Jackson's mom is dating. Gig's dad is going to serve in the Middle East. Isaac might be going to a new school. Diego spends his spare time working. These four friends lead different lives, but on the baseball field, they're a strong teamthe top of the order. As their last year of elementary school ends, the boys want to have their best baseball season ever. But this year, they might not even have enough players to stay in the league. Then a great player volunteers to join the team. But it's a girl! And she plays with a pink glove! Now the team is coming apart at the seams. Will this end up being the worst season ever?
Here is a story about how life, like sports, can be unpredictable, frustrating, and exhilarating. Top of the Order by John Coy is part of the 4 for 4 series, an action-packed middle grade series for young readers about four boys from diverse backgrounds who deal with family, friendship, and school situations.
“Appealing characters and plenty of baseball action will make this a hit with young sports fans.” Kirkus Reviews
“Coy effortlessly captures the voices of boys on the verge of adolescence. Jackson and his friends are fully developed.” School Library Journal
About the Author
John Coy has written several books for children and spends much of his time as a writer-in-residence at elementary schools. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Top of the Order
By John Coy
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2009 John Coy
All rights reserved.
Outside my classroom window, green grass glistens on the first day of May. May means baseball season and baseball season means me. I've been waiting months for this. All the cold, the snow, and the freezing temperatures are gone. Spring's here and I should be on the diamond, not slumped at my desk in Room 106 — bored out of my skull.
"There are four hundred and thirty-five members of the United States House of Representatives, and the number of each state's representatives is based on that state's population." Mrs. Spanier pats her nose with a Kleenex. She always seems to have a cold. That's why my best friend Gig named her Snuffy at the start of the year.
I look up at the clock and subtract. Thirty-seven minutes until lunch. Then after we eat, I can be outside smashing pitches to all parts of the field. Our fifth-grade team, the Panthers, can be good this year, but we need to find some more players.
"Every ten years a census, or counting of the population, is conducted, and congressional districts are altered based on changes in population."
I try to catch Gig's eye, but his head is down on his desk. Snuffy's put him to sleep. I wish we had a different teacher. My friend Isaac has Ms. Kolton, who's fun. Other kids have Mr. Fisher, who doesn't give much homework. Snuffy is the worst — boring and tons of work.
"As the populations in the South and West have increased, states there have gained seats in the House of Representatives. The Northeast and Midwest have lost seats."
Four days until the start of baseball practice. We need to find someone to play second base, my old spot. With Sam Sportelli going out for the traveling team, I finally get to play my favorite position: shortstop.
"Jackson Kennedy, did you hear me?"
"What?" I look up at Snuffy, staring me down.
"I asked you a question about congressional representation, and it's clear you don't have a clue. I suggest you start paying attention, young man."
* * *
At lunch, I sit across the table from Gig and Isaac as we list what we're dreading about middle school.
"Getting beat up by bullies," Gig says.
"Being jammed in a locker." Isaac grimaces.
"Naked showers after swimming." I dip a mini corn dog in barbeque sauce.
"I heard the pool is full of germs." Gig makes a face. "Bacteria."
Isaac breaks his roll in half. "Yeah, they dump so much chlorine in, you smell like pool for a week."
"Eighth graders push you in with your clothes on." Gig points to my tray. "You want that butter?"
"Take it." I thought I was ready for middle school, but now I'm not so sure.
"Then you have to stand butt naked and dry your clothes at the blow- dryer while they snap towels at you and make jokes about how tiny you are." He smears the extra butter on his roll.
That sounds like a nightmare. I'm the youngest of my friends, and the last thing I need is older kids staring and making fun of me.
"And some of the teachers are really mean," Isaac says. "They give you tons of homework and yell a lot."
"They give you detention if you're one second late for class," I add, handing my roll to Gig, who's eyeing it. He's a skinny little guy, but he eats like an all-star wrestler.
"The pressure is so intense that one kid burst his brain," he says.
"No way." I shake my head.
"Uh-huh. His brain burst open right on his desk. My uncle said so. The kid had to go to the emergency room to get his head stitched together. I've seen him. He still has a huge scar."
Isaac bursts out laughing and milk sputters out of his nose.
"You're a human geyser." I laugh, too.
"Did you hear that there's a ghost at Longview?" Gig turns serious. "A girl with long blond hair dropped dead at her locker, and now she haunts the halls."
"There are four ghosts at Eagle Bluff." Isaac holds up his fingers. "A whole ghost family. The school's built on the site of an old airport where a plane crashed into the control tower."
"Kids are just messing with you." I shake my head. "There aren't any ghosts."
"Yes, there are." Gig and Isaac nod like bobble heads.
"Did you hear that some eighth graders make you drink a Coke so fast, you hurl in the garbage can?" Gig jams a potato triangle into his mouth.
"Yeah, then they hold you upside down and shove you in," Isaac adds.
"They push your face right into the puke." Gig puts two mini corn dogs up his nose. "I'm Snuffy Spanier." He sniffs and blinks his eyes wildly.
We crack up laughing so hard I'm afraid I'll pee my pants.
"Shh. Here comes the Spaniel now," Isaac whispers.
"Dial down the volume, boys." Mrs. Spanier marches over. She's got pointy glasses and hair that looks like it's glued on.
"We're not that loud," Gig protests.
"You're much louder than the other end of the table." She gestures to a bunch of follow-all-rules girls, who are eating their bag lunches quietly. She gives Gig a pinched-lipped glare. "Spencer Milroy, remove that food from your nose immediately."
Gig takes a nugget out of his nose and pops it in his mouth.
"That's disgusting." She stomps off. "Totally inappropriate."
At the next table, Diego Jimenez, the new kid from Texas, who's sitting by himself, grins.
I notice his Houston Astros jersey. "Hey, Diego. Do you play any baseball?"
"What position?" He's big and strong.
"Pitcher and first base," he says quietly.
"I'm the number-one pitcher." Gig taps his chest.
"We always need more pitching." I take a practice swing. "Do you bat left or right?"
"Both," Diego says, like he's stating a fact, not bragging.
"Cool. We're playing at recess, and we could use a switch-hitter. Let's see what you can do."
"Okay." He smiles slightly.
"This food is nasty." Isaac crushes his milk carton with his fist.
"That's one thing I heard will be better next year." I push my tray away.
"These aren't bad." Gig pulls the other mini corn dog from his nose, dips it in barbeque sauce, and eats it.CHAPTER 2
Are you really going to Chickadee Bluff next year?" I turn to Isaac as he, Diego, and I walk onto the asphalt playground.
"Yeah." He flips a baseball into the air.
"Why? You live closer to Longview."
"Yeah, but with open enrollment, you get to choose. My parents think Eagle Bluff is a better school."
I reach over to grab the ball, but he pulls it away from me. Isaac's smart and gets good grades, but that doesn't mean he has to go to Chickadee Bluff. "Longview is just as good."
"My dad is friends with a couple of teachers at Eagle Bluff, and both my sisters went there." He throws the ball high and catches it in his bare hand.
Gig runs up and jumps on my back. "Giddyup." He smells like cigars from his dad's smoking. Gig is walking secondhand smoke.
I buck him off and he lands in the grass. "Where have you been?"
"Snuffy pulled me aside and gave me one of her safety-first talks." He hops up and imitates her high-pitched voice: "Inserting foodstuffs into your nasal passages is an extremely dangerous practice." He sniffs loudly. "I told her it's the only thing that makes school food taste good."
"We've got to persuade Isaac to go to Longview instead of Chickadee Bluff next year." I point at him.
"Longview, Longview," Gig says as we run to catch up with Isaac and Diego.
"Where are you going, Diego?" I ask.
"Longview," he says. "My brother goes there."
"Longview, Longview," Gig chants as we walk across the baseball diamond.
"We're all going to Longview." I wrap Isaac in a headlock. "We can't split up. You and Gig and I have been together since kindergarten."
"I can't help it." He breaks free of my grip.
"Longview, Longview, Longview," Gig and I chant together.
* * *
At the backstop, I toss my red bat to Diego to see who hits first. He grabs it halfway down and we all put our hands on top of his. My skin looks pale between his and Isaac's. Gig stretches out his hand, which is speckled with freckles.
Diego smothers the knob of the bat. "I'm up first."
I run out to shortstop and smooth the dirt in front of me. "Throw some strikes, Gig."
"Quit complaining. You haven't seen nothin'." Gig whistles a pitch at Diego's head and he ducks.
Diego steps out of the box and stares at Gig.
"He wasn't trying to hit you," I yell. "He's just a wild thing."
"Shut up." Gig kicks at the mound.
The next pitch is outside and Diego lays off it. He takes a smooth practice swing.
Gig throws one down the middle and Diego smashes a shot. Isaac runs and makes a diving catch in left-center field.
"He robbed you, Diego," I holler.
Diego takes another practice swing.
Gig drops down sidearm and the ball curves over the plate. Diego swings hard and hammers a liner over my head that Isaac chases after.
This guy can hit. "Let's see what you can do from the other side," I shout.
Diego moves around to the left-hand side and digs in. Gig whips a fastball and Diego crushes it to deep center. Over Isaac's head by fifty feet for a home run.
Wow. Nobody in our league has power like that from both sides. I look at Gig, who's watching the ball bounce with his mouth open. "We just discovered our secret weapon."
"Totally." He gives me a thumbs-up.
I walk to the plate. "Diego, we all play on the Panthers in the Suburban Athletic League. You should, too."
"When do you play?" He rubs the sweat off his forehead.
"Wednesday and Friday nights at Echo Park."
"Over by the high school."
"I don't know." Diego looks at the ground. "I have to ask my parents."
"We need you." I pound my glove. "Last year, we lost to the Jaguars three times and they never let us forget. With you, we can beat them and get some revenge."
* * *
After school we swarm out of the building like bees leaving a hive. Isaac stands at the curb in his orange crossing-guard vest.
"I forgot my bus number, mister." Gig jumps up and down and cries like a preschooler.
"There, there, little Giggy. Don't worry." I pat his head. "We'll get you home to Mommy." Kindergartners stand around trying to figure out why a fifth grader is bawling.
"Fank you." Gig bounces around.
Up ahead, Diego's walking to his bus and sorting through some papers.
"Diego, remember to ask your parents," I holler.
He nods but looks uncertain.
"What are you doing after school?" Gig falls back into his regular voice.
"Come over for dinner. We're having homemade lasagna, your favorite."
"Excellent. I'll ask my mom."
"Hi, Jackson." Gig's sister, Sydney, walks up smiling.
"Hi." She's got brown hair, clear skin, and a computer for a brain. She and Gig are complete opposites. If you didn't know they were brother and sister, you wouldn't guess it in ten million years. Even though they're in the same grade, they're not twins. Gig was held back in kindergarten. Who else do you know who flunked kindergarten?
"Hey, Barf Breath." Gig pulls Sydney's ponytail.
"Cut it out!" She pushes him.
"Gig." I step between them. "Remember, four days until our first practice. We need to find a new second baseman."
"Don't worry. Somebody will show up."
"Not just somebody. We need someone good."
I walk him to his bus and look at all the boys in line: tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, fat ones, some who couldn't hit a baseball if you set it on a tee. Who's going to play second base for us this year?
I wait at the car pickup area with my little brother, Quinn. He's carrying a small clay animal.
"This is Raffle," he says in his squeaky voice.
"Raffle? What kind of name is that?"
"A good one — for a puppy."
Mom pulls up to the curb in the minivan and unlocks the doors.
"Mom, meet Raffle." Quinn acts like he's introducing her to a person. First graders can be so babyish sometimes.
"Pleased to meet you, Raffle," Mom says. "How are you doing, Jackson?" She looks at me and raises her eyebrows.
"Fine." I slide into the front seat. Mom picks us up on Thursdays and we stay with her until Sunday. She and Dad have joint physical custody — half and half. We've been doing this for two years since the divorce.
"Did you learn anything new today?"
"No." I wave to Isaac as we drive past. "Mom, Gig wants me to come over to his house. Can I?"
"Oh, Jackson, I'm sorry," she says. "I need you to watch Quinn tonight. I have a dinner date."
Another one. I pick at the seat. "Why can't he watch himself?"
"Because he's six, Jackson. Be serious."
"Why can't you get a babysitter?"
"I tried, but everybody was busy. You can go over to Gig's tomorrow night." She checks her watch.
"He didn't invite me for Friday. He invited me for tonight."
"I'll order a pizza and when you finish your homework, you can watch a movie. I'll pay you extra, and I'll take you and Quinn out to Corwin's on Saturday."
"Yay," Quinn cheers.
Big deal. I stare out the window at the white lines on the road. I'd rather have lasagna with Gig. Mom expects me to take care of Quinn even if I don't want to. Why is what I want so much less important than what she wants?CHAPTER 3
"Diego." I stumble as I rush to his bus Friday morning. "What did they say?"
"Who?" He squints.
"Your parents. About playing on the team." I brush off my jeans.
"Sorry, I can't play on the weekends." He shakes his head. "I have to work for my uncle."
"We don't play on weekends. I told you we only play on Wednesdays and Fridays."
"What about practice?" He unzips his jacket, showing a MEXICO soccer jersey underneath.
"That's during the week, too. Weekends are free. That's one of the rules." We move toward the entrance with the mob of kids.
"I don't know where it is or how I'd get there."
"Where do you live?"
"Over behind Target."
"We can pick you up. G-Man, my grandpa, usually takes me."
"Why do you call him G-Man?" Diego holds open the door for me.
"He wants to be called that. He says he's too young to be called Grandpa." I rub my hands together. "So you can play then?"
"Maybe. I guess so."
"Great. You're a Panther." We pound fists. "What kind of work do you do anyway?"
"Roofing. My uncle has a crew. I scoop up shingles and load them into a dumpster."
Babysitting Quinn and watching a movie sounds way easier than that.
"Good morning, Diego. Good morning, Jackson." Principal Maroney waves. She's tall with short blond hair and round glasses, and even though she's the principal, everybody likes her.
"Good morning," we both reply. When I was little, I thought it was amazing that she knew each kid's name. I still think it's pretty cool.
"Later." Diego and I split up to go to our rooms.
"Isaac!" I run to his locker. "We've got our secret weapon. Diego can be on the team."
"Awesome." He's wearing blue-and-orange Nikes that match his sweatshirt. As usual, he looks sharper than any of the rest of us. He pulls his math book out of his backpack. "We still need a second baseman, though. My dad said to ask some guys. How about Kai?"
"Kai? He doesn't play baseball anymore. Totally into skateboarding."
"But he still knows how to play," Isaac says. "There he is."
We race down the hall together.
"Slow down, boys." Snuffy, who's coming out of the library, catches us.
"Kai." I walk up fast. "We need a second baseman. Will you play?"
"Nah." He takes off his Tony Hawk hat and shakes his curly hair. "I'm not into the whole team-sports thing."
"C'mon," I plead. "We need you."
"I'd rather skate than have some coach yell at me."
"My dad doesn't yell," Isaac says.
"No thanks." He sets his board in his locker. "I've got better things to do."
"Forget it," Isaac says. "There's Rosario. Let's ask him."
Rosario spins a basketball on his finger effortlessly.
"Hey, R," I say. "We need a second baseman. Will you do it?"
"No, I'm concentrating on basketball this year." He's wearing brand- new white Adidas.
"You can still play other sports." I follow the spinning ball like I'm hypnotized.
"Not if I want to make the sixth-grade team at Eagle Bluff." He flicks the ball.
"That's next year," Isaac says.
"I need to focus on hoops. I don't have time for distractions."
"Baseball isn't a distraction." I shake my head. "Forget it." I turn to walk away. "What about Trenton?"
"Trenton?" Isaac frowns. "He's obsessed with comics."
"I know, but he used to play. I can't think of anybody else."
Trenton is sitting on the floor at his locker, paging through a Batman book.
"We need a second baseman and our first game is in a week. We can't find anyone." I sound like I'm begging. "Will you do it?"
"Baseball?" Trenton looks at us like we just asked him to dance naked on a cafeteria table at lunchtime.
"Yeah, baseball," I say.
"Baseball is so dead.
"No, it's fun. Really."
"Right." Trenton goes back to his book.
Isaac rolls his eyes at me. "I told you."
"What's going on?" Gig's sister, Sydney, comes up behind us. She's with her best friend, Kelsey Neeley, who's also smart and popular.
"We need a second baseman for the Panthers," I explain. "Our first practice is Monday. Do you know anyone who can play?"
"Possibly." Sydney nods. She likes being in on everything.
"I'll check it out." She smiles. "I'll let you know."
After school, Gig and I resume our marathon home-run contest at his house.
"Quit throwing junk." Gig swings his gold Wiffle ball bat.
I pitch the plastic ball and he belts a high fly that just clears the wooden fence in the neighbor's yard.
Excerpted from Top of the Order by John Coy. Copyright © 2009 John Coy. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. "I still think of the divorce and dipped cones together. I never get that kind anymore." (p. 28) Jackson can't help associating the memory of divorce and DQ dip cones. Why? Do you associate certain tastes, actions, sounds, smells, or objects with a bad (or good) event?
2. G-Man tells Jackson that "sometimes you have to challenge yourself," but Jackson's dad say that "sometimes you have to do what you want" (p. 30). Which one do you think is right? When is it better to challenge yourself, and when is it better to do what you want? Does Jackson make the right decision about staying on the Panthers?
3. Why are they so surprised when Sydney comes to join their game? They say she can't because she's a girl, but is that the real reason they don't want her to play? Why is Gig so angry about his sister joining the game? Is it right for them to try to "force her out"? (p. 44-45) What would you do if you were Jackson?
4. Gig says that "Baseball was the one place I didn't have to deal with her. Now she wants to wreck that, too." (p. 47) However, Sydney tells Jackson that "I'm not doing it to him. . . I'm doing it for me." (p. 59) How do Gig and Sydney's points of view differ? Jackson can see both of their perspectives, but to what extent do Gig and Sydney understand what the other is feeling? Who does Jackson decide to side with, and why?
5. How does Sydney react to her teammates' and opponents' teasing? What does her response say about her personality? What would you do if one of your teammates was being teased like the other team teases Sydney? What would you do if you were Sydney? Have you or one of your friends ever encountered bullies? How did you deal with them? (p. 127)
6. If you could send a message to yourself in the future, what would you say? What would you say to yourself one year in the future? What about five or ten years from now? What do you think your future self would think of the person you are now?
7. Jackson's not happy about having to catch instead of playing shortstop. How does he handle having his favorite position taken from him? Is he a better player as a shortstop or as a catcher? What does he learn in his new position?
8. Jackson dreams of being a tree split by lightning. (p. 115-117) What might the different things in his dream represent (running behind all his friends, being stuck in the mud, turning into a tree)? What things have split in his life?
9. How does Jackson make up with Gig when Gig's mad at him? Is there anything Jackson could have done differently to repair their friendship?
-What does Gig do to make up? What do their responses say about each of them? While we see how upset Jackson is about his best friend's silence, we don't get to see Gig's thoughts. What might he be thinking when he acts mad at Jackson? Do you think his thoughts match his words?
10. What do you think the superhero Jackson creates says about him?
11. Follow Hayes' instructions to create a superhero. What's his, her, or its name? What superpowers does your hero have? Write a short story or draw a comic about his, her, or its adventures. (p. 133-136)
Overarching Questions and Activities
4 for 4 Series
by John Coy
Top of the Order: 978-0-312-37329-0
Eyes on the Goal: 978-0-312-37330-6
Love of the Game: 978-0-312-37331-3
Take Your Best Shot: 978-0-312-37332-0
Grade Range: 3-7 grade; Age Range: 8-12 years
1. "I don't notice day-to-day changes, but when I think back to fifth grade, a lot has changed."(Take Your Best Shot p. 125)
The 4 for 4 series covers seven months, from May of the boys' fifth grade year to November of their sixth grade year. How have Jackson, Gig, Isaac, and Diego changed between Top of the Order and Take Your Best Shot? What specific events in each book changed them or taught them something? Who do you think has changed the most?
Think back to seven months ago. How have you changed since then? What have you learned? What events in your life have caused you to change? Have you changed as much as Jackson, Gig, Isaac, and Diego have?
2. "You have to know what you want. Otherwise, he'll decide for you. . . He'll push, but if you stand your ground with him, he'll respect your decision." (Top of the Order p. 56)
The four boys sometimes clash with authority figures like parents, teachers, and coaches, but at times they have to stand up for what they believe in or what is right for them. When do they admit that they were wrong, and admit that adults were right? When do they stand up for themselves because they know what they want? How do their decisions change them and help them grow?
3. How do Jackson's first impressions of people change after he gets to know them? Does he ever misjudge people, and think a person is different from how he or she actually is? Why? How does he discover what they're really like?
For example, why is Jackson surprised when Ted comes through for him? (Love of the Game p. 151-152)
4. "Right now my best chance to start is switching to defense. I don't care what Gig and Isaac think. I've got to do what's best for me." (Love of the Game p. 77)
Throughout the books, Jackson, Gig, Isaac, and Diego talk a lot about how important it is for them to stick together. However, they sometimes realize that they need to make decisions on their own, even if their friends disagree. How do they each learn to make decisions independently? What do they each decide to do that the others don't approve of?
5. Do each of the boys have a different sport that they're best at and enjoy the most? Which sport is it for each character? Do you have a favorite sport? Is it the same as the one you are best at?
6. What are their different strengths and weaknesses of each of the characters, in sports and in life? Do you find that some of the things that you are strong with in sports are also things that you're strong with in other areas of your life? Do some of the things you struggle with show up in other areas. Or is there a difference between success in sports and success in other areas of life?
7. What new challenges do you think will face the boys during the rest of the school year? The rest of middle school? How do you think baseball will go for them in sixth grade? Will Sydney come out for the team?
8. Which of the characters do you relate to the most? Why? Do the other characters remind you of people you know? Do you think you and some of the people you know would make good characters in a book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jackson is looking forward to the upcoming baseball season. He'll be playing with all his friends, and he'll be playing his favorite position - shortstop. It should be a terrific season! As practice begins it looks like everything is shaping up just as Jackson expected. However, things are about to change. First, the team is short a second baseman. Who can they get to fill the spot? Coach tries Trenton at second base and it's a disaster. Then a new player shows up. The player has talent and shows promise. The only thing is - she's a girl and she plays with a hot pink glove. It's Gig's sister. This could be a good thing for the team, but Gig isn't happy about having a girl on the team, much less having it be his sister. Jackson doesn't honestly see a problem with it since she's a decent player, and she's filling a needed role. The other problem early on in the season involves the injured catcher. A broken ankle knocks him off the team, and Coach picks Jackson to replace him. His dream of playing shortstop is shattered. Can he make the best of it or will it ruin his love of the game? TOP OF THE ORDER is author John Coy's first venture into writing for a middle grade audience, and he's done an excellent job. His characters are likeable and believable from their love of baseball to their typical sibling rivalry. The characters come from a variety of backgrounds, creating appeal for all readers. Coy writes great play-by-play action scenes for the baseball portions of the book. They are engaging even for those not familiar with the game. Jackson and his teammates learn the technicalities of the game and how to handle themselves as good sportsman on and off the field. Another unique aspect of Coy's novel is the inclusion of a writing component. Jackson's teacher invites an author into the classroom to help students with their writing. The author works with the kids and models many standard writing practices used in actual classrooms today. Teacher should be thrilled to see their work put into practice within an actual novel for kids.
Jackson and his friends Gig and Issac are looking for a guy to play second base for their team. They asked every one but nobody wants to play. Then they find Diego and he is really good. The problem is that gigs sister wants to play.
Top of the Order is about a boy and the baseball team he is on. First thing that happens is there baseball team is short one player. So the whole team starts looking for someone anyone. So Gig¿s sister shows up to prates one day everyone on the team is mad expertly Gig. They all think girls can¿t play baseball girls play softball. Finally the team gets over that there is a girl on their team. They played their archenemy but they lost. They were mad they faced one last time and Gig¿s sister showed that she can play by scoring the first run. There team own everyone was happy. I would rate this book a 4 star****. I recommend this book to anyone who likes baseball. This book was funny. This book was also weird. This is weird in a good way. That is what I think about this book.
This is an amazing book on baseball book for kids my age