Sunday, July 20, 2014

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Rating: 4.5 stars

Ben is a sports nut.  This is not news for those who know him.  He knows right where the nonfiction sports section is in the library, and he spends most of his library time there, in his happy place.  He happily checks out the same books on baseball, soccer, football, and rugby again and again and again.

In the juvenile fiction section, he goes right to the CHR section, where he chooses a few Matt Christopher books to "read" by himself.  (We've read one together, The Lucky Bat.  Read that review here.)  But when I came across this Baseball Card Adventure series, I couldn't help but share it with him.  He quickly chose one to read together with me at night; I was thrilled he chose Satch & Me.  After reading Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs the Rookie Joe DiMaggio I wanted to know more about Satch.

The Baseball Card Adventure books all have the same premise: Joe Stoshack, or "Stosh," can travel through time by holding baseball cards from the year to which he wants to travel. In each book, Stosh has a unique reason to want to travel to meet that particular ball player.  In Satch's case, he and his Little League coach want to track the speed of Satch's famous pitch: Just how fast can this guy throw?

Though Scholastic suggests this book for kids in grades three through five, I thought it was completely appropriate for Ben, who enters kindergarten in a little over a month.  There were many things I loved about the book:

  • The story started strong at the first page, and Ben was hooked quickly.  He learned the word "cliffhanger" because many of the chapters really did leaving him begging for me to read just one more chapter…that's always a good sign!
  • Stosh tells the story in the first person.  He's a normal kid and a likable character as he makes mistakes and weighs decisions and sometimes gets in a bit of trouble.
  • As always, I'm awed and grateful by how much I can teach Ben through baseball.  Stosh goes back in time and witnesses segregation and prejudice and bigotry first-hand, and Gutman doesn't shy away from pointing out injustices through Stosh's eyes.  I never once had to change the wording to explain something. I did, however, stop to explain things and answer Ben's many questions...
  • Gutman does an excellent job of having his older characters--in this case, Satch and Flip--instill some wisdom in young Stosh.  And, in some instances, Satch teaches Flip a thing or two (mostly about women "The things you do for women you wouldn't do for anything else.  Same with money").  And Stosh has some advice for readers, too, even though he's still mighty young himself.  My favorite line of his: "Sometimes you just have to take a chance and hope you made the smart decision."
  • Satchel Paige was an interesting character both in the book and in real life--and an important one.  In the back of the book, Gutman spends a few pages spreading the facts out for the reader.  Paige was the first player from the Negro League to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and most players who played with him believe him to be the best pitcher in the history of baseball.
  • I loved sharing Ben's passion a little every night.  I hear about it all day, yes, but learning about one of the great ball players with him was my kind of fun, and after a phone call with my ball playing grandfather, Ben and I were equally floored to hear that Grandpa played against Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson (another player who pops up in the book).  Neither of us can wait to get the rest of the story from Grandpa!

Things you might want to know before reading this with your child:

  • Stosh's parents are divorced.  This fact surfaces a little in each book that we've read (we're reading Jackie & Me now).  They have a good co-parenting relationship, but are not overly chummy.
  • In this book, Stosh takes his 70-something, single Little League coach, Flip, back in time with him, and Flip meets a girl and they fall in love. She runs away from her father to catch up with Flip and Stosh, and Stosh considers leaving Flip in the past so he can be with her.  This little romance is appropriate for older kids, but I edited out a few sentences for Ben. (I couldn't do this with Lorelei, who corrects me when I'm reading!
Yesterday I took the kids to the bookstore and let them choose two books or games (or, in Kiefer's case, a mean-looking Lego policeman alarm clock…something that this smiley child who wakes up around 5:30 most mornings definitely does NOT need…).  Ben went right to the "G" area of "Middle Grade Fiction" to see which books from the Baseball Card Adventure series were there.  Only one: Babe & Me.  "That's the one I wanted!" Ben exclaimed with Willy-Wonka gold ticket excitement.

So, looks like I'll soon be reporting back about Babe, too…!

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