What happens when a professional athlete takes pen to page?
It is well known that society respects the talent and work ethic of athletes. Kids grow up hearing the names of popular sports stars and hearing adults praise their achievements. This makes children especially responsive to messages from these real-life idols.
Athletes also have the unique ability to create stories with lessons that young readers can see in real life, on TV, online, and in the paper. To read a story in which Mia Hamm talks about resilience and sportsmanship, and then to watch her play that out on TV during a game draws a connection between these Olympic-level athletes and their young, aspiring counterparts.
Each athlete has his or her own spin on this process. Their publications range from sweet picture books about building relationships and sportsmanship, to YA novels that tackle intense subjects such as bullying, ethical issues, and personal development.
Jim Fox - NBA Star to Accomplished Illustrator
Jim Fox, a former NBA player for the Chicago Bulls, the Arizona Suns, and the Cincinnati Royals, has made a surprising career U-turn into the illustration side of children’s books. Fox says about his experience after retiring from the NBA, “For some reason I was drawn to watercolor paintings…. A friend and I took lessons from another accomplished friend, and she was kind enough to give me a glimmer of hope.” After discovering this artistic talent, Jim collaborated with his daughter-in-law, children’s author Phoebe Fox, to create a book for children. However, the story didn’t revolve around the lessons of playing pro basketball. Instead, Jim followed another passion that he and Phoebe share—promoting the beauty of the mother/child bond and showing the importance of breastfeeding.
Inspired by his love for animals, including his golden retriever named Annie, Jim created stunning watercolor illustrations of animal mother and baby pairs for Phoebe’s newest book, Babies Nurse. Serious about his work, Jim is a member of the Arizona Watercolor Association and the National Watercolor Society. “I know when I get a portrait right,” he states. “A small line or dot of color can make a huge difference in a painting.” Jim has also created portrait keepsakes for families of patients in hospice care.
Mia Hamm - Soccer Sensation to Children's Author
Mia Hamm’s first foray into the world of children’s literature was with her picture book Winners Never Quit, in which a young soccer player named Mia is frustrated whenever her team isn’t winning. Learning about sportsmanship and the value of being a team player along the way, the character discovers that sports aren’t just about winning—they are also about enjoying the game. Hamm has also written other books for kids, such as Go For the Goal, a New York Times bestseller that includes some of Hamm’s personal stories as well as her tips, inspiration, and advice for young soccer players.
Derek Jeter - Baseball Superstar to Young Adult Author
Yankees superstar Derek Jeter has taken a walk on the writing side with a collection of middle grade novels, including a clever collaborative book with NFL star, Tim Green. Titled Baseball Genius, the book is about a kid with a talent for predicting baseball pitches.
Derek Jeter even has his own publishing imprint called Jeter Publishing, featuring picture books, middle grade fiction, and adult nonfiction. “This publishing partnership with Simon & Schuster is an exciting way for me to discover and develop new books,” says Jeter, “sharing insights of my own, or from people I believe have interesting stories, philosophies, or practices to share.” Jeter also helped publish Derek Jeter Presents: Night at the Stadium, an enchantingly illustrated story about a young baseball fan who is accidentally lost in Yankee Stadium.
Even after the field lights turn off, there is always something that keeps our favorite athletes working hard and expressing their creative talents. Creativity isn’t limited to making stunning plays on the field or brilliant sports strategies, but can certainly be applied to the literary world of authoring and illustrating books for kids that inspire, delight, and spark the imagination.