Winners Takes All (2000)
Religious / Intergenerational
Citation: Bowen, Fred. Winners Take All. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2000.
Reading Level (choose all that apply): Young Adult / Parent / Adult
Comments: Child ages 8-11
Author Biography: Fred Bowen (b. 1953) writes the weekly Washington Post sports column for kids and is the author nine sports novel for kids. Winners Take All was a finalist for six statewide children’s choice awards. He’s been a guest speaker at the Smithsonian, The Baseball Hall of Fame and hundreds of schools across the county. He has a degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from George Washington University. He lives in Maryland with his wife and daughter.
Plot Summary: Winners Take All is a fast-paced, suspenseful baseball story that appeals to girls as well as boys (ages 8 and up). Adults get pulled in too. It is about a good kid who makes a bad decision to cheat in the middle of a big game. His cheating clinches a huge win for his team, but even before the cheering stops, he wishes he could put his life on rewind. He doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels like a fake. The book has broad appeal because the main character, Kyle, is grappling with a very common problem: a guilty conscience. The tension in the story rises as Kyle makes some desperate attempts to keep his cheating a secret. Kyle’s best friend is a girl named Claire and their friendship is a big part of the story. Another very important character is Kyle’s sports-loving grandmother who happens to tell him an old baseball story that turns Kyle around. The story’s broad appeal might not be evident in the first couple of pages. The story begins in the middle of a baseball game, which might be disorienting for those who aren’t baseball fans. But Kyle’s moral dilemma is quickly set and the story takes off by the end of the first chapter, which ends in a cliffhanger that everyone can understand. Most importantly, Winners Take All makes for a good springboard to start an intergenerational conversation about the values we hold. In a very child-friendly way, the story raises big issues, such as honesty, fairness, and personal character.
1. Kyle doesn’t feel so good after he clinches the win in the big game. Everybody is cheering and congratulating him, but he just wants to go home. Why?
2. One of the themes in the story focuses on the consequences of not telling the truth. Kyle kept his cheating a secret for a long time. How did that secret affect his life? Think about his relationship with his teammates, especially Claire. Also think about how that secret affected the way he felt about playing baseball, the game he loved.
3. Kyle didn’t like keeping his cheating a secret, but he was afraid to tell the truth. Everyone had been so excited about winning the game, and his parents, grandmother, and teammates were so proud of him. He didn’t want to tell the truth because he didn’t want to disappoint them. How do you think his dad would have reacted if Kyle had told the truth? What about his teammates? How would you have reacted?
4. Do you think Kyle would have told truth if Jason hadn’t discovered the cheating and told Coach Rolfe about it?
5. Friendship is also an important theme in the story. How is Claire a good friend to Kyle?
6. How would you describe Coach Daye? What do you think Kyle’s opinion of Coach Daye is by the end of the story? If you have ever been on a sports team, what do you think your coach would have done if someone on your team had cheated?
7. Playing to win is exciting and fun. And winning in a tight game is especially thrilling. But Kyle wants to win so much that he makes a bad decision. Why does he feel so much pressure to win? Whom is he trying to please? Do you ever feel pressure to excel at something? Is all that pressure bad? What is the difference between wanting to win for the right reasons and wanting to win for the wrong ones?
8.How does this famous expression apply to Kyle: Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive?
1. Role Play: When Kyle wins the game, everyone is so happy and proud of him. But he doesn’t feel happy and proud. He knows that he cheated and that he doesn’t deserve their praise, but he’s afraid to tell them the truth. He’s worried about their reaction. For this project, have several people role play the scene from Chapter 3, page 15, where Kyle and his parents have just arrived home from the game and his grandmother has met them at the door. In the story, Kyle’s father and mother excitedly brag about Kyle, and the grandmother beams with pride. Kyle just squirms. Claire comes over and everyone keeps talking about Kyle’s great catch. Kyle doesn’t say much. Have your “actors” play out a different end to the chapter. Have Kyle tell the truth to his family and Claire, and have the family members react in realistic and honest ways. Before they begin, tell your actors to think about how they would really react in a situation like this.
2. Play and Think: Walking in someone else’s shoes helps us appreciate them. In youth sports, children and grownups can be very tough on umpires and referees. Organize an informal game of basketball. The first two teams will be made up of parents. Have three children referee at one time, and rotate the threesome every ten minutes. If time allows, you can reverse the situation and have children play the game and the adults referee. Then have everyone talk together about the experience. You could also invite a local referee or umpire to come and talk with your group.
3. Interview a Family Member: Kyle had a very important conversation with his grandmother that helped him decide to tell the truth. Have the children interview their grandparents, or other adult, about a time when they had trouble telling the truth or someone they know did. Or perhaps the children could interview their grandparents about the way sports have changed over the years. Today’s children play very organized sports with adults supervising and making sure the games are fair. Most likely the grandparents played a lot of “disorganized sports” as kids, and in those games the kids themselves were in charge of making sure the games were fair. The children could ask their grandparents what were the benefits of not having grownups in charge of fair play.
Prepared By: Lorraine Bentley, school librarian, St. Andrew Apostle, Silver Spring, MD; Barbara Ochmanek, school librarian, St. Peter’s, Washington
Date: August 2008