It never fails that at this time of year, I find a new baseball book to share with the kids in the library. This year I found Lucky: Maris, Mantle and My Best Summer Ever by Wes Tooke which is set in 1961, the year that Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were competing to see who could be the first to break Babe Ruth's record number of home runs in a season. The two Yankee players and friends were about as different as two men could get. Mantle loved the spotlight and the night life of New York. Maris loved baseball, so he put up with the spotlight and avoided the night life as much as possible. It's a great baseball story on it's own and the subject of what some call one of the best baseball movies ever, 61*.
Wes Tooke takes the drama of that summer and lets Louis May have a front row seat to tell the story. Louis is a child of divorce, a rarity in 1961. To make matter worse, his mother has begun to live the beatnik life in New York City. His father re-marries to the typical 1960s suburban mother who has a son of her own. In her eyes, Louis can't do anything right, and her son, Bryce, is wonderful. Both boys love baseball and the Yankees, Louis shows it by studying and memorizing baseball statistics from the cards in his extensive collection. Bryce does it by imitating them on the stick ball field.
Louis' father has tickets to the Yankees games and the boys take turns going. On a trip to Yankee Stadium Louis extends an at bat for Maris by interfering with a foul ball. At the end of the game his is invited into the locker room to meet the player. Battling his star struck induced nerves, Louis is able to quote all of the players' stats and figure batting averages and is asked to become a Yankee bat boy. While it may be a little far fetched, I could accept it knowing that it was going to further the story line. Throughout the summer, Louis gets an inside and up close look at the two baseball legends, and the reader is let in on the extreme differences in each players' approach to the game and life.
I really like the way that Wes Tooke weaves the history and culture of 1961 throughout the book and the way he develops the character of Louis. When the step brothers have to work together to solve a problem and help Maris the author brings them together in a way that is believable. The chapter where Maris, Mantle and Bob Cerv teach Louis to hit using a plunger handle and ball of tape. Both Maris and Mantle give a clinic on how to hit, but Louis still can't get the hang of it. Bob Cerv, who looks nothing like an athlete, steps in and helps Louis stop thinking so hard and just focus on the ball. The writing is entertaining and easy for a guy who could never hit to relate to.
Overall I liked the book it simple and enjoyable and will introduce kids to a baseball story they probably aren't familiar with. I think most third and all fourth and fifth graders can enjoy this book.