It’s 1959, and Bernard is a kid living in Boston who is crazy for the Red Sox. As much as he loves the Sox, though, he doesn’t understand why the Giants have Willie Mays, and the Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, but the Sox don’t have a black player. His dad agrees that it’s an excellent question, but seemingly one with no answer. Bernard and his baseball-loving family head to to Fenway Park for a Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game, but when the family cheers for Yankee Elston Howard – Mama encourages Bernard and his family to cheer for every African-American player, regardless of their team – they’re shouted down by a white fan, who tosses in a slur or two; a police officer tells Bernard and his family that “you people need to learn how to behave”, without a word to the instigator. Mama says change is coming soon, but Bernard has a hard time believing it when things like this happen, and when the Sox won’t even sign a black player. That changes when Pumpsie Green, a black player in the minor leagues, starts making the news. The Red Sox management seem to be dragging their feet on Pumpsie, and the fans – black AND white alike – start putting public pressure on the team to give Pumpsie a chance. It works, and Bernard and his family gather around the radio to listen to Pumpsie’s first game, an away game in Chicago. The Red Sox lose, but Pumpsie’s arrival is selling tickets and making news. Bernard and his family make sure to be at the next home game, to cheer on Pumpsie, and Bernard gets to see him play and see the Sox win! As Bernard heads home, he sees fans waving Pumpsie flags and holding up a picture of Ted Williams and Pumpsie, together in the dugout. Bernard has hope for the future. Looks like Mama was right after all.
Based on the story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s 1959 arrival in Major League Baseball, Waiting for Pumpsie is powerful because it’s shown through a child’s eyes. Told in the first person by Bernard, we see how important representation is. Bernard says, after seeing Pumpsie play, that “one day, I’ll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green. I’ll tell them how he dug his heels into the batter’s box. I’ll tell them how I pretended it was me, Bernard, sliding into third”. He and his family cheer for every African-American player, regardless of team affiliation, because they support civil rights and integration. It was time. It was long past time. An author’s note offers a little background on Pumpsie Green and the Red Sox’s long refusal to sign players of color, and the role of civil rights and fan pressure in their decision. There are some good sources for further reading. There’s a free, downloadable curriculum guide available.
The acrylic paint artwork uses warm colors and gives a vintage feel to the book, with baseball cards and tickets lending a scrapbook feel within the larger story. If you don’t already have this in your collection, get it in there. Waiting for Pumpsie has a starred review from Kirkus.