Book Review: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

36960177Little League tryouts were this weekend, so I have baseball on my mind. One of the best baseball books I read last year was Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

This book is the fourth in Gennifer Choldenko’s terrific Tales from Alcatraz series.

Like the others, it’s set during the 1930s on Alcatraz Island and stars Moose Flanagan. In this book, Moose is thirteen and a half, and his father is the assistant prison warden.

Moose just wants to spend the summer before 9th grade playing baseball, but his life is never that easy. The captain of the high school baseball team demands Alcatraz souvenirs as the price of allowing Moose and his friend to play. The warden asks Moose to keep an eye on his willful daughter Piper. And his parents often make him responsible for his 17-year-old autistic sister Natalie.

For a good-hearted kid who tries to do the right thing, Moose ends up in some crazy predicaments. His story has both humorous and touching moments. It also has fascinating historical details, but they never bog down the fast-paced plot.

It’s possible to read this book without reading the other three first. Larrabee did. But for me, part of the fun of this book was revisiting the characters and setting that I loved so much from the earlier books in the series.

I’d recommend reading them in order–and then taking a field trip to Alcatraz.

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Book Review: Out of Left Field

36025369No matter how much baseball trivia you know, I guarantee you’ll learn something new from Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages. For example, in 1947, Sophie Kurys of the All-American Girls Baseball League had 201 stolen bases in one season. And she wasn’t allowed to wear baseball pants. She had to slide in a skirt!

Ten-year-old Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in her Berkeley, California neighborhood. None of the boys in the summer sandlot games can hit her “Sunday pitch.” But when she tries out for a Little League team, she learns that girls are not eligible to play under any circumstances.

The year is 1957. The national news is full of the space race and the civil rights movement. The local news is buzzing with the New York Giants’ move to San Francisco. Katy is in the 5th grade, and when she chooses women baseball players as her social studies research topic, she uncovers a fascinating history.

Katy is the younger sister of Dewey and Suze from Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea (set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943) and White Sands, Red Menace (set in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1946), but you do not have to have read the other books to enjoy this one.

Out of Left Field is an engaging story with baseball, history, librarians, scientists, a diverse cast of characters, and even a cameo appearance by Willie Mays. I recommend it!

Book Review: How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.55.05 PMHow Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (And Put It Back Together Again) by David Teague is a light-hearted fantasy about a boy who isn’t very good at baseball and a watch that can stop time.

Oscar Indigo has more team spirit than anyone else on the East Mt. Etna Wildcats, but he’s never gotten a hit. Then, in the final inning of the championship game, the team’s best player is injured and Oscar is the only player left on the  bench. The coach puts him in to hit with two outs, a runner on first base, and his team trailing by one run.

The situation seems hopeless, but Oscar has a special watch in his pocket. When he’s down to his last strike, he uses the watch to freeze the time while he places his ball just over the outfield fence. The Wildcats win and Oscar is a hero.

But it turns out that hitting the game-winning home run is not as satisfying when you know it’s fake. And, to make matters worse, the universe is now out of whack. Oscar will need to figure out a way to give the universe its 19 seconds back and beat the West Mt. Etna Yankees fair and square if he wants to fix what he’s broken.

Larrabee and I both enjoyed this one. It’s a good read for the boys–and girls–of summer.

Book Review: The Rhino in Right Field

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 9.07.54 AMI couldn’t resist this cover. Stacy DeKeyser, you had me at baseball. Throw in a rhinoceros and I’m definitely hooked.

I started to read The Rhino in Right Field without any idea what type of story it would be. It turned out to be a charming historical novel set in 1948 Milwaukee where the kids play baseball in the city zoo (with a rhinoceros named Tank just behind the right field fence).

Twelve-year-old Nick Spirakis is the son of Greek immigrants, who expect him to work hard in school all week, attend Greek school on Tuesday evenings, and then work in his father’s shoe repair and hat shop on Saturdays. He has his own dreams, though, including entering the “batboy for a day” contest at the local minor league ballpark.

According to the author’s note, the main character is based on her father, and many of the period details are true. What fun!

Book Review: Soar

Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 1.24.10 PM.pngWe’re a baseball-loving family, so I always have an eye out for books about the game. I recently made a lucky find at the library: Soar by Joan Bauer. Like its protagonist, twelve-year-old Jeremiah, this book is funny, profound, quirky, and inspiring all at the same time.

Jeremiah loves baseball. He can’t play, though, because he’s recovering from a heart transplant. He even has to get his doctor’s approval to accompany his adoptive father on a two month consulting job.

Their temporary new home, Hillcrest, Ohio, is known for its championship baseball team. But when the high school coach is embroiled in a steroids scandal, the middle school is ready to abandon its baseball team. Jeremiah doesn’t want to see the kids or the town give up on baseball, so he steps up to coach the team.

I read this book first and recommended to Larrabee. He was skeptical, but he agreed to take a chance on it and ended up a big fan.

This book is all about baseball, and yet it’s not just about baseball. Jeremiah also watches eagle cams, interacts with his dad’s robots, and befriends a neighborhood dog, among other adventures. It raises important issues, such as winning in youth sports, without being preachy. Instead, it’s a fun book about a lovable group of kids playing a great game.

Book Review: The Toilet Paper Tigers

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 9.53.57 AMWe love baseball in our house, so we’re always on the lookout for a good baseball book. One our recent favorites is a used bookstore find: The Toilet Paper Tigers by Gordon Korman.

Corey Johnson’s Tigers might be the worst Little League team in Spooner, Texas. They have a picture of a toilet paper roll on their uniform, thanks to their sponsor, Feather-Soft Bathroom Tissue Inc. Their coach is an absent-minded physicist who knows nothing about baseball. Their catcher’s afraid of the ball, their right fielder falls asleep in the field, and their first baseman might have to go to summer school and miss the whole season. Worst of all, the coach’s granddaughter, a fast-talking girl from New York, thinks she’s in charge.

This book is sweet and funny — and it features the old hidden ball trick. Larrabee enjoyed it thoroughly. A good summer read.

Boys of Summer

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Photo credit: Douglas P. Mitchell

In honor of the end of the baseball season, I thought I’d pass along Blaine and Larrabee’s favorite baseball books of the past summer.

Blaine’s Pick:  The Closer: Young Readers Edition by Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey and Sue Corbett.

You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to enjoy pitcher Mariano Rivera’s autobiography. From his childhood in Panama to his long Major League career, Rivera’s story is interesting and inspiring. Blaine particularly liked his descriptions of life in the Yankees clubhouse.

By the way, I do not know how the Young Readers Edition differs from the original. We just happened to find this one in the library.

Larrabee’s Pick: Ted & Me by Dan Gutman.

Ted & Me is the 11th book in the 12-book Baseball Card Adventures series about a boy named Joe Stoshack who can travel through time using baseball cards.

In this adventure, the FBI gives Joe a Ted Williams card from 1941 and asks him to warn President Roosevelt about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Larrabee likes history and baseball, so this book was right up his alley. He especially liked the (true) Ted Williams tips about hitting and fly fishing and has quoted them often.