Cover of Waiting for Pumpsie shows young black boy watching baseball diamondI thrill to books about triumphal firsts in human rights–stories about the Emancipation Proclamation, stories about universal suffrage, stories about breaking the color barrier in sports, stories about making inter-racial marriages legal. Those are important stories that need to be told. But as recent events remind us, it takes time for society to change. Sometimes a very long change. Children could assume that racism no longer exists if the only kinds of nonfiction picture books that got published were about triumphal firsts. But luckily there are other books that try to depict the struggle (like this one and this one and this one).  The book I’m looking at today, Waiting for Pumpsie, is one of those books.

Waiting for Pumpsie isn’t about the first black man to play Major League Baseball. In fact, it happens twelve years later, long after almost every Major League baseball team had blacks on their rosters. It’s the story of how the hold-out team, the Boston Red Sox, finally hired Pumpsie Green.

The story is historical fiction. The author says in the Author’s Note, “Bernard is a fictional character, but the events leading up to Pumpsie Green’s 1959 arrival in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox are true.” Using fiction to tell a factual story works really well here since the author is able to cobble together scenes where Bernard and his family face all kinds of different types of ugly daily discrimination. They’re the kinds of daily humiliations that definitely happened, and you could find an example of each  in the historical record, but it would probably be impossible to find a single historical account that included all of them.  So a fictional place-holder allows the story to more fully depict what the world was like in 1959.

The acrylic paintings are vivid and depict actual ephemera from the time–baseball cards, TV schedules, game tickets, a souvenir pennant.

Waiting for Pumpsie by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by London Ladd. Charlesbridge: 2017.

(I’m posting this week at Page Through the Parks–so far, Junior Ranger eclipse pamphlet, a great podcast, and kids of color and the national parks–come visit!)

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.


pedroI’m the fifth child in my family and was always delighted to have teachers mistakenly call me by a sibling’s name–I knew it could only mean good things for me. So the central relationship in this book, two brothers who sometimes envy each other but always admire and help each other, resonated with me.

This is the story of two great baseball players, Ramon and Pedro Martinez, and how they came to leave the Dominican Republic to play in the American big leagues and how their relationship grew and changed over time. Tavares tells the story with short, muscular sentences. He’s good at talking baseball but never loses focus on the central brother-to-brother relationship.

This book has a hefty word count–over 1700 words!–so it’s not for the quick bedtime read or the impatient toddler, but there’s plenty here for baseball fans and older kids who take the time to savor it.

Trailer for the book.

Growing Up Pedro, by Matt Tavares. Candlewick: 2015.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak is an amazing story in itself, but Rosenstock puts the streak in its historical context. We see how DiMaggio struggled to achieve the record and how his brilliant success gave hope to a nation facing a world war. Rosenstock sets the stage deftly on the first page where she talks about the first hit in DiMaggio’s streak:

It wasn’t news. Instead, the headlines in 1941 shouted about the war spreading like a fever through Europe.

She keeps her focus on DiMaggio, but with a few words here and there, we’re reminded of that war threatening in the distance.

Rosenstock’s verbs quiver with life: “whip,” “scuff,” “roar,” “soak,” “surge,” “yell,” “grab,” “rub,” “pound,” “trot,” “dance.” Her narrative voice is muscular and nimble. It’s a fun book to read aloud.

The back matter is satisfyingly hefty. She writes more than 500 words about what happened next, gives us memorable quotes and statistics, as well as providing quote attributions and explaining the sources of the newspaper headlines shown in the illustrations.

I admire Rosenstock’s ability to shape real life into a compelling, vivid story. She’s on her own streak with with creating great nonfiction picture books.

Here’s the one minute trailer, which focuses on the mystery aspect of the book: can DiMaggio break the streak without his beloved bat?

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener. Calkins Creek: 2014.



Louise Borden and Raúl Colon have created a lyrical ode to baseball and its place in American culture. Such a huge, amorphous topic must have been tough to structure into a narrative, but Borden uses chronological arcs to organize everything. She uses both the arc of a single game and the arc of an entire season to position the different sections of the book, winding up the book, of course, with a celebration of the World Series.

The voice of the book is lyrical and celebratory. Often back matter has a completely different tone from the rest of the book, but Borden’s “Note to the Reader” at the end is similarly lyrical as she writes about great baseball games she has attended.

Baseball fans will enjoy this hymn of praise.

Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, illustrated by Raúl Colon. Margaret K. McElderry Books: 2014.