Sports are a way for us to test our mettle. If there is a quintessential American sport, it's baseball. Figures of baseball like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Manny Ramirez are beloved by so many because their victories on the field inspire us to exceed our own expectations in life. The terms "home run" and "three strikes" have become common phrases referring to either total victory or extensive failure—and often baseball fans feel as lousy about a failure on the field as one in their own life, or as thrilled by a victory.
In either winning or losing, baseball above all brings sportsmanship to the game and its fans. If you win the World Series for several years in a row, a loss reminds you to be humble. If you're the underdog and you win against all odds, you see how powerful dedication can be. You might be one of the greatest hitters of all time, like Manny Ramirez, but unless you work well with the whole team you will be traded.
These are only some of the truths that baseball helps reveal about winning, losing, and just plain playing the game. The following books range from nonfiction accounts of the game and the players to fiction inspired by the sport.
Baseball Crazy: Ten Short Stories That Cover All the Bases
Edited by Nancy E. Mercado.
The batter is up. The pitch is good. He swings. It is a home run! Springtime is the perfect time for these ten baseball stories which take you into the ballpark, out on the field, and into the hearts and minds of boys and girls who love to play and live for baseball. Readers will recognize many of the kids, parents, and coaches in these stories. There are the kids who play their hearts out, kids who just do not want to embarrass themselves, baseball crazy parents, absent parents, coaches that care only about winning, good sports, bad sports, and other memorable characters. The stories are poignant, funny, heartwarming, and sad, in turn. The characters and their feelings about baseball and life in general will ring true for readers. My personal favorite is "Smile Like Jeter" by Maria Testa. It is a poem narrated by a young boy who yearns to be a shortstop like his idol, but his coach has different ideas. It all works out the way it is supposed to. The anthology includes short stories, a poem, a play, and an entry about a women's softball league. Although baseball lovers are a prime audience for the book, the stories have something in them for all young readers. The universal themes (friendship, group dynamics, divorce, loss, parent/child relationships, sportsmanship) in the well written stories transcend the game of baseball. 2008, Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, $16.99. Ages 7 to 12. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D. (Children's Literature).
Illustrated by Bill Thomson
In a complementary blend of text and illustration, readers will grasp the fun and excitement of learning and playing the sport of baseball. The rhymed couplets present the basics of warming up, pitching, catching, hitting and running the bases. The illustrations are sepia-toned except for the white ball with red stitching. This adds a striking contrast and emphasizes the sport. The images realistically portray the happy, multicultural faces of the boys and girls on the team and show their movements and actions. Close ups of hands, faces, and equipment will elicit a wide range of emotional reactions from the readers. The male and female coaches are also a nice touch, as women often coach children's sports teams today. This is very suitable for a group reading as well as independent reading by a beginning reader. It is also a great bedtime book for a parent to share with an aspiring professional ballplayer. This is a sure hit! 2008, Marshall Cavendish, $16.99. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
Begin baseball season this month with Beanball. This novel in poems by Gene Fehler explores the effect of a tragic sports injury on a community. When star center fielder Luke "Wizard" Wallace is beaned by a wild pitch, he must begin the long slow process to recovery. But the accident that shatters his skull also shatters his high school and family. These nuanced poems in different voices provide the perspective of twenty-eight people (umpire, coach, best friend, pitcher, doctors, several girls and, of course, Luke himself) on Luke's accident, hospitalization and return home. These poems of despair, compassion, resiliency and hope will speak to young people grappling with the ups and downs of life. Towards the end of the book, Luke realizes that his athletic skill and judgment have been impaired, perhaps permanently, but he still wants to play catch with his dad. Catching that first ball, he says, is "like seeing a rainbow after a dark storm." 2008, Clarion, $16.00. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
The Big Field
Norah Piehl (Children's Literature)
In several previous novels (including Travel Team and Heat), sportswriter Mike Lupica has demonstrated that he is just as adept at bringing sports to life for young people as he is at writing about them for Sports Illustrated and other publications. This newest offering, set in the competitive world of Little League baseball, is no exception. Keith Hutchinson (better known as Hutch) wants only one thing--to be a great shortstop like his idol, Derek Jeter, or like his father, who played minor league ball before graduating to a series of dead-end jobs during Hutch's childhood, since "the only job his dad ever cared about was baseball." Hutch, however, is forced to play second base to his superstar teammate Darryl's shortstop, and his dad seems to care less about Hutch's baseball dreams than about his own long-lost ones. This complicated father-son dynamic is at the center of Lupica's novel, and most readers will be hard-pressed to tell which aspect--the relationship dramas or the action-packed game summaries--provides the most tension and anticipation in this excellent sports novel. 2008, Philomel/Penguin, $17.99. Ages 9 to 12.
David Eckstein and the St. Louis Cardinals: 2006 World Series
Selected as Most Valuable Player for the 2006 World Series, David Eckstein achieved a victory which many people believed was unattainable. This book highlights Eckstein's baseball career in compact chapters consisting of two to three paragraphs facing pages devoted to enlarged photographs. Early chapters explain how Eckstein improved his playing skills to offset his short 5'7" height. Eckstein's talents earned him positions on the University of Florida, Boston Red Sox, and Anaheim Angels teams. By 2005 Eckstein played for the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of nine previous World Series titles. Their aspirations for a tenth World Series win dimmed in summer 2006 due to injuries, including Eckstein being unable to play in approximately forty games. Despite its 83-78 record, the team won the National League playoffs. This book tells why many people favored the Cardinals' World Series opponent, the Detroit Tigers, and how Eckstein helped his team defeat the Tigers, sharing such interesting details as Eckstein being the shortest World Series MVP. Photographs depict Eckstein playing in games ranging from college through the 2006 World Series, and showing him with his MVP trophy. Baseball card images portray Eckstein and two teammates. No sources for quotations by Eckstein and manager Tony LaRussa are provided. Suggested resources and a glossary supplement the text. Part of "World Series Superstars" series. 2008, Bearport Publishing Company, $22.61. Ages 7 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer (Children's Literature).
Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees: 2000 World Series
Consultant: Jim Sherman
Derek Jeter's baseball talents during the Subway Series in 2000 between his team, the New York Yankees, and local rival, the New York Mets, earned him that series' Most Valuable Player title. In two-page chapters consisting of several paragraphs opposite full-page illustrations, this book introduces Jeter as a notable figure in Game 4 then briefly profiles Jeter's baseball activities prior to the Yankees drafting him in 1992, noting his rookie achievements before his major league debut in 1996. After discussing the Yankee versus Mets rivalry, the text focuses on the 2000 World Series and Jeter's home run contributions for victory. Readers learn such fun facts as Jeter's birthday being on the same date as baseball pioneer Abner Doubleday's. Color images include photographs depicting Jeter as a high school player, Jeter with his family, in addition to Jeter's rookie baseball card and World Series game pictures. Facsimiles of baseball cards feature Jeter and two of his Yankees teammates significant to securing the 2000 World Series title. The text is supplemented with a glossary and bibliography which provide both precise book information and general references to sports periodicals. No source is provided for a quotation by Jeter. This book's subject, strong visual elements, and simple presentation style may appeal to reluctant readers. This is a title in the "World Series Superstars" series. 2008, Bearport Publishing Company, $22.61. Ages 7 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer (Children's Literature).
Jackie Robinson: Hero and Athlete
Illustrated by Thomas Spence
A photo of Jackie Robinson at bat accompanies a brief, one paragraph introduction which calls attention to the attributes that made him an excellent choice to break the color barrier in Major League baseball in 1947. Primary grade students will learn about Jackie's childhood, his time in the army, how he became a player with the Kansas City Monarchs, and what it was like to be the first Black player in Major League history. Most sentences are short and simple, thereby encouraging independent reading. The picture-book size and the full color illustrations in acrylics and ink make this appropriate both as a read-aloud and as an independent read for second graders. The wide range of facial expressions provides visual clues to help the reader understand the emotional highs and lows of Jackie's life. Part of the "Biographies" series, more details of his life can be found in the timeline and in the "Did You Know?" facts presented in the back of the book. A glossary, brief bibliography, index, and Facthound web site address are also there. 2008, Picture Window Books, $25.26. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
Jermaine Dye and the Chicago White Sox: 2005 World Series
The 2005 World Series' Most Valuable Player, Jermaine Dye, helped his team, the Chicago White Sox, secure a World Series title almost nine decades after its first World Series win in 1917. This book primarily discusses the White Sox, with sparse biographical information regarding Dye. The text describes the 1919 World Series scandal when some White Sox players accepted money to play poorly, causing the White Sox to lose that series. As a result, many fans believed the White Sox were cursed, attempting to explain why that team had not achieved another World Series victory. In lean textual passages and captions, this book outlines Dye's career then focuses on the 2005 season, noting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's strategy and Dye's home run contributions. After winning the playoffs, the White Sox played the Houston Astros in the World Series. Dye's grounder in Game 4 assured his team the title. In addition to archival images of White Sox players in 1919 and a 1920 New York Times headline, photographs depict Dye, teammates, and opponents at the World Series. A glossary defines basic terms, and a short bibliography suggests resources. Readers may find notorious aspects of White Sox history intriguing. This book in the "World Series Superstars" series can stimulate discussion of superstitions and traditions associated with athletics. 2008, Bearport Publishing Company, $22.61. Ages 7 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer (Children's Literature).
Linda Sue Park
More than anything in the world, nine-year-old Maggie wants the Brooklyn Dodgers to win a world series. The men at her dad's old firehouse are big Dodger fans and Maggie has spent so much time there listening to the games on the radio that it has become her team as well. The new fireman, Jim, is a NY Giants fan. He taught Maggie how to keep score during the games. When Jim leaves to fight in the Korean War, Maggie promises him she will continue with the score books. Maggie looks forward to receiving Jim's letters and is saddened when they stop. She becomes curious about the Korean War and keeps track of who is winning by drawing maps. Her frustration grows until her father tells her about the horrible event that has left Jim with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Maggie is determined to help Jim recover, even to the point of wishing that the Giants will win the World Series. Although her grand idea does not work the way she planned, she learns that hard work and hope can make a difference. Avid baseball fans will appreciate the play-by-play of the historic games between the Giants and the Dodgers in the 1950s. The captions under Park's maps give a simplified account of the events of the Korean War, thus providing a fine introduction for readers who might otherwise be unfamiliar with it. Park's usual smoothly elegant writing style, her spunky heroine, other well drawn characters, and the multiple plot strands give the reader a fascinating glimpse into the past and a story that is as fresh as today's news. 2008, Clarion Books/Houghton, $16.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox : 2004 World Series
Consultant, Jim Sherman
Manny Ramirez, the 2004 World Series' Most Valuable Player, dismissed public speculation that his team, the Boston Red Sox, would lose to the St. Louis Cardinals at that team's home field during the World Series. This book, consisting of concise chapters enhanced by photographs, highlights how Ramirez's confidence benefited the Red Sox's victorious 2004 season. Noting Ramirez's Dominican Republic origins, the text tells how teenaged Ramirez immigrated to New York City where he excelled on the George Washington High School team, batting .643 his senior year. Known as a slugger who could bat in runners, Ramirez played for the Cleveland Indians from 1991 until 2000 when he decided to play for the Red Sox, believing that team could win the World Series, a victory which had eluded them since 1918. He savored defeating the New York Yankees in the playoffs, qualifying for the World Series. Ramirez's hitting prowess aided the Red Sox to win the series 4-0. Photographs show Ramirez playing in high school and professionally. Captions include facts about the Red Sox, the Dominican Republic, and other professional baseball players from that country. A brief glossary provides definitions and pronunciations. The bibliography suggests articles featuring Ramirez to consult for reports. A quotation by Ramirez in the text is unreferenced. A title in the "World Series Superstars" series. 2008, Bearport Publishing Company, $22.61. Ages 7 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer (Children's Literature).
The Negro Leagues
Even after slavery was made illegal in the United States, it took over 100 years for the color line to truly be broken. Even when new sports or industries were created, a line was quickly established to keep blacks from participating in the same way that whites participated. With baseball's advent on the American scene shortly prior to the Civil War, blacks and whites played on the same teams, and it was only when baseball became a professional sport that a color line was created. This did not keep African Americans from playing, and the creation of several Negro Leagues helped ensure that African Americans who played baseball were able to do so. The Negro Leagues struggled at times, but it was from playing in the Negro Leagues that African American greats such as Jackie Robinson got their start in baseball. This text is part of the "We the People" series. 2008, Compass Point Books, $26.60. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Danielle Williams (Children's Literature).
No Cream Puffs
Madison's last day of school before summer vacation does not go as planned. She has an altercation with a bully that results in her taking a punch to the face, her best friend seemingly walks out on her, and she is about to become the community joke when her plan to play summer baseball in the boys' league becomes public. Madison is not the kind of girl who wears lip gloss and understands boys, but she keeps those goals in sight as she heads off to pitch in the summer league. Being the first girl to play on the boys' team is difficult enough, but as Madison's talents lead her team to the championship game, the pressure builds even higher. Add to that a crush on a teammate, a has-been rock and roll star for a neighbor, an absent father, a mother who pushes her to be a feminist role model, and the discovery that the O on her baseball uniform appears to make a perfect bulls eye for her left breast, Madison goes into overload. As the summer progresses, Madison learns some valuable lessons about friendship, honesty, acceptance, and even love. While the baseball story carries the plot, it is the relationships that Madison develops with those around her that tell the true story. Set in 1980, this story plays well almost thirty years later and provides a glimpse for today's girls of those who broke ground for them. My only wish would have been a few more pop culture mentions. Other than feathered hair and a microfiche machine, the author does not give references to anchor the time period. That said, this is still a very good book, with appeal to a wide range of readers. It would be an excellent addition to young adult collections. 2008, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, $15.99. Ages 12 to 16. Reviewer: Sharon Oliver (Children's Literature).
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Nelson's magnificent paintings of the Negro League baseball players remind me of the saying, "Heroes are larger than life." The perspective he employs gives these men the stature they deserve. Each turn of the page provides a visual treat for the reader, whether it is a portrait of a player, or an action shot such as that of Jackie Robinson stealing home. A ticket to the "First Colored World Series" on October 11, 1924, opens as a gatefold, showing the players lined up on the field with their names listed below. The "collective we" of the first person text makes the reader feel as if an old-time ballplayer were speaking directly to him. Nelson begins with the establishment of Negro League Baseball and follows it to the end, entitling his chapters "1st Inning" through "9th Inning." Each chapter presents players, teams, locations, owners, discrimination faced by the teams, and how the Negro League players' style of play changed the game of baseball. The last chapter, "Extra Innings," explains why the Negro Leagues ended, and its importance in baseball and American history. There is a great deal of information in the back matter, such as the names of the Negro Leaguers who made it into the Major Leagues and those who are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. An index, a bibliography, and source notes are also included. In his author's note, Nelson says, "this eight-year journey from the book's beginning to completion has been a rewarding experience." Likewise for those who read--and reread--this book. 2008, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, $18.99. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
Author Alan Cho begins this book with the definition of the World Series. It includes the baseball championship of Major League Baseball, made up of the American League and the National League. The World Series has been played every year since 1903 except one. Cho explains the most important rules of the game in six paragraphs. Baseball is a simple game requiring only a ball, bat, and baseball glove. Today's catchers need more equipment than in the past. In early days, baseball was played on open fields, and people watched for free. Later, to pay players, tickets were sold, and fences around the field were put around the fields. Players salaries in the early days averaged $1,182 and now average $360,000. Advantages to the home team are reflected in the way fields are designed. Baseball players come from many different countries, with most from the United States. One of the earliest women's baseball teams was started at Vassar College in 1876. In the 1880s, the women's baseball clubs often won over men's teams. Legends of current stars and the prowess of each star in the game of baseball are explained. An interesting time line depicts the rise of the World Series, commencing in 1845 and ending in 2004. Colorful photography helps explain the text. There are six titles in this interesting, informative series. 2008, Weigl Publishers, $7.95. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Jennie DeGenaro (Children's Literature).
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