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Choosing up Sides Hardcover – April 13, 1998

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 670L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399231854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399231858
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,363,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set during Prohibition, Ritter's debut novel features a rural Kentucky dialect and a sympathetic hero "stuck smack between two worlds." Luke Bledsoe's conflicts with his father, a volatile fundamentalist preacher, take on a new dimension when the seventh-grade southpaw discovers his pitching power. Classmates who have seen Luke accidentally throw with what his father calls "the Devil's arm" urge Luke to join the local baseball team, but Luke's left-handedness is not the only trouble: participation in sports is strictly forbidden by his church. The narrator is strongly tempted to side with "wild-as-a-witch-dog" Uncle Micah, another lefty, who encourages his nephew to follow his own natural course. Luke's movement toward independence is realistically cautious but frustratingly slow?until his father's accidental death brings a quick turn of events and tidy solution to problems. Criticisms of religious taboos and narrow-mindedness are hurled as forcefully as Luke's fastball. More artful, subtle expression may be found in the author's depiction of local color and metaphors mostly having to do with fishing and hunting. Despite its somewhat didactic tone, this story offers enough curve balls to keep readers engaged. Ages 10-14.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-9ABaseball is the sport, but personal salvation hangs in the balance for 13-year-old Luke, whose father has been newly installed to shepherd the flock of the Holy River of John the Baptist Church in Crown Falls, OH. Pa's fundamentalist beliefs hold sports to be as "sinful as dancing." He's fought a long, difficult battle to "cure" Luke of his left-handedness (including tying Luke's left arm to his side with a belt for most of six or seven years) because the Bible clearly tells him that the left hand is of the devil. Luke admires and respects his father, but also fears him. Temptations arrive in the form of baseball for which Luke's left arm seems predestined for greatness, and Annabeth Quinn, a too-good-to-be-true girl who pushes him to play because in 1921, in this place, she cannot. Further influenced by his Uncle Micah, a flashy newspaper sportswriter, Luke sees Babe Ruth play a local exhibition game and plays enough ball himself to incur his father's wrath. Long a trapper and fisherman, Luke experiences an epiphany when he frees a snared rabbit and clearly perceives his own entrapment. Following a vicious beating by his pa that cracks his pitching arm, the boy resolves to run away. Sophisticated readers might find the climax over the topAa misstep plunges Pa, a nonswimmer, into the river, and Luke, hampered by his broken arm, is unable to rescue him. Cleverly told in a colloquial first-person twang, this thoughtful tale of authority questioned and dreams denied will be real enough to many readers.AJoel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Novelist John H. Ritter (born October 31, 1951, in San Pedro, California) grew up in the summer-dry hills east of San Diego. "I grew up in a baseball family," says John. "But we were also a family of musicians and mathematicians, house painters and poets. My dad was a sports writer in Ashtabula, Ohio, who moved the family out west, just before I was born, to become Sports Editor for The San Diego Union."

Growing up in a sparse, mountainous region also helped stretch John's imagination. "Out in that country," he says, "there was a real sense of the spirits who walked the land in the centuries before. And being so cut off from other kids, I roamed the hills a lot, following hawks and eagles, climbing boulders, sitting in Indian caves. Rattlesnakes never bothered us much. But I felt the spirits everywhere. I think my mom, who was part Blackfoot Indian, had a lot to do with that."

When John was only four, however, his mother died of breast cancer, leaving his father to raise four small children on his own. John still recalls his mother and her songs. "One thing I remember about my mom is that she sang to us constantly, making up a song for each of her four children that fit our personalities perfectly. So from her, I got a sense of how to capture a person's spirit in a lyrical phrase."

Over time, his musical interests continued to grow and in high school, the social commentary of folksinger Bob Dylan inspired him to write his own songs, hoping to pursue a musical career. He was, however, a "wild student," he admits to English professor Chris Crowe in an interview for The ALAN Review, and was torn between his love of baseball and writing, calling himself both "a high achiever and a rabble rouser," noting, for example, that in 1969 he was voted Senior Class President and the Senior Class Clown. Teachers did, however, recognize his writing talent, although his work was so often read out loud in class that he also admits to growing complacent and somewhat lazy about having to improve his skills.

At the University of California, San Diego, John studied communications while playing for the UCSD baseball team, all-the-while continuing to write Dylan-style songs. But by his sophomore year, he recalls, "I was anxious to get on with my life. And for the vision I had in mind, college didn't have much to offer me. I knew I had to walk the streets, touch life, embrace life, gain experience." So like his literary heroes before him, i.e., Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Mark Twain, John quit school, taking a job as a painter's apprentice, and set about traveling the country. He learned to live so cheaply that he could earn enough in three or four months to allow him to travel and write for the rest of the year. He did that for several years, until he married his wife, Cheryl, whom he had met in college, and they had a baby daughter. With a family to support, John needed to work nine months a year, painting houses, but the rest of his time went into writing, an artistic lifestyle he later spotlighted in his song-laden socio-political novel, Under the Baseball Moon.

In 1994, after publishing several short stories, John received the Judy Blume Award and a cash grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for a novel in progress. In 1996, he submitted his manuscript through the Curtis Brown Agency to Philomel Books where it became the first book-length acquisition of junior editor, Michael Green. Since then, Green has risen to become Editorial Director and Publisher of Philomel Books and has edited all six of John's novels.

In 1999, John's first novel, Choosing Up Sides, won the International Reading Association Children's Book Award for Older Readers and was designated an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. The hard-hitting work of historical fiction, set in Southern Ohio, was praised by Kirkus Reviews as, "No ordinary baseball book, this is a rare first novel." Since then, John has published five more award-winning books and numerous short stories.

In 2004, he received the Paterson Prize for Children's Literature for his third novel, The Boy Who Saved Baseball. Cited in People Magazine as a book to read, "Now that the youngsters have read Harry Potter...", The Boy Who Saved Baseball also garnered a rave review in Publishers Weekly, which called the book's prose " times stunning," and that, "Ritter delivers a baseball tale of legendary dimension."

According to Vicki Sherbert, writing in The ALAN Review, "Ritter uses the game of baseball, the glory of music, and the power of the written word to illustrate how young people can overcome everyday, and not-so-everyday, challenges. Each book goes beyond the story of the game, beyond the story of the problem, right to the heart of Ritter's message: What is really valuable in life?"

Literary scholar and essayist, Patty Campbell, also notes that, "Another aspect of John H. Ritter's writing that merits high praise is the variety and inventiveness of his language. Richly evocative metaphors gather layers of meaning as the stories unfold, and the verbal style of each novel is neatly crafted to the place and time of its setting. Under the Baseball Moon dances to a hip hop beachtown beat; Over the Wall wisecracks with a California kid's take on New York; The Boy Who Saved Baseball draws on both Spanish and English to make up zingy new expressions, and Choosing Up Sides savors the naiveté of the historic Appalachian dialect of southern Ohio. His settings, too, are vividly distinct and vary from the Hispanic/Anglo blend of his own Southern California hill communities to the "small town" neighborhoods of present day New York; from the eclectic oceanfront culture of the Pacific beach towns to the church-centered villages on the banks of the Ohio River during Prohibition."

John's fifth novel, The Desperado Who Stole Baseball, was a 2009 Jr. Library Guild selection and takes an historical look at the roots of racism in the Major Leagues. Set in the Wild West of the 1880s and written in the manner of a tall tale, Desperado is a prequel to The Boy Who Saved Baseball.

And coming soon (April 12, 2012) is John's sixth novel, Fenway Fever, also a Junior Library Guild selection and a book his publisher describes as "another magical novel that celebrates teamwork--and the innate power to heal that even the least among us is born with." New York Times bestselling author Peter Abrahams called Fenway Fever, "A funny, exciting, original, and heartwarming novel."

"In all of these wonderful novels," writes Patty Campbell, "John H. Ritter steps up to the plate and hits a home run for teen reading with books that are fun to read, fun to discuss, and important in the difficult process of growing up to be an ethical human being."

Customer Reviews

Great story about courageously choosing your own path.
Elizabeth Wallace
I thought it was a great book for older readers but should be used with caution and lots of discussion for young readers.
A Charles
Surely, this is an excellent baseball story for baseball fanatics of all ages.
Marvin P. Ferguson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As Language Arts Chair and Peer Coach/Staff Developer, I'm writing on behalf of 500 middle school students, their teachers, and parents. John H. Ritter's first novel, Choosing Up Sides, is an extremely powerful story which has touched all of us in one of San Diego's public schools. Although every single language arts teacher read Ritter's book to each of their students during the school year 1999-2000, kids, parents, and teachers are still commenting on the plot and engaging in meaningful dialogues regarding complex issues faced by Ritter's characters. And, I don't expect the talk to fade. Afterall, isn't that what excellent literature is designed to do?
Teachers are thrilled to put their hands on a gripping story that causes students to engage in critical thought, ask powerful questions, and express opinions on matters relevant to adolescents. Kids yearn to sink their teeth into issues that matter, issues that allow them to search for and define their own feelings. Ritter's book serves as a catalyst for such introspection and growth. And, his story is just as captivating for adults as it is for adolescents. Therefore, as teachers, we're receiving reports of kids and parents engaging in book talks over this novel. Imagine. Adolescents and their parents reading and discussing literature! Why is this happening?
It's happening because Ritter's book is one of healing and hope. A young man gets in touch with his spiritual self and finds strength to love and forgive. Readers need more authors like Ritter who have the courage to make us squirm in order to grow emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Read more ›
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I did not give "Choosing Up Sides" a 5-star rating for two (I believe reasonable) reasons. First, like our modern educational system, the 5-star system is a victim of "inflation." (Too many GOOD books are deemed GREAT, and 5 stars SHOULD be reserved for that VERY RARE GREAT BOOK. ) Secondly, I've got to give John Ritter SOME place to go! Bottom line, a good adolescent novel, and a VERY GOOD first novel--a book which both teenagers and adults can read and thoroughly enjoy. One by one, Ritter's meticulously-handled characters enter the story and engage its conflicts from the moment each enters. Religion vs. nature, familiar vs. risky, talent vs. luck, destiny vs. choice, passion vs. thought, chaos vs. order, father vs. son, and boy vs. girl. Ritter's characters move among these and other deep-rooted conflicts, embodying both their explicit and their subtle manifestations like deer in the forest. Each character is internally consistent yet engages others at various levels, and develops for better or worse within the storyline. The novel also carries within it an implicit and ever present sense of place and time. I found myself trusting where Ritter was going next within this gently crafted first novel. I very much look forward to John Ritter's next novel! And I am buying a copy of "Choosing Up Sides" for my teenage nephew
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
John Ritter hits a homerun with this novel. In a story for all ages Ritter brings to life young Luke Bledsoe, a 14 year old boy with his eyes on a pretty girl in his class, his right hand on a Bible held by his father, and his left hand on a baseball.
Sports can teach us many lessons in life. Through baseball, Ritter teaches his audience about the power of identity and influence.
At 14, Luke is at a stage in his life when his identity is beginning to be formed. Luke, and many others, start to discover things about himself that he didn't previously consider. The most important of these discoveries is that his dad's interpretation of the Bible didn't seem logical or consistent with Luke's interpretation. Luke struggles throughout the story with choosing sides: his father and mother or his uncle and girlfriend. Luke's final decision is not so much who he stands with as much as what he stands for. Despite his bold stance and his willingness to do what is right Luke suffers tragedy and looses the alliance that he has with one side after an ironic and intense ending.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1998
Format: Hardcover
In "Choosing Up Sides", by John H. Ritter, the reader BECOMES 13 year old Luke Bledsoe, immersed in the sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings of 1921 rural Ohio, identifying with Luke's struggle between his father's expectations and his God given talents.
"Choosing Up Sides" is a must read for all ages.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
John H. Ritter has a new fan! Seldom do I ever read a story that makes me cry or gasp out loud as this one did. This is a compelling book by a natural-born storyteller.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
"Choosing up Sides" is a young adult book for everyone, of every age. The universal need to be one's self, and to be accepted for it, lies at the heart of this story and is sensitively handled by the author. Ritter has numerus opportunities to take the easy way out, and passes each by, opting instead for the more complex, thoughtful and realistic turn of events. I am not a young adult, nor am I left-handed, but I am a human being, which I believe is the only criteria necessary to enjoy this book. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
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