Book Review: “A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book” by Phil Bildner

Over the summer, I made it my goal to read every book of which I have a novel set in my classroom. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use them this year (it’s looking like I won’t since I don’t currently teach students in-person), but I figured if I could read each one and document my thoughts on them then I would be better prepared to lead book clubs (sometimes called literature circles) when the opportunity arose. I managed to read through most of them early this summer, but I kept putting this one off. It seemed very sports-centric and I was initially put off by this. It didn’t seem like anything that would interest me, so I was a little apprehensive about starting it. However, I could not have been more wrong. This book ended up being one of my favorites of all of the novel sets I have in my classroom. It did feature sports, but in a way that tied in to all of the other storylines and themes and made it feel worthwhile. With a diverse cast of characters and so much heart, this is easily one of the best children’s books I’ve read this year.

Spoiler-Free Review: “A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book” is a story about a fifth grade year full of changes, surprises, and growth. Rip and Red have been best friends forever, but are completely thrown off by their first day of fifth grade: they have a brand new teacher who does things his own way, the structure of the basketball team has changed and is being coached by someone new: their fifth grade teacher! Easygoing Rip is thrown off by these changes, but Red, who is on the autism spectrum, struggles with them even more. Rip and Red support each other through new experiences, and prove to their peers that there’s more to each and every one of them than meets the eye. Through basketball practice, group projects, and taking on new responsibilities, Rip and Red discover new skills and learn how to bring out the best in those around them.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book” by Phil Bildner
A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book (Rip and Red, 1): Bildner, Phil,  Probert, Tim: 9781250079763: Amazon.com: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2015
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Summary:

“Rip and Red are best friends whose fifth-grade year is nothing like what they expected. They have a crazy new tattooed teacher named Mr. Acevedo, who doesn’t believe in tests or homework and who likes off-the-wall projects, the more “off” the better. They also find themselves with a new basketball coach: Mr. Acevedo! Easy-going Rip is knocked completely out of his comfort zone. And for Red, who has autism and really needs things to be exactly a certain way, the changes are even more of a struggle. But together these two make a great duo who know how to help each other—and find ways to make a difference—in the classroom and on the court.”

Format: Paperback

Themes: Friendship can be found in unlikely places. Change can be hard but also good. Learning happens when we have fun and get out of our comfort zones. Teamwork makes the dream work. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Do your best to bring out the best in others.

Character Development: I loved the characters in this book, and it was great seeing how they all developed throughout the story. Rip becomes more independent and responsible and develops new friendships. He also becomes more open-minded about school and basketball. Red takes small steps toward trying new things, and becomes more comfortable around new people. Avery initially projects her insecurities onto others, but becomes more kind and self-confident after opening up to Rip about her experiences. Mr. Acevedo begins as a new, optimistic, and somewhat naive first-year teacher (something I can relate to), and after facing obstacles from administrators and parents learns how to compromise to meet expectations without sacrificing his values as a teacher.

Plot/Pacing: While not overly exciting necessarily, this story kept my attention the whole time I was reading it. It was largely character-driven, but I was totally invested in those characters. I also felt the pacing was perfect for the intended readers; the chapters were short which made it hard to put down at times because it was so easy to read “just one more chapter.”

Writing Style: This story is written from the first-person POV of Rip, which I loved. He was a really interesting and compassionate kid, and I loved getting to see the world from his eyes. However, I think it would have been great to have had the dual perspectives of Rip and Red. Red ends up seeming like kind of a side character (and doesn’t have many characteristics other than those related to his autism), so it would have been nice to get to know him and his perspective better through his narration of the story.

“Bingeability”: Moderate. As I mentioned before, it’s not the most exciting story in the sense that it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat in suspense, but it definitely kept me engaged. I read it pretty quickly, and I imagine many students would as well.

Emotional Investment: High. I really connected with the characters and felt invested in their lives and feelings. It was unique in the sense that both the child and adult characters were well-developed and relatable.

Windows and Mirrors: Black student. Basketball. Autism. Being in a wheelchair. First-year teaching. Fifth grade.

Overall Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and the diverse characters it portrayed. I also really appreciated how the sports aspect could be enjoyed by all regardless of the reader’s personal feelings and interest in sports. The sports-related action scenes were short and exciting and didn’t rely too heavily on sports jargon, they also served to reinforce other relationships and themes from throughout the story which kept me engaged even though I don’t have a lot of background knowledge about basketball.

My only concern with this book was that, although it featured diverse characters, it was written by a white man. I don’t know a lot about the author, so it’s possible he has a background that I’m unaware of, but I was a little unsure of this. After reading the acknowledgements, it seems that he did a lot of research and consulted a lot of people who have experienced the things he wrote about, but I just feel like there are authors of color and/or non-neurotypical authors who could be telling these stories too. That being said, I still was really glad to see such diverse characters, and his representation of being a new teacher was something I really connected with and felt was mostly accurate (if not a little idealized or contrived at times).

Recommendation: I absolutely recommend this book (for both children and adults). I also recommend this to students who are interested in sports (and who may claim to not like reading). This is a book that would suck them in. With a diverse group of characters, it’s sure to spark good conversations and empathy in those who read it. For teachers, I recommend using this as a book club/literature circle book. It would lead to great discussions and would connect easily to a variety of common core standards. You could even recreate the “That’s Nasty!” project from the book (a project where students researched something nasty, wrote a persuasive paper about it, and then presented it to the class)! This is a unique book that can be enjoyed by adults and students alike, and I highly recommend it to all.

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 2015
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Summary: “Rip and Red are best friends whose fifth-grade year is nothing like what they expected. They have a crazy new tattooed teacher named Mr. Acevedo, who doesn’t believe in tests or homework and who likes off-the-wall projects, the more “off” the better. They also find themselves with a new basketball coach: Mr. Acevedo! Easy-going Rip is knocked completely out of his comfort zone. And for Red, who has autism and really needs things to be exactly a certain way, the changes are even more of a struggle. But together these two make a great duo who know how to help each other—and find ways to make a difference—in the classroom and on the court.”
Themes: Friendship. Change. School/learning. Teamwork. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Bring out the best in others.
Character Development: Strong. All characters were well-developed and experienced growth.
Plot/Pacing:
Character-driven. Short chapters make the pacing quick and engaging.
Writing Style:
First-person POV from Rip’s perspective. Would have benefited from dual perspectives of both Rip and Red.
“Bingeability”:
Moderate.
Emotional Investment:
High.
Windows and Mirrors:
Black student. Basketball. Autism. Being in a wheelchair. First-year teaching. Fifth grade.
Overall Thoughts:
Diverse characters. Well-done sports story. Diverse characters written by white male author.
Recommendation: Definitely yes for children, adults, and teachers. Great for children interested in sports (and who may be resistant to reading), and great choice for book clubs/literature circles.

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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