I first met Fred Bowen about 11 years ago, when I was in a Children’s Literature class at the University of Maryland iSchool. He and fellow local author, Valerie Tripp, had been invited by my grad school professor, Maria Salvadore, to speak to us about, well, writing children’s literature. I remember that it was a lively discussion that planted a seed for my aspiration to become a published children’s author as well. Shortly after I began teaching, he gave a fantastic baseball-focused author talk at my elementary school. Our lives intersected again when I recruited him to lead a writing workshop at the Gaithersburg Book Festival – it was tied to one of his football books, and was about journaling. He’d initially been invited as a featured author, but then enthusiastically jumped in to lead a workshop, too. This is one of the many things I love about children’s authors – they are “game” for anything!
Fred will be presenting his two new books, nonfiction, Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association and fiction, Soccer Trophy Mystery along with Charly Palmer (The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale) 2:25-3:05 pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion, immediately followed by a book signing.
Hardcourt is illustrated by the amazingly talented James E. Ransome, and Maria Salvatore has a great Reading Rockets Page by Page interview with Fred and James about their previous collaboration, Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League.
I hope you enjoy this interview with sports author, Fred Bowen.
What is your writing space like?
I do most of the writing of my sports books and columns for The Washington Post in my cluttered home office in the basement of our house. It is hardly a picturesque setting. However, some of the items I have in my office to inspire my writing include:
- All 23 volumes of the Chip Hilton sports series by Clair Bee (my favorite books as a young reader)
- A photograph of the old Boston Garden from 1987 with the classic Celtics lineup of Bird / McHale / Parrish / Ainge / Johnson
- My grandfather’s Harvard law degree from 1911
- My collection of more than 100 sports books
- A picture of a family golf outing at Tedesco CC in Marblehead Massachusetts from more than ten years ago
- A painting of 42 Leicester Road in Marblehead (the house I grew up in)
- Several pictures kids have sent me of them reading my books
- A two-foot-high cardboard rendition of the kid who appeared on the original cover of my second book, The Golden Glove
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?
I hope librarians will lead kids ages 8-12 who like baseball, basketball, soccer or football to my books. But I also hope they realize my books are not “just sports books.” The books deal with lots of important issues such as friendship, jealousy, fear of failure, dealing with disappointment, and many other themes. My books are more than just play-by-play action (although there is plenty of that).
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading Hardcourt and Soccer Trophy Mystery?
When kids read Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association, I hope they will learn that the NBA was not always the billion-dollar international sensation it is today. I hope that will get them interested in the history of the NBA and sports in general. I also hope this realization that things were not always as they see them now will get them interested in American history.
Soccer Trophy Mystery is simply a fun book. Who doesn’t love a good mystery? As with any of the 24 titles in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series I hope my readers will learn the pleasure of getting lost in a book.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Describe them.
My readers are kids usually ages 8-12 (although some are older and younger) who love sports. I think of them constantly as I write.
However, with my latest book, Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association, I hope my usual readers will share the book with their parents and grandparents. After all, these older relatives may have seen Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and the dozens of other NBA players I write about in the book.
I hope the book will start a conversation about great players and memorable games between the generations.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
I am not just a “sports guy.” I was a lawyer for more than thirty years. I love to listen to jazz and other kinds of music. And like every writer I have met, I am a big reader who especially loves to read about American history and culture.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
I think James Ransome did a fabulous job with the art in Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association. My favorite painting from the more than seventy images in the book is the image at the beginning of Chapter 12 of Michael Jordan practicing his jump shot in an empty gym. To me the painting is a perfect depiction of an athlete’s lonely pursuit of excellence.
I knew the art in Hardcourt would be great because James and I had previously teamed up for the book, Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League. The art in Gridiron was fabulous too.
I also really like the cover to Soccer Trophy Mystery. The artist, Marcelo Baez, is creating new covers for all the titles in the series to celebrate my 25 years of publishing with Peachtree Publishers.
What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
I outline my books in considerable detail before I sit down to write them, so I have a very good idea what my characters are going to do and say before the final version. But it is always surprising how often a character insists on stepping forward and becoming more important to the narrative.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
I have been fortunate to get many very positive reviews including some starred reviews. I have also been nominated for dozens of state reading awards over the course of my career. I even won the Land of Enchantment Award (New Mexico).
However, my favorite reviews and greatest rewards are when parents tell me their child didn’t enjoy reading until they found my books. To lead a child to the joys of reading is the best award any author can win.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
I always say that being at the Gaithersburg Book Festival (GBF) is like going to the Baseball Hall of Fame. By that I mean, at the Hall of Fame you are surrounded by people who love baseball. As a result, it is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
In the same way, when you are at the GBF you are surrounded by people who love books and ideas. So you spend a wonderful day talking about books and the books you love. What could be better than that?
We hope you will join Fred Bowen at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st!
Fred Bowen is the author of 27 sports books for young readers ages 8-12. He is the creator and author of the Fred Bowen Sports Story series, 24 books that combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of sports history in the back (Peachtree Publishers). Fred also has written three sports history books, including “Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association” (Margaret K. McEldery Books 2022). Since April 2000, Fred has written a weekly kids’ sports column for the KidsPost page of The Washington Post. He lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife Peggy Jackson.