This week we interviewed author John Coy, whose most recent book is Eyes on the Goal, a book about four friends, soccer, and growing up. It’s the second in a series called “4 for 4,” published by Scholastic Press. John travels the world speaking to kids and teens about their lives, sports, reading, and writing. John often engages students by having them critique the manuscript on which he’s currently working … and he listens carefully to their feedback.
Question: You’ve written two picture books about driving and one about potatoes, which are favorites with the elementary school crowd. All of your other books are about life seen from the point of view of sports-involved boys and girls, kids and teens. Were you sports-involved as a young person?
Answer: Yes, I lived and breathed sports.
Question: Did you have one particular sport that captivated you? Or were you a player or fan in several sports?
Answer: Baseball was the first sport I loved. Both my mother and my uncle were very patient pitchers and would let me bat a long time. I loved listening to the Twins on the radio and took their wins and losses very seriously. When I was eight I fell in love with basketball and have loved that game ever since.
Question: Were girls playing sports when you were younger? How has that changed?
Answer: That has changed so much that girls now cannot believe the lack of opportunity for sports-playing girls in the old days. I had friends who were good athletes who ended up being cheerleaders. Now they’d be stars on a team.
Question: Do you feel that the characters in your books are inspired by young people you know or people you played with on teams as a child?
Answer: Both. Sometimes a combination of the two.
Question: Your characters always have a strong sense of self and a self-questioning inner dialogue. Is that where you as author most strongly intersect with your books?
Answer: Yes. Figuring out who we are is fascinating to me. All of my novels have a sense of discovering identity in them.
Question: Teens have reacted in person, by letters, and e-mail to your YA sports books, Crackback and Box Out. Can you share a few of the comments that help you know you’re writing stories that help teens connect?
Answer: Over and over I hear from teens who start their email by saying I don’t like to read but ….. Then they tell me how they connected with the book. It’s fascinating to me that they are writing to an author about a book they liked, but they preface it that way. We’ve got to do a much better job of expanding our definition of reading to include these students.
Here’s an email that came today from a librarian in upstate New York:
“I want you to know that while many of my boys are not readers, Crackback has the exact format to get reluctant readers excited. Even I loved it despite the fact that Sports is not is my usual genre. My students say that the game at the end of the book ‘makes your heart beat like you want to scream.’
“Benjamin had not read one single book from this library in 3 years and your book has him excited to read more.
“Thanks so much for your wonderful books.”
Question: You’re currently writing the third book in your “4 for 4” series, including Top of the Order and Eyes on the Goal. Each of the books has one of the four boys in a group of friends as its central character and each of the books features a different sport. How do you go about planning to write a series of books? How did that planning differ from approaching a single title?
Answer: It’s really been fun. When I finished Top of the Order, I was so pleased that I would get to continue to spend time with these four boys. I’m finishing up revisions on Love of the Game, which is the third book in the series. The main challenge is that each book has to be able to stand on its own. Up to forty percent of the readers might not have read the previous books. Finding that balance between including enough information about what happened in the previous book but not too much is an interesting line to explore.
Question: Do you see a natural way for parents and teachers to pair up interests in sports and reading?
Answer: Yes. These two things are not as separate as many believe. We need to find books that speak to the genuine interests of young people. For many of them that is sports. Teachers and parents also need to be careful that they don’t convey the attitude that books about sports aren’t “real books.” That’s a sure way to turn a sports-interested youngster away from books.
Answer: I grew up inculcated with a strong sense of fairness and empathy for people who are left out. It’s hard for some people to believe, but many boys are being left behind in our educational system. The costs to us as a society are high and we need everyone’s help to address these issues. Going forward, we need all students to have decent reading and writing skills because more and more sectors of the economy require that.
Question: I don’t know if everyone realizes that you’re an intrepid world traveler. Have you found the enthusiasm for sports or reading to vary widely from country to country?
Answer: Some of the challenges we’re facing with the gap between boys and girls and reading shows up in other countries as does a love of sports. I’ve been fortunate to be introduced to cricket. I’ve seen some terrific games in Oman and Dubai, and I was allowed to play in Nairobi. I loved it immediately and hope to get a chance to play when I go to Mumbai next year.
Thanks, John. We look forward to reading the rest of the books in the “4 for 4” series.