell me, I'm going to torture you with the secret."
We were all going out to dinner tonight — me, Red, Mom, Suzanne, and Dana. Mom and Suzanne have been friends for years. Mom and Dana have been dating since the fall.
"You ready, Bubba Chuck?" Red said, shaking the Frisbee.
He pump-faked once, pump-faked again, and then flung it so it rolled on its edge.
Bubba gave chase, but didn't catch up to the Frisbee until it stopped against the chain-link fence in the back of the yard.
"Come, Bubba Chuck!" Red called.
Bubba shook the Frisbee wildly and then charged back across the yard.
"Release," Red said, holding out his hand.
Bubba gave him the Frisbee.
"Sit." Red raised his palm.
Bubba sat instantly.
"Good, Bubba Chuck," Red said. "Shake." He leaned down and held out his hand.
Bubba slapped her paw into it and toppled over.
Red laughed. "Good girl, Bubba Chuck." He fell onto the grass and hugged her.
Red's amazing with Bubba. I knew he would be, because Red's crazy about dogs. But right now, what was even more amazing was seeing Red rolling around on the grass. It was hard to believe he was the same kid who would bug if you even asked him to sit on the ground a few months back.
"Nice job, Dog Whisperer," I said, crawling over.
Red smiled. "I speak the language of puppies," he said.
"I can't believe we're graduating," I said.
"Two weeks from today, Mason Irving," Red said. "Saturday, June 14, at nine o'clock in the morning is graduation. Saturday, June 14, is two weeks from today."
I rolled onto my back and tossed my Sixers ball into the air. "Gala25 is going to be sick."
"Oh, yeah!" he said. "Gala25 is going to be sick!"
Fifth-grade graduation at Reese Jones Elementary is always a big deal, but this year it's an even bigger deal because it's also RJE's twenty-fifth anniversary. Everyone's coming back for Gala25, the huge anniversary party the night before graduation — former teachers, former students, everyone. Both Suzanne and my mom are on the graduation festivities committee, and lots of parents have been busting their butts the last month putting it all together.
"It's so ridiculous they're making us take another test next week," I said.
"So ridiculous, Mason Irving."
I put down the ball and picked at the grass. "It makes no sense," I said. "Who schedules a test on the Wednesday of the last week of school?"
Like most kids in the galaxy, I can't stand standardized tests. This year, testing week was at the beginning of May, and when I finished taking my last one, I was even more relieved than when the dentist told me at my final checkup that it looked like I would never need braces. But then we found out all the fifth and sixth graders in the state have to take this extra test.
Bubba opened her mouth and reached for my Sixers ball.
"Don't even think it, girl," I said. "That's mine."
"No, Bubba Chuck." Red wagged a finger in front of her snoot. "No."
"You want to know what's going to be the best part of middle school?" I said.
"What's going to be the best part of middle school?"
"I won't have to hang around with you anymore."
Red clenched his fists and tapped his legs. "Very funny."
"Ha! I thought so."
"Well ... well ... I won't have to hang around with you anymore, Mason Irving."
You may have noticed by now that Red's quirky. Really quirky. He's on the spectrum. Mom and Suzanne have both tried explaining what that means to me more times than I can remember, but I still don't get it, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure the grown-ups who say they know what it means know what it means either.
I do know that not everyone gets Red like I do. And not everyone can joke around with him like I can. You also have to explain a lot of things to Red, but once you do, he gets them and remembers them. Red has a crazy-good memory. He never forgets things like dates or schedules or the lunch menu at school or basketball stats.
Especially NBA stats. Red loves the NBA.
Not only is Red my best friend, he's also the best friend you can possibly have.
"Did you see the middle school basketball tryouts announcement?" I said. "They're at the end of summer."
"Only two or three sixth graders make the team, Mason Irving."
"I'm going to be one of them," I said, smacking the ball. "No doubt!"
I cupped my hand under Bubba's chin and rubbed my nose against hers. "Red and I are going to be in middle school," I said. "Middle school!"CHAPTER 2
The Stardust Diner
"Red's present is a surprise," Suzanne said.
"I won't say anything," I said. "I promise."
"Oh, please, Rip," Mom said. "Everyone at this table knows you can't keep a secret from Red."
"Yes, I can." I took a breadstick from the basket and broke it in half. "Don't you understand? I could drive Red crazy with this information."
"Thanks a lot, Mason Irving," Red said.
I bumped his shoulder. "That's what best friends are for."
I'd been trying to convince Suzanne to tell me Red's graduation present from the moment we sat down at our booth at the Stardust Diner. I say our booth because the corner booth with the red vinyl cushions next to the old-fashioned jukebox is where we always sit when we come here.
"You'll both find out what it is soon enough," Suzanne said.
"And you won't be disappointed," Dana added.
"You know too?"
"I do." Dana nodded.
To be perfectly honest, I was pretty sure I knew what the present was. Make that, I was almost positive I knew, but I needed confirmation before I could really rub it in Red's face.
I grabbed a blue crayon from the box the hostess had given us and began doodling around the edges of my place mat. Red had started coloring his place mat the second we sat down.
"When was the last time the five of us had dinner together like this?" Suzanne asked.
"I can't remember," Mom said.
"Sunday, April 27," Red said without looking up. "Sunday, April 27, was the last time the five of us had dinner together like this."
"That was the last weekend I had off," Suzanne said. Suzanne's a nurse at a local hospital. "That sounds about right."
"Of course it's right," I said. "Have you ever known Red to forget a date?"
Mom held up her hands. "That's mine," she said, looking at the phones in the middle of the table. "But I'm not getting it."
"You can," Dana said, smiling.
"It'll cost you if you do," I said. "Ha!"
The use of screens is strictly prohibited during mealtime. That's the rule at both our houses. Mom and Suzanne came up with the rule when Red and I got our cell phones for Christmas. At my house, we keep a metal bucket on the kitchen counter. At restaurants, all screens go in the middle of the table. If someone touches one, that person pays for everyone's meal.
The grown-ups have a harder time with the rule than Red and me. Much harder.
"That phone hasn't stopped all week," Mom said. "In fact, that phone hasn't stopped all month. Everyone needs their graduation questions answered now, now, now."
"Everyone's going to have to wait, wait, wait, Rip's Mom," Red said, still coloring. Red calls my mom Rip's Mom. "If not, you're going to have to pay, pay, pay."
We all laughed.
My mom, Lesley Irving, is a middle school principal a few towns over. Every year at this time, she gets crazy busy because she has to organize her school's graduation, and this year she's doubly busy because she has my graduation, too. Even though there are lots of other parents on the graduation festivities committee, they all bounce everything off Mom because they know she's a principal. Everyone thinks she has all the answers.
When it comes to school stuff, she usually does.
"This RJE graduation is going to be extraordinary," Suzanne said.
"No one will be able to say we're not sending you boys out in style," Mom said. "That's for sure."
I thumped my chest. "That's how it should be."
"I'm working doubles all this week and next," Suzanne said. "That way, I have off the entire weekend."
"I have late nights all this week as well." Mom pointed at Red and me. "That means you two need to go easy on us. No last-minute surprises, you hear that?" "No last-minute surprises," Red said. "I hear that, Rip's Mom."
"I'm serious, you two," Mom added. "The last weeks of school always worry me."
"Is this where you're going to say something about the school board?" I said.
"Don't get me started," Mom said. "The amount of pushback I've gotten from them trying to coordinate the Gala25 festivities is shameful, and ..." She wagged a finger at me. "I said, don't get me started. And I mean it, no last-minute surprises. Far too often, someone does something I really wish they hadn't, and then I have to spend way too much time cleaning up the mess."
I reached for another breadstick.
"Honey, that's your last one," Mom said. "You won't have any room for your food."
"I always have room for my food."
"Mason Irving always has room, Rip's Mom," Red said.
I do. I eat everything.
"On second thought," Mom said, smiling, "eat all the breadsticks you want. You're going to need extra energy this week."
Mom didn't answer.
"Why's that?" I asked again. "What does that mean?"
She kept smiling her I-know-something-you-don't-know smile and didn't respond.
"Which one of you is reading this?" Dana picked up a book from the cushion beside her.
"I'm reading Giant Steps by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," Red said. He stopped coloring. "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's a basketball player from back in the day."
"I know who he is," Dana said.
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote Giant Steps while he was still playing basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers." Red spun the crayon on the table. "Giant Steps is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography."
"He's quite an individual," Dana said. "I bet it's fascinating."
"What are you reading?" Suzanne asked me.
I reached behind me for my book. "The Boys Who Challenged Hitler. It's a nonfiction book about World War II."
Nonfiction is my favorite genre. Takara Eid is the one who got me hooked. She's this girl who was in our class back in the fall. Everyone called her Tiki. She loved nonfiction and always posted recommendations on the YO! READ THIS! board in our classroom. It's how I learned about The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, and it's how Red learned about Giant Steps. But Tiki was only in class for a couple months because her family had to move.
"Do you want to know what the sixth graders told us?" Red asked.
"What sixth graders?" Mom said.
"A bunch of sixth graders came to RJE on Friday to speak to us about middle school," Red answered, still spinning the crayon. "They said if you carry a book wherever you go, you'll never get in trouble."
"Is that so?" Mom said.
"It's so, Rip's Mom," Red said. "They said if you're ever somewhere you're not supposed to be, all you need to do is hold up a book and say you were looking for a quiet place to read."
"Is that so?" Mom said again.
"They said in middle school it's good to be known as the kid who's always carrying a book."
"Call me old-fashioned," Mom said, "but I like to think if you carry a book wherever you go, you'll actually read the book."
"If you carry a book wherever you go, you might read it?" I said, pretending to be surprised. "You will? No way!" I grinned and strummed the table. "Two weeks till graduation!"
"Oh, yeah," Red said. "Two weeks till graduation."
"That means there are still two more weeks of school," Mom said.
I shook out my hair. "There are?"
"There most certainly are," Mom said. "And you still have one more test coming up."
"Thanks for reminding us," I said.
"Yeah, thanks for reminding us, Rip's Mom."
"We shouldn't have to remind you," Suzanne added.
"If you ask me," I said, "I think there should be a constitutional amendment that says you can't give tests the last week of school."
"No one's asking you," Mom said.
I waved my hand. "School's over."
"No, it is not," Mom said. "You need to take that test seriously."
I strummed the table again. "Two weeks till graduation!"CHAPTER 3
B-Ball in the Schoolyard
"Irving at the top of the key," I said, announcing the play-by-play. My basketball brain sized up the imaginary defenders. "He goes left ... blows by his man ... inside the key ... puts up the floater ..."
The shot hit off the back of the rim.
"I need to work on my left," I said, chasing down the rebound and dribbling out to Red at midcourt. "Every time we're out here, we're working on my left."
"You got it, Mason Irving."
Red and I were the only ones in the RJE schoolyard. Mom and Suzanne were both cool with us being here by ourselves on a Sunday afternoon. We both had our cells. We knew to be careful.
I dribbled back and forth between my legs like I was walking in place and then spun away from Red and broke for the corner. A few feet from the baseline, I squared up and took the shot. I banked it in.
"You didn't call glass," Red said.
"You have to call glass."
I scooped up the ball and took a turnaround jumper from just outside the lane.
I needed to hit shots like those if I was going to make the middle school team, and I was going to make the middle school team.
With my basketball eyes, I checked Red. He was practicing his dribbling, bouncing two balls at once and trying to make like Steph Curry before a game. Every few dribbles, he managed to put the ball between his legs with his left hand and keep the second ball going in front with his right. It looked sick when he did.
"You're getting so much better at that," I said.
"Oh, yeah!" Red basketball-smiled. That's the huge grin he gets when he's playing ball. "Watch this," he said. He trapped one basketball under his foot soccer-style and shot the other.
He laughed and raised his arms. "Sign me up for the NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest!"
"It would be no contest!" I sat down on my ball, planted my heels, and rolled around.
"I just watched this show on the greatest moments of the NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest," Red said, sitting down on his ball, too. "Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics won the NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest three years in a row. Larry Bird was the NBA All-Star Weekend three-point champion in 1986, 1987, and 1988."
"Larry Bird was a beast," I said.
"When Larry Bird won the NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest in 1988, Larry Bird hit his last three shots. When Larry Bird shot the final red, white, and blue bonus ball, Larry Bird held up his finger as soon as he released it."
"In the 1991 All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest," Red went on, "Craig Hodges of the Chicago Bulls hit his first nineteen shots. Nineteen three-pointers in a row, Mason Irving. Nineteen!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Most Valuable Players"
Copyright © 2018 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Stardust Diner,
B-Ball in the Schoolyard,
The Perfect Circle,
The Basketball Equation,
Meeting the Machine,
Bubba and Buggin',
The Book Stairs Boycott,
Strength in Numbers,
A Perfectly Executed Ambush,
Elephants and Pickles,
Hoops Machine, Practice Three,
Red Being Red,
Bubbling the Bubble,
Fast and Furious,
Hoops No More,
The Last CC,
Also by Phil Bildner,
About the Author and Illustrator,