Reviews for Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy

by Phil Bildner

School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Slugger Joe Jackson was more than careful with his favorite bat. The book concludes with a short biography about the athlete and a page of his major league statistics. Baseball statistics can be expanded into a math lesson. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

One of baseball's greats receives star treatment in this compelling book. Shortly before "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (so named for having played a game in his stocking feet) joins the minors, he falls into a slump, and out of desperation ends up in the workshop of "the finest bat smith in all of South Carolina." Joe names the bat Ol' Charlie Ferguson makes for him Betsy ("Pitchers are going to honor and respect this bat the way they respect the flag Betsy Ross created," the hero states), but the slump continues. So does the partnership between the two men as Ol' Charlie refines the bat's design it's remade from the "north side of a hickory tree" and rubbed down with tobacco juice so it will be "dark and scary-looking" and Joe learns how to massage it with sweet oil and keep it wrapped in cotton ("Cotton will make Black Betsy feel right at home in Cleveland," Ol' Charlie tells him). Finally Betsy takes him to the major leagues and his finest season ever. Rookie Bildner hits a home run here, zeroing in on the bat as just the right lens through which to view his picture book biography. He strews the conversational prose with appealing colloquialisms in a catchy refrain ("sure as the sky is blue and the grass is green"). Payne's (The Remarkable Farkle McBride) portraits take on a tall-tale quality suffused with nostalgia; his strong-featured characters offer a riveting blend of humor and gravity. An afterword fills in the details of Jackson's life and career, including the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Ages 5-8. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Gr. 2-4. Bildner turns the story of baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson into an amusing picture-book tall tale. Worried about succeeding in the minor leagues, Joe has his friend Ol' Charlie make him a special bat, which he names Betsy after Betsy Ross. (It becomes Black Betsy when Joe has Charlie coat it with tobacco juice.) The hits come in bunches until Jackson is called up to the majors. More trips to Charlie ensue, with the old-timer dispensing sage advice: "Don't you know Black Betsy needs warmth and love? She needs to sleep in your bed every night." Finally, Joe treats Betsy just right, and his rookie season is a triumph. Payne's realistic mixed-media illustrations do the story justice, capturing the look of baseball in the teens and `20s and helping make a costar of Black Betsy. A lengthy afterword discussing Jackson's role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal fails to mention that, while Joe didn't participate in throwing the World Series, most sources agree that he did accept money to do so. Younger children with good attention spans may enjoy hearing this read aloud. --Bill Ott


Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this fictionalized account, the success of baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson is attributed to his famous bat, Black Betsy. The enhancements to the facts add little to what could have been an equally dramatic tale based solely on what is known about Jackson, a fascinating and controversial sports personality. The illustrations contribute both drama and emotion to the repetitive text. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

According to PW, "One of baseball's greats receives star treatment in this compelling book." Ages 5-8. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Is great hitting in the clean, natural swing of the batter-or the perfectly balanced feel of the bat? As kids know when they start playing baseball, small details must converge just right to overcome the edge between winning and losing, hitting and striking out. Sometimes this translates into superstitions or quirky behavior. First-time author Bildner toes this question in the quirks of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his feared bat, Black Betsy. Joe, who played in the major leagues from 1908 to 1920, does well in the minor leagues, but can't seem to move up without the help of his South Carolina friend, the great bat-maker Charlie Ferguson. While Charlie knows how to make the best bat, it's not hard to decide which needs tweaking more, the bat or Joe's mind so he can finally realize his great potential. From Joe sleeping with the bat to his wrapping it in the cotton of his southern roots, Bildner sticks mostly to the main facts and resists a romanticization of the game. Players who know the perfect, sweeping amalgamation of hand, eye, and sweet spot might expect to hear its dramatic tenor when Joe cracks the ball with Black Betsy, but this is a story finished by statistics. Payne's (Brave Harriet, p. 944, etc.) mixed-media illustrations are gorgeous: the fuzz is in the flannel and the light is just right. And so are his perspectives, angles, and other compositional choices that make for the right mix of mystery and narrative to draw the reader in. A lengthy synopsis of Joe's entire career and his statistics are appended. (Picture book. 5-8)


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 1-5-From the intriguing title to the informative afterword, this picture book will capture the attention of young baseball fans. Told in a folksy, Southern voice, with many of the stylistic elements of a tall tale, it follows Joseph Jefferson Jackson's early-20th-century path between the minor and major leagues. A series of slumps takes him to the door of bat smith Ol' Charlie, who dispenses homespun advice along with his products. The repetition and wry humor of the exchanges between the two superstitious characters pull the legend out of the story. Payne's frequent use of foreshortening highlights the role of Black Betsy (the bat); it also heightens the visual eccentricities of the two friends. The mixed-media illustrations are layered and rich in texture, qualities that add depth and drama. Bildner's bias in favor of his subject is evident in the afterword describing the allegations against Joe and his teammates (a scandal that ended their careers). A page of the hitter's major league and World Series statistics concludes the book. This title is in the same league as David A. Adler's fine Lou Gehrig (1997) and Peter Golenbock's important Teammates (1990, both Harcourt).-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Back