Becoming Babe Ruth

illus. by author. 40p. bibliog. charts. Candlewick. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5646-1. LC 2012942357.
Gr 1–3—Tavares features the "Sultan of Swat" in this picture-book biography. When George Herman Ruth was seven years old, his father sent him away to a reformatory to keep him out of trouble. At the end of the school day, when all the schoolwork was done, he was taught to play baseball by Father Matthias. Ruth began his career at age 16 when he signed a contract to play for the then minor-league Baltimore Orioles. Characteristic of Tavares's attractive painterly style, the watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations stand out with their action-packed scenes, dramatic angles, and the full-spread portrait of Ruth. An author's note explains that there was no television in the 1920s, so fans relied on radio sportscasters for the colorful descriptions and exciting stories of Babe Ruth and his rise from rags to riches. Because this is the author's tribute to a great player, there is no mention of the sadder aspects of Babe's later life. Readers, both baseball fans and others, will enjoy this story of the athlete's gratitude and thankfulness for learning his lifetime sport.—Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA
Is there a bigger baseball fan in the children's literature world than Matt Tavares? His sixth book on the subject profiles the iconic George Herman "Babe" Ruth, with Tavares shining a light on the flamboyant slugger's charitable side. In Baltimore at the turn of the twentieth century, young George's delinquent ways land him at Saint Mary's, a local industrial boarding school. There he meets Brother Matthias, whose majestic home runs in the schoolyard enthrall young George. Matthias tirelessly coaches George on the baseball fundamentals, and soon George leaves school and becomes "the Babe," capturing the imagination of the American public with his booming home runs and even bigger personality. But when a fire destroys his old school, Ruth shows that he hasn't forgotten his roots: he invites the Saint Mary's band on a Yankees road trip, helping to raise money to rebuild the school. Tavares expertly conveys Ruth's charm through mixed-media illustrations -- the boyish grin, the huge appetite (one humorous spread features Ruth in front of an outlandish spread at a restaurant), the love of the game he played so well. Tavares brings the well-paced story to a close with the now-world-famous Babe returning to Saint Mary's to put on an impromptu slugging exhibition for the boys, similar to the ones Brother Matthias gave that so enchanted George as a boy. It's a lovely, poignant ending to a standout sports picture book biography. Appended with an author's note, baseball stats, and a bibliography. sam bloom

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