While recently look at James Preller's blog, I found a post where he listed his favorite baseball books. He mentioned that he wasn't as familiar with kids' titles and readers began throwing out titles. I saw this book mentioned, and while at my local library in Hilliard found it on the new book table. I picked up and once I got around to opening it, I couldn't put it down. The concept hooked me from the first chapter...uh...inning.
The idea is that the story is told in nine innings instead of chapters. The book opens with the story of German immigrant Felix Schneider playing an early form of baseball in New York in 1845. He stowed away on a ship to come to America to make his fortune and bring his family over from Germany. Felix lives with his uncle, a tailor and runs materials to and from the buyers. He is fascinated with baseball and finds himself watching the New York Knickerbockers team of fireman playing ball wishing he could be part of their game. When fire breaks out he gets involved fighting it and is injured so badly he can't run and play ball any longer. As he recovers, Felix cuts apart what is left of his burned shoes and sews together a crude baseball.
The next inning has his son, Louis, fighting in the Civil War carrying the home made baseball as a good luck charm. The ball is traded for a bat owned by a soldier from Louisville, Kentucky...hmmm...I've heard of that somewhere. Inning three is the story of Arnold Schneider who meets one of baseball's early superstars King Kelly The family saga continues until 2002 when Snider Flint is given a box of baseball memorabilia that includes a crudely sewn baseball and a bat that may have belonged to one of baseball's great early sluggers. Since Snider is recovering from a broken leg experienced while escaping a house fire he has plenty of time to investigate the history of each item for his uncle, an antiques and collectibles dealer.
Alan Gratz does a masterful job of weaving the Schneider family tree into a baseball time line. He follows them through the years of discrimination against Jews in New York when the name changes from Schneider to Snider, through a grand daughter playing in the women's leagues during World War II and a little league baseball game in Prospect Park with a young man struggling to pitch a perfect game. The detail is incredible, and the reader is drawn into this human drama from the first pitch to the last. When I finished the book, I thought of the extra innings that I wish Alan Gratz would have included because I enjoyed his writing style so much.
When the story is over, there are historical footnotes about what is historical in each inning fascinating information, that is woven seamlessly throughout the story.
I'm not sure if I'll put this in the library, there are some themes that may be a bit mature for an elementary school, but I'll definitely recommend it to the better fifth grade readers for their summer reading lists. I completely enjoyed The Brooklyn Nine a Novel in Nine Innings.