Steve Sheinkin and Jim Thorpe Defeat a Non-Sports Reader

When people find out I’m a librarian or that I work at Mackin, one of their first questions is often “What book would my kids like?” Now, I like to read almost everything, so I can usually come up with a really good fantasy, historical or realistic fiction, mystery, or even romance title that I have read and liked.  I’m not limited to fiction, either. Science, history, social issues…I’ve even read a math book or two!

But the one area that stumps me is sports. Now I’ve read some stories with an athlete in it, but the nonfiction sports titles on my Goodreads “Read” list are few and far between. In fact, I didn’t even have a separate shelf for sports. I don’t watch sports much either—the World Series this year with the Cubs and last year with the Kansas City Royals (my son lives in KC) were the exception.

And I REALLY don’t like football (which means that I don’t have to apologize for the poor performance of the Minnesota Vikings lately).  So, of all the sports books that I MIGHT page through, I would not choose football.


undefeatedThis sports book is by Steve Sheinkin—and I love his writing. He even made a story about a government analyst with a copier sound exciting (see Most Dangerous)! So even though his upcoming book is about football, I was willing to give it a try.

I knew Jim Thorpe was a great football and track star from…well, from a long time ago.  In addition to Thorpe’s biography, Sheinkin tells about the history of football and how the game was almost banned for the number of deaths that occurred on the football field (19 players died in 1905). The players on the Carlisle Indian School football team

Washington Post October 10, 1905

Washington Post October 10, 1905

compensated for their smaller size by their speed and agility and their strategies that allowed them to circumvent the violent larger players. Modern football owes its format and style, and maybe even its existence, to these players.

Sheinkin also talks about the history of the Indian schools, the mistreatment of the students, and the bigotry faced by Native Americans. Even when the Carlisle team won, newspapers spoke about “savages” and “scalping.”  And though I knew about most of this, I did not know how unfairly Thorpe was treated in regard to his Olympic medals (no spoilers here, in case you don’t know either).


Boston American, 1911


I understand only the basics of this game and its rules. Yet  Sheinkin’s descriptions of Carlisle’s practices and plays and games against the top four teams of the day were clear enough for this football naif not only to follow the action, but to keep me reading until 1:30 a.m.!

Undefeated isn’t out until January 17, but put it on your list. Recommend it to football and other sports fans, but don’t forget to offer it to history buffs in both middle and high school.  As I’ve found with Sheinkin’s other titles, it will be popular with adults as well!

Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. 9781596439542. January 2017. Gr 6-10.