Posts Tagged sports

Meet Fred Bowen, author of the FRED BOWEN SPORTS STORY SERIES

Today at MUF we’re so excited to welcome Fred Bowen, author of Peachtree’s popular Fred Bowen Sports Story Series for middle grade readers. A lifelong sports fanatic, he has coached youth league baseball, basketball, and soccer. His kids’ sports column “The Score” appears each week in the KidsPost section of the Washington Post.  His latest book in the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series is Soccer Trophy Mystery

Here Fred shares his rules for writing for middle graders, his favorite teams, and the most important thing we can learn from sports.

Soccer Trophy Mystery

MUF: Thank you so much for answering a few questions for us. Starting with the hardest question first: What’s your favorite sport? 

Fred: I enjoy most sports if they are well played and the teams or players are well matched.  But my favorite sport to watch is baseball.  My son, Liam, is the head baseball coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and so my favorite team to watch is the UMBC Retrievers.

Growing up, I played lots of sports: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and even street hockey.  I wasn’t great at any of them but I loved playing and being active.  Now that I am older my favorite sport to play is golf.  I am still trying to score my first hole-in-one.

MUF: As a kid, did you love reading, love playing and watching sports, or love both? What led to your career as a sportswriter? 

Fred: Both. As I said above, I played lots of sports growing up.  I also spent many hours watching sports on television.  Living in New England, I was a big Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics fan.  Because my father was in advertising, he would get tickets to see the Celtics and the Bruins, Boston’s pro hockey team.  So I was lucky enough to see such great basketball players as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and many others up close in the Boston Garden.  I also saw the incomparable Bobby Orr of the Bruins play hockey several times.

As for reading, I grew up on the Chip Hilton sports books.  The books, written in the 1940s and 50s by Hall of Fame basketball coach Clair Bee, followed Chip and his friends’ sports adventures at Valley Falls High School and State (his college).  I suspect the books would seem very old fashioned now, but I loved them.  They helped me understand the joy of being lost in a book.  I also read sports magazines such as Sports Illustrated as well as the sports section of several newspapers.

Finally, I did not start out as a writer.  I studied history at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN) and then went on to law school at George Washington University.  I was a lawyer for more than thirty years.

The most important reason I became a writer is because I married my wife, Peggy Jackson, who was, at the time, a journalist.  She encouraged my writing.

Fred Bowen

Kidlit author Fred Bowen

First, I wrote movie reviews for local papers.  That was fun.  I got paid to go to the movies!  A few years later, after my son was born, I started reading sports books to him.  I didn’t think they were very good so I tried writing one.  Those efforts produced T.J.’s Secret Pitch, the first in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series.  I now have 24 books in the series with Soccer Trophy Mystery being the latest.  I plan on writing kids’ sports books as long as I am having fun doing it and kids want to read them.

MUF: For your young readers, what would you tell them are the most important things they can learn about the world and themselves by participating in sports? What if they’re not sporty at all? 

Fred: There are lots of things kids can learn from sports such as sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate.  But I think the two most important lessons kids can learn from sports are:

  • Always try your hardest. That way you can be satisfied even if things do not turn out the way you had hoped.  It is easy to say, “I could have gotten an “A” if I had studied.”  It is harder to study your hardest and get a “B.”  But at least you will know you gave it your best effort


  • I have hinted at this lesson in the first answer. Sometimes, you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out the way you wanted.  Your team loses or you don’t make the team.  Life is filled with disappointments.  Sports is often a good (and safe) place for kids to learn how to deal with disappointments but to bounce back and try again.

Sports are not the only place to learn these lessons.  Some kids are not “sporty.”  They can still learn these lessons about effort and learning how to bounce back from disappointment if they are interested in music or theater or some other activity.  The important thing is you have to care about your interest.  Don’t be a kid who is always complaining things are “boring.”  Find something you like to do and give it your best efforts.

MUF: For writers, any advice on how you created such a successful and wonderful book series? What’s your secret?  

Fred: First, thanks for the kind words about the series.  One of my “secrets” is I am lucky enough to write about a subject that is interesting to me and my readers.  I have been a sports fan for my entire life and so it is a joy to write about the games and personalities in sports.  I think my readers sense my enthusiasm for the subject and that is one of the reasons they love my books.

As for the more technical aspects of writing, I was asked to speak at a conference of people who wanted to write for middle readers (ages 8-12).  So I came up with my Rules for Writing for Middle Graders.  Here they are (although I am sure I broken all of them at some time).

  • Write in short, clear sentences;
  • Avoid long descriptions;
  • Avoid adverbs and the passive voice;
  • Subject/Verb/Object is a good sentence structure 90% of the time;
  • Show, don’t tell;
  • All action should either reveal character and/or move the plot along;
  • If you can tell your story (or part of your story) clearly through dialogue, do it;
  • Try to break up the words on the page – no young reader likes to see page after page filled with words;
  • Think about your reader.

MUF: Finally, how can fans find you? Do you have a website and/or any social media that you use? 

Fred: The best way to reach me is to go to my website:

Click on the “Contact” heading at the top of the home page.  That will direct kids or any interested people to a way they can send me an email.  I always enjoy hearing from my readers and will answer any emails sent to me.

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — Interview with Author Janet Slingerland

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Janet Slingerland, author of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology?  

Janet Slingerland: The book looks at sports-related cutting-edge technology through the years. Like its name implies, these were the 12 break-through technologies that I thought had the biggest impact on the world of sports. It’s written for middle-grade readers (ages 8-12), but hopefully it engages readers outside that range, too.

MKC: Do you play sports or are you a big sports fan?

Janet: My father was a gym teacher and track coach, so it’s probably not surprising that I played sports. My favorite sport to play, by far, was volleyball. I’ve always enjoyed playing more than watching, although I have enjoyed watching a wide variety of sports over the years. I especially love the Olympics, where we see sports that are more difficult to watch on a more regular basis.

MKC: What was challenging about writing the book?

Janet: I found trying to select the 12 “biggest” breakthroughs to be challenging. To make the decision, I considered how many people the breakthrough impacted and in what way. Some made the sport more accessible to people. Others were geared toward elite athletes, but are life-saving. Yet others make sports more enjoyable (and understandable) for fans to watch.

MKC: This book is packed full of facts! Would you like to share a favorite research discovery?

Janet:  I think the thing that amazed me most was how long ago sports science originated. The study of how exercise changes the human body started when gladiators were fighting in the Roman coliseum. It may actually go even further back than that, but there are detailed records from gladiator times. Realizing the first indoor ice skating rink was built before electricity is a little mind-blowing, too. Here’s a really interesting article on the first skating rinks.

Janet Slingerland studied electrical engineering and programmed computers before deciding to share her love of STEM (and other things) with children. She has written more than 20 nonfiction books for grades K-12. Visit her at

MKC: What inspires you to write about STEM subjects?

Janet:  My background is in engineering and embedded programming (writing code for microchips that go inside things). I’ve always been fascinated by how science explains so many things that seem like magic. The puzzle-lover in me drew me to engineering. I started writing STEM books so I could share these loves with kids (and parents/teachers).

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about how everything is interconnected. So many people think they don’t like STEM, but it’s tied to everything. We hear music thanks to the physics of sound and the biology behind how our ears work. We see rainbows and blue skies thanks to the physics of light, the chemistry of the air the light passes through, and the biology behind how our eyes perceive color. Everything in our lives has ties to STEM.


Win a FREE copy of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — Writing Tips & Resources


Title Talk

A good title can do a lot of work for both the reader and the writer. Of course the title conveys the subject of the book but it has many more jobs to do. It conveys the tone of the book. It gives clues to the scope of the book. Most importantly, it must hook a reader. All of that in just 1-5 words (and sometimes a subtitle).

Our STEM Tuesday book lists are a great place to study what titles can do. Take a look at just the titles of this month’s STEM in sports books:

Sports Science & Technology in the Real World

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up

The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology

STEM in Sports: Engineering

Learning STEM From Baseball: How Does A Curveball Curve? And Other Amazing Answers for Kids!

STEM In Sports

Science Behind Sports

The Secret Science of Sports: The Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering Behind Every Grand Slam, Triple Axel, and Penalty Kick

STEM Jobs in Sports

Sports Medicine: Science, Technology, Engineering

The Book of Wildly Spectacular Sports Science: 54 All-Star Experiments

Start asking questions: Why were those specific words chosen? The word “sport” is used frequently but in different positions. How does word placement matter? Who chooses the titles? Surprisingly, in many cases the title/subtitle are developed by the marketing team, not the author. Why might that be?

Here are a few ways you can look at what titles can do.  In the nonfiction area of the library, sit down in front of one shelf. Find a section of 5-10 books that are all on a closely related topic. (For this exercise it is best to not use a series of books). Write down all of the titles and subtitles in a list.

A Reader’s Reaction

  • Which titles draw you in? Why? Is it the subject or some other element?
  • Looking at your title list, are there any particular words that hook you?
  • Skim the books. For each book ask: Did the title/subtitle give you an accurate idea of what was inside the cover?

More than The Subject

Search for how the titles  subtly or not-so-subtly convey more than the basic subject. Consider these elements (and add your own):

  • Subtopic: Does the book focus on one specific topic within the subject?
  • Angle: Has the author selected a unique angle from which to approach the topic? Can you determine that from the title?
  • Tone: Is this book humorous? Academic? Lyrical? Does the title convey that?

Make it Visual

Upload your title list into a word cloud generator and see what other discoveries you can make.

  • Do one or more words dominate the titles?
  • If so, are there any titles that do not rely on those words? How are those titles unique? How are those books unique?

Compare and Contrast

  • Do the titles on your list vary drastically or are they all fairly similar? Some things to analyze: content, length, specific words, presence of a subtitle, etc.
  • In a new section of the library, pick a subject area which is very different (for example if your first list is about space, maybe go to the art section).
    • Create a new title list. Repeat one or more of the above exercises.
    • In what way is your new list similar to/different from your previous list? How much do you think the book’s subject affects that?
    • Separate your books into two piles based on main purpose: to entertain or to inform. In what ways might that impact the choice of title?

Titles can do a lot of work for the reader and the writer.  Enjoy taking a closer look at all the titles in your future!


Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. Studying titles and subtitles in the library helped her create a few fun ones of her own:  BUGS DON’T HUG, SURPRISING SCIENCE FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER, and SOMETHING ROTTEN. You can learn more about here wacky titles at


Here are some ways to add some STEAM into your work with titles:

  • Pick one book from your list and create at least 3 alternate titles.
  • Using your stack of books, create a spine poem. Feel free to add other books to your pile as needed.
  • Using your title list(s), create a blackout poem. Is it easier to do with one list than the other? Why might that be?

New to spine or blackout poems? Kristen W. Larson explains how in this post: