The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (InfoSoup)
The author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu returns with a new novel for young readers. Peter loves baseball just like all of the others in his family, including his mother who is a huge Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His older brother is amazing at baseball and will occasionally join in the neighborhood game and hit homeruns with his favorite bat. But when tragedy strikes their family, Peter stops playing entirely. He can’t seem to find joy in it anymore and starts to spend most of his time alone. As Peter’s mother descends deeply into grief, rarely eating or speaking and never leaving the living room, Peter decides that maybe baseball can inspire her to return to normal. So Peter tries out for a Little League team that his father reluctantly agrees to coach. Soon baseball is once again a huge part of their family, but can it heal the wounds left behind by loss?
Shang has written a book that will appeal to children who adore baseball but also invites in those who may not be fans. This is not a sports book, but rather a novel that features baseball and the catalyst that sports can be for a family to rally around. At the same time, Shang shows the appeal of baseball in particular with its mathematical logic, fascinating trick plays, and the effect that being on a team can have on different kids.
The central family in this novel is Chinese American. Shang weaves details of that heritage throughout the novel. It is more about the reverberations through generations of concepts like honoring your elders and showing respect in very tangible ways. The father in the book had been a distant figure and suddenly becomes that sole caretaker for Peter and his little sister. That transition is shown in all of its difficulty, made even more difficult because of the strict nature of their relationship. These complexities add a lot of depth to the novel, making it about so much more than baseball.
A deep look at grief, loss and baseball, this novel features strong writing and great characters of diversity. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares
This biographical picture book takes a look at Babe Ruth’s formative years. It is the story of a small boy named George Herman Ruth who gets into lots of trouble, so much that his father puts him into Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. There he has to follow the rules and work hard. Happily, there is also baseball and George gets to play it almost every day. Best of all, there is Brother Matthias who serves as an inspiration and mentor for George’s baseball game and life. As George gets better and better, he is finally whisked into the world of major league baseball, but he never forgot the school and the man who got him there.
Tavares writes in such an engaging way that the pages fly by. The sudden sternness of the school is told in short, abrupt sentences that enforce the martial feel of the establishment. That contrasts directly with the long sentences that talk about the beauty of baseball. Readers can almost feel themselves taking a big gulp of freedom on those pages.
The joy Tavares feels about his subject is also palpable. From eating ice cream with the boys from the school, to tipping his hat to them as he walks on the field, to the pleasure of hitting a ball, all are captured with a fondness and pleasure in the paintings that are the illustrations in the book.
This is a baseball biography that children will find accessible and fascinating. Play ball! Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Brothers at Bat by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno
In one family from New Jersey, there were 12 baseball-playing brothers: the Acerra brothers. All of the brothers played high school baseball and their high school had an Acerra on it 22 years in a row! In 1938, the oldest nine brothers formed their own semi-pro baseball team. Their father coached the team and they played on dirt fields that were littered in rocks. Each of the brothers had a different skill set than the others. Some were slow runners but great players, others posed for the cameras naturally, one was a great pitcher that people still talk about today. But all of them supported one another. Then came World War II and the team disbanded as six of the brothers headed off to war. Happily, all six brothers returned from war. The brothers played their last game together as a team in 1952. By that time, they were the longest-playing all-brother baseball team ever. In 1997, the brothers were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Vernick shares this story of brothers who played together for most of their lives with a real sense of wonder and amazement at what they achieved. The story celebrates their strong brotherhood and sense of family as well as the love of baseball. Vernick offers all sorts of details that really create a vivid picture of the family dynamic and their lives.
Salerno uses a vintage style for the illustrations that firmly roots this picture book in the time period. They are colorful and action filled.
A great non-fiction picture book for baseball fans, brothers, or people who enjoy a little sports with their history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick
Peter has always loved baseball and excelled at it. About to start high school, he looks forward to being a pitching star and playing alongside his best friend AJ. But when he ignores the pain in his arm and continues to pitch, disaster happens and he is told he can no longer pitch, ever. Peter’s mother talks him into taking a photography class in school, inspired by his grandfather who is a well-known photographer in their community and whom Peter loves to spend time with. Peter reluctantly agrees, but the class is too easy and he is moved to an advanced photography class along with another freshman, a beguiling girl, Angelika. As their relationship starts thanks to photography, Peter notices that his grandfather is starting to forget things. Peter keeps the truth about his grandfather from his parents, just as he doesn’t tell the whole truth about his arm to his best friend. How long can he balance the lies he’s been spinning before they all fall?
Sonnenblick has created a book that is smart and charming. He effortlessly blends the worlds of sports and photography, plus a dash of strong romance too. Peter is a great character: a jock who is bright, funny and endearingly unsure. A great sense of humor runs through the book as well, making the book a fast read despite the heavier issues at its heart. The book grapples mightily with truth telling and relationships. Readers get to see just enough of the grandfather before he starts to lose his memory to understand just how strong the relationship between the two of them is. Though there are many issues at hand in the book, they are all balanced on strong storytelling and vivid characters.
With its blend of topics this book should appeal to many readers, get it in the hands of teens who enjoy John Green and are looking for more smart, funny books. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim Burke
This is the story behind the most valuable baseball card in the world. Honus Wagner was born to a poor coal mining family and began working in the mines himself at age 12. He had Sundays off and would play baseball after church. He was strong from working in the mines, very fast despite his bowed legs, and could snag balls with his long arms. At 16, Horus joined the semipros. His brother was already playing professional ball. As his career progressed, he became one of the most unforgettable players in history. But even that is not what made his baseball card so valuable. You will just have to read the book to find that out!
Yolen uses beautiful, evocative language in her verses. At the same time, her verse reads in a frank, honest way. The language is not flowery, but lends depth to the book as a whole. Burke’s illustrations are done in oil on board. He has captured the time period with grace and style. His paintings often show unique perspectives that make the book very interesting visually.
The book touches on many issues, including child labor in the coal mines and the power and importance of sports. Yolen is especially fine when speaking about the power of sports. This is a fine book about a legend in baseball but it offers more appeal and interest than that thanks to its fine execution.
A book for baseball fans, certainly, but others will enjoy the story of a legend too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
Also reviewed by The Booknosher.
The Boys by Jeff Newman
I only opened this book to get a feel for the sort of book it was. I was immediately captivated by the art, the wordless story. I set it down with misty eyes and a wide smile. What a book!
My problem is that I want you to discover it and I don’t want to mess any of its wonder of wordlessness up for you. I’ve tried to put words to it, but it seems to minimize the story, as if pinning it down removes the life from it. So I will briefly tell you the premise and proceed to gush about it in more general terms.
A young boy moves to a new town. He heads to the park with his bat, ball and glove. He watches from behind a tree but is too shy to approach the playing children on the baseball diamond. So he plunks himself down on a bench near some older gentlemen. The story continues from there. It is fresh, winning, and sweetly surprising. There is a universal quality to it, a subtle humor, and a lovely simplicity.
Newman has created a book that is an instant classic. His use of a vintage style works well with the subject, giving the book a timeless feel. The only words in the book are the days of the week as time passes, otherwise all of the story is told in the illustrations. Newman tells this story in the slump of shoulders, bowed head, glaring eyes, and a determined set of a jaw. There is never any doubt what the young boy is feeling because it is shown so clearly and yet with subtle skill.
Get this book, read it, read it again (because you must) and then decide what lucky person you will hand it to next. It is a book to read with someone on your lap, to savor and to simply enjoy. Let me know what you think.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8.