Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Born To Play

It was summer.  We were all rookies.  Coach Wadsworth was patient to a fault.  He really understood the skills of the players on his softball team, enhancing our abilities.  He knew as a whole we were only as strong as the weakest link.

So he worked with all of us, hour after hour, game after game.  If you weren't a powerhouse hitter but a fast runner, he made sure you bunted with the best of them.  If you were quick on your feet with honed reflexes but could not throw great distances, he placed you in the infield.  He saw potential; teaching the shortest member of his team to pitch fast, underhand strikes.

There are certain individuals who have a knack for baseball, unlike us rookies of a summer in the sixties, as soon as they can move.  The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story Of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton (Clarion Books, March 29, 2016) written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Steven Salerno is a story about a remarkably gifted player.  Let's turn back the clock.

Edith Houghton used to say, "I guess I was born with a baseball in my hand," and if you'd seen little Edith playing in the 1920s, you'd probably have believed it.  She was magic on the field.

As the youngest of ten children, Edith lacked no opportunity to play the game, especially within the neighborhood.  Across the street from her home on many a summer evening baseball was played by men and watched by Edith from the comfort of a bedroom window.  In 1922 the Philadelphia Bobbies, an all-female professional baseball team, were looking for new players.  Edith tried out for the team and her amazing skills landed her a spot as starting shortstop at the age of ten!

Nicknamed The Kid by reporters her abilities were duly noted by fans of the game no matter who they played.  At the age of thirteen her team was offered a trip of a lifetime; they were going to Japan to play against men's baseball teams at the college level.  They traveled by train for twelve days to the west coast and by boat for thirteen days until they reached their destination.  I'll bet they were quite a sight when they played ball on the deck of the ship.

So much was different in Japan than back at home in Pennsylvania but once the first game started that was all that mattered.  Baseball was baseball.  For the games in Japan, the team had a male pitcher and catcher.  To those who knew Edith it was no surprise how she acquired a great deal of yen after a promise from one of the players.

For two months, the girls and young women did everything together; played baseball, enjoyed the sights of the country, relaxed creating musical medleys and even, on the return voyage home, managed to puzzle a few passengers on board with a prank.  Arriving in Philadelphia they received a heartwarming welcome.  The best greeting of all for Edith Houghton was at 2502 Diamond Street.

For readers the highlight of this book, other than learning about the astonishing life of Edith Houghton, was the care given by author Audrey Vernick in writing a narrative with fascinating explicit details.  In describing Edith becoming a part of the team, she mentions everything needed to be done to make the uniform fit the ten-year-old.  She works actual quotes from Edith into the story seamlessly.

As you read this title you are given a very clear picture of defining events which Vernick links together as a wonderful whole.  We get to know Edith on a very personal level.  Here is a sample passage.

No one Edith knew had been to Japan.  Most people she knew hadn't stepped foot outside Pennsylvania.
"My parents had to go to school and explain to them about this," Edith said. "The principal and teachers agreed that I'd get more out of that trip than being in that class, and it's true."

You don't realize it when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case initially but after reading the book, you know Steven Salerno has captured the essence of Edith Houghton in her stance and with the expression on her face.  By placing the suitcase labeled with places next to her, he gives us an idea of her travels with the team.  To the left, on the back, an image of the team from the interior of the title has been placed on a shade of green with a circle around the center, focusing on Edith, displaying the actual colors of grass and sky within it.  The opening and closing endpapers are a bright grass green.  The title text from the front is repeated on a much larger scale for the title page.

Nearly all the illustrations

created with charcoal, ink, and gouache with added digital color rendered in Adobe Photoshop

span across two pages.  Salerno's color palette, shading, fine lines, and use of light easily transport readers to a time in the past.  The design and layout is fabulous as his perspectives shift to further engage readers.

One of my favorite illustrations covers two pages.  Blue window edges and blue window shades frame images of a ball game during the evening.  A light glows on the field near home plate as a batter waits for a pitched ball to arrive and near the third baseman.  Along the road cars have stopped with people standing outside them to watch the game.  Above this with arms resting on the window sill is Edith, wearing her ball cap with the brim tipped up, a half smile on her face.  Gauzy white curtains are billowing in a gentle breeze.

The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story Of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Steven Salerno is an out-of-the-park biography.  You will find yourself inspired and cheering for this girl who knew what she wanted and went after it with her whole heart.  In a two page A Note From The Author Audrey Vernick goes on to explain how baseball was a part of Edith's life until her passing in 2013.  This woman garnered more than one "first".

You can enjoy more information about Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno by following the links attached to their names to access their websites.  They both have blogs also.  A Discussion and Activity Guide has been created for this title.  Audrey Vernick was a guest at author Kirby Larson's Friend Friday. Audrey Vernick was interviewed by Beth Shaum on her blog, A Foodie Bibliophile In Wanderlust.  Here are a couple of links about Edith Houghton; From Edith Houghton to Amanda Hopkins, MLB's 70-year gap in female scouts and Edith Houghton, Rare Woman Among Baseball Scouts, Dies at 100.  

You might want to check out the other collaboration by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno, Brothers At Bat: The True Story Of An Amazing All-Brothers Baseball Team.

Please take a moment to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. What a gorgeous review. It took my breath away! Thank you!

    1. Thank you Audrey! You are most welcome. I love this book. It helped me to remember every wonderful moment playing softball. What a woman Edith was! Thank you so much for writing about her.

  2. Great review, Margie! I was definitely cheering for Edith (and I'm not even a baseball fan). It was very well done.

    I also found both of these sports pbs to be very touching:

    The Willam Hoy story by Nancy Churnin (the last page had me bawling!)

    Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy was very moving too.

    Love your in-depth reviews :)

    1. Thank you Maria. Can you imagine playing with her or watching her play? How exciting it must have been for everyone but especially for her family. Thank you for those other titles. I will definitely be looking those up. Thank you again.

  3. You sold me on this book and I'm ordering it for my girls who play softball.

    1. This makes me so happy Mandy. I know your girls are really going to enjoy it. Edith is a true inspiration.

  4. You're right that the details Vernick uses bring the text to life. I love your thoughts about the art, too.

    1. Thank you Annette! I really like first enjoying a book and then exploring why it really made a connection with me.