Fast Break

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About The Book

In the sixth book in the New York Times bestselling middle grade series inspired by the life of iconic New York Yankee Derek Jeter, young Derek bites off more than he can chew when he decides to enter the school talent show and try out for the basketball team.

Between promising Vijay that he’ll compete in the school talent show and promising Dave that he’ll try out for the basketball team, Derek Jeter has a lot he’s trying to juggle. A commitment is a commitment, and Derek is determined to work hard and try his best, but he worries he might be in over his head and fears he’s going to let his friends or himself down. How can Derek do it all?

Inspired by Derek Jeter’s childhood, Fast Break is the sixth book in Jeter Publishing’s New York Times bestselling middle grade baseball series that focuses on key life lessons from Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading group guide to

Fast Break

By Derek Jeter with Paul Mantell

Prereading Assignment

Review “Derek Jeter’s 10 Life Lessons.” They are listed in the front of the book. Fast Break is based on Lesson #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Fail.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 1—Triple Challenge

Derek Jeter, now a sixth grader, returns to school after a fabulous summer playing baseball with a bunch of city kids in the Bronx. Derek and his sister, Sharlee, enjoyed fun-filled days at the “Castle” on the lake with their cousins, a family day at the Yankees game, and a week-long visit from Derek’s best friend, Dave. Jeter can’t wait to play baseball again, but the next chance he’ll have is seven months away. What will he do until then? What advice do you have for Derek? What are you most looking forward to this year?

In a daydream during class, Derek makes a stunning field play throwing out a batter running for first; the crowd cheers wildly. Then his teacher, Ms. Terrapin, snaps Derek out of his reverie with a reminder of the upcoming scholastic challenges that he and his classmates will face in the coming months. Preparing for pre-exams in algebra, chemistry, biology, and earth science will take up much of his time. How does Derek react to this news? Can you relate to Derek’s experience? Are you facing any statewide or qualifying exams? If so, how are you preparing for these tests?

Dave reminds Derek of his promise to practice for the AAU basketball tryouts, which are a week away; they make a date to practice this weekend. Then Vijay, Derek’s other best friend, runs up to Derek to share his excitement over the fall talent show announcement. He reminds Derek that this summer he’d committed to learning a break-dance routine for the show. Vijay wants to know when they can begin to work on the act. “How about this weekend?” he suggests. Suddenly, Derek has more on his plate than he can handle. How would you have handled this situation? How do you know that Derek’s friendships are important to him? Explain your answers.

Chapter 2—Time Crunch

“But now, suddenly, everything had been thrown into chaos. [Derek] had agreed to meet with two different friends, to practice two different things. And on top of it all, he had to review everything he’d ever learned in school—all on Saturday! It was Mission: Impossible!”

Derek faces a scheduling nightmare: He needs to find time to study for upcoming exams, work on a break-dance routine with Vijay, and practice for the basketball tryouts with Dave. Plus, he wants to see the Yankees –Tigers Game this weekend.

Do you think he can fit all these activities into his schedule? What do you think is the best use of his time? If you were Derek, what would you keep in your schedule? What would you omit?

Draft a sample hourly schedule for your upcoming weekend. Be sure to schedule time to eat, study, sleep, and do your chores. How much time is left over for fun or leisure activities? How much time will you spend with friends or family? Does viewing your schedule in this format make you reconsider how you spend your time?

Chapter 3—The Seeds of Doubt

In the first five books in the series, The Contract, Hit & Miss, Change Up, Fair Ball, and Curveball, we are reminded that Derek’s parents established a contract to help Derek succeed in school and in following his dreams. This contract lists several expectations and carries consequences for breaking the rules.

During a rude verbal exchange between a bully and another classmate, Derek sees the need to speak up and intervene for his friend Sam. The incident falls under an item on Derek’s contract which states, “Respect Others. Be a good friend, classmate, and teammate. Listen to your teachers, coaches, and other adults.”

How does Derek demonstrate a deep respect for his friend and classmate in this situation? Why can it sometimes be difficult to stand up for others? What else does Derek do in this chapter to show that he is a good friend? Explain in two brief paragraphs what you would have done in the same situation.

Derek ignores Gary’s rude comments when they have their own encounter about performing on the talent show. However, the exchange still leaves a seed of doubt in Derek’s mind, and fear of failure or embarrassment quietly creeps in. He begins to question his own decisions: “What if they did bomb up there onstage?” In a small group, discuss a time where the fear of failure kept you from moving forward. Did you find a way to overcome that fear, or did you resist the opportunity to participate? What did the experience teach you? Why do you think you were so afraid?

Chapter 4—Hoop Dreams

Derek is thrilled when his parents agree to let his friend Dave join them on Sunday’s family picnic. He will finally be able to schedule “hoop time” with his father, who can coach them ahead of basketball tryouts. But how will he work in the time to do his homework essay assignment, due Monday morning? He will just have to stay up late on Saturday night to squeeze in the time to do the work, right?

Write a brief essay to share with a small group about a day where you only had a short period of time to complete your homework. Why did you have such limited time available? Be specific about what you accomplished and what you omitted, and explain the results. Did you do your best? Could you have better prepared for the work that needed to be done?

Chapter 5—Fear Factor

Derek is juggling three major projects and is frantically trying to prepare for them all. He is afraid that he doesn’t have enough time or talent to adequately perform each task. He shares his concerns with his father, who warns him that he needs to take care of himself, too: “Well . . . you might not be the most talented kid trying out. But, if you get your rest, you can at least make sure you outwork everybody else . . .” What message is Derek’s father trying to get across to him? How does this advice help Derek to prepare for his upcoming obligations?

In chapters five and six, we learn that Derek is also afraid of disappointing his close friends, Vijay, Dave, and new study pal, Sam. Each boy is expecting to spend quality time with Derek to accomplish their own tasks. Discuss and prioritize several solutions, emphasizing specific recommendations that you think might resolve Derek’s dilemma. Do you think Derek should be honest with his friends? How are these situations impacting Derek and his family?

Chapter 6—Pressure Cooker

The pressure is on. Derek does not need to be reminded about the seriousness of the upcoming deadlines, test exams, basketball tryouts, and the school’s talent night. But Gary, his nemesis and constant test competitor, continually smirks about Derek’s choice of study mates and admits that he threw away the test review booklet that the teacher gave them to study. Describe Gary’s attitude toward reviewing for the national standardized test. What presumptions does he make? What does Derek assume when he agrees to help Sam study for tests?

Chapter 7—Testing Time

In chapter seven, Dave and Derek talk about stage fright. Derek tells him, “You can’t be afraid to fail, Dave! If you don’t even try, you’ve already failed!” Do you agree with that statement? Do you think it’s good advice? Explain your answers.

Gary arrogantly expresses confidence that he’ll achieve the best grades in the class on the upcoming exams, regardless of his sloppy study habits. Explain how Gary’s bravado gives Derek an idea for a little side bet on the test results. How does Gary react to the challenge?

Chapter 8—Results

Read rule number two on the “Contract for Derek Jeter” printed in the front of the book: “Be a Role Model for Sharlee. (She looks to you to model good behavior.)"

Describe Derek’s relationship with his sister, Sharlee. Why is their relationship so important to them, and how do they both benefit from rule number two? Share specific examples.

When Ms. Terrapin hands out the practice test scores, Derek is surprised that he’s scored so well. On the other hand, the scores are a shock to Gary. What is the outcome of the practice tests? What are Sam’s results? Why is this significant? What are Gary’s results, and how does he react to the news? Do you think he’s learned anything about himself?

Chapter 9—Pain in the Neck

After attending one of Sharlee’s dance classes, Derek picks up an idea for a cool dance move for the talent show. First, however, he needs to get Sharlee to teach it to him. In the beginning, Derek feels a little awkward with the moves, but if Sharlee can do it, he’ll just have to work harder. He knows that trying to learn something new is always difficult, but you can’t give up. Explain what happens when Derek is determined to meet this challenge. What qualities or motivations help him achieve his goals?

The well-known descriptive phrase, “pain in the neck,” has two different meanings. Look up these meanings and write down both definitions. Which descriptions apply to Derek’s situation? Using either definition, write a brief essay of 200 words or less describing your personal “pain in the neck” experience. In your narrative, explain the situation and the outcome.

Chapter 10—Disaster!

After an intense practice session, Derek wakes up in pain! He’s injured his neck rehearsing break-dancing moves; now final basketball tryouts are here, but he can’t move. It’s a disaster! What is he going to do? Derek has worked so hard to prepare for these tryouts. He’s spent hours practicing with his dad and his best friend, Dave. What decision should he make? What would you do if you were in his shoes?

Derek arrives early to team tryouts to explain why he can’t participate in the final practice. The coach understands and is impressed with Derek’s determination to be upfront about his reason for the injury. Coach Nelson tells him, “You’re a real stand-up guy. You could have just called, but you came all the way down here to tell me in person.” What character traits does Derek display in this interaction? What is the result? Discuss and define these traits in a small group. Do you think Derek has always possessed these traits, or has he learned from previous experiences?

Which of these character traits can you attribute to Sharlee, Gary, Dave, Vijay, and Sam? Which ones best describe you? Explain your answers.

Chapter 11—On the Clock

Sharlee has a big dance recital, and the family plans to go and support her. During her enthusiastic entrance, Sharlee gets a little out of rhythm, but this doesn’t stop her. At the end, Sharlee gets the biggest ovation of all the dancers! Derek remembers that Sharlee had to overcome a “gaffe” to complete her performance. What is a gaffe? How does this incident help Derek prepare for his own presentation? What valuable lesson did he learn from his little sister?

Chapter 12—Showtime!

Derek’s friend Vijay is very excited about their break-dance routine. They select the popular song Thriller as their music for the performance. If they can only convince Gary to play the role of the monster, everything will be perfect! Listen to and review the dance routine by Michael Jackson on YouTube. What year did this song top the charts? Do you think it was a good choice for Derek and Vijay’s act? Why did they think Gary would be a perfect choice for the role of the monster?

Both Vijay and Derek encourage Gary to practice his part, but Gary resists the idea of rehearsal, boasting, “I’m always perfect the first time.” Look up the phrasepractice makes perfect.” Define and clarify its meaning, and explain how this popular idiom applies to Vijay, Derek, and Gary. How are the three of them alike? How do they differ?

Chapter 13—Ups and Downs

Later in the week, Derek finally gets a chance to try out for the basketball team. Coach Nelson offers him an opportunity to practice with the older kids, which is a privilege Derek doesn’t take lightly. However, he becomes frustrated when he’s left on the bench waiting for his turn to play in the game. When he does get a chance to play, Derek seems to have too much energy. What happens when Derek steals the ball away from the blue team? What is the fast break Derek describes, and how does it affect the game?

Share an incident with your class that required courage and wise choices. What was difficult about the situation? How did it make you feel? What did you learn?

Chapter 14—Scramble!

Gary changes his mind and says, “I quit.” He is now refusing to play the monster, and it’s almost show day. Though Derek reminds him that “a promise is a promise,” Gary will not change his mind. What can Derek and Vijay do now? Why was this a real issue for Derek and Vijay? What might they say to Gary to convince him otherwise? What can be done at the last minute? Suggest a new plan to resolve the dance team dilemma.

Share an example of a time when you had to step in during an emergency to assist a family member or schoolmate. How did the request make you feel? What was the result? How does the pressure of urgency change the situation?

Chapter 15—On with the Show!

Derek decides to replace Gary with a stand-in monster instead of pulling out of the show completely. Do you think this is a good decision? Whom does he select? Why is his choice a perfect idea?

Look up the word understudy. Write the definition on an index card, and then review and discuss in a small group. What is the importance of an understudy in a live stage production? Why do you think it’s a key position? What are the challenges? Discuss a few key dramatic roles from a popular play or movie that might be challenging for an understudy.

Chapter 16 –Just Rewards

Just as the test score results surprised Derek, so do the announcements of the talent show winners. No one, however, was as surprised or stunned as Gary. What does each key player learn from the outcome? Discuss Gary’s, Vijay’s, Sam’s, and Derek’s reactions. Do you think the rewards are worth the effort?

The title of this book is Fast Break. Besides describing a certain kind of basketball scoring technique, what other significance might the author have had in mind when selecting the title? Offer two definitions for the term fast break. Use them both in a sentence exploring both meanings. According to sports officials, who invented the fast break? Why is this a key technique in basketball?

Life can present a rebound or second-chance opportunity, offering an important and timely do-over. Valuable lessons can be learned from immediate reactions and well-thought-out responses to an unexpected fast break setup. Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase that can be strategically applied to Fast Break. Write the phrase on the board, and discuss its relevance. What is the English translation of Carpe Diem? How does Derek apply this principle both on the basketball court and on the stage? Explain your answers.

Extension Activities

Life Can Surprise You With A Fast Break: Be Ready For The Challenge

In a letter to the reader in the prologue, Derek Jeter explains that the book “is inspired by some of my experiences growing up.” How is the prologue a window into an important principle that Derek Jeter has followed to achieve his dreams? Explain the principle and think about one fear that you have.

Then take an index card from your teacher and write down this fear; feel free to fill out more than one card if you’d like. Leave the card unsigned, so your fear stays anonymous when your teacher collects them to read out to the class. Discuss the results aloud. Do any of your classmates’ fears overlap? Are you surprised by any fears? How does hearing them read aloud and discussed make you feel?

Understanding Your Fears

Just as Gary and Dave were too afraid to perform onstage during the school talent show, you or your classmates may have fears that keep you from doing what you’d like to do. As a class, watch the five-minute video “5 Tricks for Overcoming Fear” by WatchWellcast to begin thinking about the contexts and strategies for handling fears: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDjwfFmXwfE.

Then complete the “Conquering Your Fear” worksheet, produced by Wellcast, that can be downloaded here: http://static.tumblr.com/nw2r6wp/Ytsmj0cak/worksheet_copingwithfear.pdf. Identify a few fears, and then select one to write about.

Celebrated Leaders Have Fears Too: Overcoming Obstacles

Most successful leaders fail before they succeed. Before they became renowned role models, they had to overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. Select one or two statements about fear or failure from the list below, and discuss them in a large group. What do the statements mean to you? Why are they important? How can you use them to learn to deal with fear? Have someone be the scribe to capture the group’s comments, and present your findings to the rest of the class.

This guide was written in 2019 by Chrystal Carr Jeter of Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library, Willoughby Hills, Ohio.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Maureen Cavanagh/Jeter Publishing

Derek Jeter is a fourteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series winner who has played for one team—the storied New York Yankees—for all twenty seasons of his major league career. His grace and class on and off the field have made him an icon and role model far beyond the world of baseball.

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