Glenn Burke, Game Changer: The Man Who Invented the High Five

Farrar. Feb. 2024. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780374391225.
Gr 1-5–The opening pages will draw in just about everybody: Glenn Burke on the field was a “five-tool” talent. He could run faster, connect bat to ball, hit with power, catch anything that came his way, and his throwing arm was a cannon! This Black man should have been one of the greatest names in baseball history, but his story takes a melancholy turn. Burke is gay. The rampant homophobia of the 1970s manifests itself, Bildner notes, in the person of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda: “Tommy’s son was gay, too, and Tommy couldn’t stand that he was. When he found out his son was friends with Glenn, he made his son stay away.” (No source notes back this up.) Illustrations and narrative that had complemented one another suddenly diverge. Three scenes—Burke dashing out of the darkness with a man, sharing an intimate look in a car with a second man (with the reflection of a third man in the rearview mirror), and then alone under a lamp post—are all but divorced from the text. At last the story returns to the origins of the high five and the jubilation of the early scenes before another descent into Burke’s decline and early death. Despite Bildner’s brilliant, crackling writing, O’Brien’s marvelous, dynamic illustrations, full of energy and keyed into historic moments, and the immutable fact that this story needs telling, this book rights the record with sensationalized whiplash and an unbearably stark emotional throughline to the main character. Picture book readers, especially any child also struggling with identity, will either appreciate this authentic but despair-filled glimpse in the “mirror” or simply may be too young for this very bittersweet journey.
VERDICT For all sports/Black history/LGBTQIA+ shelves, this book is a must, but supplement it with historical resources.

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