This is book four in the Hometown All Stars series aimed at 4-7 year olds. The purpose of the series is to teach real coaching skills to help children learn about baseball, get out of the house to play, and have fun. The 34 page book is baseball technique heavy with a fictional storyline to move it along. Most sports books focus on team work and being a good sport, but this one takes it a step further by emphasizing the basic skills needed to play the game, as well as sneaking in lessons about inclusion and acceptance. If your child is American and likes sports, the book will be a hit, pun intended, but there is a lot of text on each page and as America’s pastime, there is a lot of space dedicated to what it means to be American.
A refugee Muslim girl from Syria, Amira, is invited to play on the after school baseball team, but first needs some help at school with spelling and adding. Luckily the kids in class are super nice and accepting and help her learn about life in America, while similarly listening to her tell about life in Syria and at the refugee camp. Not only do they all become friends, she also gets everyone to appreciate how much food they have, and the variety, as well as gets everyone to try pickles. Yum! They like them.
The kids at baseball practice are also incredibly welcoming as they get Amira a jersey, and teach her all about #24 Willie Mays. From here, it is like a virtual baseball practice, the kids warm up with stretches, running the bases, and practicing their stances. There are little info headers explaining things such as what hand to wear your mitt on and explaining how to squat, why the coach is using foam balls, and reminding the reader not to throw balls in the house.
The kids learn three different types of catches. How to stand, how to position their hands and how to be ready. They run drills and practice, practice, practice. They find out Amira is really good, and she tells them that they had a lot of time to practice catching and throwing in the refugee camp.
The coach then asks the kids and readers questions before Amira’s parents arrive to pick her up. With big smiles on their faces, the mom is wearing a hijab and chatting with the narrators mom.
The book ends with a whole page on “What Does It Mean to be American,” a review of new words learned in the book, and all the kids answering who’s the most American of all, with “We are!” The back cover has a reflective patch with the statement “Americans come from all over the world. Look in the mirror, and tell me where are you from?”
The book and series are a great way to learn about a game, that really a lot of kids today may not know much about. Some of the terms, the skills, and just familiarity is clearly conveyed, with the illustrations providing the visuals and diagrams for what the coach is talking about in the text. The fact that the author chose to add a refugee to such an “American” book and have the supporting characters so welcoming, really does show the best of what Americans can be.