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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You Never Heard of Willie Mays? Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Terry Widener. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2013. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"And he was the kid who in 1946, at only fifteen years old, got asked to play pro ball in the Negro Leagues with grown men - and he did!
Suddenly, the teenage kid was makin' more money than his pop. And when, the year after that, the major league ended their stupid rule barrin' black guys, there was a ray of hope..."

I'm missing baseball! I am in Victoria visiting Erin and Andrew, and they don't have cable. In fact, they don't watch much television at all. That is a good thing. Since arriving on Saturday evening, I have finished three novels, and enjoyed spending time with them every day. What a lovely holiday it is! 

But, I miss seeing the Jays play in the evenings. So, I will turn to one of the picture book biographies that I recently read. I very much enjoyed Jonah Winter's exceptional look at another baseball legend in You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? (Schwartz & Wade, 2009) I was sure that I would find Willie Mays' story equally fascinating. So, I started reading it with anticipation. 

Terry Widener does a stellar job of bringing one of the greatest baseball players in history to life, sharing the setting and Mays' personality in his acrylic illustrations. He shares that world with us in elegant artwork that gives readers a feel for the world in which Willie played his game. And he gives us a rich and telling look at the man who had such a gift of determination and grace under pressure. 

We first see Willie sitting in front at the radio listening to the game he loves. Thus, his story begins. 
He was only 15 when he started playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues, showing both his batting and fielding prowess to all fans in attendance. The only thing he wanted to do was to play baseball:

"Mays tried so hard he sometimes passed out right there on the field! They'd have to carry him off on a stretcher. And then, after games, he'd go back home to Harlem and play stickball on St. Nicholas Place with the neighborhood kids. It was like he couldn't stop! The Polo Grounds, the streets - didn't care where he was playin'."

Sidebars that look like baseball tickets provide additional factual information about Willie, and his many spectacular plays. An author's note, highlights, listing, glossary and online places to find more information add to the appeal. 

Everyone wanted him on their team! Now, you can have his story on your library shelf. It is very much worth the read. Say Hey, Willie.

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