Three Picture Books that Will Confound Expectations (a mystery, a sick chicken, and an imprudent egg)
Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 24

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!: Jonah Winter & Andre Carrilho

Nonfictionmonday Book: You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Andre Carrilho
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

Sandy KoufaxYou Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho, has hands-down the coolest cover of any book I've seen this year. The online picture doesn't do it justice. The physical book has a holographic cover that shows, as you rotate the book, Koufax in action. It's a book that should be displayed face-out in libraries and bookstores, because kids and adults will be unable to resist picking it up. And once they pick it up, many will be drawn in by the story of the legendary Sandy Koufax. The book begins:

"You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball."

An accompanying chart shows the stats of the "Best Lefties of All Time". The next couple of pages share more about Koufax's dominance in the 1960's, and then the book steps back in time to describe Koufax's rise to fame. It's quite a story. This skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn (who faced some discrimination, gently handled in the text). This pitching prodigy, who struggled early on in his career. This hugely dominant pitcher for six years. This guy who retires "at the peak of his game", leaving baffled reporters in his wake. Through it all, Koufax remains a bit of a mystery. But readers will learn enough to be intrigued.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! is written in the voice of an old-time ballplayer, talking about the good ol' days to his grandkids. Speaking as someone who was there for the whole story. For example:

"One day one of our scouts, Al Campanis, invites Sandy to Ebbets Field--home of our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers--so's he can see the hotshot pitch. After battin' just one time against him, Campanis has seen enough. He says to Sandy, "Kid, how'd you like to play for us? Don't think too hard."

Quick as you can say "Jackie Robinson", this nineteen-year-old squirt was wearin' Dodgers blue and earnin' more dough than some of us old-timers."

I think that this writing style works for the story (though it may take getting used to for some readers). Andre Carrilho's illustrations work, too. He uses old-fashioned, sepia tones, conveying the feel of the time period. He makes Koufax lean and self-contained. Koufax looks intense and focused, but he never really looks happy. You can see, through the pictures alone, why this might be a guy who would give it all up, and retire early. The visuals and the text are well-integrated -- it's a nicely produced title.

In addition to being a tribute to Koufax, this book is also a tribute to old-time baseball. There are pictures of baseball cards on the inside covers, and a glossary of baseball terms and references are provided at the end of the book. More than that, though, is a general tone of respect for baseball that permeates the book. Even though Koufax played his entire career for the Dodgers, baseball fans everywhere are sure to enjoy this book. And hopefully, a few new baseball fans will be created by it, too. This book would make a particularly nice choice for a grandfather reading with his grandson or granddaughter. I recommend You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! for readers young and old.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Planet Esme, readertotz, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, TheHappyNappyBookseller 

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