Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin

The books I end up learning the most from are the ones I never expected. Or should I say, under-expected?

Undefeated caught my eye earlier this year, more for the history than the sports connection, but because it was all about football... I kept moving other books in ahead of it on my to-read pile as I had the 'eh... sports...' reaction I tend to have around sports books. I figured I'd get to it later and then now it's July and goodness gracious, do I wish I'd opened it sooner!

Steve Sheinkin is a legend all his own, though I'm embarrassed to admit this is my first Sheinkin book. (I've now added all of his books to my Goodreads TBR list). WOW, is he a non-fiction writer to end non-fiction writing! MENTOR TEXT ALERT. The sources, narrative-esque storyline, graceful text splits, so many beautiful writerly moves!

OK - so now that I'm done word-vomiting and have confessed my sports reading problem, let's get to the good stuff - the book.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.

Why should you read this book? 

1. Have you ever heard, read, or seen in detail stories of how families were forcibly moved by U.S. troops? Not just numbers and stats, but actually a multi-generational family story of lineage and the wreckage U.S. troops and policy caused?

2. Can you imagine being schooled by a military leader in the army that conquered your family's lands?

3. Did you know that the most iconic football strategy and moves as we know it today came not from a big state school or private university, but from the innovations of a much smaller team, the Carlisle Indian School?

4. Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend, mentor, or ally?

5. Did you know that Olympic gold medals could be taken away, without cause for recourse even if done so unjustly? Did you know Jim Thorpe's were?

Undefeated tells a lot of stories - football stories, Carlisle stories, U.S. Government stories. It shares the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. It shares the pain of military and cultural attacks on Native American life. It shares the interconnected nature of many iconic historical figures and how they all individually impacted Thorpe's life and career.

But most importantly, Undefeated has a non-sugar-coated portrayal of  one slice of our shared history as Americans. It's not all neat and happy endings, and all people's stories deserve to be told. History doesn't always end with justice, but we need to see and learn from these examples so that the past does not continue to be prologue. In seeing such betrayal and pain, may we learn something from those who have come before us.

In the classroom, I'd say this novel would be great for 7th grade and up, possibly 6th - you'd know your kiddos best! Great as a whole-class mentor text for a non-fiction research novel, shared inquiry unit in LA or SS, and for book clubs/independent reading. Happy reading!

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