Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Books About Baseball

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

SONGS:

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

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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.

OTHER BASEBALL BOOKS

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?

Reading the 2014-15 California Young Reader Medal Nominees

Twice a month, I get to read to two groups of second graders at a local school.   It’s so much fun to share books with them, especially since I get to explore longer stories, and talk about connections between books and authors that I don’t usually get to cover in my library storytimes.  They love to jump in with things they notice about the story: “This one rhymes!” or “This is a circle story!”  And they often catch things in the illustrations that I never noticed.

One of my favorite things to do with them is to read the Primary level picture books that are nominated for the California Young Reader Medal, and have them vote for the one they want to win (unfortunately, I just realized that I will have to wait until April to submit their votes to the CYRM committee).   The nominees are announced every February, and the winning books are announced on May 1.   I had already shared the 2013-2014 nominees with them earlier in the year (here’s my post from the storytime I did based on those).  This week I shared the nominees for next year.

The rules specify that in order to be eligible to vote, students have to first read or listen to all of the books nominated in a particular category.  Here are the Primary Level books for this year:

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

Last year’s nominees included Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies, so it was funny to find yet another rhyming baseball book in this year’s batch.  I hadn’t run across this one before the nominees were announced, but I can see why it was chosen.  The kids loved it.  It’s the story of Randy Riley, a kid genius who is terrible at baseball, but great at astronomy.  One night he sees a massive fireball barreling towards his hometown.  No one believes him.  It is up to Randy to save the day by building a giant robot, who hits the biggest home run ever.   This is a fun read-aloud in solid rhymed verse with a lot of dramatic build-up.  A number of the kids recognized Van Dusen’s distinctive illustration style from the Mercy Watson series (several of them also said his drawings reminded them of the movie Meet the Robinsons, which is actually based on a picture book by William Joyce.)  This book got 7 votes from the first class, and 5 from the second.

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Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld

This was one of my favorite books published in 2013.  I loved it so much that I gave it as a end-of-year-gift to my son’s third grade teacher.  I was happy to see it in the list of nominees, and many of the kids, having heard it read by their own teacher, were excited to see it as well.   It’s the story of an exclamation mark in a world full of periods.  No matter how much he tries to blend in, he always stands out.  One day he meets a question mark, who asks him so many questions that he shocks them both by shouting, “STOP!”  And he realizes he has a gift.  This is such a clever and perfectly executed metaphor about celebrating our differences, and a great punctuation lesson as well.  The illustrations are whimsical and simple, and drawn on the kind of lined paper that kids use for learning how to write.  Although the second class didn’t vote for it, this book got 6 votes from the first class.

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Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner; illustrated by Michael Emberley (Amazon.com link)

A librarian book!  A little girl is bothered by her school librarian’s boundless (and often goofy) enthusiasm for books, especially when she is asked to share a favorite book of her own.  The girl is convinced that she will never love a book as much as Miss Brooks does, until she reads Shrek.   I had fun sharing this one (especially reading all the girl’s complaints about the librarian), and the kids enjoyed pointing out characters from books they recognized, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  This book got 3 votes from the first class, and 4 from the second.

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Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino (Amazon.com link)

I hadn’t seen this book before the nominee announcement either, but the kids loved it!   Before I read it, I asked them what the word “Too” in the title meant, and we talked briefly about the meanings of too, to, and two.  The title is actually a pun, because there are two too tall houses in the story.  The book is about a rabbit and an owl who live side-by-side until one day they get in a private war to build the tallest house.  Soon their two houses are towering high above the earth, making them both unhappy until the wind blows them down.  The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, and got a number of laughs from the kids.  This book got 8 votes in both classes, which made it the favorite in the first, tied for first in the second, and was the clear favorite overall.  It was my daughter’s favorite as well.

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

Before I read this one, I asked the kids what other books they knew by Mo Willems.  Many of them recognized his name from the Gerald and Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon books.   I pointed out that this book, although written by Mo Willems, was illustrated by someone with a completely different art style.  The text is a departure from Willems’ other books too.  It’s a bittersweet story about a dog and a frog who play together during different seasons.  In Spring they play Country Frog games like splashing and croaking.  In Summer they play City Dog games like sniffing and barking.  In Fall Frog is tired, so they remember the fun times of the past.  In Winter, when City Dog rushes to the frog’s rock, he finds himself all alone.  Then in Spring, while he waits sadly for his friend, he meets a chipmunk, and makes a new friend.  This was a somber book compared to the others, but it’s subtle and sweet nonetheless.  When I asked the kids what they thought happened to the frog, most of them said that he probably died, but some thought he might be hibernating.  I appreciate that Willems leaves that ambiguous.  I wasn’t sure how this book would go over, given the more serious tone, but it got 6 votes from the first class, and 8 from the second (tying with Too Tall Houses for that class).

Overall, I was pleased with the CYRM book selection this year.  There was a nice variety to the books, and they were all fun to read aloud.   The kids seemed to genuinely enjoy all of them.   Too Tall Houses was the clear favorite, followed by City Dog, Country Frog, Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, Miss Brooks Loves Books, and Exclamation Mark.

Which book would you vote for?  And what would you nominate for next year?  The guidelines specify that the books have to be written by a living author and published within the past four years, which is pretty broad.  At the end of this school year, I think I’ll ask the second graders which books they would like to see in next year’s nominee list.