Monday, June 10, 2013

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Becoming Babe Ruth, by Matt Tavares (Candlewick, 2013)

Recommended for ages 5 and up.

I am not much of a sports fan, but I do enjoy books about baseball players of long ago.  Babe Ruth is such an epic figure in the history of sports, but one that I suspect kids today do not know that well.  When I was growing up, I remember well when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record, which was a huge deal back in 1974.  Of course since then, the record has been broken again by the controversial Barry Bonds, and now Ruth ranks 3rd on the home run king list.  But given the much shorter seasons played in those days, being third doesn't really diminish Ruth's stature as one of the great home run kings!

Matt Tavares has written some wonderful baseball picture books, including Hank Aaron's Dream and There Goes Ted Williams.

Tavares' new picture book on Ruth is a wonderful addition to these prior books.  It concentrates on Ruth's early years, when he was just a kid in Baltimore who got into trouble a lot.  At the tender age of seven, he was left by his parents at a very strict reform school, St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys.  Although to contemporary kids this must seem like a fate worse than death, it's not so bad for George, because he gets to play baseball almost every day.  At school, he's taken under the wing of Brother Matthias, an excellent baseball player himself.  While still at St. Mary's, George is signed by the minor league Baltimore Orioles.  His teammates nickname him "Babe" since he is only sixteen and amazed by everything outside the gate of St. Mary's!  Starting out as a pitcher, Ruth is quickly traded to the major leagues, where he becomes a star pitcher for the Red Sox--at least until 1920, when he is sold to the Yankees for the huge sum of $125,000--the biggest fee ever paid at that time for a baseball player!

But Tavares shows us another side of Ruth--his compassion for orphans and kids from the wrong side of the tracks.  When his boyhood home, St. Mary's is destroyed by fire, Ruth invites the school band to tour with the Yankees to raise money to rebuild the school.  He even invites them to ride the train with him and treats them to ice cream sundaes in the dining car!

Tavares' oversized illustrations capture the jumbo personality of Babe Ruth, who became the biggest celebrity in America.  Tavares writes  "He wears fancy clothes, custom tailored just for him. He drives fast cars and throws wild parties.  He eats enormous amounts of food.  He does whatever he wants.  And he clobbers the baseball like nobody ever has."

Back matter includes an author's note with additional biographical information on Ruth, as well as his pitching and hitting stats and a brief bibliography.  Highly recommended!


Playing by the book said...

The 2nd baseball book in this week's nonfiction monday! I feel a poor host as I know NOTHING about baseball - I'll have to read the books reviewed I guess!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Such a great story!