May 24 – National Brother’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with a brother (or a few) or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to get in touch, relive some old memories, and make new ones! 

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Written by Audrey Vernick | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

 

When the weather warms and kids’ thoughts turn to sports, the afternoon air rings with the sounds of slamming doors as players race from home to the baseball diamond. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, the same door slammed not once or twice, not three or four times, not even eight or nine! The door shut behind 12 brothers! Anthony, Joe, Paul, Alfred, Charlie, Jimmy, Bobby, Billy, Freddie, Eddie, Bubbie, and Louie Acerra. These 12 boys also had 4 sisters—but this is a story about baseball, and back then girls didn’t play ball.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

It could be said that “baseball set the rhythm of their lives.” Neighbors couldn’t remember a time when Acerra boys weren’t throwing or hitting a ball or running the bases at the local park. And there was an Acerra on the high school baseball team for 22 years in a row!

In 1938 the nine oldest brothers formed a semi-pro team and competed against other New Jersey teams and teams from New York and Connecticut. Their dad was their coach. The brothers all had different skills—Anthony could hit homeruns, and even hit a couple into the Atlantic Ocean from a seaside park; Charlie was a slow runner; and Jimmy had a knuckleball that was unhittable and uncatchable.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

But playing had its dangers too. In one game Alfred was going to bunt, but the ball bounced badly off the bat and hit him in the face. He was rushed to the hospital, but the accident caused him to lose an eye. Everyone thought he would never play again. But after he healed, his brothers helped him recover his skills and his courage.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-sliding-into-home

Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

During World War II six of the brothers joined the war effort and spent years apart. Far from home they dreamed of the days when they played together on warm afternoons. When the war ended all the Acerra boys came home to their very happy mother. The brothers got back to what they loved doing best. Now Anthony was their coach, and from 1946 to 1952 they won the Long Branch City Twilight Baseball League championship four times—much to the pleasure of the crowds that came out to watch the Acerras play.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

As time went on the Acerras got jobs, married, and had families of their own. In 1952 the brothers played their last game as a team, having made history as the longest-playing, all-brother baseball team ever. Even though the Acerras played many, years ago, people have not forgotten them. In 1997 they were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The surviving seven brothers made the trip along with one sister and more than a hundred relatives. Now Jimmy Acerra’s uniform and glove are on display alongside exhibits about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays. If you visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, you can see them too!

Interesting and personal author’s and artist’s notes follow the text.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

Baseball fans will love Audrey Vernick’s exciting, true story of this most unusual team. Her focus on the close relationship of the Acerra brothers elevates the tale from merely a sports story to one that reveals deep affection and support during difficult times. The different personalities of the brothers shine through in Vernick’s easy, conversational tone, and the inclusion of the Acerra brothers’ induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame shows that this story lives on for all generations.

Steven Salerno’s evocative illustrations will transport readers into a past where neighborhood leagues enjoyed the same level of loyalty as the majors. Capturing the brushed style, colors, and portraiture of pictures of the period, Salerno shows kids not only what it meant to be a baseball player in the 1930s and 40s, but what it meant to be a family.

Ages 4 – 9

Clarion Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0547385570

Discover more about Audrey Vernick and her book on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

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Best Brother Award Certificate

 

Today is all about your brother and how great you think he is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers!

June 29 – International Mud Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 2009 when the students of Bold Park Community School in Wembley, Western Australia teamed with the boys of the Nepalese Panchkhal Orphanage to “celebrate the visceral and primal connection we all share with Earth and the outdoors.” Since that day, schools, families, and early childhood education centers have worked to remind us that we all need to take time to play in the mud sometimes and reconnect with what makes us human. In 2015, the day was expanded to include the entire month of June to allow us to decompress from the high-tech, high-pressure world we live in and to connect with others.

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball

Written by David A. Kelly | Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez

 

“Lena Blackburne wanted to be a famous baseball player.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of the greats. In fact starting in 1910, Lena moved around from team to team, playing a variety of positions. He made appearances at every base and played shortstop; he even had a go as pitcher. But he wasn’t a star at any of these positions. He was never going to make it to the Hall of Fame.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

After he retired from playing, Lena became a coach. One day the umpire came to him with a complaint about the soggy baseballs. They were too hard to throw and too hard to see. Besides that, when they were hit, they didn’t soar very far. The problem was that new baseballs had a slick sheen to them, “so players soaked them in dirty water. It got rid of the shine. But it also made the balls soggy and soft.”

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Players tried other methods to get rid of the shine, but they had drawbacks too. Shoe polish just turned the balls black, and “spit and tobacco juice…made the balls stink.” Lena Blackburne sat down and considered the problem. The answer came to him in a most unusual place—an old fishing hole where Lena liked to go when he was off the road and home.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

While fishing one day, he happened to step into some dark brown mud. It sucked at his boot, and as Lena pulled his foot out he had an idea. The mud was “smooth and creamy like chocolate pudding. But it felt gritty.” At the ballpark, Lena rubbed the mud on the balls. When the mud dried, it was easy to wipe off. The mud left the balls with a good finish—not soggy, black, or smelly. At the next game, “the pitcher threw muddy fastballs, curveballs, changeups, and sinkers. The batters hit muddy singles, doubles, triples, and home runs.”

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Lena returned to the fishing hole and dug up more mud. He put it into containers and began selling it. Teams all over the league bought Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud. Lena’s famous mud is still used today and is officially the “only thing that’s allowed on major-league balls.” Lena Blackburne always dreamed of being in the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he didn’t make it there as a player, he is remembered for his contributions to the game he loved in a special exhibit for Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

An Author’s Note including more about Lena Blackburne, his baseball statistics, and his special mud follow the text.

Kids who love baseball will be intrigued by David A. Kelly’s unique take on the game. By exploring a small detail that had large effects on the quality of play, Kelly presents a picture book mystery with a surprise ending for younger readers. Kelly’s inclusion of Blackburne’s disappointments shows children that each person’s unique contributions are often found in expected ways.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Kids get a front row seat at the baseball stadium in Oliver Dominguez’s stunning illustrations. As Lena swings and misses, readers can almost hear the smack of the ball in the catcher’s glove and the ump yelling, “Steee-rrriike!”  When Lena Blackburne becomes a coach and ponders the problem of the soggy baseballs, kids will enjoy seeing baseballs bobbing in a wooden bucket of water, laugh to see a player spitting on a new baseball, and wonder what idea has Lena so wide-eyed at the fishing hole. Baseball lovers will want to linger over the up-close views of players preparing for a game and celebrating their win.

Ages 6 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761380924

Find out more about David A. Kelly, his ballpark mysteries, and his other books on his website!

View a gallery of artwork and videos by Oliver Dominguez on his website!

International Mud Day Activity

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Make Your Own Sensory Sand

 

While this sensory sand may not be exactly mud, it’s sure as much fun to play with!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.

Picture Book Review

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.

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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.”

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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!