July 26 – It’s Park and Recreation Month

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About the Holiday

This month we recognize all the parks—national, state, local, and more—that provide fun and recreation for those who love the great outdoors. There is perhaps no sport that combines the physical aspects of “park” with the spirit of “recreation” quite like baseball. The crack of the bat connecting with the ball for a home run, the thwack of an outfield catch, the collective cheers, and the aroma of ballpark snacks all mix to create a perfect outing—whether your team wins or not!

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Terry Widener

 

With a single hit to left field, Joe DiMaggio turned a pre-World War II summer into something that cheered and united all Americans. It was May 15, 1941 when the New York Yankees sent Joe to the plate. He hit a single—not much to help them overcome their 13 to 1 loss, but it was in the next game and the next and the next…that people started to take notice. In every game Joe made a hit. Some were home runs, some triples or doubles, and when “he hit in 20 straight games, the word ‘streak’ whispered from the bleachers to the press box—DiMaggio was on a hitting streak.”When Joe reached 30 straight games with a hit, the newspapers printed bold headlines and articles that temporarily pushed “back news of the war marching overseas.”

Joe DiMaggio wasn’t like other well-known players. He was the son of immigrants and grew up in San Francisco with eight brothers and sisters, working in the family fishing business and selling newspapers to make extra money. He was used to hard work, and this ethic served him well as a baseball player.

Everyone knew about Joe’s bat “Betsy Ann” and the care he gave her. He had treated her wood and sanded her handle, shaving off “fractions of an ounce until she fit his hands alone. Betsy Ann was his treasured ‘ball bat,’ used for games only.” When Joe faced the pitcher at the plate, he didn’t go through an elaborate routine. His wide-legged stance was well recognized by fans who knew he would get the job done. And that summer in 1941 he did.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-streak-how-joe-dimaggio-became-america's-hero-joe-hitting

Image copyright Terry Widener, courtesy of terrywidenerart.com

He and Betsy Ann “whipped around, smashing fastballs, knuckleballs, screwballs, and curves. DiMaggio could hit off anyone, any pitch, anywhere.” Soon he was in sight of the record—41 games. Every pitcher wanted to be the one to end Joe’s streak, and with each game America was on the edge of its seat. Joe felt the responsibility. He didn’t show it on the field, but in his off time he hardly slept, his stomach hurt, and he couldn’t eat.

The streak continued—38…39…40. Tying the record at 41 and breaking it would come in a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. The bleachers were packed that hot 29th of June. In the first game Joe tied the record. The second game would test Joe’s mettle. When his turn at bat came, he reached for Betsy Ann. She wasn’t in the dugout. He saw right fielder Tommy Henrich taking practice swings and yelled to him that he had Betsy Ann. But he didn’t. All the Yankees players searched the dugout for Joe’s bat, but Betsy Ann was nowhere to be seen. Someone has stolen her.

Joe grabbed another bat, but with three times up and three times out, it looked as if Joe’s streak was over. Then Tommy held out his own bat with the reassurance that “there’s some hits in here.” Joe took Tommy’s bat and went to the mound. He took his wide-legged stance and went to work. On the second pitch “Joe whacked a line drive past the left fielder’s glove. Stomping screams shook the stands. No one could stop DiMaggio. No one.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-streak-how-joe-dimaggio-became-america's-hero-joe-hitting

Image copyright Terry Widener

Joe focused on the game, rounding first on his way to second base. But suddenly with the cheers of the fans ringing in his ears, his accomplishment settled in. “He tipped his cap, flickered a smile, and trotted weak-kneed back to first.” He got a pat on the back from the first base coach, a handshake from the Senators’ first baseman, and adoration from the kids and adults in the stands. With one hit—and 41 more—Joe was America’s hero.

A week later Betsy Ann was found in New Jersey and given back to Joe. His streak continued to 56 games, and he helped the Yankees win the 1941 World Series. When America became involved in World War II, people could remember “watching sureness and strength win against impossible odds. The country learned to pull together and celebrate together. It was ready to go to work” the way Joe DiMaggio had.

Barb Rosenstock sets this poignant biography of one of baseball’s greats firmly within the atmosphere that made Joe DiMaggio’s achievement about much more than baseball. With prose that echoes DiMaggio’s gentle strength, Rosenstock recreates the excitement, growing suspense, and mystery surrounding his phenomenal streak. With lovely, flowing description Rosenstock deftly sprinkles in DiMaggio’s working-class immigrant background, his emotions, and historical events, giving The Streak depth and resonance for today’s readers.

Accompanying the text are Terry Widener’s dramatic paintings. Opening the pages is akin to strolling through an art gallery exhibition. The depictions of the players swing, twist, slide, and throw with realistic action. As an infielder fumbles DiMaggio’s hit in one foreground illustration, Joe can be seen in the background dropping Betsy Ann and taking off for first base. DiMaggio’s signature stance, the frantic search for Betsy Ann, DiMaggio’s weariness, and the press that followed his every swing are all gorgeously rendered in muted tones of green, gold, and brown. Sports fans will love the pictures of the baseball stadiums and the close-up view of Betsy Ann.

An extensive Author’s Note, DiMaggio’s career statistics, and resources follow the text.

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero would be a welcome addition to any library.

Ages 6 and up

Calkins Creek Books, Boyds Mills Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1590789926

To see more books by Barb Rosenstock as well as extensive educational guides for The Streak and other books, visit her website!

Learn more about Terry Widener, his books, and his art on his website!

Take a look at the trailer for The Streak—it’s a home run!

Park and Recreation Day Activity

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame Word Search

 

Diamonds aren’t just for playing baseball—they make great word search puzzles too! Take a run at this printable Take Me Out to the Ball Game word search! 

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