Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you two fantastic picture books about some very special baseball players.
He hit 660 home runs (fourth best of all time), had a lifetime batting average of .302, and is second only to Babe Ruth on The Sporting News's list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players." Many believe him to be the best baseball player that ever lived. His name is Willie Mays. In Jonah Winter and Terry Widener's fascinating picture book biography, young readers can follow Mays's unparalleled career from growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, to playing awe-inspiring ball in the Negro Leagues and then the Majors, where he was center fielder for the New York (later San Francisco) Giants. Complete with sidebars filled with stats, and a cool lenticular cover, here is a book for all baseball lovers, young and old. -- Schwartz & Wade
Booking Son loves baseball! He plays it a few times a week and he keeps track of every team's record. In fact, it's the first thing he looks at when he gets up every morning. So when I opened a package containing YOU NEVER HEARD OF WILLIE MAYS?! by Jonah Winter and Terry Widener, I had a feeling that it was going to be a hit. That is a major understatement. He absolutely adored this book!
And truth be told... so did I! It's probably my favorite picture book that I've read with him so far this year. Even the cover is "cool" (his word.) -- it's a lenticular cover. I had no idea what lenticular was, so if you're like me, it's kind of/sort of a 3D effect. When you move the book, it looks like Willie Mays is swinging the bat! The rest of the illustrations by Terry Widener are also fantastic and fit the tone of the book perfectly.
But it's the story of Willie Mays that really captured my heart. Many would argue that Willie Mays is one of the best (if not the best) baseball player of all time. I absolutely loved how Jonah Winter presented his story. Naturally the book gives specifics about Mr. Mays' baseball career, but it also provides information about Mays' childhood and his early playing years in the Negro Leagues. It also talks about how Mr. Mays' followed in Jackie Robinson's footsteps with being an early African American player in the Major League as well as "the Catch" and how he got the nickname "the Say Hey Kid."
YOU NEVER HEARD OF WILLIE MAYS?! is a perfect book to read out loud with the young baseball enthusiast in your life... and that's mainly because of how it's written. The story is told by an unknown narrator who was obviously a huge fan of Willie Mays', and it's filled with lots of drama and exciting descriptions. There are even a few actual quotations from the baseball announcers giving the play-by-play of his games. Just check out this excerpt where the narrator describes "the Catch:"
"Can he still play? Hah! Game One of the 1954 World Series. Giants and Indians. That's right, with Mays back, the Giants had made it to the Series -- with the whole country watchin' on TV. Score's tied 2-2 in the eighth. Vic Wertz at bat for Cleveland. Two guys on, nobody out. With the count 1 and 2, Wertz SLAMS the ball to deep center field... and -- BAM -- WIllie's running' like a madman... without even lookin'! This was crazy! I mean, this is a shot NO ONE catches -- not even the Say Hey Kid. It was hit too far, too hard, and Willie has his back to it -- lookin' like he might run smack into the WALL! Still, he keeps on barrelin', at one point doin' that thing he does when he knows he'll make the catch, tappin' his glove with his right fist...
One more fun tidbit for baseball fans... this picture book includes sidebars filled with stats, not only about Willie Mays, but other great baseball players too. I'm telling you, Booking Son couldn't get enough of this book.
Which brings me to the next YOU NEVER HEARD OF book....
Accompanied by sidebars filled with statistics, this Parents Magazine Best Book of the Year and Booklist Top of the List is sure to delight budding baseball fans. -- Schwartz & Wade
Booking Son loved YOU NEVER HEARD OF WILLIE MAYS so much that I immediately began searching for other books in this series. Fortunately, there is one from a few years back called YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX?! by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho. Guess what the Easter Bunny brought in Booking Son's Easter basket!
YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX?! is just as much fun as YOU NEVER HEARD OF WILLIE MAYS?! It has the same great story about an amazing baseball player, and lots of baseball stats in the sidebars. The cover is also very "cool" because it looks like Koufax is pitching, but the illustrator is different (yet also very good!) And I have to say that Booking Son loved this book too!
One thing I really appreciated about this picture book is the way the author described Koufax. He's a little before my time, but I knew he was a great pitcher. What I didn't know is that he struggled for a few years with control issues (and he even quit) before becoming one of the best lefty pitchers of all time. He also had major pain in his elbow after every game, and one day he surprised everyone by retiring. It was also interesting to learn that Mr. Koufax was discriminated against because he was a Jew, and that he sat out a game in the 1965 World Series in honor of a Jewish High Holy Day.
I certainly hope that Mr. Winter continues to write more books in this series because I truly believe he's created a little bit of magic for young baseball fans... and their moms!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of YOU NEVER HEARD OF WILLIE MAYS?!
If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!