Springtime means sports, especially baseball. Here's a look at a great new crop of kids' baseball books, which are packed with both action and inspiration:
-- It's a baseball record that was set in 1941, and it hasn't been broken yet. It's the season that legendary Red Sox batter Ted Williams hit .406. while the nation cheered him on.
In "No Easy Way" (Dutton, $16.99), author Fred Bowen details how Williams began as a young man to practice incessantly in his quest to become one of baseball's top hitters. His hard work paid off as he hit 31 home runs in his rookie year with the Red Sox. Then came the 1941 season, when Williams' batting average was above .400 through the summer and into September.
As the season wound up, with two games left to play, Williams' batting average had dropped to .39955. Because batting averages are rounded up, Bowen notes that Williams' average still counted as a .400 batting average. At that point, some people urged Williams to sit out the last games to keep his record-breaking average, but, as Bowen shows, he refused to do that, telling his manager: "If I can't hit .400 all the way, I don't deserve it."
Bowen, a sports novelist for kids and the sports columnist for the KidsPost page of The Washington Post, does a marvelous job of building up the suspense as Williams faced two last baseball games in 1941. The illustrations by Charles Pyle vibrantly display Williams' energy and charisma. (Ages 7-10.)
Note: Also check out Bowen's newest sports novels for kids: "Dugout Rivals" and "Hardcourt Comeback" (Peachtree, $5.95 each, ages 7-12).
-- Honus Wagner was destined to be a coal miner. That's what boys did after sixth grade in Chartiers, Pa. But Honus Wagner wasn't just any boy, and at the age of 16, he began his baseball career.
In "All Star!" (Philomel, $17.99), author Jane Yolen writes of Wagner's determination to become a baseball star. Wagner, who eventually joined the Pittsburgh Pirates, was known for his barrel chest, bowed legs and huge hands. But he also became famous for his amazing baseball talent.
As Yolen writes: "Honus had more home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples; he had more steals; and he played in more games than any other player in the National League. Clearly, he was a great baseball player... some say the (begin ital) greatest (end ital) baseball player ever." Yolen's stirring portrait of Wagner is matched by Jim Burke's illustrations. (Ages 7-10.)
-- Roberto Clemente, the first Latino inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, stars in two new children's books, a picture-book biography and a novel.
In "Clemente!" (Henry Holt, $16.99), author Willie Perdomo and artist Bryan Collier team up to offer an outstanding picture-book biography of an inspiring athlete. Perdomo tells the story through the eyes of a young boy, who is named Clemente after his parents' favorite athlete.
The young narrator, of course, knows all about the star and tells readers why this baseball player is so special; not only was he was one of the greatest baseball players, but he also was well known for his humanitarian work, especially his last effort to help Nicaraguan earthquake-relief efforts. Clemente died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua and his body was never found.
Perdomo's clearly written text underlines Clemente's special qualities without exaggerating them, while Collier's watercolor and collage illustrations provide a stunning look at an inspiring athlete. (Ages 5-10.)
Older readers will enjoy "Roberto & Me" (Harper, $15.99), the latest in the "Baseball Card Adventure" series by Dan Gutman. As fans of the series know, Joe Stoshack has the ability to travel back into time just by touching a baseball card.
In this adventure, Joe heads back to 1969, first landing at Woodstock and then hitching a ride to Cleveland to try to warn Clemente against taking the plane on which he would die several years later. After he gets home, Joe -- in an interesting twist -- is visited by his great-grandson, who invites him to see the devastation cause by global warming.
These two very separate strands -- Clemente and global warming -- come together somehow in Gutman's capable hands, and readers will find themselves turning the pages to see what happens next. (Ages 8-12.)
-- Mike Lupica, longtime sports reporter and ESPN commentator, has built a second career as a sports novelist for kids. And he demonstrates his skills in his latest book, "The Batboy" (Philomel, $17.99), in which Lupica tells the story of Brian Dudley, a batboy for the Detroit Tigers who dreams of finally connecting with his often-absent father. As usual, Lupica's story is a wonderful blend of baseball and drama. (Ages 8-12.)