Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Summer Of 1941

All one has to do is look at human history to realize the impact a single individual can make for good.  A community is created rallying around them in support of their endeavors.  For whatever reason, sometimes, this person rises to noteworthy status when needed the most.

During the summer of 1941 baseball yielded such a person.  A sense of unease had settled over most Americans; Europe was at war.  With illustrations by Terry Widener, well-received nonfiction author, Barb Rosenstock, has written The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America's Hero (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights).

It all started quietly, like a conversation with Joe DiMaggio himself.  One shy single, hit to left field, smack in the middle of May, the fifteenth.

The Yankees lost that day so no one took any particular notice of that one shy single delivered by Joe.  It didn't take long though for it to come to people's attention when one week passed with Joe continuing to get hits.  Pretty soon he had hits in twenty games.  Someone might have softly suggested streak.

When Joe had hit in thirty straight games, he started to make newspaper headlines, replacing the attention given to the war.  Here was a man from a large family, generations of fishermen, raised in San Francisco, no stranger to hard work, making a name for himself in a sport Americans loved.  For each game (and for games only), Joe used a very special bat, given great care and named Betsy Ann.

Joe followed a ritual of sorts for each at bat; rubbing dirt on his hands, giving home plate a single tap and standing wide waiting for the right pitch.  With the best pitchers giving their best pitches, still nothing got by Joe.  As Joe got closer to breaking the record of a forty-one game hitting streak, the pressure really started to take its toll on him off field.

On June 29, 1941 the New York Yankees were playing the Washington Senators in Washington, D. C.  During the first of two games, Joe tied the record.  During the break between the games, the unthinkable happened.  Betsy Ann was stolen!

As the top of the seventh rolled around things looked grim for the baseball hero; three at bats, three strikeouts.  A teammate offered hope.  Joe DiMaggio proceeded to do what he did best, work hard.  The record results are unbroken to this day in baseball history.

Baseball fan or not, you will be caught up in the excitement of this retelling of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak.  Prior to the narrative's start, Barb Rosenstock includes a quote from Joe DiMaggio to set the stage for the type of ball player he is.  Each portion of the story builds on this, creating an ever-increasing tension.  Rosenstock writes as if she is a sportscaster relaying each portion in snippets of details.

These elements are of the personal, insider, nature.  Readers are taken back in time to those ballparks; you believe you are a spectator witnessing the actual events.  Here is a sample passage.

Joe kept hitting.  A triple and a home run in the next game, one or two more every game that week.  When he hit in 20 straight games, the word "streak" whispered from the bleachers to the press box---DiMaggio was on a hitting streak.  
Joe kept the streak alive the next week and the next.

Although the matching dust jacket and book case images differ on the front and back, they extend into the flaps on the jacket. In the front we are closer watching the ball fly after a swing.  On the back Joe is standing ready at the plate with the perspective shifting, zooming back.  The turquoise shade in the upper left hand corner deepens and brightens on the endpapers, providing a background for large font quotes in white about Joe DiMaggio from Ted Williams, left fielder, Boston Red Sox and Ty Cobb, outfielder, Detroit Tigers.  

The red lettering used in the title appears repeatedly throughout the book drawing the reader's attention to the significant text within each of the two-page illustrations rendered in acrylic on bristol paper by Terry Widener.  You might be seated in the bleachers looking out at the field, seeing all stages of Joe's batting style, going in close to see only his hands sanding the handle of Betsy Ann as she rests on his lap, or getting a bird's eye view of Griffith Stadium on the fateful day in June.  The color palette is a softened, textural blend of white, gray, brown, blue, and green hues; taking us perfectly into the past.

One of my favorite illustrations is more introspective than the other action pieces.  On the right it shows Joe seated in the locker room next to his locker, head bowed in thought.  From the left newspapers with headlines of the day cross the gutter at the bottom.  Above is a cityscape, full moon shining on a saxophone player to depict the music of 1941.

Hand The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America's Hero written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Terry Widener to sport fans, history buffs or anyone who enjoys a well told tale.  No matter where you are or the time of year it is, you will hear the crack of the bat and the chorus of cheers from the fans as Joe DiMaggio gets another hit.  You might even be yelling out in pure joy yourself!

Please be sure to follow the links embedded in both the author's and illustrator's names to access their official websites.  At the conclusion of the book an extensive author's note, a list of records, source notes, newspaper headlines, a bibliography of books, articles, websites, and additional sources is given.  You couldn't ask for a better nonfiction picture book about America's baseball hero.

I am pleased each Wednesday to participate in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Please take a moment to follow the other blogger links listed there to get connected to some of the best nonfiction titles available.

PLEASE NOTE:  I extend an apology to my faithful readers for this post being so late today (or early morning) as my presence was needed for a family emergency.

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