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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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, a masterful writer of sports books and mysteries for kids, including the much-loved Ballpark Mysteries and MVP series, 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.
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.
For baseball and other sports fans, young inventors, creative thinkers, and anyone who loves history, Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball is a fascinating read and would be welcome in home, classroom, and library collections.
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
Make Your Own Sensory Sand
While this sensory sand may not be exactly mud, it’s sure as much fun to play with!
- 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
- In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
- In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
- 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.
- The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.
You can find Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball at these booksellers
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