Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two new baseball picture books to consider

Here are two new picture books (both published in 2010) that will introduce two baseball legends to a new generation of readers.

All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

Written by: Jane Yolen
Illustrated by: Jim Burke
Recommended Ages: 6-10

All Star! opens with the story of how a Honus Wagner baseball card sold at auction for three million dollars in June 2007. It then goes back 134 years to a small town in Pennsylvania where a baby was born to a mining family. From here it chronicles Honus's humble beginnings in this impoverished town where boys entered the mines after the sixth grade. On their only day off, they played baseball. With all the work in the mines, Honus was strong. One legend has it that when he was twelve he came to bat and belted the ball out into the outfield. While running around the bases, he caught up to the other runner, picked him up and slung him over his back and dropped him on the brick they used for home plate.

The story has lots of moments about Honus as he worked his way up through the minors and finally to a place on a Paterson, NJ team. Kids will enjoy hearing that he was paid $125 per month (the average yearly pay for a worker then was $439). When he ultimately joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, Honus won the National League batting championship eight times. There are many legends about Honus out there, and the book tells a few of them. He was considered one of the greatest baseball players ever. When he had the famous baseball card made of him, he had it pulled when he realized that it was sold in cigarette packs. He thought it would give his young fans the wrong idea about cigarettes. So the cards became very rare, and very valuable.

Honus Wagner was a player who played baseball for the sheer love of the game. In 1936, when the Baseball Hall of Fame was established, he was one of the first five men inducted into it.

Written by: Willie Perdomo
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Recommended Ages: 6-9

This is a loving tribute to a man considered by many to be one of the finest baseball players ever--Roberto Clemente. The book is told in the first person by a little boy who is the son of the president of "The Greatest Fans of Roberto Clemente Club, Boogie-down Bronx chapter," who also happens to be named Clemente. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the book, as well as the impressive stats that Clemente acquired in his baseball career.

"4 batting titles,
.317 lifetime average,
came to bat 9454 times,
got 3,000 hits,
440 doubles,
166 triples,
240 home runs,
12 Golden Gloves...

What makes this book stand out is the way it portrays Roberto Clemente, not only as a great baseball player but as a wonderful human being. He lived his life admirably and never gave up, even when he was receiving ugly letters from people calling him names. His life ended tragically when the plane he was on, bound for Nicaragua with food, clothes and medicine for earthquake victims, crashed and disappeared. Unfortunately, Clemente's life was cut short, and baseball lost a great humanitarian athlete.

Both of these books portray two baseball legends playing in simpler times. Although, that's not to say that life was simple or easy for them. Both Wagner and Clemente confronted many obstacles along the way, and yet both overcame them with dignity. These days with athletes often in the news for all the wrong reasons, and salaries way out of proportion to the way normal people live, it's nice for kids to be reminded that true superstars in the past played for the love of the game.

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