July 08, 2005

Take Me Out to The Ball Game

When I was little my parents would take me to Dodgers games. I would wear my older brother's outgrown sailor suit and pretend to be the boy on the Cracker Jack box.

Although I'm not a huge sports fan of any kind these days, if I pay attention to one sport at all, it is baseball. It's more difficult now living in a city with only a minor league team and disliking the closest major league team to get too worked up until the post season though.

Still, we take our kids to at least one minor league game each summer and I've been checking out stories about baseball just to wet their appetites a bit. We've gotten two recently that were especially good and worth reading to yourself or your children.

First and perhaps my favorite of the two is a book by David Shannon called How Georgie Radbourne Saved Baseball. David Shannon's artwork alone is enough to make me love the books he writes and illustrates, from the very simple No David to the very elaborate like Jane Yolen's The Ballad of the Pirate Queens which he illustrates. His paintings glow, whether simple or elaborate.

Many of Shannon's books are set in fantastic worlds where strange things can happen. The setting for this book is a sad, Farenheit 452 style, America where spring can never come, because an unhappy former baseball player has taken over the country and banned all things related to baseball with a secret police keeping an eye on the populous. Without Spring training, winter stays on the ground. Then a child named Georgie is born. A child who spontaneously speaks in baseball-ese and has an amazing pitching arm. Finally, a confrontation with the evil dictator saves the land and baseball.

The second book has a totally different feel to it. The Bat Boy And His Violin by Gavin Curtis is set in the last years of the Negro National Baseball League after Jackie Robinson has already integrated the sport. The watercolor illustrations have a nice feel to them and are very lovely.

This is the story of a young boy who dreams of classical music and performing with his violin in front of crowds. His father, though, is the manager of a losing baseball team that has lost its best players to white teams. He is often frustrated by his musically, but not athletically, inclined son. He assigns the boy to be his team's bat boy, a role which does not come easily and soon discovers that letting him practice his violin in th dugout is more productive than his delivering bats. The music starts off a winning streak that gives the ball players hope and excitement in what might be their last year of play and ultimately brings the father and son closer together. I enjoyed the not-too preachy history lesson. My son really liked the fact that the book mentioned both baseball and Beethoven.

Following The Boys of Summer closely or not, these two books are great reads and it's fun to look at the pictures* too.

*Don't judge a book by its cover alone, but the illustrations can tell you a lot about a picture book.