Matt loves everything about baseball.
He is an excellent player on his Little League team in the summer All-Stars League. It doesn’t matter that he’s the shortest kid on the team, because baseball makes him feel “like his very best self.” He studies every aspect of the game and takes extra practices with his teammate José. His mom is his special personal coach, enthusiastically practicing hitting and fielding with him, always encouraging, not just about baseball, but also about his severe stutter. His speech pathologist is another support, eliciting his feelings when he is “blocked” or “stuck” and finding ways to help. Ben, another teammate, is having his own difficulties. He hits towering homers but strikes out more often. His father insists on a big swing and yells loudly at him to hit home runs. Matt and his mom try to coach him in ways to get more base hits, but his dad proves to be a negative force. Lupica keeps the focus on Matt’s struggles, his determination, and his genuine kindness, braiding it with action-packed play-by-play baseball and lots of references to current major league players. José is Puerto Rican, and there’s delightful Spanish-English wordplay in their banter. Matt and most of the other characters present white, though there are naming conventions that indicate some diversity.
For baseball lovers, it’s a winner. (Fiction. 8-12)