Women at Play and Libraries

In my previous blog I wrote about my best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, which is now available as an ebook.

First published twenty-five years ago by Harcourt, Women at Play went into a second printing, and then, eventually, it went out of print. But it has had a long and interesting life through baseball book collectors, through stores that sell used books, and also through libraries. I’m particularly fond of and amused by the way Women at Play has gone into libraries, out of them, and then back into them.

imagesWhen the book was first published, many, many libraries purchased copies, probably because Women at Play was the first book to present the history of women who played hardball. Soon, however, there were many more books on the subject. For at least ten years, though, I could find a copy of Women at Play in just about any library I visited almost anywhere in the country.

But just as libraries buy books, so they divest themselves of books due to limited shelf space and the need to buy new titles as they come out. Eventually Women at Play was taken out of some library collections. But libraries love books and would not destroy them — the library copies were either sold or donated and ended up online. If you typed “Women at Play” into Amazon, you could (and probably still can) choose from among five to ten online sellers . . . many of whom specified that the copy you would receive was an ex library book. Which is how I learned that libraries were taking Women at Play off their shelves.

But here’s the amusing thing. I intended to organize my thousands of pages of research notes on women in baseball and donate them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. (See Cooperstown Bound: Third Time’s a Trip). Before I did that, though, I ended up publishing the public-domain part of my notes in a three-volume collection titled Research Notes for Women at Play. I published Volume I in 2010.

Perhaps because Research Notes was an unusual book, or perhaps because they remembered Women at Play, many libraries (both public and academic) purchased copies of Volume I.

The existence of Research Notes led to a renewed interest in Women at Play itself. And libraries that had divested themselves of the original title now ended up rebuying that title so that, in addition to having Volume I on hand, they could also have the actual work on hand. Because Women at Play was out of print, libraries ended up buying used copies of it through Amazon and other venues. I like to think that somewhere, at least one library purchased back its own book.

There’s something about this circle of in-out-in that makes me smile.

Now I’m hoping that the existence of Research Notes on library shelves makes libraries want to buy the ebook edition of Women at Play.

 

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To purchase the 25th anniversary edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, click here.

Women at Play: 25th Anniversary Edition

For the past several years I’ve posted a free chapter from one of my books as part of my New Year’s blog. That book has been Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

But this year’s giveaway chapter comes from my best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, published twenty-five years ago (Harcourt). The paperback version has been out of print for twenty years, and there has never been an ebook version.

Until today. I’m publishing Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball as an ebook. A text-only ebook, because photo permissions cost way too much.

All the stories are here: Maud Nelson, Margaret Gisolo, Jackie Mitchell, Babe Didrikson, Dottie Collins, Rose Gacioch, Jean Faut, Lois Youngen, Bernice Gera, Pam Postema, Julie Croteau, the Sun Sox. And more. All the original sidebars are here, as are the charts, credits, etc.

The new cover design is by Robin Koontz. The baseball on the front cover was given to me by Nellie Kearns, who played with Maud Nelson’s All-Star Ranger Girls during the 1930s.

The free chapter is below.

WAP-EBOOK

 

 

Jean Faut

 

In seven years of overhand pitching, two perfect games were pitched in the All-American Girls Baseball League—and Jean Faut of the South Bend Blue Sox hurled them both. “She had great strength,” says catcher Shirley Stovroff, “and she was very smart. She had a mixture of pitches—fastball, curve, drop, slowball—and she had excellent control.” The league’s leading hitter, Dottie Kamenshek, evaluates Faut this way: “She put them all just where she wanted.” Pitching overhand was never foreign to the Blue Sox ace. She grew up playing hardball, and when the league switched to overhand, Jean was like a fish in water, moving effortlessly through the environment.

Few pitchers were able to make a successful transition from underhand to overhand. Among those who did were Dottie Wiltse Collins, Joanne Winter, and Helen Nicol Fox. Those who couldn’t went back to softball or, like Connie Wisniewski, converted to another position. By 1948, when the league went overhand, softball had all but obliterated baseball as a sport for women, and ironically the AAGBL, which started out by capitalizing on the softball craze, found as it moved toward the more exciting and exacting game of baseball that pitchers were suddenly difficult to find. In desperation league managers began to convert their hardest-throwing outfielders (who naturally throw overhand) into pitchers.

These converted outfielders learned about pitching from their managers, from watching their teammates, and from being on the mound themselves. Their knowledge was only as deep as their league pitching experience. Jean Faut’s was not. “I had more experience than most of the girls in the AAGBL,” she contends. “I came into the league with a fastball, a sharp curve, screwball, drop and change—and a lot of deviations from these basic pitches.” Born January 17, 1925, in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, Jean grew up two blocks away from the practice field of a semipro baseball team. She hung around the field and yearned to play, and by the time she was thirteen the players had taught her how to pitch. Faut learned so well that when she was still in high school she pitched several exhibition games for the semipro Buck-Montgomery League, an experience she describes as “a great thrill.”

In 1946 a scout from Allentown, Pennsylvania, offered the five-foot-four, 137-pound young ballplayer a chance to attend AAGBL spring training in Pascagoula, Mississippi. “The rookies went in first,” she remembers. “All the representatives were there from the cities, the board of directors. They chose who they wanted.” After finishing fifth out of six teams in 1945 with a 40-60 record, the South Bend Blue Sox would have been among the first to select players. Board Director Harold Dailey, who had smarted so badly from losing Rose Gacioch to Rockford in 1945, wrote of the 1946 tryouts, “We got Wirth and Faut out of the deal.”

The Blue Sox started Senaida “Shoo Shoo” Wirth as shortstop and Jean Faut as third baseman. “I had a strong arm,” she says, “so third was a natural spot.” Late in her rookie season, the league permitted some sidearm pitching and manager Chet Grant asked Faut to take the mound. Although she didn’t like to pitch sidearm because “it’s not very good for your arm, almost like throwing a screwball,” she started twelve games, winning eight and losing three. The League went to overhand in 1948. “I was ready then,” she states. “I was home free.”

When Jean Faut moved to South Bend, Karl Winsch followed her there. A pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Winsch was called up to the majors in 1946 along with his roommate Del Ennis, who flourished there. But Winsch sustained an injury in spring training that ended his career. When that happened, he moved to South Bend and in 1947 he and Jean were married. In that year, Chet Grant sent his sophomore to the mound in forty-four games, and she posted a 19-13 record with a 1.15 ERA. By midseason, Jean was pregnant; she gave birth to her first child in March 1948. Writing about the Blue Sox 1948 season, Harold Dailey opined that “Faut was not in condition until July owing to the drag on her by pregnancy.” Starting thirty-four games, she compiled a 16-11 record.
Faut turned twenty-four years old before the 1949 season started. “I started to mature,” she reflects. “You get better, your control gets better. You work on new pitches.” The overhand ace was now in her element. In 1949 she started thirty-four games and racked up a 24-8 record and a 1.10 ERA.

Unlike Lois Florreich, another great hurler of the overhand era, Faut didn’t have intimidating speed. Outstanding hitters such as Dottie Kamenshek rank Faut as the best pitcher of the League’s overhand days despite her lack of velocity, recognizing that what matters is whether the pitcher gets the batter out, not the speed of the ball as it crosses the plate. Yet many hitters’ perception of greatness is thrown off by speed: they rank the pitcher who gets them out on a blazing fastball higher than the one who gets them out on an adequate fastball, or on a combination of pitches. Umpires, too, were baffled by Faut’s success. One of the umpires even stepped into the batter’s box during practice and bragged, “I can hit you.” So Faut whiffed him. “Afterward, he still didn’t understand why he couldn’t hit me.” Even her own manager, Davy Bancroft, said he just didn’t understand why batters couldn’t hit her.

“My biggest asset was control,” Faut explains. “I have very strong wrists and could do things with the ball. I got that way splitting wood by the hour when I was a kid.” Her variety of pitches also helped. “I had a good curveball and could throw it overhand, three-quarters, or sidearm. If overhand, it went straight down. I threw a screwball, like a slider, but not often. And a fastball. I could throw them with different speeds.” And if, as they say in the majors, 90 percent of pitching is mental, Jean Faut had that, too. “Part of my success was that in my mind I could record the pitches and the order of pitches I threw to each girl, so they never saw the same thing twice. I was a mathematical whiz in school. They’d never know what was coming, so they’d start guessing. When batters start guessing, they’re never right.”

Some analysts of the All-American Girls Baseball League say that the reason batting averages went up so dramatically in the last third of the league’s existence was that there were few really good overhand pitchers. Faut disagrees, naming Lois Florreich, Maxine Kline, and Millie Earp as great overhand hurlers. She should know, for in addition to 35-45 pitching appearances a year, Jean often played an additional forty games at third base, where the Blue Sox counted on her fielding and hitting. Faut believes that the hitters coming into the AAGBL in the 1950s were strong athletes who mastered baseball hitting. She points to the Weaver sisters in particular: “Betty Foss would run the bases and the dirt would fly up. One time I was pitching and Betty Foss hit the ball straight at me. It came so straight and fast I couldn’t see the spin, couldn’t react. I saw the seam and then it hit me in the stomach, there wasn’t even time to get my glove up. When I undressed, I saw the stitch marks on my stomach.”

Strong hitters or not, Jean could handle them. On July 21, 1951, she pitched a perfect game in Rockford against the Peaches, retiring twenty-seven batters in a row. Dottie Kamenshek, who prided herself on not striking out, whiffed twice that night. It was, says Kammie, “the best game I’ve ever seen pitched. It was just perfect. Overpowering.” The next morning, the South Bend Tribune reported that “Jean Faut, a sturdy gal with a lot of heart, a fast ball that hops, and a curve that breaks off like a country road pitched a perfect no-hit, no-run game to subdue the Rockford Peaches, 2-0, at Playland Park Saturday night. . . . The chances of a no-hit game were never mentioned in the Blue Sox dugout during the game, according to baseball superstition, but the crowd of 1,490 were fully aware that baseball history was in the making.” Whiffing eleven of the twenty-seven batters, the Sox hurler got behind the count on only two. “She threw three balls to Eleanor Callow in the fifth and then fanned her. One other time she threw three balls, then two strikes, and the batter grounded out.”

Faut’s 1951 pitching record was 15-7 with a 1.33 ERA. She was chosen Player of the Year and helped lead the Blue Sox to their first Shaughnessy Series victory. In 1952 she went 20-2 (a .909 winning percentage), posted a 0.93 ERA, and once again helped lead her team to a series victory, batting in the cleanup position. With the playoff series tied, she hurled the deciding game against the Peaches, hitting two booming triples for extra measure. In 1953 she pitched her second perfect game, this one against the Kalamazoo Lassies on September 3. That year she was again elected Player of the Year, only the second person in League history to receive the award twice (the other was Doris Sams).

In major league ball, Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson compiled a .665 winning record and a 2.13 lifetime ERA, while later-day greats such as Sandy Koufax (.655 and 2.76), Bob Gibson (.591 and 2.91), and Tom Seaver (.603 and 2.86) had somewhat lower winning percentages and higher ERAs. Jean Faut’s career statistics are 140 wins and 64 losses—a .686 winning percentage and a 1.23 ERA. Of all her accomplishments, she is proudest of her ERA, because “that’s the most important statistic of a pitcher.”

Although Faut was a real team player, her life on the Blue Sox was that of a loner. It wasn’t just that Jean was married and therefore didn’t room with another player or take part in their pregame or postgame activities. And it wasn’t just that she was raising a child. In 1951, Karl Winsch became manager of the South Bend Blue Sox, a job he held until the league folded. Under Winsch, the Blue Sox won their only two championships, but there was tremendous dissension on the team. Groups of players wouldn’t talk to the manager, and then they wouldn’t talk to Jean. Winsch wouldn’t talk to Jean, either. “Neither side communicated with me” she says. “It was a big squabble.” At the end of the 1953 season, she retired from baseball at the age of twenty-eight because it was just too rough being married to the manager.

“I suffered because I wasn’t playing,” she remembers. At first, she’d go to the games and sit in the stands, but that would make her miserable because she wasn’t playing. So, “to fill the void I went to the bowling center.” Jean became such a good bowler that in 1960 she turned pro, retiring from that status in 1988. Today she bowls with the senior women’s tour. Her highest game to date is a 299, just short of perfect.

In 1946, the same year that Jean Faut attended the league tryouts, another Pennsylvania woman went to spring training in Pascagoula. For nine years, Ruth Williams played for the South Bend Blue Sox and then the Kalamazoo Lassies. She’ll always remember one game. “Jeannie Faut beat me in sixteen innings, one to nothing, back in 1952,” says Williams. “She was pitching for the Blue Sox, I was with the Lassies. I had pitched forty consecutive shutout innings, then I got tied up with Jeannie. She was the best player in the league. She doubled off me in the sixteenth, moved to third on a bunt, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Figured it would be Jeannie that would end my streak.” It figured because Jean Faut was to pitching what Dottie Kamenshek was to hitting and Sophie Kurys was to base stealing—without peer.

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To purchase the 25th anniversary edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, click here.

 

The Great White Whale: Part 2

UnknownIn my most recent re-reading of Moby Dick I was struck by the organization of the book — something I paid scant attention to in previous readings. Specifically, this time around I became aware that Ahab doesn’t enter the book until a quarter of the way through; that the first whale is killed about half way through; and that only the last three chapters contain the face-to-face confrontations between Ahab and the crew on one hand, the great white whale on the other.

This time around it felt to me as if Melville had artfully designed a trawling net, wide at the front end (the first half of the book), tapering to a narrow end where the fish/readers are inevitably led. I realized as I neared the last quarter of the book how I had been led into a more and more focused world (Ahab’s wish to kill Moby Dick). Everything that came before seemed to push toward this end — and there was no escape.

It was an especially gloomy feeling to me to know that for the men on board the Pequod, there was likewise no escape.

During my most recent reading I found to my surprise how many of the symbols I remembered. For example, I remembered that “all men live enveloped in whale lines.” Likewise, we are tied to others through monkey-ropes.

One of my favorite symbols appears in the chapter titled “The Tail,” where Ishmael describes the whale’s tale: “Being horizontal in its position, the Leviathan’s tail acts in a different manner from the tails of all other sea creatures. It never wriggles. In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority.”

Moby_Dick_final_chaseAlthough Ahab’s single-minded, unheeding obsession with the great white whale bothered me even the first time I read the book, only in subsequent readings did I come to realize the immorality of Ahab’s actions: not just toward the natural world, but also toward his fellow humans, chief among them his crew, but also fellow sailors he encounters on the high seas.

This inhumanity is highlighted toward the near end of the book, when a man he knows, a fellow captain from Nantucket, begs for his help, for only 48 hours. The captain’s young son has been lost at sea in a whaling boat that didn’t return and can’t be found. Even Stubbs’ heart turns for the better: ‘We must save that boy!” he cries.

But Ahab cold-heartedly refuses and orders the captain off his ship. Ahab is for pursuit of Moby Dick and will let absolutely nothing stand in his way.

As Ahab pursues the White Whale, getting closer and closer, the omens and symbolism increase. During the typhoon, the lightning turns around the Pequod’s compass needle so that it points to the opposite of reality: the needle points East when the ship is sailing West. Ahab himself turns around reality: all he sees is what Moby Dick did to him (bit off his leg). Which is significantly less than what he tried to do to Moby Dick (kill him.)

Once the great white whale is sighted, the book rushes toward its conclusion in a very dramatic way. The last three chapters are titled “The Chase — First Day,” “The Chase — Second Day,” and “The Chase — Third Day.” Each of the first two days, Ahab is warned. The first day, Moby Dick bites the whaling boat in half and Ahab falls into the sea, saved by the Pequod.

e2c146a3fdc967d78893f68a79d8a8ee--penguin-classics-melvilleThe second day Moby Dick breaches, which all see as an act of defiance. Having breached, the great white whale turns and heads for the three crewboats, smashing each of them. The whale then moves on, going its own way.

On the third day Ahab realizes he was “befooled, befooled!” That is, he fooled himself into thinking he was immortal. Even knowing that — even knowing that his crew and ship will perish if he persists — Ahab plunges on. That is when Moby Dick turns on the Pequod, smashing it in half with his majestic forehead. The ship goes down and all but Ishmael perish.

“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

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Barbara Gregorich has read Moby Dick four times, siding with the great white whale each time.

The Great White Whale: Part 1

images-3Call me Captivated. That’s how I felt when, at the age of 19, I first read Moby Dick. It was unlike any book I had read — at once intimate but academic, earthy but technical, wide in its subject matter yet focused on Ahab’s pursuit of the whale. I felt in the hands of a writer who was going to take me on an important voyage.

Before I actually read the novel, I had been aware of the story. When I was eleven or twelve years old, I read a Classic Comics version of Moby Dick. The art, the narrative, the dialogue, the way the story moved, the subject matter — I loved all of these things. My parents took my brother and me to see the movie, which came out in 1956 and starred Gregory Peck as Ahab. I don’t remember much about the movie . . . I think I found it long and not as interesting as the Classic Comics version.

Despite the fact that he wrote a long, highly technical, intricate novel, Melville (unlike the authors he was surrounded by such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne) never went to college. “. . . a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard,” he wrote in Moby Dick.

Before he became a writer, Melville was a whaler. As such, he knew of the 1820 real-life wreck of the whaling ship Essex, sunk by a sperm whale, and he read the first-hand account about that wreck, written by the ship’s first mate, Owen Chase.

One can imagine what the whale must have felt, relentlessly pursued by a ship that wanted to murder it. If whales think, it surely must have thought or felt: “I must strike back.”

And so it did.

I like to think that Melville sided with that whale.

Moby Dick wasn’t much appreciated during Melville’s lifetime. Readers and critics of the 20th century, however, came to understand this vast, awe-inspiring novel. Perhaps one of the first to start what is now called the Melville Revival was British author D.H. Lawrence, who in 1923 published a small but insightful book, Studies in Classic American Literature. This book was one of my reading assignments for an undergraduate American Literature class. I found myself laughing at many of the passages in which Lawrence mocked American obsessions. But beneath his humor and mockery, Lawrence had the greatest respect for Moby Dick. He concluded: “. . . as a revelation of destiny the book is too deep even for sorrow. Profound beyond feeling.”

Just a few years ago I read a small but powerful book, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby Dick, published in 2011. I highly recommend this pithy 21st century look at a masterpiece.

Each time I read Moby Dick, I’m struck by the powerful beauty of the great white whale, “. . . seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.”

It is this natural beauty that Ahab pursues, in order to annihilate it, just as whalers annihilated whales to near extinction.

New Zealand was the first of the twentieth-century whaling nations to give up whaling. That was in 1964. A few years ago I saw the traveling exhibit, “Whales: Giants of the Deep,” presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. One of the many things I learned was that there are very rare whales about which little is known. If I recall, they swim very deep and spend much of their time underwater.

Considering how humans have hunted whales, these rare whales may be doing the wise thing. Perhaps they, too, know the story of Moby Dick . . . but from the whale’s point of view.

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Barbara Gregorich has read Moby Dick four times, siding with the great white whale each time.

Not One Woman

Many and many a blog ago, in Woman Yes, Girl No, I wrote about some people’s inability to use the word woman. Recently I was reminded of this by a book I read. In it, the author either refused to or could not get himself to use the word woman.

My response was to write a “skinny” poem, also called a “short lines” poem.

WLM-picture-of-logo

Let There Be Light

The man
writes
a book
peopled
by men,
boys,
ladies,
and girls,
but not one
woman.

In four
hundred
pages,
not one
woman.

I want
to rate
this book
one star
but can’t:
even one
star
belies
the dark.

 

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Barbara Gregorich has published one book of poetry: Crossing the Skyway.

Five Figures of Speech

Rhetoric is effective and/or persuasive writing or speaking, and figures of speech are one of the components of rhetoric. Both readers of and speakers of the English language enjoy encountering figures of speech, which can be clever, humorous, biting, visual — intriguing or memorable in some way. Thus writers who can employ figures of speech are more likely to win over their audience.

Because the ancient Greeks valued and taught rhetoric, most figures of speech have names that come from the Greek. I have to confess that I can use a figure of speech, knowing I have used it, without being able to remember its name.

alexander_aristotle

Some sources state that anaphora [a NAPH o ra] is probably the oldest literary device of all. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, and it has been used extensively by writers and speakers of all kinds. Walt Whitman used anaphora, as did Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s a well-known example, from Winston Churchill’s most famous World War II speech: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Then there’s antanaclasis [ANT an a CLASS is], in which a word is repeated in the same grammatical form (verb, for example, or adjective), but with two different meanings or senses. An example is the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” In both cases hang is a verb, but in its first use it means to consort with, and in its second use it means to be suspended by the neck until dead.

UnknownYou can infer the importance of repetiton, both to the Greeks and to ourselves, when you consider how often repetition is part of a literary device. There’s anaphora, there’s antanaclasis, and there’s ploce [PLO see], which is the repetition of a word, often with intervening words between, and usually the second use of the word has a different meaning than does the first use of the word. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

game-of-thrones-longclaw-sword-of-jon-snow_1000Metonymy [meh TON eh me] replaces the name of something with a word that is closely associated with the first thing. For example, when Christina Rossetti wrote “Never on this side of the grave again,” she was replacing the word death with something associated with death: the grave. In “The pen is mightier than the sword,” pen is being used instead of written words, and sword is being used instead of military force.

Metonymy is so much a part of our spoken and written language that we’re often unaware that we’re using a figure of speech.

Synecdoche [sin EK do kee] is a special form of metonymy in which a part is used to represent the whole. An example of synecdoche from everyday usage is calling workers hands — the hand is just part of a human being, but it is used to stand for the whole person. Likewise, calling a very intelligent person a brain is an example of synecdoche.

And now, by your leave, I’ll leave you alone.

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Barbara Gregorich employs figures of speech in her poems, published in Crossing the Skyway.

Early Readers: A Short Phase

In a young reader’s development, early readers come immediately after start-to-read primers, but before early chapter books. Dr. Seuss’s books, such as The Cat in the Hat, are easy to read because of their emphasis on phonics and simple words, but they’re not early readers. I consider them more of a start-to-read book. Or, if anything, they are unique books in that parents read them to children as picture books, children memorize them, and then children read them at the beginning of their reading lives.

For decades early readers were orphans in the world of children’s books, seldom receiving consideration for either the Caldecott (which usually went to picture books for illustration) or the Newbery (which usually went to Middle Grades books for story). Then, in 2006 the American Library Association, which awards both the Caldecott and the Newbery, instituted the Geisel Award, named after Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who pioneered beginning readers during the 1950s.

Early readers most often have chapters. Or, they sometimes consist of two, three, or four separate stories. A chapter or story runs 300-600 words long. The length of the book is usually 48 pages, but can be as short as 32 pages or as long as 64 pages. Early readers contain illustrations: usually “spot” illustrations which are smaller than picture-book-sized illustrations.

UnknownThe size of early readers is different from the size of picture books — they have a slightly smaller trim size, making them feel less like “baby” books and more like “real” books to the child selecting them. The trim size of Alien & Possum, for example, is 6.25”x9.25”.

Not all children’s book publishers are interested in publishing early readers, perhaps because early readers appeal to a child for only a short time in that child’s life: 6 months, maybe a year. Reading abilities and reading comprehension grow in leaps and bounds, and a child who’s reading an early reader at the beginning of second grade might be ready for an early chapter book of 80-100 pages by the end of second grade.

Picture books, on the other hand, are suitable for children aged 2-8 years, and early chapter books are read by ages 8-10, or even older. Parents are more willing to buy picture books and early chapter books than they are to buy early readers, which their children might outgrow very quickly.

Children, on the other hand, often develop a fierce loyalty to early readers, and this loyalty can last into adulthood. I’ve heard many adults speak passionately about early readers such as Frog and Toad, or Henry and Mudge.

003124As far as I know, early readers of the Frog and Toad variety didn’t exist when I was a child. In fact, I read the Frog and Toad stories as an adult and fell in love with them. Written and illustrated b y Arnold Lobel, the first book in the series, Frog and Toad Are Friends, was published in 1972.

People who write early readers are aware that they must use somewhat simple sentence structure and a somewhat restricted vocabulary. But I think that writers of early readers make up for these restrictions by finding a beautiful rhythm of sentences. Here are the first five sentences of “Down the Hill,” the first story in Frog and Toad All Year:

Frog knocked at Toad’s door.
“Toad, wake up,” he cried.
“Come out and see
how wonderful the winter is!”
“I will not,” said Toad.
“I am in my warm bed.”

One of the very popular early readers series is the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant, first published in 1987. Henry is an only child and Mudge is his dog, who grows from a puppy into a 180-pound canine. Rylant won the very first Geisel Award in 2006 for Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas.

Another early reader series is the Fox series, written and illustrated by James Marshall (of George and Martha fame). Like Arnold Lobel, Marshall wrote with a beautiful rhythm, economy of words, and great humor. The first Fox title, Fox All Week, was published in 1984.

Because I love reading early readers, it should come as no surprise that I sometimes write early readers. The first of these, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories, was 64 pages long. It contained three stories and came to 64 pages mainly because the publisher divided each of the three small stories into four small chapters. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review. Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center all liked it, the latter making it a Choice 2007 book.

Unknown-1For the sequel, Waltur Paints Himself into a Corner and Other Stories, the publisher left each of the three stories intact (instead of breaking them into chapters). The book then came out to 48 pages, a much more economical arrangement, considering the cost of color printing. Booklist thought the stories contained “deliciously sticky, comical situations.”

If you have never read an early reader, or did but have forgotten the wonderful way in which it tells a story, look at one of the books I’ve mentioned the next time you’re in a bookstore. Try any of Arnold Lobel’s Toad and Frog books, or James Marshall’s Fox books, or Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge books, or her Poppleton books. You just might get hooked on the rhythm of the story.

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When she isn’t writing early readers, Barbara Gregorich writes books such as Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog.