Epic Athletes: Alex Morgan Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-09-10 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 0 user ratings

"Dan Wetzel, a national sports journalist, has delved into the world of children's publishing. With a new series of short sports biographies, titled Epic Athletes, he has strengthened a fast-growing corner of children's lit. The first two - Stephen Curry and Alex Morgan - describe the lives of these athletes in an easy, conversational style suited to children in grades three through six. Kids will particularly enjoying learning about setbacks these athletes had on their path to greatness. Look for two more out this summer: Tom Brady and Serena Williams." said.

"Women's soccer is highly competitive. Making it to the national team is a long shot. There have been a number of biographies and memoirs written about the women's national team soccer players. They all have an incredible amount of drive, to the point of extreme. Alex Morgan is a current player on the women's national team and helped lead the team to victory in the 2019 World Cup championship. This is a biography about her youth, college, and national team experiences. What's unusual about her is that she got a late start playing on an elite youth team. She had remarkable speed, but lacked the team skills the other girls had learned at a much earlier age. Once she caught up, she was a force to be reckoned with, surpassing all the other players. She went on to play for Cal Berkeley and helped the National Team win gold at the 2012 London Olympics.

This biography takes a look at all the struggles and obstacles Alex faced to get to the top. Juggling multiple teams at once, especially while in college, means she had no life outside of soccer. The relationships with other elite players is also interesting. This is a relatively short book. Recommend for upper elementary.
" said.

"Inspiring and nicely paced biography that doesn't overwhelm the reader by tackling too much info at a time. Wetzel begins in chapter one by describing an "epic" moment in a 2012 London Olympics game between the US Women's National Soccer team and Canada's team. While being introduced to Alex Morgan, the reader is immediately drawn in to the intensity of the game and the moment –

"They fought for 123 minutes. They fought through ninety minutes of regulation. They fought through thirty minutes of extra time. And now they were fighting both exhaustion and each other in the third minute of stoppage time…" p. 1

After this introduction, Wetzel moves back in time to Alex Morgan’s childhood. The narrative – filled with statistics, artful descriptions of key plays in Morgan’s career, and quotes from sources—is well written, clearly designed for a middle grade (even middle school) audience. Wetzel seems to assume that the reader will have some understanding of soccer (there’s not explanation of the game, rules, no visuals of the field’s layout with labels, etc.) but the reader can easily make inferences – if they have just the tiniest bit of knowledge about athletic games even.

Wetzel does not just recount major events in Morgan’s life, though. Instead he weaves in THEMES that run throughout the book.
• The respect players have for other players – on their team and not on their team.
• The tenacity (“persistence in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired” per Merriam Webster online) a superstar athlete like Morgan must practice to reach the top.
• That “playing like Morgan” or “playing like a girl” means giving the sport your best.
• That the journey to the top of a sport is long, frequently arduous and laiden with obstacles, but with persistence one can overcome obstacles, learn from those obstacles, be better as a result.
• A soccer team has 21 players not just a star player; a team plays as a “unit” not just to help the star player.
• There’s always room to grow as an athlete (or learner of any kind).
• There is value in good sportsmanship.
• The meaning of being a team player – working at being accepted, leading, helping, mentoring…

A MISSING COMPONENT (but not a deal breaker and this is only my point of view) – Wetzel does not include an author’s note about his research for this book. I wondered if he had a chance to interview Morgan, if he relied primarily on interviews of others, and about the sources he used to develop his ideas for the book. I also wonder if Morgan endorsed this book – if she had a chance to read the manuscript and provide feedback. There's also not a list of quote credits and no acknowledgments. In an age where we are encouraging students to check their sources for accuracy and authority – I think this would have been helpful. For now, we just have to assume Wetzel has some expertise as a result of career as a sports columnist which includes being honored by the Associated Sports Press Editors. I’d encourage student-readers to reach out to him for more info on his research methods maybe via Twitter.

SUGGESTIONS FOR BOOK TALKING & BEYOND (grades 3-5 and striving readers in grades 6-8) –
• Read aloud the first paragraph of the book – that might be enough.
• Share a quick video clip of Alex Morgan playing.
• Ask if anyone watched the World Cup game last summer (2019)
• Buy 4-5 copies of this book and form a book club. Pose questions related to the themes or provide quotes for students to discuss (or ask them to locate a quote).
• Ask students to write a response to their favorite quote or to write about how this book has more than on theme...

Lots of quotes in the book that are worthy of contemplating as a student-reader thinks about the book as a whole –
• Alex Morgan – “It is something we were taught from a young age because we respect the women’s team at such a high level. We respect the women for making the journey. Sportsmanship is important because they fought just as much to get to where they are. I think it’s important to shake hands after the game. I think it’s important to shake the referee’s hand. It’s just part of sports in general. Winning is what drives all athletes but it is not what defines us.” – p. 100
• Abby Wambach, professional soccer player (now retired), about Alex Morgan – “I like to think of Alex as kind of the kid that has the world in front of her and is literally running at it with every step she takes, every shot she takes, every goal she scores.” – p. 104
• Alex Morgan on her team winning - “We were such a unit and we leaned on each other when we needed to.” P. 109
• Julie Foudy, ESPN broadcaster – “There is more to a team than just a superstar, though. The thing a lot of young players miss is they see a superstar and they think, ‘Well, I am not a superstar so I can’t be successful at this level.’ But what I think is more important is that you are a great teammate. Because people are so focused on goals and results. People don’t hear about it, but Alex is awesome in terms of team chemistry and positivity and mentoring other players and helping other players.” P. 114
• President Obama – “This team taught all America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means [being the best].” P. 126

Looking forward to reading other books in Wetzel's series "Epic Athletes."
" said.

September 2019 New Book:

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