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Is great hitting in the clean, natural swing of the batter—or the perfectly balanced feel of the bat? As kids know when they start playing baseball, small details must converge just right to overcome the edge between winning and losing, hitting and striking out. Sometimes this translates into superstitions or quirky behavior. First-time author Bildner toes this question in the quirks of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his feared bat, Black Betsy. Joe, who played in the major leagues from 1908 to 1920, does well in the minor leagues, but can’t seem to move up without the help of his South Carolina friend, the great bat-maker Charlie Ferguson. While Charlie knows how to make the best bat, it’s not hard to decide which needs tweaking more, the bat or Joe’s mind so he can finally realize his great potential. From Joe sleeping with the bat to his wrapping it in the cotton of his southern roots, Bildner sticks mostly to the main facts and resists a romanticization of the game. Players who know the perfect, sweeping amalgamation of hand, eye, and sweet spot might expect to hear its dramatic tenor when Joe cracks the ball with Black Betsy, but this is a story finished by statistics. Payne’s (Brave Harriet, p. 944, etc.) mixed-media illustrations are gorgeous: the fuzz is in the flannel and the light is just right. And so are his perspectives, angles, and other compositional choices that make for the right mix of mystery and narrative to draw the reader in. A lengthy synopsis of Joe’s entire career and his statistics are appended. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82913-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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One of the watershed moments in African-American history—the defeat of James Braddock at the hands of Joe Louis—is here given an earnest picture-book treatment. Despite his lack of athletic ability, Sammy wants desperately to be a great boxer, like his hero, getting boxing lessons from his friend Ernie in exchange for help with schoolwork. However hard he tries, though, Sammy just can’t box, and his father comforts him, reminding him that he doesn’t need to box: Joe Louis has shown him that he “can be the champion at anything [he] want[s].” The high point of this offering is the big fight itself, everyone crowded around the radio in Mister Jake’s general store, the imagined fight scenes played out in soft-edged sepia frames. The main story, however, is so bent on providing Sammy and the reader with object lessons that all subtlety is lost, as Mister Jake, Sammy’s father, and even Ernie hammer home the message. Both text and oil-on-canvas-paper illustrations go for the obvious angle, making the effort as a whole worthy, but just a little too heavy-handed. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58430-161-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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Amusing but a little off tempo.

It’s important to hit all the right notes.

A tan-skinned musical composer with puffy black hair is busy at work on his next musical masterpiece when Half Note, a music symbol denoting two beats, feels unappreciated. Half Note is jealous of the more commonly used Quarter Note (one beat) and Eighth Note. Although the other musical symbols attempt to calm and comfort Half Note, she decides to run away. The next day, Composer needs Half Note and panics when he realizes that she’s gone. The other notes and musical symbols try to find her, but it’s only when they try to play her favorite song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” without her—with terrible results—that she comes running back. The story’s humor—which is largely based on “dad joke” puns—is completely dependent on readers’ musical knowledge. The artwork, a mix of acrylic and colored pencil, attempts to add some allegrezza to the piece, and while it’s not unsuccessful, it’s facing an uphill battle. Music teachers and musically minded caregivers may find some value in this story, but it will likely be too specialized for general readers. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Amusing but a little off tempo. (glossary) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: March 14, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-64567-631-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Page Street

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2023

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