The Hero Two Doors Down, by Sharon Robinson; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 208 pages, ages 9-13.
Eight-year old baseball fanatic Stephen Satlow lives for his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, and one day the boy’s hero, Jackie Robinson, moves into his mostly Jewish neighborhood. The baseball giant befriends Stephen while teaching the boy about respect and courage in the face of adversity. Written by Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s daughter, The Hero Two Doors Down is based on interviews Sharon conducted with the real Stephen Satlow. Though a wonderful premise, sections of the story are weighed down by overly didactic passages, and some dialogue exchanges are clunky. Still, young sports fans and reluctant readers may find the book enjoyable or be inspired to seek out further reading about this most remarkable person.
The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno; Clarion Press, $17.99, 38 pages, ages 6-9.
Baseball is officially in season, and what better way to celebrate America’s pastime than with a few well-chosen children’s books? First-Grade Dropout author Audrey Vernick’s latest picture book explores the often overlooked story of legendary ballplayer Edith Houghton (1912-2013), who, as a ten year old, played starting shortstop for the all-women’s Philadelphia Bobbies in the 1920s. Houghton and the Bobbies competed against men’s teams at home and abroad–their trip to Japan was an international sensation. Salerno’s charcoal and gouache illustrations capture Houghton’s love of the sport while also channeling the vibrance and modernity of the 1920s and 30s. Though Vernick peppers choice quotes from Houghton throughout the text, there is no mention of her sources in the author’s notes–the only strike against this otherwise excellent book on the joy of sport.
Growing up Pedro, by Matt Tavares; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 8-12.
Veteran baseball writer Matt Tavares (There Goes Ted Williams; Becoming Babe Ruth; Henry Aaron’s Dream) explores the improbable rise of pitching legend Pedro Martinez. Tavarez tracks the three-time Cy Young Award winner from very begining, living in the small village of Manoguaybo in the Dominican Republic, when Pedro’s older brother Ramon was the best pitcher around. Soon enough, the brothers make their way to the Major Leagues, and Tavarez illustrates the innate talent, dedication and powerful brotherly bond that helped make this baseball dream a reality. (Don’t worry baseball-fan parents; Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt is publishing Pedro’s own memoir, due out in May.)
Out at Home, by Cal Ripken, Jr. and Kevin Cowherd; Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, 202 pages ages 8-12.
Out at Homeis the fifth novel in the All-Stars baseball series penned by baseball legend Cal Ripken and sports writer Kevin Cowherd. Here, two rivals must work together in order to win the championships. Mickey Labriogla is the dedicated catcher for the Dulaney Orioles, whose position on the team is suddenly jeopardized by the arrival of Zoom, an arrogant newcomer with undeniable talent. Eventually, the Orioles make it to the “Super Regionals” where they will have to face the indomitable Laurel Yankees, (Zoom’s former team) and the boys must set aside their differences if their team is to have any chance of winning. Ripken and Cowherd combine their prolific understanding of the game to craft an engaging story about overcoming adversity through teamwork.
The Baseball Player and the Walrus, by Ben Loory, illustrations by Alex Latimer; Penguin, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 5-8.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘money can’t buy happiness,’ and that phrase certainly rings true in this quirky tale of friendship and happiness. Here, a wildly successful baseball player feels unfulfilled and lonely, until the fateful day he decides to visit the zoo where he meets a belching, fish-eating walrus. Smitten, the baseball player wants to bring the creature home, and builds a state-of-the art walrus enclosure behind his home, where they spend many days playing catch and enjoying each other’s company. Soon, baseball season starts, and while on the road, the athlete discovers that he would rather be with his friend than sitting in faraway hotel rooms. So, he quits. Unfortunately, caring for walruses is expensive, and the bills start adding up. What will the ball player do when his companion is carted away? Debut picture book author Ben Loory explores unending devotion with words that even the youngest readers will understand, while Alex Latimer’s hand-drawn illustrations are spot-on.