Regular readers of this blog will understand that I was unable to resist reading The Fenway Foul-Up, the first book in David A. Kelly's new Ballpark Mysteries series. This is a Stepping Stone book for newer readers, with roughly two illustrations per chapter. There are also "Dugout Notes" at the end of the book that fill in more details about Fenway Park.
Cousins Mike Walsh and Kate Hopkins have great seats and all-access passes to Fenway Park during a Red Sox game against the Oakland A's, courtesy of Kate's mom, a sports reporter. When someone steals the lucky bat of star slugger Big D, Kate and Mike set out to solve the mystery. They follow clues (including a red herring or two), while lamenting Big D's poor performance without the lucky bat. Then hasten to solve the mystery in time to give Big D a chance to save the game.
As a Red Sox fan, I personally didn't learn too many new things about Fenway (except about some secret writing on the scoreboard, hidden in plain sight, which I had never heard of). But I appreciated the fact that there was a knuckleball pitcher (with "field" in his name), and that the presence of Wally the monster played a part in the events of the story. I enjoyed passages like:
""The field looks so much bigger when you're down here," Kate said. "I can't imagine hitting a home run all the way over that wall."
Kate was right. The field did seem bigger. Mike couldn't believe he was walking on the same grass that the Red Sox played on. It was like a dream come true." (Page 92, ARC)
I especially liked one scene in which the kids are able to visit the pressroom, with open windows out to the infield. The behind-the-scenes look at the park is a lot of fun. Overall, I think Kelly did a good job balancing information-sharing (about baseball in general, and Fenway park specifically) with plot (a challenge in books for this age group).
As for the plot itself, I thought that the solution to the crime was inventive, and the aftermath satisfying for young readers. I did identify the culprit quite early, which is not my favorite thing as an adult reader, but I think that if any young readers do this, it will probably make them feel smart. And even once you know who committed the crime, there's still a question of how, which resolves much later in the book. There's a nice "clue follows from clue logic" to how Mike and Kate go about solving the crime.
Mark Meyers' black and white sketches help bring the characters to life (especially secondary characters like Bobby the Bat Boy). There is plenty of white space, and reasonable amounts of dialog, italics, and exclamation points, all of which should make this book non-threatening to relatively new readers.
All in all, I think that The Fenway Foul-Up is a solid start to The Ballpark Mysteries series for new readers. Baseball fans will like the behind-the-scenes peek at the parks, and the extra information in the Dugout Notes. Mystery fans will like working alongside Mike and Kate to solve the (age-appropriate) mysteries. The Fenway Foul-Up, with its two protagonists, should appeal to both boys and girls. Recommended.
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advance copy, and should be compared with the final book.
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.