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Not Just for Kids: Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire launches full-court press for reading

The basketball captain and father introduces a book series meant to encourage kids to pick up books and take control of their surroundings.

By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times

July 29, 2012

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NBA superstar Amar'e Stoudemire is so passionate about promoting literacy that he has a tattoo on his forearm that says "Read." This week, the 29-year-old captain of the New York Knicks is translating that ink to the page with a new book series he's written for middle-graders called "STAT: Standing Tall and Talented."

Titled after his nickname, "STAT" is based on Stoudemire's life as a middle schooler. Published by Scholastic, the kickoff title, "Home Court," is written from his perspective as a 6-foot 11-year-old who played basketball informally with friends and dabbled with skateboarding, baseball and football in Lake Wales, the small Florida city where he grew up.

"Double Team," out in October, follows Stoudemire as he's courted by more elite players and forced to weigh the importance of basketball and true friendship. A third title is planned for release in January. According to a Scholastic spokesperson, the series is likely to be ongoing, although just three books have been signed.

"Kids need to enjoy reading and not see it as a chore," said Stoudemire, a "proud father of three" who says he didn't read enough as a child and is now "always" reading to his kids (ages 7, 5 and 4). He said he wrote "STAT" to give kids more opportunities to read books as entertainment.

The "STAT" series is an extension of the work that the six-time NBA All-Star is already doing through his Amar'e Stoudemire Foundation, which focuses on creatively inspiring young people to avoid poverty through education. That theme is carefully woven into the "Home Court" story line through the tall-for-his-age Stoudemire, who does his homework, helps out his dad, gets along with his brother and is supportive of his friends as they confront a trio of older bullies hogging the neighborhood basketball court.

"It gives a lot of messages about the responsibility of working and doing homework and learning to be leaders with my friends and be a positive influence," said Stoudemire, who co-wrote the books with "the help of the Scholastic team."

"Home Court" leverages Stoudemire's status as a role model with messaging that is relentlessly positive — a tone that might not fly with an older readership. Yet the settings, the characters and the language they use to interact with each other keeps the book from feeling too earnest, and it's likely to appeal to the series' target audience of 8- to 12-year-old boys who dream of following in Stoudemire's size 16 footsteps.

"All boys love sports. When I was young, I always looked for sports books at the bookstore," said Stoudemire, who counts "Rumpelstiltskin" among his childhood favorites along with biographies of Andrew Jackson and Jackie Robinson. These days, he's such an avid reader of history he said he'd go back to school and major in it.

Stoudemire's interest in the past is also apparent in "Home Court." One of the young Stoudemire's school assignments is to write a report onMartin Luther King Jr., which he ties together with his experience defending himself and his friends from the neighborhood bullies on the basketball court.

"Dr. King stood up for what he believed was right against tough odds, and I'd sort of done that too. Of course, he was fighting for equal rights for all people, and I just thought it was wrong that some older kids were acting like jerks and kicking my friends and me off our home court. ... You gotta start somewhere!" he writes.

As for the bullying theme in "Home Court," Stoudemire said it was partly based on his childhood and addresses a modern phenomenon that many educators and parents see as an epidemic.

"There's always guys trying to bully younger players and get 'em off the court. That's close to my heart because I know it happens all the time," said Stoudemire, who wanted to show basketball players as literate, respectful and taking care of their community as they confront their aggressors. He said there are many ways to handle bullying, but the attitude he expresses in the book is just like his nickname. "Stand up to it. Handle it with authority. Play some basketball to see who's best."

susan.carpenter@latimes.com