Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Shining Star On The Diamond

The sometimes wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking, thing about life is it's full of surprises.  You're never one hundred percent sure what any given day will bring.  You may dream, plan and expect your hours, days, weeks, months and years to go one way, but it's a good idea to be ready for unforeseen occurrences.

As an example you may be an author/illustrator celebrating the release of your book, only to discover readers' copies are not appearing on bookstore shelves.

In this case we have life, to a degree, imitating art; art created to inspire and demonstrate acts of patience, practice, perseverance and paying it forward.  Growing Up Pedro:  How The Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues (Candlewick Press, February 10, 2015) written and illustrated by Matt Tavares, highly respected author/illustrator of baseball biographies and fictional picture book stories about baseball, paints us a vivid portrait with his words and images about two baseball greats.

The Dominican Republic, 1981
One sunny day in the
village of Manoguayabo,
Pedro Martinez sits in the shade
and watches the older boys play.

Wanting to play but understanding he is too small, Pedro's admiration for his brother continues to grow.  Ramon, Pedro's brother, is the oldest in a family of six siblings.  He plays baseball better than anyone else.

Pedro practices his throwing at the ripe mangoes in the tree behind the shack where they live as Ramon has told him to do.  At night the two talk and dream of major league baseball.  Time passes and Ramon, at age sixteen, goes from playing on the Dominican national team to having a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite the two hour bus ride from Manoguayabo, Pedro joins his brother at the

Dodgers' Dominican baseball academy

whenever he can.  He is allowed to participate in the practicing.  Nearing his seventeenth birthday, Ramon leaves for the United States leaving behind a younger brother who longs to follow his path.  Pedro is mindful of everything Ramon tells him about life in the United States playing baseball.

After a grueling month long tryout at the Dodgers camp, Pedro, regardless of his age, sixteen, and size, is given a contract.  A few years later he finds himself in Great Falls, Montana playing in the minor leagues.  He practices his game and his English proving to himself and others his value.  In 1992 those whispered conversations at night, dreams of major league baseball, come true.  Pedro and his older brother Ramon are playing together.

A year later, to Pedro's dismay, he is traded to the Montreal Expos.  Following supportive advice given by his brother, four seasons later he receives the designation as

the best pitcher in the National League, 

surpassing his brother Ramon. Another trade brings Pedro milestone after milestone, forever documented in the annals of baseball.  Hero of the game and to the people of Manoguayabo, Pedro grew up.

When Matt Tavares writes about baseball readers get a sense of his passion for the game in the rhythm and choice of his words.  To him it's important for us to know the whole person, their background, and the ups and downs of their lives on and off the field.  Thorough research, including a visit to the Dominican Republic, is evident in the inclusion of relevant descriptions about Pedro and his brother Ramon, bringing us into significant moments and events such as Ramon buying Pedro his first real baseball glove with his first contract money.

Through his narrative we understand the shaping of the relationship between the two brothers.  Layer by layer he heightens our anticipation of Pedro's accomplishments.  We are inwardly cheering each and every one of them.  Here is a sample passage.

It turns out that Ramon is right.
Pedro goes to Montreal in 1994 
and immediately joins the starting rotation.
Every time he takes the mound,
he remembers everyone who doubted him.
With every pitch, he tries to prove them wrong.

Upon removing the dust jacket from the book case readers will see a difference; a then and now exchange.  Matt Tavares cleverly uses similar background color so the shift is smooth.  On the front of the dust jacket Pedro is winding up for a pitch in a Red Sox game.  To the left an interior picture of him and Ramon throwing rocks at ripe mangoes is framed in fine red lines.

The book case shows Pedro in a stance similar to the jacket except he is standing in the street back home as a youth playing with friends, a woman hangs laundry on a line outside one of the shacks.  Again, framed by thin red lines, an interior image is used on the back.  It's during a Boston Red Sox game.  Pedro and Ramon are shown chatting in the dugout.  These four pictures advise readers of the lifelong commitment Pedro has to the game and to his older brother, Ramon.

On the page before the title and verso, Tavares moves in close to the group displaying the strikeout signs during the game.  Above them is a quote from Pedro declaring the reason for his success.  All the images rendered in watercolor, gouache and pencil beautifully depict a real sense of place and time.  A full color palette employing use of light and shadow by Tavares creates stunning double page, single page and larger visuals crossing the gutter.  Several times smaller illustrations enhance portions of the narrative.  At one point an element extends from the frame providing more depth.

One of my favorite pictures is of Pedro pitching for the Montreal Expos.  Behind him the crowd is a colorful blend.  Only his upper body is shown, his arm back ready to release the ball.  The look on his face is of intense determination.  The details are incredible.  The only things missing are the sounds in the stadium and the smell of popcorn, hot dogs and peanuts.

Baseball fans will pour over every single page of this title.  Everyone else will take away true inspiration from the combination of words and pictures in Growing Up Pedro:  How The Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues written and illustrated by Matt Tavares.  From poverty to remarkable athletes, cemented by brotherly love, this is a story to remember.  An Author's Note, statistical chart, extensive Bibliography and Acknowledgements are included at the book's end.

By following the link attached to Matt Tavares' name you can access his website to read more about him, his art and other titles.  This is a link to his blog documenting his process and progress on this book. At the Candlewick Press website an interior image is available for you to see.  They have also developed a Teacher's Guide to use with four of Matt Tavares' baseball biographies.  Enjoy the book trailer.

UPDATE:  Matt Tavares wrote a blog post, GROWING UP PEDRO, Behind the Scenes: Illustrating Page One, on March 20, 2015.  This is the kind of information readers really like to know. The photographs and insights he shares make the entire process more real. Here is a tweet he sent out about the dust jacket and book case.

Remember to visit educator Alyson Beecher's website, Kid Lit Frenzy, to see the titles other bloggers have included this week as participants in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Matt Tavares ROCKS, and this new baseball biography is no exception. GREAT story, well told. I really enjoyed it.

    1. You've got that right Teresa! When you have an author/illustrator who fuels a subject with research, outstanding storytelling and gorgeous artwork, readers are winners.

  2. I don't like baseball and even I'm tempted to read this! I'd been hearing about it and was wondering why we hadn't been getting it in in our store.Now I know why! :D

    1. Whether you like baseball or not, this is the story of a man and his brother who had a dream and made it come true. Plus, the illustrations are amazing.

  3. This is a terrific review. It not only sounds inspiring, but the illustrations sound wonderful. Thanks for the heads up, will look for it!

    1. Thank you Linda! I am a huge fan of Matt's work. All his books are outstanding.

  4. Forgot-love the update at the beginning too. I wonder how many "new" books that will make late? Too bad!

    1. I've wondered that very thing. That would make a good story. ☺

  5. I can't wait to purchase this for all the baseball-book inhaling kids at our school! They read out everything we have on the topic, so it's awesome to add something new of the quality Tavares guarantees.

    1. I am so happy you will be adding it to your collection Rebecca! Tavares really knows baseball. It comes through in both his words and pictures.