A Whole New Ballgame: Rip and Red, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
A Whole New Ballgame: Rip and Red, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Fun, gentle story about kids gaining confidence and empathy.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Inspiration for creative, collaborative projects, great vocabulary words, and tips for writing and editing. Practical examples of ways to cope with stressful situations and connect with other people. References to popular authors (Sharon M. Draper, Gary Paulsen, Jacqueline Woodson) may send readers scurrying to the library.

Positive Messages

Appearances and first impressions can be deceiving -- there's a lot more to people than meets the eye. You may need to look beyond behavior that seems weird or off-putting to discover someone's true nature, and you could be rewarded with a valuable relationship. With empathy, compassion, and patience you can bring out the best in others. Life is about playing the cards you're dealt.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rip is empathetic and finely attuned to Red's anxieties and tics. Both boys have firm, engaged, and loving mothers. Mr. Acevedo is unconventional and inspiring, open about the challenges he's facing, and eager to help his students.

Violence & Scariness

Opposing team plays aggressive basketball, and their coach is a loud bully.


Kids occasionally say "friggin'."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Whole New Ballgame is a thoughtful story about kids finding common ground despite differences such as ethnicities, physical abilities, social and emotional disorders, passions, and interests. It's anchored by a seemingly unlikely friendship: a laid-back, dreadlocked boy and his red-haired classmate on the autism spectrum who's prone to behavioral outbursts. There are wonderful role models, both young and old, and inspiring examples of the magic that can happen when people stretch beyond their comfort zones. There's lots of criticism of the time spent in classrooms on test prep, but even the rebellious, free-thinking teacher acknowledges the need to respect and respond to parents' and administrators' concerns. This is the first book in a series.

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What's the story?

Best friends Rip and Red are excited about being classmates and playing basketball together in fifth grade. But when school starts, nothing is like what they expected. Red, who's on the autism spectrum and does best with predictability and routine, has an especially hard time adapting, but sensitive Rip helps guide his friend through the changes, both thrilling and unsettling. The biggest change is their long-haired, tattooed teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Acevedo, who rejects tests and homework and encourages kids to climb atop their desks and seek new perspectives. His unconventional approach can be fun, but what will happen when it's time to take the required tests? And will they ever win a basketball game?

Is it any good?

Change can be unsettling, even scary, but this sweet, engaging book helps point out the way upheaval can churn up new possibilities. Written by a former teacher, this first book in the Rip and Red series is about empathy, creativity, and learning to roll with the unexpected. A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME is set against a backdrop of budget cuts and test-prep culture, but the heart of the story is the friendship between Rip and Red, who's on the autism spectrum. The boys were thrown together due to their mothers' friendship, but they've forged a close bond that helps bring out the best in each other -- and in others.

If it all feels too sweet, don't worry: A plot line about a competitive basketball season and a class project on gross stuff will keep young readers hooked. Author Phil Bildner writes with a keen sense for the daily ups and downs of a fifth grader, and lively illustrations by Tim Probert add to the fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about seeing beyond labels and appearances. Have you ever been surprised to find that someone wasn't what you expected based on what you first saw or heard? How do you think classmates would label you upon first meeting you?

  • How is A Whole New Ballgame different from other school stories you've read? What are some of your favorites?

  • Rip can read Red's emotions and behavior and understands what's really going on in his head. Do you have a friend or relative who knows you that well? Are you able to tap into your best friend's feelings like that?

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