Thursday, April 11, 2013

Let's Play Baseball! by Charles R. Smith, Jr.

Let's Play Baseball! by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Terry Widener

Rating: 3.5 stars

Do you know the monkey-see-monkey-do effect?  If you do, I know you've got more than one kid.  And, like me, you might have more than one boy.  I know that girls see and then do just like boys, but...I'm shocked at and amused by the speed in which Kiefer repeats something Ben does--especially if that Something gets a hug or concerned look or, in most cases, something on the laugh-o-meter...  Anything from a hidden smile to outright belly laugh will get repeated twice.

And so, as Ben is into baseball, Kiefer is also into baseball!  Not shocking!

Let's Play Baseball! is a sturdy book--not as strong as a board book, but heftier than a hardback--that will withstand many reads, dozens of T-ball practices, and way too many trips to the dirty dugout.  It is a simple rhyme from a baseball's perspective inviting a boy to go outside and play ball:
THROW me...CATCH me, again and again.
PITCH me, HIT me...into the wind!
BLAST ME OFF your bat, into the sky...
SEE my red stitches SPIN as I fly.
Not much to it, in a really good way.  Perfect for the little brother aspiring to be his big brother--that's about as classic as the game of baseball itself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dino-Baseball by Lisa Wheeler

 Dino-Baseball by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott

Rating: 4.5 stars

Of all the baseball books we have in the house right now (14 at the last count), this is Ben's favorite.  Lisa Wheeler was smart to match two things that young boys really love--dinosaurs and baseball--and create a rhyme that captures the excitement of a nail-biter of a baseball game.

The Green Sox and the Rib-Eye Reds battle it out on the baseball diamond, their reptilian bodies funnily shoved into uniforms usually reserved for human players.  Barry Gott does a great job with the illustrations; I especially love how he catches the frustration and excitement (depending which team you're rooting for) of an out.  The illustrations can be a confusing jumble, especially if the gigantic brachiosaurus is involved and spread out on two pages instead of one.  We're never quite sure of his position because he spills out onto the whole field...!

I also like how Wheeler throws in some real aspects of baseball that have been fun to explain to Ben.  On the top of my list is the emphasis on good manners and sportsmanship, or ELSE:
The Green Sox manager's irate,
throws his hat and kicks home plate.
He calls the ump a nasty name
and gets ejected from the game.
Yup, without any warnings!  That's real life for you, I told Ben.  Good manners or you can't play!  Other little things include fun baseball slang and traditions--"good-bye ball" for home run, the seventh-inning stretch hot dog run...things like that.

I've read this book twice daily for the past three days, and it is going into Ben's baseball-themed backpack to share with his class after I click "Publish" on this blog post,'s a hit!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pete the Cat: Play Ball! by James Dean

Pete the Cat: Play Ball! by James Dean

Rating: 3.5 stars

It's no secret that we in this house love, love, LOVE Pete the Cat.  These books put a smile on my face like no other book, and his songs get my toes tapping and put all of us in a good mood (and that's a good thing, because we all know when Mommy is in a good mood, it's easier for everyone else to be in a good mood).

And we waited not-so-patiently for Play Ball! and James Dean's other Pete the Cat I Can Read books to arrive on the hold shelf for us in the library.

Alas, we are all a little disappointed.

It turns out that Pete actually stinks at baseball.  He can't hit, he can't catch and it seems he has trouble even drinking Gatorade in the dugout (I'm actually making that part up).  He does try his best--that point is pointed out in a redundant way that many I Can Read Books manage--and his sly face is indifferent as he fails at each and every aspect of the game.  His team manages to win the game despite Pete's lack of talent for the game, so I guess there is a happy ending.

It's got to be hard to have a good follow-up to three wildly successful books (I thought his fourth book, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, was not as great as the first three).  Yet I found myself thinking about Play Ball! after we read it--what does it mean when I don't like a book when the hero doesn't add anything to the victory?  Can there be a story when the hero is just a ho-hum guy leading a ho-hum existence?  Does the moral of the story have to be some triumphant victory every single time?

Clearly the answer is this: It's a good thing for books like this to lie around our children's shelves, so that they know that the hero (in their world, that's them, of course) doesn't always have to be uber-fantastic.  I didn't love the book, but I do appreciate the message--Pete still rocks even though he's not the best at baseball.  As my best friend Stacey says, we're all working on something, and it seems that Pete is still working on baseball.

Hopefully he won't give up his day job of singing catchy tunes while looking impossibly cool and hip!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame by Jack Norworth

Take Me Out to the Ballgame by Jack Norworth, illustrated by Macky Pamintaun

Rating: 5 stars

A simple book, about a simple concept: good ol' baseball.  Add on the timeless tale of a young boy falling madly in love with the game, and you've got yourself a great song with fantastic illustrations.

The classic, oh-so-American song (full story of it is in the back of this book and in this fantastic other children's book, Players in Pigtails) provides the words; Macky Pamintaun provides the illustrations of an incredibly enthusiastic, super excited, ohmygodIcan'tbelieveitIamata-baseballgameforrealforrealforreal young boy going to a ballgame.

That's it, that's all.  Simple, but you've GOT to have this book if you've got a baseball-crazed guy around.
Ben, 12 hours before practice.

And I happen to have one such guy around.  His name is Ben.

The young boy in the book could easily be Ben who, as I type, is sleeping in his baseball cap after his first T-ball practice.  I don't know if the word "enthusiastic" accurately describes how crazy happy and crazy into this game he is.  We watched him throw himself into the game, running full throttle after a ball, listening with every fiber of his little body at his coach (my good friend), and paying more attention to the ground ball approaching his glove than he ever has paid attention to me.

In all, a great, great day.  A Big Day!  And where are we going on Sunday?  To a ball game.  A REAL one!  See that cover up there?  That'll be Ben, more excited than he was on Christmas morning...