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 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.

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.

 

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Step Right Up by Donna Janell Bowman

Each Wednesday in February, I am highlighting great nonfiction picture books about African-Americans. These posts are my way of marking Black History Month and also part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge organized by Alyson Beecher.

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about KindnessStep Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: A biography of William “Doc” Key, a formerly enslaved man and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read, write, and do math, and who together with Jim became a famous traveling performance act and proponent for the humane treatment of animals around the turn of the twentieth century.

My thoughts: Have you ever thought horses are just as smart as humans? This picture book tells the story of a remarkable man, William “Doc” Key and his educated horse, Jim Key, who traveled the country as one of the most popular shows in America. Touching on issues of slavery, segregation and animal cruelty, it is a great addition to historical collections of classrooms and children’s libraries. It would also make a great movie.
Bonus: lots of interesting extra information in the back matter.

View all my reviews

“Step Right Up” is also this month’s books in Lisa Rose’s Missing Voice Picture Book discussion group.

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Lift Your Light a Little Higher

To celebrate Black History Month, I will highlight one or more great nonfiction children’s books about African-Americans every Wednesday.

These posts will also be part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out what nonfiction picture books others are blogging about this week here.

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: Grab your lantern and follow the remarkable and world-famous Mammoth Cave explorer—and slave—Stephen Bishop as he guides you through the world’s largest cave system in this remarkable homage to the resilience of human nature.

My review: 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 driven by the 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.


Bryan Collier is one of my very favorite illustrators. Some of his other books I’ve loved include:

nonfiction-pb-challenge-2017

5 must-read children’s books about the Women’s Suffrage Movement

You know that phrase “I can’t even” that’s been floating around the past few years?

That’s how I feel about discussing this year’s election.

But when it comes to voting, I can.

And I will.

In the meantime, I’ll be distracting myself with these wonderful picture books about the women who made my vote possible. Let me know in the comments if you have favorites not listed here. In particular, I’d like to find a strong contemporary picture book about Sojourner Truth.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles1. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has it all! A cross-country road trip, activism for women’s suffrage, great female friendship, and a kitten.
By introducing readers to Nell Richardson and Alice Burke’s 1916 adventure, Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper show children that many people were part of a long journey to getting women the vote.
The text and illustrations work together to capture Alice and Nell’s verve and zeal. You’ll have the refrain “Votes for women!” running through your head well after setting the book down.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote2. I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well before women won the vote across the U.S., women in Wyoming had a say in their state government. This story shows how Esther Morris helped make that happen with a can-do spirit and a bit of tea time cleverness.

This biography covers the span of Morris’s compelling life. I’d love to see a picture book that focuses in more on how women in Wyoming got the vote and who else was involved. Continue reading

3 ways to introduce teenagers to activist Grace Lee Boggs #GraceLeeTaughtMe

Grace Lee Boggs, a longtime civil and labor rights activist, died last week at age 100. I knew Grace’s name before but I didn’t know anything about her life or work, so I’ve been reading about her in the last few days.

I haven’t found any children’s books about her! That’s a hole that needs to be filled. But many of the resources geared toward adults could also be read/viewed by young adults, so here’s a list of three ways to introduce teenagers to Grace Lee Boggs. Continue reading

Interview with Kate Schatz, author of Rad American Women A-Z

Yesterday I reviewed “Rad American Women A-Z,” an alphabet book written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Today I’m sharing a video interview I did with Kate last weekend. I enjoyed hearing how she chose the women and also how kids have reacted to the book so far. Hope you enjoy it, too!

 

I’m linking up with Alyson Beecher’s Nonfiction Picture Book challenge today. Find more great nonfiction picture books on her post and other bloggers’ links.

Rad American Women A-Z: A Perfect Read for Women’s History Month

Rad American Women A-Z I’m sure it’s no accident that “Rad American Women A-Z” came out at the start of Women’s History Month. Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, this alphabet book introduces readers to American heroes from political activist Angela Davis to anthropologist/writer Zora Neale Hurston, with a truly diverse collection of women in between. The opening offers a broad definition for the term “rad” in the title:

What does it mean to be “rad”? Well, it means a few things. “Rad” is short for “radical,” which comes from the Latin word meaning “from the root.” So a radical person can be someone like Ella Baker, who did grassroots organizing. A radical can be a person who wants to make big changes in society, like Angela Davis and the Grimke sisters, who fought to end discrimination of all kinds. Radical can also be used to describe something that is different from the usual, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial or Ursula LeGuin’s innovative science fiction. “Rad” is also a slang word that means “cool” or “awesome.” Like when flashy Flo-Jo ran faster than any woman in the world, or when Patti Smith takes the stage to rock out.

Each rad lady gets a one-page biography, complemented by a cut-paper portrait in bold colors. Some of the names, like Billie Jean King, were familiar to me, but lots were new, too, such as  Jovita Idar, who fought for free, bilingual education on the Texas/Mexico border in the early 20th century.

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama

Ella Baker and Yuri Kochiyama. Miriam Klein Stahl’s cut-paper illustrations from “Rad American Women A-Z.”

Something I love how Schatz tackles the ever-difficult “X” page: “It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.” It’s true that there are many women throughout history whose stories we’ve missed, but “Rad American Women A-Z” has 25 worth learning. Get yourself a copy and pass it on! (It’s currently only available through City Lights Books, the publisher.) And be sure to check back tomorrow, when I’ll post a video interview I did with the book’s author, Kate Schatz.

Two Picture Books About … Queens of Music

Mahalia and MelbaMahalia Jackson and Melba Liston had a number of things in common. One was their love of music. Another was their talent.

Mahalia sang gospel. Melba played trombone. Both stood up for the rights and dignity of African-Americans.

These exceptional women are celebrated in the books, “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens,” written by Nina Nolan and illustrated by John Holyfield (2015), and “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison (2014).

Continue reading