Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Basketball

February3

Who are you? What are You? Why are you here on this earth? Where are you going? – Coach John McLendon’s four questions for his players

One of the joys of sharing books with children and young adults is that one can introduce readers to stories about people who have made a positive difference in the world. Just before March Madness begins with the focus on college basketball, I enjoy reading Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy (Carolrhoda Books). This year, there is a new book by the same author, Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Carolrhoda Books). These titles are perfect to pair because they demonstrate the universality of the sport, and the courage of two men.

John McLendon (1915-1999) was a disciple of James Naismith, who invented basketball. (How amazing is it that we can trace the origins of this sport to one man?) John McLendon had the goal of becoming a basketball coach, and his father said that he would work and devote his life to helping him achieve that goal. McLendon’s father sent him to the University of Kansas to learn from James Naismith. The biggest hurdle that McLendon would have to face was the color of his skin. He wasn’t allowed to play basketball in college because Kansas’ varsity basketball team did not suit up a black player until 1951. There were no college or professional African-American coaches. Naismith mentored the student and stood up for him when he faced obstacles because of his race. He was instrumental in helping McLendon get his first coaching job.

Game Changer chronicles one event in John McLendon’s illustrious career. In 1944, he orchestrated a secret game between his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes and white members of the Duke University Medical School team. The Duke players didn’t know who they were going to play as they took a circuitous route to their destination. At the beginning of the game, the players of both teams were hesitant because none of them had ever touched a person of a different color. As they all became more confident just playing basketball, the white players soon realized that they were outmatched. McLendon’s team played a much more athletic and faster game. The North Carolina College of Negroes won that first game 88 to 44.

When the game ended, no one wanted to leave. The teams played a second game, but for that, they mixed up the players from both colleges and played shirts against skins. While this was an important step in battling segregation, the players, coaches, and others who found out about it, had to keep silent. There were too many who believed in segregation in the United States who would have harmed the participants.

John McLendon was inducted into the John Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame twice. In 1979, he was inducted as a “contributor”, but in 2016 he was inducted as a coach.

The following video has excerpts of McLendon describing Naismith’s influence on his life:

Mary Garber

September30

miss-maryIt has become commonplace to see women as sports reporters on television or covering sports on the Internet in 2016. This is a fairly recent occurrence though. Contemporary female professional sports writers and commentators owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Garber (1916-2008), a pioneer in that field. Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is a picture book biography that brings Mary to life.

Mary Garber’s family moved from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina when she was eight years old, and Winston-Salem was Mary’s home for the rest of her life. Growing up, Mary enjoyed many sports, especially tackle football with the boys. As a youngster, she was the quarterback for the Buena Vista Devils, known as the BVDs. In school, she played softball and tennis, two sports where it didn’t matter that she was only five feet tall and under one hundred pounds. Her father took Mary and her sister to many athletic events, and he made sure that they understood all of the rules of the games.

mary_garberAfter college, Mary knew that she wanted to be a reporter, although her first assignment was as a society reporter and then a general news reporter. During WWII, she began covering sports when all of the men enlisted. After the war, there was a year that she went back to general reporting, but after that brief interlude the sports beat was hers. There were many obstacles that Mary had to overcome just to do her job. Jackie Robinson became a role model for her. While he was facing taunts and jeers, he remained dignified and kept silent. The discrimination that she faced as a woman in a field of men didn’t match the prejudice that Robinson experienced, but Mary and Jackie were both breaking stereotypes. (Photo from Wikipedia)

During her career, Mary had to fight for admittance to press boxes, stand outside of locker rooms, be ignored by coaches, and even once sew a tear in a basketball players uniform because she was a woman. Along the way coaches began to admire her determination, and readers enjoyed her insights. One of her most significant accomplishments was her advocacy for fighting segregation. She began reporting on games played in Winston-Salem’s all-black schools. No reporter had ever done that. Mary said, “It seemed to me that black parents were as interested in what their kids were doing as white parents were.” Mary cared.

The Mary Garber Pioneer Award is given annually by the Association For Women in Sports Media.

Pedro Martínez

April23

Ramón is the biggest reason
I have gotten where I am.
He is the great one in this family.
I am still Ramón’s little brother.
-Pedro Martínez, 1998

pedroMatt Tavares shares an inspirational story in Growing Up Pedro (Candlewick Press, 2015). Pedro Martínez got his first real baseball glove when his older brother, Ramón, signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for five thousand dollars. The Martínez family lived in the village of Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic, and Ramón was the baseball star of the family. Ramón told Pedro stories of his struggles in the United States because he couldn’t speak much English. Pedro began to study English, and when he was eventually given a shot in the Dodgers’ minor-league system, he could be interviewed without an interpreter.

Many players and fans implied that Pedro only made the team because Ramón was a star pitcher. Pedro was determined to prove them wrong, and he became one of the best relievers in the league. When the Dodgers traded Pedro to the Montreal Expos, Ramón encouraged him to prove his talent. In Montreal, he became a starting pitcher. The Martínez brothers even got to pitch against each other – Ramón won. After Pedro won the National League Cy Young Award in 1997, the Expos couldn’t afford to pay him, and they traded him to the Boston Red Sox. The rest of his story is now Red Sox history. Ramón also joined the Red Sox late in his pitching career. The brothers were back playing ball together just as they did many years ago in their homeland.

There are many videos of highlights of Pedro pitching, but one of my favorites is this one. He struck out three batters in one inning with only nine pitches.

Silent Star

October18

Silent Star

silent starAs many baseball fans enjoy post-season play, it’s a perfect time to introduce children and adults to William Ellsworth Hoy (1862-1961), one of the few deaf players ever to succeed in the major league. His amazing story of talent, persistence, and courage is chronicled in the picture book biography, Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy (Lee & Low, 2012).

William Hoy was able to hear during his earliest years, but when he was three, he lost his ability after he suffered with meningitis. Growing up deaf during the 1860s was difficult for him because there was little sensitivity to his condition. When William was ten years old, life opened up for him when he attended the Ohio School for the Deaf. His education broadened as he learned sign language, how to read lips, and he got to play on the school’s baseball team.

After graduation, Hoy became a successful shoemaker, even buying his own shop where he was able to build a baseball diamond for local teenagers to play with him. That was where an amateur league coach discovered him, and his dream to play professional baseball began to seem possible. William was such a solid player that the following year he made it to the minor leagues with the Oshkosh club.

One of Hoy’s biggest obstacles was that he couldn’t hear if the umpire called a pitch a ball or strike when he was at bat. He needed to turn around, and the umpire repeated his call. Opposing pitchers began to quickly thrown to him before he could settle himself in the batter’s box for the next pitch. This caused him to struggle at bat. Between seasons, William devised a plan to work around this challenge when he worked out a plan for the third base coach to indicate the umpire’s calls with a hand signal. He was on his way to the majors.

William Hoy played for the National League team, the Washington Nationals, for fourteen years. William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy’s statistics rank him with the top twenty-five players who have ever played major league baseball in the areas of stolen bases, assists by an outfielder, and double plays by an outfielder. Yet, he still is not honored in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2008, on the day that the Phillies won the pennant, they honored William “Dummy” Hoy at Deaf Awareness Day.

James Naismith and Basketball

May22

hoopBasketball became an official Olympic sport in 1936, just 45 years after it had been invented by James Naismith. As a young teacher, Naismith took over an unruly gym class, and he was challenged to educate and control the young men in his care. After having little success with the conventional activities and sports, Naismith decided to make up a game of his own, and the sport of basketball was born. His experiment with his original 13 rules was successful, and the boys in the gym class eagerly returned day after day to work on their game. When the holiday break arrived in 1891, the students shared the new game with friends and family, and excitement for the game spread quickly.

James Naismith went on to coach and teach at the University of Kansas. He is often quoted as saying,  “You can’t coach basketball, you just play it.” Naismith’s original 13 rules now reside in Kansas.

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse (Carolrhoda, 2013)

Baseball Season

April11

A is for America’s Most Beloved Ballpark

For baseball lovers everywhere
the experience they want to share
is Fenway’s magic and mystique,
which make this classic park unique.

The Boston Red Sox have played at Fenway Park since 1912. Fenway is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium that is still in use. In 2012, the organization and fans celebrated the centennial of this beloved ballpark.

Jerry Pallotta has written dozens of alphabet and counting books. F is for Fenway illustrated by John S. Dykes (Sleeping Bear Press, 2012) is one of his best for readers of all ages who live in New England. Pallotta adds interesting facts on each page that describes the particular letter. An example of this is the page for N. The author lists all of the retired numbers and includes interesting information about the players who are honored.

To relive one of the glory years for the team, check out this ESPN video on the 2007 World Series.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

April4

In July 2007 a rare baseball card
was sold at auction
for almost three million dollars.
The player on the card
was hatchet-faced, bandy-legged,
and arguably the most famous shortstop
baseball has ever known.
His name was Honus Wagner.
This is his story.

Thus began author Jane Yolen in her book, All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever, illustrated by Jim Burke (Philomel Books, 2010). Honus Wagner went from being a coal miner to becoming one of the most popular baseball players in history. During his playing years, baseball cards were sold in cigarette packs. Because he was concerned with being a role model for his young fans, and he didn’t smoke, he had the cards pulled off the market. A few had already been sold, and these went on to be highly sought after by fans. Honus Wagner was one of the original five men inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Intermediate readers might enjoy Honus & Me by Dan Gutman (Avon, 1997). Gutman’s baseball series takes readers back to the time of the player on the collected baseball card.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

April25

A man has to have goals – for a day, for a lifetime – and that was mine, to have people say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
–    Ted Williams

It can be tough being a baseball fan when one’s favorite team struggles. Boston Red Sox fans understand that feeling better than most baseball fans. Until 2004 and again in 2007, Red Sox teams hadn’t celebrated a World Series win since 1918. Throughout those disappointing years though, there were outstanding players to celebrate, and the best was Ted Williams.

Author/illustrator Matt Tavares idolized Ted Williams as he was growing up, and he listened to his father’s stories about this Red Sox slugger. He created a picture book biography entitled There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived (Candlewick Press, 2012). The story of Ted Williams’ success is legendery. He set innumerable records, even though his career was interrupted by World War II and the Korean War. Baseball fans of all ages will enjoy reading about Ted Willams’ dedication and desire to reach his goals. Tavares included further insight in Ted Williams’ personality in his Author’s Note.

Another book that focuses on Williams’ batting average record is No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season by Fred Bowen, illustrated by Charles S. Pyle (Dutton Children’s Books, 2010).



The Red Sox and New York Yankees are inexplicably bound together throughout baseball history. Phil Bildner’s title, The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41, illustrated by S. D. Schindler (Putnam, 2011) demonstrates that connection. An older title that shouldn’t be missed is The Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaughnessy (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

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