From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 2–5—This smartly crafted picture-book biography brings to life the Hall of Famer whose rare baseball card sold for three million dollars at a 2007 auction. Honus Wagner played for more than 20 seasons, most with the Pittsburgh Pirates; today he is recognized as one of the greatest shortstops ever. Born in 1874 to hardworking German immigrants, he lived in a hardscrabble suburb of Pittsburgh, whose skies were darkened by smoke from the city's many steel and iron mills. After sixth grade, Wagner and his brothers followed their father into the coal mines, where "he worked loading two tons of coal a day for 79 cents." Baseball offered a way out of the mines, and Wagner's natural talent and work ethic won acclaim throughout his career. With a storyteller's voice, Yolen's prose depicts the homely, bow-legged athlete: "it was said he could tie his shoes without bending over." Together with Burke's masterfully composed oil paintings, Yolen limns the athlete's strength of character whether in protecting an umpire from an unruly crowd or teaching his beloved daughters to play the game he loved so much. Another delightful oversize illustration finds Wagner awkwardly posed in a photographer's studio, his huge fielder's glove on his knee, as a group of young fans gather outside. Yolen and Burke have created an affectionate tribute to a baseball great and his times.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
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Yolen opens her picture-book verse biography of one of baseball’s most revered shortstops with a quick account of how his incredibly rare baseball card sold for almost three million dollars. She then firmly plants the story in Wagner’s working-class upbringing, where the bowlegged boy packed on muscle loading coal in the mines and developed a love of baseball playing with his German immigrant family after church on Sundays. A handful of tall-tale-worthy anecdotes (picking up a frustratingly slow base runner and carrying him to the plate; loosening a couple of mouthy Ty Cobb’s teeth) make for memorable lore, each ending with a folksy “How about that!” In stating the obvious, that Honus did everything “without drugs / or fancy training programs / or million-dollar incentives,” Yolen comes off as more grouchy than admiring, but she is in particularly fine form with her sharp baseball-specific descriptions (“the dust from a sliding steal curling up into his nose”). Burke’s spacious and painterly artwork is a little static but nicely evokes a simpler era in this stately tribute to the early diamond hero. Grades 1-3. --Ian Chipman