Just as 2013 has been a terrific year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it has also been an especially good year for baseball writing. Young readers in particular were treated to a wide range of books this year.
Jonah Winter is a Pittsburgh resident, but his newest book focuses on a New York (and San Francisco) Giants legend. "You Never Heard of Willie Mays?" (Schwartz and Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8) highlights some of the most impressive moments in the career of one of baseball's greatest players.
Mr. Winter acknowledges the challenges Willie Mays faced as one of the earliest African-American players in the Major Leagues. The author also describes some of the most amazing plays in the ballplayer's incredible career, including his famous over the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.
"You Never Heard of Willie Mays" includes statistics comparing Mr. Mays with some of baseball's other all-time greats including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Ty Cobb. The book also features actual radio broadcast calls of some of Willie Mays' best moments. Including these transcripts allows readers to feel like they are sitting around a radio listening to live games. It also emphasizes how astonishing Mr. Mays' feats were at the time.
The book's cover is really eye-catching, as it features a hologram of Mr. Mays swinging and hitting a pitch. Beautiful, energetic illustrations by Terry Widener complement Mr. Winter's engaging, conversational writing style.
Another exciting baseball book published this year was written by Tim Green, a former football player. Mr. Green started writing books about football after his professional career ended but has since branched out into writing about other sports.
His latest book, "Force Out" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8-12), tells the story of young ballplayers Joey and Zach. The two have been best friends for years and are the best players on their Little League team.
Their friendship is so strong that when Zach's science class schedules a field trip on the same day as the championship game, Joey risks getting in trouble with his parents and even the law to sabotage the trip.
Their scheme works -- then backfires. Joey is so tired after being up all night that he plays terribly and their team loses the game.
But losing the game is not the only consequence of their misbehavior. The winning team gets two selections for the state all-star team and the losing team only gets one.
When the boys have to compete for the last spot on the all-star team, their friendship is tested in ways they never thought possible.
"Force Out" examines the win at all costs mentality and competitiveness that has filtered down all the way to little leagues. Mr. Green's hard won knowledge combines with his straightforward style to create a compelling sports story with a strong message.
A totally different type of baseball book is "Pete the Cat: Play Ball" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 4-8) by James Dean. This is the latest book featuring Pete, a hip cat who is usually rocking in a pair of cool shoes. But this book finds Pete and his friends wearing sneakers while playing a game of baseball for their team, the Rocks.
Unfortunately, Pete is not a very good player. He strikes out in his first time at bat and makes two errors in the field. When he finally gets on base he is thrown out at home plate.
Despite his failures, he has a terrific time and displays good sportsmanship. This is a wonderful example to children that hitting a home run or being the best player isn't as important as doing your best and having a good time.
In fact the story ends by saying, "Pete did his best. He had fun. What a great game."
Mr. Dean keeps this important lesson for players of all ages from seeming preachy by maintaining a playful tone throughout. Brightly colored paintings and slightly skewed perspectives add to the charm.
All of these books would be great reads for any young baseball fan as the Major League Baseball season draws to a close. Hopefully they will bring as much excitement and fun to young readers as much as the Pirates have brought to baseball fans of all ages this year.
Jim Carney is children's and teen librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Sheraden. First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM