Summer’s here! Baseball season! Here are some baseball-themed middle grade reads to take with you to the sidelines:
NO CREAM PUFFS by Karen Day (2008, Wendy Lamb Books)
Goodreads says: “MADISON IS NOT your average 12-year-old girl from Michigan in 1980. She doesn’t use lipgloss, but she loves to play sports, and joins baseball for the summer—the first girl in Southern Michigan to play on a boys’ team. The press call her a star and a trailblazer, but Madison just wants to play ball. Who knew it would be so much pressure? Crowds flock to the games. Her team will win the championship—if she can keep up her pitching streak. Meanwhile, she’s got a crush on a fellow player, her best friend abandons her for the popular girls, the “O” on her Hinton’s uniform forms a bulls-eye over her left breast, and the boy she punched on the last day of school plans to bean her in the championship game.”
Nancy says: I’m not really a sporty gal (shocker!), but you don’t have to be a hard-core sports fan to enjoy this book. I loved how the main character, Madison, wished she could just side-step all the typical pre-teen angst and play baseball. But there are issues we all must confront when we’re growing up, whether we want to or not. This is a great story for tween girls who enjoy pushing boundaries, but also want to fit in.
HANG TOUGH, PAUL MATHER by Alfred Slote (1985, Harper Trophy)
Goodreads says: “Paul Mather’s a pitcher — a really good one. His off speed pitch is enough to bowl a kid backward, and his fast ball is pure smoke. There isn’t anything he can’t throw, from sliders, change-ups, and sinkers to a mean curve ball that breaks at just the right moment. He’s pitched no-hitters and perfect games. To Paul, pitching is what you live for and why you live.
Lately, though, Paul hasn’t been allowed to do much of anything, much less play ball. He’s got leukemia, and it’s put him into the hospital several times already. His parents are so worried, they’ve forbidden him to play the game he loves so much. They’re afraid that if Paul strains himself his illness may come back a final time…and maybe even take his life.
But Paul is a winner. His team needs him, and he won’t give up without a fight. Paul Mather is determined to pitch every inning…to keep playing baseball, and to keep hanging tough, no matter what the odds.”
Nancy says: This is an “oldie but a goodie.” Paul Mather was the first fictional boy to make me cry. (Jesse Aarons came soon after – I was a mess in 5th grade!). Again, the baseball is there as a great hook for sports-loving reluctant readers, but the story also has a lot of heart. This is definitely one worth going back in time for.
SCREAMING AT THE UMP by Audrey Vernick (2014, Clarion Books)
Goodreads says: “Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey’s dream, however, is to be a reporter—objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.”
Nancy says: This one’s on my to be read pile; I’m intrigued. I’ve also recently met the author, and if her writing style is anything like her personality, this story will have a lot of pep and zing!
KING OF THE MOUND: My Summer with Satchel Paige by Wes Tooke (2012, Simon & Schuster)
Goodreads says: “Nick was going to be a star baseball player, no doubt about it. People for miles around talked about the twelve-year-old boy with the golden arm. And then Nick is diagnosed with polio; a life-threatening disease in the 1930s. Everyone is devastated, especially Nick’s father, who copes by closing off from his son. When Nick finally leaves the hospital he wants nothing more than to get back in the game, but he seems to be the only one who thinks it’s possible. But after he begins working for Mr. Churchill, the owner of a minor league team, Nick meets Satchel Paige, arguably the best player in baseball. Satchel faces obstacles of his own; his skin color prevents him from joining the major leagues; and he encourages Nick to overcome the odds and step out of the dugout.”
Nancy says: This one is also on the TBR pile. When I saw the name Satchel Paige, I thought of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. The basic idea of this campaign, is to bring attention to the need for diverse characters in children’s literature, as well as to help support authors of color in the marketplace. There has been quite a bit of attention given to this topic at book conventions and on social media sites. I wonder if sales would have been better for KING OF THE MOUND had it come out now vs. two years ago? (I have no idea what the sales figures were -they may have been fabulous! But it would be an interesting comparison if one had a crystal ball.)
That’s all, sports fans! Enjoy your summer reading!