Nine months ag, Felix Schneider was the fastest boy in Bremen, Germany. Now he was the fastest boy in Manhattan, New York. He was so fast, in fact, the ship that had brought him to America arrived a day early. Now he stood on first base, waiting to run. (1)
When ten-year-old Felix Schneider snuck aboard a ship headed to America, he had no idea what he would set into motion. Alan Gratz ends the collection of short stories in The Brooklyn Nine eight generations later. Snider Flint has no idea that he has found a piece of family history when he discovers an old baseball in a box of discarded items in his uncle’s antique shop. In between these characters are short stories relating family members and their baseball exploits. We have Louis Schneider who plays baseball between Civil War scrimishes, Walter Snider who tries to sneak a black pitcher onto a segregated major league team, and Kat Flint who plays for the All-American Girls League during World War II. There’s a little something for all baseball fans here.
I’ll be quite honest that I am not a sports person. I don’t go to games regularly, I have little if any real athletic ability, and I’m one of those people who consider bowling a sport just so I can claim to play something. This lack of sports excitement comes from my mother, who taught me how to play baseball with three bases when I was younger, claiming you played at home with first, second, and third base. She also will ask anyone who will listen why there are quarterbacks, half-backs, and fullbacks, but not three-quarter backs. So when I had this book recommended to me by a coworker (who is a huge baseball fan), I was a little hesitant.
I had no need to fear, and should have picked this book up sooner. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, with the sillouette of a ball player imposed over a sun rise/set. The stories throughout the novel are wonderfully written. Although it’s not “marketed” as a collection of short stories, it really is, with each generation getting their own “inning” consisting of three chapters (reminescent of the three outs/strikes allowed per inning). Even if you know nothing about baseball, it’s explained extremely well, and you don’t get bogged down in the technical terms of the game. For instance, when Babe Herman “doubled into a double play”
Herman smacked a double to right, and Frankie stood and cheered. Hank DeBerry scored from third, but then things got crazy. Chick Fewster, who was on first when Babe got his hit, rounded second and slid into third. Dazzy Vance, who had been on second, got caught in a run-down trying to score. Meanwhile, Babe Herman, who’d kept his head down the whole time and run as hard as he could, tried to stretch his double into a triple.
And somehow, three Brooklyn Robins ended up standing on third base at the same time.
The Giants catcher tagged them all and let the umpires sort it out. Five minutes later, Herman and Fewster were called out. Babe Herman had doubled into a double play. (149)
Gratz provides an “Extra Inning” afterword where he details fact from fiction, which I always appreciate in a novel, especially historical fiction. This is a book where kids can read an inning, set it down, and then come back and read the next inning without any problems. Characters resurface from inning to inning as fathers, mothers, grandparents, and in one instance a great-grandfather. The book includes two stories about girls, which I’m sure will help sell to the hesitant girl. You could also pair this book with Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score, or others have recommended the newer realease The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane, and any Matt Christopher fan will probably gobble this book whole.