Monday, October 15, 2012

From the Book Basket: Baseball and African American Inventors

From the Book Basket

A series of fine books for children and young adults came into my Book Basket this week and I want to pass on some information about them.  Yesterday (February 14, 2012), I posted comments about Ichiro, a new graphic novel.  Last night I read, Just as Good:  How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game by Chris Crowe (Candelwick 2012, Ages 8 & Up) and What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Candlewick 2012, Ages 8 & Up).
In our home Center Fielder Larry Doby was just as revered as Second Basemen Jackie Robinson.  Like ours, the family in the story was baseball crazy.  We used to live two blocks from Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC and would peep through the holes in the fence to watch the likes of Doby crack that bat.  In his book Crowe pays tribute to Doby’s legacy, the effect he had on his fans and his efforts as a champion for Civil Rights.  Mike Benny’s illustrations are energetic and rendered in such a way that you can almost hear the crack of the bat as Doby makes the first home run of the 1948 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. After a stellar performance with the Cleveland Indians, in 1978 Doby went on to become the manager of the Chicago White Sox.  The book ends capturing an historical moment with a black man Doby and white man pitcher Steve Gromek celebrating the victory by smiling and hugging one another, something unheard of and that was met with some of the same kind of vitriol that exist around race today.

In What Color is My World? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his co-author Raymond Obstfeld weave an exciting narrative around biographical information and blueprints related to the inventions of a series of groundbreaking scientists and inventors including Dr. Valerie L. Thomas.  Thomas invented the Illusion Transmitter and worked her way up to Associate Chief of Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA.  Primarily narrated by middle school twins Ella and Herbie, the stories cleverly unfold around a dimension of African American history that goes well beyond enslavement, entertainment and sports.

The illustrations by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford capture the range of the physical realities of black people, presenting us in multiple racial characteristics.  With facts about each inventor or scientists, realistic renderings of their inventions and blueprints, the interesting design of the book is bound to engage readers who might otherwise bypass the book.  The biographical information also focuses on Alfred L. Cralle, inventor of the Ice-Cream Scoop; Lonnie Johnson, creator of the Super Soaker and Dr. Mark Dean, Vice President at IBM and Personal Computer Pioneer.  Historical information related to the biographies is set in context with the inclusion of sidebars like the one noted below:

 I wonder how many other medical miracles might have happened a lot sooner if some nutty people hadn’t worked so hard to keep black people from becoming doctors.

Both books are exciting tools for getting our young people to learn the relationship between modern innovations and technology, while wrapping their minds around dimensions of African American/American History that are still relegated all too often to obscurity.

Daphne Muse spent six years as a writer for Breaking Barriers, a curriculum project that is a partnership between the Office of Education for the Commission on Major League Baseball and Scholastic, Inc. Raised on the roar of the crowd from Griffith Stadium the social history of the sport continues to intrigue her.