Monday, August 31, 2009

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
Written by Jonah Winter; Illustrated by Andre Carrilho
Recommended Ages: 4-8 (although I think 9-12 year olds would appreciate it, too)

Update: You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! was a 2009 Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category. Mazal Tov!

This is a big, beautiful book that does an admirable job describing one of the true enigmas of baseball-Sandy Koufax. Kids, especially baseball fans, will love reading the story of how Sandy Koufax became one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball history. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! is a great gift for a sports lover.

The story is told in a conversational way by an unnamed person (teammate?), presumably connected with the Dodger organization. The style of writing is accessible and draws the reader immediately in.

Turns out Sandy earned most of it just warmin' the bench. See, he was new, a rookie...and rookies are known to lose a lot. It was 1955, and the Dodgers had a shot to win the pennant. The kid was too big a risk.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
begins by describing Koufax as a standout high school athlete who got picked up by the Dodgers at the age of 19. However, those first few years were hardly stellar for him, as he walked lots of batters and threw more wild pitches in 1958 than any other pitcher in baseball. But he persevered through those early years of failure, and eventually became the Sandy Koufax of legend.

Besides being such an outstanding pitcher, one of the things that Koufax is remembered for was sitting out the first game of the 1965 World Series, which fell on Yom Kippur, a Jewish High Holy Day. This gesture made him a hero to American Jews, and the book does a nice job of re-telling the story.

There are interesting baseball facts interspersed throughout the book (the one about Satchel Paige is mind-blowing), which will please the more ardent fans. There's also a glossary of baseball terms at the end.

Finally, the illustrations by Andre Carrillo are a wonder. They are caricature-like drawings, with bits of blue and red splashed across the pages. The baseball gear (gloves, bats and even the infield) are a striking gold and quite eye-catching. But the true highlight is the cover, which is of Koufax pitching. What makes it so unique is that it is actually three different images on a plastic sheet, and when you move the book a bit, he looks as if he is winding up and throwing a pitch.

BookNosher Activities: Random House has an excellent Teacher's Guide devoted to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! Check it out!

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