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Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse: David A. Kelly

Book: Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse
Author: David A. Kelly
Illustrator: Tim Jessell
Pages: 112
Age Range: 5-8 (see further notes on the age classification of this book in the comments)

Babe RuthBackground: I hardly ever enter contests to win books, because I already have books piled up in stacks around my house. But every once in a while, a contest tempts me anyway. Recently Lori Calabrese had a contest at her sports book blog Get in the Game -- Read! to win a signed copy of Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse, a Stepping Stones book by David A. Kelly, about Babe Ruth, and the curse that his trade to the Yankees placed upon the Boston Red Sox. As a dedicated Red Sox fan, I was unable to resist.

Review: Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse is a chapter book aimed at new readers, part of the Random House Stepping Stones series. The book begins with the heartbreak (for Red Sox fans) of the 2003 American League Championship series, and then steps back in time to Babe Ruth's childhood in the early 1900s. The reader learns about George Herman Ruth as a young, disadvantaged troublemaker, and the mentor who taught him to love baseball. The action quickly moves to Ruth's early career as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, and the celebrity (and further trouble-making) that followed. The second third of the book recounts Ruth's trade to the Yankees, and the resulting success for the Yankees, and apparent curse for the Red Sox (they didn't win another World Series for 86 years). The final third of the book is about the 2004 Red Sox, and how they broke the curse and won the World Series. The book ends on an up note, a nice contrast to the opening chapter.

Although much of the Red Sox history was familiar to me, I learned things that I hadn't known about Babe Ruth (especially his prowess as a pitcher -- he once pitched a fourteen inning complete game!). I was also surprised to learn about a specific event that some have apparently credited with the official breaking of the curse. The final third of the book was, for me as a reader, a lovely, nostalgic recap of happily remembered events from five years ago. Of course I'm not the target audience for the book.

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curseis definitely a book for newer readers, with short, declarative sentences, exclamation points, and occasional full-page illustrations. Tim Jessell's black-and-white illustrations have, as befitting a book about Babe Ruth, an old-fashioned feel. They also offer a nice mix of humor, heart, and action (I especially enjoyed a sketch of Ruth slamming his bat into home plate, with the pieces of the bat flying, and Ruth's hat rising up from his head).

David A. Kelly includes in-line definitions for less common words. For example:

"Even though he was now a professional baseball player, Ruth never seemed to grow up. He even had a big smiley face like a baby's. Ruth's nickname was "the Bambino," which means "baby" in Italian." (Page 19)

"In one of the games of the 1918 World Series, Ruth didn't give up a single run to the other team. That's called a shutout." (Page 23)

Older readers might find these definitions redundant, or even faintly condescending, but I think that the tone is perfect for new readers, kids just moving beyond Frog and Toad into slightly longer chapter books. The author also makes sure to provide the most kid-friendly details whenever possible. For example:

"Many times he acted like a kid. He liked pulling silly stunts, trying new things, and simply horsing around. Ruth was often more interested in having fun than in doing what he was supposed to do. Sometimes he wore the same underwear for days at a time. He just didn't feel like changing. He claimed to be able to burp louder than a tractor. He'd prove it to anyone who would listen." (Page 19)

Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curseoffers a nice mix of baseball play-by-play and personal details about the players. Baseball fans will love it, but I think that even non-fans will still find the book interesting. Particularly if they live in New England, where the details of the Red Sox curse and the 2004 World Series are required knowledge for all citizens. Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse is an excellent addition to the ranks of early chapter books, just the thing to engage kids (particularly boys) and get them reading on their own. A must-purchase for early elementary school classroom libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Children
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Won a signed copy in a contest at Get in the Game -- Read!, hosted by Lori Calabrese
Other Blog Reviews: TheHappyNappyBookseller
Author Interviews: AuthorsNow!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.