Wednesday, May 6, 2009

the joy of fishing

I've been fishing again. Okay, still. The kind of fishing I do in my classroom, where I toss out my bait (cool books) and wait for a tug on the line, brings a similar kind of joy and satisfaction to that of real fishing, which I also happen to enjoy. I try to load my tackle box with all the stuff I think my fishies will like: realistic fiction, non-fiction, sports themes, urban literature. They don't always bite, but sometimes the reward comes from just knowing they're considering getting caught.

My latest catch comes using Matt de la Pena's Ball Don't Lie, a story about a hardscrabble inner city kid who devotes his life to playing basketball. Sticky is a young man who makes his home in a variety of foster settings but lives primarily at Lincoln Rec, the gritty L.A. gym where he has found a family among the serious players, mostly black men. Told in the rhythmic, hip-hop language of the street, Sticky’s is a riveting story about a young man’s struggle to attain a college basketball scholarship and deepen his relationship with his girlfriend. Some readers may be thrown off by the disjointed narrative, which loops between past and present. Others see the nonlinear storyline as a reflection of Sticky's own internal struggles as he comes to terms with violent childhood tragedies, numbed emotions, and his sometimes-compulsive behavior (he repeats certain actions such as shoe-tying until they feel right). Teens are strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly teen male voice; the thrilling, realistic basketball action; and the questions about race, identity, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.

Ball Don’t Lie seems to capture both the angst as well as the attention of many young men in the DYS secure treatment program. Kids gravitate toward this book because they can see themselves in it. It’s been particularly rewarding to see kids open themselves to this story – kids who would have previously described themselves as either non-readers or not lovers of reading. BDL is something of a pivot point for many DYS kids; this appears to be a book with the potential to change a young person’s mind about reading. I see it as a great, engaging story that holds keys to further doors into the world of literature.


  1. I love your kind of fishing! It's much better than the kind that ends with a hook in your beloved cousin's head.

  2. It's a total honor to have a reading teacher use Ball Don't Lie to fish for reading interest. I wish somebody had fished with me when I was in school. I didn't find literature until I was in college.

    Thank you!!

    PS - Ball Don't Lie the movie comes out June 5th in theaters and as a VOD file from

  3. to Ms. Easton-Epner: this sounds like a text-to-self/text-to-world connection...I still have such warm memories of this time, believe it or not!

  4. to Matt: quite honestly, I am honored to know you're honored. with regard to fishing with your book, it's somewhat ironic that for most of my kids, lock up represents the first time someone has tried to lure them into a literary world. I so enjoy the challenge.

    I admit that with Ball Don't Lie, because it is written at roughly an 8th grade level (according to the 'experts'), I need to make provisions and provide scaffolding for many of my students, who tend to be lower level readers. I read it out loud almost entirely to one young man who could have been an east coast Sticky.

    I will be sure to catch the movie when it comes out in June!