Christopher, Matt 1917–1997
(Full name Matthew Frederick Christopher; also wrote under the pseudonyms Fredric Martin, Matthew F. Christopher, Matt F. Christopher) American author of juvenile fiction, nonfiction, and biographies.
The following entry presents an overview of Christopher's career through 2005. For further information on his life and works, see CLR, Volume 33.
Perhaps the preeminent writer of sports stories for children, Christopher's almost sixty-year writing career includes over 120 books that have sold over six million copies. His works specialize in reaching reluctant readers—particularly middle-school boys—by reveling in the play-by-play details of athletically-themed narratives. A former athlete himself, Christopher offered a uniquely personal perspective on the value of sports and competition in the lives of developing children. Utilizing short chapters and simple diction, Christopher's texts highlight good sportsmanship and basic moral lessons, functioning as ideal transitional literature for middle-school readers as they progress to longer, more sophisticated works. While the vast bulk of his publications are fictional, Christopher also authored several juvenile biographies of such noted sports figures as Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi, among others. Thanks largely to his devoted and appreciative fan base, Christopher is still widely considered the best-selling writer of sports-themed children's fiction today, even ten years after his passing.
Christopher was born on August 16, 1917, in Bath, Pennsylvania, the eldest of nine children born to Fred and Mary Christopher. His family moved frequently throughout his childhood as his father struggled to find consistent work during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Primarily working in the Northeast, Christopher's father eventually settled his family in Portland Point, New York, where he found work in the local mining industry. Christopher proved to be an excellent athlete in school, particularly in baseball where he became a top player for Ludlowville High School. Realizing that his family could not afford to send him to college, Christopher joined minor league baseball teams in Smith Falls, Ontario, and Freeville-Dryden, New York. After an injury forced him to retire from professional athletics, sports continued to play a large role in Christopher's life as he played semi-professionally for teams sponsored by his employers, including a stint with the Cayuga Rock Salt baseball team and the National Cash Register Company's (NCR) basketball team. Inspired by his adolescent job of selling such publications as the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman, at the age of eighteen, Christopher entered a writing contest sponsored by Writer's Digest, finishing as one of the contest's top 200 finalists. Encouraged by this early success, he began penning short stories—mostly mystery and period detective tales. In 1940 he married Catherine M. Krupa, with whom he had four chil-dren, Martin, Dale, Pamela, and Duane. As a father and husband, Christopher still found time to write, selling articles and sports-themed short stories for children to various publications throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In total, over the course of his writing career, Christopher is estimated to have had 275 of these short stories and articles published in over 65 journals and magazines. Phoenix Press published his first book, Look for the Body, a mystery intended for an adult readership, in 1952. Disheartened by the dearth of reading material available for young male readers, Christopher began work on his first full-length manuscript for children. A simple tale of a boy's ambition to make the local little league team, The Lucky Baseball Bat was warmly embraced by Little, Brown and Co., which released the book in 1954. The work was a critical and popular success, and Christopher followed it with a series of similar books, all featuring protagonists struggling with some sports-related problem. In 1964 he was able to quit his day job and become a full-time writer. During this period, he continued his association with magazines, working as the head writer for the "Chuck White" series of tales printed by Treasure Chest Magazine in the late 1960s and early 1970s and authoring a series of stories and articles for Reader's Digest's school reading program. However, his works of sports-based juvenile fiction remained his primary focus, and Christopher generally released three to four new books annually. His writing career was slowed by a brain tumor discovered in 1985, which Christopher was able to treat with surgery and radiation. Unfortunately, after several subsequent recurrences of the tumor, Christopher died on September 20, 1997, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite his death, his literary legacy continued with a series of previously completed manuscripts that were published posthumously. Today, Little, Brown and Co. continues to release stories inspired by Christopher's distinctive prose style, published as part of the "Matt Christopher" series.
Primarily focused on presenting moral values and entertainment to children within the confines of short chapter books, Christopher's canon is considered a strong resource for reluctant and struggling readers. Using sports and related subjects to appeal to young male readers, Christopher's large body of work has been welcomed by frustrated librarians, teachers, and parents who acknowledge a lack of comparable materials. While his stories do not vary dramatically from title to title, the similarity between his books is often seen as a refreshing comfort to beginning readers who recognize what a Matt Christopher story will contain in terms of plot structure and characterization. Further, Christopher specialized in offering concise play-by-play action dictated with exacting precision and faithfulness to his formula. While the majority of his texts focus on baseball, Christopher authored a wide array of books set against the backdrop of almost every popular sport, with each demonstrating Christopher's keen dedication to accuracy. Though Christopher's narratives are generally driven by the details and structures of sporting events, his short novels also inserted gentle ethics lessons, focusing on civic instruction both on and off the field. Mike Nahrstedt, a noted sportswriter, has asserted that Christopher's books "helped fuel my love of sports. But the diamonds and gridirons also provided a setting for moral lessons that were relevant to me as an 8-year-old. Like dealing with prejudice. Being a good friend. Coping with fear. Overcoming handicaps. And, in the sense of Basketball Sparkplug (1957), handling taunts for singing in the church choir. If I didn't identify personally with one of his subjects, I knew someone who did." Early novels like The Lucky Baseball Bat and Baseball Pals (1956) dealt largely with issues directly related to events or lessons found on the playing field, but, as he grew more confident as a writer, Christopher began to diverge more, including moral instructions about the world away from sports.
Whereas many of his rivals presented didactic lessons of simple encouragement in their chapter books, Christopher's narratives typically provided a real-world context that his primarily male readership could both sympathize with and apply to their own lives. More often than not, such instructions were buried within the minor crises of his protagonists, and as such, were indirectly presented to his unsuspecting but appreciative readers. His recurring thematic motifs have included the need for honesty in Undercover Tailback (1992) and the value of cultivating friendship both on and off the playing field in Pressure Play (1993). While his readership did not overtly disregard girls—indeed, females were often equal members on the various featured teams throughout his books—Christopher made few direct overtures to this segment of his potential audience. Aware of this hole in his canon, he once apologetically responded to a female reader, saying "I haven't written more because my publisher says my girls' books do not sell as well as my boys' books do." Even so, Christopher did produce at least three works featuring girls as the primary protagonists: Supercharged Infield (1985), Red-Hot Hightops (1987), and Secret Weapon (2000).
Christopher's large body of work has remained popular with his young fan base even after his death, as evidenced by the strong sales of his backlist titles and the series of ghost-written books penned in Christopher's trademark style. Among critics, his books have been commonly well-received, though most have qualified their praise by acknowledging that, because Christopher's chapter books are specifically written for developing readers, it is difficult to fault his texts for being repetitive or familiar. To that end, Todd Morning's review of Baseball Turnaround (1997) is typical in its appreciation of Christopher's methodology and larger role within the children's literature genre: "Despite the obvious message (of being honest), this novel is not so heavy-handed that it gets in the way of the story. The action moves along at a good clip with plenty of stuff about baseball to balance out the accounts of (the hero's) inner turmoil. The writing is always clear and the descriptions are accurate. This is a good, serviceable story for kids who enjoy sports fiction." However, some have argued that Christopher's narratives offer more than simple morality plays set in the world of sports. For example, Mike Nahrstedt has asserted that Christopher's stories "were children's classics. They were sports stories first, with vivid descriptions of games and all the drama that is inherent in athletic competition." Despite such accolades, several critics have faulted Christopher for recycling clichéd formulaic plots and predictable characters, particularly decrying Christopher's storytelling ability when the narrative moves off of the playing field. In his review of Undercover Tailback, Tom S. Hurlburt has stated that the author's "foreshadowing and development of the far-fetched plot take away from any semblance of characterization beyond the protagonist's and the limit the amount of game action." But, regardless of the arguable literary limitations of his canon, Christopher has been widely recognized as the definitive writer of children's sports fiction.
Sports Fiction for Children and Young Adults
The Lucky Baseball Bat [illustrations by Robert Henneberger] (juvenile fiction) 1954; revised edition, illustrations by Dee DeRosa, 1991
Baseball Pals [illustrations by Robert Henneberger] (juvenile fiction) 1956
Basketball Sparkplug [illustrations by Ken Wagner] (juvenile fiction) 1957
Slide, Danny, Slide (juvenile fiction) 1958
Little Lefty [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1959
Shadow over the Back Court (juvenile fiction) 1959
Touchdown for Tommy [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1959
Two Strikes on Johnny [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1959
Break for the Basket [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1960
Long Stretch at First Base [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1960
Wing T. Fullback (juvenile fiction) 1960
Tall Man in the Pivot [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1961
Challenge at Second Base [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1962
Crackerjack Halfback [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1962; revised edition, illustrations by Karen Meyer, 1996
Baseball Flyhawk [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1963; revised edition, illustrations by Marcy Ramsey, 1995
Sink It, Rusty [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1963
The Catcher with a Glass Arm [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1964
Wingman on Ice [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1964
The Counterfeit Tackle [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1965
Too Hot to Handle [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1965
Long Shot for Paul [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1966
The Reluctant Pitcher [illustrations by Foster Cad-dell] (juvenile fiction) 1966
Miracle at the Plate [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1967
The Team That Couldn't Lose [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1967
The Basket Counts [illustrations by George Guzzi] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Year Mom Won the Pennant [illustrations by Foster Caddell] (juvenile fiction) 1968
Catch That Pass! [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1969
Hard Drive to Short [illustrations by George Guzzi] (juvenile fiction) 1969
Johnny Long Legs [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1970
Lucky Seven: Sports Stories [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile short stories) 1970
Shortstop from Tokyo [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1970
Look Who's Playing First Base [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1971
Tough to Tackle [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1971
Face-Off [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1972
The Kid Who Only Hit Homers [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1972
Ice Magic [illustrations by Byron Goto] (juvenile fiction) 1973
Mystery Coach [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile fiction) 1973
Front Court Hex [illustrations by Byron Goto] (juvenile fiction) 1974
Jinx Glove [illustrations by Norm Chartier] (juvenile fiction) 1974
No Arm in Left Field [illustrations by Byron Goto] (juvenile fiction) 1974
Glue Fingers [illustrations by James Venable] (juvenile fiction) 1975
The Pigeon with a Tennis Elbow [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1975
The Team That Stopped Moving [illustrations by Byron Goto] (juvenile fiction) 1975
Football Fugitive [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1976
Power Play [illustrations by Ray Burns] (juvenile fiction) 1976
The Submarine Pitch [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1976
Devil Pony [illustrations by Lorence Bjorklund] (juvenile fiction) 1977
The Diamond Champs [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1977
Johnny No Hit [illustrations by Ray Burns] (juvenile fiction) 1977
The Fox Steals Home [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1978
Jackrabbit Goalie [illustrations by Ed Parker] (juvenile fiction) 1978
Soccer Halfback [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile fiction) 1978
Dirt Bike Racer [illustrations by Barry Bomzer] (juvenile fiction) 1979
The Twenty-One-Mile Swim (juvenile fiction) 1979
The Dog That Stole Football Plays [illustations by Bill Ogden] (juvenile fiction) 1980
Run, Billy, Run (juvenile fiction) 1980
Wild Pitch (juvenile fiction) 1980
Tight End (juvenile fiction) 1981
The Dog That Called the Signals [illustrations by Bill Ogden] (juvenile fiction) 1982
Drag-Strip Racer (juvenile fiction) 1982
Dirt Bike Runaway [illustrations by Edgar Stewart] (juvenile fiction) 1983
The Great Quarterback Switch [illustrations by Eric Nones] (juvenile fiction) 1984
Supercharged Infield [illustrations by Julie Downing] (juvenile fiction) 1985
The Hockey Machine [illustrations by Richard Schroeppel] (juvenile fiction) 1986
Red-Hot Hightops [illustrations by Paul D. Mock] (juvenile fiction) 1987
The Dog That Pitched a No-Hitter [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile fiction) 1988
The Hit-Away Kid [illustrations by George Ulrich] (juvenile fiction) 1988
The Spy on Third Base [illustrations by George Ulrich] (juvenile fiction) 1988
Tackle without a Team [illustrations by Margaret Sanfilippo] (juvenile fiction) 1989
Takedown [illustrations by Margaret Sanfilippo] (juvenile fiction) 1990
Skateboard Tough [illustrations by Paul Casale] (juvenile fiction) 1991
Centerfield Ballhawk [illustrations by Ellen Beier] (juvenile fiction) 1992
Return of the Home Run Kid [illustrations by Paul Casale] (juvenile fiction) 1992
Undercover Tailback [illustrations by Paul Casale] (juvenile fiction) 1992
The Dog That Stole Home [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile fiction) 1993
Man out at First [illustrations by Ellen Beier] (juvenile fiction) 1993
Pressure Play [illustrations by Karin Lidbeck] (juvenile fiction) 1993
Top Wing [illustrations by Marcy Ramsey] (juvenile fiction) 1994
The Winning Stroke [illustrations by Karin Lidbeck] (juvenile fiction) 1994
Zero's Slider [illustrations by Molly Delaney] (juvenile fiction) 1994
All-Star Fever: A Peach Street Mudders Story [illustrations by Anna Dewdney] (juvenile fiction) 1995
Double Play at Short [illustrations by Karen Meyer] (juvenile fiction) 1995
Fighting Tackle [illustrations by Karin Lidbeck] (juvenile fiction) 1995
Shoot for the Hoop [illustrations by Karen Meyer] (juvenile fiction) 1995
The Comeback Challenge [illustrations by Karen Meyer] (juvenile fiction) 1996
Olympic Dream [illustrations by Karen Meyer] (juvenile fiction) 1996
Shadow over Second: A Peach Street Mudders Story [illustrations by Anna Dewdney] (juvenile fiction) 1996
Baseball Turnaround (juvenile fiction) 1997
Matt Christopher's All-Star Lineup [illustrations by Harvey Kidder] (juvenile short stories) 1997
Penalty Shot (juvenile fiction) 1997
Snowboard Maverick (juvenile fiction) 1997
Stranger in Right Field: A Peach Street Mudders Story [illustrations by Bert Dodson] (juvenile fiction) 1997
The Catcher's Mask [illustrations by Bert Dodson] (juvenile fiction) 1998
Center Court Sting (juvenile fiction) 1998
The Dog That Called the Pitch [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile fiction) 1998
Mountain Bike Mania (juvenile fiction) 1998
Prime-Time Pitcher (juvenile fiction) 1998
Roller Hockey Radicals (juvenile fiction) 1998
Soccer Scoop (juvenile fiction) 1998
The Captain Contest [illustrations by Daniel Vascon-cellos] (juvenile fiction) 1999
Long-Arm Quarterback (juvenile fiction) 1999
Operation Baby-Sitter [illustrations by Daniel Vas-concellos] (juvenile fiction) 1999
Snowboard Showdown (juvenile fiction) 1999
Spike It! (juvenile fiction) 1999
Hat Trick [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Secret Weapon [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Soccer Duel (juvenile fiction) 2000
Tennis Ace (juvenile fiction) 2000
Other Fiction for Children and Young Adults
Mystery on Crabapple Hill [as Frederic Martin; illustrations by Nathan Goldstein] (juvenile fiction) 1965
Mystery at Monkey Run [as Frederic Martin; illustrations by Ned Butterfield] (juvenile fiction) 1966
Mystery under Fugitive House [as Frederic Martin; illustrations by James Teason] (juvenile fiction) 1967
Desperate Search [illustrations by Leslie Morrill] (juvenile fiction) 1973
Stranded [illustrations by Gail Owens] (juvenile fiction) 1974
Earthquake [illustrations by Ted Lewin] (juvenile fiction) 1975
The Return of the Headless Horseman [illustrations by James McLaughlin] (juvenile fiction) 1982
Favor for a Ghost [illustrations by Edmund Flotte] (juvenile fiction) 1983
Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults
Baseball Jokes and Riddles [illustrations by Daniel Vasconcellos] (juvenile nonfiction) 1996
Great Moments in Baseball History (juvenile nonfiction) 1996
Football Jokes and Riddles [illustrations by Larry Johnson] (juvenile nonfiction) 1997
Great Moments in Football History (juvenile nonfiction) 1997
Biographies for Children and Young Adults
On the Court with … Grant Hill [with Bernard Corbett] (juvenile biography) 1996
On the Court with … Michael Jordan (juvenile biography) 1996
In the Huddle with … Steve Young (juvenile biography) 1996
At the Plate with … Ken Griffey, Jr. (juvenile biography) 1997
At the Plate with … Mo Vaughn (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Court with … Andre Agassi (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Court with … Hakeem Olajuwon (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Ice with … Wayne Gretzky (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Mound with … Greg Maddux (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Field with … Emmitt Smith (juvenile biography) 1997
On the Course with … Tiger Woods [with Glenn Stout] (juvenile biography) 1998
On the Court with … Lisa Leslie (juvenile biography) 1998
On the Field with … Mia Hamm [with Glenn Stout] (juvenile biography) 1998
On the Mound with … Randy Johnson (juvenile biography) 1998
At the Plate with … Mark McGwire (juvenile biography) 1999
At the Plate with … Sammy Sosa (juvenile biography) 1999
In the Huddle with … John Elway (juvenile biography) 1999
On the Ice with … Tara Lipinski (juvenile biography) 1999
On the Field with … Briana Scurry (juvenile biography) 2000
On the Field with … Derek Jeter (juvenile biography) 2000
On the Field with … Julie Foudy (juvenile biography) 2000
On the Field with … Terrell Davis (juvenile biography) 2000
Mike Nahrstedt (essay date 6 October 1997)
SOURCE: Nahrstedt, Mike. "Children's Tales for the Heart Endure." Sporting News 221, no. 40 (6 October 1997): 8.
[In the following essay, Nahrstedt—a noted sportswriter—discusses the positive impact that Christopher's sport fiction had on him as a young reader.]
About 30 years ago, I was rummaging through the sports shelves of my grade-school library when I came across Basketball Sparkplug, a novel by Matt Christopher. A couple days later I was back looking for another Matt Christopher book, then another and another. I don't know if I read every sports novel he had written, but I read every one the library had. Most of them twice.
Last week, I finished reading Basketball Sparkplug with my 8-year-old son, Matt. We've been reading Christopher's books—The Counterfeit Tackle, Baseball Pals, etc.—together for about a year. I read them myself when I was his age, and Matt could do the same, but I won't let him. I enjoyed them too much to miss this opportunity to cherish them again.
And so it was with great sadness that I learned, just after reading the last chapter of Basketball Sparkplug, that Christopher died September 20 at the age of 80 in Charlotte, N.C. He died of complications following his third operation for a brain tumor in eight years.
Matt Christopher books were children's classics. They were sports stories first, with vivid descriptions of games and all the drama that is inherent in athletic competition. They helped fuel my love of sports. But the diamonds and gridirons also provided a setting for moral lessons that were relevant to me as an 8-year-old. Like dealing with prejudice. Being a good friend. Coping with fear. Overcoming handicaps. And, in the case of Basketball Sparkplug, handling taunts for singing in the church choir. If I didn't identify personally with one of his subjects, I knew someone who did.
Christopher wrote more than 120 sports books for children, selling more than six million copies. Baseball was his first love—he played minor league ball briefly in 1937—but he wrote about all sports, starting with The Lucky Baseball Bat in 1954. As late as this spring, he still was sending manuscripts to his longtime publisher, Little, Brown and Co. Several will be published posthumously.
The books I read were from the '50s and early '60s, but they have aged nicely. Though kids today face more problems than I ever did, the principles of right and wrong that should guide them in their decision-making haven't changed. The themes of his books are as compelling today as 30 years ago. Maybe more so.
You probably noticed my son's name. My wife and I had many reasons to select that name. At this point it might seem trite to suggest that one of the reasons was because Matt was the name of my first favorite author.
My wife doesn't know, but yes, it was.
Publishers Weekly (essay date 13 October 1997)
SOURCE: "Matt Christopher, 1917–1997." Publishers Weekly 244, no. 42 (13 October 1997): 27.
[In the following obituary, Publishers Weekly reflects on Christopher's literary legacy, asserting that the author's "main subject" had always been "underdogs and average people demonstrating courage and tenacity."]
Matt Christopher, a prolific author of middle-grade sports fiction, died September 20 due to complications following surgery for a brain tumor. He was 80 years old.
The oldest of nine children, born in Bath, Pa., to working-class parents of Italian and Hungarian backgrounds, Christopher began writing in earnest at the age of 14, penning original works that included poetry, essays and song lyrics.
Christopher was also heavily involved in sports, primarily baseball, and hoped to win an athletic scholarship to Cornell University but lacked the grades. Christopher said in an interview once that since times were tough in those Depression years, his parents felt that "college was for rich kids, not for a poor one like me."
Nevertheless, Christopher played minor league baseball with Smith Falls, Ontario, and other teams until an injury caused him to retire. Working at that time as a laborer at the Cayuga Rock Salt in Myers, N.Y., he also wrote adventure and detective stories at night.
Christopher's first children's book, The Lucky Baseball Bat, illustrated by Robert Henneberger (Little, Brown), appeared in 1954. He went on to write over 120 books for children, all published by Little, Brown, which spanned a wide variety of sports. Over the years, he added more contemporary issues, such as divorce and adoption, and more introspective approaches to what was always his main subject—underdogs and average people demonstrating courage and tenacity.
The author's other writings include screenplays, a comic strip that ran for six years in Treasure Chest magazine, a one-act play and a series of sports biographies. This fall, Little, Brown is publishing four new Christopher titles; in spring 1998, there will be five new titles: two biographies, two Matt Christopher Classics and one Peach Street Mudders title.
Barb Lawler (review date April 2000)
SOURCE: Lawler, Barb. Review of Hat Trick and Secret Weapon, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 46, no. 4 (April 2000): 94.
Gr. 2-4—This well-written series successfully combines soccer action with good sportsmanship and family values. The characters seem like real people with flaws and problems. Hat Trick focuses on Stookie Norris, who desperately tries to score three goals in every game after his older brother is featured in the local paper for doing just that—scoring a hat trick. Only his shots matter to him because the more he takes, the more likely he is to achieve his goal. It takes a wise coach and a good friend to make Stookie into a team player. In Secret Weapon, Lisa is self-conscious because she is short, which makes it difficult for her to make a throw-in. When her coach discovers that she has gymnastic ability, he encourages her to work on a secret-weapon flip throw that helps her team gain points. One black-and-white ink illustration appears in each chapter. Facial expressions convey the characters' emotions and pictures of the field action capture the excitement of the games.
THE LUCKY BASEBALL BAT (1954)
Terri Schmitz (review date March-April 2005)
SOURCE: Schmitz, Terri. "When Gone Isn't Gone." Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 2 (March-April 2005): 180-81.
[In the following excerpt, Schmitz discusses a recent reissue of Christopher's previously out-of-print The Lucky Baseball Bat, commenting that, "I can only hope that we'll see more of Christopher's early books return in their original format."]
For parents and teachers trying to coax reluctant boy readers to pick up a book, the sports stories of Matt Christopher have been a godsend for half a century. Short on character development, long on action, mind-numbingly accurate in play-by-play descriptions of "the big game," Christopher's novels have provided an important bridge from early readers to middle-grade novels for many a struggling reader. It's hard to believe that his first book, The Lucky Baseball Bat, was published in 1954, but Little, Brown has just issued a fiftieth anniversary edition to replace the revised and reillustrated edition we've been dealing with for the past decade. This commemorative edition contains the original art and text, placing it squarely in the world of the 1950s, where boys say "For Petey sakes," the television is a new and exciting development owned by only a few lucky families, and little sisters can be pressed into service to throw a few practice pitches after they finish helping Mother with the dishes. It's great fun to read the book as it was originally written; the attempt in recent years to "modernize" the text effectively sucked the life out of it. I can only hope that we'll see more of Christopher's early books return in their original format.
FOOTBALL FUGITIVE (1976)
Barbara H. Baskin and Karen H. Harris (review date 1984)
SOURCE: Baskin, Barbara H., and Karen H. Harris. Review of Football Fugitive, by Matthew Christopher, illustrated by Larry Johnson. In More Notes from a Different Drummer: A Guide to Juvenile Fiction Portraying the Disabled, pp. 138-39. New York, N.Y.: R. R. Bowker Company, 1984.
Larry Shope is unhappy because his lawyer father takes so little interest in his football games [in Football Fugitive ]. The boy has written several letters to Yancey Foote, a professional football player whom he idolizes. The last two communications have been returned with the words: "Moved—Left No Forwarding Address" stamped on them. Larry, worried about what may have happened to his hero, buys a sports magazine, which reports that the athlete was involved in a brawl with a much smaller man and may be in serious trouble.
Larry's best friend and teammate, Greg, has a severe hearing loss, which interferes only mildly with his playing. The other boys occasionally assist him, and Larry repeats or interprets when he thinks his buddy may have missed something. After a typical locker room session, Larry asks Greg: "Did you get all that?" The boy replies: "I think so. I'm not sure. Most of the time the coach doesn't open his mouth very much when he speaks, except when he sees me frowning at him. Every time I frown he knows that I'm not reading his lips very well, so he starts talking a little louder and forms the words with his lips." Larry expresses surprise that his friend knows when the coach is speaking in a louder voice. Greg responds: "I can tell. And, remember, I'm not totally deaf either."
The boys notice a stranger watching them from the sidelines. Larry tracks him down, goes to his apartment, and learns he is the missing Yancey Foote. The Green Bay Packer tells Larry he wants his father to represent him in court and will call for an appointment. In the meantime, he sends his young fan back to the coach with a couple of hot shot professional maneuvers. These plays turn the team around, and after a winning game the professional football player escorts Larry home and meets the boy's father, who agrees to defend him. The day of the trial is also the day of another big game. Thanks again to Yancey's long-distance coaching, the boys win. After the game is over, Larry is startled to see both his hero and his father, who joyfully inform him that they have won the case. In the future, Mr. Shope promises to take an interest in his son's pursuits: "From now on I'm going to see to it that the word lawyers is interchangeable with fathers."
Analysis: There is plenty of play-by-play action in this highly improbable story of a neglected youngster, a misunderstood gridiron hero, and an inattentive father who mends his ways. The best aspect of this work is the totally natural, almost casual treatment of the youth with a hearing loss. Some accommodations must be made for his disability, but these are done without fuss or drama. Although only a secondary component of the story, it is handled with commendable sensitivity. Most of the black-and-white illustrations show football action and complement the straightforward presentation of the plot.
THE SUBMARINE PITCH (1976)
Barbara H. Baskin and Karen H. Harris (review date 1984)
SOURCE: Baskin, Barbara H., and Karen H. Harris. Review of The Submarine Pitch, by Matthew Christopher, illustrated by Larry Johnson. In More Notes from a Different Drummer: A Guide to Juvenile Fiction Portraying the Disabled, p. 139. New York, N.Y.: R. R. Bowker Company, 1984.
Reluctantly, Bernie announces his intention to quit baseball, a decision that puzzles and disappoints his younger brother, Frankie [in The Submarine Pitch ]. Dave, Bernie's best pal, stops by to discuss an underhand pitch called the Submarine, which he is confident his disheartened friend can master. The former pitcher's two main supporters persuade Bernie to practice, and soon, to his surprise, the youth improves his technique to such a degree that he agrees to come out of "retirement." When the season opens, Bernie uses the new pitch, which sizzles over the plate, astonishing all his opponents. As each game is played, the hurler's control and reputation increase. During one of the contests, Bernie becomes distracted when he cannot spot Dave in the stands. He vaguely recalls that his friend has been having difficulty breathing lately, lacks energy, and tires excessively after only slight exertion. Dave shows up late but, soon after, misses a game completely. Now very worried, Bernie insists his mother call the hospital and learns his unspoken fears have been realized: Dave is in intensive care. The patient's father informs the hero that his son is desperately ill with a liver disease: "He never told anybody. He's been fighting a battle with it for the last two years. I hope he's going to get well, but Bernie, it doesn't look too good." Shocked, the boy rushes out to buy a model ship he knows his buddy coveted and which he hopes to be able to give him as a token of his gratitude and friendship.
Analysis: Despite extensive clues that Dave is seriously ill, there is no literary justification for the sudden announcement that his disorder is fatal. The use of this dramatic ploy is a transparent attempt to beef up a work whose exclusive purpose is to provide detailed descriptions of baseball action.
CENTERFIELD BALLHAWK (1992)
Isabel Schon (review date April 1995)
SOURCE: Schon, Isabel. Review of Centerfield Ballhawk, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Ellen Beier. Reading Teacher 48, no. 7 (April 1995): 636.
Nine-year-old José Mendez's greatest wish [in Cen-terfield Ballhawk ] is to play baseball as well as his father, a former ballplayer. His efforts only get him in trouble, especially when he hits a ball through a neighbor's car window. When his 11-year-old sister shines as a player in her softball team, José is even more disappointed. Fortunately all ends well: José is an excellent fielder and his father listens to his feelings. The names allude to a Latino family; the B&W illustrations depict a middle-class Latino family. All children will be pleased—especially baseball fans.
UNDERCOVER TAILBACK (1992)
Tom S. Hurlburt (review date December 1992)
SOURCE: Hurlburt, Tom S. Review of Undercover Tailback, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Paul Casale. School Library Journal 38, no. 12 (December 1992): 108-10.
Gr. 4-6—Football player Parker, 12, has a penchant for telling tall tales and outright lies [in Undercover Tailback ]. In a boy-who-cries-wolf scenario, his teammates and coach refuse to believe his truthful account of how he witnessed someone photograph their playbook. The boy proves his story by exposing the spy, and learns a lesson about honesty along the way. This is one of Christopher's weaker efforts, delivering more of a second-rate mystery than his typical, fast-paced sports story. The foreshadowing and development of the far-fetched plot take away from any semblance of characterization beyond the protagonist's and limit the amount of game description. Further, few 12-year-olds would think of offering money to an opposing player, much less provide him with a miniature camera for photographing a playbook. A little syrup is added when the perpetrator says he took and sold the pictures because his father was recently laid off. While the legions of Christopher's fans will undoubtedly read this one, they will also hope his next book offers more.
THE DOG THAT STOLE HOME (1993)
Elaine Lesh Morgan (review date July 1993)
SOURCE: Morgan, Elaine Lesh. Review of The Dog That Stole Home, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 39, no. 7 (July 1993): 58.
Gr. 1-3—Mike, who plays second base, gets help and encouragement from his dog, Harry, with whom he communicates telepathically [in The Dog That Stole Home ]. As he did in The Dog That Pitched a No-Hitter (Little, 1988), the boy counts on his pet's encouragement whenever he plays, but now—on the day before the big game—Harry is grounded for nip-9 ping another dog. By the bottom of the last inning the score is tied, and Mike is sorely in need of Harry's advice, when Mom relents and arrives at the field with the Airedale. Predictably, Mike scores the winning run. The story is somewhat contrived, but it will serve as an additional beginning chapter book for young baseball fans. Vasconcellos's humorous black-and-white line drawings add some appeal. Purchase where the previous book is a big hit.
PRESSURE PLAY (1993)
Tom S. Hurlburt (review date July 1993)
SOURCE: Hurlburt, Tom S. Review of Pressure Play, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Karin Lidbeck. School Library Journal 39, no. 7 (July 1993): 84.
Gr. 4-6—Travis, the new kid in town, is wondering if he's liked or appreciated for anything besides his baseball abilities [in Pressure Play ]. His on-field focus is further diluted by his concerns about a homemade-video contest he is preparing to enter and anonymous phone calls he's receiving. These calls are telling him to get his act together on the ball diamond, or else! All of this is taking place during the youth championship play-offs where the award for the winners is a free trip to see the Major League World Series. Typical of Christopher's writing, the game action is the centerpiece of the book. His depiction of the five-game play-off is interspersed with Travis's efforts to determine who's placing the harassing calls and his attempts to piece together his video. The bit-too-neat ending finds the boy and his team successful on the field, the phone culprit revealed as a well-meaning acquaintance, and Travis beginning to feel accepted by his teammates off the field as well as on. For purchase where the author's previous books are popular.
TOP WING (1994)
Blair Christolon (review date February 1994)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of Top Wing, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Marcy Ramsey. School Library Journal 40, no. 2 (February 1994): 100.
Gr. 4-7—Another book from the prolific sports writer. This time [in Top Wing ] the plot centers around a house fire that occurs while parents are out for the evening. Neighbor Mr. Bellamy rescues the two Crawford children, but suffers smoke inhalation. Later, the fire victims claim that Mr. Bellamy, an electrician, installed faulty wiring in their home. This causes trouble between soccer teammates Dana Bellamy and Benton Crawford. If the wiring is not at fault, how did the fire start? Dana finds out something that could get Benton in trouble and has to confront him with the facts. Christopher reveals the clues slowly so that only astute readers will be able to solve the mystery before the ending. He is best at describing sports play-by-play, and his readers will not be disappointed with the added suspense.
THE WINNING STROKE (1994)
Blair Christolon (review date June 1994)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of The Winning Stroke, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Karin Lidbeck. School Library Journal 40, no. 6 (June 1994): 126.
Gr. 4-6—After the cast comes off his broken leg, Jerry Grayson, a 12-year-old baseball player, begins swimming for therapy and is persuaded to join the swim team for the season [in The Winning Stroke ]. Despite many misgivings about the sport not being as much fun as baseball, Jerry changes his mind after seeing his first meet. Except for one improbable dialogue between him and his friend Tanya about his new racing briefs, the book has realistic settings, feelings, and conversations. Jerry's character is fully realized as he is described working through his doubts, his "butterflies" before a race, and his pride in helping his team score points. The author includes many terms familiar to competitive swimmers—disqualification, false starts, flip turns—and explains them in context. In addition, the story interweaves a comparison between the teamwork of baseball and the more individual approach of "personal best." A welcome addition.
ZERO'S SLIDER (1994)
Jan Shepherd Ross (review date October 1994)
SOURCE: Ross, Jan Shepherd. Review of Zero's Slider, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Molly Delaney. School Library Journal 40, no. 10 (October 1994): 88.
Gr. 2-4—In this beginning chapter book [Zero's Slider ], Christopher has not wavered from his proven formula of a sports story with a young protagonist who must overcome some adversity to triumph. In this case, Zero Ford wants to be an exceptional pitcher but it is not until he injures his hand that he discovers he can now throw a "slider"—a pitch guaranteed to strike out any batter. But can he duplicate his success when the bandage is removed from his hand? And, will the Peach Street Mudders be able to play if the coach is unable to find a substitute for himself while he is on vacation? Zero finally musters up enough courage to try pitching without the bandage and to ask his uncle to take over coaching the team and all works out well in the end. An average sports story that will find a ready audience with the author's many fans.
DOUBLE PLAY AT SHORT (1995)
Blair Christolon (review date June 1995)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of Double Play at Short, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Karen Meyer. School Library Journal 41, no. 6 (June 1995): 108-09.
Gr. 3-6—[In Double Play at Short, ] Danny Walker, 12, was adopted as an infant. When he notices something familiar about Tammy Aiken, a girl playing shortstop on a rival team, he studies her and even takes photos of her on the field. Finally, Danny's mother reveals that he has a twin sister who was adopted by another family, and that they have just moved back into a nearby town. Christopher does his typically good job of describing the baseball play-by-play. However, he peppers this far-fetched plot with clues that are about as subtle as a ton of bricks. Readers will find it implausible that Tammy would not only move back in town, but also end up playing shortstop, the same position as Danny on a rival baseball team. Also unbelievable is the fact that he would notice other similarities between himself and the girl—batting with the same left-handed stance and having the same grin. When Danny finally blurts out the truth to his twin, she is shocked. Readers will be just as incredulous at the idea that Tammy's adoptive parents never believed the children would meet when they moved back into the area. Die-hard fans of Christopher may want to read this one, but it's not one of his most memorable books.
BASEBALL JOKES AND RIDDLES (1996)
Todd Morning (review date June 1996)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Baseball Jokes and Riddles, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 42, no. 6 (June 1996): 134.
Gr. 3-5—The title of this short compilation is somewhat deceiving, as the book [Baseball Jokes and Riddles ] includes funny anecdotes from baseball history, references to players' unusual names or nicknames, and some jokes and riddles. The jokes, mostly dialogues, are largely unsuccessful: "Catcher: 'You look a little nervous out there today.' Pitcher: 'Whenever I pitch against the Cubs, I just can't bear it.'" The anecdotes, however, contain the sort of goofy bits of trivia that have sustained baseball fans for years. Adding to the presentation are Vasconcellos's pen-and-ink cartoons, with a particularly effective frog in the outfield snaring a fly ball. This volume seems somewhat slapped together, but Christopher's popularity should keep it from collecting dust on the shelf.
GREAT MOMENTS IN BASEBALL HISTORY (1996)
Tom S. Hurlburt (review date May 1996)
SOURCE: Hurlburt, Tom S. Review of Great Moments in Baseball History, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 42, no. 5 (May 1996): 121.
Gr. 3-5—The prolific writer of juvenile sports fiction takes a crack at nonfiction [with Great Moments in Baseball History ]. He describes nine dramatic moments from baseball's historical past, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Reggie Jackson, and Jim Abbott. These accounts depict the courageous aspects as well as the spectacular, including Dave Dravecky's comeback after cancer surgery, and the hobbled Kirk Gibson's game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series. Christopher tends to drift to his fictional roots as a number of the stories are laced with manufactured feelings, thoughts, and quotes. He also tends to generalize: "As the crowd in Fenway Park watched Ted Williams run off the field for the last time, they told each other, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.'" While his portrayals of these moments are basically accurate, the sidelights he adds without documentation have him walking a fine line between fact and fiction. While Christopher's legions of young fans will enjoy the book, a more straightforward account of memorable events in America's pastime can be found in Geoffrey Ward's 25 Great Moments in Baseball (Knopf, 1994), which is based on Ken Burns's public-television series, Baseball, the American Epic.
IN THE HUDDLE WITH … STEVE YOUNG (1996)
Todd Morning (review date February 1997)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of In the Huddle with … Steve Young, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 43, no. 2 (February 1997): 111.
Gr. 4-6—[In the Huddle with … Steve Young is] an enjoyable, straightforward biography of the scrambling quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. The book follows Young from his Mormon roots in Utah (he's the great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young), through his high school days and college career, to his early frustrations as a second stringer in the professional ranks and eventual triumph, leading the 49ers to the NFL championship in the 1994 season. At every stage of his career, the athlete has had to spend a good amount of time on the bench, waiting for his chance. Off the field, Young leads a squeaky-clean life, and he also has earned a law degree. Christopher, as usual, comes through with exciting descriptions of games and insights into his subject's on-field success. Somewhat surprisingly, the presentation ends with the 49ers Super Bowl victory two seasons ago, with nothing about the past season. A grouping of black-and-white photographs appears in the middle of the book. Hal Bock's Steve Young (Chelsea, 1996) covers the same material in a shorter, less-extensive format.
OLYMPIC DREAM (1996)
Todd Morning (review date July 1996)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Olympic Dream, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Karen Meyer. School Library Journal 42, no. 7 (July 1996): 84.
Gr. 4-6—Lumpy and unathletic, 14-year-old Doug Cannon is faced with summer vacation and—after the video arcade burns down—nowhere to hang out [in Olympic Dream ]. Somewhat reluctantly, he begins to help the local organization of "Rails to Trails" convert an abandoned rail bed into a bike path. A medical student and near Olympic-caliber cyclist encourages Doug to take up cycling; by the end of October, he's gotten into shape and wins a race. Christopher does a good job of presenting the main character's early self-consciousness and eventual pride and confidence. The title is a little deceiving, since the book has nothing to do with the Olympics (they are a distant, hazy dream of Doug's). However, as sports novels go, this one is fast, straightforward, and readable.
ON THE COURT WITH … MICHAEL JORDAN (1996)
Tom S. Hurlburt (review date June 1997)
SOURCE: Hurlburt, Tom S. Review of On the Court with … Michael Jordan, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 43, no. 6 (June 1997): 132.
Gr. 4-6—Christopher systematically describes Jordan's career, starting in high school and following through his college, Olympic, and professional days (with the stop off at baseball) [in On the Court with … Michael Jordan ]. The book ends with the Bulls' loss to Orlando in the 1995 season playoffs. Those familiar with the athlete's career will probably already know some of the anecdotes covered in this book. For example, there's the oft-repeated fact that Jordan didn't make the varsity basketball squad in his sophomore year in high school, and his trials as a minor league baseball player are common knowledge. Yet, many fans will find this clearly written title among the most satisfying of all of the Jordan biographies. Although the author mentions controversies involving his subject's gambling and the tragedy of his father's murder, he recognizes that what many sports fans want is the highlights of players' careers and meaty descriptions of their key games. On these points Christopher scores.
SHADOW OVER SECOND: A PEACH STREET MUDDERS STORY (1996)
Tom S. Hurlburt (review date June 1996)
SOURCE: Hurlburt, Tom S. Review of Shadow over Second: A Peach Street Mudders Story, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Anna Dewdney. School Library Journal 42, no. 6 (June 1996): 93.
Gr. 2-4—Nicky Chong, second baseman for the Peach Street Mudders, is closing in on his league's R.B.I. record [in Shadow over Second ]. Being superstitious, he feels jinxed when his father mentions the record and is further stressed when someone locks him and a teammate in his family's shed, causing him to be late for one of the season's final games. Arriving during the second inning, Nicky finds his hitting skills haven't been affected by his father's statement, thus diminishing his fervent belief in superstitions. Furthermore, he's able to deduct who locked him up. This title, the seventh in the series, is one of Christopher's weaker efforts. Though baseball is a team sport, which should be emphasized in sports books for young readers, the whole focus here is on Nicky's quest for an individual record. Uncharacteristically, there are a couple of errors in game description. Black-and-white drawings appear throughout this beginning chapter book. For purchase only by those libraries that can't pass up a title by the prolific Christopher.
BASEBALL TURNAROUND (1997)
Todd Morning (review date August 1997)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Baseball Turnaround, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 43, no. 8 (August 1997): 154.
Gr. 4-7—After Sandy Comstock goes to juvenile court for some minor offenses, his understanding probation officer lines him up for community-service work as an assistant coach for a Police Athletic League team [in Baseball Turnaround ]. This is just the ticket for Sandy, who loves baseball and believes himself to be an excellent center fielder. However, he is humiliated when news of his crime reaches his teammates. Fortunately, his family is moving to a new town and he has a chance to start again. Unfortunately, Sandy is so preoccupied with the fear that his new teammates will discover his secret that he fails to make friends. It's only after he learns to relax and be honest that he's accepted by his team, and his skills on the field can be appreciated. Despite the obvious message, this novel is not so heavy-handed that it gets in the way of the story. The action moves along at a good clip with plenty of stuff about baseball to balance out the accounts of Sandy's inner turmoil. The writing is always clear and the descriptions are accurate. This is a good, serviceable story for kids who enjoy sports fiction.
FOOTBALL JOKES AND RIDDLES (1997)
Denia Hester (review date 15 October 1997)
SOURCE: Hester, Denia. Review of Football Jokes and Riddles, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Larry Johnson. Booklist 94, no. 4 (15 October 1997): 399.
Gr. 4-7—Oh how awful these gridiron jokes and riddles are! But, of course, the worse they are the more they tickle our funny bones. Christopher has assembled a motley assortment of teasers guaranteed to elicit as many groans as giggles [in Football Jokes and Riddles ]. (Linebacker: Is it better to play football on a full or empty stomach? Coach: It's better to play on a field!) Packed between the grunts and groans are some pretty interesting football facts that may be new to even the most savvy fan of the sport. Did you know that in the 1890s John Heisman instructed one of his players to hide the football under his jersey? That sneaky play went 50 yards for a touchdown. Especially funny is "What the Refs Say and What the Players Hear." Larry Johnson's appropriately goofy line drawings add to the fun.
ON THE COURT WITH … ANDRE AGASSI (1997)
Rachel Fox (review date December 1997)
SOURCE: Fox, Rachel. Review of On the Court with … Andre Agassi, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 43, no. 12 (December 1997): 107.
Gr. 3-6—Christopher begins with Agassi's early childhood and ends in 1996 when he won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics [in On the Court with … Andre Agassi ]. In addition to describing the athlete's triumphs, Christopher discusses his losses as well as his behavior problems exhibited on the court at the beginning of his career. A grouping of glossy black-and-white photographs as well as a page of career highlights appear at the center of the book. A serviceable biography for tennis fans.
PENALTY SHOT (1997)
Blair Christolon (review date February 1997)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of Penalty Shot, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 43, no. 2 (February 1997): 74.
Gr. 3-6—In addition to being worried about losing his place on the hockey team because of a low English grade, Jeff becomes a victim of sabotage [in Penalty Shot ]. He is shocked when Kevin, his best friend, receives a cruel note in Jeff's handwriting. To make matters worse, Jeff gets another low grade on his English paper even after correcting his mistakes with his tutor. He soon discovers that a teammate has been forging his handwriting. Christopher uses straightforward sentence structure and a simple vocabulary. Characters show positive yet realistic values—Jeff in dreading the tutor but knowing he needs help and the culprit in admitting his guilt. The mystery progresses quickly, provides clues that lead to more than one suspect, and reaches a satisfying conclusion. Some readers may not guess the ending, but they will feel successful in organizing the clues in their minds. Libraries needing more hockey stories will want to include this one in their collection.
SNOWBOARD MAVERICK (1997)
Todd Morning (review date March 1998)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Snowboard Maverick, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 44, no. 3 (March 1998): 211.
Gr. 4-7—Dennis O'Malley, 13, loves to skateboard. However, even though he lives in a winter sports resort area, he's reluctant to try snowboarding because of a skiing accident that occurred when he was much younger [in Snowboard Maverick ]. Eventually, the boy overcomes his fears and his parents surprise him with a snowboard for Christmas. After a few days, he has managed to make his way down the slopes without too much difficulty. He's drawn into the more daring aspects of the sport, as he will do anything to avoid being called a "chicken." This leads him to embark upon a foolhardy race down a dangerous slope. He wins, but is properly contrite, knowing where his actions might have led. Having found an older mentor, Dennis eventually becomes an "awesome" snowboarder. Following his tried-and-true formula, Christopher offers nothing new here in terms of plot—the story simply involves a different type of apparatus stuck to the feet. However, he includes some of the terminology of snowboarding (he avoids mentioning how Dennis deals with the financially crippling lift fees); and the plot, though simple, slides along with enough super moguls along the way to please snowboarders and perhaps some others as well.
Susan DeRonne (review date 1 April 1998)
SOURCE: DeRonne, Susan. Review of Snowboard Maverick, by Matt Christopher. Booklist 94, no. 15 (1 April 1998): 1319.
Gr. 3-6—Although he is a skateboard pro, 13-year-old Dennis has a fear of snowboarding because of a previous skiing accident [in Snowboard Maverick ]. But his two best friends succeed in getting him to try the snowboard, and Dennis really takes to it. Many of his skateboarding skills carry over, and he quickly progresses beyond the beginner stage. He eventually accepts challenges from two snowboarders: one a hated bully, the other an older, admired athlete. The race with the bully is foolish and risky, and the contest with his idol shows a favorable contrast. These two events unfold with suspense, and readers will identify with the various tormented feelings Dennis experiences. This is a book about snowboarding, but it is just as much about friendship, loyalties, and a young teen's relationship with his parents. Like Christopher's other books, it is fast paced without shortchanging the emotional depth of the main character.
STRANGER IN RIGHT FIELD: A PEACH STREET MUDDER STORY (1997)
Blair Christolon (review date October 1997)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of Stranger in Right Field: A Peach Street Mudder Story, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Bert Dodson. School Library Journal 43, no. 10 (October 1997): 89.
Gr. 2-3—Alfie Maples is puzzled when he sees that the newest member of the Peach Street Mudders baseball team cannot catch or hit the ball very well [in Stranger in Right Field ]. He is even more suspicious when the coach asks him to help Roberti Frantelli learn the ropes. Because Alfie is not a star player, he is worried that the coach will replace him with Roberti, whom he has taught everything he knows. Again, Christopher has made his major character a boy with whom young readers can empathize. Woven within the plot are subtle pointers on how to play the game. Pen-and-ink sketches illustrate the action. It's unfortunate that the publisher has again printed the annoying ad on the back cover enticing readers to join the Matt Christopher Fan Club by sending a dollar with no mention of what they'll get in return. That aside, readers will enjoy this story—and it's most unlikely that they'll guess the ending that explains why Roberti is on the team.
THE CATCHER'S MASK (1998)
Kate Kohlbeck (review date May 1998)
SOURCE: Kohlbeck, Kate. Review of The Catcher's Mask, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Bert Dodson. School Library Journal 44, no. 5 (May 1998): 107-08.
Gr. 2-4—While this brief book [The Catcher's Mask ] is easy to read, children will have to know a lot about baseball to understand and follow the game action, especially the lingo (e.g., "sacrifice bunt," "once around the horn," "next raps," "fanned," "snagged the throw"), which is not explained or easily discerned from context. The many characters (most with rather old-fashioned nicknames) may also lead to some confusion. Young Rudy blames all of his baseball woes on the team-owned catcher's mask so he buys a "new" mask and baseball book at a neighbor's yard sale. Information in the book and the "Y. B." on the mask lead him to believe that it once belonged to Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra and that it will make him play like a pro, too. Although this fills the bill as an easy-reading sports-action book, the plot is only fair and the ending a little too pat. Buy it only if you have a demand for more about the Peach Street Mudders.
Kay Weisman (review date 1 October 1998)
SOURCE: Weisman, Kay. Review of The Catcher's Mask, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Bert Dodson. Booklist 95, no. 3 (1 October 1998): 328.
Gr. 2-4—This ninth offering [The Catcher's Mask ] in the Peach Street Mudders series, following Stranger in Right Field (1997), focuses on catcher Rudy Calhoun, who feels his recent slump is a result of using a borrowed catcher's mask. He can't afford to buy a new one, but when he purchases a used mask at a yard sale, his game begins to turn around. Rudy feels the transformation has something to do with the initials Y. B.—Yogi Berra?—engraved on the front, though his coach has a more plausible explanation. Christopher concentrates more on play-by-play descriptions of Rudy's games than on character development or plot, but the series' fans probably won't mind. Bert Dodson's black-and-white illustrations and the short chapters add to the appeal for beginning chapter-book readers.
CENTER COURT STING (1998)
Kate Kohlbeck (review date January 1999)
SOURCE: Kohlbeck, Kate. Review of Center Court Sting, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 45, no. 1 (January 1999): 124.
Gr. 4-8—Hothead Daren McCall can't control his temper [in Center Court Sting ]. He thinks the world is out to get him and blames his errors and failures—both on and off the basketball court—on everyone else. When his friends are barely speaking to him and the coach has threatened to bench him or kick him off the team, Daren finally realizes his problem. This is a good story with plenty of game action. It gets its lesson across without being preachy and holds readers' interest. The characters are clearly drawn and likable. Although they are probably junior-high age, and the subject matter, theme, and action, will keep older readers engaged, the reading level and simple explanations of basketball plays and defenses make the story accessible to younger children. Mark another one in the win column for Matt Christopher.
Lauren Peterson (review date 1-15 January 1999)
SOURCE: Peterson, Lauren. Review of Center Court Sting, by Matt Christopher. Booklist 95, nos. 9-10 (1-15 January 1999): 876.
Gr. 3-5—Daren McCall, the hot-tempered star forward of the Rangers, is blaming everyone but himself for how badly the team is playing—especially center Lou Bettman [in Center Court Sting ]. Lately Lou's game has been off, and Daren has been taking every opportunity to point it out, usually in front of their teammates. It's not only Lou Daren finds fault with. A young neighbor who has just taken an interest in basketball, the team's towel boy, and even Lynn, Daren's best friend and teammate, fall victim to his sharp barbs. His conversion to Mr. Nice Guy, which occurs halfway through the book, is much too quick to be convincing, and the novel's outcome is predictable. What Christopher handles better is the exciting basketball play-by-play; it's edge-of-your-seat suspense that won't disappoint the author's many fans.
THE DOG THAT CALLED THE PITCH (1998)
Lauren Peterson (review date 15 May 1998)
SOURCE: Peterson, Lauren. Review of The Dog That Called the Pitch, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. Booklist 94, no. 18 (15 May 1998): 1626.
Gr. 1-2, younger for reading aloud—In the fifth adventure in this series, Mike and his telepathic dog, Harry, discover that the umpire for Mike's baseball game can also read minds [in The Dog That Called the Pitch ]. The skill comes in handy when Mike accidentally breaks the ump's glasses. After a telepathic conference, the three agree that Harry will call the pitches in his mind and the ump will pick up the calls through ESP. Their plan works beautifully. Nicely rendered black-and-white drawings break up the text, which isn't divided into chapters but still has the look of a beginning chapter book. The coed nature of the teams will broaden the appeal of the story, but the book's main audience will probably be young male sports fans.
Edith Ching (review date September 1998)
SOURCE: Ching, Edith. Review of The Dog That Called the Pitch, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 44, no. 9 (September 1998): 165.
Gr. 2-4—A baseball story with a twist. Mike and his constant companion, an Airedale named Harry, communicate via ESP [in The Dog That Called the Pitch ]. To their surprise, Mr. Grimley, the new umpire for the big game, shares their talent. This ability comes in handy when the man breaks his glasses and almost has to postpone the game. Harry then steps up to the plate and helps him call balls and strikes. Can he be impartial, though, since this game means so much to Mike? More than half of this extended picture book is devoted to play-by-play action—who comes to bat, who singles, who walks—details that may be crucial to older readers but are not as interesting to younger ones. Vasconcellos's sketchy ink drawings add a lot of personality to these one-dimensional characters and dominate the pages on which they appear. The format and simplicity of the plot suggest that this book would appeal to younger audiences but the vocabulary, the emphasis on game action, and the role of ESP make it more suited to older children.
MOUNTAIN BIKE MANIA (1998)
Denia Hester (review date 1 February 1999)
SOURCE: Hester, Denia. Review of Mountain Bike Mania, by Matt Christopher. Booklist 95, no. 11 (1 February 1999): 972.
Gr. 5-7—Matt Christopher has put together another solid sports novel, this one [Mountain Bike Mania ] featuring all-terrain cycling. When the story opens, sixth-grader Will Matthews is floundering after school now that both of his parents are working. Most of his afternoons are spent watching television, and he's started to put on a little weight. His parents insist that he get involved in some kind of afterschool activity, but nothing clicks until he joins the mountain bike club. Will takes to it almost immediately, and his problems seem to be solved. But how could he ever guess that the club will nearly cost him his best friend and become the center of a school controversy? The action and the issues fly fast and furiously in the latest addition to the Christopher cache. As in all of his works, the thrills and the responsibilities have equal weight.
Coop Renner (review date March 1999)
SOURCE: Renner, Coop. Review of Mountain Bike Mania, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 45, no. 3 (March 1999): 206-07.
Gr. 3-6—This sturdy and fast-moving novel [Mountain Bike Mania ] posits a simple situation: an avowedly unathletic sixth-grader, pushed by his parents to find an after-school activity, discovers and falls in love with mountain biking. Will and Danny's friendship is endangered by Will's new passion and Danny's resistance to it. Both characters are well drawn, and their dialogue—whether angry or affectionate—rings quite true and reveals the common sense and good hearts of both boys. Needless to say, Christopher tidily resolves their disagreements as well as the book's subplots—a conflict between bikers and hikers; Will's parents' tendency to work too much and leave him a latchkey kid; and the bike club's need for new members and better PR, especially to make up for the behavior of an immature member. The issues that Christopher addresses—usage of public spaces, responsibility to the environment, the necessity of parents balancing work and child rearing, friends respecting one another's differences—are worked into the plot, rather than placed atop it, and Will's loving family environment, if a tad too perfect, is also reassuring and endearing.
PRIME-TIME PITCHER (1998)
Kate Kohlbeck (review date December 1998)
SOURCE: Kohlbeck, Kate. Review of Prime-Time Pitcher, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 44, no. 12 (December 1998): 121.
Gr. 4-7—Koby Caplin is the star pitcher for the Cardinals, the seventh-grade baseball team at Monticello Middle School [in Prime-Time Pitcher ]. His friend Sara Wilson, sports reporter for the school newspaper, gives lots of press to the team and especially to Koby, hoping to increase student support. The publicity and a winning streak soon result in full stands at all of the games. Then a local TV newsman decides to do a documentary on middle-school athletics with Monticello and Koby as its focus. When the attention goes to his head, Koby forgets all about teamwork, loses a game, almost loses his friends, and nearly blows the conference championship. This fast-paced, easy-to-read story has plenty of baseball action. Excerpts of sports articles from the school paper, including trivia questions about real-life major league players, add a great deal of interest and the book's message is driven home successfully. A prime-time read for baseball fans.
ROLLER HOCKEY RADICALS (1998)
Rachel Fox (review date October 1998)
SOURCE: Fox, Rachel. Review of Roller Hockey Radicals, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 44, no. 10 (October 1998): 132.
Gr. 3-7—When Kirby Childs and his parents move to a new town, the 13-year-old boy feels lonely and bored [in Roller Hockey Radicals ]. He comes upon a group of youngsters his own age and is invited to play roller hockey with them. However, because they practice in the street and play against a more aggressive team in a deserted parking lot in need of repair, his parents are against the idea. These numerous obstacles seem impossible to overcome until Kirby and his new friends come up with a plan. Although the ending is a bit too tidy, Christopher's large following of fans will enjoy this fast-paced story full of accurate, play-by-play scenes. With its large print and short chapters, it's a strong possibility for reluctant readers.
SOCCER SCOOP (1998)
Lauren Peterson (review date 15 February 1998)
SOURCE: Peterson, Lauren. Review of Soccer Scoop, by Matt Christopher. Booklist 94, no. 12 (15 February 1998): 1010.
Gr. 3-6—Christopher scores again with this exciting sports story [Soccer Scoop ] that is also a pretty good whodunit. Mac Williams, star goalie for the Cougars, is suddenly the target of a series of unflattering cartoons that mysteriously begin appearing in the school newspaper. His efforts to discover the identity of the cartoonist are the basis of the plot, and readers will have fun trying to figure it out right along with Mac. Although Christopher does a good job of dispensing clues without being too obvious, some older readers may not be challenged enough by the mystery element. Other themes, such as loyalty, trust, and a budding romance with the younger sister of a primary suspect, will hold their interest more, along with the dynamic soccer play-by-play. A great choice for engaging reluctant readers.
Blair Christolon (review date May 1998)
SOURCE: Christolon, Blair. Review of Soccer Scoop, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 44, no. 5 (May 1998): 113.
Gr. 3-5—When a cartoon appears in the school newspaper making fun of Mac's "motor mouth," the boy tries to find out who is responsible [in Soccer Scoop ]. This is one of Christopher's typical play-by-play sports stories with an upbeat ending and simple vocabulary and sentence structure. However, the plot is not particularly memorable. Mac has the bravado and confident personality often necessary for a successful goalie, but with all of his bragging, readers will wonder how he has any friends. Conversation between characters doesn't ring true and slang such as "You look spiffy" or the reference to a girl getting all "dolled up" for a dance sounds like phrases from the '40s or '50s rather than the '90s. Consider this for purchase only if more sports stories by Christopher are needed.
THE CAPTAIN CONTEST (1999)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 22 March 1999)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of The Captain Contest, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 12 (22 March 1999): 92-3.
Kicking off the Soccer 'Cats series, credited to the late Christopher, this early chapter book [The Captain Contest ] introduces 10-year-old Dewey and his best friend, Bundy. When the two spot a poster announcing a contest to come up with a team name and T-shirt logo for the summer soccer league, they have very different reactions. Bundy thinks it would be "awesome" to head up the team, but "just barely passed art last year." A talented artist, Dewey is psyched about designing a team logo, but the thought of being team captain makes him a "little queasy." Undecided about entering the competition, Dewey doesn't speak up when Bundy asks his teammates if they plan to enter the contest. They all agree that Bundy would make the ideal captain, and he assumes the captain's position is in the bag. As Dewey mulls over whether or not to enter the contest, the narrative convincingly presents his anguish over the possibility of jeopardizing his friendship with Bundy as well as his trepidation about becoming captain. Despite its single-issue focus, the plot moves along at a sprightly pace, though young soccer buffs (especially those familiar with Christopher's oeuvre) may be disappointed at the minimal action on the playing field. The series' second installment, Operation Baby-Sitter, is being published simultaneously. Ages 7-9.
John Peters (review date 1-15 June 1999)
SOURCE: Peters, John. Review of The Captain Contest, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. Booklist 95, nos. 19-20 (1-15 June 1999): 1828.
Gr. 2-3—Christopher opens an entirely new, numbered, series, Soccer 'Cats, with this posthumously published action-packed tale of a 10-year-old with a problem [The Captain Contest ]. The new summer league is running a logo contest, and the winning designer for each team will be designated captain. Dewey loves to draw but hates the idea of being in charge, but his best friend, Bundy, is a natural leader with no artistic talent. It's a pretty dilemma for Dewey at least; Bundy has no qualms about submitting an unrecognizable drawing. Although readers will need soccer experience to follow the game action, Christopher moves the story right along and resolves Dewey's conflict feasibly, with the help of an open-minded coach. Short chapters and well-leaded lines of type, plus occasional ink drawings of a snub-nosed protagonist looking troubled, will draw less practiced readers to this brief chapter book.
Kate Kohlbeck (review date August 1999)
SOURCE: Kohlbeck, Kate. Review of The Captain Contest, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 45, no. 8 (August 1999): 131.
Gr. 2-3—When two 10-year-old friends sign up for a summer soccer league, they discover there is a contest to name and design logos for the teams [in The Captain Contest ]. The winners will become captains and their designs, part of the uniforms. Bundy is a natural leader but not a good artist. Dewey can draw well but wants nothing to do with being in charge, yet plans to enter anyway. When he finally lets his friend know, Bundy is upset. Nothing too suspenseful takes place in this beginning chapter book. In fact, the outcome is evident immediately—Dewey arranges for Bundy to be captain of the Soccer 'Cats even though it's his logo that wins. The plot is neither interesting nor realistic. The book is illustrated with a few black line drawings. All in all, this posthumous publication is not up to Christopher's previous standards.
IN THE HUDDLE WITH … JOHN ELWAY (1999)
Barb Lawler (review date June 1999)
SOURCE: Lawler, Barb. Review of In the Huddle with … John Elway, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 45, no. 6 (June 1999): 142.
Gr. 4-6—This biography [In the Huddle with … John Elway ] begins with Elway's birth in 1960 and ends with the 1998 season when the quarterback won his first Super Bowl ring with the Denver Broncos. Christopher packs this lively account with play-by-play action. Though filled with factual information, the text reads like a story. Unfortunately, the book lacks an index, bibliography, source notes, or suggestions for further reading. Dan Hirshberg's John El-way (Chelsea, 1997), which has an index and a short suggested-reading list, covers the same material but is dated. Also, because Denver won the 1999 Super Bowl, there are sure to be more biographies in the making. However, Christopher's book is an entertaining read for sports fans. Black-and-white action shots of the athlete appear in a middle section.
OPERATION BABY-SITTER (1999)
Edith Ching (review date July 1999)
SOURCE: Ching, Edith. Review of Operation Baby-Sitter, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Daniel Vasconcellos. School Library Journal 45, no. 7 (July 1999): 67.
Gr. 1-4—Christopher opens this beginning chapter book [Operation Baby-Sitter ] in the midst of a soccer game with the score tied. Later, 10-year-old Bundy, the team captain, discovers that his grandfather, who had been looking after him after school and during the summer, is moving to Florida. When Bundy's parents tell him that they have hired a babysitter, he is sure that his teammates will make fun of him. However, he has second thoughts when the sitter arrives with her soccer gear. Only the main character is developed and Bundy's relationships with the rest of the team are nonexistent. Still, the boy's concerns are very real—how to play well, how to keep the truth hidden from his friends, how to be a good captain and role model—and young readers will identify with him and be engaged by the action. Also, the message, to give everyone a chance, is a positive one. Most of the full-page black-and-white cartoons show Bundy practicing and playing soccer.
SPIKE IT! (1999)
Kate Kohlbeck (review date June 1999)
SOURCE: Kohlbeck, Kate. Review of Spike It!, by Matt Christopher. School Library Journal 45, no. 6 (June 1999): 129.
Gr. 5-8—Eighth-grader Jamie Bonner is one of the stars of the East Side Middle School volleyball team [in Spike It! ]. Only five days before remarrying, her widowed father announces the big news to his daughters. For Jamie, adjusting to her new 13-year-old stepsister is more of a shock than the marriage. Michaela seems to be perfect—tall, pretty, smart, tal-ented—and soon seems to take over Jamie's life, including her bedroom, friends, and the boy she likes. At least Jamie still has her volleyball to herself. But after one of her teammates sprains her wrist, guess who joins the team—and, of course, is perfect at volleyball, too. Eventually, Jamie realizes that Michaela is also adjusting to a new life and family, and all ends happily. The story captures typical "kid-speak" dialogue, and the resolution of the blended family's adjustments and difficulties are believable. There's enough action and mild teen angst to satisfy many readers, especially those yearning for sports fiction not dominated by boys.
Litsky, Frank. "Matt Christopher, 80, Writer of Sports Novels for Children." New York Times (24 September 1997): D23.
Obituary that discusses Christopher's wide popularity as a sports writer for children.
Odean, Kathleen. Review of The Dog That Stole Football Plays, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Bill Ogden. In Great Books for Boys, pp. 140-41. New York, N.Y.: Ballatine Books, 1998.
Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of The Dog That Stole Football Plays.
―――――――――. Review of Fighting Tackle, by Matt Christopher, illustrated by Karin Lidbeck. In Great Books for Boys, pp. 209-10. New York, N.Y.: Ballatine Books, 1998.
Offers a positive assessment of Fighting Tackle.
Additional coverage of Christopher's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 8; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 33; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 5, 36, 104; Contemporary Authors—Obituary, Vol. 161; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Something about the Author, Vols. 2, 47, 80; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 9; and Something about the Author—Obituary, Vol. 99.