Viking: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League

Seasoned sportswriter Fred Bowen (Speed Demon) celebrates the National Football League's (NFL) centennial anniversary with a rousing look at the organization from its rag-tag start in Canton, Ohio, to its current status as "the most popular sports league in the United States." Through the ups and downs, wins and losses, Bowen deftly chronicles the evolution of an institution that changed the face of U.S. sports.

Bowen breaks the book down into quarters, to mirror a football game. The first quarter kicks off with the NFL's rocky beginnings: no statistics kept, no championship game and no standout star until Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost, joined the Chicago Bears. "People came to see Red Grange but ended up falling in love with this new game--professional football." The following quarters include the birth of the Super Bowl and sudden-death overtime, the first African American MVP and the arrival of the draft. Bowen couples each topic with wonderful nuggets of trivia, like the fact that "a game official had his whistle freeze to his lips" in 1967 during the Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys NFL championship game in Wisconsin, dubbed "The Ice Bowl."

Accenting Bowen's spirited prose are rich, life-like watercolor illustrations by Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner and three-time honoree James E. Ransome (The Creation; The Bell Rang; Before She Was Harriet). He expertly captures action and emotion in his brushstrokes, adding to Bowen's report the way a sports photographer would a newspaper story. This symbiotic pairing pays an enthusiastic, respectful homage to U.S. football's professional league. Sports enthusiasts of any age are sure to find it a winner. --Jen Forbus, freelancer