Becoming Babe Ruth

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares is a nominee for the 2014-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

As a lifelong baseball fan, I’ve always been fascinated with Babe Ruth (even if he did play for the Red Sox and the Yankees). I haven’t, however, really thought about what made Babe Ruth into the greatest baseball player who ever lived. At least, not until now. Matt Tavares’ wonderful picture book, Becoming Babe Ruth, takes a look at what turned a boy into a legend.

George Herman Ruth definitely didn’t start out as a success story. At the age of seven, this young trouble-maker was sent to a reform school in his hometown of Baltimore. He, along with 800 other boys, attended Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a strict school where they lived, worked, and learned a bit about discipline.

Saint Mary’s wasn’t all bad, though. It was here that George Ruth began playing baseball. With the guidance of Brother Matthias, this young man developed into a world-class baseball player, and he could do it all. He could hit, run, and pitch. And pretty soon, he attracted some notice. In 1914, George Ruth was offered a contract with the Baltimore Orioles. Shortly after he started playing, he was given the nickname Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth didn’t stay in Baltimore for long. He went on to play with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, but he never forgot where he came from. He knew that Saint Mary’s and Brother Matthias made him the man he was, and he did everything he could to give back to them.

Becoming Babe Ruth is an inspirational story about an American legend. It shows readers young and old the importance of honoring one’s past and the path taken to success. None of us gets through life alone, and remembering one’s roots and those who helped us along the way is vital.

I know this book will be extremely popular with my students. (Baseball is life for many of them.) Becoming Babe Ruth is a welcome addition to any school, public, or classroom library. Its message transcends age and appeals to the baseball fan in all of us.

Barbed Wire Baseball

Barbed Wire Baseball, written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, is nominated for the 2014-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Barbed Wire Baseball is a welcome addition in public, school, and classroom libraries, and it highlights a shameful, often overlooked period in American history–the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura loved baseball. He played professionally in the U.S., and he went a long way to making the sport popular in his native Japan. He even played with baseball legends like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, however, Zeni’s baseball dreams would take a turn.

Zeni, his family, and over 100,000 Japanese Americans were sent to live in internment camps. These loyal Americans had done nothing wrong. They were rounded up solely because of their ancestry. The internment camps were little more than prisons, often surrounded by barbed wire.

Zeni was sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, and, though he was far from home and in a horrible situation, he did not let that keep him from the sport he loved so much. Along with his sons and friends at the camp, Zeni built a baseball field. This field not only allowed them to play baseball, but it also provided some measure of hope that their dreams could still come true. Even in the toughest of circumstances, happiness can be found.

Barbed Wire Baseball could be a great jumping off point for further research about World War II and the despicable way the U.S. treated loyal Americans. (Many readers will likely make connections between internment camps and concentration camps.) An afterword and bibliography provide more information about the life of Zeni Zenimura and the internment of Japanese Americans.

Henry Aaron’s Dream

Any Atlanta Braves fan worth his or her salt knows the name Hank Aaron, but fans may not realize everything Henry Aaron went through to become one of the best players in the history of baseball.

In Henry Aaron’s Dream, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, author and illustrator Matt Tavares tell the story of how the dream of one young boy came true, despite enormous pressure from those who couldn’t see past the color of his skin.

This book takes readers from Aaron’s boyhood, playing baseball with anything he could find, through his time with minor and Negro league teams, to his triumphant entry into the world of Major League baseball. The journey was not easy, but Henry Aaron, with help and inspiration from his hero Jackie Robinson and other leaders who’d gone before him, emerged as one of the best and most beloved baseball players ever.

For a great Black History Month lesson revolving around baseball, pair this book with Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson.

This wonderful book, despite being a picture book, is intended for readers in third grade and up. It does use a racially insensitive word, but only to depict the kinds of hatred that Hank Aaron and other black baseball players faced on a regular basis.