February 21, 2018

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Touch and Go: Play Ball!

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Bottom of the Ninth (Ryan Woodard Art & Animation)

Baseball season may be coming to an end, but a true fan’s enthusiasm for the sport never wanes. Reason enough to consider two new digital products for your iPad: Ryan Woodward’s Bottom of the Ninth and The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The first is an animated graphic novel, the second, a reference guide. Here’s what our reviewers had to say about these releases.

Many graphic novelists and artists are grappling with how comics can be presented in a digital format. Professional animator Ryan Woodward offers a strong template with his app for iOS devices, Bottom of the Ninth (Ryan Woodward Art and Animation, 2012; $3.99; Gr 9 Up). The story takes place 200 years in the future and features Candy Cunningham, a teenager with a phenomenal pitching arm who wants to play “New Baseball.” While technology has made the game faster, more exciting, and somewhat dangerous, attitudes toward women on and off the field haven’t evolved. This first chapter of the story signals a promising start as the tale has both a retro and futuristic feel to it. More chapters are in the works, but it might be a while before the entire story can be told.

Page layouts resemble those found in comic books, and each page offers some well-integrated, fluid animation. The sepia-toned artwork is stylish and appealing, with baseball memorabilia (ticket stubs, scorecards, etc.) worked into the images. The narration and sound effects also evoke the ballpark and include sports commentary and a cheering crowd. Some panels exhibit a speaker icon that can be tapped for extra audio and a touch to any word balloon will trigger audio dialog (sometimes enhanced). Both the narration and the music soundtrack are of high quality. Drawbacks include slow updates and the need to purchase on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Still, the app is a significant accomplishment artistically and technologically and will likely influence future graphic novelists moving into digital.—(Mark Richardson, Cedar Mill Community Library, Portland, OR)

A poignant foreword by award-winning sport’s journalist Joe Posnanski introduces the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum  (The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum/RareWire, $3.99; Gr 4 Up), a spotlight tour of the best Negro League players who, except for a few, never competed in the Major Leagues. Navigating this app is reminiscent of walking through the museum, located in Kansas City, MO.

The first exhibit is an illustrated timeline beginning in the 1860s and ending in the 1950s, by which time nine Major League MVP awards had been won by former Negro Leaguers. The timeline concisely covers major events in U.S. history, African-American history, Negro League baseball history, and baseball history. Though one excellent video of a clown team playing ‘pepper ball’ (think comedic baseball play in the spirit of the Harlem Globe Trotters) is embedded, the chronology doesn’t  explore the impact of events in any depth or link to text that will aid young viewers in understanding causality. For example, the Jim Crow laws that are mentioned made it difficult, if not impossible at times, for the heavy-traveling barnstorming Negro League teams to find hotel and restaurant accommodations, especially in the South.

The next section provides a selection of Negro League team histories, rosters, and team photos navigated by map, while a third section, titled “Field of Legends,” crisply presents bronzed baseball card images to provide succinct player profiles. The final section, a digital scrapbook, wraps up this brief but broad and clear overview of Negro League Baseball history.—(Nicole Politi, The Ocean County Library, NJ)

Eds. note: After a brief hiatus during the transition to our new website, our app reviews are back. —moving from School Library Journal’s blog roll into a column, and pushing out in our Extra Helping enewsletter. Archived reviews can be found on the SLJ website under “Blogs and Columns.” However, to ensure you receive all of our postings, be sure to add “Touch and Go” to your RSS feed.


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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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  1. […] I’ve also been reviewing books and apps for SLJ. The good news is that you can read two of my reviews (The Normal Kid by Holmes and Every Day by Levithan) in the September issue of SLJ and my review of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum app on Touch and Go. […]