Is great hitting in the clean, natural swing of the batter—or the perfectly balanced feel of the bat? As kids know when they start playing baseball, small details must converge just right to overcome the edge between winning and losing, hitting and striking out. Sometimes this translates into superstitions or quirky behavior. First-time author Bildner toes this question in the quirks of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his feared bat, Black Betsy. Joe, who played in the major leagues from 1908 to 1920, does well in the minor leagues, but can’t seem to move up without the help of his South Carolina friend, the great bat-maker Charlie Ferguson. While Charlie knows how to make the best bat, it’s not hard to decide which needs tweaking more, the bat or Joe’s mind so he can finally realize his great potential. From Joe sleeping with the bat to his wrapping it in the cotton of his southern roots, Bildner sticks mostly to the main facts and resists a romanticization of the game. Players who know the perfect, sweeping amalgamation of hand, eye, and sweet spot might expect to hear its dramatic tenor when Joe cracks the ball with Black Betsy, but this is a story finished by statistics. Payne’s (Brave Harriet, p. 944, etc.) mixed-media illustrations are gorgeous: the fuzz is in the flannel and the light is just right. And so are his perspectives, angles, and other compositional choices that make for the right mix of mystery and narrative to draw the reader in. A lengthy synopsis of Joe’s entire career and his statistics are appended. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82913-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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An early reader that kids will want to befriend.


In an odd-couple pairing of Bear and Chipmunk, only one friend is truly happy to spend the day at the beach.

“Not me!” is poor Chipmunk’s lament each time Bear expresses the pleasure he takes in sunning, swimming, and other activities at the beach. While controlled, repetitive text makes the story accessible to new readers, slapstick humor characterizes the busy watercolor-and-ink illustrations and adds interest. Poor Chipmunk is pinched by a crab, buried in sand, and swept upside down into the water, to name just a few mishaps. Although other animal beachgoers seem to notice Chipmunk’s distress, Bear cheerily goes about his day and seems blithely ignorant of his friend’s misfortunes. The playful tone of the illustrations helps soften the dynamic so that it doesn’t seem as though Chipmunk is in grave danger or that Bear is cruel. As they leave at the end of the book Bear finally asks, “Why did you come?” and Chipmunk’s sweet response caps off the day with a warm sunset in the background.

An early reader that kids will want to befriend. (Early reader. 5-7)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3546-3

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization.


If Pluto can’t be a planet—then what is he?

Having been a regular planet for “the better part of forever,” Pluto is understandably knocked out of orbit by his sudden exclusion. With Charon and his four other moons in tow he sets off in search of a new identity. Unfortunately, that only spins him into further gloom, as he doesn’t have a tail like his friend Halley’s comet, is too big to join Ida and the other asteroids, and feels disinclined to try to crash into Earth like meteoroids Gem and Persi. Then, just as he’s about to plunge into a black hole of despair, an encounter with a whole quartet of kindred spheroids led by Eris rocks his world…and a follow-up surprise party thrown by an apologetic Saturn (“Dwarf planet has a nice RING to it”) and the other seven former colleagues literally puts him “over the moon.” Demmer gives all the heavenly bodies big eyes (some, including the feminine Saturn, with long lashes) and, on occasion, short arms along with distinctive identifying colors or markings. Dressing the troublemaking meteoroids in do-rags and sunglasses sounds an off note. Without mentioning that the reclassification is still controversial, Wade closes with a (somewhat) straighter account of Pluto’s current official status and the reasons for it.

Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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