Subscribe to The Horn Book

Take me out to the ballgame

Play ball! Baseball season has officially opened (go Red Sox!). Here are some of our favorite baseball-themed books from recent years, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide.


Picture Books

abbott_who's on firstStraight man Abbott is a tall brown bear and befuddled Costello is a short white bunny in Who’s on First?, a picture-book adaptation of the 1930s comedy routine. Illustrator/adaptor John Martz alters the text very little and includes speech balloons, panels, and changing perspectives to maintain the story’s pace and add clarity for young readers discovering this famous baseball comedy sketch for the first time. (Quirk, 2013)

dickey_knuckleball nedKlutzy ball Ned, star of R. A. Dickey’s Knuckleball Ned, constantly wobbles into things. On his first day of school, the dreaded Foul Ball Gang quickly dubs him Knucklehead Ned. However, Sammy Softball and Connie Curveball think Ned’s moves are cool, and when the unique skills aid a playground rescue, he’s aptly named Knuckleball Ned. Tim Bowers’s illustrations, with endearing baseball-headed characters in light color washes, are the perfect pitch for this amusing tale. (Dial, 2014)

Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron MeshonThe lucky boy in Aaron Meshon’s Take Me Out to the Yakyu gets to go to ballgames in both the United States and in Japan. Each spread showcases one difference between the locales: hot dog in one place, soba noodles in the other. In the rich-hued acrylic illustrations, team colors (cool blues for America and warm reds for Japan) dominate the pages, helping readers keep track of each location. (Atheneum, 2013)


Intermediate fiction

berk_say it ain't soIn Josh Berk’s Say It Ain’t So, Mike (Strike Three, You’re Dead) can’t pitch due to an arm injury but gets back into baseball by moving behind the plate. When Mike lands in the starting lineup after the primary catcher is booted for theft, Lenny and Other Mike suspect there’s been a set-up. Lenny’s humorous narration distinguishes this solid middle-school sports mystery. (Knopf, 2014)

burg_all the broken piecsIn All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg, Vietnamese American seventh grader Matt has two passions — piano and baseball — and one secret: he feels responsible for horrific injuries his little brother sustained in Vietnam during the war. Matt’s painful memories are adeptly captured by the fleeting but powerful images of Burg’s free verse. Working through his past, Matt comes to understand that remembering can open the door to hope. (Scholastic, 2009)

girl who threwSix months after her father’s death, young knuckleballer Molly tries out for the boys’ baseball team. Not everyone is encouraging, but she knows her dad would have approved. In his novel The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, Mich Cochrane allows Molly to deal with her emotions at her own speed and in her own way. In so doing, he creates a compassionate, perceptive, pitch-perfect portrait of grief. (Knopf, 2009)

gratz_brooklyn nineIn The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings, interlinked short stories set between 1845 and 2002 offer snapshots of nine generations of a New York City family of German Jewish immigrants and their involvement with America’s favorite pastime. With an impressively cohesive mix of sports, historical fiction, and family history, author Alan Gratz has crafted a wonderful baseball book that is more than the sum of its parts. (Dial, 2009)

scaletta_mudvilleIt’s been raining in Moundville for twenty-two years. When the sun miraculously comes out, twelve-year-old baseball lover Roy assembles a scrappy team, including the surly and mysterious foster kid Roy’s father invited into their home. As the “Mudville Nine” resurrect the soaked baseball field, they bring life to a whole town. Author Kurtis Scaletta’s baseball enthusiasm shines through Mudville‘s cast of memorable characters. (Knopf, 2009)


Older fiction

koertge_shakespeare makes the playoffsWriter/first baseman/eighth grader Kevin (Shakespeare Bats Cleanup) takes on more challenging poetic forms as well as romantic complications in Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs. Baseball, of course, remains a fixed point, as his team heads to the playoffs. Ron Koertge’s pleasing variety of verse is a seamless fit for his story and characters. Kevin’s ponderings of form and style unobtrusively help inform readers less familiar with poetic technique. (Candlewick, 2010)



bildner_unforgettable seasonTwo baseball records, both set in the 1941 season, have never been broken: Joe DiMaggio hit safely in fifty-six consecutive games and Ted Williams hit for a .406 average. In his book The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41, Phil Bildner, in an easy, matter-of-fact prose style, tells the men’s stories in alternating sections. S. D. Schindler’s ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are perfect for this light, affectionate glimpse of baseball history. (Putnam, 2011)

doeden_world seriesProfusely illustrated with photographs and written in succinct, fast-moving prose, Matt Doeden’s The World Series: Baseball’s Biggest Stage is a historical overview of the World Series that will please baseball fans. Spanning the years from the first, unofficial Series in 1903 to the recent 2012 season, Doeden highlights memorable games, plays, and stars. With invitingly open pages and engaging text, this is definitely worth adding to any baseball book collection. (Millbrook, 2014)

hampton_up close babe ruthIn plain-dealing biography Up Close: Babe Ruth, author Wilborn Hampton reveals Ruth’s rough-and-tumble childhood — when he was seven his parents sent him to a home for orphans and juvenile delinquents; baseball was his ticket out. Later chapters chronicle Ruth’s baseball triumphs and his notorious off-field behavior. This is a candid portrait of a glorious athlete and an imperfect man whose “very name is synonymous with greatness.” (Viking, 2009)

mccully_queen of the diamondEmily Arnold McCully’s Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story introduces a young woman who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, parlays her love for baseball into a successful career. At age eighteen, Lizzie seizes an opportunity to play professional ball. Drawing crowds because of her gender more so than her considerable skill, she’s denied a salary until she fights for equal pay. Impressionistic ink and watercolor illustrations subtly depict Lizzie as standing out from the crowd. Recognizing her passion and finding a way to make it her life’s work is Lizzie’s gift and the heart of McCully’s story. (Farrar, 5–8 years)

moss_barbed wire baseballMarissa Moss’s Barbed Wire Baseball tells the story of Kenichi Zenimura, who was known as the father of Japanese American baseball, first as a player and later a manager. But after Pearl Harbor, Zeni found himself in an internment camp, and the only way he could make the desolate place feel like home was to build a baseball field. Yuko Shimizu’s bold Japanese calligraphy brush-and-ink illustrations depict the painstaking work involved — and Zeni’s joy at playing. (Abrams, 2013)

rosenstock_streakWith “war spreading like a fever through Europe” in 1941, the heroics of Joe DiMaggio offered a summertime respite as he began a hitting streak that would beat all previous records and has yet to be surpassed. In The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero, illustrator Terry Widener is a master at capturing the larger-than-life spirit of baseball through his perfectly attuned acrylics, and Barb Rosenstock’s text matches the art in its exuberance. (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2014)

Something to ProveIn 1936, 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? A game was set up, and both players proved themselves worthy. In Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio, author Robert Skead uses a little-known baseball episode to portray larger issues of race and justice in America; Floyd Cooper’s grainy brown-toned illustrations nicely evoke the dreamy reminiscences of baseball legend. (Carolrhoda, 2013)

Four books by baseball super-fan Matt Tavares:

Becoming Babe RuthTavares profiles the iconic George Herman “Babe” Ruth, shining a light on the flamboyant slugger’s charitable side, in Becoming Babe Ruth. The author-illustrator expertly conveys Ruth’s charm through mixed-media illustrations — the boyish grin, the huge appetite (one humorous scene features Ruth in front of an outlandish spread at a restaurant), the love of the game he played so well. A standout sports picture-book biography. Stats are appended. (Candlewick, 2013)

tavares_growing up pedroGrowing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues highlights the warm relationship between baseball greats and brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez, covering their youth in the 1980s Dominican Republic; their signings with the Dodgers; Pedro’s eventual contract with the Red Sox and heroics in the 1999 playoffs; and their present-day return to the Dominican Republic to build churches, schools, and baseball fields. Tavares’s gouache and watercolor paintings lovingly depict both players. (Candlewick, 2014)

tavares_henry aaron's dreamIn Henry Aaron’s Dream, Tavares’s understated, unfussy cadences describe young Hank Aaron’s major-league aspirations. After a brief stint in the Negro Leagues, Aaron signed a minor-league contract with the Braves but faced brutal racism in the South. In a final illustration, Tavares’s skillful combination of watercolor, ink, and pencil shows Aaron in his first major-league game. An author’s note and Aaron’s career stats are included. (Candlewick, 2010)

Matt Tavares "There Goes Ted Williams"Present-tense narrative lends drama and immediacy to There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, Tavares’s all-smiles-and-heroics biography of the Boston Red Sox slugger. Watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations depict Williams as large as a double-page spread can hold. The less smiley and heroic side to Williams’s character is reserved for an interesting author’s note. Published in time for Fenway Park’s centennial celebrations, this full-of-life biography is a hit. (Candlewick, 2012)

Audrey Vernick "Brothers at Bat"The Acerras of Long Branch, New Jersey, had twelve boys and four girls. In 1938, the oldest nine boys created their own semi-pro team, which played together longer than any of the era’s other (nearly thirty!) teams made up entirely of brothers. In Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick, Steven Salerno’s illustrations bring the story to vivid life, while the beautifully designed pages capture the feel of this slice of American history. (Clarion, 2012)

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!Jonah Winter’s colloquial first-person Brooklynese adeptly chronicles Sandy Koufax’s star pitching career You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! André Carrilho’s illustrations complement the text, exquisitely capturing the sport’s drama with angular, elongated figures; the use of color (red, blue, and, most strikingly, gold) to accent the graphite drawings; and a variety of textures, including an attention-grabbing lenticular cover. Sidebars provide interesting and relevant baseball stats. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2009
winter_you never heard of willie maysWinter’s You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!, a companion to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, focuses on African American baseball great Willie Mays. Readers may well feel they’re at the ballpark, witnessing Mays’s signature basket catches, his famous over-the-head catch in center field, and his electrifying base stealing, all captured in Terry Widener’s dynamic acrylic illustrations. A solid, informative, and entertaining sports picture book. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2013)

Bill Wise "Silent Star"Bill Wise’s biography Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy covers Hoy’s whole life, including the attack of meningitis that left him deaf at age three, and celebrates the courage and determination it took for Hoy to make it to the major leagues in 1888. Adam Gustavson’s oil illustrations complement the text nicely, providing historical details that will put readers in the games alongside Hoy, imagining the cheers from the stands that Hoy never heard. (Lee & Low, 2012)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind