By Gene Luen Yang
So maybe it isn’t the fewest mistakes that wins. Maybe it’s having the courage to take that next step–even at the risk of making a mistake.”
Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that should move to the top of your must-read list this year. As I read it I couldn’t help but think to myself, (almost as if my brain was on loop), this book is amazing and I can think of 4,000 uses for it in the classroom. As a teacher and a mom of elementary school aged kids, I became giddy with eagerness to share this book with children.
On the surface, Dragon Hoops is an autobiographical story about Yang’s journey to write a graphic novel about the high school basketball team, The O’Dowd Dragons. However, this book is about so much more than basketball. Packed inside its pages, the history of basketball is chronicled. We learn, as we read about the struggle to integrate the court, about the introduction of women’s basketball, and the immersion of basketball as a sport in China, and an author’s writing process.
Through the stories told about the players and the coaches, we become immersed in the plight of immigrants and marginalized people who struggle to compete in the face of subtle and overt racism and microaggressions on a daily basis. We learn about what it feels like to be raised in inner city Oakland, California, China, and San Francisco and how one must constantly code switch to make it in a private Catholic prep school.
Yang’s writing weaves through time lapses and flashbacks as he jumps through momentous periods in basketball’s history and his characters’ pasts. He then reaches back into the present, slowing time down to the millisecond as he offers play-by-play narration of championship games. Yang brings themes of race and gender inequality, social justice, immigration, and perseverance through the surface of the story. All of these important sub-stories are punctuated by witty sarcasm and humor that make the reader laugh out loud.
Dragon Hoops should be on every upper elementary and middle school must read list. It deserves to be read more than once and used as a mentor text in classrooms everywhere. Hear one fourth grader’s review of Dragon Hoops: Jake’s Review.
**In 2016 Gene Luen Yang was named the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the U.S. Library of Congress. He was the third graphic novelist to be awarded the MacArthur Fellowship.
Gene Luen Yang’s Ted Talk: Comic’s Belong In The Classroom