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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brothers at Bat, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"In one New Jersey town near the ocean, back in the 1920s and '30s, you could hear the same door slam over and over. Three brothers raced out. Out went three more. And more. And still more. It sounds like a fairy tale: twelve baseball-playing brothers."

It's pretty incredible, even after you have read this story of the Acerra family and their sixteen children! Twelve are boys and that is enough to field a baseball team...really!

It is set at a time in America when baseball was playing an important role in the lives of many families. Pick-up games, high school teams, sandlot baseball and kids were outside finding things to do. When you have a family with that many children, they don't really have to count on neighbor children for fun; they can make their own. That they did:
"In 1938, the brothers ranged in age from seven to thirty-two. The oldest nine formed their own semi-pro team and competed against other New Jersey teams. Their father coached them and never missed a game."

The family was very close, and the boys loved playing ball. They played any time they could and were much appreciated for their hard work, team spirit and expert abilities. Each brought their own unique talent to the ball field; some more skilled than others, but all equally loyal to all members of the Acerras team. They were always appreciative of each other's play and crowds loved watching them.

As is wont to happen in sports, not everything went as planned. In one game Alfred was injured and as a result, lost an eye. Eddie had to step in and catch for him while he recuperated. Again, their team ethic kicked in:

"But when you have eleven brothers willing to throw you balls in the yard - gently at first, then a bit harder - you get your skills back. You get your courage back, too. Alfred was soon wearing the Acerras uniform again."

Six of the brothers also served their country in the Second World was the first time that they had been separated. When they all returned safely, they picked up their baseball gloves and played locally, the younger brothers taking over for those who had grown too old to play. The began play in the 1920s and played their last game in 1952. In 1997 they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their contributions to the sport over so many years:

"The Acerra brothers were the longest-playing all-brother baseball team ever." No kidding!

The writing is like a conversation and readers come away with a sense of knowing something about a very special family. Audrey Vernick describes their accomplishments, their lives and she does it with candor and genuine affection. I love poring over Steven Salerno's vintage illustrations which give gave a real sense of time and place. Take note of the baseball bat on the front cover, purposefully autographed by each of the Acerra brothers. The uniforms, the ball diamonds, the three outhouses needed for such a large family will draw your attention, and the evident love of baseball will hold it.

There is an author's note to add credibility to the telling. Audrey Vernick interviewed both Freddy and Eddie, and did her research before telling this wonderfully uplifting story. Add this to your list of baseball books. It's sure to be a winner!

I will leave you with this:


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