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 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 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 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 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 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:
- Mighty Jackie by Marissa Moss
- Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings by Deborah Hopkinson
- Queen of the Diamond by Emily Arnold McCully
- Just Like Josh Gibson by Angela Johnson