Plunked

Summary

Jack Mogens is in the sixth grade and is ready to start Little League. It’s going to be the best year ever in his career. All he has to do is make the starting team. And work on hitting those inside pitches. And talk to Katie (shortstop) without completely losing it. He’s set.  But when a crazy pitch finds Jack defenseless, he finds out that his love for baseball might not be enough to get him back in the game. Will he ever be able to play baseball again?

Review

When a chapter book about baseball makes its way to your library reserve shelf it’s pretty awesome. When the book has a cool cover, it’s even better. When your seven year old son is begging to read it before you’ve walked through the library door, well, its pretty near nirvana.

Such was the case with me. It took me a few pages to get comfortable with the writing of the book (thankfully it wasn’t the editing this time). It’s written in the first person singular and, really, who wants to be inside the head of a sixth grade boy? The stream of consciousness and continued use of the edifying phrases “like” and “seriously” were almost enough to convince me to put the book down.  Alas, my boy is dying for a good, fun, book to read and while Jack is somewhat annoying, he’s not a bad kid. Geesh, I have neighbors like that.

But Jack proves to be a liar, too. He and his friend lie to his friend’s mother. And when that results in the smashing of Waterford Crystal (and the spilling of Irish Whiskey) he lies about who did it. While the boys are yelled at (and his friend loses the privilege of his X-Box) no real consequence ensues for Jack. And when Jack decides he is too afraid to play baseball but too embarrassed to admit it, he lies about hurting his wrist to get out of playing the game. His parents are aware of the truth, his coach suspects the truth, but no adult addresses the fear, or helps him to deal with it in a more suitable manner. Rather, Jack wrestles with his fear through the use of video games (killing soldiers); “pigging out” at McDonald’s, and isolating himself from his friends.

Now, I certainly understand the fact that men and women approach and resolve issues differently (my daughter and I would have talked endlessly about it), but what good is the “coming of age” part of the book if the protagonist doesn’t mature in the process?  Jack needs a father who will show him there are better ways to deal with being hit by a baseball than pretending to hurt your wrist. Fine. Sit out a game – but be a man about it and sit out the game because you go plunked with a baseball, not because you lied about your wrist. I’m not convinced that Jack won’t lie about the next uncomfortable situation he finds himself in. Or that his parents would object to the falsehood.

And you know what else I’m not convinced about? That Katie is on his team. A girl shortstop on a boys Little League Team?

**For the sake of this review, I’m going to completely ignore the bathroom humor.  In the wars that rage between the pages of books, when it comes to bathroom humor battles I find myself firmly planted in the “grudgingly-tolerate-it-in-small-doses” camp.  The book makes use of the deep affinity young boys have for such humor but, in my opinion, didn’t make it a point of going overboard (see my notes below).

Details

  • Author: Michael Northrop
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2012)
  • Hardback 256 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 8+

What You Need to Know

Role Models/Authority Figures - Both Jack and Andy are part of a two parent family.

Violence - “‘Hey Booger,’ I say, and nod to Ward Morgan, ‘swap seats.’ He’s scared of me. I’m going to miss being a jock.” (188)

  • Sexual Content - Jack has a crush on Katie (a fellow baseball player)
  • Language – Bathroom insults/jokes: jerk-butt; big red monkey butt, [dog] squats and takes a dump; Benny Mills farted doing pull-ups (and the detailed description); my bouncing balloon butt; king of turd. At practice, Jack sticks his head in his glove and “swears in the leather.” (235). “TV version [of Major League] so all the bad language is dubbed over in funny ways” (157)
  • Consumerism - Major League (movie); Sour Patch Kids; X-Box; McDonald’s; The Island of Dr. Moreau; one character nick-named Malfoy (after Harry Potter character); quotes from Full Metal Jacket (“What is your major malfunction?…I may even allow you to serve as a rifleman in my beloved corps”); reference to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings; Cable shows Discovery & Animal Planet. Jack has a cell phone, plays video games in his room.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – Jack’s family is watching a movie and his dad is drinking a beer. ‘I’m getting another beer.’…’Don’t,’ Mom says, but he does.” (185)
  • Religion -
  • Other - Jack lies for his friend Andy about breaking Andy’s mother’s Waterford crystal and gets away with the lie. Jack lies about hurting his wrist because he doesn’t want to play baseball and while the adults (his parents and coach) know he is lying they ignore it, even when Jack decides its better and shows up for practice.. He only tells the truth to his friend Andy.
  • Awards

 

Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy

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Shoeless Joe Jackson may have been the greatest hitter that ever lived, but did he do it alone? Of course not. Joe never could have have done it without the help of Black Betsy, his bat.

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This story is part biography and part fiction. It’s an okay story, but I found the colloquial dialect of South Carolina to be stilted and distracting.  The dialect, coupled with a few odd stories (did Jackson really sleep with his bat?), cause the reader to walk away with the impression that Shoeless Joe was somewhat of an idiot.  He was, in real life, uneducated and illiterate – but that doesn’t make him an idiot.  The “Afterword” of the book provides an accurate biography of Shoeless Joe, and the final page is dedicated to his “statistics.”

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  • Author: Phil Bildner
  • Publisher: Perfect Learning (March 2006)
  • Reading Age: Ages 6+

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What You Need to Know

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  • Role Models/Authority Figures – Shoeless Joe
  • Violence – None.
  • Sexual Content – None.
  • Language – None.
  • Consumerism – None.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None.
  • Religion – None.
  • Other
  • Awards

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All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

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Who is the player on the most famous baseball card ever? And why is it worth so much? Honus Wagner was the player, a shortstop who played (mostly) for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He was he son of German immigrants, born in 1874. He was ugly, bow-legged, and had ridiculously long arms. But boy could he play baseball! This book is his story.

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I loved this book. My children loved this book. It’s the story of hard work and achieving your goals. It’s the story of familial love. It’s the story of neighborhood baseball played in the streetlights and under the streetlamps.

As you would expect with Yolen, the writing is tight but expressive. And if it weren’t fore her awkward use of “How about that!” after a few too many of the Wagner anecdotes, I’d have no complaints.

The illustrations in the book are fantastic as well. Jim Burke includes a note in the back of the book about his work in this book. He’s a baseball fan. The pictures in this book prove it.

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  • Author: Jane Yolen
  • Publisher: Philomel (March 4, 2010)
  • Hardcover 40 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 6+

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What You Need to Know

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  • Role Models/Authority Figures - Honus Wagner, his parents, his brother.
  • Violence - Ty Cobb is mouthy to Honus, so Honus tags him in the face hard enough to loosen a few of his teeth (the event is described, and then the reader is told both players denied it ever happened).
  • Sexual Content - None.
  • Language - None.
  • Consumerism - None.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs - “He did it wall without drugs…”, Honus had his baseball card removed from cigarette packs.
  • Religion - Honus attended Lutheran school to the sixth grade.
  • Other - None.
  • Awards

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ABCs of Baseball

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An illustrated dictionary of baseball for all ages.

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I was, initially, disappointed that this book was not an “ABC” book, but rather a dictionary of baseball terms. But then I decided I liked the idea.  After all, I really don’t need another ABC book in my own home (not that I need any more books in my home). So yeah, I think, a nifty little book to have around the house. Maybe put it right next to the radio so The Middle Boy can pick it up while listening to Tom Hamilton belt out the game (Yes. We’re Indians fans here).

The book is great. Really. Simple definitions for the common terms in baseball.  For example: “Mound: The raised circle in the middle of the field where the pitcher stands.” I noticed that under “J” there was the definition of “Joy: What you feel watching the game.” But I didn’t see under “T”, “Trepidation: An emotion experienced by most Indians fans any time the team is ahead in the game.” Other than that, most of the useful terms in baseball are covered.

After those have been learned, the reader can turn to the back and peruse the fun facts. Part of the love of baseball, after all, is the trivia behind it. There are all sorts of facts back there, too. Facts about baseballs, pitch grips, baseball bats, the sport itself, teams, players, awards, and statistics (through 2010). Fun stuff in the back of the book!

My final point is one of contention, as the author of this book is (apparently) a well-known sportswriter. I am convinced now that there is a shortage of editors. I know, you thought it was my typo in the title in title of this post. But it’s not. Even the spell check in WordPress knows that “ABCs” should be “ABC’s.” Also, some of the definitions are in need of a little simple grammar.

Still, in baseball terms, this book is a triple.

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  • Author: Peter Golenbock
  • Publisher: Dial (February 2, 2012)
  • Hardcover 48 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 6+

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What You Need to Know

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  • Role Models/Authority Figures - Babe Ruth is mentioned within the definition, and other players are mentioned in the “Fun Facts” portion of the book.
  • Violence - None.
  • Sexual Content - None.
  • Language - None.
  • Consumerism – Cracker Jack are mentioned. “Hot Dog” is defined as “what baseball fans love to eat.” I’m not saying this isn’t true and that it necessarily bothers me, I’m just saying that some would say it encourages one to consume hot dogs at the ball game. Peanuts, too. Of course,  MLB is inherent in all of this. The teams are listed in the back of the book, broken down by League and Division. Baseball cards.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None. No mention of the steroid scandal.
  • Religion - None.
  • Other -
  • Awards

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