Charles R. Smith Jr. combines his passions — basketball, photography and writing

I need to preface this highlight by saying that…well, I think the book might be out of print. My apologies. Regardless, I’m highlighting this book and it’s author anyway. For me it was an introduction to a talented author, one whom I plan to follow. In the future, I promise I’ll do my homework to be sure the book I’m highlighting still exist, somewhere.

Charles R. Smith Jr. loves basketball. And he loves writing and photography, too. Through the world of children’s literature, he’s found a way to combine his passions — he writes books for children (mostly about basketball), and he illustrates his works with photography. In his book, Tall Tales: Six Amazing Basketball Dreams, his love for writing, basketball and photography ring true.

I’m not a basketball fan myself. I’d much prefer to floss my gums with 24-grit sandpaper than to play a game of basketball with anyone other than my 6-year-old son. Basketball is not my thing. But you don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy the larger-than-life stories in Tall Tales. In each story, I found myself rooting for the characters, regardless of the sport they were playing.

In What Jo Did, the main character loves to play basketball and practices every day, jumping high into the air, touching the backboard. Jo’s parents, who had no idea how high a basketball rim should be hung, mounted it 16-feet high on the side of their roof. Typical basketball hoops, apparently, are 10-feet high. Jo, having never played with anyone else, didn’t know the difference.

One day, on the way to the store, a group of boys invited Jo to play ball. Before long everyone was dazzled by Jo’s ability to block a shot by jumping high above everyone else. “Unbelievable,” one boy exclaims. “Where’d you learn to do that?” another boy asks.

In the end, Jo accepts a challenge to slam-dunk the ball. Everyone is astounded as Jo leaps through the air and, looking down at the hoop, slams the ball through. This part of the story thrilled me because I, the reader, knew something the other boys didn’t. Jo…er, Joanna is a girl, revealed only when her hat flew off, mid-air, at the height of her dunk.

I especially enjoyed Funky Stuff, which led the reader through a series of dialog bubbles, signifying, as though playing the dozens. Each speaker one-upped the last: “I had a shirt that smelled so bad…” Followed by, “I had some socks that were so nasty…” Followed by, “I once had a shirt, some shorts, socks, and shoes that were so funky…” Reminded me of the trash talking my brothers and I used to do as children.

The other five stories read with the same rhythmic action and high energy as the first. As I read, I felt like I was right there on the court, watching, even playing along.

Mr. Smith’s photographs are electric, accomplished by using a 35-millimeter camera with infrared color film. While the photographs are on target, the graphics refused to be out-staged. They are bold, bright, and lead the reader through a colorful array of over-sized typography and funky page design. What a fun reading experience this was.

Don’t be fooled by the cover which features two dark, menacing and muscled basketball figures. This is not a book for boys only. In fact, the main characters in three of the six stories are girls — white, black, the book is multi-racial.

Other titles by this author with sports themes include Rimshots and Short Takes. And more recently, Hoop Kings, Hoop Queens and Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali, illustrated by the great Bryan Collier.


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