Mar 29, 2018

Baseball's Opening Day!

Anyone who has been following my posts is aware that I'm a fan of baseball.  Today (March 29, 2018) is Major league Baseball's OPENING DAY! For the first time in fifty years, every team is participating in a game today to open the season, and I hope it won't another fifty before it happens again. My own team, The MILWAUKEE BREWERS, will have our home opener on Monday, April 2, but I'll be watching today, hanging my hopes on an eager and building team that includes players who feel like old friends and those with new names and faces who are already becoming familiar from spring training. 

I think it's safe to say that every player on every MLB field today had his start in Little League, or his nation's version of such a program. It's also safe to say that every player on the field (and in the dugouts) today will be male. Which calls to mind several picture books I've reviewed in the past about the role of girls and women in baseball, on the field and in the management offices. It also makes me want to share a new release from prolific profiling picture book author, Heather Lang,   work has been featured here in the past.

ANYBODY'S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball is as lively and appealing as the cover art and character. You can learn about spunky and sporty Kathryn and her clever decision to PROVE that girls can play baseball as well as boys in the book trailer linked HERE.
Backmatter includes an author's note, timeline, and acknowledgements. At a time when girls were expected to be playing hopscotch and jumping rope, in a an all-white setting that was typical of mid-century America, Kathryn's slightly-fictionalized persistence still inspires and parallels some of the race-struggles for equal treatment that were happening in the same era. In her case, she could cut her hair and disguise her gender to prove herself while skin color did not offer the same options. Illustrator Cecilia Puglesi creates slightly cartoonish but lively and expressive characters.

Albert Whitman Company, March, 2018
To launch this opening day, I'm linking here to some of my many previous baseball-related picture book posts, beginning as far back as my first year of blogging:
April 6, 2012:  BATTER UP!  Biographies and profiles.
May 12, 2012:  BASEBALL STRIKES AGAIN  Two biographies, a nonfiction history of the role of women in baseball, and a novel in verse framed on a baseball-loving narrator.
June 16, 2012:  Here's to the Boys, Young and Old: An all-time favorite picture book story, with an unforgettable message.
January 13, 2013: Never Too Soon for Baseball... or Too Late!   Biography
April 14, 2013: An"Anti-Theme Month Post  Women with untold stories, including baseball.
July 13, 2013: Finding Inspiration in Biographies, AGAIN!: Biography, of course.
July 28, 2013: Who Do You Trust: Sports Heroes?  Biographies and profiles.
April 3, 2016: Baseball Biographies: Who Makes the Line-Up in Literature? Picture book biography of a woman in baseball management, and link to a middle grade historical novel with roots in Milwaukee and the earliest days of baseball, the Civil War era HATTIE'S WAR. (Note: offer for free download of ebook has expired)
July 11, 2016: Trauma and Racism: Picture Books Open Hard Conversations Baseball (and other) picture books about diversity and courage (fiction and nonfiction titles)

So you're officially invited to explore some of these baseball-based posts, now or after the game ends. And whoever your team allegiance supports, good luck on this opening day and throughout the season ahead. 

Mar 17, 2018

A Brief History of Time- and Stephen Hawking

Anyone reading this must be aware that the incredible life-force named Stephen Hawking ended recently. My reason for calling him a "life force" could be undeniably based on nothing more than the fact that he survived to the age of seventy-six, living fifty-five years with a diagnosis of ALS (at age twenty-one) that predicted his death within two years. Beyond that physical survival, though, what astonishes me (and everyone) is the boundless capacity of his mind to transcend the limitations of his body. Check out the profile picture on his website, here, capturing him mid-flight in a grin-inducing gravity-free adventure. 
His scientific insights, theories, and writings have transformed the field of astrophysics and will continue to do so for generations to come. It's no exaggeration to say that Stephen Hawking deserves accolades for a level of genius comparable to that of Einstein. If reading his long-time best-selling A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME feels too daunting, try reading any of the GEORGE titles in the series co-written by Lucy and Stephen Hawking for younger readers. The titles feel, to me, like a literary equivalent of the "Big Bang" in the sense that they will be launching a universe of future physicists. Stephen and his daughter Lucy, a theoretical physicist and educator, have made enigmatic and mind-boggling theories not only fathomable but exciting and inspiring.

Charlesbridge, 2010
Which leads me to a picture book that manages to transform Hawking's BIG BANG truths into a delightful cumulative rhyming text. Well-written sidebars clarify and uncomplicate (but not simplify) the forces of the universe for the youngest readers. OLDER THAN THE STARS is written by Karen C. Fox and illustrated by Nancy Davis. Before using the familiar 
"This is the..." refrain, Fox begins with five simple but profound declarative sentences, building to the startling conclusion:
"You are as old as the universe itself."

How in the world (no, in the universe!) is that possible? At the risk of overusing the word, I'd call Fox's text genius. Using words that are the ultimate in kid-friendly, she takes readers through the birth of the universe from bangs to bits, to blocks, giant puffs and red-hot stuff. At that point readers are thoroughly hooked, so that the formation of atoms strong and tough, blasts intense enough, dust old and new lead quite naturally to the sun, our daily view! 
But we haven 't yet reached the ultimate YOU, made of the stuff of that original BANG! Before that happens we'll read about our planet green and blue, plants, and animals. NOW you can see what a simple step it is to "people just like you."

The lyrics and the logic of this remarkable book, including those accessible side bars, present Stephen Hawking's insights and sense of wonder about our (understatement alert...) remarkable universe in ways that feel self-evident and natural. The glossary and time line (not to scale) in the back matter are valuable additions.The charm and appeal of the rhymed, cumulative text will have the youngest begging for rereads. So much so that by the time readers are ready for the "fine print" in the side bars and back matter they will have a firmly rooted sense of the truth of the BIG BANG THEORY on which to hang these more refined scientific details. 

Add this one to your STEM title list, but don't assume it's a book exclusively for older readers. Get this colorful, comprehensive picture book into the hands and ears of kids everywhere.
Special thanks to friend, poet, and author JoAnn Early Macken for mentioning this title, which is nearly a decade old but is entirely new to me! I'm sharing the favor with readers here and hoping you'll find and enjoy it yourselves.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.