From School Library Journal
Grade 2–5—Bowen's picture-book tribute introduces readers to a baseball great whose strong, smooth swing, eagle eye, and tireless work ethic accompanied him from an impoverished childhood to the major leagues. In his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox, he hit .327, belted out 31 home runs, and earned nicknames like "the Splendid Splinter." In 1941, many players were readying to fight in World War II; Williams would join up once the season finished. Nonetheless, it was "a magic summer for baseball" with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and, as the summer wore on, the thrilling possibility that Williams might hit .400 for the season. Red Sox fan Bowen wears his heart on his sleeve, but he captures all of the drama as Williams's pursuit of the record books came down to the final games of the season. Pyle's brilliantly composed paintings, reminiscent of 1940s book illustrations, underscore the baseball action and teem with period details. Newsboys hawk papers on street corners, soda jerks serve up ice-cream cones, and through it all strides the tall, determined figure of Williams. Two-color borders, plenty of white space, and a smattering of black-and-white photos add to the overall appeal, and Williams's 1941 stats are reproduced on the back cover. Together, the text and artwork create a warmly realized portrait of this icon and his significance in baseball history. This winning book should resonate with a wide audience.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
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Usually, only a handful of Major League baseball players hit .300 or better for a full season, making the fact that Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams hit more than .400 in 1941 seem all the more incredible. Bowen’s recounting of Williams’ remarkable year begins with a young boy’s determination to become “the greatest hitter who ever lived” but quickly moves on to the last day of the 1941 season. At that point, Williams was batting .39955, which would have rounded up to .400, prompting the notion that Ted should sit out the final doubleheader. Williams, however, was having none of it: he always knew there was “no easy way” to become the greatest, so he played both games, amassing six hits and ending the season at .406. Unlike many decades-old baseball stories, this one hasn’t lost its appeal over the years, and Bowen makes the most of it in terms kids will understand. Pyle’s illustrations, combined with vintage photographs, capture the drama of Williams at bat, especially his long stride and powerful follow-through. Grandparents will enjoy reading this one to young fans. Grades 1-3. --Bill Ott
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