Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 13, 2012
From My Shelf
The problem with writing about baseball books: there are so many. I narrowed my past favorites down to two (from dozens) only by using a narrow parameter: Japan--You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whitney, and Baseball Haiku, collected by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. Baseball and haiku fit together like a perfect catch on a flawless summer's day:
the visitors' manager
moves a fielder
Every season brings new literary largesse to the fan. The University of Nebraska Press is doing its part, with more than 118 baseball books in print. We have eight reviews of baseball books in this issue alone. And what we've left out! Like Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift by New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, featured last week on NPR. Every spring, Yankees pitching great Ron Guidry arrives at the Tampa airport to pick up Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra and they head out to spring training, and the renewal of a friendship that began in 1999.
Trading Manny by Jim Gullo tells of the author's young son's disappointment over players' steroid use, and the journey he and his son take to find out answers, and learn to love baseball again.
The Rotation by Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki details the 2011 Phillies and their remarkable pitching staff. Pitching also stars in Summer of '68 by Tim Wendel. He weaves the history of a year of assassinations and chaos with "The Year of the Pitcher" into a mesmerizing story.
Biographies: The zany and influential Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson; Imperfect: An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown--born without a right hand, Abbott pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993. A People's History of Baseball by Mitchell Nathanson challenges the deeply embedded story of baseball as reflecting the best of our national character with a nuanced alternative history. For the hardcore fan, Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus, edited by Steve Goldman--statistics, interviews and analysis from scouting to Latin-American talent to PITCHf/x camera installations.
Spring is here! --Marilyn Dahl
Wind-Powered Wuthering Heights; What Would Atticus Listen to?
For National Poetry Month, check out this video in which "amazing spoken word poet Mark Grist mesmerizes us with an explanation of why he likes girls who read."
Apartment Therapy suggested backlit bookshelves as a design alternative, noting that "replacing the back of a simple shelf with some semi-opaque plastic and wall mounted track lighting seems like a relatively simple project."
The secret to literary success? Kill your characters, and "whatever you do, don't write a love story, unless it's horrifically tragic," noted Co.Design in showcasing Delayed Gratification infographic that maps themes of every novel on this year's Man Booker Prize longlist.
Wind-powered Wuthering Heights. Lucy Mangan re-imagined the classic novel in light of news reports that "plans for a Banks Renewables windfarm in Brontë country are advancing."
Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," of course. To create a literary mixtape for Atticus Finch, the upright lawyer and father in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Flavorwire imagined "what we think he'd defend Tom Robinson, stand his ground and teach his children right from wrong to."
Further Reading: The Life Lessons of Baseball
"Get your peanuts, Cracker Jacks, hot dogs, beer... and books?"
There is so much more to the game of baseball than stats or what's witnessed via your TV or even among a crowd of thousands cheering in the stands. Baseball embodies universal stories and life lessons that can be found on the field and off--especially in the pages of baseball-inspired books.
The theme of "life isn't always fair" is the idea captured in Nobody's Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce with Daniel Paisner. The story is a detailed, factual retelling of a first-base umpire's call that shattered a historical, almost perfect game played between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians on June 2, 2010.
"You win some, you lose some" resounds in The Game from Where I Stand. Doug Glanville's memoir, now in paperback, is an eye-opening, gritty, insider's perspective of a life spent working toward building a career in the Major Leagues and rubbing elbows with a host of big-name ballplayers.
"Practice makes perfect, but be careful what you wish for" is the embodiment of The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach's debut novel about baseball. A small, scrawny high school kid, with a major league talent for playing short stop, is recruited by a private college on the shores of Lake Michigan. But when a throw by the young infielder goes dreadfully awry, his life and the lives of those around him are suddenly changed in unexpected ways.
"Money talks--but not always" is the overriding theme in Moneyball, a mega-hit on page and screen. Michael Lewis details the story of how the Oakland Athletics reinvented their baseball team on a budget. And in Hot Stove Economics: Understanding Baseball's Second Season, economist J.C. Bradbury examines what constitutes a first-rate ball club and how the worth of baseball players--and success--is calculated. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Writing at .7 MPH
I predict that this essay will take a bit less than a mile and a bit more than 90 calories to write.
To explain: I'm writing this piece while strolling on my treadmill. As part of my new book, Drop Dead Healthy, which chronicles my quest to be as healthy as humanly possible, I joined the small but growing club of treadmill desk devotees. I perch my laptop (a bit precariously, I must admit) on top of my treadmill's display panel, and tap tap tap away as I walk at a molasses-like .7 miles per hour.
I do this because of the alarming number of studies that say that extended sitting is terrible for your heart. As in eating-Paula-Deen-bacon-doughnuts terrible.
At first, I thought treadmill writing would be distracting. But it's actually easy (and believe me, I am far from coordinated). It's also strangely energizing: walking raises your brain's serotonin level, which helps with focus.
I can't yet tell if my walking is affecting my writing. Do these sentences feel more kinetic? I'll leave that for you to judge.
Lest you think that vertical writing is a trendy phenomenon, the debate goes back at least as far as Nietzsche, who attacked Gustave Flaubert for writing in a seated position. "The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit," roared Nietzsche. "Only thoughts reached by walking have value."
A full history of un-seated writers can be found in a wonderful essay by author George Pendle in Cabinet magazine. He says that while walking-writers may not have been legion, the standing-writers certainly were. Pendle writes, "such disparate authors as Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Fernando Pessoa all wrote standing up, while Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, and Truman Capote took the Flaubertian creed to its ultimate extent by writing while lying down."
I imagine there will always be passionate defenders of both positions. For me, it's a matter of taste. I would gently suggest you might want to give standing or walking a try, either for reading or writing. But if you find it unpleasant, please have no guilt in reconnecting with your chair. Some of the world's greatest literary lights were butt-bound.
By the way, this took three-fourths of a mile, in case you were wondering. --A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy (Simon & Schuster)
Writers Who Reread; Rudyard Kipling's London Advice
Rereading is in the air. After seeing a recent Guardian feature in which several writers revealed their own literary addictions, the "books these leading authors regularly reread and which novels they are desperate to unlock the secrets of," the Millions asked "a few people about the books they reread, and why."
"Never stop a motor bus with your foot. It is not a croquet ball." This was just one of the "rules for Life in London" on a list Rudyard Kipling sent to his youngest daughter, 12-year-old Elsie, in 1908 as she prepared for a trip to the big city.
Mental Floss featured "some flossy tidbits" about the top 11 titles on Parent & Child magazine's recently unveiled list of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids.
Seán McGrady, author of The Backslider, chose his top 10 philosophers' novels for the Guardian.
Book Brahmin: Jessica Maria Tuccelli
While a student at MIT, Jessica Maria Tuccelli had a change of heart and left the field of molecular biology for anthropology. Since then she has parlayed her curiosity with other people's lives (some call it nosiness) into a career in the arts. Viking/Penguin published her debut novel, Glow, on March 15, 2012. She divides her time between New York City and Rome.
On your nightstand now:
Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich, Il Nuovo Testamento (the New Testament in Italian), The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson and Shards by Ismet Prcic. Basically a slice of my life: research for my new novel, a book to help me understand my toddler's development and a novel set in Bosnia, where I recently traveled.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. I still hope to step through that mirror one day!
Your top five authors:
Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, Flannery O'Connor, Michael Chabon and the poetry of Victoria Redel. I enjoy writers whose love of language is boldly apparent.
Book you've faked reading:
I've never read Moby Dick. I didn't fake reading it, but I didn't admit to not reading it either!
Book you're an evangelist for:
It's a four-way tie between The Bluest Eye, The Known World, The Things They Carried and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I seem to favor books with the word "The" in the title. I never noticed that before.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (U.K. edition). I covet that cover, so complete in its design, evocative and allegorical.
Book that changed your life:
The Diary of Anaïs Nin. I wanted to be Anaïs--her intense curiosity, her impassioned lifestyle, living in France in the '20s and '30s (the golden age of the literary expatriate in Paris) and carousing with Henry and June Miller.
Favorite line from a book:
"Tomas did not realize that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love." --from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
by John Grisham
John Grisham's fans anticipate his ability to craft a veritable setting, compelling characters and engrossing plot, whether they're reading one of his signature legal thrillers or a novel like Skipping Christmas or A Painted House outside his usual literary milieu. Grisham has been waiting 20 years for a baseball story to inspire him--and Calico Joe was worth the wait.
Calico Joe is the story of two major league baseball players: Joe Castle, an exceptional rookie who inspires all who watch him play, and Warren Tracey, a violent alcoholic who never lived up to his potential and punishes those around him as a result. The story is told through Paul Tracey, who has the misfortune of being the son of the latter; his childhood is defined by these two men as he attempts to navigate his ambivalent feelings about his father and the sport of baseball. In classic Grisham fashion, the characters are unambiguously good or evil; however, the defining conflict of the novel is satisfactorily complex, forcing the reader to contemplate the unwritten codes of baseball and the power of redemption.
Calico Joe's structure alternates between the past, anticipating the moment Joe and Warren meet on the ball field, and the present, as Paul attempts to gain access to his former hero, gaining momentum and building suspense on each front. Grisham, a baseball fan himself, includes fast-paced, play-by-play action. Although Calico Joe is fictional, Grisham's use of real names from baseball's past creates an authentic atmosphere that will whet any fan's appetite. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: Fans will enjoy rooting for Calico Joe as Grisham takes a tour outside his usual courtroom milieu.
by Charlotte Rogan
Charlotte Rogan's debut novel, The Lifeboat, set two years after the sinking of Titanic, confronts its well-mannered castaways with a briny knot of survival choices. Rogan adds a half hitch of ambiguity to her moral snarl by giving over the telling to a single passenger, Grace Winter, a newlywed who reaches New York only to find herself charged with a capital offense. This is no spoiler: The Lifeboat's prologue reveals that Grace will write her story at the behest of her lawyers, on the chance that her explanation of what happened after she and 38 other passengers were launched onto the Atlantic in a fatally overloaded 23-foot cutter will be useful in her defense. The reader's suspense derives from absorbing Grace's version of the events on Lifeboat 14 while anticipating her trial for murder.
The ballast and the beauty of The Lifeboat reside in Grace's diaristic reconstruction of the 21 days before the survivors are rescued, an account that is by turns horrifically pragmatic, evocatively poetic and psychologically intricate. Writing in linked clauses in a straight-backed tone that convincingly simulates a ladylike education circa 1914, Grace makes no obvious effort to minimize her role in the alleged crime, yet she slips between the collective third-person voice of action and the first-person voice of emotion, while also forming distinct judgments about the motives of others. The reader must judge whether Grace's flashbacks to her courtship and her commentary on the lifeboat power struggles are self-serving or accidentally revealing.
Whatever the reader's verdict, The Lifeboat remains an atmospheric and thought-provoking journey through post-Edwardian female power strategies and timeless shipwreck ethics. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover: A high-stakes debut novel about power struggles and moral choices on an overburdened lifeboat.
Mystery & Thriller
Mr. Churchill's Secretary
by Susan Elia MacNeal
Maggie Hope is a bright young woman, headed to MIT for advanced studies in math--a field which, in 1940, is dominated by men. When she is called to England to handle the sale of her grandmother's house, however, she finds herself captivated by the country of her deceased parents, even though Britain has just gone to war with Germany. Looking for work, she finds her intelligence and skills as a mathematician ignored because she is a woman, and ultimately accepts a position among the ranks of Prime Minister Winston Churchill's secretaries.
That is just the beginning of Maggie Hope's story, as Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal's debut novel, weaves together such disparate plot elements as the IRA, women's rights, homosexuality, the Blitz, the ballet, familial relationships and much more. MacNeal has done her research, and each aspect of 1940s England is covered in detail; at times, however, these pieces don't always fit together neatly, making the story feel as though it has perhaps been forced to accommodate too much of its era.
Still, the story in Mr. Churchill's Secretary proves captivating, as readers are taken into the world of spies and codebreaking and wartime suspense, while Maggie races against both time and societal norms to prove that she is right--both to herself and to her doubters--and to stop a nasty plot in its tracks. Readers will quickly find themselves rooting for the eager young Maggie Hope, and--as Mr. Churchill's Secretary is the first of a planned series--should be on the lookout for more of her adventures. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The first in a planned series of World War II-era mysteries featuring a spunky young American heroine.
House of the Hunted
by Mark Mills
House of the Hunted, British novelist Mark Mills's fourth thriller, is a near-return to the Mediterranean setting of 2009's The Information Officer, moving north from Malta to the Côte d'Azur and the French Riviera. First, though, there's a flashback to Petrograd in 1919, as Secret Intelligence Service agent Tom Nash attempts to free his Russian love, Irina, from the Bolsheviks. The plan fails terribly; he barely escapes and later hears that Irina was killed.
Flash forward to 1935. Nash is now a successful travel writer--and part-time agent for the Foreign Office--with a lovely house on the French coast. It's idyllic: warm evenings, dinner parties with friends, past and present, and Lucy, the goddaughter he loves dearly. Then his beloved dog, Hector, disappears, followed by an attempt on his life in his own home. It takes all Nash's skills to overcome and kill his attacker, then dump the body from his boat into the sea. Who wanted him dead, and why? Who betrayed him--a close friend? "He hated them for the fear that had returned to his life... for what they had made him do."
Mills is very good at moving House of the Hunted along at a crisp, but unforced pace. Little by little, Nash begins to piece together a deadly plot that could harm him as well as the loved ones around him. Have his Russian enemies returned? Could Irina have survived? Pleasing echoes of John Creasey and Alan Furst can be heard in this atmospheric, well-written cat-and-mouse thriller. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: Has a semi-retired spy's past returned to plague him?
Food & Wine
Very Fond of Food
by Sophie Dahl
In the introduction to her second cookbook, Very Fond of Food, Sophie Dahl posits that if each of us can make a decision to be a more conscious consumer, shopping for more local, seasonal ingredients for our meals, we can make an "active contribution in looking after our lovely planet." This belief forms the foundation of her cooking philosophy, and Very Fond of Food is a clear expression of the ideal.
The recipes contained here are organized by season--an obvious reflection of Dahl's call to focus on preparing food with local, in-season ingredients. Within each chapter, Dahl then breaks dishes out into breakfasts, lunches and dinners, making the recipes as easy to browse as to locate by index; a fifth chapter collects all of Dahl's dessert recipes for those readers with a sweet tooth.
Dahl peppers her recipes with anecdotes and stories, as seen in Heartbreak Carbonara (subtitled "the first thing I ever cooked for a boy"), and does not shy away from potentially divisive ingredients (tofu, for one). From Indian-inspired dishes such as Dosa and Aloo Gobi to simple meals of Strawberry Pancakes or Beef Stroganoff, the recipes in Very Fond of Food are as fun to read as they are to cook, aided throughout by generous portions of photography. Readers will be itching to get into the kitchen--and out to the table--but will also be called to a more mindful way of cooking throughout, one based on sustainability, simplicity and love. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A more mindful way of cooking, based on sustainability and simplicity, in tune with the seasons.
The Southern Italian Farmer's Table
by Matthew Scialabba , Melissa Pellegrino
Michael Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino have followed up The Italian Farmer's Table with another beautiful, sumptuous homage to the cuisine of Italy in The Southern Italian Farmer's Table. Over the course of five months, they studied traditional recipes and methods of cooking at more than 30 farms devoted to agriturismo. (The rise of agricultural tourism has enabled farmers across the country to continue raising crops and cooking in traditional methods so the rich history and variety of Italian cuisine may continue to flourish.)
The Southern Italian Farmer's Table is broken into chapters by geographical area. Scialabba and Pellegrino begin in Sardinia, sharing anecdotes about their stays at three agriturismo venues. They then discuss the general history of Sardinian food culture and share recipes for dishes such as papassini (spice-scented, diamond-shaped cookies) and cinghiale in agrodolce (sweet and sour Sardinian boar).
Later chapters take on other regions--including Umbria, Tuscany and Sicily--in similar fashion. For each region, Scialabba and Pellegrino share regional history, descriptions of available agriturismo options, and page upon page of gorgeous photographs of the land and people (and of the staggering variety of foods). Recipes for everything from farfalle with zucchini and mussels, a traditional Puglian dish, to Calabrian white chocolate and cayenne pepper truffles will leave your mouth watering. The Southern Italian Farmer's Table is the next best thing to an agriturismo vacation of your own; a perfect mélange of cooking and armchair traveling.--Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: Southern Italy's culinary history is laid out in decadent recipes and gorgeous photographs.
Damn Yankees: Twenty-Four Major League Writers on the World's Most Loved (and Hated) Team
by Rob Fleder, editor
The New York Yankees have come, notes former Sports Illustrated executive editor Rob Fleder, to symbolize "everything good and strong and true about baseball and America and the human race in general. Either that, or avarice and unrepentant evil." Damn Yankees is a collection of original essays that reflect those diverging views, as an all-star lineup of writers from the fields of sports (Tom Verducci, Sally Jenkins), literature (Nathaniel Rich) and even finance (James Surowiecki) share their thoughts on this quintessential sports dynasty.
Some of the essays are crafted with lyricism and sensitivity, others are scathingly tongue-in-cheek, filled with backhanded compliments and a bone-to-pick tone. Passion and insight fuel each essay, shedding light into the historical Yankees, from the Babe, Mantle and DiMaggio to Derek Jeter; the price of wearing the pinstripes and winning at all costs; rivalries and the grueling duels between teams, players and fans; and the foibles and scandals that have rocked the team. Other essays explore the more human side of the game, including a visit with Catfish Hunter in his final days, Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander's profile of Jim Abbott, a one-handed pitcher whose rise to fame was snuffed out by the 1994 baseball strike, and reflections on how rooting for or against the Yankees can transcend generations (J.R. Moehringer) and continents (Colum McCann).
Damn Yankees is capped by a section that offers facts, figures and statistics supporting the many reasons why the Yanks--whether revered or loathed--are considered an American institution and a symbol of greatness. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An exploration of Bronx Bombers' history and legend, and the strong feelings the team inspires.
Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball
by Chris Lamb
Jackie Robinson's contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in October 1945 formally lifted the color line in baseball. Robinson biographer Chris Lamb (Blackout), however, believes the campaign to desegregate the major leagues had been developing for many years prior to that signing, an effort which he contextualizes in Conspiracy of Silence.
Lamb details how Negro League games added revenue to white baseball owners who rented out their stadiums to black teams, even as they claimed that blacks and whites could not share a ball field without racial incident. He believes white mainstream sportswriters, seeing themselves as part of the game, were not just reluctant to question the color line but actively protected it by fostering a "convenience of ignorance" and "a conspiracy of silence." But black and left-leaning sportswriters, resisting this status quo, used their pens and typewriters in an effort to convince ball club owners that black stars, if allowed entry into the major leagues, would improve team quality and put more fans in the stands. As the number of black and alternative newspapers grew in circulation, their writers banded together to challenge the white baseball establishment, forcing it to deal with the issue.
Lamb's thorough journalistic exposé chronicles the drama and history behind the game, while tracing how the desegregation of baseball parallels the story of the civil rights movement in the United States. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A behind-the-scenes account of the role sportswriters played in breaking baseball's color line.
The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown
by Allan Zullo , Bruce Nash
If you love baseball, then The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown, a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the zany side of America's National Pastime, will have you laughing out loud. Where else could you read about Bob Feller who, during his major league debut on Mother's Day, threw a pitch that was fouled off and clocked his mother right in the face? Or the secret elixir of doe urine Kevin Millar put on his bat for good luck? Or the time Manny Ramirez abandoned his position in left field in the middle of a game to use the bathroom?
Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo's inglorious, irreverent collection contains more than 200 cream-of-the-crop baseball goofs and gaffes compiled from four previous installments in the Hall of Shame series published between 1985 and 1992, as well as some new stories to bring the concept up to date. The format shies away from statistics about the worst in batting, fielding and pitching performances. Instead, it chronicles the human element behind the stats, or what Nash and Zullo call "the unintended, hilarious, red-faced moments when a player, manager, coach, or fan screwed up in a funny way or did something else that would make you laugh."
Their offbeat anecdotes include inauspicious major league debuts, wacky plate appearances, base-running and fielding mix-ups, spring training shenanigans, player practical jokes and superstitions, obnoxious fan and managerial behavior, and other baseball diamond and ballpark mishaps. Photographs accompany these short, amusing stories of major leaguers who epitomize the philosophy that "fame and shame are part of the game." --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An inglorious, irreverent collection of major league baseball's biggest goofs and gaffes.
Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan
by Robert K. Fitts
On November 2, 1934, half a million baseball fans screamed wildly for a motorcade headed by Babe Ruth. New York City, right? No: Ginza, Japan. They were screaming "Banzai Babe Ruth" (hurrah) to welcome an All-American all-star team that also included Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez and a late addition, a mediocre catcher named Moe Berg (who would later spy for America during World War II). They were on a month-long, 18-game tour of Japan, a nation that had fallen in love with baseball in the late 19th century. But there was more at stake in these games than the runs scored. Robert K. Fitts (Remembering Japanese Baseball) describes it all in Banzai Babe Ruth as "a tale of international intrigue, espionage, attempted murder, and, of course, baseball."
Japan and the United States were moving closer to war, and both sides thought a goodwill tour like this could help alleviate tensions. Even as the players took the field, though, officers at Japan's Imperial Japanese Academy were planning to overthrow the government, while Tokyo's War Gods Society planned to kill the tour's organizer, Matsutaro Shoriki, the father of Japanese baseball. The first game was played in Tokyo before 60,000 fans; the home team lost 17-1, setting the tone for the rest of the series. Fitts is excellent at capturing occasional bouts of dissension among the American players, describing the respectable quality of play by their Japanese opponents, and especially at capturing the ominous atmosphere that surrounded the tour. Fans will love the stats and player photos, too! --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: The incredible story behind a little-known tour of 1930s Japan by some of America's best baseball players.
Children's & Young Adult
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
by Audrey Vernick , illus. by Steven Salerno
This funny, often moving picture book about an actual family of 12 baseball-playing brothers proves that fact can be stranger than fiction.
Audrey Vernick (She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story) tells the story of the Acerra brothers, who played semi-pro baseball longer than any of the other 29 baseball teams made up entirely of brothers. Steve Salerno (Bebé Goes Shopping) re-creates the past with panache and casts a nostalgic spell. In a brilliant stroke, he portrays the dozen brothers in birth order, a handy reference as Vernick tells their larger story.
The author enumerates the boys' nicknames and unique talents. The oldest, Anthony, earns the name "Poser" because he'd stand at the plate "as if his baseball-card photo were being taken." Brother number six, Jimmy, "had a knuckleball people still talk about." They banded together at a low point, when the fourth brother, Alfred, lost an eye at the plate, and the other 11 helped him practice enough to reclaim his Acerra uniform. Six of the brothers fought in World War II, and all six returned to play the game. One of the most moving images shows Mrs. Acerra standing on the front porch to welcome one of her sons home.
In the space of 40 brief pages, Vernick and Salerno tell a tale of brotherhood and teamwork, both on and off the baseball field. And although they played for passion and not accolades, they got one from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. For those who love baseball, history and family stories, this book hits a home run.--Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A stranger-than-fiction true story of 12 baseball-playing brothers who embody the concept of teamwork both on and off the field.
Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings
by Douglas Florian , illus. by Douglas Florian
In these 15 poems, Douglas Florian (Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars) tips his cap to the All-American pastime, from positions in the infield to staples of the game (such as stealing bases).
Odes to the pitcher and catcher will appeal to baseball fanatics, due to Florian's fluid incorporation of classic pitches. "I'm the curve-ball creator,/ The man on the mound./ The great devastator,/ Where fastballs are found," opens the poem for "Pitcher," as a fellow with limbs to rival Randy Johnson's occupies the entire two-page spread. A line about his sinker demonstrates how it "plummets," with the letters for that word falling down the page, while his riser similarly "climbs summits" up the page. The man behind home base ("Catcher") proves he's up to the task of partnering with such a pitcher. "I can catch curve balls./ I can catch heat./ I can catch sliders/ With glove or with feet."
But the poem that achieves perfection, in its ability to pay homage to the game and also to the form that celebrates it in these pages, is "Base Stealer": "With greatest greed/ I take my lead./ My greatest need/ Is speed./ I steal your base/ Before your face./ You blink--/ I've done the deed./ .../ And you should know,/ Before I go,/ That I will steal this poem." Only the base stealer's right arm and leg remain visible in the accompanying artwork. Whether children are newcomers to the game or proven fans, this collection will bring new appreciation to what goes on in the ballpark.--Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Fifteen poems that invite both newcomers and aficionados to meditate on the many dimensions of the All-American pastime.
Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934
by Charles R. Smith, Jr. , illus. by Frank Morrison
In an impressive feat, Charles R. Smith Jr. (Twelve Rounds of Glory) adopts the voice of fictional radio broadcaster Lester Roberts to tell the story in rhyming couplets of the Negro League All-Star Game of 1934.
The meter and rhyme evoke the pace and suspense of the game. Frank Morrison's (Jazzy Mizz Mozetta) slightly stylized portraits of the legendary players nicely complement the larger-than-life radio commentary. An early image of Cool Papa Bell--the only player to score in the game (during the eighth inning)--reflects an uncanny concentration at the plate as he awaits the first pitch. Morrison shifts the focus from close-ups of players such as Satchel Paige, to two-page illustrations of the pitcher facing a batter or a runner rounding the bases.
Like any commentator worth his salt, Lester Roberts plays up the nicknames: "[At] the plate is Gibson,/ Josh--'Oh my gosh!'--the one that they call/ the Brown Bambino because he swats the ball out of stadiums with Herculean glory,/ each moon shot creating another mythical story." Advertisements between innings add variety and reveal details of the day, such as the price of groceries. Observations of "fans in the stands" reflect not only their appreciation of the players, but also their frustrations, such as those of an employee of the NAACP whose personal goal is "erasing the color line" in baseball.
This is an innovative way to introduce the baseball greats of the Negro Leagues and the hurdles they faced. Smith shows that their passion for the game while inside the ballpark exceeded the limitations imposed by the outside world. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A completely original approach to chronicling the 1934 Negro League All-Star game in words and pictures.