Elementary: Great For All

A Whole New Ballgame

Phil Bildner









Disability Diversity

Racial Diversity

It’s the first day of fifth grade for Rip and Red, lifetime best friends. These two kids look pretty different on the outside. Rip is a Black kid with dreads and an easy-going manner. Red has his namesake red hair, and is far from easy-going. But they make their friendship work on a deeper level, helped along by their shared love of basketball and a special twelve-step handshake.  

I’m not an alphabetical teacher. … Alphabetical is boring and predictable. I don’t like boring and predictable. I like exciting and unpredictable. 

The friends stride in with the confidence of being the oldest kids in the building. That confidence gets shaken right away when they find that the predictable ELA teacher, Ms. Hamburger, has been replaced with long-haired, tattooed, anything-but-predictable Mr. Acevedo. The fifth graders soon find out that not only does their new teacher have a barista-crossed-with-a-bass-player look, but he also has an unorthodox approach to teaching and learning.  

We’re learning. But we’re learning in a way that doesn’t stifle creativity, and if you don’t know what stifle means, look it up. 

Mr. Acevedo brings a new vibe to Room 208 with Choice (aka sustained silent reading), Teacher Theater Time (aka classroom read aloud) and NWZ (No Worksheet Zone). He isn’t interested in talking about testing or test prep, but he is all about climbing on the table to get a new perspective.  

He brings that same energy when he takes over the fifth grade basketball program. His team is going to learn to play, support each other, and keep their chins up even when they are getting beat – which is most of the time.  

A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. – Mr. Acevedo’s tattoo 

Change can be a good thing, but it can also be a challenge – especially for Red who does better with a routine. The changes even throw the more adaptable Rip for a loop, and the two rely on each other to figure out this totally different school year.  

This first-in-the-series book gives us a story that checks most of the middle grade fiction boxes – friendship, family, school, and sports – without shortchanging any of them. It also contains disability representation that will help families gain some new insights. Red is autistic, and Bildner does a masterful job of showing how his autism is part of who he is and how he maneuvers fifth-grade. In addition, one of the classmates – Avery – uses a wheelchair which becomes the inspiration for her project with Rip about the most disgusting things she has ever wheeled through.   

Bildner pulls all of this off in a briskly paced 240 pages with spot illustrations by Tim Probert that will support your younger listeners. So, polish off your fancy handshakes, dive into A Whole New Ballgame, and don’t be afraid to change your free throw.