Springtime means it’s time to put away all those bedtime stories about old ladies whispering “hush” and start busting out the stories of umpires yelling, “safe!” Because this game is about more than just crushed home runs and overpriced beer, here are a bunch of books that look at the ins and outs of Its 170-year history. They’re full of heroes, underdogs, and barrier-breakers that will not only amp your kid up for a ballgame, but will teach them some (non-performance-enhancing-drug-related) life lessons.
The William Hoy Story
It’s the true story of ballplayer William “Dummy” Hoy, who managed to play for the Cincinnati Reds back in 1894 despite not being able to hear anything on the field (or, maybe to his benefit, his teammates calling him dummy). The next time your kid wonders why the umpire points when calling balls and strikes, you can point to Hoy as the deaf man who made it happen. Although he had nothing to do with the tradition of blind umps.
Ages: 5 – 8
The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin and Jez Tuya ($17)
We Are The Ship
This short history of the Negro League shines a light on an ugly period of racial segregation in professional baseball. From 1920 until Jackie Robinson broke through to the majors in 1947, these African-American ballplayers endured discrimination, terrible working conditions, and barely any pay just to play the sport of baseball — in many cases at an even higher level than their white counterparts in the major leagues.
Ages: 8 – 12
We Are The Ship by Kadir Nelson ($20)
Baseball Is …
As the title suggests, Baseball Is … is a litany of the factual (“baseball lasts from April to October”) and the metaphysical (“…in baseball anything is possible”), while leaving out all of the things that baseball also is (see Boggs, Wade or Ellis, Doc). It’s a great primer for the littlest of leaguers who you need to get up to speed before the first pitch.
Ages: 7 – 10
Baseball Is… by Louise Borden and Raúl Colón ($18)
Brothers At Bat
Your family may have enough members to play doubles tennis (or, at least compete in curling), but the Acerra family had enough boys to field a baseball team. Vernick tells the true story about 12 baseball-loving brothers in the 30s (and most likely one exhausted mother) who went on to be the longest-playing all-brother baseball team in history. The big takeaway is showing your kid how siblings can support each other — especially when they’re trying to turn a double play.
Ages: 4 – 7
Brothers At Bat by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno ($18)
Players In Pigtails
A League of Their Own may have shown there’s no crying in baseball (and Madonna has some range), but this illustrated story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League makes this moment of sports history accessible to a kindergartener. If your kid asks why there’s isn’t a girls league anymore, you can just kiss them on the forehead, say goodnight and run out of the room.
Ages: 4 – 8
Players In Pigtails by Shana Corey and Rebecca Gibbon ($20)
Before Dustin Pedroia’s laser show, Minneapolis Miller Andy Oyler took home the prize for the shortest hero in professional baseball. In 1903 Oyler had a dismal average and a strike zone the size of a postage stamp, but he did have a good story about one tiny man’s triumph over a ball. In Mudball he hits a game-winning inside-the-park-home-run — because it got stuck in the mud. Think of it as Rudy before Rudy was Rudy.
Ages: 6 – 9
Mudball by Matt Tavares ($7)
Who’s On First
Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s On First” routine gets the picture book treatment. In the kiddie version, the comedy duo are replaced by a rabbit and a bear who don’t understand the strange names of ballplayers these days. It might be a little ambitious to expect your first grader to pick up on all that verbal irony. But if your older elementary school kid is already watching Adventure Time, they’ll get it.
Ages: 6 – 9
Who’s On First by Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and John Martz ($17)
ABCs Of Baseball
Who better to explain the ins and outs of baseball than an author who has written dozens of New York Times bestsellers on the subject? Peter Golenbock may have sports writer chops, but since this is an ABC book for younger kids, “I” doesn’t exactly stand for infield fly rule and “S” doesn’t describe a suicide squeeze. Hey, at least they’ll have a better understanding of why you’re yelling at the TV April through October.
Ages: 6 – 8
ABCs of Baseball by Peter Golenbock and Dan Andreasen ($17)
She Loved Baseball
Effa Manley is the first — and only — woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Manley started playing baseball in her hometown of Philadelphia back in the 1900s, which wasn’t a popular time for women to be doing, well, anything. Her passion for the game led her to become the co-owner of Negro League team the Newark Eagles, where she was one of the first to fight against racial injustice in the sport. It earned a well-deserved place in the big league pantheon and a permanent place on your bookshelf.
Ages: 6 – 10
She Loved Baseball by Audrey Vernick and Don Tate ($17)