Today, I shine the spotlight on a nonfiction picture book, called Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team (Clarion Books), written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. It’ll be released in early April.
Baseball is not a sport that I play (though I enjoy it), and it’s not a sport that I watch either. (We’ve been over how you don’t want me in a room when I’m rooting for a team, right?) But I love this book, because it’s really not only about baseball. It’s about brotherhood (literally and figuratively, I might add).
I love the opening:
When winter’s chill melts into spring, back doors swing open and slap shut as kids just home from school run outside—mitts, bats, and balls in hand.
In one New Jersey town near the ocean, back in the 1920s and ’30s, you could hear the same door slam over and over. Three brothers raced out. Out went three more. And more … And still more.
Yup, the Acerra family had “twelve baseball-playing brothers,” as well as four sisters. (In the spread where Vernick notes that “most people thought sports were just for boys” back then, Salerno depicts the sisters playing determinedly at their own game of ball with a broom and ball of yarn. I like that.)
“Baseball set the rhythm of their lives,” Vernick writes. “Their high school baseball team had an Acerra on it for twenty-two years in a row!” In 1938, the nine oldest brothers formed a semi-pro team, ranging in age from seven to thirty-two. (See illustration below.) They played in states like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and “stuck together.” Always.
Vernick and Salerno do a bang-up job of individualizing the brothers — not each and every one, or this story wouldn’t fit into the 32-page picture-book parameters. But they distinguish some of the brothers with affectionate facts (“Jimmy, the sixth brother, had a knuckleball people still talk about”), as well as noting darker moments (the loss of Alfred’s right eye at a pivotal game). After going off to war, they all return, continue to play, and build their own families.
In 1997, a special ceremony in their honor was given at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Vernick noting that only seven were still alive then. She also explains in a closing Author’s Note that she spent time with the remaining members of the family in the name of research on this book. They welcomed her lovingly into their home and “recalled some very specific details with sharp accuracy.”
I love the artwork of children’s book illustrator and editorial illustrator, Steven Salerno (who evidently graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and studied under the one and only Sendak). It’s like H.A. Rey meets Ludwig Bemelmans at a bar … okay, wait. He meets him at a baseball game and buys him a beer. (I credit a Publishers Weekly review for that statement, as they once noted that Salerno’s style pays homage to them, and that’s when I yelled, “OH, RIGHT! THAT’S IT!” ’cause they nailed it there. It’s true.) Here, he uses black crayon, gouache, watercolor, and pastels (with a bit of digital manipulation thrown in for the color). With crisp lines and a bright palette, he brings the Acerra family to life with verve, heart, and humor. (When Vernick notes that the Acerra family “sat three across in their outdoor bathroom,” Salerno shows a young boy racing to the outhouses with a look of determination on his face and a toilet paper roll in hand. Take your time with these illustrations, which Kirkus writes “[strike] a balance between detail and expansiveness,” and you’ll see it.)
“A family’s love and devotion to each other and to the game of baseball, depicted lovingly,” adds the Kirkus review. “Employing descriptive, conversational language in a matter-of-fact tone that doesn’t sentimentalize, Vernick tells of a remarkable family, part of what has come to be known as ‘the greatest generation.’”
Below are a few more spreads. Enjoy.
(Click to enlarge)
to watch the all-brother team play.”
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM. Copyright © 2012 by Audrey Vernick. Illustration © 2012 by Steven Salerno. Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin, New York. Images used with permission of publisher.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
1) I kinda can’t live without the weekly podcasts of Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton over at All Songs Considered, and this week’s first song by Mount Carmel makes me very happy. I see a CD purchase in my future. (If you listen to the podcast, Robin Hilton says something like, “this band could eat The Black Keys for lunch.” AW SNAP and NO COMMENT. I love me some Patrick on drums and Dan on guitar. Anyway. I’ll take both bands any day.)
2) I am really enjoying the CD Salt Year from someone named Chris Bathgate. Below is my second favorite song from the CD (the 2:00 mark is especially great), and you can hear the first one, “Eliza (hue),” at the play button here. (And I have to give credit where credit is due and thank Phil Stead for this music.)
3) Good friends who listen and have valuable, smart advice.
4) I discovered this song (below) last year, I guess it was. It’s from someone named Nick Waterhouse. I share it here, ’cause it might make you happy, as it does me. But I also note here that Nick has very good taste. You can hear other great (new and old) tunes at his blog here. (His blog is something I discovered this week, not last year. Hence, this kick’s existence.)
5) Surprises in the mail from kind, considerate folks.
6) Kind, considerate folks.
7) During a conversation with three of my favorite friends, the need for jenny mules came up. (As in, opposed to cars. Just … well, it’s perfectly normal for this kind of weird-ass thing to come up in our conversations, so we’ll leave it at that.) Mules make me think of my beloved music from my Gillian and my David. (What? No, really. Mules factor into many of her lyrics.) So, I returned to their latest CD, which I had SO COMPLETELY worn out when it came out last year. This was kicky to return to. Their music improves my days.
I immediately went to “Hard Times,” because a mule, in fact, is the star of the song. (Yes, her name is even Bessie.) And so that’s my kick, this song. It gets indescribably sad, though I think my Gillian and my David turn things ’round in that last verse there. As someone wrote somewhere online (YouTube, I think), while I was looking for a good link to the song, if this song doesn’t give you a shiver all the way down your spine, you may not be human (though I recommend hearing it on the CD or album, instead of video — lyrics are here for interested listeners). Really, every single time I hear it, I’m blown over by what a tiny, little masterpiece of a song it is — so much brilliance in just under five minutes.
Some great links for everyone:
- You must see this wonderful blog, which I thought I had already posted about, but I hadn’t: Books Around the Table (subtitled “a potluck of ideas from four children’s book authors and illustrators”) is the writings of author/illustrator Margaret Chodos-Irvine, poet and author Julie Larios, author/illustrator Julie Paschkis, and author/illustrator Laura McGee Kvasnosky.
- This write-up at The Atlantic is a must for fellow illustration junkies, and I’ve already ordered this book. Looking forward to that read.
- This at The Guardian is a must for fans of Tomi Ungerer. Don’t miss the gallery linked from that page.
- This is also a wonderful blog. (Thanks to Neal Porter for the link.) I really need to update the blogroll here at 7-Imp. Maybe after our manuscript gets once-and-for-all turned in.
- The ever-so classy Ann Patchett (from here in Nashville) made Stephen Colbert speechless twice earlier this week — all in the name of standing up for independent bookstores:
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