Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and a good baseball story or two make for a fine afternoon, come rain or come shine. Even if you’re not a fan of the sport, you’ll find plenty to cheer about if you bypass most of the lackluster new titles in favor of these children’s books.
Uhlberg, Myron. Dad, Jackie, and Me. illus. by Colin Bootman. Peachtree, 2005. Ages 7-10. Don’t miss this fine historical fiction, set in the summer of 1947 in New York. Jackie Robinson, the new first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, has inspired a boy’s deaf father to follow baseball. The boy can barely believe his good luck when his dad gets tickets to see the Giants vs. Dodgers game at Ebbets Field. Uhlberg, who has written about growing up with his own deaf father, puts readers right there in the ballpark. At first the boy’s embarrassed as his father chants Jackie’s name as “AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE!” The excitement is contagious, though, and other fans join in. Adults reading this aloud to a group can invite children to join in, with some chanting “Jackie” while others say “Ah-ghee.” It’s impossible not to root for Robinson, especially as the author shows how the great player calmly persevered despite racist taunts from the Giants fans. The boy and his dad share much joy that season, filling scrapbooks with newspaper clippings and getting a special surprise at the end. Bootman’s realistic paintings capture the thrill of the game, as well as interesting details of the era. Schneider Family Book Award (2006). For younger children, try Luke Goes to Bat by Rachel Isadora.
Michelson, Richard. Across the Alley. illus. by E.B. Lewis. Penguin, 2006. Ages 6-9. Two boys, one Jewish and the other African-American, become friends, but they play only at night. Such are the constraints of their segregated world. Lewis, acclaimed for his illustrations, provides a memorable visual metaphor for the boys’ relationship, with his watercolor painting of the two playing catch between their windows. Willie’s dad, a starter in the Negro leagues, expects his son to play ball in the majors. Abe’s Jewish grandfather, a violinist before World War II, intends for his grandson to become a classical musician. At night, though, the boys trade for the hobby that suits each one. When Abe’s grandfather discovers Willie is a talented violinist, he asks him to play at the temple. People stare as Willie’s dad, Abe’s grandfather, and the boys walk there. Willie’s dad points out, “Ignorance comes in as many colors as talent.” Willie triumphs at the recital, and Abe enjoys the baseball game later that day. The loving families have found a way to honor not only the boys’ true talents and feelings, but also a way past the prejudice that surrounds them.