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Recommended baseball books

Play ball! The books below include both fiction and nonfiction titles for a range of ages. All were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

For more baseball books, click on the tags baseball and sports; also see Dean Schneider’s January/February 2011 Magazine article “What Makes a Good Sports Novel?” (And here’s Friend of the Horn Book — and 2017 Boston Red Sox–MTA Most Valuable Educator — Liz Phipps Soeiro at Fenway Park with Wally the Green Monster!)

Preschool and Primary

abbott_who's on firstAbbott, and Costello Who’s on First?
40 pp.     Quirk Books     2013
Trade ISBN 9781-59474-590-4

Illustrated by John Martz. Straight man Abbott is a tall brown bear and befuddled Costello is a short white bunny in this picture-book adaptation of the 1930s comedy routine. 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.

adler_get a hit moAdler, David A.  Get a Hit, Mo!
32 pp.     Penguin     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-670-01632-7

Illustrated by Sam Ricks. Penguin Young Readers series. A baseball-season follow-up to Geisel Award–winning Don’t Throw It to Mo!. Still the smallest on his team, African American boy Mo will bat last and play right field in the game. But Mo listens carefully to Coach Marie and watches his teammates — and eventually has his big moment. Accompanying the perfectly pitched leveled text, Ricks’s illustrations capture Mo’s feelings and the game’s movements.

bildner_unforgettable season

Bildner, Phil  The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41
32 pp.     Putnam     2011
Trade ISBN 978-0-399-25501-4

Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Two 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. Bildner, in an easy, matter-of-fact prose style, tells the men’s stories in alternating sections. Schindler’s ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are perfect for this light, affectionate glimpse of baseball history.

dickey_knuckleball nedDickey, R. A.  Knuckleball Ned
32 pp.     Dial     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-4038-9

Illustrated by Tim Bowers. Klutzy ball 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. Endearing baseball-headed characters in light color washes are the perfect pitch for this amusing tale.

mccully_queen of the diamond

McCully, Emily Arnold  Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story
32 pp.     Farrar/Ferguson     2015

In the early twentieth century, Lizzie Murphy parlays her love for baseball into a successful career. At eighteen, she seizes an opportunity to play professional ball, where she draws crowds more because of her gender than her considerable skill. She’s denied a salary until she fights for equal pay. Impressionistic ink and watercolor illustrations subtly depict Lizzie as being slightly different from the crowd.

Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon

Meshon, Aaron  Take Me Out to the Yakyu
40 pp.     Atheneum     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-4177-4

The lucky boy in this picture book 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.

moss_barbed wire baseballMoss, Marissa  Barbed Wire Baseball
48 pp.     Abrams     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-0521-2

Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. Kenichi Zenimura 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. Bold Japanese calligraphy brush-and-ink illustrations depict the painstaking work involved — and Zeni’s joy at playing.

Clemente!Perdomo, Willie  Clemente!
32 pp.     Holt     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-8050-8224-1

Illustrated by Bryan Collier. In Spanish-sprinkled animated free verse, a young boy named Clemente (to honor the Hall of Famer) recites the ballplayer’s awesome statistics. The text describes the sports legend’s dedication to family and the humanitarian work that ended with his untimely death while bringing aid to earthquake victims. Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations are vividly compelling. Reading list, timeline, websites.

rosenstock_streakRosenstock, Barb  The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero
32 pp.     Boyds/Calkins     2014
ISBN 978-1-59078-992-6

Illustrated by Terry Widener. In 1941, with “war spreading like a fever through Europe,” 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. Widener is a master at capturing the larger-than-life spirit of baseball through his perfectly attuned acrylic illustrations, and the text matches the art in its exuberance. Bib.

Becoming Babe RuthTavares, Matt  Becoming Babe Ruth
40 pp.     Candlewick     2013
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-5646-1

Tavares profiles the iconic George Herman “Babe” Ruth, shining a light on the flamboyant slugger’s charitable side. 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. Bib.

tavares_growing up pedro

Tavares, Matt  Growing Up Pedro
40 pp.     Candlewick     2015

Tavares highlights the warm relationship between two baseball greats, brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez, covering their youth in 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, where they have built churches, schools, and baseball fields. Gouache and watercolor paintings lovingly depict both players.

Audrey Vernick "Brothers at Bat"

Vernick, Audrey  Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
40 pp.     Clarion     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-547-38557-0

Illustrated by Steven Salerno. 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. The illustrations bring the story to vivid life, while the beautifully designed pages capture the feel of this slice of American history.

vernick_kid from diamond streetVernick, Audrey  The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
40 pp.     Clarion     2016

Illustrated by Steven Salerno. Edith Houghton was “magic on the field,” a baseball legend of the 1920s. Playing shortstop for the all-women’s professional team the Philadelphia Bobbies, she drew fans to the ballpark with her impressive talent. Besides that, Edith — “The Kid” — was just ten years old. Audrey Vernick relates, in conversational text, Houghton’s life on the team. Appealing digitally colored charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations evoke a bygone era of baseball.

winter_you never heard of casey stengelWinter, Jonah  You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?!
40 pp.     Random/Schwartz & Wade     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-87013-2
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-97013-9
Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-98748-9

Illustrated by Barry Blitt. Winter affectionately focuses on kooky Yankees manager Stengel, a mediocre player in his day (although he did best Babe Ruth in the 1923 World Series). Winter uses an old-timer’s storytelling style, playing up Stengel’s wackiness. Blitt’s illustrations use caricature and perspective to reflect Stengel’s larger-than-life persona. An author’s note is appended; the lack of sources and further reading is the only weak spot. Glos.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!Winter, Jonah  You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
40 pp.     Random/Schwartz & Wade     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-83738-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-93738-5

Illustrated by André Carrilho. In colloquial first-person Brooklynese, Winter adeptly chronicles Koufax’s star pitching career. 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. Websites. Glos.

winter_you never heard of willie mays

Winter, Jonah  You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!
40 pp.     Random/Schwartz & Wade     2013

Illustrated by Terry Widener. This companion to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, lenticular cover and all, 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 Widener’s dynamic acrylic illustrations. A solid, informative, and entertaining sports picture book.

Bill Wise "Silent Star"

Wise, Bill  Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy
40 pp.     Lee and Low     2012

Illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Wise’s biography 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. 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.

 

Intermediate

appel_pinstripe-prideAppel, Marty  Pinstripe Pride: The Inside Story of the New York Yankees
276 pp.     Simon     2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-1602-3
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-1604-7

This is a young readers’ version of the adult book Pinstripe Empire written by Appel, former Yankees PR director. The author offers an engaging discussion of the Yankees juggernaut–the team’s highs and lows–with a little social history thrown in as well. Black-and-white photos accompany the readable account. Fans will be happy to have this resource. Reading list. Ind.

bauer_soarBauer, Joan  Soar
298 pp.     Viking     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-451-47034-8

Baseball-crazy, heart-transplant-survivor Jeremiah, twelve, moves with his adoptive single dad to tiny Hillcrest, Ohio, where he endeavors to resurrect the town’s failing middle-school baseball team. There’s a lot going on in this heartstrings-tugging novel (even before you figure in subplots involving steroid abuse, a friend’s absent father, newborn eagles, and more), but Jeremiah’s upbeat personality and pragmatic voice should win readers over.

berk_say it ain't soBerk, Josh  Say It Ain’t So
279 pp.     Knopf     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-87009-5
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-97009-2
Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-98737-3

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.

burg_all the broken piecsBurg, Ann E.  All the Broken Pieces
219 pp.     Scholastic     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-08092-7

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.

bishop_distance to home

Bishop, Jenn  The Distance to Home
231 pp.     Random     2016

In chapters alternating between “this summer” and “last summer,” when her beloved older sister died, talented pitcher Quinnen works through her family’s unresolved grief. Having quit baseball, Quinnen initially resents the minor league ballplayer boarding in their home, but her love of the game gradually rekindles as she processes her loss. Bishop’s solid debut is an engaging mix of family drama and baseball.

girl who threwCochrane, Mick  The Girl Who Threw Butterflies
177 pp.     Knopf    2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-85682-2
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-95682-9

Six 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. 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.

doeden_world series

Doeden, Matt  The World Series: Baseball’s Biggest Stage
64 pp.     Millbrook     2014
Library binding ISBN 978-1-4677-1896-7
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-2543-9

Profusely illustrated with photographs and written in succinct, fast-moving prose, this historical overview of the World Series 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. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.

feinstein_dh

Feinstein, John  The DH
295 pp.     Knopf     2016

Alex’s baseball season begins with a surprise: his friend Matt wins the appeal of his PED suspension in football (The Walk On). However, Matt’s baseball prowess and desire to prove himself challenge their friendship. Series fans will engage with these returning characters as they maneuver jealousy and loyalty within their team, families, and friendships. Dramatized sports action scenes reward baseball fans.

gratz_brooklyn nineGratz, Alan  The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings
308 pp.     Dial     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-3224-7

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, Gratz has crafted a wonderful baseball book that is more than the sum of its parts.

lorenzi_long pitch home

Lorenzi, Natalie Dias  A Long Pitch Home
248 pp.     Charlesbridge     2016

Ten-year-old Bilal struggles to fit in after he immigrates from Pakistan to Virginia. Bilal also longs for his father — trapped in Pakistan by a legal dilemma — to join them. Writing in the first person, Lorenzi empathetically conveys Bilal’s confusions over language, the dissimilarities between cricket and baseball, and the misogyny of his teammates toward their only girl teammate.

nelson_we are the shipNelson, Kadir  We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
88 pp.     Hyperion/Jump at the Sun     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-7868-0832-8

Imagine listening to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks swapping tales. That easygoing, conversational storytelling is what Nelson achieves in this pitch-perfect history of Negro League baseball. His extensive research yields loads of attention-grabbing details. The grand slam, though, is the art: Nelson’s oil paintings have a steely dignity, and his from-the-ground perspectives make the players look larger than life. Bib., ind.

scaletta_mudvilleScaletta, Kurtis  Mudville
266 pp.     Knopf    2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-85579-5
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-95579-2

It’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. Through his cast of memorable characters, Scaletta’s baseball enthusiasm shines.

tavares_henry aaron's dream

Tavares, Matt  Henry Aaron’s Dream
40 pp.     Candlewick     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-7653-7
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7636-7654-4

Candlewick Biographies series. New ed., 2010. With understated, unfussy cadences, Tavares describes young Hank Aaron’s major-league dream in this smaller-size, reformatted edition originally published as a picture book. 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. Bib., ind.

Matt Tavares "There Goes Ted Williams"Tavares, Matt  There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
40 pp.     Candlewick     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-7655-1
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7636-7656-8

Candlewick Biographies series. New ed., 2012. Present-tense narration lends drama and immediacy to Tavares’s all-smiles-and-heroics biography of Boston Red Sox slugger Williams. Watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations depict Williams as large as a double-page spread can hold. The less smiley and heroic side to his character is reserved for an interesting author’s note. Originally published as a picture book, this is a smaller-size, reformatted edition. A list of stats is included. Bib., ind.

Something to ProveSkead, Robert  Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio
32 pp.     Carolrhoda     2013
Trade ISBN 978-0-7613-6619-5

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In 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. Skead uses a little-known baseball episode to portray larger issues of race and justice in America; grainy brown-toned illustrations nicely evoke the dreamy reminiscences of baseball legend. Bib.

 

Older

de la peña_mexican white boyde la Peña, Matt  Mexican White Boy
250 pp.     Delacorte     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-385-73310-6
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-90329-5

The one place Danny feels accepted is the baseball field. He imagines becoming a star, making his father proud enough to return from Mexico. This fast-paced baseball story is unique in its gritty realism, framed in the context of broken homes and bicultural pressures. De la Peña poignantly conveys the message that, despite obstacles, you must shape your own future.

fehler_beanballFehler, Gene  Beanball
119 pp.     Clarion     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-618-84348-0

More than two dozen narrators contribute their perspectives to this moving high school baseball story. After talented center fielder Luke “Wizard” Wallace is put in a coma by a star pitcher’s wild throw, Luke’s friends, family, teammates, and opponents weigh in on the event. Moments of genuine tension anchor Fehler’s insights into sports, competition, and ambition in this deftly handled free-verse novel.

gibney_see no colorGibney, Shannon  See No Color
186 pp.    Carolrhoda Lab     2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4677-7682-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-8814-4

Sixteen-year-old Alex Kirtridge’s white family tells her, “We don’t even see color.” They seem much more concerned with her future as a baseball star than her identity as an African American. But a new romance and the discovery of letters from her biological father raise questions for Alex. Gibney skillfully explores the topic of transracial adoption and identity in this thought-provoking coming-of-age story.

hampton_up close babe ruth

Hampton, Wilborn  Up Close: Babe Ruth
205 pp.     Viking     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-670-06305-5

This plain-dealing biography 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.” Ind.

kluger_my most excellent yearKluger, Steve  My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park
403 pp.     Dial     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-3227-8

For an eleventh-grade writing assignment, T.C., Augie, and Alé recount their freshman year shenanigans, friendships, and heartaches. Kluger has a fine touch with characterization (a subplot involving a deaf six-year-old’s obsession with Mary Poppins is poignant and believable), and his teenagers have strong, distinct voices. He also has a good ear for dialogue and establishes a definite sense of place.

koertge_shakespeare makes the playoffsKoertge, Ron  Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs
170 pp.     Candlewick     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-4435-2

Writer/first baseman/eighth grader Kevin (Shakespeare Bats Cleanup) takes on more challenging poetic forms as well as romantic complications. Baseball, of course, remains a fixed point, as his team heads to the playoffs. 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.

center fieldLipsyte, Robert  Center Field
280 pp.     HarperTeen     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-055704-1
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-055705-8

Mike expects to play center field until a new superb ballplayer appears. But is Oscar over-age? An illegal immigrant? And what are the coach’s motivations in determining disciplinary actions? What’s his grudge against the Cyber Club? Like a well-rounded ballplayer, Lipsyte shows versatility, focus, and virtuosity in writing about hero-worship, compromise, integrity, and emotion — seemingly without breaking a sweat.

sullivan_biggieSullivan, Derek E.  Biggie
270 pp.     Whitman     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-8075-0727-8

Biggie, son of a professional baseball player, is a three-hundred-pound loner. When his PE absences are exposed as fraudulent, he’s forced into a game of Wiffle ball. Now determined to make varsity baseball, pitch a perfect game, and win the girl of his dreams, Biggie makes drastic changes. This coming-of-age story with an endearing underdog protagonist hits all the right notes.

volponi_game sevenVolponi, Paul  Game Seven
245 pp.     Viking     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-670-78518-6

Julio Jr.’s papi, a pitcher for the Cuban National Team, defected to the U.S. six years ago. Now sixteen, Julio’s baseball future is hindered by the “traitor” label — until his Major League player father sends him an escape plan. Play-by-play action is set against a perilous ocean journey, as Julio battles the elements and family loyalty.

white_season of daring greatlyWhite, Ellen Emerson  A Season of Daring Greatly
422 pp.     Greenwillow  2017
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-246321-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-246323-4

High-school pitching phenom Jill Cafferty makes history as the first female Major League player when she signs with the Pittsburgh Pirates. She quickly comes to hate “all this fuss about me being a woman, when I really just want to go and…strike all of the sons of bitches out.” But it’s not going to be that easy, as she faces a lot of sexist abuse. A third-person limited narrative with plenty of action pulls the reader into Jill’s journey toward a surer sense of herself and her skills.

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