If it's raining and the game's called, you can still keep the youngest baseball players you know dreaming of their next at-bat with some of the many new books that have been appearing about the great American (and increasingly, the world's) pastime. One of the best places to start is with Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter, with illustrations by Raul Colon. Baseball was, and still is, in many ways a rags to riches game, and young Roberto Clemente, who was born and grew up in Puerto Rico, could not even afford a baseball mitt when he began to play as a boy. He first glove was hand-made from a coffee bean sack. Through sheer grit and talent and hard work, Clemente went on to become one of the first of what would be many Latino stars who played in the majors in this country (he had 3000 hits and led his team to two World Series). But Clemente was even more impressive and inspiring off the field, as Winter reminds us, in his determination to help others. Tragically, he died in a plane crash while he was trying to airlift relief supplies into a region of Central America that had been devastated by an earthquake. Yet this is not a '"day the music died" kind of story. Rather, it takes the reader out, especially through Colon's amazing illustrations, to some very important, mythic places -- the ones where the real heroes are.
Yona Zeldis McDonough gets hit after solid hit in her book, Hammerin' Hank, The Life of Hank Greenberg, with illustrations by her mother, the well-known folk artist Malcah Zeldis. Her delivery is fast, straight, and true, and she pitches a perfect game about the first major Jewish star in baseball. Greenberg's life was full of other firsts -- he was the first big-time athelete to enlist in World War II, the first Jewish general manager of a baseball team, and, later, the first Jewish owner of a major league team. Greenberg lived by the words that he passed along to Jackie Robinson, who was also battling discrimination on and off the field: "Stick in there. You're doing fine. Keep your chin up."
And what season would be complete without Casey at the Bat -- that worthy veteran of a poem by Ernest L. Thayer, given a new vibe here as urban verse -- something that might be tagged with spray paint on a wall, or enacted at an open mic poetry jam. With Joe Morse's pictures, this is a book of poetry that will leave all those pre-conceptions about what a book of poetry for young people can or should be, swinging at -- the air.
Copyright 2006© John Cech
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Wednesday, 24-May-2006 13:11:36 EDT