The Center for Children's Books

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Batter Up!: Books about Baseball - October 2013

Selected and annotated by Emily Bayci

Berk, Josh. Strike Three, You’re Dead. Knopf, 2013. 256 p. Gr. 4-7.
With mounds of passion for baseball but not nearly the same amount of talent, Lenny uses his strong vocal skills to focus on sports announcing. He teams up with his best friends Mike and Other Mike to recreate a 1944 ballgame where a fluke led to the worst earned-run average for a pitcher in baseball history. On the day Lenny and the crew are due in the announcer’s box, they witness a pitcher’s death on the mound at the Phillies game. Lenny, backed up by his cardiologist parents, deems the incident suspicious and the crew sets off to investigate the murder.

Bildner, Phil.The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41. Putnam, 2011. 32 p. Gr. 3-5.
The summer of 1941 is one every diehard baseball fan dreams about. It was the record-setting summer, with Red Sox player Ted Williams’ unmatched .406 season and the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. The book cuts directly to the scene of the momentous summer during a time when America was on the cusp of WWII and looking for something to cheer about.

Fehler, Gene. Change-up: Baseball Poems; illus. by Donald Wu. Clarion, 2009. 48 p. Gr. 3-6.
Baseball is a year-long adventure in this poetry book where a friendly narrator journeys through 12 months of his favorite sport. It begins in February when he longs to get outside then moves on to the early games, the many dimensions of the sport in summer, the slowing down of the season come Fall, and the end in December. The cycle picks right back up in February, as the game goes on and readers are able to poetically relive a year of baseball.

Gratz, Alan. The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in 9 Innings. Dial, 2009. 320 p. Gr. 5-9.
Follow the fortunes of a German immigrant family as they experience nine generations of American life and baseball from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries. The story begins with first-generation German immigrant Felix, whose baseball career is cut short after his hand is injured in a fire but who still passes down a hand-sewn baseball and love for the game to his heirs. The family faces wars and name changes, meets heroes, and witnesses women break into the game—all documented in nine short stories.

Hampton, Wilborn. Babe Ruth: A Twentieth-Century Life.  Viking, 2009. 208 p. Gr. 6-9.
A Babe Ruth worshipper searching for truth, Hampton sifts through mountains of legends and hearsay to document the true story of The Great Bambino. He starts at the point seven-year-old George Herman Roth Jr. was sent to a Catholic reform school, where he learned how to play, and moves into a colorful description of Ruth’s legendary career. The majority of Ruth’s womanizing and questionable behavior is downplayed, although his dramatic temper tantrums are acknowledged because of their impact on his career, rounding out a tale of what made Ruth into a legendary figure.

Hughes, Dean. Missing in Action. Atheneum, 2010. 240 p. Gr. 5-9.
While his father is overseas fighting in the Pacific during World War II, twelve-year-old Jay, part Navajo, moves to a small town in Utah with his mother. Jay begins playing baseball and his new buddies are quick to show their prejudice toward Native Americans by calling him “Chief” and discussing how Indians are lazy, alcoholic thieves. In the midst of the drama, Jay strikes up an unlikely friendship with Japanese-American Ken from a nearby internment camp, who is surprisingly good at baseball.

Kelly, David A. The Fenway Foul-Up; illus. by Mark Meyers. Random House, 2011. 101 p. Gr. 2-4.
Luck would have it that thanks to her sportswriter mother, Kate and her cousin Mike have all-access passes to the Fenway Ballpark to see the Boston Red Sox play. A mystery unfolds when someone steals the star slugger’s lucky baseball bat, preventing him from hitting anything. Luckily, the dynamic cousin duo is on the scene to begin an investigation to return the missing bat in time to win the baseball game.

Koertge, Ron. Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs. Candlewick, 126 p. 2010. Gr. 6-9.
It seemed like 14-year old Kevin Boland had his life figured out with a secure position at first base and a poetry notebook that comforts him through tough times. The dynamic middle schooler is torn between his cute girlfriend Mira and the alluring Amy whom he believes to be his soul mate. There’s no better place to get a first-hand account of Kevin’s woes than his personal poetry journal, with everything written in verse, of course.

Korman, Gordon. Swindle. Scholastic. 2008. 256 p. Gr. 4-6.
It’s never a good idea to double cross a sixth grader, especially one who is trying to help his family. Dishonest antique collector S. Wendell (otherwise known as Swindle) Palomino gave Griffin Bing $120 for a 1920 Babe Ruth baseball card worth millions. Now Bing is out for revenge and assembles a team of misfits to break into the heavily guarded shop and steal the card back.

Maddox, Marjorie. Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems; illus. by John Sandford. Wordsong/Boyds Mills, 2009. 32 p. Gr. 6-10.
America’s pastime is truly celebrated in this collection of 38 poems ranging from witty to serious; it includes factual depictions of the specifics of the game, from the smallest of rules to random obscure details. The picture-book layout and pencil drawings make this book an easy read for one poem or all 38.

Markey, Kevin. The Super Sluggers: Slumpbuster. Illus. by Royce Fitzgerald. HarperCollins, 2009. 192 p. Gr. 3-5.
The only thing stopping the Rambletown Rounders from clutching the pennant is the Hog City Haymakers, trash-talking oversized jocks who always win. Banjo “The Great Walloper” Bishbash is the Rounders’ not-so-secret weapon, until a dark cloud plagues his hitting streak. No, literally, a single storm cloud floats atop Walloper’s head while he faces strikeout after strikeout.

Meshon, Aaron. Take Me Out to Yakyu. Atheneum, 2013. 40 p. Gr. 1-3.
A Japanese American boy has family in America and Japan, all of whom are passionate about baseball. The boy describes the varying cultural traditions in the two countries, complete with his blue foam hand in America, his red plastic horn in Japan and the differing ballpark snacks from hot dogs and peanuts to noodles and edamame. The bright illustrations showcase the contrasting, but yet-so-similar storylines.

Moss, Marissa. Barbed Wire Baseball. Illus. by Yuko Shimizu. Abrams, 2013. 40 p. Gr. 3-5.
After a successful career with the Fresno Nisei League playing exhibition games in Japan and the U.S., Kenichi Zenimura finds himself stuck in an internment camp during World War II. He built a ball field complete with grass, sprinklers and bleachers in hopes to establish a sense of spirit and camaraderie with his fellow detainees. Thanks to his efforts, Zenimura became known as the father of Japanese American baseball.

Nelson, Kadir. We Are the Ship: the Story of Negro Baseball. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2008. 88 p. Gr. 4-8.
It is not one man’s story but “everybody’s” story about the history of the segregation of baseball, beginning with the birth of the Negro League in the 1920s and spanning to its decline when Jackie Robinson went to the majors in 1947. The fictionalized memoir mirrors the political and social history for African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. The tale is told from the perspective of an imaginary player who has lived through everything, from the days of barnstorming, to when the league established itself, to the big-name heroes and to the necessary conclusion of Negro League ball.

Newman, Jeff. The Boys. Simo, 2010. 40 p. 5-9 yrs.
A shy boy does not have the courage to play ball with the other kids in the park. In this nearly wordless picture book, the boy seeks refuge on the bench with some old timers, who have a cunning plan to show the youngster that they are still in the game. They persuade the blonde tyke onto the diamond to play ball with the kids his own age.

Northrop, Michael. Plunked. Scholastic Press, 2012. Gr. 4-7.
After finally establishing himself in his hard-earned starting position at left field, Little Leaguer Jack Mogens gets smacked with a wild pitch. He recovers, but thanks to the combination of nerves and a team bully, freezes up on the field. Experiencing a mixture of humility, pain, and embarrassment at the situation, Jack concocts a story to avoid playing baseball, at least for the time being.

Pena, Matt de la. Mexican Whiteboy. Delacorte, 2008. 247 p. Gr. 7-10.
Life presents a bit of an identity crisis for sixteen-year-old Danny, who finds it difficult to cope with being half Mexican and half white, especially while spending a summer with his cousin and new friends in San Diego County, California. Danny discovers that he can’t simply flip a switch from acting white to Mexican and ends up fighting with Uno, a half-Black, half-Mexican teen who is experiencing his own identity crisis. The duo transforms their rivalry into a collaborative friendship and a quest to reunite with their fathers.

Ripken, Cal. Hothead. With Kevin Cowherd. Disney Hyperion, 2011. 135 p. Gr. 4-6.
Temper tantrums were typically acceptable for all-star third baseman Connor Sullivan until the sports editor of his school paper threatens to publish an embarrassing story about his immature moments. Connor knows it is time to deal with his real-life problems. It isn’t easy, though, as his Dad is out of work, his Mom is stressed with extra hours, and the family is worried about losing their home.

Ritter, John. Desperado Who Stole Baseball. Philome, 2009. 272 p. Gr. 5-8.
Worlds collide when a twelve-year-old orphan and notorious outlaw Billy the Kid team up to win a big game against the National League Champion White Stockings. Jack is on a quest to find his Uncle Long John Dillon, who took a bigger bet than he bargained four for when he wagered his gold mine on his teams’ (the Dillontown Nine) admission to the National League.

Scieszka, Jon ed. Guys Read: The Sports Pages. Walden Pond/HarperCollins, 2012. 256 p. Gr. 4-7.
This collection of sports stories encompasses a broad range of emotions from fighting to friendship and touches on a variety of engaging tales about several sports, with a few focusing on baseball. The book opens with a readaloud tale about Game Six of the 1986 Red Sox/Mets World Series, when the narrator supposedly kept the Mets alive with a lucky grapefruit, and Anne Ursu writes a cautionary tale for all those guys out there about what not to say to a girl pitcher.

Smith Jr., Charles R. Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-star Game of 1934. Illus. by Frank Morrison. Atheneum, 2012. 112 p. Gr. 4-7.
Chicago was the host to one of the most unknown and exciting ballgames in 1934: the second annual East-West games where the best players in the Negro League faced off in their All-Star Game. The book is a fast-paced play-by-play account with a complete imagining of the radio broadcast recounting the game. Readers meet the players, step onto the field with fans and even hear radio commercials from the action.

Tavares, Matt. Becoming Babe Ruth. Candlewick, 2013. 40p. 5-9 yrs.
There’s more than your typical Babe Ruth biography in his picture book that focuses on Ruth’s early days, when he constantly got in trouble at reform school. The book constantly returns to the school, with details of how Ruth continued to support and visit the school once he hit the big time.

Tooke, Wes. King of the Mound: My Summer with Satchel Paige. Simon, 2012. 160p. Gr. 4-7.
Nick’s recent bout of polio has left him a pathetic crippled boy in the eyes of his father, a semi-pro baseball player. Nick attempts to reestablish himself with assistance from his father’s team’s owner Mr. Churchill and the elusive pitcher Satchel Paige in this fictional sports story built around real-time events of 1930s American baseball.

Vernick, Audrey. Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball team. Illus. by Steven Salerno. Clarion, 2012. 40 p. 5-9 yrs.
In the 1940s it may not have seemed that strange to have a family of twelve boys, four girls, and a dog named Pitch. But that meant there were always enough boys around for a complete all-brother baseball team. The family members in this story travelled around the East Coast, playing through army enlistments, relationship woes, and the loss of one brother’s eye.

Winter, Jonah. You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!; illus. by Andre Carilho. Schwartz & Wade, 2013. 34 p. Gr. 3-5.
It’s baseball blasphemy if you don’t know Wille “Say Hey?” Mays, the New York Giants legend who advanced respect for African American ballplayers and went down as one of the greatest baseball players in history. The rousing text depicts Mays’ life from his days of childhood dreams to his professional accomplishments, while informing readers with nuggets of baseball trivia.