March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Batter Up! Great New Books About Baseball

Ahh, the crack of the bat, the thwack of ball meeting glove, the cheers of the crowd—it’s spring training time for Major and Little Leaguers alike. Whether they are players or spectators, kids passionate about baseball will enjoy this grand-slam lineup of titles. Filled with breathless swing-for-the-stands action and amazing true tales, these books bring the high heat with a stellar combo of storytelling and artwork, while also illustrating why the sport remains America’s pastime. Don’t get caught looking—lay in some new titles for your baseball-loving readers.

Able to Play: Overcoming Physical Challenges. By Glenn Stout. (Good Sports Series). Houghton/Sandpiper. 2012. pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-547-41733-2; ebook $5.99. ISBN 978-0-547-82283-9.

Gr 3-6—Well-written and fast-reading profiles introduce four individuals who overcame physical disabilities to make their dream of playing in the major leagues a reality: Mordecai Brown, who pitched his way into the Hall of Fame despite having lost most of his finger in a childhood accident; third-baseman Ron Santo, who played almost his entire career with type 1 diabetes; one-armed hurler Jim Abbott, who pitched a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993; and deaf outfielder Chris Pride, veteran of 11 successful seasons. Play-by-play action blends with personal trials and triumphs in this uplifting and informative look at gutsy athletes who are true role models.

Becoming Babe Ruth. By Matt Tavares. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2013. RTE. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5646-1.

Gr 1-4—Tavares’s lively narrative and glowing sepia-toned paintings zoom in on George Herman Ruth’s early years, introducing a tomato-throwing troublemaker who landed in a Baltimore reform school at age seven, and was taken under the wing of the baseball-whacking Brother Matthias who helped him hone his skills. Later on, earning big-league fame as the Sultan of Swat, Ruth never forgot his roots, and when tragedy struck Saint Mary’s School, he proved that his heart was just as big as his bat. An entrancing introduction to an iconic figure.

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team. By Audrey Vernick. Steven Salerno. Clarion. 2012. RTE. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-38557-0; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-82285-3.

K-Gr 3—Set during the 1930s and ‘40s, this charmer spotlights the history of the Acerras, a baseball-loving family with 16 children, 12 of them boys who formed their own semi-pro team in New Jersey with their father as coach. Over the course of an incredible 14-year career, the siblings faced many ups and downs, including small-town stardom and hardships spanning from injury to war-time service, but always stuck together. Illustrated with stunning tinged-with-nostalgia artwork, this enjoyable tale of brotherly camaraderie pairs entertaining baseball feats with plenty of heart.

Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game. By Chris Crowe. illus. by Mike Benny. Candlewick. 2012. RTE. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5026-1.

Gr 1-4—Crowe introduces an unsung hero, the first African American player to sign with the American League 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the National League. Just 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larry Doby signed with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first African American player in the American League. Crowe conveys this important bit of history through the eyes of a young boy, recently banned from his Little League team because of his race, who remains glued to the radio along with his dad as the action of a 1948 World Series game unfolds and Doby proves indisputably that African-American players are equal to anyone on the field. The first-person narrative adds immediacy and intimacy to the tale, and the expansive acrylic paintings effectively depict the action and emotion, both inside the ballpark and out.

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball. By David A. Kelly. illus. by Oliver Dominguez. Millbrook. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-8092-4; ebook $12.95. ISBN 978-1-4677-1052-7.

Gr 2-4—In this lushly illustrated, blithely told picture book, readers meet an early 20th-century player who earned a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame not for his fielding or hitting abilities, but for devising a clever solution to a longstanding problem. For years, players had tried numerous ways to break in shiny and slick brand-new balls, everything from soaking them in dirty water to rubbing them with spit and tobacco juice, with disappointing—and often stinky—results. While visiting a fishing hole near his New Jersey home, Lena stepped in gooey mud, an experience that led to an epiphany…and a new business packaging and selling Baseball Rubbing Mud, still used in ballparks today.

Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings. By Douglas Florian. illus. by author. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. RTE.$16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-68838-1; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-68843-5.

Gr 2-6—Florian hits the sweet spot with 15 dynamic offerings filled with bounce-to-first rhythms and ear-pleasing wordplay. Amusing first-person poems convey a kid’s-eye perspective, introducing a lineup that includes a long-ball-hitting superstar (“Our slugger can zing/Each pitch you may hurl./And one other thing:/Our slugger’s a girl”), a day-dreaming “Right Fielder” (“They say I’m lazy./But I know how/To pick a daisy”), and an ace “Pitcher” (“I’m the scourge of all hitters,/The starter of slumps./I make batters bitter,/Turn bats into stumps”). A grand-slam read-aloud, vibrantly illustrated with exuberant summer-hued paintings.

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio. By Robert Skead. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Carolrhoda. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-6619-5; ebook $12.95. 978-1-4677-0954-5.

Gr 2-4—In 1936, the New York Yankees decided to test the potential of their latest prospect, a skinny 21-year-old named Joe DiMaggio, and called in the best pitcher in the country. Though a true marvel on the mound, Negro-League-star Satchel Paige was excluded from the majors “because of the color of his skin.” When DiMaggio (backed by a lineup of professional sluggers) and Paige (leading a “gang of semi-pro pickup players”) faced off in a ballpark in California, both men had something important to prove. Suspenseful play-by-play action, delightfully descriptive language, and dynamic artwork speckled with infield dirt and honest emotion introduce two of the game’s greatest players, while shining light on the injustices of segregation.

Take Me Out to the Yakyu. By Aaron Meshon. illus. by author. Atheneum. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-4177-4; ebook $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-4178-1.

K-Gr 2—An obsessed-with-baseball boy excitedly describes attending games with his two grandfathers on opposite sides of the world—Pop Pop in America and Ji Ji in Japan—and the many differences and similarities in cultural traditions that go along with the experience. The book’s straightforward text, clean design, and sky-bright acrylic illustrations touch upon transportation, souvenirs and snacks, variations in game play, and more, while conveying an appealingly childlike enthusiasm that transcends national borders. A list of English/Japanese words is appended, along with a brief history of baseball in both countries.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! By Jonah Winter. illus. by Terry Widener. Random/Schwarz and Wade. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86844-3; PLB  $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-96844-0; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98782-3.

Gr 1-4—Dreaming of being the next Joltin’ Joe, a boy from Alabama relied on boundless talent and dogged perseverance to make his way to the majors, where he electrified the slumping NY Giants and eventually proved to a TV-watching America that a black player really could be “…like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Joe DiMaggio all rolled into one.” Winter’s folksy text fairly hums as he describes one “jaw-droppin’” play after another. Beginning with a striking lenticular cover image of the Say Hey Kid swinging for the stands, Widener’s dusky artwork depicts game action along with Mays’s hard-playing grit. A real winner and worthy companion to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (Random, 2009).

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.