Baseball Books for Kids 6-14

It’s baseball season! These 10 books are a sure hit. A home run? Corniness aside, they’ve all got something to offer.

Picture Books:

There Goes Ted Williams written and illustrated by Matt TavaresTwo on, two out, last of the ninth. From the super talented author-illustrator of four other equally spectacular baseball-related picture books—Zachary’s Ball (Anniversary Edition)Oliver’s GameMudball, and Henry Aaron’s Dream—comes the story of lanky Ted Williams, the legendary slugger, from his premature option by the Yankees at 17 to his first big-league contract with the Boston Red Sox at 19 in 1939 to winning the American League triple crown in 1942. Miraculously, Williams managed to survive two stints at war—one during World War II, the other in Korea—and continued to play ball until his retirement in 1960 at the age of 42. He was named MLB Player of the Decade for the 1950s and although Tavares alludes to Williams’s hot-tempered personality in the Author’s Note, the figure he portrays in this gorgeously illustrated picture book is that of an American hero. Back matter also includes a bibliography and a stats page.  Ages 6+

Just as Good written by Chris Crowe, illustrated by Mike Benny. Little ones will most likely know the name Jackie Robinson but they might need a little help with Larry Doby—the first African-American baseball player to join the American Leagues (his team was the Cleveland Indians), just 11 weeks after Robinson broke the color barrier by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Although his rookie season was a flop, Doby’s .301 batting average and 16 home runs the following year brought the Indians home from the 1948 World Series as victors. Readers relive this historic game against the Boston Braves through the eyes and ears of young (aptly named) Homer as he and his parents listen to the game on the radio. Crowe’s (Mississippi Trial 1955) simple text combined with Benny’s (Oh, Brother!) joyous illustrations aptly capture this ground-breaking moment in baseball history. Back matter includes a Historical Note and a bibliography. Ages 6+

Stand-Alone Titles:

Plunked by Michael Northrop. Northrop (GentlemenTrapped) spent many years as the baseball editor for Sports Illustrated Kids magazine, so it’s of no surprise that his latest novel and middle-grade debut about Jack Mogens, a 6th grader who gets “plunked” in the head by a fierce stray pitch, rings true. His knack for middle-school dialogue and the earnestness and sincerity with which he describes Jack’s deep fear of getting back in the game after his mild concussion are a testament to Northrop’s capabilities not just as a writer but as someone who understands and has sympathy for the way vulnerable young minds work. Beyond Jack’s frenzied struggle to regain his self-confidence, there are plenty of other perks in the book, including a sweet flirtation between Jack and Katie (the cute shortstop) and, of course, lots of baseball play-by-plays. Ages 8-12

Stars in the Shadows by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Frank Morrison. It’s 1934 and one of the most legendary games is about to take place—the second annual Negro League All-Star game between the East (Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Jimmie Crutchfield, Slim Jones, Stachel Paige, et al.) and the defending champions, the West (Turkey Stearnes, Willie Wells, Mule Suttles, Ted Trent, Alex Radcliffe, et al.). Written in rhymed couplets (this doesn’t take away from the rhythmic pacing of the game, but adds to it), the play-by-play of each inning is reported by WNLB’s announcer Lester Roberts. Morrison’s (Out of the BallparkQuacky BaseballBroken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street) full-bleed and spot charcoal illustrations throughout bring a real charge to the text and the added profiles of fans in the stands and commercial spots for area businesses like Sweet Amelia’s Soul Cuisine round out the picture of 1934 Chicago. A fresh approach to baseball and one that begs to be read aloud in class, broadcast-style and all. Back matter includes an Author’s Note. Ages 8-12

King of the Mound by Wes Tooke. A bit of a golden-hearted tearjerker, Tooke’s second novel for middle-graders (after Lucky) deftly tackles illness, death of a parent, and race relations in one fell swoop. Once the shining star pitcher of his youth league, Nick is afraid he’ll never be able to play baseball again after coming home from the hospital with a near-ruined leg due to Polio. What’s worse is that his aptly portrayed father and sole parent, a driven and often too dogmatic (in his approach to parenting) semi-pro baseball player, can’t move beyond his disappointment regarding his son’s predicament. Thankfully, Nick gets his baseball fix by working for the owner of his dad’s team and when Nick meets and befriends Satchel Paige, the renowned pitcher, he finds enough much-needed support and guidance to get back on track. Like Satch had to, Nick rises above his limitations and figures out that sometimes success just means putting your mind to winning, no matter what anyone else says. An important lesson to learn. Back matter includes Historical Notes. Ages 8-12

A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Based on real events surrounding the Japanese-American population’s displacement following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and told from the perspective of 12-year-old Tetsu, this moving work of historical fiction is a lot to stomach, but worth every effort to do so. Tetsu’s family is moved to the Gila River Relocation Center in Rivers, Arizona. The atrocities they experience are unimaginably awful, notably more so after Tetsu’s father’s sudden arrest and his sister’s brief disappearance. But when Tetsu befriends some other boys at the center and they work together to create a baseball diamond in the desert, hope springs eternal. While the picture is still far from rosy (and still despicable in terms of an actual historic event), the Gila River baseball team’s win of the Arizona State Championship makes imprisonment slightly more bearable. Fitzmaurice (The Year the Swallows Came Early) makes a smart choice by writing in chapters that are short but thick with meaning, allowing readers the space to digest and try to make sense of the truth behind what’s taking place both in the book and in America’s past. Ages 10+

To read the rest of this post, including reviews of Curveball by Jordan Sonnenblick and three series titlesplease visit Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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