Baseball Picture Books

19 08 2012

I love baseball.  What’s great about baseball is all the personalities, all the quirks, all the rich moments of history.  There’s so much there, and so much of it is woven into the fabric of American society from the mid 1800s to the 1960s and 1970s when baseball started to become more business than sport, more about money than being America’s past time.

One of the things I love most about the game is the fun stories that are hidden away.  Every player, more so than football and basketball in my mind, has their own story to tell.  Two of my favorites are Roberto Clemente and Larry Doby.

Clemente, by Willie Perdomo, is one of those books that shows you how some players were bigger than the game.  Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American superstar in baseball.  His story mirrors Jackie Robinson’s in many ways, and this book shows one of the most important – that he was a hero to other people, that he showed them that a Puerto Rican kid could grow up to be rich and famous, and that a hero is more than just someone who runs around a ballfield for a living.

Clemente was a hero in every sense of the word.  As a ballplayer, he did represent hope to a segment of society that had none of their own to root for.  However, off the field he was a true hero, giving his time, his money, and his life to help people who weren’t as fortunate as he was.  This book looks at Clemente through the eyes of a young fan who idolized the Pirates outfielder for all of those reasons.

Just as Good by Chris Crowe is the story of Larry Doby.  Who?  That’s what you’re probably asking, but Larry Doby was an African American player – the second ever to make it to the big leagues, the first in the American League, and the first to win a World Series ring.  He was just as good as Jackie Robinson, but Robinson gets all the glory.  Doby, who is also in the Hall of Fame, gets the star treatment in this picture book, and the author makes the case for Doby’s success was even more important for black athletes than Robinson’s was.

This story, also told through the eyes of a young fan, shows the impact Doby’s career had on young African Americans.  Unfortunately, Doby is a sometimes forgotten player in our history, but Crowe does everything he can to undo that for his readers.

These are the kind of books I love before heading on a road trip to see a ball game in Pittsburgh or Cleveland with my boys.  To look at a statue of Clemente or Doby is one thing, but to know their story is so much more meaningful.

Clemente was the 76th book I read this summer, and Just as Good was the 84th.  I’m getting close to finishing my quest for reading 90 books in 90 days over break.  

Just Like Josh Gibson

10 08 2012

Anyone who’s ever had a dream that they weren’t allowed to have come true, should read Just Like Josh Gibson.  This delightful little picture book by Coretta Scott King award winning author Angela Johnson, with illustrations by Beth Peck, is both heart breaking and warming at the same time.

The story is a flashback, grandma telling her grand-daughter how, as a young girl, she just loved to play baseball.  Grandma, so she says, could play just like Josh Gibson – she could catch anything and hit the ball a mile.

Josh Gibson was, in his day, called the black Babe Ruth.   Many say he was even better than the Bambino, and legend has it that he hit hundreds more home runs.  But, because he was black, he never got a chance to play in the big leagues, only the Negro Leagues.

Grandma dealt with the same problem.  She was a girl, so she couldn’t play in the real organized games with fancy uniforms and real meaning.  She only got to play in pick-up sandlot games, but when she did, she dominated.  Hitting a ton and catching everything that came her way.

The book parallels grandma’s dreams with Gibson’s very well, bringing to light racist and sexist ideas that prevent many from achieving their dreams.  The story is deep and meaningful, but fun, and the pastel illustrations bring you back to the time period very well.

To top it off, there’s a nice little biography of Josh Gibson at the end, giving a little recognition to the man that may have been the greatest ball player ever, but very few have ever heard of – that, in and of itself, is to be commended.

This one’s a great book for all ages.  For middle grade students it would work well as a companion to other stories from that time period, like Christopher Paul Curtis’ Bud Not Buddy or The Mighty Miss Malone.

This summer I’m on a quest to read 90 books in 90 days.  Just Like Josh Gibson was #65.  

My Friend Dahmer

9 08 2012

We live in a messed up world.  People go see the new Batman movie and get shot by a lunatic playing Joker.  A group of peaceful folks in Wisconsin got to their place of worship and are killed by a nut.  A woman in my town was pulled over last week by a person she thought was a cop – it wasn’t, and the man pretending to be a police officer dragged her into a cornfield and assaulted her.

TV shows, movies, and books are often an escape from the real world.  Sometimes, however, they offer some insight into what’s going on out there.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is of those insightful ones.

This book is a graphic novel about Jeffery Dahmer.  For those of you don’t know who that is, he’s one of the crazy people.  He was a serial killer in the 1980s and early ’90s who killed 17 people.

I’m usually not a fan of books that tell the story of horrible people like Dahmer, but this one is different.  It’s not about his crimes.  It’s about his adolescence – the years that turned him into the monster he became.

Derf Backderf, the author and illustrator, went to junior high and high school with Dahmer, so he has a unique insight into how the awkward, strange young man devolved into one of the world’s worst killers.  This book follows Backderf’s group of friends, which Dahmer was loosely associated with, from middle school until just after high school graduation.

The theme of the book, as Backderf looks back at Dahmer’s anti-social behavior and creepiness with 20/20 hindsight, is “where were the adults?”  Knowing what Dahmer would become, you read this book wondering how his parents, the neighbors, the teachers, or the principal never saw the writing on the wall, never realized that this kid needed help, never knew that he was a ticking time bomb.

It’s hard to call this book good or great or awesome, even though the art and writing are incredible – it’s just not that type of book, this one made me feel a little sick to my stomach the entire time I read it – a feeling I haven’t had since I visited a Nazi Concentration Camp in Germany back in 2007.  It is, however, an important book.  It’s a book about missing the signs, not hearing the cries for help, and not noticing when someone falls though the cracks.  What Dahmer did was awful.  He’s not a sympathetic figure, but what he did was preventable if someone would have just seen the signs.

Maybe we can say the same thing for Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and all the other horrific tragedies.  Maybe we could have stopped it if only we were paying attention.

This book, in my opinion, is one that all parents, teachers, principals, school counselors, and middle/high school students should read.  Not because it’s great, but because it’s important.

I’m trying to finish 90 books in 90 days this summer break.  My Friend Dahmer was #54.


The Lord Buddha

28 06 2012

I’m lucky enough that I get to travel the world with my students each year.  One of the best ways we prepare for those trips is by readings stories and books from that area of the world.  This year, getting ready for our Japan trips, we read Hachiko Waits, The Old Man Mad About Drawing, The Master Puppeteer, The Big Wave, and a whole bunch more.

However, this year I also found some great books while I was on my trip that helped me better understand what I was seeing.   I already wrote about Barefoot Gen, which gave me a whole new understanding about what I saw in Hiroshima, but another book I picked up in Japan was The Lord Buddha.  

I bought this one at a Buddhist temple outside of Tokyo to help me understand who Buddha was and a little more about that religion.  It’s a picture book biography that tells the life story of Buddha, from childhood til his death.

This is the 30th book I’ve read this summer.  I’m shooting to read 90 books in 90 days.