The Line Up
1 Change Up Baseball Poems by Fehler SS
2. Keeping Score by Park 1st
3 Mudville by Scaletta 2nd
4 Brooklyn Nine by Gratz CF
5 Prince of Fenway Park by Baggott RF
6 Six Innings by Preller 3rd
7 Comeback Season by Smith LF
8 Painting the Black by Deuker - C
9 The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Cochrane - P
In case you missed it
10. All of these novels extend beyond the field. Baseball is at the core and its surrounded by love. Depending on which book you read there’s also happiness, fear, understanding, history, forgiveness, recovery, racisim, new beginnings, courage, loss, pain, love and family.
As a writer, how did you find the balance between the game and life?
Fehler - Baseball is a main part of my life. In both you win some and lose some. You don't dwell on the losses but put them behind you. Each day you wake up, you think, "It's a good day (for a baseball game or for life). Today something good will happen. By the end of the year many good things have happened, and you think, "Next year will be even better."
Park - Pretty much the same way I do as a person. During the season, I follow baseball avidly; I rarely miss a televised game. But that still leaves plenty of time for everything else. Likewise, in Keeping Score, Maggie loves the Dodgers, but there's lots of room in her life and on the page for her to learn about war and friendship and what we can and can't control in life. I'm the kind of fan who believes that a love of baseball should enhance your life, not swamp it.
Scaletta - Going into this my model was Mark Harris, who wrote baseball novels that were all about baseball and baseball players -- the in-game action, the weariness of the road, the camaraderie and chatter among players. In his first book, The Southpaw, he didn't really bother to make it about anything else, and that's what made it stand out. He took baseball seriously enough to write a book about it. Then he went and wrote a sequel that showed how real life becomes a part of the game, and to my mind wrote the best baseball novel of all time, Bang the Drum Slowly. I actually wanted more baseball than Mudville delivers, but once you have characters and situations the book becomes what it was meant to be.
Gratz - Baseball has to be the bridge that gets you to the real story. Neither of my baseball books is *about* baseball. It's always about something else, with baseball as a means to solving whatever issues the characters have. That's the key. If there's too much baseball in the book, I'll know it, because the rest of the story is getting short shrift.
Baggott - In the best ways, they’re mirrors of each other
Preller - My idea for “Six Innings” was simple: use a Little League baseball game as a vehicle for exploring these various characters. I don’t believe that “baseball is life,” as the t-shirts proclaim; life is life. But for many boys of a certain age, it is the field of play and the common ground, where character is revealed. So the book takes place on two levels: 1) the game itself, which is fun and exciting; and 2) the back stories and the personalities of the participants. That is, the plays and the players.
Smith - In the book, the two have become something of the same for Ryan. Every Cubs fan is at least somewhat superstitious, but in the years since her dad died, the fate of the team has come to mean everything to her, especially once she meets Nick. She’s had a string of bad luck, and so have the Cubs, but her faith in the team is absolute, and she wants to believe that if they can win, everything will be okay. So it’s not really about balancing the two – baseball and life –- as much as it’s a matter of blending them. The main thread running through the story is really Ryan’s desperate sense of hope, which is more about life than baseball at its core. The book is first and foremost a love story. The backdrop just happens to be Wrigley Field. And, as it says in first chapter, where better than that to learn about heartbreak and loss?
Deuker - I'm attracted to sports novels because, as a person who loves to compete in any game with anything that bounces, I've found that you learn a lot about a person in the heat of a game. Good sport, poor sport, generous, selfish , dogged, a quitter, accepts responsibility, blames others. Even more -if a person changes on the athletic field, you can be sure he has changed in "real" life too. The golfer who stops throwing his clubs is a different person than the hot-head who did. Each game, in fact, is a mini-lifetime. So, in my books, I balance the sports activity with the real-life drama, but both reflect on one another. Howard Cosell once said something like: The games aren't interesting. It's the stories within the game that are interesting. In my books, the games wouldn't be interesting if the reader didn't care about the life stories of the people playing them.
Cochrane - I love going back and forth: between the solitude of writing, for example, andthe sociability of teaching. I like to read and I like to play catch. The beauty of baseball is that it can so easily be folded into your every day life: you can listen to a game while you pay bills; you can talk about a game with the people you work with, and at your son’s little league games, you can talk about your community. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. It’s all part of the mix of a rich and interesting life.
11. Baseball or sports novels in general can relate to comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s classic line, “ I get no respect” with regards to awards like Newbery and Printz.
Why do you think that is? What do you think will happen first – a baseball novel gets a shiny medal or the KC Royals win a playoff series?
Park - Women heavily outnumber men on the ALA award panels. (And I do mean heavily, easily 90 percent or higher most years.) Many of them are sports fans, but they are probably still in the minority. I do think sports novels have a higher bar to jump to overcome the biases of people who think, 'oh, it's just a game'. One example that comes to mind: Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. To me that's not just a good sports novel; it's a fantastic novel period. But no predictions from me. I learned that young, growing up a Cubs fan!
Scaletta - Spinelli's Maniac Magee is kind of a sports novel and has one of the great baseball scenes from kids literature. It involves a frog. Great stuff. And of course they slapped a shiny metal on that one about 18 years ago. The Royals last made the playoffs 25 years ago, when they won it all. So I put this at even odds
Gratz - Ha. Well, optimist that I am, I think a baseball novel will win a Newbery honor before the Royals win a playoff series. It's a combination of factors: I think the days of small market teams regularly competing in the Major Leagues is over. Sure, we've seen teams like the Rays and Marlins surge over the years, but that was due to exceptional scouting and development. The teams that invest in those will do well, regardless of payroll. The teams that don't--the Reds, the Pirates, and the Royals all come immediately to mind--will continue to trot out not-ready-for-prime-time kids and over-the-hill veterans, and fill the spaces at the bottoms of their divisions. The last sports book I can remember winning a Newbery award is 1985's The Moves Make the Man, Bruce Brooks' excellent basketball novel. (Which also, coincidentally, is the last time the Royals won the World Series! And, I think, the last time they ever won a playoff series.) It's been a long dry spell for both sports books and for the Royals, but I see a sports book rising to the top before a baseball team from Kansas City.
Baggott - Ha. Funny. It’s genre within genre, in a way, and so I think it’s the ways that the best baseball books play with or subvert the genre within the genre that make them interesting.
Preller - Baseball novel. I was personally gratified and surprised by the general respect directed toward “Six Innings.” I think the overwhelming majority of reviewers treated it as a book, rather than merely a (cough, cough) “sports book.” I wrote that book, in part, because I knew that’s where so many boys live, interact, cry, laugh, form friendships, and passionately care. The larger issue is “books about boys” in a world where the gatekeepers are overwhelmingly women. Look at the Cybils: roughly 85% of the judges were women. Read the blogs; women are writing most of the reviews. Fine, upstanding, well-intentioned women who, for the most part, care deeply about readers of all types. It’s not their fault. But make no mistake, this is a woman’s world and a sports book that’s mostly intended for boys has got a big hill to climb. It’s just a matter of time. Bruce Brooks earned a Newbery Honor with “The Moves Make the Man,” and while not a baseball book, it still makes the point. You can’t do this job unless you believe that good work will find its way – and I do believe that. Otherwise, there’d be no facing that blank page.
Smith - A good novel is a good novel is a good novel, whether or not there’s some baseball thrown in there. If something truly deserving comes along, and there happens to be a baseball theme to it, then I have faith that it will find its way to the top. Baseball provides such a powerful backdrop to human drama, and it’s a wonderful canvas for so many worthy stories. One of my favorite pieces of baseball writing is the brilliant first section of Underworld by Don DeLillo. So the bar is set pretty high, which is always a good thing.
Deuker - Definitely the Kansas City Royals. This is a good question, though. One of my pet peeves revolves around "boys reading." It's a truism that "boys don't like to read." Maybe what we should say is that boys don't like to read the typical "school appropriate" books. They want action--be it on the basketball court, the battlefield, or the top of Mount Everest. They're not so keen on talk, whether it be talk in the book or discussion about the talk in the book in the classroom. Giving them a book to read, letting them read it, and then not pestering them with discussion questions might be worth trying, at least on occasion. I don't discuss every book I read. My wife and daughter read my books, but they don't read any other sports books. The majority of English teachers and librarians are women. It's not surprising that they don't gravitate toward the sports novel. That said, I will also say that there are many librarians and teachers out there who recognize that boys will read if the right book is put into their hands. If not, my books would never have won six state awards. My hope (and my sense) is that they are slowly winning the battle. I've gotten emails from teachers describing high school courses entitled: The Sports Novel. The teachers tell me that they're finding the boys to be enthusiastic readers often for the first time. That kind of word-of-mouth can be very powerful. So maybe a Newbery or Printz is out there for one of us some day.
Cochrane - I hope somebody, somewhere is working on a book about the Royals beatingthe Pirates in a thrilling World Series and that book wins all the big prizes.
Fehler - I see no reason why a baseball novel shouldn't win a major prize, I've read so many wonderfully-written deserving baseball novels - including more than one on this list. I see less hope of the KC Royals winning a playoff series. But the great thing about baseball is that on opening day all thirty teams begin with the same record, and as we've seen many times through history: surprises happen. A hot hitter, an exciting rookie, a few players having career years, a few breaks here and there, being in a weak division where a five hundred team can make the playoffs. On Opening Day all fans almost everywhere can say: "This is our year." And actually believe it.
12. Do you have anything coming out this year? Or what are you working on?
Scaletta - Yep, I have a book coming out in July called Mamba Point. It's about a kid who moves to Africa and befriends a deadly mamba. There's still lots of rain in it, so fans of Mudville should like it.
Gratz - I'm working on another baseball book! It's called DREAM TEAM, and it will be out in January of next year (2011). It's the story of a boy from Decatur, Georgia, who falls into a fantasy world populated by characters from classic children's books, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Toad from Wind in the Willows, all of whom are playing in a huge fantasyland baseball tournament.
Baggott - The Ever Breath came out in December and I’ve waded deep into the edits of its sequel, The Ever Cure. I also write for adults and my novel The Provence cure for the Brokenhearted will come out this time next year under my pen name Bridget Asher.
Preller - I have two books coming out this summer in hardcover. A picture book, A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade (Feiwel and Friends), brilliantly illustrated by Greg Ruth, who is an absolute star; and a middle-grade title, Justin Fisher Declares War! (Scholastic), which I see as my rebound book after the much more serious Bystander. Justin Fisher is funny, lighthearted, quick and easy to read. A “just for fun” book, which includes several cameos from my 2008 title, Along Came Spider. I’m currently writing my first YA novel. It’s set on Long Island, with many scenes at Jones Beach, and I’ve felt an unfettered sense of freedom while writing it. Untitled, due in 2011.
Smith - I’m working on another YA novel that will be out in 2011, a love story about two strangers who connect on a flight from New York to London. (chiming in for a quick second to mention Smith's other YA novel You Are Here)
Deuker - I have a football/mystery coming out this September. It is entitled Payback Time. In a nutshell, a mysterious boy tries out for the football team. He's a senior, new to the city and to the team. The school newspaper reporter notices his speed, strength, and ability at practice. But somehow the coach doesn't notice, because the boy plays sparingly--only when the game is on the line. When he does play, though, he excels. So why doesn't he play more? Things aren't adding up; with every game, the reporter grows increasingly suspicious. Is this boy really just a new kid at school? What's his real story? The reporter uncovers the truth, and then learns that even though he got everything right, he got everything wrong, too.
Cochrane - I’m working on a novel, which so far anyway, doesn’t have any baseball in it. I’mnalso working on being a good father, husband, and teacher—wish me luck.
Park - Two middle-grade novels coming out this year: Book #9 of The 39 Clues series in May. A Long Walk To Water, based on the true story of a Sudanese refugee "Lost Boy," due out in November. They're very different, but I hope readers will enjoy them both.
Fehler - Never Blame the Umpire, a middle grade novel, was just published at the beginning of March by Zonderkidz. The cancer-stricken mother of a baseball-playing 11-year-old girl uses the umpire as a metaphor to try to help her daughter through the hard times. It's a novel of baseball, tennis, and poetry and also of love and faith and hope
Thank you Gene Fehler, Linda Sue Park, Kurtis Scaletta, Alan Gratz, Julianna Baggott, James Preller, Jennifer Smith, Carl Deuker and Mick Cochrane for saying yes to answering 12 questions without knowing what the outcome would be.
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge is the book showing after question number 10. I used this one because I like the cover. Also its baseball and poetry. April is National Poetry month
The Boys by Jeff Newman is the book showing after question number 11. I used this one because over at Fuse #8 Production SLJ blog, Betsy Bird has this one down as an early caldecott prediction. A review at Fuse#8
She Loved Baseball by Audrey Vernick illus. by Don Tate is the book showing after question number 11. I used this one because I loved it. Its due out in October. The story of Effa Manley the first woman to be inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame.