John Feinstein has a distinguished career as a sports columnist with the Washington Post and National Public Radio and he is a prolific writer of nonfiction sports books for adults. But when his son Danny was nine years old, says Feinstein, "He wanted to read one of the books I'd written and he'd read about a page and say, 'Can I stop now?' So I thought maybe I could write something that he would enjoy."
Feinstein's first book for young readers was Last Shot, a mystery about two eighth graders (Susan Carol and Stevie) who attend the Final Four basketball tournament after winning a writers' contest. His newest book - Vanishing Act - takes these aspiring young sports journalists to the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in New York.
Q&A with John Feinstein
Q: Why tennis?
A: I covered tennis for six years at the Post - and I decided my second book would either be about tennis or golf. My editor suggested tennis, since girls seemed to like the first book because of Susan Carol's character and she thought there are more girls interested in tennis than golf.Q: Do the characters reflect you?
A: Susan Carol was my first editor at the student newspaper at Duke. The real Susan Carol is also a minister's daughter from North Carolina. She loves the character in the book , especially the fact that Susan Carol in the book is tall because the real Susan Carol is 5'4". There's a lot of me in Stevie; I wasn't smart enough when I was 13 to realize I was going to be a failed athlete - Stevie has figured it out; I started journalism in college but we share a passion for sports. Stevie is a little bit of a wise guy and that would fit me and my son. My son essentially re-wrote the first chapter of Vanishing Act because I don't know the kids' language. (Danny is now 12) Stevie says "What are you up to?" and that's what I write. But in Instant Messenger it's "wht r u up to." Danny had to square that whole first chapter away for me.Q: Did you know the whole story before you started writing?
A: I knew that Nadia would be kidnapped, that the kidnapping would be fraudulent and the agents would be the bad guys; I added the uncle being the bad guy later.Q: How do you figure out the endings for your books?
A: What I want is an ending that will have a twist, so the reader won't have figured it out on page 100 but I don't want it so complicated that the reader can't remember the references. Kids need to be able to go from A to B to C to D.Q: What do you want kids to get out of this aside from enjoying a mystery?
A: I wanted to write a book that kids would enjoy and maybe learn something from.
I want them to see that the world of tennis is not as pretty as what they see on television. It is a difficult life; that's why I have Evelyn Rubin describing kids traveling around the world but all they see is hotel rooms and the tennis courts because that's true.
When I wrote Hardcourts, I interviewed 150 tennis players and I asked every one of them, "Have you been to the Louvre?" because they all go to Paris for two weeks every year for the French Open. Two guys - doubles partners Patrick McEnroe and Jim Grabb - were the only two who had been to the Louvre. These guys travel the world but never see the world.Q: What reactions are you getting to your books from readers?
A: After Last Shot, parents of boys said. "My son loves sports but he's not a reader; he's willing to try your book because it's about sports and he loved it." I received lots of letters from girls and parents of girls saying they really enjoyed the fact that Susan Carol knew sports and was an athlete and was often outsmarting the grown-ups. One girl said she found Susan Carol empowering; a 13-year-old girl said the book made her feel that if Susan Carol could do things like this, she could too. I was thrilled.Q: How is writing for kids different than writing for adults?
A: It's fun in a completely different way. I've met a whole new group of readers. It's taken me to different places as a writer and as a person. I have two jobs now...I write and report nonfiction and I write fiction. If I can keep writing these books, I'll keep writing them because they're fun. Besides, I like writing without profanity.Q: Do you have another book in the pipeline?
A: In the next book, Stevie and Susan Carol go to the Superbowl. They have become minor celebrities and are offered a job by a cable television station that bears a distinct resemblance to ESPN. They co-host a TV sports show for kids but the week before the Superbowl, Stevie gets fired because they want Susan Carol's co-host to have more sex appeal and they hire the 18-year old lead singer in a boy band to take his place. But they both end up at the Superbowl and all sorts of things begin to happen. (coming in November 2007)
The Best American Sports Writing 1996
Edited by John Feinsteink
Guest editor of this year's edition is John Feinstein, himself one of the most proficient sports journalists around. Perhaps due to modesty, Feinstein did not choose any of his own superb work, but the 24 selections included reflect his professional standards. Roger Angell is here of course, and Frank Deford, and their contributions are memorable. So too are essays by lesser-known writers in the field such as David Davis' account of former heavyweight boxer Jerry Quarry's sad struggle with brain damage, Karen Karbo's exhilarating experience with the all-female crew of the racing yacht America 3, and Kenny Moore's moving profile of fellow Olympic marathoner Mamo Wolde (my favorite piece). The return of Michael Jordan is chronicled compellingly, as is the rivalry between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and the culmination of Cal Ripken's iron man feat. Culled from sources ranging from The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated to Texas Monthly and Baltimore Magazine, this anthology casts a wide net and comes up with a winning catch of unfailingly fascinating sports reportage. A mandatory acquisition. KLIATT Codes: JSA*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults, Houghton Mifflin, 355p. notes. 21cm, $12.95. Ages 13 to adult. Randy M. Brough (KLIATT Review, March 1997 (Vol. 31, No. 2)).
The Last Amateurs: Playing For Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball
Everybody cheers for the underdog! Dating back to Biblical times, when David fought Goliath, there's a special feeling associated with witnessing someone successfully accomplish something thought to be impossible. The concept of the underdog is particularly important in the world of sports. Basketball is no exception, and the underdog concept takes "center court" in John Feinstein's excellent profile of the collegiate Patriot League in The Last Amateurs. While most college basketball fans (and the general public as well) are familiar with the major collegiate leagues (Big 10, PAC 10, Big East, Mid-American, etc.) few are aware of the Patriot League. Composed of Bucknell, Colgate, College of the Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, U.S. Military Academy (West Point), and U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis), the Patriot League--according to Feinstein's detailed analysis of players, coaches and games--is a league with "heart" that places academics before basketball. The detail in this book (a credit to Feinstein, a sports writer who has written several best-selling golf books and is a frequent contributor to Golf Magazine, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio) and its comprehensive index make it a great resource for use in a sports literature, social science, or physical education class. However, The Last Amateurs would be best used as a teacher resource or in a group/class project setting for senior high students with excellent reading comprehension skills. Category: Sports & Recreation. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Little Brown/Back Bay Books, 442p., $14.95. Ages 15 to adult. Tom Adamich (KLIATT Review, May 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 3)).
Public Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eleventh Edition, 2001; H.W. Wilson; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Fifteenth Edition, 2001; H.W. Wilson; United States
Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery
Steven Thomas from Pennsylvania and Susan Carol Anderson from North Carolina have won a fourteen-and-under writing contest and have press credentials to get into the NCAA basketball "Final Four" games in New Orleans. There, they overhear a conversation concerning the (fictional) Minnesota State U's star player's throwing the game which starts the two investigating. Feinstein's insider view of this famous college basketball event has enough details to satisfy any fan: where players stay, how the press functions, what student athletes say to the cameras, and how the floor of the arena is cordoned off. He even works in plenty of real people in the media. from the motor-mouth Dick Vitale and the ever-generous Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) to his colleagues on the Washington Post, especially Tony Kornheiser who comes in for some gentle ribbing. Readers will enjoy the way Stevie and Susan Carol work together as equals to solve the mystery which hangs on some changed college grades that would make the star player ineligible and all games won by MSU to be forfeited. Teachers will appreciate the way Feinstein works in the details of the sports writers' (and Stevie and Susan Carol's) job: checking sources, or working-in local color, interviews, or themselves into the daily dispatches they must write. It is a quick read that the already-initiated will grab and mystery lovers neutral to sports will enjoy, too. It is the first in "The Final Four Mystery" series and sportswriter Feinstein's very credible entry into children's books. 2005, Knopf, $16.95. Ages 9 to 14. Reviewer: Susan Hepler, Ph.D. (Children's Literature).
Here's the perfect off-the-court book for any young hoops fan: Last Shot, a nifty mystery by sportswriter John Feinstein, set at the Final Four. Two eighth-graders, Stevie, a rabid Big East fan from Philly, and Susan Carol, a southern belle whose loyalties lie with Duke, have won a reporting contest sponsored by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Grand prize: An all-expense paid trip to the Final Four and--most importantly--a press pass to cover the last weekend of the NCAA tournament. Their assignment to write feature stories for small newspapers is benched when they overhear a conversation which strongly suggests one star player is being blackmailed to throw the final game. Hmm. Should they tell the adult reporters who've been assigned to chaperone them or investigate it themselves? Well, that's a slam dunk. But as they work to unravel the scheme before the final buzzer sounds, the personal stakes--and the tension--get very high. Mystery fans will appreciate this as much as basketball fans as the court action, which is finely written, is kept to a minimum. In fact, this story is as much about the Big Business--and corruption--of college sports as it is about hoops. Feinstein, a Washington Post reporter and a Duke graduate himself, gets in jabs at the NCAA, TV reporters, athletic apparel companies--he even pokes fun at his real-life counterparts like Dick Vitale and Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser, who Stevie is awed about meeting. And while Feinstein's expertise smoothes out some of the plot's implausible moments, I wish he hadn't made his cub reporters such accomplished liars. (Or have them enter a hotel room without permission in search of info. Ouch.) Kids, no reporter who wanted to stay employed would do those things. 2005, Knopf/Random House, $16.95. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Sue Corbett (Miami Herald) (Children's Literature).
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog 2006 Supplement to the Ninth Edition, 2006; H.W Wilson Company; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Winner 2006 Best Young Adult United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2006-2007; Book List; Grades 6-9; Maryland
Iowa Teen Award, 2006-2007; Nominee; Grades 6-9; United States
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2006; Nominee; Grades 9-12; Kentucky
Lone Star Reading List, 2006-2007; Grades 6-8; United States
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, 2007; Nominee; United States
Virginia Readers' Choice Award, 2006-2007; Nominee; Middle School; Virginia
Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery
Read by John Feinstein
David K. Perry (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews, (Vol. 18, No. 2)) This book is written by a best-selling author of sports fiction books. In this adventure, two teenagers win a sports writing contest and get to participate as working journalists at college basketball's Final Four. While there, they stumble upon the story of a lifetime--the blackmailing of one of the stars in an attempt to fix the championship game. The two contest winners turn out to be great investigative reporters and show young readers that being young does not mean you are not talented and that friendship happens when and where one least expects it. The author obviously knows much about the inside workings of the NCAA and shows his disdain for them in the details of his dialogue--officious security guards, rampant commercialism in college sports, and other personal dislikes. I think that any student who is interested in basketball will like this story. It would also be great for that student that does not like to read but is a basketball fan. It might motivate him/her to finish a book. The author is the reader for this audio book. He does an excellent job, which is not always the case with authors. Mr. Feinstein keeps it interesting for the listener. His tone of voice, inflections at the right moments, and his pace of reading combine to make an enjoyable experience. Fiction, Highly Recommended. Grades 9 and up. 2005, Listening Library, Unabridged. 4 audiocassettes. 5 hrs. 36 mins., $35.00. Ages 14 to 18.
Open: Inside The Ropes At Bethpage Black
Rarely does a book begin to describe one topic and, as an added bonus, provide the basis for discovery and education on another. In Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black, John Feinstein illustrates how bringing the U.S. Open to Manhattan's Bethpage Golf Club--a public golf course--reflects the view of golf as "the game of the people." Feinstein, a commentator for National Public Radio and the author of several sports commentaries and anthologies, brings the sociological and political effects of this landmark decision to the forefront for analysis and debate. Planning to play a major PGA event at a public course is a major task in security, logistics, discussion, and paperwork! Planning for the 102nd U.S. Open, which took place in 2002, began in 1998. Major projects--bridges were built, special arrangements made for moving people, etc.--involved New York City leaders, New York state officials, the media, and leadership in the national and international golf community. While reading Open, one has a sense of golf's place as a public symbol of athletic skill and human interaction. Fans of golf will enjoy this in-depth analysis of the game. Knowledge of the PGA organization and local/state politics is also recommended, as a majority of the text discusses how various PGA and government officials interacted and negotiated to make Tiger Woods' victory in the 2002 U.S. Open such a landmark event. Category: Sports & Recreation. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Little Brown, Back Bay, 368p. illus. index., $14.95. Ages 15 to adult. Reviewer: Tom Adamich (KLIATT Review, July 2004 (Vol. 38, No. 4)).
Read by Richard M. Davidson
The punch referred to in the title was thrown in a 1977 professional basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the LA Lakers. It occurred when the Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich rushed in to break up an on-the-court fight. He ran into a shattering blow thrown by the Lakers' Kermit Washington. The punch almost killed him. Like a "punch heard 'round the world," it had both immediate and long-term effects on both Tomjanovich and Washington. Feinstein examines the lives of the two men before, during and after the altercation. He looks at their childhoods, their college careers, and their lives over the next 20-plus years. Both lives were haunted by "the punch." Washington's marriage fell apart. Tomjonavich developed insomnia and a serious drinking problem. The audio format proves to be an excellent venue to relate the story. Narrator Davidson recreates the atmosphere of "shocked silence" that overtakes spectators at an athletic event while an injured player is attended to. His unvoiced reading provides a serious tone and he maintains an aura of deep concern throughout the book. A good object lesson for young athletes. Basketball junkies will love it. Category: Nonfiction Audiobook. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Recorded Books, 9 tapes. 12.75 hrs. #97147.; Vinyl; content, reader notes., $80.00. Ages 15 to adult. Reviewer: Prof. John E. Boyd (KLIATT Review, January 2004 (Vol. 38, No. 1)).
Vanishing Act: Mystery At The U.S. Open
John Feinstein tells a very good story. Although it is not always probable or even laudable when thirteen-year olds take cabs and subways and prowl around New York City alone (and no, it is not their hometown), Feinstein successfully weaves international intrigue, danger, and adolescent crushes into his first young adult novel. As a well-respected journalist and author of numerous nonfiction sports books, Feinstein brings a high degree of credibility to the background information he includes about both professional tennis and sports journalism. The two young protagonists learn to maneuver their way quite successfully through the often ugly world of agents, commercial sponsorships, and tournaments. The story is slow to take off and often includes enough extraneous detail to read like a play-by-play account, but this title will still be a good choice for readers who thrive on tennis, novels of suspense, or dreams of being a great sportswriter. 2006, Alfred A. Knopf, $18.99. Ages 10 to 16. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children's Literature).
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