No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the last .400 Season by Fred Bowen
illustrated by Charles S. Pyle
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 7-10
As a hard-working rookie, Ted Williams garnered attention for his 31 home runs. But his hard work didn’t start there – it began in California where his family, who was poor, had nonetheless supplied him with the expectation of working to get what he wanted. And what Ted wanted was to be the greatest hitter ever.
From junior high, through high school, then for the American Legion Post, and later for two minor-league teams -- the San Diego Padres and the Minneapolis Millers -- and even into his years of playing for the Red Sox, Ted practiced with the bat, and squeezed rubber balls, to smooth out his swing until it was strong “with just a bit of an uppercut.” Although he didn’t realize it then, he was preparing for the summer of 1941 just before soldiers, including several star baseball players, left to fight in World War II.
More than two thirds of the book shows readers the pressure from fans and from Ted himself to finish the season with a batting average of .400 or better. Including several photos to accent that historic era; the illustrations meld with the text to demonstrate Williams’ toughness, the energy of his batting skill, and the power of a sports writer’s sense of significant incidents, and where to place them in a well-told story of a Major League Baseball feat, that has yet to be matched.
The full color illustrations reflect the 1930’s and 40’s, especially the legendary year, 1941, and illustrator Bowen (who resembles Williams, posed in a baseball uniform for the photo on page 2, to create the final picture) uses period details -- including clothing and images of a newsboy, a soda jerk, even a camera, typewriter, and telephone -- to create an authentic setting for this picture book biography. Statistics for Ted Williams in that year are on the back cover.
Clemente by Willie Perdomo
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 6-9
Award-winners Perdomo and Collier combine talents to create a celebration of baseball great Roberto Clemente, the first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame. Named Most Valuable Player as a member of the 1971 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates team, Clemente was recognized for his baseball skills, but loved for his gracious and generous contributions, especially in Latin America.
The biography is told by a boy, named Clemente, whose family chose his name to honor the Puerto Rico born baseball hero. The family members remind young Clemente of his namesake’s passion and talent, his many hours of practice, and his dignity. The boy knows the statistics, but even more of his hero’s pride and love for the game, for his homeland, his native language of Spanish, and most important, his love for his family.
The watercolor and collage illustrations are infused with light, even when darker colors are used to mourn his death in an airplane accident enroute to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua, after a devastating earthquake in 1972. This picture book biography is a joyful tribute to an admired and highly respected sports figure, gone too soon. Back matter includes a Time Line of his life, and both an Author’s and Illustrator’s Note, plus resource materials in print and online.
Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 8-10
As a skinny kid who held his bat the wrong way, young Henry Aaron watched from his home in Mobile, Alabama, while Jackie Robinson became the first black to play baseball in the majors. Henry’s dream was to play ball with Jackie.
Still in high school, he was invited and joined a local semi-pro team, but when the “Dodgers held a tryout camp for black ballplayers in Mobile” “the Dodger scouts were not impressed,” and sent him home, because he was too small. Undeterred, Henry later played “shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues.”
Finally the Braves, a big-league team, offered him a minor-league contract. As Henry began this part of his career, he experienced the same kind of segregation, and name-calling that had been directed at Jackie Robinson, and other black players. Nevertheless, he played hard and demonstrated his skill for all to see.
The day did come for Henry to sign his first major-league contract! Following spring training that year, the Braves played the Dodgers in his hometown of Mobile, where his family, neighbors and friends were able to watch. After his line drive into left field, the umpire ruled him “Safe!” at second base, “beating the throw from….his hero, Jackie Robinson.” Aaron’s dream was a reality!
The oversized, and detailed, watercolor, ink and pencil illustrations use sepia tones to supply a sense of the 1950’s era energy. Also, an Author’s Note, plus a full page of statistics from 1952-1976 with a key, and a Bibliography, give additional information, and add depth to this fascinating biography of a baseball icon.
Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver
illustrated by Elwood H. Smith
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 5-8
What would baseball be without a stadium hot dog to accompany the game?! And what would we do without wieners, frankfurters, or whatever your favorite version of this fast food invented first as a sausage by Roman Emperor Nero’s chef!?
The U.S. history of the famous dog begins with immigrants who brought it with them from Europe and includes the short tale of the baker brother-in-law who rescued a hot dog vendor’s gloves by creating the bun to keep buyers from burning their fingers. But don’t stop there! On to the depression and the cheap tasty food that kept people warm and was even easy to sell and eat while cheering on your team at a baseball game.
This easy-to-enjoy picture book serves up riddles, statistics, contests, quotes, favorite hot dog stands, and more in interesting sidebar tidbits throughout the pages. How to make it, how to eat it, what to call it, strange discoveries about mustard, ketchup, and many different versions of how to cook it or what to serve with it are included and keep readers intrigued.
Find out who first served it to the King of England, which astronauts first ate it in space, and which famous baseball player was a champion hot dog eater – answers to these questions and more are all found within the pages of this whimsical picture book with cartoon-like illustrations whose humorous cover tantalizes one’s curiosity and begs for attention.
Review published in July 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine
Review published in July 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine