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Friday, May 27, 2016

The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2016. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"The team was made up of older teenagers and women in their twenties, but the manager allowed Edith to try out ... even though she was still in elementary school. Edith was so good she made the team. Edith was so good she was named starting shortstop. Edith was so good she was playing professional baseball ... "

Audrey Vernick is a baseball fan ... it's not hard to tell. As she did in 2012 when she wrote a book about the 1930s Acerra family in Brothers at Bat, she opens our eyes to another legend of the game in The Kid From Diamond Street.

Edith Houghton played ball in the early twentieth century, at a time when most girls did not.

"It didn't matter that there was no such thing as Little League. Or that most girls didn't play baseball. If there was a sandlot game anywhere near her house on Diamond Street, you could bet she was right in the middle of it."

Baseball consumed her. When she wasn't playing, she was watching. She was much admired by her teammates, playing mostly with males. She was only ten when she heard about a Philadelphia women's team. They were called the Bobbies, and looking for new players. She made the team! Her hair needed a new cut, the uniform didn't come close to fitting her, and she impressed everyone who watched her play.

The team's success mattered little to the young woman. She just wanted to play the game. A chance to travel to Japan was a welcome adventure. Practicing on the ship's deck was great fun, providing hours of improving skills, as well as much enjoyment in watching balls sail over the rails and into the ocean waters. Japan was nothing like home: so much to see, baseball to be played in city after city, singing and playing instruments together with her teammates.  Despite the fun, Edith missed home and her family.

When the team returned, Edith arrived with many wonderful memories and a continuing love for the game that had afforded her so much adventure. Edith played for other teams, took a turn at scouting in high schools and colleges, and remained a fan of the game until her death in 2013, just days short of her 101st birthday.

Hers is a remarkable story well told. Steven Salerno creates illustrations in 'charcoal, ink, and gouache, with added digital color rendered in Adobe Photoshop'. They take us back to the 1920s when Edith found fame in the game she so loved. They bring the audience into the ball parks  of the time and to a faraway country. His sweeping double page spreads leave the reader fully aware of what life was like for a very young girl whose talent for playing and love of the game were unmatched.

An author's note concerning the time following the Japan trip and archival photos are welcome.

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