It's that time of year again, when the crack of the bat makes you look up and pick out the small white sphere against the lights in an indigo sky. Crisp spring evenings and promising Saturday mornings are made for watching boys and girls play softball and baseball.
"This is the Game," by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander, ages 3 to 8, $16.99, HarperCollins.
Through rhyme and illustration, the history of baseball is simplified for young readers. The literary devices of repetition and onomatopoeia emphasize each page's baseball trivia, and the illustrations are spectacular.
"Homer," by Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner, ages 4 to 8, $15.99, Scholastic.
In the middle of the night, the Doggers and the Hounds come out to play their own doggone World Series. We're a bit partial to the golden retriever named Homer who stars in this pun-filled picture book. He reminds us of our own 5-month-old golden who approaches a ball and life just as enthusiastically. Dog and sports lovers will enjoy this book, and the baseball cards of the dogs and players are an extra treat.
"How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball," by David Shannon, ages 7-12, $17.99, Scholastic.
This reprint reminds us of why we like the author of "A Bad Case of the Stripes" and "No David!" so much. The clever story begins as if it is a biography and then spins into a ridiculous tale about a washed-up baseball player turned tyrant. Boss Swaggert's frustration with baseball leads to his plot to ban it from the world. A world without baseball turns into a cold, joyless place until young Georgie Radbourn defies the law and brings baseball back. The illustrations, as you would expect, are wonderful, and the story is a home run, too.
"Plunked," by Michael Northop, ages 10 to 14, 247 pages, $16.99, Scholastic.
Few books for boys can hit the mark with a plot that covers realistic, emotional vulnerability. While many young-adult books use the loss of a parent, friend or loved one as a plot springboard, "Plunked" works by dealing with a psychological struggle. Jack Mogens is looking forward to an excellent baseball season in sixth grade. Then he gets hit in the head while at bat. Not only does he get his bell rung, but his confidence is shaken.
Jake may lose the starting position if he can't master his fear at the plate. The fear begins to worm itself into every aspect of Jake's life and starts to influence his relationships.
"Plunked" covers a real subject for young athletes — facing fears and overcoming them — but it does so with levity and realistic dialogue. The book is funny and easy to read, making it and its subject a perfect pick for baseball fans who may be reluctant readers.
"Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip," by Jordan Sonnenblick, ages 12 and older, 285 pages, $17.99, Scholastic.
Jordan Sonnenblick is becoming one of our favorite young-adult writers. His writing is authentic yet quirky. Snappy, humorous content and dialogue hold readers' attention. In "Curveball," the main character is an all-star pitcher gearing up for his freshman year in high school. Peter seems like he is the golden boy with the golden arm, and he is ready for a big-man-on-campus life.
All of those dreams screech to a halt when his pitching arm is injured. Peter isn't an all-star any longer, and he falters when he tries to figure out where he fits in at school. His best friend, AJ, is also his catcher and refuses to believe that Peter won't rebound by spring training.
Meanwhile, Peter discovers that he is good at things other than baseball, including sports photography. He also finds that he can talk to Angie, who is attractive and a good listener. And school and sports aren't the only curveballs that Peter is fielding. His grandfather's memory isn't what it used to be. But his family is avoiding a discussion about a problem that is obviously getting worse.
"Curveball" tells the story of a young man whose life isn't running by the script he had developed in his mind. Peter learns to adjust, move on and live a different life. Excellent book, excellent lessons camouflaged in a really good story.