Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Which American sporting event drew the biggest crowd in 1911?  The World Series?  An Olympic event? (Wait, there weren’t even any Olympic games in 1911).  The Harvard-Yale football game?  Well, you’re half right; it was the football match between Harvard and the Carlisle Indian School football team, starring Olympian Jim Thorpe.  Final score: 18-15, Carlisle.  You might know Carlisle Indian School as a place where Native American children were sent, often unwillingly, to be taught to assimilate into white culture.  But it also had an amazing football team, coached by Pop Warner, that pretty much reinvented the modern game of college football.  You might know Jim Thorpe as the Olympian who had to return his medals when he was discovered to have played professional baseball.  But there is much, much more to his story, including an amazing football career at Carlisle that spanned seven years, and was capped by a win at West Point, playing against a team that included Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.  The symbolism of the soldiers versus the Indians was not lost on anyone, and the story of Thorpe and the Carlisle school is also the tragic story of racism that Native Americans are still experiencing today.  Includes 33 pages of source notes and works cited.  288 pages; grades 5-10.

Pros: The stories of Thorpe, the Carlisle School, Pop Warner, and the game of football are all told in an engaging style that captures the reader’s attention from beginning to end.  I bet we’ll see this book on the Sibert Award list, if not the Newbery.

Cons:  Although I attended every football game through high school and college as a member of the marching band, I am still too clueless to understand even the simplest schematic illustrating some of the plays described in the book.

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