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Monday, April 27, 2009

A League of Their Own: Women in Baseball

Ask most people what they know about women's professional baseball and they're apt to sheepishly mutter that they once saw A League of Their Own. A good movie; no complaints there. But women created a much richer legacy in the history of baseball that deserves exploration.

Once you've checked out the summaries of the books below, refer back to the Extra Innings post for themes, questions, cross-curricular extensions, and some pretty cool websites. I've included just a few extra resources below to enhance your use of these titles.

Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women who Won the World Championship
by Doreen Rappaport and Lyndall Callan
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The true-life 1946 championship game between the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles sets the scene for a young girl's first professional baseball game. We experience the excitement of the moment with her through multiple perspectives of the event. Interspersed are brief historical notes, baseball idioms, and beautiful uses of figurative language. Illustrator E.B. Lewis once again contributes his considerable artistic talents (see Across the Alley in the previous post) to make this book a satisfying read.

One way Lewis accomplishes this is by showing us varying points of view throughout the book. First we see young Margaret in the stands with her mother, visibly excited. We then find ourselves sitting in the stands with her, looking out at the field. Next we're facing the batter straight on (from the pitcher's mound), and so on. These visual perspectives are an excellent lead-in to any novel which deals with multiple character/narrator perspectives. I've used this book for exactly that purpose prior to class readings of books such as Poppy by Avi and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, where a grasp of differing points of view is essential for understanding the narrative.

Mama Played Baseball
by David Adler
illustrated by Chris O'Leary

Amy helps her mother to get a job as a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League while Amy's father serves in the army during World War II. Like the above book, this one provides excellent background about both the women's baseball league and the role that women played in the workplace during the war. This book seems to make the argument that what were doing at home to support the war effort was nearly as important as what the boys themselves were doing overseas.

This is illustrator Chris O'Leary's first picture book, and I think half this book's charm comes from the fact that the pictures are so reminiscent of the 1930's mural art (such as Early Spanish Caballeros, pictured to the right)created by Works Progress Administration artists during the Great Depression.

A brief history of the WPA, plus links to WPA murals in many states, can be found here. Have students compare some of those works to O'Leary's to discuss similarities and differences.

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen
by Marissa Moss
illustrated by C.F.Payne

I love this true story of the seventeen year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, back to back, during a 1931 exhibition game in Chattanooga. This is a perfect example of a picture book at its finest, giving the reader "just enough information" to care, while leaving the reader wanting to know more. C.F. Payne, one of America's greatest illustrators, is totally on his game here (you knew I had to throw in a baseball idiom eventually).

Unfortunately for Jackie, women's time in baseball had not yet come, and to read the Author's Note about her career in the game is somewhat heartbreaking. But Jackie proved that any girl can achieve great things once she chooses to commit herself to a dream, with heart, soul, mind, and body.

This book clearly illustrates the sexism which was present at this time, and can certainly be used as a discussion starter for sexist remarks which continue to this day such as, "You throw like a girl." A question for students to consider might be, "If Jackie was as good as any male pitcher, then why wasn't she permitted to play in the major leagues?"

Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • After you read aloud the Author's Note at the end of Mighty Jackie, have students write a letter to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the then-baseball commissioner, providing reasons why Jackie should be permitted to play. At this time (1931), what strides were other women making that were proving that they were as good as, if not better than, men?
  • Share a version of Casey at the Bat with students (the reworking by Christopher Bing is one of my favorites). Have students work in pairs to rewrite the poem, telling how Jackie Mitchell struck out the Babe.
Extension Ideas: Social Studies
  • The All American Girls Professional Baseball League site is full of histories, records, pictures, and player information. Have students learn about a player from their geographical area. Students can also map all known players and try to determine if a majority of them came from any one region of the U.S. If so, why?
  • Have students design a team logo or uniform for a newly formed team from a town or city of their choice? What's the team's name, you ask? That's up to students! Through a bit of research, students can find an animal or other symbol of that region to create a team name.


Terry Doherty said...

We love Players in Pigtails, too. My now 7YO LOVED this as a preschooler.

Lori Calabrese said...

Some of my favorite books! What a great post!

All the best,