Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-December Edition
6 Years (and Counting)

Play Ball Jackie!: Stephen Krensky

Book: Play Ball Jackie!
Author: Stephen Krensky
Illustrator: Joe Morse
Pages: 32
Age Range: 7 and up

PlayballPlay Ball, Jackie!, written by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Joe Morse, is a fictionalized account of a young white boy attending Jackie Robinson's first major league baseball game at Ebbets Field. Krensky fills in lots of historical details, from the approximate number of fans in attendance to background about segregation in the US in the 1940s to details about how Robinson became the first black player in the Majors. These background sections are interspersed with sections telling of Matty's (fictional) experience at the game, as his immigrant father tells him that this is America, and everyone should have a chance to play.

Krensky strikes a reasonable balance, I think, between making Matty and his father open-minded (Matty even takes the side of a black boy in a potential conflict), while acknowledging the many people in attendance who were downright hostile towards Robinson. I also think he does a reasonable job of balancing story with presentation of facts. Play Ball, Jackie! isn't a gripping page-turner, or anything. But showing the history from Matty's perspective makes the story more accessible to young readers than it might be otherwise (particularly for those not already fans of baseball). An author's note and several archival photos at the end add more detail for those who need it.

Joe Morse's illustrations bring Jackie Robinson, and Matty and his father, to life. The ugly, anti-Robinson fans remain more as ugly caricatures. Morse's appreciation for baseball comes through, too, as does a sepia-tinged impression of the general time period.

For kids growing up baseball fans today, in the time of David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, and Manny Ramirez, the idea of not having any black players seems inconceivable. Play Ball, Jackie! shows them how different things were 65 years ago, and how brave Jackie Robinson was. Play Ball, Jackie! is a picture book for older kids, one that would go right over the heads of preschoolers. But it would make a fine classroom reference book to consult for a history section, and a great gift for any 8-year-old baseball fan. I enjoyed it!

Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: April 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Steve L.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).