By R. A. Dickey with Michael Karounos; illustrated by Tim Bowers
Ah, the opening of the 2014 Major League Baseball season has officially begun on March 30th. The crack of the bat, fielders sliding to catch fly balls to avoid errors and precise pitchers throwing in a series of multiple configurations of style are all bent on confounding opposition batters for a new season. And the games can be viewed on TV or live, while played on lush green fields from now until October.
If you have a young one who is a Little Leaguer or just revels in the all American game of baseball, R. A. Dickey, the starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and the first “knuckleball pitcher” to win the famous and coveted Cy Young Award has put his new picture book squarely in the strike zone.
Meet Dickey’s “Knuckleball Ned” on his first day of school, uncertain as to where he fits in. He doesn’t want to “strike out” with his classmate, that’s for sure! But just where and how can Ned fit in? He is unlike anyone else with his “wiggling wobbling ways” that are unlike anyone else and is dubbed “Knucklehead Ned” Awww. He wants to belong, but darn it, he’s quite unlike Sammy the Softball, Connie Curveball, or Fiona and Fletcher Fastball or any of his other friends.
His mom’s advice to “Just be yourself” is difficult at the same time that the local bullies, aptly called the “Foul Ball Gang”, begin making life difficult for Ned. They make fun of his every move and mom’s advice is getting pretty hard to remember. Mom DOES know best. Trust me, Ned!
How can he get in the strike zone and silence this laughing, backslapping bunch?
When Connie Curveball’s shoes wind up wound around a tree branch, can the prowess and talents of the others come to the rescue? Nope! But Ned’s non-spinning ball can and does. AND it teaches the Foul Ball Gang who he is AND just what he does best.
I loved meeting the teacher named Miss Pitch, natch, who opens up classroom discussion on what each ball in her class does in his or her spare time. Just that part of the picture book alone was a primer on pitching change up styles and all done in a way highly relatable to small kids.
But the greater message that Mr. Dickey wisely imparts in this readable baseball picture book is the advice he imparts to his own four children in the dedication to Knuckleball Ned:
May you always celebrate what makes you unique.
So, as the umps say, “Play ball!” – with Knuckleball Ned!
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