Between the Lines

At least a half-dozen current and former athletes have published children’s books since the beginning of the year. Their work includes fiction and nonfiction for readers as young as age 4 and as old as young teenagers:

• Just this week, former NBA player Kobe Bryant published Legacy and the Queen, a tennis-themed young adult novel written by Annie Matthew and based on Bryant’s concept. The publisher is Bryant’s own entertainment and publishing company, Granity Studios.

• NFL football player Zach Ertz and his wife, soccer star Julie Ertz of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, released a pair of books with Harvest House, a publisher of inspirational titles, last month. The books, Zach’s Focus and Finish: How Football Taught Me Grit, Teamwork, and Integrity, and Julie’s Chase Your Dreams: How Soccer Taught Me Strength, Perseverance, and Leadership, are both for children ages 8-12 and have Christian themes.

• Basketball player Kayla Alexander, currently with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, self-published the autobiographically inspired The Magic of Basketball last month. She wrote and illustrated the title, with her sister Kesia serving as co-author.

• Martellus Bennett, a former NFL athlete, published Dear Black Boy earlier this year. The book is the third written by Bennett, with Hey A.J., It’s Saturday! and Hey A.J., It’s Bedtime! released in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Those two titles have a female protagonist. Bennett’s own multimedia company, The Imagination Agency, publishes his work.

• Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter released the seventh in his series of baseball-themed middle-grade readers starring a young Derek Jeter as the main character. This latest story, titled Curveball, was published in spring of this year and will be followed by another title, Strike Zone, in 2020. Jeter has an imprint with Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books that includes a range of fiction and nonfiction, some by the former shortstop and some by other authors. In addition to the series already mentioned, examples include two picture books by Tom Booth, two middle-grade books in the Baseball Genius series, written by Jeter and Tim Green, and two books in the Discovering History’s Heroes series, one about journalist Ida B. Wells and the other on astronaut Michael Collins. A nonfiction title called Born Just Right is also in the mix.

The books cited here take many forms, ranging from autobiographical nonfiction, to aspirational and inspirational sports-themed fiction, to titles that are not about sports at all. The stories often feature a diverse set of characters. In some cases, proceeds go to charity.

These are not the first children’s books by athletes. Some of many authors publishing stories for kids over the past several years include soccer players Mia Hamm and Alex Morgan; baseball players Kerry Wood, Cal Ripken Jr., R.A. Dickey, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada; football players Shaun Alexander and Tiki Barber; basketballers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Amar’e Stoudemire; and boxer George Foreman.

The trend does not seem to be waning, if the significant number of new books published since the beginning this year is any indication. In fact it may be intensifying as more athletes look to make an impact on the world beyond sports, as the mechanics of releasing new books become easier for novices than in the past (many of these titles bypass traditional publishers), and as social media and other channels give author-athletes a 24/7 opportunity to communicate with their fans.

If you are interested in the children’s book category, consider subscribing to PW Children’s Bookshelf, a free twice-weekly e-newsletter from Publishers Weekly highlighting the latest news. Karen Raugust’s Licensing Hotline column and her features and news about licensed publishing typically appear in Bookshelf.

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