Baseball and basketball, auto racing and boat-jumping. The following picture book biographies of historical sports stars will inspire youngsters to pick up a bat, go for the dunk, or just zoom around for a while.
Is there a bigger baseball fan in the children’s book world than Matt Tavares? His sixth title on the sport, Becoming Babe Ruth, shines a light on George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s charitable side. At the turn of the twentieth century, young George’s delinquent ways land him at Saint Mary’s, a local industrial boarding school. There he meets Brother Matthias, whose majestic home runs in the schoolyard enthrall the boy. Years later when a fire destroys the school, Ruth shows that he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Tavares’s mixed-media illustrations expertly convey the Babe’s charm. (Candlewick, 4–7 years)
In 1936, two baseball players had something to prove. Was twenty-one-year-old Joe DiMaggio ready for the Major Leagues? Should Satchel Paige, pitching great in the Negro Leagues, be playing in the Majors? Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead explores the game, between the Dick Bartell’s All Stars and the Satchel Paige All-Stars teams, that tested the men’s mettle. Skead portrays the larger issue of race and justice in America while superbly developing the game’s tension inning by inning. Floyd Cooper’s brown-toned illustrations nicely evoke the dreamy reminiscences of baseball legend. (Carolrhoda, 4–7 years)
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy begins with one James Naismith taking over an unruly gym class. He needs a game where “accuracy was more valuable than force,” and so basketball was concocted. Coy’s spare, precise language reflects the sport’s welcome order as well as its athletic appeal. Joe Morse’s kinetic paintings, at once dynamic and controlled, capture basketball’s combination of power and finesse. (Carolrhoda, 4–7 years)
In the 1930s, when airplanes were still new, young Betty Skelton played with toy planes when other girls played with dolls. Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton details the life of the “First Lady of Firsts.” She was a record-breaking aerobatic pilot and auto racer; the first female boat jumper; and she even trained with the Mercury 7 astronauts. Author-illustrator Meghan McCarthy’s signature pictures, featuring bug-eyed characters and a vivid palette, accompany her soaring tale of a little girl with big dreams. (Wiseman/Simon, 4–7 years)
From the May 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.