You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

h1 March 4th, 2009 by jules

See this fabulous spread? This is from a new picture book, entitled You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (Schwartz & Wade; February, 2009) by Jonah Winter and illustrated by André Carrilho. And this title has the most exciting picture book art I’ve seen all year, I have to say.

Now, that’s saying a lot, coming from me. And that’s because (I’m bracing myself; I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this here) I am not a sports person. I have friends who are rabid football fans and baseball fans and Lady Vols fans, but I don’t follow sports. And I don’t really play any either. What am I saying? I totally don’t play any. I run like a duck. Having said that, though, this story still grabbed me. And the art? Whoa. Just look at that up there and the cover to the left here. Did I mention the illustrations are incredibly dynamic? And my close call here is that I almost didn’t even open the title when I saw it was a picture book biography about sports. Sad, huh? But I did open it, and it blew me away.

And I’m not alone. Every time you turn around, the book’s getting another starred review: Publishers Weekly (“Neither author nor artist ‘explain’ the famously self-contained 1960s Dodgers pitcher…Instead, they capture what it feels like to be in the presence of an exemplary athlete…Debut artist Carrilho, offering texturally complex, digitally manipulated pencil drawings, has a bold, arresting aesthetic…”); School Library Journal (“Carrilho’s caricature style is reminiscent of Al Hirschfeld’s work, exaggerating everything that is beautiful and unknown about Koufax, from his extraordinarily athletic body to his private mystique”); Booklist (“Hand this book to kids unconvinced by Koufax’s mind-boggling numbers, or to the ones who know why they’re so mind boggling to begin with”); and more.

And that cover? You can’t tell in the image above, but it’s a lenticular rendering of Koufax, created so that when you move the book, it appears as if he’s winding up his pitch and following through with great force—and the good grace—that made him famous.

Winter gives us an unnamed narrator, a former teammate, who speaks in a chummy, old-timer voice — and with humor (“To make matters worse, Sandy kept to himself. He never said nothin’ to nobody. He never even cursed or argued with umps. And let me tell you, that ain’t the best way to make friends on a ball club.”) And it’s immediately accessible, the narrator instantly greeting us—skipping the niceties and getting right to it—and ushering us quickly onto the ballfield:

You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball.

Well, for six years he was, anyway. From 1961 to 1966, almost no one could hit the guy. The mighty Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest power hitters of all time: whiff! After the Mick struck out one day, he turned to the catcher and siad, “What the heck was THAT?

The walloping Willie Stargell, who slammed 475 homers: whiff! “Hittin’ a Koufax fastball,” Willie said, “was like tryin’ to drink coffee with a fork.”

Even Willie Mays, maybe the greatest all-around player in the history of the majors: whiff!

For six years, Koufax stood on the pitcher’s mound like a prince, and when you looked at that serious mug of his, you could tell he was gonna beat you.

This unnamed teammate then takes us back to Sandy’s childhood, “growin’ up Jewish in Brooklyn,” with family expecting him to be a doctor or lawyer: “{N}o one woulda guessed what he was about to become.” We learn about his rocky beginning with the Brooklyn Dodgers, his reticence around his teammates, and that he was one of the only Jewish players at that time. (“Some of the guys said some pretty lousy things behind his back — things I can’t repeat.”) We read about his departure from the field, only to return in top form, and eventually, we read about how he retired at the peak of his career due to an overused left arm. All along, we’re treated to baseball statistics: “Box-score-type inserts provide relevant stats and anecdotes, and the whole manages to be vibrant without being cluttered,” Kirkus writes.

The illustrations, rendered in graphite on paper and digitally enhanced in PhotoShop, are eye-popping. For real. I know “eye-popping” gets used so often in reviews (well, if you’re a fellow Review Nerd and read ’em as often as I do), but picture my eyeballs popping momentarily forward from my face and then springing back into my eye sockets, just like some old-skool Tom & Jerry cartoon. There is a lot of gold, gray, and Dodger blue, as well as much drama in Carrilho’s exaggerated figures. He gets right to the heart of the characters and sucks us right in with his dynamic lines and spot-on composition and bold textures. One of the opening illustrations seems to be a sort of computer-generated (or maybe not??) pointillism, and there’s one image of a ground-view of Koufax at the pitcher’s mound, as if we’re the umpire, as we look through the legs of the batter, ready to strike. The lines, the composition, the movement in this illustration, though everyone is standing still…O! I wish I could just show you. I wish it were on the fabulous Lookybook for you to see, but alas and alack, it’s not. This is Carrilho’s picture book debut, and I hope to the high heavens that he illustrates more of them.

But there’s always his web site for more of his highly-stylized art. You know you want that eye-popping experience, too, right?

And don’t miss this early-February interview at School Library Journal with author Jonah Winter and his discussion of how, as SLJ put it, he distilled a complex person’s life into a 32-page children’s picture book. Not an easy task, but I’d say this is a home run.

* * * * * * *

Excerpt from You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter, illustrations by André Carrilho. Text copyright © 2009 by Jonah Winter, illustrations copyright © 2009 by André Carrilho. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York .

15 comments to “You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

  1. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! is one of the best picture-book bios I’ve read in a long time — as I was telling a dad/writer/baseball-nut friend of mine, it’s got great voice, art, story, the whole package. What else could you ask for? Ah, yes — those addictive stats. And I especially like the way Winter handled the epithets — acknowledging and dismissing them without repeating them.

  2. Lenticular? Learn something new every day. I’m glad you featured this — I’m like you, generally not interested in sports books, but since you’ve said it’s the most exciting PB art you’ve seen all year, I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  3. Oh, how cool. I love lenticular pictures, and what’s funny is that I ***HAVE*** heard of Sandy Koufax. And I’m SO not a sports person either.

  4. Holy cow, I’m in love with this already!

  5. I thoroughly enjoy the dynamic illustrations that are displayed and the narration (at least the little of it I’ve read) truly seems to take you back in time.

  6. I love this book. I have an Advance Reader Copy in my class. The baseball fans are eating it up. Random house has fun activities to go along with the book. Count down to opening day!

  7. When I was a kid (he said, putting his heels up on a cracker barrel and clearing his throat), I wasn’t really a sports fan. But come baseball season I took the path of least resistance when somebody asked who I was rooting for that year and I always said the Yankees. (Rooting for the perennial champions was easiest because you didn’t have to explain your choice.)

    So yeah, I remember Sandy Koufax. The bane of the Yankees in the 1963 World Series…

    Anyhow, that’s got nothing to do with the book except that I pretty much was (am) knocked speechless by those images. They capture exactly what I remember seeing: they writhe on the page, and sort of come around overhand and overhead and blow right by you. (Whiff!)

    Like Jama, “lenticular” went over my head, too, so thank s for that, Jules. We used to call such pictures “wiggle pictures,” a phrase I’d be embarrassed to use now. But with “lenticular images” I can sound all smart. 🙂

  8. I saw this in the bookstore the other day and it is definitely a gorgeous, fun book!

  9. Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand “lenticular rendering”

  10. “I run like a duck.” Oh, that made me laugh. I avoid running because it HURTS.

    I’m also not a sports person, but I really enjoy reading about people who love sports. (I admire pretty much anyone who’s really dedicated and works hard at something the way people who are serious athletes have to do.) Anyway, I obviously have to put this book on order now.

  11. Wow! Wow, very cool. I hope I see this at TLA…I’m gonna snatch one up.

  12. […] impressed with author Jonah Winter’s picture-book biography output this spring, after reading his new Sandy Koufax book and hearing about his new Gertrude Stein book. And then I saw his new one about Gilbert & […]

  13. […] I had the chance to interview both the author, Johah Winter (who wrote, amongst other great titles, this fabulous book), and Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio, who created the art for the book, but […]

  14. […] gorgeous spread is what it is. That comes from illustrator André Carrilho in Jonah Winter’s You Never Heard of Sandy Kofax?!, also published by Schwartz & Wade Books in […]

  15. Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new surveys are added- checkbox now whenever a comment is added I get four emails with the exact same comment. Will there be any method for you to remove me from that service? Thanks!

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