You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!
by?Jonah Winter, ill by?Terry Widener
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013
I’m not a baseball fan. I just don’t care much about it. And while I’ve definitely heard of Willie Mays, I didn’t know much about him. But I met cool illustrator?Terry Widener last year in Texas, and I saw great reviews for this book, so I had to check it out.
The lenticular cover bringing Mays’ swing to life is a fun start to a really good book. Of course, it gives lots of info about Willie Mays, but the story illuminates a lot about American history, racial prejudice, and civil rights. And it does it all in a?folksy, storyteller style. Here’s the opening:
You never heard of Willie Mays?! THE Willie Mays?! Oh, geez, where to begin?
As with most narrative nonfiction, there are anecdotes that probably can’t be confirmed 100%. Winter handles that perfectly with the use of?phrases like, “As the story goes,” and “Word was,” and “Legend has it.”
The art is fantastic. The spread that shows Willie Mays mimicking Joe DiMaggio’s batting stance is wonderful. The book is about light and dark, on many different levels.?On the opposing page, the contrast between the water fountain labeled Whites and the one labeled Coloreds says a whole lot.
Sidebars and backmatter add lots of baseball and history support. I had no idea what a putout was, for instance. Luckily, the glossary explained it.
This will be an easy sell to baseball fans, of course. But the story and the struggle of Willie is sure to bring even non-baseball-fans like me to their feet.
Extension activities for You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!:
- Make a baseball card. Choose a person (famous or not), and create a baseball card to celebrate his or her accomplishments. These would make a great bulletin board display.
- Read some baseball poems. Listen to me read J. Patrick Lewis’?powerful “The First” here. Read Pat’s “The Slugger” here. ?On a lighter note, enjoy Douglas Florian’s Poem Runs: Baseball Poems?to celebrate baseball season.
- Be broadcast journalists. There are several super fun quotations of announcers reacting to plays by Mays. Have kids pair up and create presentations where one kid demonstrates something (anything–could be a hobby or something content-related) and the other kid does the play-by-play for the class. “He picks up the hula hoop. He tests its weight. Look at that grip! He steps inside–he’s in the zone now. Will it circle? Will it twist? It will! The crowd is on its feet!”
Anastasia Suen at Booktalking has the Nonfiction Monday roundup! Go learn something cool!
[review copy of You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!?provided by my public library]