Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

by Steve Sheinkin (Author)

Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an astonishing underdog sports story--and more. It's an unflinching look at the U.S. government's violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin, it's the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.

Jim Thorpe: Super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American

Pop Warner: Indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad

Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in American football history. Called "the team that invented football," they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.

A 2017 Horn Book-Boston Globe Nonfiction Honor Book

A Washington Post Best Book of 2017

A New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2017

A Kirkus Reviews Best Non-Fiction Book of 2017

A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of 2017

A 2017 Booklist Youth Editors' Choice

A New York City Public Library Notable Best Book for Teens

A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2017

A 2018 ALSC Notable Children's Book

A National Council for the Social Studies Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

A 2018 VOYA Nonfiction Honor Book

This thoroughly-researched and documented book can be worked into multiple aspects of the common core curriculum.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
"A gifted storyteller who never forgets the story in history. He is unflinchingly honest in pointing out the racism in white American culture at large and in football culture . . . bringing the story directly to modern readers. Superb nonfiction that will entertain as it informs."


Starred Review
"A model of research and documentation as well as of stylish writing that tells an always absorbing story." 

Horn Book Magazine

Starred Review
"Brief, action-packed chapters evince Sheinkin's consistently multilayered approach, as he
connects various subplots . . . and uses genuine cliffhangers for a propulsive reading experience." 

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 6 Up—Proclaimed "the greatest all-around athlete in the world" by legendary football coach Glenn "Pop" Warner, Jim Thorpe dominated sports in the early 1900s. His natural athleticism, in tandem with Warner's innovative coaching style, helped establish the Carlisle Indian Industrial School's football program as one of the nation's best, eclipsing perennial gridiron powerhouses Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Despite the fame and attention Carlisle received because of its winning team, a stark reality existed: the cultures of these same young men were being systematically eradicated by the school (e.g., prohibiting students from speaking Native languages, forcing them to cut their hair). Operating under the premise that the "Indian problem" could be solved by stripping students of their cultural identities, Carlisle founder and superintendent Richard Henry Pratt, a U.S. Army captain, vowed to "Kill the Indian; Save the Man" through any means necessary. Sheinkin has created a rich, complex narrative that balances the institutionalized bigotry and racism of the times with the human-interest stories that are often overshadowed by or lost to history. Within this framework, he brings to life the complicated, sometimes contentious relationship between a coach and a star athlete, their rise to glory, and the legacies they left behind.

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Sheinkin has made a career of finding extraordinary stories in American history, researching them exhaustively and recounting them at a nimble pace for readers aged 10 and up . . . Thorpe's greatness may be aspirational, but Sheinkin's brisk and forthright delivery makes it seem entirely possible." —The New York Times Book Review

"Along with Thorpe's fascinating personal story, Sheinkin offers a thought-provoking narrative about the evolution of football and the development of boarding schools such as the Carlisle Indian School." —The Washington Post

"With contagious excitement, Sheinkin enthralls . . . [and] compels readers to learn, admire and bear witness to the 'world's greatest athlete.'" —Shelf Awareness, starred review

"A new work of nonfiction as riveting as any historical novel you are likely to read this year." —Book Page

Steve Sheinkin
Steve Sheinkin is the award-winning author of several fascinating books on American history, including The Notorious Benedict Arnold, which won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for nonfiction, and received three starred reviews; and Bomb, a National Book Award finalist and recipient of five starred reviews. He lives in Saratoga Springs, NY
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date
January 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF025210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/20th Century
JNF018040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - Native American
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF054050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Football
Library of Congress categories
JUVENILE NONFICTION / Biography & Autobiograp
JUVENILE NONFICTION / History / United States
JUVENILE NONFICTION / People & Places / Unite
Thorpe, Jim
United States Indian School (Carlisle, Pa.)
Warner, Glenn S
Horn Book-Boston Globe
Nonfiction Honor Book 2017 - 2017
New York Times
Notable Children's Book 2017 - 2017
Notable Children's Book 2018 - 2018

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