Game Changer

John McLendon and the Secret Game

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 - Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 2

When they piled into cars and drove through Durham, North Carolina, the members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team only knew that they were going somewhere to play basketball. They didn’t know whom they would play against. But when they came face to face with their opponents, they quickly realized this secret game was going to make history.

Discover the true story of how in 1944, Coach John McLendon orchestrated a secret game between the best players from a white college and his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes. At a time of widespread segregation and rampant racism, this illegal gathering changed the sport of basketball forever.

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Interest Level Grade 2 - Grade 5
Reading Level Grade 2
Genre Picture Books, Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity, SEL: C Social Awareness, SEL: D Relationship Skills, SEL: E Responsible Decision-Making, Social Emotional Learning
Copyright 2015
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Books ®
Language English
Number of Pages 32
Publication Date 2015-10-01
Reading Counts! Level 10.6
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF054020, JNF053140, JNF025210
Dewey 796.32307'7
Graphics 1-color illustrations, Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 10.625 x 8.875
Lexile 1170
ATOS Reading Level 5.7
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 175363
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Afterword, Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Reviewed, and Starred Reviews

Author: John Coy

John Coy is the author of young adult novels, the 4 for 4 middle-grade series, and nonfiction and fiction picture books including Hoop Genius, Game Changer, Their Great Gift, Dads, If We Were Gone, and Where We Come From. He has received numerous awards for his work including a Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, and the Burr/Warzalla Award for Distinguished Achievement in Children's Literature. John lives by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Illustrator: Randy DuBurke

Randy DuBurke has been a professional illustrator for over twenty years. He has done comic book art, animation, editorial illustration, book covers, and children's books. He lives in Switzerland with his wife and two children.


  • Bluestem Readers' Choice Award Master List, Nominated, 2019
  • South Carolina Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2017
  • Sequoyah Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2017
  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year - Outstanding Merit, Winner, 2017
  • Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award, Winner, 2016
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Notable Book, Winner, 2016
  • Delaware Diamonds Program, Nominated, 2016
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2016
  • Orbis Pictus Award Recommended Book, Commended, 2015


The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“It’s a great story. . . . [Use] for a readaloud on teams who challenged segregation.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

The New York Times Book Review

“[T]he kind of story from which ‘inspirational’ movies are made. . . . This book adds new heroes to the pantheon.”—The New York Times Book Review

The Horn Book Magazine

“Coy’s succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered. . . . A fascinating story, with appeal far beyond sports and history fans.”—The Horn Book Magazine


“This book offers a slice of history and an inspiring portrait in courage . . . [An] exciting account of a landmark game played ahead of its time.”—starred, Booklist

Publishers Weekly

“[A]n account brimming with suspense and emotional tension . . . skillfully highlights both the energy and importance of the game and the dangerous social climate in which it was played.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

“This interesting but little-known story is an important one. . . . A strong work with themes of sports, history, and human kindness.”—School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“[A]rresting illustrations play up the basketball action and the emerging camaraderie that conjured the possibility of defeating Jim Crow….[A] charming read for young basketball fans.”―Kirkus Reviews