A Book, A Baseball Player, and Virginia Lee Burton

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First, the book: Her Right Foot – written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris.

I expect that in early 2018, the cover will be adorned with a shiny gold award sticker, but buy it now while the view of the State of Liberty’s right foot is fully visible – as she steps into the sea. This is a timely book, to put it mildly.  As the 24-hour news cycle causes stress and anxiety, Eggers’ book gave me a few minutes of pure joy. It is thought provoking and full of heart.

Beginning with the story of the Statue’s origins (“After all, the Statue of Library is an immigrant, too.”), it continues to explore – with good humor and funny asides – the significance of the Statue’s right foot which is clearly taking a step forward.  Truthfully, I had never noticed, but now I want to go back to Liberty Island and look again.

Eggers’ book is full of fun facts about the iconic Statue. For example, did you know that the parts to construct the Statue of Liberty were put into 214 crates for its trip across the Atlantic Ocean?  And I learned that what is now Liberty Island was once called Bedloe’s Island.  Beyond the trivia, though, what stands out are the book’s final pages which I won’t spoil here.  I’ll just say that reading them brings clarity to the conversation about immigration.

Like the Statue of Liberty, baseball has a special place in the American story.  This morning, in honor of the Jewish holidays, NPR’s Only A Game had a story on Hank Greenberg’s 1934 decision to be on the field on Rosh Hashanah – a game the Detroit Tigers won with Greenberg’s walk-off home run. Nine days later, on Yom Kippur, Greenberg sat out, and the Tigers lost. Listening to the segment about those eventful days in Detroit, brought back memories of writing my book, Hammerin Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer, which was published in 2011. Greenberg’s decision was literally front-page news in Detroit, a city which was also the base for Father Charles Coughlin’s popular radio show which included anti-semitic rhetoric.  It’s an amazing story, and one worth hearing if you don’t know it.

Here’s a link to Only A Game’s segment:

http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2017/09/22/hank-greenberg-rosh-hashana-tigers

Author visits are one of the highlights of working in a school library, and we were lucky to welcome the author and illustrator of a wonderful new book to Inly last week.  Sherri Rinker and John Rocco, the author and illustrator of Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, told our 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders about the author behind the classic picture books, The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  The Little House is one of my favorite picture books so it is a special treat to have a tribute to “the little house” in our new library.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

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A Big Week for Hank Greenberg…

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Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer received two more honors this past week…

It is a finalist for the 16th annual Boston Authors Club Award, an organization that held their first meeting in 1900!  Hammerin’ Hank was also named to the Pennsylvania School Librarian’s Association’s YA Top 40 Non-fiction list.

Here’s a link to the Club’s complete list of winners:

http://www.bostonauthorsclub.org/awards.html

I’m grateful to both organizations, but most of all it makes me happy that recognizing my book puts Hank’s story into the hands of more kids!

An Award and a New Book

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When the representative of the Sydney Taylor Book Award called to tell me that Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg is a 2012 Honor Book, it took me a minute to fully “get it.” For years, I have eagerly read the list of the winners of this award, along with the other children’s book awards announced each January. It never occurred to me that my book would join the respected list of authors and illustrators who receive Sydney Taylor Awards.  

The first thing I did after hearing the news was to purchase a hard cover copy of Sydney Taylor’s classic novel, All-of-a-Kind Family. Of course, I read the book as a young girl, long before I anticipated any association with Sydney Taylor.  Published in 1951, Taylor’s book (and its four sequels), follow the adventures of five Jewish sisters and their parents living in New York City during the early 1900s.  I don’t recall the details and am looking forwared to re-reading it, but I can remember the peek into another world that Taylor’s books provided and looking for pictures of  New York City after reading them. Taylor’s world was “foreign” and exciting  – in the same way as Laura’s life on the prairie. I grew up in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio and, quite frankly, many of the people I knew shared common backgrounds and beliefs.  I didn’t visit New York until I was an adult, but Taylor’s books were one of my first literary experiences of that city.

Like the family in Taylor’s novels, I grew up with sisters and books with families of girls had special appeal. Little Women, The Little House books, and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family.  These stories were my gateway into other worlds and inspired my life-long love of reading. I’m going to curl up soon with Taylor’s novel – the real book, not an e-book. When I read the books for the first time in the 1970s, a Nook was something you “sat in.” When I revisit Ella and her sisters, I want to read it the same way I read it the first time.

The Whole Megillah

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Thanks to Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah for her support of my book, Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer. The Whole Megillah is a website totally devoted to Jewish-themed books for children. Recently, Barbara asked Carolyn Yoder (my editor) and me to answer a few questions about Hank Greenberg.

Here’s the link:

http://thewholemegillah.wordpress.com/

A Visit to the Cape and a Nice Review of Hank…

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Thanks to the Kings County Library Service Center in Washington for their nice review of Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg:

“Hank Greenberg was known as the “Jewish Babe Ruth”.  In a time when prejudice and racism were rampant, Hank experienced many of the same trials as Jackie Robinson would years later.  Sommer incorporates historical photographs and narrative to explain the racist and anti-Semitic attitude of the times.  In this biography, Greenberg’s accomplishments on and off the field are examined, including his military service during WWII and his career after his playing days were over.  For baseball fans and history buffs alike, the story is interesting and informative.  Recommended for middle school and up.”

Thanks also to Nauset Regional Middle School for inviting me to talk about Hank Greenberg and celebrate their summer reading program with them. I visited a group of students last week and really enjoyed seeing their beautiful school. While I was in Orleans, I stopped by The Chocolate Sparrow for an Iced Mocha Sparrow.  A pile of magazines and lots of good people watching – a wonderful way to end my afternoon.

One more note: the last book I added to my “to read” stack is The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow. A young adult novel that takes place in 1936 Berlin – the same time Greenberg was hitting home runs in Detroit – The Berlin Boxing Club is the story of a Jewish boy who gets boxing lessons from German champion Max Schmeling.

Thank You Booklist!

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While eating lunch today, I decided to check my e-mails.  It turned out to be a good idea because one of the messages included the Booklist review for my biography of Hank Greenberg. Publication day is right around the corner – March 1.

Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer

Greenberg grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in New York and went on to be a Hall-of-Fame first baseman and left fielder, playing most of his career with the Detroit Tigers. Along the way, he endured many anti-Semitic taunts from both fans and fellow players. When Jackie Robinson entered the league, he found a strong supporter in Greenberg. Sommer presents a fast-moving, straightforward biography that takes Greenberg from his early days as an outstanding high-school athlete to his struggles to make it out of the minors and into the major leagues, to his service in World War II and his post-playing years as a baseball executive. Numerous black-and-white photos enhance the text, and an extensive bibliography offers plenty to choose from for those who want to read more. An excellent choice for kids who enjoy delving into baseball history. For younger children, suggest Yona Zeldis McDonough’s picture-book biography, Hammerin’ Hank: The Life of Hank Greenberg (2006).  Todd Morning

As a side note, I totally agree with the  Booklist reviewer about McDonough’s picture book. It is a wonderful introduction to Greenberg’s story.

And finally, a special note to Netflix members: Consider adding Aviva Kempner’s award-winning documentary, “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” to your queue. Watching Kempner’s film is the first thing I did when beginning this project. It’s an inspirational and fascinating look at Greenberg’s life and the times in which he played.

Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer

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I walked into a local children’s bookstore yesterday, and there, on the owner’s desk, was the uncorrected proof of my biography of Hank Greenberg. Of course, I know it’s being published on March 1, but there is something strange about the first time you see your book any place other than on your own computer screen. Another sign that publication date is near is that the Kirkus review came out and (sigh of relief), it’s good. Here it is:
“Hank Greenberg was an anomaly who challenged the stereotypes of his era. He was a Jewish boy from New York City who was neither weak nor small nor academically inclined. He was well over 6 feet tall, strong and healthy, and he could hit a baseball as well as or better than most major leaguers. He played with the Detroit Tigers, leading his team to several pennants and World Series. Throughout his career there were cheers, but he also had to endure endless, vitriolic anti-Semitic curses. His decision to miss a season-ending game in a tight pennant race in order to observe Yom Kippur became a national issue. At the end of his own career, with customary grace and integrity, he openly empathized with rookie Jackie Robinson, encouraging him to persevere. In many ways this is a typical baseball biography, covering Greenberg’s accomplishments season by season, as well as his family life and military service in World War II. Sommer ably puts it all in perspective for young readers. Employing straightforward, accessible language, she carefully incorporates historic events, well illustrated with personal and archival photographs and laced with copious quotes from Greenberg and his contemporaries. The result is a multilayered portrait of a man who was content being remembered as a great Jewish ballplayer. (source notes, bibliography, resources) (Biography. 10-14)”
I’m especially pleased that my book is being published in 2011, the 100th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s birth.