Thursday, September 09, 2010

Baseball The Way I Like It

I've mentioned before my lack of interest in baseball. Also my enthusiasm for Alan Gratz's historical novel Samurai Shortstop. I've recently finished his The Brooklyn Nine, another historical work. Gratz's method of blending baseball with history makes the sport a whole lot more palatable for me.

The Brooklyn Nine involves nine different generations of the same Brooklyn baseball loving family, all portrayed in late childhood or mid-adolescence. We begin with the young immigrant Felix Schneider in 1845 and end with Snider Flint in 2002. Many of the different generations happen to coincide with well-known, some might even say stereotypical, moments in American history, such as the Civil War or the Jim Crow period. But this is a book for middle grade students, and it seems to me as if it introduces young readers to those historical periods. For child readers who aren't taken with history, reading about a sport they're familiar with may be the lead in they need to enjoy their past.

One of the things Gratz does that I particularly enjoy is that he doesn't say too much. He mentions in the first chapter that an uncle has changed the spelling of the family's name and changed churches in order to fit in, but we don't learn until a few generations later that what he did was give up Judaism. Gratz never makes a judgment about it. He never uses the term "Jim Crow" in the Jim Crow chapter, but readers realize that something has changed, that the position of African Americans--and Jews--has become more precarious. One family member clearly is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, but Gratz never tells us about it. He shows us. (She lived in a period when the condition may not have been recognized.) The chapter on the child number runner was just plain fascinating. That's got to be a subject a lot of kids know nothing about. This adult sure didn't. The reporter in that chapter, who we learn in the Author Notes at the end of the book was based on a real person, was one of my favorite characters.

The Brooklyn Nine is described on the cover as "A Novel in Nine Innings." To me it reads more like interconnected short stories. That's even better, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think kids get many opportunities to read short stories.

This book would make a wonderful addition to school libraries and extra credit reading lists for social studies classes.

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