Saturday, February 6, 2010
Willie and the All-Stars, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, Penguin Group (Canada), 2008. $18.50 ages 8 and up
"It was 1942 and nothing came easy, not even a boy's dreams. Everything Willie loved best was there in that little apartment: Grandma, their radio, and the wad of tape and string Willie used as a baseball when he played stickball in the street."
Willie wants nothing more than to play in the big leagues. He lives and breathes baseball. His Grandma had introduced him to the game and shared her radio so that they could listen to the games from Wrigley Field at home. They could not afford a ticket. His dream kept him going when times were tough and he turned every ordinary daily task into working at his game. He loved playing stickball with his friends and sharing his dreams with his friend, Sean O'Carroll.
One night as he listened to the old men in the neighborhood sharing stories on the stoop, Willie heard them talk about players unknown to him. He had never heard of Satchel Paige, or Josh Logan and wondered why. Ol' Ezra explained about the Negro Leagues and, at the same time, burst Willie's bubble by telling him he would never be able to play in the Majors...he was the wrong color! Sad and bewildered, Willie gave Sean the news. Sean tried to reassure him.
As luck would have it, Ezra was given tickets to an exhibition game between the two leagues and he passed them along to Willie. What a day for he and Sean! They were overwhelmed by the excitement and there was so much to see. That game and watching all those amazing players gave Willie hope for his own future.
Floyd Cooper adds an author's note about the growth of the Negro Leagues and their importance to baseball across America. It is an important part of baseball's history. Avid baseball fans might have prior knowledge but many will learn something new when sharing this story.
I have always been such a fan of Floyd Cooper's work, and was especially intrigued to see him work when I attended a conference many years ago. The illustrations are described as the 'oil wash subtraction process' and is almost impossible to describe; but it is worth your interest and results in stunning, realistic art. He washes a board with color and then begins erasing parts of the color to create an image. Google him and it will lead you to a link where you can watch him work! As well as being an accomplished artist, he is an entertaining speaker.