Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Batter Up with the newest Ballpark Mysteries Super Special: The World Series Kids

The World Series Kids (Ballpark Mysteries Super Special #4), by David A. Kelly/Illustrated by Mark Meyers, ($5.99, Random House), ISBN: 9780525578956

Ages 7-10

The Ballpark Mysteries is a fun mystery series for intermediate readers that fits right in with Ron Roy’s mystery series (Capital Mysteries; Calendar Mysteries; A to Z Mysteries). The hook here is baseball; each mystery takes place at a ballpark and stars Mike and Kate, cousins who love baseball and solving mysteries. The World Series Kids is the latest Super Special – a little longer in length and structured around a big happening in baseball; in this case, the Little League World Series. Mike and Kate’s friend, Colin, is on the Cooperstown team, and Kate and Mike travel to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to support the hometown team. They quickly discover that someone’s trying to sabotage the team: the coach’s son saw someone slash one of the team bus’s tires; the team’s equipment goes missing right before their first game, and there’s a warning that more shenanigans are coming! Thank goodness Mike and Kate are on the case to help out, but can they find out who’s behind the incidents in time to keep the team in the game?

This is such a fun whodunit! Mike and Kate work together well as a team, and David A. Kelly’s writing has action, humor, and a wealth of baseball knowledge. He creates whodunits that will leave kids (and adults, to be honest) guessing until the end of the story, with a surprise reveal, a lesson to be learned, and a happy ending, leaving kids ready to read the next book… right after they play a few innings. Dugout Notes at the end of the book are all about the Little League World Series, with cool facts to read and share.

There are loads of great resources on David A. Kelly’s author site, including educator guides, fan art and videos, even missing chapters. The Ballpark Mysteries are popular reading at my library, among baseball fans and mystery readers alike. David A. Kelly’s MVP series is also a big hit here, because I have a lot of soccer fans in this community. (A LOT.)  Display and booktalk this series with Matt Christopher’s sports fiction, and Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures series.

Posted in picture books

Black History, Baseball, and Boston: Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie, by Barry Wittenstein/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2017, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580895453

Ages 5-9

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.

Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.
Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Baseball is the great uniter in The Hometown All Stars series

A New Kid in School: Amira Can Catch! (The Hometown All Stars #4), by Kevin Christofora/Illustrated by Dale Tangeman, (March 2018, Clarens), $12.99, ISBN: 9780986349331

Recommended for readers 5-8

Amira is a new student in a Woodstock, New York classroom. She and her family are Syrian refugees, looking to start a new life in the States, and she’s a little shy and nervous. Luckily, Nick, the narrator of the story and the student Amira’s seated next to, is on it. He asks her if she needs help, and the two become fast friends. As the school day progresses, Nick learns about Amira’s life in the refugee camp; she tells him that three kids at the camp would have to share what amounts to one student’s lunch serving in the States, and that a refugee camp is where “families who have lost their homes and have nowhere else to go” live. At the end of the school day, Nick invites Amira to baseball practice and draws her a map, showing her how to get to the field, and Amira arrives to find even more friendly faces waiting for her. From here, the narrative shifts into a teamwork and baseball-focused story, with the Coach a positive, encouraging figure who keeps the kids motivated and learning. A floating baseball with game tips and thought-provoking questions appears throughout the book, and realistic but cartoony provide helpful illustrations for kids looking to improve their ballgame. A note at the end about what it means to be American emphasizes the diversity of American culture and there’s a list of new words learned in the book; mostly baseball-related. With detailed, yet easy-to-read text and appealing illustrations, this is a positive look at friendship, diversity, and teamwork, all connected by the love of baseball.

This is the fourth book in the Hometown All Stars series, and I think I’ll look into the others for my collection here at the library. It’s nice to see an upbeat, positive book where kids are open to meeting new people and learning about different cultures. The Hometown All Stars books are available in 13 languages, and you can check out other books in the series at the Hometown All Stars webpage.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Ballpark Mysteries goes to Cooperstown!

Ballpark Mysteries: Christmas in Cooperstown (Super Special #2), by David A. Kelly/Illustrated by Mark Meyers, (Sept. 2017, Random House), $5.99, ISBN: 978-0-399-55192-5

Recommended for readers 6-9

Confession time: While I steer a lot of my readers toward the Ballpark Mysteries books, I hadn’t read one until Christmas in Cooperstown. I’m really glad I did read it, though; despite not being much of a sports fan, I do enjoy a fun mystery, and Christmas in Cooperstown was just what I needed.

Best friends Mike and Kate are volunteering to wrap presents for a charity, Cooperstown Cares, at the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a thank you, they and their friends are invited to a sleepover at the Hall of Fame, which is pretty fantastic. It’s a good thing, too – Mike notices that the Honus Wagner card – a rare baseball card that can go for millions of dollars at auction – has been stolen and replaced with a fake! He and Kate have to track down the clues, find the card and the culprit, and deliver the charity’s gifts on time. Pretty big order!

Sports fans will really enjoy the tidbits of sports history here. I was interested in the science behind discovering the fake card, and using his dad’s business as a baseball card dealer opens the door to some fun trivia and facts throughout the book. “Dugout Notes”, a regular feature in the Mysteries, on Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame finish up the book, along with a recipe for All-Star Blue Chip Muffins, which have a little cameo in the story.

Readers can pick up Christmas at Cooperstown without having read other Ballpark Mysteries; there’s enough exposition that you can easily get into the groove of things. Black and white illustrations by Mark Meyers keep things interesting and moving along.

I got to meet David Kelly at KidLitCon this past weekend and he is the nicest guy! It’s always a bonus when you find out that an author is pretty darn cool on top of being a good writer. He was kind enough to pass on a set of his MVP series for my library kids, too!

MVP – Most Valuable Players – is another sports mystery series for intermediate readers; like Ballpark Mysteries, you can dive into each one separately, with no stress. In the first story, The Gold Medal Mess, we meet the MVPs on the opening spread, where we get their “stats” via an illustration and quick character description: Max is a great athlete and detective; Alice is an archery ace and animal lover; Nico can’t wait to practice and play; Luke loves to exercise his funny bone, and Kat, Luke’s twin sister, captures the best game-day moments on camera. The kids are getting ready for their annual school Olympics, but someone is leaving threatening letters, telling the school to cancel the Olympics or else. When things start going wrong on the big day, it’s up to the five friends to figure out who’s causing the trouble and save the day before someone gets hurt.

Each MVP book covers a different sport and features black and white illustration. The cast is a diverse, all-star group of kids with different interests and talents, and who work together to solve mysteries, help others, and take on bullies. Each book includes bonus facts on each featured sports: The Gold Medal Mess has Olympics facts and photos; other books have terms and diagrams. I’m putting these up on the “NEW” shelf tomorrow, and I expect they’ll be gone just as quickly as I get them up there. A good add to sports fiction and mystery collections!

 

 

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Play Ball! Welcome to the Show takes us to Boston!

welcome to the showWelcome to the Show (A Mickey Tussler novel, book 3), by Frank Nappi (Apr. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781634508292

Recommended for ages 13+

In the third book of Frank Nappi’s baseball series, it’s 1950 and Mickey Tussler, a pitching wunderkind with autism, Lester, his friend and fellow ballplayer, up from the Negro Leagues, and coach (and stepdad) Murph are playing for the big leagues now. They’re in Boston, playing for the Boston Braves, and Murph is managing the team, who’s not thrilled with the new leadership or their two newest players. At home, things are rough, too: Molly, Mickey’s mom, is not settling into life in Boston and feels increasingly isolated. She wants to go back to Milwaukee, but Murph, terrified that he’s about to lose everything he’s worked so hard for, begs her to give Boston a chance.

Mickey’s finding himself the darling of the crowds as they see what he can do, but the press is quick to pry and capitalize on his challenges, whether it be pushing too deeply into his personal life or misinterpreting his words. Mickey’s struggling with his memories and forming new relationships, with the game – and his newfound celebrity – presenting new challenges. It’s a game of balance, as Mickey, Murph, and Molly all have to figure out where they stand with regard to one another, the game, and everyone around them.

This is my first Mickey Tussler book, but I found myself able to quickly get myself up to speed, thanks to Frank Nappi’s excellent exposition; he lays out past events clearly enough that you have enough of an idea of what’s going on to dive right in. I’m normally not a sports fiction reader, but Nappi’s descriptions of the games, layered with inner monologue and wordless interplay between players on the field, kept me interested and wanting to see more. I’ve heard stories of pitchers and batters getting into it with one another on the field, with pitches buzzing ears (or more), and there’s plenty of that here. ‘Lots of axes to grind between teams makes for some good baseball, and we even get a bench-clearing brawl at one point. Beyond the baseball, we have a deep story about a family meeting challenges. All of the characters in Welcome to the Show are remarkably fleshed out: Mickey, Lester, Molly, and Murph have had two other novels to develop, but the supporting characters: Jolene and her brother, Mickey’s teammate, Ozmore, for instance, have interesting individual stories that make me want to know more. Mickey’s frustration and confusion radiates from the page, and does Murph’s feelings of frustration and helplessness give him greater depth.

I’d suggest this as more of a new adult book than a young teen book for some language and overall story; while Mickey is 17 in the first book of the series, by now, he’s a young man in his early 20s. Add this to collections where sports fiction is popular, and booktalk it to teens who loved Mike Lupica’s middle grade books and are ready to move up.

The first book in the series, A Mile in His Shoes, was made into a TV movie, starring Dean Cain, in 2011.   You can read an excerpt from Welcome to the Show here and watch the book trailer below: