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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Becoming Babe Ruth, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 6 and up

"They eat breakfast in complete silence. If they talk, they might get whipped. They eat the same food every day. They go to class. They go to work. They follow the rules. George does not like following rules, and he does not like going to class. He misses his parents and his baby sister. But there is one thing that he does like..."

I have heard his name over and over again, but did not know Babe Ruth's story. Since I am such a fan of Matt Tavares and his sports stories, I knew that I would like this new book. It is an homage to a national baseball hero, and a look at the way he changed the game.

He is only seventeen when his father sends him to St. Mary's Industrial School, feeling that George's behavior is out of control and can not be managed at home. While he doesn't like the school's demanding regimen, it does have its benefits. Brother Matthias takes the young boy under his wing, teaching him the game of baseball. Recognizing his formidable skills, he goes on to help make them even better.

George is only 19 when the Baltimore Orioles sign him to a contract, give him a nickname that matches his enthusiasm for the game and his new life. He is forever known in sport as Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. Trades take him first to Boston and then to the Yankees, and he becomes a hero of unfathomable proportions. He is a man larger than life, a worthy hero while living that life with great gusto.

Matt Tavares ensures that all the important 'stuff' is included for his young and ardent audience. He places his focus not only on baseball, but on the philanthropy that became a part of Babe's legacy. He charmed fans and is an appealing character to know through the anecdotes shared in this exemplary book. He uses watercolor, gouache and pencil to bring Babe to life for a new generation, showing on every page how happy he is to live the life he has.

An author's note, a stats chart and a bibliography make it clear that the author views his subject with wonder, just as he hopes his readers will do when they have read this book. I'll be adding this to my growing list of outstanding picture book biographies. I hope you will do that, too.

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