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.

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team is a nominee for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Brothers at Bat, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno, is the true story of an all-brother baseball team. This awe-inspiring story tells of the Acerra family of New Jersey and the twelve brothers who formed their own baseball team…and still left brothers on the bench!

The Acerra brothers played baseball in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and into the 50s. Several of the brothers took time away from their beloved sport and family to join the war effort during World War II, but all of them came back home and continued to play as a family team.

The Acerra brothers played their last game as a team in 1952, but they continued to share the importance of teamwork with their children and grandchildren. In 1997, the brothers were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the longest-playing all-brother team.

The author’s note at the end of the book provides more information about this remarkable team of brothers and the family values that kept them as a team even when they no longer played baseball as one. Brothers at Bat sends a message to readers of all ages that teamwork–whether in sports, school, family, or any other aspect of life–is truly vital and has the power to make amazing things happen.


To paraphrase that gem of baseball cinema, The Sandlot:  For Jack Mogens, baseball is life…and he’s good at it. This sixth-grader is looking to start in left field this year. He just needs to convince the coaches that he’s the man for the job. Jack’s got to be an outstanding outfielder and a top-notch hitter to claim the spot. Somehow, everything works out, but things won’t stay great for long.

In the first game of the year, Jack is plunked by an inside pitch (his worst enemy). His cage gets rattled…as do his nerves. Now, at every at-bat, all Jack can think about is getting hit by another pitch. Fear is taking over his waking–and sleeping–hours, and Jack doesn’t know how he can possibly get over this and get his head back in the game.

It’s not exactly easy to get over being hit in the head by a pitch, especially when one of your own teammates seems bent on making it happen again. Jack just can’t let go of what happened to him, and it’s starting to cause problems with more than just baseball. He’s having nightmares. His relationships with his parents and friends are also suffering. Jack is lying to cover up just how badly this incident is making him feel, and he knows that his lies will eventually catch up to him.

Can he turn things around before he gives up the game he loves entirely? Or will being plunked kill his baseball dreams for good? Read Plunked by Michael Northrop to learn what one kid will have to do to get back in the game.

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.

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson

This is a wonderful story about how truly brave Jackie Robinson was…both as a pioneer in major league baseball and as a father. The illustrations are superb and tell their own story. This book, written by Jackie Robinson’s daughter, is obviously a labor of love. The love for her father absolutely flows through the text. Definitely a must-read!

Testing the Ice is nominated for the 2011-12 South Carolina Picture Book Award.