From School Library Journal
Grade 1–4—In 1942, young Willie already knows that nothing comes easy, but he dreams of baseball fame. When a neighbor tells him about baseball's color line, he is crushed, feeling "all closed up inside." Then he's given tickets to an exhibition game between Negro League and Major League All-Stars at Wrigley Field. Though their uniforms and equipment are aged and tattered, the Negro Leaguers, led by Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, quickly impress the crowd with their hard-driving playing style. Willie notes that "from the first pitch," they seem "hungrier for the victory," and they eventually out muscle the Major Leaguers. The story ends on a hopeful note, with a handshake between two opposing players, symbolizing that the victory has brought "a nod of acknowledgment, if not acceptance, from White to Black." An author's note adds a thumbnail sketch of the Negro Leagues. Cooper's vibrant, nostalgic oil paintings, in hues of golden brown and earth tones, enhance this story's winsome appeal. Pair it with Carole Boston Weatherford's A Negro League Scrapbook
(Boyds Mills, 2005) and Gavin Curtis's The Bat Boy and His Violin
(S & S, 1998), both excellent introductions to this period for fans and casual readers alike.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
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It’s 1942 and 10-year-old Willie, a big Cubs fan, looks forward to the day when he’ll be a major leaguer. When he hears men on the corner excitedly talking about players he has never heard of—Satchel Paige, Papa Bell—Willie thinks they can’t be that good if they’re not in the majors; he is told he wouldn’t be able to play either because he is black. Then, excitement! Willie is given tickets to an exhibition game between Negro League and major league all-stars—in Wrigley Field. Willie goes in rooting for the major leaguers but comes out with appreciation for the black all-stars. A special moment is watching players from the opposing teams shake hands. By looking at race relations through the prism of baseball, Cooper will draw readers (though a comment about segregated fountains and trolleys in Chicago seems off base). The soft-focus sepia-touched artwork, vintage Cooper, is a nice mix of action and nostalgia. An author’s note gives a brief baseball history: first the races played together, then apart, before finally coming together once more. Grades 1-3. --Ilene Cooper