Thursday, February 9, 2017

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. Grades 5 and up. Roaring Brook Press, January 2017. 288 pages, Reviewed from egalley provided by publisher.


Who here likes football? Watching football, playing football? 

Did you know that when football first started, long passes were illegal? The most popular kick for a field goal was to drop the ball on the ground and kick it on its bounce. 

Called "the team who invented football", the Carlisle Indians, team of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, brought football into the mainstream. Their open way of playing brought football alive for the fans in the stands and may have saved a dying college game.

Star of the Carlisle Indians was Jim Thorpe. He's considered one of the best American athletes ever. He scored almost half of the total Indians points during the seasons he was on the team. And the coach didn't even want to try him because he was so small. 

Thorpe wasn't only a star on the football field. He also played professional baseball and won gold medals for the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics. 

For anyone who likes sports, particularly football, this is a great read with plenty of play-by-play action. 

My thoughts:

Steve Sheinkin writing about Jim Thorpe? You had me at hello.

Sheinkin pays homage to football legend Jim Thorpe with his signature compulsively readable style and tons of archival photographs. It's obvious that Sheinkin is taking great care to write of indigenous nations with respect, always identifying the nations to which people belong. Beyond that, I don't have the expertise to evaluate Sheinkin's treatment of culture here. He condemns the use of boarding schools to "civilize" indigenous people and raises questions for teen readers to consider throughout the book (example: would anyone have dared to take away Thorpe's Olympic medals if he had been white?).

This is a must-read for sports fans - there is a ton of play-by-play football action and fans of the sport will be fascinated by how many modern-day conventions of the sport were started by the Carlisle team. But even readers who are not huge sports fans (read: me!) will be fascinated by this true story of a little-known American sports legend.

Last year, I listened to the audiobook of Joseph Bruchac's "novelized" biography, Jim Thorpe: Original All-American, which is written in first person. I loved that book, too, but I'm glad to have a stricter nonfiction look at Thorpe from such a well-regarded author. Undefeated is just as compelling a read.

Highly recommended; a must-purchase.


Readers who are looking for compelling historical nonfiction with sports action may enjoy either the young reader's editions or the original adult editions (depending on age of the reader) of The Boys in the Boat* by Daniel James Brown or Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. 

Readers who are interested in meeting more historical athletes might enjoy Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias by Rich Wallace, A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson by Michelle Y. Green, or The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. 

And of course, readers looking for excellent nonfiction in general would do well to pick up Steve Sheinkin's other titles!

* Worth mentioning that the young reader's edition of this book (and possibly the original version? I listened to the audiobook, so I can't tell for sure) contains a problematic photo of the athletes "playing Indian" with feathers on their heads and no explanation for young readers. Be aware.