Thursday, July 19, 2012

One for the Team: Mason Dixon--Basketball Disasters by Claudia Mills

Mason took the first spoonful of his Cheerios and milk.

"Um, Mom and Dad?" Mason said. He tried to keep his tone light and casual. "I was thinking that I might go out for basketball this year."

His mother found her voice first. "But, Mason...."

But, Mason?

"You've always said you're not a sports person!"

If there was anything that was irritating, it was hearing quotes from your previous self.

Mason Dixon is a Cheerios and milk, plain tee shirt and brown socks kind of guy. And he really has no burning desire to play basketball. But his best friend Brody needs a ride if he is going to play basketball, and Brody, who has hustle, easily talks Mason into enlisting his gung-ho parents in the idea. "Believe me, this is going to be great," Mason tells them, trying to copy Brody's enthusiastic tone.

Down at the Y, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that perennial class bully Dunk is not on his team. The bad news is that his mom volunteers his dad to be the coach when no one else offers to do it. Dad is now Coach Dan. Weird.

Mason's dad admits he know little about basketball and zilch about coaching it, but true to form, he cheerfully orders a book on how to coach online, and spends the weekend boning up on good coaching techniques. Mason knows that this is going to be a basketball disaster. After all, Dad has only read the first three chapters, now embarrassingly adorned with sticky notes, as they meet for the first practice. He tells the team seriously that they are going to learn to win with grace and lose with dignity.

Mason is relieved to see that he is not potentially the worst player. A kid named Dylan has that position nailed. Dylan is so afraid of the ball that he dodges any passes that come his way and drifts around the court trying to stay as far away from the floor action as he can. Mason is pretty sure that the the "losing with dignity" part of Coach Dan's pep talk is the one that the Fighting Bulldogs are going to get plenty of chances to practice.

It's a big season for Mason Dixon in Claudia Mills' third book in this series, Mason Dixon: Basketball Disasters (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Mason learns about being part of a team, one which features three girls, including his second-best friend, Nora, finally scores his first goal in a game, survives his first sports injury, and gets to make the pass which leads to his team's beating Dunk's team in the final game.

With gentle humor and great insight into her likeable middle graders, Mills takes her wry and reluctant main character Mason another step forward in this noteworthy series, perfectly pitched just one notch above beginning chapter book level, for its target readers. Kirkus Reviews concludes, "Altogether, this is an amusing if undemanding account of the typical fourth-grade problems the athletically ungifted face as they make their way through school."

Preceding books in this series are Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters and Mason Dixon: Fourth-Grade Disasters.

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