A major league knuckleball pitcher pens a cautionary tale about self-esteem and standing up to bullies.
Ned is a very nervous baseball who worries about navigating his first day of school. He is clumsy and unsure of himself, always wobbling and bumping into everything. Strangely, at times he can float and glide. All the other kids know what kind of baseballs they are, but Ned has no clue. The Foul Ball Gang taunts him and calls him names, but Connie Curveball, Fletcher and Fiona Fastball, Sammy Softball and the others befriend him. When the gang throws his sneakers into a tree, he watches as the fastballs unsuccessfully launch themselves up to get them, spinning madly all the way. When Ned tries, he twists and turns and floats through the branches without spinning and deftly grabs the shoes, triumphing over the gang. He is a knuckleball and proud of it. Although story and prose are more than a bit unsubtle and stiff, Dickey, with an assist from Karounos, creates a sweet, sympathetic character and presents an earnest, heartfelt message. Bowers’ multilayered technique, employing acrylic, watercolor and color washes, produces illustrations that are lively and charming, giving the baseball characters surprising life and substance. Young readers will clearly understand the intent even if they are unfamiliar with the various pitch names and characteristics.
Well-intentioned but not quite a winner. (Picture book. 3-6)