Kid Lit Frenzy hosts my favorite reading challenge of 2014: the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit Alyson’s blog to find out what amazing nonfiction picture books others are reading and sharing this week.
This week, I’m sharing Robert Burleigh’s Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth. Baseball is the only sport I don’t enjoy watching, but it does make a pretty good subject for a picture book (and thank goodness, because my son LOVES baseball and wants to read every baseball book he can get his hands on), and Home Run is especially fine.
I’m sorry I didn’t take photos of the inside of this book before I took it back to the library, because it’s beautifully designed. One side of each spread features Burleigh’s spare, poetic writing about the Babe, lots of white space, and a replica of a vintage baseball card, filled with fascinating information about Babe’s life and career. The information on the cards is perfectly chosen to appeal to kids. My son couldn’t stop regaling my husband with tidbits from this story about we finished reading it: Babe never leaving his home town of Baltimore until he was nineteen; Babe riding elevators for fun; Babe nearly getting his head chopped off riding an elevator; Babe eating huge meals before, during, and after games; Babe signing thousands of baseballs; Babe’s different records and crazy statistics from his best seasons; etc. The book also manages to be quite informative about Babe’s significance in the history of baseball: I, for one, didn’t know that before Babe, home runs were quite rare and not really the point of playing baseball.
The writing is strong and engaging, but the star here really is the art. The experience of reading this book reminded me of what always happens to me when I read a book illustrated by Kadir Nelson. No matter what’s happening that I like in the writing, my attention is nearly entirely sidetracked by the paintings. Mike Wimmer’s illustrations are stunning. I wasn’t familiar with Wimmer’s work before now, but he’s one I’ll be looking for at the library. And I am happy to note that he has several other nonfiction collaborations with Burleigh, including a book about Jackie Robinson. The one quibble we had was with the cover, which you have to assume is supposed to be Babe Ruth. But I don’t think Babe was ever that svelte!