ANYBODY’S GAME: Girls and Baseball

Lynn: Girls don’t play baseball. It’s impossible to know how often girls yearning to play the national sport have heard that phrase. Well, girls do play baseball, and they have played as far back as the 1890s. Here are two wonderful new books, set in the 1950s, that take on this very subject.

In the middle-grade novel Out of Left Field (2018) by Ellen Kages, ten-year-old Katy Gordon has a remarkable pitching arm. It’s 1957, and when a Little League coach sees Katy pitch a neighborhood game, he encourages her to come to try-outs— but he doesn’t know she’s a girl. Calling herself “Casey,” Katy makes the team, but when her sex is revealed, the Coach cuts her, citing Little League’s exclusion rule. When Katy appeals to the national organization, their response is demeaning and infuriating: women can’t play baseball. So Katy sets out to prove them wrong by learning the history of women in baseball.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

Klages does a stellar job of making Katy’s research journey as exciting as a game tied in the 9th with three runners on base! Catalog cards, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, and primary sources all come into play as Katy delves into the real story of women in baseball. Katy and her mom, who has her own searing story of discrimination and injustice, are terrific characters. Klages writes with a light touch, using finely-wrought details that bring the characters and their experiences to life, like this line of dialogue from the coach who tells Katy she can’t play: “You can still come to the ballpark and watch the games. . . Hey, I know. You could be our mascot.”

Klages writes superb historical fiction, and the 1957 setting steals all the bases with its seamless inclusion of historical and cultural information. It’s not just baseball readers learn about, but Sputnik and the Space Race, the 1954 School Segregation ruling and Little Rock, women’s experiences in and out of baseball, and much more. Included at the end are the baseball cards Katy created for her project on influential women in baseball. Readers will root for Katy all the way.

Anybody's Game by Heather LangIn a totally serendipitous coincidence, I was just finishing Out of Left Field when I chanced on this next book. Anybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball (2018) by Heather Lang is set in 1950 and chronicles the true story of how young Kathryn Johnston played a season of Little League. Disguising herself as a boy, Kathryn signed in as “Tubby,” one of her favorite comic-book characters. She made the team, but eventually confessed her sex to her coach—and neither her coach nor her team cared! They needed her at first base, and Kathryn played the whole season. She didn’t get to play any more seasons, though, because the very next year, the League enacted the “Tubby rule” that prohibited girls like Klages’ Katy Gordon from playing.

A life-long Yankees fan, Kathryn did get the chance, at age 70 in 2006, to throw out the first pitch to the Yankee’s Jorge Posada.

Lang’s lively nonfiction picture book tells this important story to our youngest readers. A wonderful and informative author’s note and a timeline of women and girls in baseball are included. Cecilia Puglesi’s charming illustrations featuring big-eyed ballplayers make this a winning package. Reader Up!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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