Love the movie “A League of Their Own”? Check out these 5 children’s books about women in baseball

If the phrase “There’s no crying in baseball” means anything to you, then you’re probably a fan of the 1990s film “A League of their Own,” a movie I grew up watching and loving. I didn’t play baseball, but the theme of female empowerment through sports (especially soccer) was a big one in my family. Even as a child I loved knowing that this inspiring film was based on a true story.

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the inaugural games of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the real league created in the 1940s to keep America’s favorite pastime alive while American men fought in WWII. But the white women who played in the AAPGL aren’t the only ones who have stepped up to the plate over the years. Here are 5 picture books about girls and women who loved baseball.

Anybody's Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League BaseballAnybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball by Heather Lang

The year is 1950. The girl is Kathryn Johnston, who loves baseball so much that she cuts off her braids, puts on a ball cap and tries out for a local team as “Tubby,” a boy who can block ground balls and hit home runs with the best of them.
This picture book tells the triumphant true story of the first girl to play Little League baseball. Though set against the social context of constricted gender roles, the supporting characters – including Kathryn’s mom, dad, and coach – show that not everyone of the time period thought girls and women less capable. And for those who did, Kathryn proves them wrong.
Back matter includes a timeline about women and girls in baseball and more details on how long it took for girls to be officially allowed in Little League.

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley StoryShe Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick

Effa Manley was not just a successful sports executive and the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She was a person who didn’t accept the status quo. Not when white-owned stores in Harlem didn’t hire black employees. Not when other baseball team owners said women shouldn’t be involved. Not when the Baseball Hall of Fame didn’t include Negro League players among its inductees.
Vernick deftly weaves together a wide range of Effa’s achievements in this well-paced picture book with pleasing illustrations by Don Tate.
One disappointment: there’s no back matter with extra information about Effa or how the book came about.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith HoughtonThe Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick

What a cool story. Edith Houghton was just 10 when she joined the teenagers and women on the Philadelphia Bobbies pro baseball team in 1922. I love that this is a story about a female athlete where the focus isn’t on her gender (though I like those stories), too. The focus is on her skills and her adventures with her team, which included a months-long tour in Japan, where the Bobbies played pro and college men’s team. The charcoal, ink and gouache illustrations are just right for making the story real and relatable to kids.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

Players in PigtailsPlayers in Pigtails by Shana Corey

Did you know that the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is about a girl who loves baseball? Shana Corey takes that fictional girl and puts her in the real setting of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in this fun, upbeat sports story.

And if those aren’t enough girls-and-baseball books for you, here are a few more that I haven’t read myself:

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The Flood, a poem for #lovemadevisible

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“Más amor”/More love. Graffiti in Mexico City, May 2011. Photo by Kara Newhouse

Happy February! Have you sent your Valentines yet?

There’s a love-themed poetry and art showcase on the blog of the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI this month. My poem, “The Flood,” was featured on Friday.

I’m loving all the creative contributions to the #lovemadevisible showcase, so make sure to check those out, too.

I’ve also been reading Valentine’s Day picture books recently. Let me know if you have recommendations.

The Best Books I Read in 2017: Middle grade, YA & Adult

I’m back with a continuation of yesterday’s post on my favorite picture books I read in 2017. Today’s list covers my favorites from middle grade through adult.

What were the best books you read last year?

Middle Grade
The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I love everything about this book! Manga-style illustrations are infused with fairy tale magic resulting in wonderfully diverse characters, adorable dragons, memory-evoking tea, and a gentle friendship story about a capable girl learning both the craft of blacksmithing and the art of tea dragon caretaking.

In addition to the story there are some delightful “Extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” at the end. Reading it enriched my second and third looks at the tea dragons’ quiet behavior throughout the illustrations. The handbook includes descriptions of four tea dragons not featured in this book; I sure hope that means we’ll get to see them in a sequel!

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. WhiteSome Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

This book made me want to buy a farm house in the woods where I can live and write. (Except I wouldn’t want to take care of pigs.) A lovely biography of a beloved writer, illuminated by all kinds of archival document treasures and Melissa Sweet’s wonderful collage and illustration work. Quite long, so more for an older elementary school crowd, especially those who’ve read White’s books!

Roller GirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl evokes all the joys and frustration of pre-teen friendship in the fun, off-beat setting of a roller derby camp.

 

Young Adult
Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book is enchanting, clever and also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking not because of a single event but the accumulation of small ones gone wrong, mostly due to the folly of youth and inexperience. It’s the truth of that woven into this fantasy world that made me cry — and pick it up to re-read immediately.

FlygirlFlygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I picked this up at the library with only a glance at the synopsis — seeing that it was about a young woman training to be a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot, a WWII program) was enough of a hook for me. But within a few pages, and after getting confused by the cover art versus the opening narration, I learned that there’s an extra layer of social complexity at play in Flygirl. The light-skinned black main character, Ida Mae, is not only breaking gender barriers as a pilot; she’s also defying Jim Crow roles by passing as white to enlist. The book’s historical setting is thoroughly researched and the plot is crafted with strong, believable emotional stakes. Sometimes Ida Mae’s internal feelings could be delivered more subtly, but that didn’t prevent me from becoming totally absorbed in this story. Would love to see this as a movie.

Adult

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia WoolfA Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa

One of my favorite books I read this year. The subject is inherently interesting to me, but it also very well executed. Each literary friendship the authors selected has a narrative arc and the writing rich with description that make it easy to imagine the time, place and people. So it almost feels like reading one of the subjects’ novels rather than a work of nonfiction.

Additionally, I loved reading about Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney’s own writing friendship and their research process for the book. Unfortunately, gaps in historical records led to a lot of sentences that begin with phrases like “She must have felt …”. I don’t mind their informed conjectures but the repetition of those phrases disrupted an otherwise active and engaging writing style. I also wasn’t overly compelled by their arguments that female literary friendships have been vastly overlooked in contrast to male literary friendships. I was not familiar with any of the latter examples they cited, but that may just be because I don’t dwell in the world of literary biographies. Other readers may be more convinced of the argument that this book is a historical corrective. Either way you see that, it’s a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys British literature, women’s history and shine theory.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Totally absorbing. A rich world full of enchantment, complicated characters and political twists that will keep you guessing as to whose story you can really believe. And the ending! Gah. If you’re averse to cliffhangers, wait till the next book comes out before you start this one.

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American TeenWhat Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

A tough read given the subject — a college athlete’s suicide and the broader issues around mental health among American youth — but also a must-read for anyone working with teens. Fagan sensitively crafts a heart-wrenching narrative while acknowledging the things she/we cannot know about what was going on in Maddy’s mind leading up to her death. I do wish some of the data and other research referenced had been footnoted for further reading.

The Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again ChristiansThe Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan

I picked up “The Reappearing Act” from the library on a Saturday afternoon and finished it by Sunday morning. Why couldn’t I put it down? Because this slice-of-life memoir has all the page-turner-y goodness of a novel, plus the authenticity of author’s real struggles as a gay college athlete circa 2001. Fagan deftly alternates between the process of coming out over several basketball seasons and flashbacks to earlier memories that play off the main action as it unfolds. The result is a narrative arc propelled by both vivid details and emotional heft.

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Cirque du Soleil. If you love all of these things, you’ll love The Night Circus.
*This was actually one I returned to and re-read because I loved it so much in 2016.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Don’t wait. Read this now. Funny, relatable, smart and compassionate essays on being a fat woman in a world that disdains both those characteristics.

The Best Picture Books I Read in 2017

2017 was a wonderful reading year for me. I don’t mean by volume (I haven’t counted), but in terms of the number of excellent books I read. Below are some of the picture books from the top of my list. Tomorrow I will post the middle grade, young adult, and adult books I liked best last year.

(Note: These titles were not necessarily published last year. That is simply when I read them.)

Interstellar CinderellaInterstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Loved this playful STEM-oriented version of Cinderella. And the twist in the ending made me laugh in delight.

Specs for RexSpecs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail
I love everything about Rex — his wild mane, the way he tries to stuff his new specs into the cereal box, and all of his other antics as he copes with this unwanted accessory.

This book marvelously captures the emotions and behaviors of a child in a preschool classroom. As a writer I typically pay more attention to the words in a picture book, but this one had me paging back through multiples times just to delight in the images. Between this and “One Word from Sophia,” Yasmeen Ismail is quickly finding a spot among my favorite illustrators.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a NeighborhoodMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy

Maybe Something Beautiful shows kids the power they have to shape the world in their vision. It begins with a child, Mira, looking out the window from her colorful bedroom to the view of a gray city. On her way to school, she sprinkles art and color all around her. When she meets a muralist, they join forces to brighten the city. Then the whole neighborhood gets involved.
This vibrant, pulsing celebration of art and community-building is inspired by the true story of how Rafael Lopez (the book’s illustrator), and his wife, Candice, transformed San Diego’s East Village.

Happy DreamerHappy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Sometimes jubilant, sometimes quiet — across the pages this book will make you smile. I especially love the fold-out pages at the end showing many ways to be a dreamer with different characters and personalities for all readers to identify with.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-ExplorerLift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson

I heard about Stephen Bishop, slave explorer/guide, during my visit to Mammoth Cave in 2014, and I’m so glad someone has written a children’s book about him. Not just that, I’m glad that Heather Henson in particular wrote a children’s book about him. Picture book biographies often follow a similar narrative pattern, but this one charts its own path. That’s likely in part because of limited historical records about Stephen Bishop, but Henson combined known info and thoughtful imaginings elegantly. In first person narration, Stephen guides the reader through his story just as he guided thousands of visitors through Mammoth Cave. The tour is as much a lesson on historiography as history, starting with the first passage:
“The past is like a cave sometimes. Dim and dusty, and full of twisting ways. Not an easy thing to journey down. ‘Specially when you’re searching out a path that’s hardly been lit, a trail that’s never been smooth or flat or plain to follow.”
It’s also honest about the time Stephen lived in:
“Why? Is that what you want to know? Why is it against the law to teach me my letters?
Because I am a slave. Because am the property of a white man. Because I am bought and sold, same as an ox or a mule; bought and sold, along with the land I work.”
The silhouetted faces cut and pasted like a wave over a water color ox remind me of imagery in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (the cramped, dark place full of bodies that the titular character disjointedly recalls). OK that makes is sound a little intense for a children’s book, but Bryan Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations are actually perfect, lending both a seriousness and intimacy to Stephen’s tale. This book is not a story of jubilant triumph over the odds, but one of quiet power in unjust circumstances.

Silent Music: A Story of BaghdadSilent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford

A tribute to the beauty of Arabic calligraphy, wrapped up in the story of a contemporary boy and his hero, a famous calligrapher from 800 years ago. While the book is set against the backdrop of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, readers will connect with Ali’s dedication to his favorite activity and the family scenes that could occur in any home around the world. The tapestry of calligraphy and images in the illustrations evoke the richness and depth of the written language Ali practices.

The Blobfish BookThe Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

Brilliant. Awe-inducing facts infused with humor from a lovable, vulnerable main character.

Four Feet, Two SandalsFour Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams

When a relief truck delivers clothing to a refugee camp in Pakistan, Lina and Feroza each find one yellow sandal. The two girls share the sandals, along with their daily chores, memories of lost family members, and hopes for a new home. After Lina and her mother get word they will be resettled in America, the girls decide what will happen to the sandals, but the future of their friendship (and lives) remains unknown.
This touching story opens a window onto life in a refugee camp in a heartfelt, non-didactic way, as well as speaking to the meaning of friendship. Timely and timeless.

The simple solution to ditching book envy and finding your writing voice

Have you ever felt book envy? You read a great story, or even just a great opening line, and wish you’d written it?

I wouldn’t really call it envy when I feel this way, because that implies resenting the actual author, when what I feel is more admiration with a touch of kicking myself for not thinking of an idea. That’s how I felt when I read “Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished” by Camille Andros last weekend. (See review below.) It’s a fictional picture book about a young rabbit scientist, and the plot is driven by the steps in the scientific method. To me, this structure is simple and brilliant. That’s where the “Why didn’t I think of that!” comes in.

If you’ve ever felt this way, take heart from this quote from author Ann Whitford Paul:

I used to feel upset that I couldn’t write something that somebody else wrote, and none of us can. We can only write the stories that matter to us.

Paul’s words come from a webinar she gave to Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge last month. As for how to find your voice and the stories that matter to you? Her solution was simple:

Write!

Easy peasy, right? 😉


Charlotte the Scientist Is SquishedCharlotte the Scientist Is Squished by Camille Andros

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a budding scientist, Charlotte needs space to conduct experiments. But when you’re a bunny with dozens of siblings, space is a limited resource. Charlotte uses the scientific method to tackle this problem and finds that her initial solutions may have additional effects that aren’t ideal.
I love Camille Andros’ use of the scientific method as a framing device for a story that any introvert or child from a large family can relate to. Brianne Farley’s illustrations are bright and inviting. Hopefully we’ll see more of Charlotte in the future!
View all my reviews

Happy Halloween reads

Happy Halloween! What did you read to get in the holiday mood?
I’m averse to scary movies and books, but I do love Halloween-ish stories with witches and ghosts and pumpkin delights. That usually means that when October arrives I start feeling the itch to watch Practical Magic, Hocus Pocus, or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This month, however, I felt pulled to re-listen to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. It doesn’t actually involve Halloween (or any holidays), but, being set in a graveyard, it’s full of autumnal atmosphere. It really got me in the October spirit despite quite warm temperatures in Virginia.

I also love the Halloween feasts in the Harry Potter books. Here are a few other not-so-spooky October reads I recommend.

Boo-La-La Witch SpaBoo-La-La Witch Spa by Samantha Berger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: Halloween is the most important day of the year for any witch. So when the holiday ends and the witches are tired from tricking and treating, they all head to the fa-boo Witch Spa. Here they indulge in Bat-Whisker Tea, Broom Bristle Facials, and other spooky spa goodies. A trip to the Witch Spa is sure to make any witch or warlock feel refreshed, revived, and positively revolting.

My review: Such a fun Halloween read! And the rhyming is so well done. As I read it, I felt like I was back in second grade listening to my teacher read Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss or The Night Before Christmas. Kids will love discovering all the witchy details in the illustrations.

Fright ClubFright Club by Ethan Long

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: Each year, on Halloween eve, Fright Club meets to go over their plan: Operation Kiddie Scare. Only the scariest of monsters can join Fright Club-Vladimir the Vampire, Fran K. Stein, Sandy Witch, and Virginia Wolf have all made the cut. They’ve been practicing their ghoulish faces, their scary moves, and their chilling sounds. But when a band of cute little critters comes along asking to join in the fun, the members of Fright Club will find out who really is the scariest of all!

My review: Fun and clever.
Leo: A Ghost StoryLeo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s synopsis: You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

My review: Now I want to be Leo for Halloween. Love the cut paper and crayon (oil? i don’t know) illustrations in this simple friendship tale.

View all my reviews

Inspiring women on the silver screen: Dolores Huerta and Billie Jean King

Dolores1

Dolores Huerta leads the audience in chanting “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power!” at a screening of the new documentary about her life, Dolores, in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15. Photo by Kara Newhouse.

On any given day I’m much more likely to be found reading a book than watching a movie. But tell me about a film featuring rad women in history, and I’m in. I recently wrote about two such films.

In a piece for Excelle Sports, I interviewed female sports leaders such as Olympian Nancy Lieberman and Peachy Kellmeyer, the first full-time employee for the Women’s Tennis Association, about their memories of the Battle of the Sexes. That historic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is the subject of a new movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carell. The women I spoke with all shared powerful stories about how the real event affected their lives as women in sports.

For Images & Voices of Hope, I wrote about Dolores, a documentary about farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta, a critical leader in the grape boycott of the 1960s and 1970s. The story includes video clips of Dolores from the post-screening Q&A I attended in D.C.

On the kidlit front, if you’re interested in sharing the stories of these women with your children or classrooms, check out Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren. Surprisingly, I was unable to find any standalone picture book biographies about Billie Jean King, though she does appear in some sports anthologies for children.

 

2 African-American cyclists of note, 1 century apart

Marshall “Major” Taylor was an elite cyclist in the 1890s and early 1900s. He was the first African-American to win a world championship in any sport.

Ayesha McGowan is a contemporary cyclist on a mission to become the first female African-American pro cyclist. Ever.

Chances are you haven’t heard of either of them.

I don’t recall how I first encountered McGowan — an Internet rabbit hole of some kind, no doubt — but I recently had the opportunity to interview and write about her for Excelle Sports. Check out the profile and then follow her blog or Instagram for a chance to see history as it happens.

Just keep pushing. #aquickbrownfox

A post shared by ayesuppose (@ayesuppose) on

 

While researching that Excelle piece I came across Taylor’s life story, and I did what I always do after “why haven’t I heard of this person before?” moments: checked the local library for children’s books about him. I found the following picture book. Perhaps one day, if McGowan achieves her goal, there will be a biography of her on the shelves, too.

Major Taylor, Champion CyclistMajor Taylor, Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the turn of the 20th century, “Major” Marshall Taylor was the fastest cyclist in the world. In this picture book biography, Lesa Cline-Ransom and James E. Ransome recreate Taylor’s journey from a bicycle shop stunt boy to a world champion who battled racism by winning races.

Major Taylor’s name should be on any list of American sports heroes and notable African-Americans in history. Today a network of cycling clubs across the U.S. bear his name but few outside those groups know his story. This book is a good starting point for bringing Taylor’s legacy to the fore, though the word count could definitely be pared down and the language punched up.

View all my reviews

3 podcasts for Pride

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LGBTQ Pride Month is almost over, but before it wraps up, I wanted to shout out some relevant podcasts. Each of these either focuses on gender and sexuality or is hosted by someone who identifies as LGBTQ.

    1. Nancy — So many media narratives about LGBTQ life focus on issues of coming out, bullying, and harassment. This WNYC podcast doesn’t neglect those struggles, but it also tells a broader range of stories es. In a recent episode, for instance, one of the hosts attended a summer camp for queer adults and recorded the evolution of her crush on a fellow camper. In another, the hosts arranged a Skype meeting between an experienced drag queen and an Alaskan high schooler to get advice on going to prom in drag.
    2. Free Cookies — On this ESPNW podcast, sports journalist Kate Fagan and yoga teacher Kathryn Budig share sports and wellness advice, alongside interviews with top athletes. I love podcasts where you get to hear an authentic personal dynamic between podcast co-hosts, and Fagan and Budig, who are in a relationship, definitely deliver. They are smitten and supportive but also realistic about each others’ shortcomings.
    3. Out Here in America – This is a new podcast from Mississippi’s Sun Herald newspaper, focused on the lives of LBGTQ folks in the rural South. It will take more than a few episodes for the show to hit its stride, but there’s a lot of potential there. The first episode tackled the Pulse nightclub shooting anniversary, and the second featured comedian Tig Notaro recounting her wedding held on the beach in Mississippi.

Of course these are just a few podcasts with LGBTQ themes or hosts. Feel free to share other recommendations in the comments!

Muslims in Kidlit Friday: Update

Clearly I haven’t kept up with my goal of weekly posts on children’s books by or about Muslims. It’s been a busy spring for me: working, taking classes, studying for the GRE and getting ready for my wedding. Up until the last week or so I have still managed to fit in regular intervals of kidlit writing, but ultimately blogging wasn’t a priority.

Today, however, I saw this Bustle post, “11 Books By Muslim Women That Show The Many Facets Of Islam” and wanted to share it. None of them are picture books or middle grade, but teenagers will find titles to try on there, including some books that are specifically YA. I’ve read a few from the list before and I’m adding many of the others to my TBR shelf.