Spring training is in full swing and Barb Rosenstock’s new book for baseball lovers (especially Yankee Fans) has hit the field.
What were two of the things Yogi Berra was famous for? Here’s a clue:
The opening lines provide the themes for the story. Lawdie Berra (Yogi’s given name) loved his family, his Italian neighborhood, his friends, and sports. But there was something he didn’t love:
Yogi was not a good student.
Instead of going to high school, he played American Legion ball and worked odd jobs. Lots of odd jobs, including selling newspapers, wrapping coal blocks, driving a soda truck, and pulling tacks in a shoe factory. But baseball was his focus, so those jobs never lasted.
When his buddy Joey Garagiola, earned a spot on the Yankees, Yogi was stuck playing semi-pro pick-up games. And just as he finally played his first full season on a NY Yankees minor league team, WWII intervened.
When he returned, he came back to play the game he loved. In his first major league game with the Yankees, he hit a two-run homer. But as stellar as he was on the field, it took time to earn the respect of sportswriters, his teammates, and fans.
His strength of character, his desire to succeed in the game he loved comes through, especially when sportswriters called him “pudgy, homely, and clown.” They laughed as they said “Yogi’s so ugly he looks better with the catcher’s mask on. His teammates called him caveman, freak, and Neanderthal.” The abuse was relentless—
Yogi’s brilliant response?
“So?…I don’t hit with my face.” He fought back with his bat.
Over time, fans and sportswriters came to love him AND his unique way with words.
Rosenstock, the master of the picture book biography, fills the text with background details that give readers a feel for the place where he grew up, how he grew up, and his determination to play the game he loved.
This book will delight kids and adults. For those kids who face bullies and verbal abuse in their lives, they will find a hero in Yogi, a man who never wavered from following his dream, no matter what others said about him. They will also see a man who studied the game and worked hard to overcome his weaknesses and physical limitations, earning the title “the greatest catcher who ever lived.”
For his determination and skill, he claimed more World Series rings than any player in history.
The ending comes full circle:
“Yogi Berra’s love for baseball was never over. The boy from The Hill loved sports, his friends, teammates, and family his entire life. And the whole world, inside baseball and out, loved his fearless heart, his fierce drive, and his famous words. Always.”
Terry Widener’s acrylic illustrations give us a sense of Yogi’s energy and strength, rough around the edges but outlined like the star that he was against the backdrop of his life.
Rosenstock includes four full spreads of back matter, including quotes about Yogi from famous people. I’ll leave you with a portion of a quote from our former president, Barack Obama:
“He epitomized what it meant to be a sportsman and citizen, with a big heart, competitive spirit, and a selfless desire to open baseball to everyone, no matter their background.”
Title: Yogi: The Life, Loves and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Terry Widener
Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2019
Themes: baseball, bullying, persistence
For many more recommendations for perfect picture books, visit Susanna Hill’s blog.