By MARIA RUSSO
APRIL 28, 2016
New picture books include “You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?!”
You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?!
Written by Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Barry Blitt.
Casey Stengel is an inspired choice for this third of Winter’s “You Never Heard of …” biographies of baseball greats, each illustrated by a different artist. For one thing, simply by virtue of being a manager rather than a player, Stengel is far less likely to ring a bell than the series’ previous two subjects, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax. But the innovative Stengel really should be better known: After all, as Winter puts it with his usual hyperbolic charm, in 11 years managing the New York Yankees he led the team to “TEN pennants and SEVEN World Series wins. And that includes FIVE World Series wins in a row — a record that still stands.” And now that professional sports is seriously big business and few involved ever risk showing much in the way of an interesting personality, it’s refreshing to hear about Stengel’s “loveable goofball” antics, “like the time he tipped his cap to some fans who were booing him, and out came a sparrow.”
Blitt and Winter have teamed up before on picture books about the Founding Fathers, and here their sensibilities once more mesh brilliantly. In the baseball world of the mid-20th century they channel a time-honored strain of the American psyche: wholesome but obsessive and offbeat, wired and weird. Blitt gives Stengel a foreshortened midsection, ears that don’t quite match and eyes as clear and blue as the skies over Yankee Stadium on a springtime game day.
40 pp. Schwartz and Wade. $17.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
The William Hoy Story
Written by Nancy Churnin. Illustrated by Jez Tuya.
This delightful and illuminating biography recounts the extraordinary life of William Hoy, who was born in Ohio in 1865 and went deaf at age 3 after a case of meningitis. William adored baseball, practicing constantly, and he had a big, loving family who supported him when he was asked to try out for a professional team. By the time his career was over, he had revolutionized the sport by suggesting to an umpire that he make calls — balls and strikes, out and safe — understandable to him by using American Sign Language, along with saying the words. An added benefit was that fans in the stands would be able to know the calls immediately. Soon players and managers, too, took William’s idea a step further, using signs to communicate plays to each other without revealing them to the other team.
Anyone who plays or watches baseball today will experience a jolt of recognition as Churnin explains the genesis of this small but central aspect of the game. She tells William’s story patiently and clearly, with a wonderfully matter-of-fact tone about the ways a deaf person navigates life. She strikes just the right balance between reporting the hardships and discrimination he faced — an owner who tried to underpay him, fellow players who laughed at and tricked him — and emphasizing the personal grit that allowed him to persevere and overcome daunting obstacles. Tuya’s simple digital illustrations are filled with feeling and individuality, neatly conveying motion and action but also, somehow, the dignity of William’s silence.
32 pp. Albert Whitman. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
Written by Audrey Vernick. Illustrated by Steven Salerno.
For a while now, picture book makers have been going to town on the eternal reality that truth is stranger than fiction. Add this biography of the baseball player Edith Houghton, known as the Kid, to the list of nonfiction picture books as surprising as they are absorbing. The youngest of 10 children, Edith spent her early years haunting sandlot games and staring out the window at nighttime baseball games played in the park across the street. She was a shortstop and an impressive hitter, too, and in 1922, at the age of 10, she left her Philadelphia home to travel with a professional women’s baseball team called the Bobbies for the bobbed hairstyle they were all expected to wear. By the time she was 13, she was en route to Japan for a tour against college-level male teams.
Vernick and Salerno, who previously teamed up for another book about a lesser-known chapter of baseball history, “Brothers at Bat,” bring enthusiasm and a boatload of historical detail to the story. We learn about life onboard an ocean liner, the minutiae of the Bobbies’ daily routines in Japan, the many adjustments Edith had to make to her uniform to make it fit her tiny frame. The emphasis is on Edith’s experiences navigating her unusual opportunities and seeing the world, sans parents, at such a young age— there is not much actual baseball in this book, which may be a bit disappointing to some (me included) who want to know more about what made Edith such a good player and indeed what the women’s professional baseball game was like in the 1920s. Salerno’s appropriately lively illustrations are chockablock with observant historical detail, though I wish he had brought more individuality to the players’ faces and bearings — oddly, even beyond their identical haircuts the Bobbies seem largely indistinguishable.
40 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
SOURCE: (see pictures and link below)