The season of America's national pastime is upon us once again. As a subject, baseball books have the potential to be great "gateway" books for children. They are a fun way to get reluctant readers, or readers who tend to stick firmly to series sports novels, introduced to a variety of genres.
Our feature showcases the range of baseball books available this year. Among the books are: Baseball Science, a nonfiction title that explains the scientific concepts behind the sport; The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, the emotional story of a grief stricken girl who decides to switch from the girls' softball team to the boys' baseball team; Change Up: Baseball Poems, a collection of poems that covers the seasons and different aspects of the game; No Easy Way, tells of Ted Williams's career through illustrations and statistics, showing the determination of this baseball superstar. Expand horizons this baseball season with these new titles that take baseball books beyond the sports category.
Since April is National Poetry Month, try searching CLCD for "baseball poetry." You will be surprised how many titles are out there!
Browse through these titles and those from previous years for some selections to share with your family or students.
For more information and activities on baseball visit:
Contributor: Emily Griffin
Baseball from A to Z
Michael P. Spradlin
Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
This alphabet book covers the sport of baseball from "Ace" to strike "Zone." The illustrations are colorful caricatures of baseball players and spectators which kids and adults will find funny and entertaining. The illustrator's attention to detail is evident on every page, from the facial expressions to the background sites. Full page illustration highlights include B for Ballpark, H for Home Run, J for Jersey, P for Pitcher and U for Umpire. The author steers away from obscure baseball terms and omits the obvious ones such as bat, ball or mitt. As with most alphabet books, the entries are random and do not provide a smooth flow for understanding; however, the author's descriptions are clear and concise. Youngsters without any knowledge of baseball may not understand some entries and might be confused by certain unexplained terms such as "stealing bases," "double play," and "base runner." Regardless, the amusing illustrations will go a long way in maintaining reader interest. 2010, HarperCollins, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Jody J. Little (Children's Literature).
As part of the "Sports Science" series, this book takes an introductory look at what is said to be one of the most popular sport on the planet: baseball. It covers a range of topics from the fitness and skill required to play baseball to the science involved in hitting or catching the ball. Additional information is learned in each short chapter with text boxes that showcase quick facts, a "look closer" at a topic mentioned in the chapter, and "new words"--which gives the definition of a word bolded in the text above. The book uses colorful and flashy graphics and backgrounds, text boxes and different fonts to keep some young readers interested in reading further. Others may be put off by the busyness of the pages. Sometimes the word definition appears on the left page, while a reader does not get to the text that includes the word until the right side. There is information about how the sport has evolved, including how new gear has improved how the players perform. The use of drugs in the sport is mentioned and is not put down enough, since the benefits of these drugs are given the same amount of space. For readers who just started playing baseball or for sports-liking science buffs, this book provides a balance of interesting baseball information, along with the scientific how and why of the sport to interest them to read more or to ask the right questions of a coach, trainer, or doctor. Teachers covering the science topics in their curriculum will get a boost in student interest when the topics are made more applicable to their life outside of school, and this series does just that. 2009, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 12, $21.28 and $8.95. Reviewer: Shelly McCoy (Children's Literature).
Change Up: Baseball Poems
Illustrated by Donald Wu
Starting in winter these poems talk of a baseball fan's love of the game; playing "snow" baseball; a fielder's mitt waiting for the first muddy game of spring; playing catch with Gramps to learn his knuckleball and fastball and slow curve; noticing that the only sound a window makes in a backyard baseball game is CRASH!; to outfielders the baseball field is immense, but to the batter the baseball field is tiny; writing a HOME RUN poem with one's bat; balls getting dropped in real games, but not in winter's baseball dreams; dreaming a nightmare of clown opponents and trampoline hands; having parents share your baseball love; feeling the music of pitching and of hitting the ball; experiencing the breathlessness of waiting to see if a bunt will roll foul; grinning after throwing the perfect change-up; and expressing admiration for Ted, the bench warmer, who is just happy to be on the team. Other poems talk of magical baseball moments and each brings you vividly to the scene. A wonderfully written collection of poems about a wonderful sport that all baseball fans will enjoy. And what a nice way to encourage children to read poetry. The illustrations are cute. 2009, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.00. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan (Children's Literature).
The Desperado Who Stole Baseball
John H. Ritter
Fans of John H. Ritter's The Boy Who Saved Baseball have been waiting for this one, a prequel to that 2003 novel. The story is again set in Dillontown, California, but this is 1881 and we are introduced to a wild and colorful bunch of baseball players, miners and stakeholders on the western side of the Mississippi. Riding into town alongside a strange young man he met on the trail is young Jack Dillon. It seems that the Dillontown Nine are not only a colorful bunch of ball players, they are also very good. They are so good that the owners of the World Champion Chicago White Stockings just might play them for a very special prize--a gold bat and ball. It has been reported in Eastern newspapers that John Dillon owns the town, a gold mine and an undefeated baseball team, all of which is too much of a challenge for the city slickers to let slide. So young Jack is coming West to take his place on John Dillon's baseball team. The young stranger he meets is "Bill Henry," a desperado of the first order who is just trying to lay low, but it seems that his talent with a six shooter has given him an eagle eye--an eye that can be very useful on the baseball field. The field is set, the teams are aligned but nothing is really as it seems except that in the end, the desperado gets away with it. Ritter's use of vibrant imagery and musical phrases places this adventure right square in the annals of the oral Western tall tales--you'll want to read this one aloud, more than once. 2009, Philomel Books/Penguin, Ages 8 to 12, $17.99. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson (Children's Literature).
Full Count: A Baseball Number Book
Illustrated by Bruce Langton
Facts and history of the game of baseball are introduced along with the numbers one through ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, fifty, seventy-five, and one hundred. A quatrain strategically placed on the illustration is in a larger typeface than the historical information, explanations and trivia that accompany it on the side. Among the many things readers will learn are: how many players may suit up for a team, what is meant by a "full count" and a "double play." They will read that the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League played from 1943 to 1954. Tee ball players will read about their game, and they will learn about some famous major league players. Some Yogi Berra-isms are included, too. Langton's full-color illustrations and realistic style show the players in interesting poses and various perspectives. It looks like Langton has cleverly incorporated some computer graphics in his paintings to represent the higher numbers. There is a little inconsistency, for some numbers have a single page; some have a double-page spread. Parents can read just the poem to preschoolers and add more information for older children. The picture book format is a good way to begin presenting baseball information to young children. It is a fun way to learn about baseball and to learn numbers. 2009, Sleeping Bear Press, Ages 4 to 8, $17.95. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies
Eighth grader Molly Williams has more than the usual share of problems. Her father was killed in a car accident, and her mother has become withdrawn in her grief. Now, Molly has decided that instead of playing softball this year, she's going to try out for the boys' baseball team as a pitcher. Negotiating through this new version of her life proves challenging for Molly, who is still trying to make sense of her father's sudden demise. Even as Molly deals with the new version of her mother and some resistance from the girls at school, she manages to make an impression on the baseball coach with her knuckleball. Molly's father taught her the knuckleball, also known as "throwing butterflies," and she wants to carry this legacy with her. Molly's voice is dead-on for a middle school girl and draws the reader into her story. She manages to work her way through each obstacle in a way that is captivating and completely realistic. The "girl playing boys' sports" story has been told before, but instead of the usual focus on the battle for acceptance, this novel focuses on Molly's emotional journey and her efforts to figure out exactly where she belongs in her life now. This is a memorable read with appeal for both boys and girls. It would be an excellent addition to any collection. 2009, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, Ages 11 to 16, $15.99. Reviewer: Sharon Oliver (Children's Literature).
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Casey Jenkins was the worst player on his baseball team, the Delmar Dogs. All summer long, the Dogs did not win one game. They tried their best, but they could not win. Every time Casey came up to bat, he tried with all his might to hit the ball, but they all whizzed by him. On this one particular day, the Dogs were losing zero to five to the Lions, and this was only the first inning. Something was always going wrong, like Omar who scraped a knee and began to cry and Ronald who had to go to the bathroom. Then Ashanti fell asleep on the bench and Jamal got stung by a bee. Then something remarkable happened. Casey stood up and said, "The game is not yet done!" Finally, Jinn Lee hit a homer, and then Larry made a hit. Soon, everyone on the Delmar Dogs was hitting balls left and right and out of the ballpark. Finally, the bases were loaded when it was Casey Jenkins turn at bat. He gritted his teeth and swung with all his might sending the ball flying through the air. Casey was the last player to get to home base. The Dogs had won their first game. This picture book sends a message about not giving up and always trying your best even though the odds are against you. The illustrations are humorous, depicting a baseball team that is trying to pull together to win their first game of the season. 2009, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 8 to 10, $16.95. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi (Children's Literature).
Roy McGuire loves baseball; he even plays catcher at his summer baseball camp. There is just one problem--the town where Roy lives does not have a baseball team because in Moundville it rains non-stop. In fact it has rained every day since the last baseball game played in Moundville was called for rain twenty-two years ago. Everything changes the summer Roy is twelve. When Roy gets home from baseball camp there is a stranger, a foster brother, Sturgis, sharing his room. At first Roy has little in common with this strange boy with a troubled and secret past--until Roy talks to Sturgis about baseball and teaches him how to pitch. When the rains miraculously stop, Roy forms the first Moundville youth baseball team in twenty-two years and finally finishes the long awaited rematch. This novel uses the sport of baseball and the rich culture of small town youth sports as a background to examine the issues and anxieties that preteen boys face: transitioning between schools, girls, and the potential of dating, changes in friendships, the possible betrayal of friends, and family members (Roy's mother left him and his father to be an international flight attendant), and learning to be a part of something that is larger than oneself. At the end of the novel, Roy has not only learned how to be a better person and leader on his own baseball team but has also helped Sturgis deal with his own problems. Full of humor and written in an easy to read style, this book would be a great read for any teenage boy, especially those interested in baseball. Girls interested in baseball would also find this book and the girl members of the Moundville team interesting. 2009, Knopf/Random House, $16.99. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Jamie Hain (Children's Literature).
No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season
Illustrated by Charles S. Pyle
Crack! Imagine the sound of the bat hitting the ball as major-league hitter, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox brought his batting average to .406 at the end of the season. His passion was baseball and he practiced playing through his years in school, the minor-league, and then the majors. Ted Williams was not satisfied with an easy way to hit .400; he was determined to go all the way. He learned how to determine which pitches to swing at and he practiced smooth, strong swings to constantly improve his batting skills. The story focuses on his journey toward his magnificent feat. Wonderful, color illustrations capture different moments in Williams' career as they lead up to his well-earned moment of a record batting average. In addition, there are a few photographs of Williams. On the back cover, fans will find his baseball statistics. For those readers interested in additional information on about Williams, the author cites a couple of resources on the cataloging in publication page. 2010, Dutton Children's Books/Penguin, Ages 7 to 9, $16.99. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children's Literature).
Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems
Illustrated by John Sandford
This collection of poems about baseball covers a wide range of feelings, situations, and philosophies regarding the game. There are brief three- and four-line poems and others with several paragraphs. Titles like "Home Run," "Error," and "Collision" all describe exciting aspects of baseball. The poignant phrases provide the reader with a multitude of vivid images. Pencil drawings in gray and black depict lifelike interpretations of muscular forms and facial expressions. The drawings of the characters in action are both realistic and humorous. In words that are sometimes simple and often eloquent, the author captures the spirit and suspense along with the players' frustrations and accomplishments. The descriptions of the variety of situations and the imaginative use of words make this text interesting and fun to read. 2009, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, Ages 12 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Vicki Foote (Children's Literature).
Scraps of Time 1937: The Home-Run King
Patricia C. McKissack
In 1937 the Homestead Grays were playing for the championship of the National Negro Baseball League. As was the case, the players would stay with local families, since they were not welcome in facilities owned by the white businesses of the time. The story is the tale of how slugger Josh Gibson stays with the family of brothers James and Peter Turner. In the summer of 1937, the Turners host Gibson while the Grays play the Tennessee All-Stars. Having Gibson with them is like a dream come true, especially since the boys have been caught sneaking into the baseball game. They work off their debt cleaning up after the game and become friends with Apollo, the developmentally delayed young man who works for the owner of the field, Mr. Munday. Gibson talks with the boys about Satchel Paige, one of the best pitchers in the league. After the team leaves town, Peter decides to try Gibson's favorite Red Rooster Chew, which almost kills him. The boys play on their own baseball team, and after a particularly hard fought game, Josh Gibson returns with a special surprise for them. For fans of the sport, this is a sweet story that gives a sense of the National Negro Baseball League and a bit of the history of the best of the African-American players. McKissack's note at the end lets readers know how much of the story is true and how much is part of her "Scraps of Time" fictional family. 2009 (orig. 2008). Puffin/Penguin, Ages 8 to 11, $4.99. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson (Children's Literature).
The Spy on Third Base
Illustrated by George Ulrich
How does third baseman T.V. Adams manage to predict almost exactly where opposing batters will hit the ball? He regularly directs his teammates where to stand in the field, and when they follow his advice they are much more likely to catch the ball and get the player out. But this amazing ability is not without its drawbacks. For one thing, his teammates seem to be unhappy when he keeps telling them what to do. Sometimes they even ignore him. Then a local newspaper declares him a "psychic" for his ability. Other kids start making fun of him. Then T.V. gets a call from a stranger who warns him not to use his "psychic" powers during an upcoming game. When the team ends up losing, he gets another call thanking him. Is T.V. to blame for his team losing? Is he different from other boys or does he just understand baseball and hitting? Good for young boys with lots of sports and action. The problem is easy to follow and will be important to boys who play team sports. 2010 (orig. 1988), Norwood House Press, Ages 6 to 9, $22.60. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger (Children's Literature).
Stranger in Right Field
Illustrated by Bert Dodson
Alfie and the rest of the Mudders baseball team are surprised when a new player shows up. They are even more surprised when they learn that Roberti does not play well and does not always seem to know what is going on. The coach asks Alfie to keep an eye on Roberti and help him learn how to play the game. Alfie is willing to try, but he starts to worry that the only reason the coach would ask him to help Roberti is so he can teach Roberti to replace him. After all, Alfie makes plenty of mistakes himself at the plate and out in right field. There are other confusing things about Roberti, too. He seems to live with people who are not his parents, and they come to pick him up from practice in a bigger car than Alfie has ever seen before. Alfie decides to concentrate on helping Roberti, who improves very quickly. In fact, it looks like Roberti will end up taking Alfie's position in right field. Can Alfie do anything to save his spot? Young boys will likely enjoy the story and might even anticipate the surprise ending. 2010 (orig. 1997), Norwood House Press, Ages 6 to 9, $22.60. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger (Children's Literature).
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?
Illustrated by André Carrilho
Koufax was "the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball." In a breezy, conversational style, Winter begins his story with Koufax's youth as "a whiz at every sport he ever played." Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, however, he was supposed to be a doctor or lawyer. Invited to pitch for the Dodgers, Koufax proves himself to be unfortunately unpredictable. The Dodgers move to Los Angeles; Koufax leaves, returns, and finally becomes an ace. From 1961-1966, although his elbow swells painfully, he keeps throwing strikes. He becomes a hero to American Jews when he refuses to pitch on a High Holy Day. Then, he surprises everyone by retiring "at the peak of his game." Winter celebrates Koufax as both a private person and baseball legend. Carrilho uses chiefly black and white colors, accented with some blue and splashes of gold, to illustrate the dramatic events in Koufax's evolution. The not-completely-naturalistic illustrations were created in graphite on paper with color and texture added in Adobe Photoshop are as anecdotal as the text. For example, the single image of a baseball uniform shirt fills the page facing an illustration of Koufax surrounded by microphones as he announced his retirement. Or we are shown a double-page spread resembling a set of "how-he-does-it" illustrations about his style of pitching, using multiple images and lines representing the path of pitched balls. The lenticular cover is created with a plastic sheet using ridges. Three images are digitally sliced and printed on the sheet, with lenses allowing you to see only one at a time, so they move as the cover is manipulated. Additional facts are included in boxes throughout the text. There is also a glossary and a list of online resources. 2009, Schwartz & Wade/Random House Children's Books, Ages 5 to 9, $17.99. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
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