Travel Team by Mike Lupica (Philomel, $16.99). Ages 10 and up. 274 pages. Sportswriter and television personality Mike Lupica takes on the cutthroat competition of youth travel teams in this entertaining and insightful novel about a basketball prodigy who doesn't make the seventh grade travel team because he's too short. (Lupica says the book was inspired by his own experience as a "serial Little League coach.") He creates a great character in Danny Walker, a mature and decent kid who really loves the game. There are serious issues here: Danny's parents are divorced; his father is a former basketball star who quit the game after serious injuries in a drunken-driving accident. Although he's an absentee father, he decides to create a new travel team for his son and friends -- setting up the book's dramatic finale, a "Bad News Bears" matchup between scrappy underdogs and pampered favorites. Thanks to Lupica's smooth style, gift for creating believable characters and insights into the adult politics and bad sportsmanship that corrupt youth sports, a familiar story comes off as fresh and original.
Baby Brains, the Smartest Baby in the Whole World by Simon James (Candlewick Press, $15.99). An author-illustrator pokes fun at the current mania of anxious parents pushing their babies to excel in this very amusing, gently satiric tale. Baby Brains is the overachieving-ist baby ever.
My Teacher Would Make a Great President by Kay Winters, illustrated Denise Brunkus (Dutton, $14.99). Ages 5 and up. A boy named Oliver thinks his classroom teacher has what it takes to be the president of the United States and spells it all out in this clever and charming picture book celebrating the work of teachers -- and offering a lesson to all candidates about electoral priorities. A teacher says health care is important (illustration shows a teacher putting a adhesive bandage a kid's leg); a teacher "deals with the media every day" (the illustration shows a frazzled white-haired teacher struggling with a video tape in the classroom VCR).
-- Jean Westmoore