7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #270: Featuring Steven Salerno

h1 February 26th, 2012 by jules

(Click to enlarge and see entire spread from which this illustration comes)

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.”

(Click to enlarge and see entire spread from which this illustration comes)

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.

“Baseball set the rhythm of their lives. ‘Every spring,’ Freddie said, ‘you would take your glove out, go in the yard, and play.’ Neighbors couldn’t recall a time when there weren’t Acerra boys outside tossing the ball, hitting it hard, racing around—with the young ones watching, wishing they were old enough to play. Their high school baseball team had an Acerra on it twenty-two years in a row!”
(Click to enlarge)

“By the summer of 1946, the family was ready to get back to baseball. They were all older, of course, and Poser’s heart had grown weak, so now he coached the team. They joined the Long Branch City Twilight Baseball League and over the next six years won the league championship four times. Every Sunday, crowds filled the stands
to watch the all-brother team play.”

(Click to enlarge)

“In 1997, the Baseball Hall of Fame held a special ceremony to honor them. Only seven were still alive. Paul, Alred, Bobby, Billy, Freddie, Eddie, and Bubbie all made the trip, along with more than a hundred relatives, including their sister Frances. Jimmy’s son donated his father’s uniform and glove, which were put on display, right there in the same museum that honored Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Willie Mays. ‘They treated us like we were kings,’ Freddie said.”
(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.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

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.)

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

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:
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Ann Patchett

17 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #270: Featuring Steven Salerno”

  1. I am here! But I can’t stay long. Kicks: I am on my way to Macau and Hong Kong!! See you guys next week. =D =D =D

  2. Good morning! Yes, we need mules, not cars. I just realized that I do have the Gillian Welch album– I just forgot, as I’m going through a long, weird phase of not listening to music. “Hard Times”is a lovely, haunting song.

    Kicks, in brief:
    1. For Lent, I’ve put up a sticker chart to document my guitar practice, and am focusing on finger-picking and theory for at least 30 minutes every day. Often, I end up going to 45 minutes to an hour. I’ve just learned about secondary dominant chords, which I’ve been playing in songs for years, but now I know why they sound so good in songs.

    2. My daughter may have been reluctant to take guitar lessons, but I can hear already that she’s going to surpass me. Regardless of the instrument she chooses when she’s older, she’ll have guitar as a portable, social instrument.

    3. I weeded the garden. You can actually see the crocuses and other wee bulbs poking up now.

    4. My mom is coming to town!

    5. Good friends.

    6. The internet.

    7. Beautiful new wool felt.

    Happy week, everyone! What are you all doing for Leap Day?

  3. Audrey is a terrific writer–can’t wait to see this new book!

  4. What a great story about baseball.
    And Jules, I there with you on watching sports, which is why I don’t. Love Ann Patchett.
    Tarie, enjoy your trip.
    Farida, hooray for crocuses and guitar practice.
    My kicks:
    1. My friend’s successsful brain surgery. Very sudden, very aggressive tumor discovered. Surgery was Friday and it appears her speech and motor skills were not affected. Still no news about the kind of tumor.
    2. Hosting Poetry Friday.
    3. Fresh lemons and grapefruit from AZ.
    4. Book club tonight. Discussing Wingshooters.
    5. Haiku
    6. Tutoring.
    7. The wintry weather mix.
    Have a good week.

  5. I love all that kick-y music, Jules. Thanks for sharing it and Brothers at Bat, which looks like another good one for my library.

    Jone, I am thinking positive thoughts for your friend.

    My kicks:
    1. Being a part of conversations in which weird-ass stuff comes up.
    2. I rewatched Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Friday night. That is a movie that speaks to me every single time I watch it, it’s just so beautiful on so many levels.
    3. Talk about beautiful movies, last night I went out to see The Artist with my mom. What a movie! Totally loved it.
    4. I spoke as part of a panel at a library school class Monday night. That kind of thing always reminds me of how lucky I am to have the awesome job that I do.
    5. I’m making good progress on my next round of encyclopedia entries.
    6. This past week was February Break, and the library was hopping with families and school-aged kids. Our programs went really well and were well-attended. I am grateful for these things, and it was all so fun.
    7. We had a really lovely snowfall here yesterday. We’ve hardly had any here this year, and I’ve missed it.

  6. Hooray for anything Jersey-related! 🙂

    Love the story of the Acerras brothers. But, um, well, no one else seems to have mentioned this, maybe it’s indelicate… did all those brothers (not to mention sisters) whose ages spanned 25 years have the same mother?!? (Now there’s a woman with a biography just waiting to be written…)

    Sorta blitzing through today. Just wanted to mention that Ann P’s interview with Colbert was an absolute marvel. Those two speechless moments cracked, me, UP. (She really handled herself much better on the show than many so-called public figures, maybe because she’s her own content and not packaged by someone else, if you know what I mean.)

    Have a great week, all!

  7. I love LOCAL baseball. I loved playing pick-up games when I was a kid. I loved coaching T-ball when my boys little. I loved being Team Mom and driving a car load of baseball boys to the batting cages. I love watching Little League teams (even the one that ends dead last) improve their TEAMWORK over the span of a spring season: a player getting to know and trust others he works with—getting that catcher-to-2nd throw down, outfielders looking for their trusty cut-off guy after chasing down a big hit. I love that catcher’s call “’Coming down’ in two!” And the golden 6th-grade year my son Max was a home-run champ with his shy-but-confident 11-year-old swagger. Makes me tear up.

    So, I can imagine what watching a team of brothers who’d played together year after year (and who must have known their teammates like no other team would or could have) – what kind of game they must have played and offered to their spectators. Wow.

    And what a charming book celebrating that hard-earned grace and team spirit. Personally, I’m see echoes of “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel”, so I think Rey and Bemelmans might swig back one with Virginia Lee Burton in those bleachers. Thank you Audrey and Steven.

    Jules – a wealth of fine music and interesting kidlit links today: blogs, books, galleries. THX. I’m so with you on kicks #3 and #6.

    Tarie – Macau? ( I just like saying that place name; sounds musical.)
    jone – good vibes for your friend. I bet you’re a great tutor.
    adrienne – Yea for well-attended library programs and snow yearnings.
    JES – I second Mama Acerras for MVP (Most Valuable Pregnant person) ha!

    My kicks:
    1. Anticipating the Oscars tonight.
    2. A error listing on moviefone led my 80-year-old mom and I (who thought we were going to a public screening of the Oscar Shorts) to an Academy-only screening of Jane Eyre; the nice manager let us in to watch. (No soda or popcorn but fabulous projection and sound!)
    3.- This very odd and interesting “book sculptor”; I’ve never seen anything like his work. Feattued here: http://karanarora.posterous.com/insane-art-formed-by-carving-books-with-surgi

    4. young love.
    5. a friend’s book on Scholastic’s 100 Best Children’s Books
    6. finished ‘Chime’; really liked the writing.
    7. a place to share these things. : – )

    Have a great week everyone. (On Leap Day we get to celebrate my high school son’s best friends “4th” birthday.)

  8. Tarie: Safe travels!

    Farida, you are wise to equip your daughter with that portable, social instrument. I very much agree, as you know, with kicks 5 and 6. Have fun with your mother. For Leap Day, I shall be wrapping up manuscript edits or maybe celebrating that round one of edits got turned in (though I suspect it’ll be last-minute).

    Tricia: Hope you like it.

    Jone: Oh my, my best to your friend, and keep us updated. Enjoy the book club meeting.

    Adrienne: You had a good week, it seems. And boy howdy howdy boy, do I wanna see The Artist.

    John: This mother was probably simply a super hero, as many mothers of that time had to be. (MVP, as Denise said) … Ann as her “own content.” I love that. I hope Colbert comes to Parnassus Books in Nashville!

    Denise, I hope to take an editing break and enjoy the Oscars, too. I like to see the pretty dresses before-hand, oh yes I do. (Nothing will ever top this one.) … Sorry to hear you missed the Oscar Shorts, but glad you ended up seeing something good. Oh, I wanna read Chime!

  9. Jules, as usual you have far too many links to tempt me on a work morning 🙂 I’m glad you’ve had nice experiences with kind people this week.

    Hope your journey goes well, Tarie!

    Farida, that’s lovely your daughter will have that ability to play the guitar. And yay to wool felt, I am eyeing off a felt hat on etsy at the moment, but seeing as it’s only cold enough for wool hats here for about two weeks am not sure I can justify it…

    Jone, I hope your friend is OK. Hurrah for citrus!

    Adrienne, I want to re-watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s now

    Denise, I love book sculptures so thanks for the link! Did you see those lovely anonymous ones left in Scottish libraries?

    My kicks:

    1. We have new neighbours who seem very friendly and nice – they have just moved here from Colorado which is a bit different I believe to Brisbane (one of them is from here which is why they moved). Our last neighbours were nice so I was concerned when they moved!
    2. Our foreign minister quit his job and is challenging the prime minister to the leadership role. While this is not a kick at all, I love that my 90 year old grandmother thinks this is extremely entertaining, and has expanded her already long politics television watching. I love that she is so interested in politics after so many years.
    3. Wedding preparation is proceding well! (despite people continually saying “oh you must be stressed!”) Only a fortnight to go so it’s getting exciting. I can’t wait to catch up with all of my family.
    4. I’m not having a hens party, but I had a lovely pre-wedding dinner and DVD night with my sisters and close friend last night, and some women at work have organised a dinner for me too – lovely!
    5. I went to my first baby shower (for a friend) today, lots of cute baby presents, nice nibblies and friendly company
    6. Particularly delicious scrambled eggs for dinner thanks to our diligent hens
    7. I’m about to walk to the station and it’s not raining for a change (it’s been a very monsoonal summer). Hurrah!

  10. H everyone!
    Jules, great post! I can’t wait for this one. I gotta say though…every time I hear of a Maurice Sendak student I get deliriously jealous. And I love that quote: Take your time with these illustrations, which “[strike] a balance between detail and expansiveness,” and you’ll see it.

    I also loved the music and may be off to purchase some soon. Especially like Chris Bathgate.

    A few of my kicks:

    1) Dreamy weather here in the south and the forsythia is in bloom
    2) A game of sharks and minnows in the neighbors yard with 5 kids. I was the shark!
    3) Waiting for Downtown Abbey on PBS (I know…I should be watching something else tonight!!)

    Gotta go for now. Thanks again.

  11. Hip hip hooray for that family encouraging their boys AND girls alike to pursue athletics.

    Jules: Love the groovy throwback sound of the musical arrangment in that Nick Waterhouse song. (Admittedly, though, I’m not digging the screamy vocals.) Now I want to go listen to my favorite songs from the 50s and 60s. Glad that you are surrounded by kindness.

    Tarie: Have a safe and lovely trip!

    Farida: Thumbs-up (and picks ready) for the guitar practice. Kudos to you and to your daughter! Please greet your garden with a big grin from me. Have fun with your mom, and with your friends!

    Hi Tricia!

    Jone: Thinking good thoughts for your dear friend. Hope the book club went well. Enjoy the poetry, the fruits, and the knowledge that you’re sharing via tutoring!

    Adrienne: Ooh, can we discuss Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the book AND the short story, separately AND in comparison? Please? Congrats on your speaking engagement! Sounds like you had fun. Go make a snow angel for me, will ya, please?

    JES: It seems as if, lately, I’ve been saying, “Stephen Colbert’s going to play my father, uncle, or teacher” once a week for the past few weeks. If only that would come true…

    Denise: Happy birthday to your son’s friend! Glad that you and your mother were allowed to attend the screening. How was the film?

    emmaco: Hola to your new neighbors. Happy almost-wedding-time for you!

    Lori: May the flowers make you smile whenever you see them.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Musical theatre audition
    2) TV audition
    3) Singing at an event this morning
    4) Rehearsals for the musical (The show is this Saturday!)
    5) The awesomeness of some people
    6) Going to dinner with awesome people
    7) Believing

  12. Jules–first, a big, fat thank you for this gorgeous profile of BROTHERS AT BAT.

    I couldn’t fit all the facts in a 40-page book, but I wanted to let JES know that the brothers had the same mother and father and they were all single births. I am under five feet tall, and I am told by the brothers that their mother was shorter than me. It’s best not to think too much about that….

    Thanks for the lovely comments, all.

  13. Audrey — holy cow. Just… holy cow. I guess an analogy might be to my usual experience of a toothpaste tube: when I get down to the end it always seems like it’s going to run out in a couple days. Instead, I find that every day I can squeeze out juuuuuust enough for another brushing… for weeks after the expected “end.”

    Mrs. Acerra herself deserves a display case in a Hall of Fame. 🙂

    Thanks for the additional info, Audrey!

  14. Late this week, but totally love this book and the story behind it! Thanks Audrey for stopping by with even more info – I’m jealous you got to hang with family – that must’ve been really fun!

    John, I’m with you on the holy cow! about Mrs. Acerra. Dang.

    Denise – your description of how much you love baseball was awesome! It sounds like you had so much fun being a baseball mom!

    Jules – great music as usual!

    LW – your energy is always amazing.

    Tarie – hope your trip is great!

    Emmaco – good luck and have fun with the wedding!

    Farida – mother/daughter guitar playing sounds lovely.

    Jone – thinking good thoughts for your friend.

    Lori – hooray for dreamy weather!

    Adrienne – a snowfall and a great movie sounds like a great week!

    My one big kick this week –
    A midnight soccer game that was actually against a bunch of poor sports, but the way our team handled it was great. And staying out past 3 am afterwards listening to my teammates tell political war stories was super fun.

    Have a great week everyone!

  15. Emmaco: ONLY A FORTNIGHT? For real? Oh my, congrats! I hope we can see a pic or two, afterwards?

    What is a “hens party”?

    Good, new neighbors … always a good thing.

    Lori: Yes, isn’t this weather dreamy? So bizarre to be this way in February. Also, that game sounds fun.

    Little Willow, break a leg this Saturday! (And, yes, those vocals are screamy, and it’s not the best recording either.) I’m with Rachel on your ENERGY LEVELS.

    Thanks for the info, Audrey!

    Rachel, that game sounds so fun. I wish I knew a kickball league. If you were my neighbor, we could start one.

  16. I had no idea Hens Party was an Australian thing (though think it is British too or surely I would have noticed…). It’s a bachelorette party in the US I think? All the women go out and play silly games etc?

  17. I figured that’s what it meant (but, no, I’ve never heard that phrase before — could be just me??) …

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