This biography about the “Say Hey Kid” which was released at the beginning of this year, will delight baseball fans young and old. Written by Jonah Winter, the author does an exceptional job of using colorful narrative in this nonfiction children’s book. The story follows Willie Mays from his childhood in Brimingham, to his career in the Negro Leagues and his fame as a center fielder for the New York Giants. His record-setting history as a baseball player is brilliantly retold and illustrated in this captivating book.
The author grabs the reader’s attention right away with a radio broadcast announcing Joe DiMaggio’s record-breaking hitting streak. As young Willie is listening to the radio, we learn that Joe is his hero and he strives to be just like him.
An important part of this book is that it gives examples of how African Americans were viewed during the time in which Mays was starting his career. Only Caucasian men were allowed in the Major Leagues at the time. This fact is stated over a picture of water fountains labeled “white” and “colored”. The illustration of the clean versus the dirty fountain, respectively, speaks volumes about how society viewed blacks during segregation.
In 1946, at the age of fifteen, Mays started playing in the Negro Leagues with grown athletes. In 1951 he was finally signed on to the major leagues with the New York Giants. Throughout the book, sidebar, ticket-shaped boxes are displayed featuring interesting baseball statistics. There is also a glossary of baseball terms in the back of the book.
The illustrator, Terry Widener, displays his artistic talent with acrylic paintings on chipboard that are unique and appealing. The most eye-catching feature of this book is the lenticular cover displaying Willie Mays’ unique swing. Illustrations of baseball cards featuring Mays at each point in his career with the New York Giants are shown in the beginning and end of the book.
Suitable for children ages 4-8, this book would serve as an effective learning tool in teaching tolerance and perseverance. The Willie Mays biography could accompany a lesson on the Civil Rights Movement while discussing the obstacles that Mays faced during his successful career. Activities that could accompany this book might include role playing as radio announcers relaying important facts about historical moments. Children could also pick a historical figure and make a baseball card listing important facts about the person.
Other suggested reading: ‘You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax’ by Jonah Winter and ‘Becoming Babe Ruth’ by Matt Tavares.