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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh, written by Uma Krishnaswami. Tu Books, Lee & Low, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"After communion, everyone got back onto their trucks and drove the short distance to the picnic area at Los Picachos. Usually the Mexican Hindu families talked over each other at the tops of their voices, a small, tight community in the larger world that did not understand them. Today, the conversation was subdued. Even Tia Manuela was quiet, her laughter dampened. The sun shone cheerfully upon those low hills west ... "

Historical fiction brings new learning and interest in others to many young readers. It provides an opportunity to live in times past, and to develop an understanding for those whose lives have not followed the same path as their own. It has long been a favorite type of book for me. I absolutely love it when I read a book that teaches me about something I had not known.

That is exactly what happened when I read this wonderful book about Maria Singh and her adha-adha community. Adha-adha means half and half. Maria's father is from India and a Sikh, while her mother is from Mexico and a Catholic. Such communities were not unusual in California in the 1940s, following World War II.

Maria's story concerns both cultures; the men who came to the US through Mexico due to anti-Indian immigration laws. Their Hispanic wives have journeyed north with them, and they have settled on land, often rented. This means that their lives there are determined by their landlords. When the man who owns the land her father has farmed decides to sell, the family is thrown into unease. The government will not allow him to buy the land as he has no standing in the country.

That is not Maria's only concern. Maria loves baseball, and one of the teachers at her school is willing to coach a girls' team. Maria wants to play, but must first convince her father to allow it. Then, she must enlist her mother's help to make her father see that shorts, not a dress, are needed for her to play well. Finally, she must 'step up to the plate' in support of a new baseball field in their community.

Though the two cultures are very different, the author handles the storytelling with great care in helping readers see that working together and having respect for each other goes a long way toward tolerance and acceptance of those differences. Some problems are significant; others not as life-changing. Maria learns this, learns from the discoveries she makes and moves forward to a better understanding. There are a number of issues presented, but the author manages to keep her readers engaged as they consider the impact of each on Maria, her family and her community.

There is much to learn in this well-written and emotional tale about Indian independence, about racism and conflict, about community, and about culture. It is eye-opening and hopeful in the story it presents.

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