Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Books About Baseball


Model Magic Bat and Baseball by Ria

March 31 is Opening Day for Major League Baseball, and most of the kids in Pacifica are already deep into softball and Little League practice.  So this week, I did a storytime about baseball.  Here’s what we read:


Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen (Amazon.com link)

This book is nominated for the 2014-2015 California Young Reader Medal, and I had already shared it with some second grade classes last month.  It’s a rhyming story about a boy who is terrible at baseball, but a genius at invention.  When he looks through his telescope and sees a giant fireball rocketing towards Earth, Randy Riley quickly invents a robot who hits the greatest home run ever, and saves the town.  This one was a really big hit with the kids in my storytime group, and quickly got snatched up at the end.


Homer by Diane de Groat and Shelley Rotner (Amazon.com link)

The story about a dog baseball game featuring a big golden retriever named Homer, this is an adorable, funny book told in photographs.   The kids got into a mini-scuffle over who would get to check it out.


Who’s On First? by Abbott and Costello; illustrated by John Martz (Amazon.com link)

An illustrated version of the classic Abbott and Costello routine.  This would be a fun one to read with a partner, or use for Reader’s Theater.  The illustrator makes each player (Who, What, I Don’t Know, etc.) a different animal, making them easy to identify as the joke continues.  I’m not sure that all the kids got the joke, but they laughed as the dialogue got more heated and complicated, and several of them asked to check it out at the end.


Froggy Plays T-Ball by Jonathan London; illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz (Amazon.com link)

The Froggy books are always a hit, especially because the kids love joining in on yelling, “FROGGGYYY!”  (It’s a great opportunity to point out the word on the page too, which is important for pre-readers).   In this book, Froggy makes several mistakes at his T-ball game: throwing himself out, catching actual flies instead of fly balls, and finally running towards his real home, instead of home plate.


B-I-N-G-O!  I sang this to go along with Homer, and used a dog puppet, who barked the missing letters, and licked the kids’ faces in between verses.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game  We did this as a sing-along, and I played it on the ukelele.  (I found the chords on Ultimate-Guitar.com).

INSTRUMENT PLAY-ALONG WITH A CD: I’m Gonna’ Catch You by Laurie Berkner, from Under a Shady Tree: a catchy song with a brief baseball reference.

CRAFT: Model Magic Baseballs


Model Magic Baseballs, Soccer Balls, and a Bat by Olivia

This ended up being a lot of fun.  Originally, I had planned to just use white Model Magic for the ball, and have the kids draw in the lines for the seams with a red marker.  But I had a tiny bit of red Model Magic left in my bin, along with a package of black, so the kids ended up rolling thin strips of the red for the baseball seams instead.  They also used the black to make soccer balls, and some of them even made baseball bats.

If you aren’t familiar with Model Magic, it’s a soft, light, air-dry modeling clay made by Crayola, and available in most craft stores and on Amazon.com.  It worked beautifully for the balls, because it actually bounces.  It’s also light enough that, even if the kids threw the balls at one another, they wouldn’t hurt.  My son has used Model Magic for years to make little models of whatever he was interested in at the time: Pokemon, Mario, etc.  It’s far less messy than Play-Doh, and really easy to manipulate.


I also read baseball books to two classes of second graders this week, which was fun because I could share some of the longer ones.  Here’s what I read:

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares (Amazon.com link)

The second graders enjoyed this true story about George Herman Ruth, who was such a troublemaker as a child that his parents sent him away to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  St. Mary’s was strict (the boys could even be whipped if they so much as talked at mealtime), but the one thing that George loved there was baseball.  After he became a professional ball player, he heard that St. Mary’s had been destroyed in a fire, so he invited the school’s band to join him for the rest of the baseball season, and raised money to help them rebuild.   Very readable, with large, colorful illustrations.

Casey Back at Bat by Dan Gutman; illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Amazon.com link)

A funny follow-up to the old poem, Casey at the Bat.  In this story, Casey hits the ball, which rockets off over the fence, knocks the Tower of Pisa, breaks the nose off the Sphinx, scares the dinosaurs into hiding, and plummets back onto the field, where Casey is flied out.  The kids enjoyed the outrageous silliness of it, and it gave me a chance to put in a plug for Gutman’s chapter book series, The Baseball Card Adventures.  These are sports adventure stories for slightly older kids (grades 4-8) about a boy who uses baseball cards to travel back in time to meet famous ball players.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer; illustrated by C. F. Payne (Amazon.com link)

One of the second grade teachers had this book in her classroom, and pulled it out so the kids could hear the original poem.  Some of the vocabulary is a bit advanced, but the illustrations by C. F. Payne do a great job of conveying the story.  The kids all seemed to enjoy it.

There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares (Amazon.com link)

This was the favorite of a lot of the boys.  Another picture book biography by Matt Tavares (author of Becoming Babe Ruth).  This one tells the story of Ted Williams’ rise to fame as the greatest hitter who ever lived.  It includes an exciting anecdote about how his plane was damaged by enemy fire in the Korean War, forcing him to choose between ejecting and possibly breaking his legs, or taking his chances with a crash.  The kids also were appreciatively grossed out by the description of Williams hitting until blood streamed down his hands.  My only complaint about this book is that the kids were curious about when Williams lived and died, which wasn’t included in the text or the notes at the end.  But the kids in both classes loved it.

What are your favorite picture books about baseball?

Hopping into Spring

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It’s officially Spring, although, unlike the rest of the country, the San Francisco Bay Area hasn’t had much of a Winter.  Still, you can see some blossoms appearing on some of the fruit trees, and hear frog songs in the creeks and bushes.  I hadn’t ever really thought about frogs as a harbinger, until I noticed that several picture books made that connection.  So I made them the focus of my Spring storytime as well.  Here’s what we read:


Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (Amazon.com link)

I’m in love with this book.  It reminds me a lot of Press Here by Herve Tullet, because each page asks the reader to interact with the book in a different way.  The first page asks you to tap a bare tree, making a green leaf appear on the next page.  Tap the tree again, and more leaves appear.  Then buds appear, and turn to flowers, which transform into apples.  The leaves change color and fall off, and the whole thing begins again.  I read this book to three different groups this week: one preschool, one toddler, and one mix of ages.  They all loved following the directions on each page and seeing what came next.  A great book for units on trees or the seasons.


The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner and Jonathan Lambert (Amazon.com link)

I read this in honor of my coworker, Gwen Miller, who is retiring this month.  This is one of her favorite read-alouds.  It’s a pop-up version of the old joke about the wide-mouthed frog, who goes around asking other animals what they like to eat, until he meets an alligator who eats wide-mouthed frogs!  Sadly, our copy doesn’t circulate, so no one could check it out, but the kids all asked to have a chance to look through it before they went home.


999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura and Yasunari Murakami (Amazon.com link)

I prefaced this book by asking the kids if they knew what frogs started out as.  Surprisingly, only one of them knew about tadpoles, so I think if I do a frog theme in the future, I will be sure to share a book that describes that process in more detail.  This book was a hit anyway.  When 999 tadpoles become 999 frogs, their parents have to seek out a larger place to live.  On the way, their father is taken by a hungry hawk, and they all join together to save him.  The illustrations of the 999 frogs dangling in a huge chain from the hawk’s claws made all the kids laugh, and there was a mini-squabble over who would get to check it out at the end.


I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs (Amazon.com link)

I had originally planned to read City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems for my last book, but I had this one in my stack and the kids begged to hear it.  It’s an I Spy game using very simple clues to help kids to guess different animals: a blue whale, a gray elephant, a green frog.  What sets it apart are the large, colorful illustrations, and the hole in each page showing the color of the next animal.  The kids easily guessed all the animals, even the orangutan.  A great book for color or animal themes.


Five Green and Speckled Frogs  

I sang this with a crazy frog puppet I found in our animal bin, which makes burping noises or buzzing sounds when you put your hand in his mouth.  The kids all clambered around me for a turn.


Red Red Robin by Rosie Flores from Sing Along with Putumayo (Amazon.com link)

CRAFT: Paper Frog

Paper Frog by Lily

Paper Frog by Lily

There are lots of different versions of this craft online, mostly involving paper plates (here’s an example from Drexel Paper Cuts).  For mine, I cut out circles, and front and back feet from green construction paper.  I folded each circle in half, and cut a narrow piece out of the middle. I had some foam craft sticks in different colors for the tongue, and wiggly eyes (if I had had more time, it would have been fun to make eyes that stuck out on the top).

All of the frogs turned out differently.  Several kids put the eyes inside the folded piece of paper, so they looked like the one below.  They all loved the foam craft sticks, and some kids even made their own crafts (stick people and airplanes) by taping several of them together.

Paper frog by Olivia

Paper frog by Sara


Spring is Here by Will Hillenbrand (Amazon.com link)

An adorable book about a mole who tries to wake up his friend Bear in time for Spring.  Large, colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive text would make it perfect for toddlers.  My daughter loved it.

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Amazon.com link)

This is a sweet, somewhat sad, story, far different from most of Mo Willems’ other picture books.  It even has a different illustrator, and features large, expressive paintings of the animals in the countryside.  A city dog visits the country throughout the year, playing games with his friend Frog, until the Winter comes and Frog is nowhere to be found.  The following spring, the dog returns and makes a new friend.  A lovely, subtle book about the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life.

Everything Spring by Jill Esbaum (Amazon.com link)

A lovely book of large photographs featuring different things you might see in the Spring: baby birds, frogs, fawns, flowers, etc.  I didn’t get this one in time to share at storytime, but it would have worked well because of the photographs of tadpoles turning into frogs.

What are your favorite picture books about frogs or Springtime?


The Luck of the Irish: Books for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a terrible holiday for storytime.  Sure, there are several picture books about leprechauns and lots of adapted Irish folk tales, but they are almost all far too long to read to a preschool or toddler group.   Often I end up making it a “green” theme for that age group.  That was what I had originally planned for this week too, but instead of Family Storytime, we had a guest from the Spindrift School of Performing Arts lead a Movement and Music class, so I was off the hook.

This week though, I read to two classes of second graders, so I finally got to share the longer books.  It was actually a lot of fun.  The kids seemed to enjoy all of them (they’ve gotten in the habit of voting for their favorites at the end, and each of the books got a fair number of votes).  Plus I got to try out my Irish accent (admittedly I was a bit nervous to learn that one of the teachers was a first generation Irish-American, whose parents immigrated here before she was born).  Luckily she didn’t seem offended.  (By the way, if you enjoy playing around with accents, my friend Mai recently sent me this link from the BBC, where a dialect coach named Andrew Jack gives a quick overview of different accents across the UK).

These are the books I read:


The Last Snake in Ireland by Sheila MacGill-Callahan; illustrated by Will Hillenbrand (Amazon.com link)

An original story about St. Patrick’s attempts to rid Ireland of its last snake.  After trying to trick, and then capture, the snake in a wooden box, St. Patrick saves it from a eagle, and finally drops it into Loch Ness in Scotland, where it grows into the Loch Ness Monster.  It’s hard to find a book about St. Patrick that doesn’t delve too much into theology (always a bit risky in a public school or library setting), so this was a fun way to represent him.  Many of the kids, especially the boys, said this book was their favorite.


Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie DePaola (Amazon.com link)

Based on an Irish folk tale that DePaola heard from his grandfather, this is the story of Jamie O’Rourke, a man so lazy he would never lift a finger to help feed himself and his wife.  Then one day, he captures a leprechaun, who tricks him into accepting a potato seed instead of his pot of gold.  Jamie plants the seed, and grows the biggest potato in the world.  The whole town ends up eating it all winter long, until everyone is so sick of potatoes that they offer to keep Jamie and his wife supplied with food all year, as long as Jamie O’Rourke doesn’t plant another potato seed.  It would be fun to do a planting activity along with this book, and let the kids plant potato eyes to grow their own potatoes.


Lucky O’Leprechaun in School by Jana Dillon (Amazon.com link)

Someone is eating bites out of the cupcakes and cookies in Mr. Eliot’s classroom.  The kids suspect the new kid, Kevin O’Malley, until they discover there’s a leprechaun hiding in the ceiling.  Kevin helps them catch the naughty thief, and makes him promise to grant them one wish: a field trip to the moon.  The kids really enjoyed this one, and spent several minutes afterwards talking about what they would wish for: mostly they wanted money or infinite wishes.  This one actually is short enough to share with preschoolers, and I have read it at library storytimes in the past.  It is also one of a series of books about Lucky O’Leprechaun.


King Puck by Michael Garland (Amazon.com link)

A lonely man lives in the mountains with only his books, the fairies, and his goat Finny for company.  Until one day the fairies enchant his goat to make him talk.  The two head off to the fair in Killorglin, where Finny is crowned King Puck for a day, and granted one wish: more books to read.  This book was a huge hit, mostly because of the illustrations.  The kids kept commenting on how they “almost look real” (they are computer-generated), and they loved pointing out the fairies hiding on each page.  The note at the back of the book explains about the history of the King Puck contest, which really is held every year in Killorglin.  The girls especially liked this one, and I think it would probably work for a preschool storytime.


The Hungry Leprechaun by Mary Calhoun and Roger Duvoisin (Amazon.com link)

An original story about a hungry man who finds an even hungrier leprechaun.  The man, Patrick O’Callahan, badgers the leprechaun into trying to conjure up some gold, but the leprechaun has forgotten how to do magic.  His attempts to make gold out of dandelion soup and the sunbeams on the floor yield them nothing but a puddle full of frogs, but when he tries to enchant the rocks, they turn into something white and tasty that feeds them both and everyone else.  The kids liked the part where the leprechaun says something like, “We boiled them in a POT and ATE them.  We should call them POT-ATE-o’s.”  Several kids commented on how only every other page is in color, and the color is limited, which gave me a chance to discuss how printing in color used to be expensive, and was usually used sparingly (this book was published in 1962, and unfortunately appears to be out of print).

What are your favorite books for Saint Patrick’s Day?

Oh, the Places We’ll Go! A Celebration of Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ Birthday (his 110th, if he were still with us) was on March 2, so a Dr. Seuss storytime was definitely in order for this week.  It’s not as easy as it might sound, because most of his books are too long for the baby/toddler crowd.   But a number of his easy reader books still fit the bill for my Family Storytime.

I’m still in awe of Dr. Seuss.  I don’t think anyone’s ever quite matched his genius for telling compelling stories in memorable rhymed verse using simple language, all with unforgettable characters and artwork.   As a kid, I think I owned only three of his books: The Eye Book; Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose (which is admittedly a bit dark, but I was obsessed with it); and The Cat and the Hat Comes Back.  (Although oddly, not The Cat in the Hat).  I read them each countless times.  The Eye Book was actually the very first book I remember reading on my own.  (It’s also the first book I remember reading that mentioned pink underpants!)

For Family Storytime, I had pulled a wide selection of Seuss books.  I was hoping to get to The Cat and the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, but the storytime audience that night was large, with a number of younger, wiggly guys, so I stuck to the shorter ones (although oddly, a number of these are not actually illustrated by Dr. Seuss).  The kids loved them all.

I started out the storytime by asking the kids if they knew what Dr. Seuss’ real name was.  Most of them didn’t know, or had forgotten, that it was Theodor Seuss Geisel.  I also like to point out that a lot of his books, especially the beginning readers, were written under the pseudonym Theo LeSeig (in many libraries, these are often shelved under L instead of S, which can make them hard for kids to find).


Wacky Wednesday by Theo. LeSeig; illustrated by George Booth (Amazon.com link)

This one actually ended up being a bit tricky, because the kids kept popping up and down in front of me in their eagerness to point to the wacky things happening on each page.  Finally, I stood up so they could all see.  In spite of that, they were all mesmerized.  My daughter loves this book, and laughs at every wacky illustration.


Please Try to Remember the First of Octember by Theo. LeSieg; illustrated by Art Cumings (Amazon.com link)

I actually wasn’t familiar with this one until I helped someone find it on the shelf last week.  What a great book!  The narrator promises a boy that he can have absolutely anything he wants…on the first of Octember.  I love that it’s kind of a wish fulfillment book, with money falling from the sky, skateboard TVs, swimming books, giant hammocks, and other fantasies from the mind of Dr. Seuss.  It would make a great lead-in to a drawing/writing assignment for elementary school students: what you ask for on the first of Octember?


The Eye Book by Theo. LeSieg; illustrated by Joe Mathieu (Amazon.com link)

As I mentioned above, this was the first book I remember reading on my own, and I’m pretty sure I can recite the whole thing from memory.  I still consider it one of the best books for beginning readers.  The text is simple, with repeated phrases (“They see a _____,” “They look at ______”).  The rhymes and illustrations help kids decipher the new words.  It’s also a great book for a classroom unit or storytime about the five senses.


The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com link)

A great book for teaching left and right.  I actually had the kids stand up and act it out: standing on their left or right foot, holding their feet up, etc.   It was also the shortest of the books I read, and was the perfect one to end with.  I paired it with The Hokey Pokey the next day for a Toddler Storytime, and it was a hit there as well.


I did several active songs like Shake My Sillies Out and Five Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, to give the little guys a chance to move around.  Then I had the kids grab stuffed animals to dance with for Waltzing with Bears.  This song was written by Dale Marven (not Seamus Kennedy, as I had written originally.  Thanks for Mike for the correction), but based on a song from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat Songbook called My Uncle Terwilliger Waltzes With Bears.  Here are the lyrics as I remember them, along with the uke chords I used.  Click on the triangle to hear the first verse and chorus:

Waltzing with Bears

G                                               C                          G
My uncle Walter goes waltzing with bears.
D            G
It’s a most unbearable state of affairs.
G                                                                C                          G
Every Saturday night, he creeps down the backstairs,
G             C                  G                                D                     G
Sneaks out of the house and goes waltzing with bears!

G                                             C                        G
He goes wa-wa-wa-wa, waltzing with bears,
D                                                     G
Raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears too.
G                                                             C                         G
There’s nothing on earth Uncle Walter won’t do,
G    C                G                C                    G
So he can go waltzing, wa-wa-wa-waltzing,
G   C                  G                D                       G
So he can go waltzing, waltzing with bears!

I went to his room in the middle of the night.
I tiptoed inside and turned on the light.
But to my surprise there was no one in sight.
I’m sure Uncle Walter goes waltzing at night!


I gave Uncle Walter a new coat to wear,
But when he came home he was covered with hair,
And lately I’ve noticed there’s several new tears,
I’m sure Uncle Walter goes waltzing with bears!


We asked Uncle Walter, “Why won’t you be good?
And do all the things that we say you should?
We know that you’d rather be out in the wood,
We’re afraid that we’ll lose you, lose you for good!”


We begged and we pleaded, “€œOh please won’t you stay!”
And managed to keep him at home for a day,
But the bears all barged in, and they took him away!
Now he’s waltzing with pandas, and he can’t understand us,
And the bears all demand at least one dance a day!


CRAFT: Cat in the Hat Fruit Kebabs

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There are a number of variations of this snack ideas online, including some that use grapes, marshmallows or bananas to make the head of the cat.  For mine, I printed this picture from PBSkids.org, then cut out the cat, cutting off his hat.  I taped the picture onto wooden chopsticks for the kids, then gave them bowls of bananas and strawberries to make the hat.  They didn’t last long!  This would be a fun and healthy patterning activity too.


Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Jeanine Asche

Talk about a reading challenge: this book is full of tongue-twisters that get harder and crazier with each page!

Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now? by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Lindsey Tear

Between this book and Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, I get the impression that Dr. Seuss had trouble with unwanted houseguests.  This is a fun one to read aloud.  Lindsey, who recommended it, also mentioned this interesting fact from Wikipedia: “In a July 1974 collaboration with political humorist Art Buchwald, Dr. Seuss took a two-year-old copy of his book, crossed out ‘Marvin K. Mooney’ wherever it occurred and wrote in ‘Richard M. Nixon’. With Dr. Seuss’s consent, Buchwald and his editors reprinted the markup as a newspaper column, published July 30, 1974. Beset by Watergate, U.S. President Nixon resigned ten days later on August 9.”

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Linda Anderson

My son used to demand to hear this one every night for what felt like weeks!  It’s a wild ride through all manner of wacky Dr. Seuss inventions: Yinks and Yops and Zans and Gox and lots and lots of fish.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Linda Anderson and Michelle Rosoff

I still have the copy of this my parents gave me when I graduated high school.   A great read for any age, describing all the ups and downs, frustrations and hopes of growing up.

What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Ria Tajbl

I know this story from the Seuss collection called The Sneetches and Other Stories.  I didn’t realize it had since been published as a separate picture book with glow-in-the-dark ink.  It’s a fun, slightly spooky story about pale green pants “with nobody inside them!”  A good read-aloud for a storytime about emotions and fear.

I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com link) Recommended by Michael Lambert

I admit I don’t think I’ve ever read this one, but I will have to check it out!  A bold, little version of The Cat in the Hat brags that he can beat 30 tigers, but then reconsiders until the number gets smaller and smaller.  Michael Lambert, who recommended this one, also mentioned that one of the other stories in this collection, King Louie Katz, is a great one for storytime.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Maria Kurland

Another childhood classic about a wonderful, naughty character.  As a kid, I always wished the Cat in the Hat would pop by my house for a visit, in spite of all the trouble he caused.

I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla-Sollew by Dr. Seuss (Amazon.com linkRecommended by Thomas Moore

My parents are always telling me “there is no Utopia,” and this book is proof.  When the hero of this book stubs his toe, he decides to move to “the City of Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles! At least, very few.”  Until he gets there, and realizes every place has its problems.

What is your favorite Dr. Seuss book and why?