Monday, July 15, 2013

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Terry Widener

Once, when I was young, I met Willie Mays.  At the time, I had no idea who he was.  But it didn't take my dad long to explain to me the significance of this great baseball player in the world of sports.

As a boy, Willie always wanted to play baseball just like his hero, the legendary Joe DiMaggio.  He practiced hard and became really good at what he did.  The only problem was that major league baseball was a white man's game AND Willie lived in the south where Jim Crow laws were still in effect, both of which limited his opportunties to play ball.

Still, by age 15, Willie was such a good ball player he was asked to play pro ball in the Negro Leagues, Willie spent his summer vacations traveling around the country in a bus with the other league players.  But Willie's talent on a baseball field was being watched by scouts and when the major leagues were finally integrated, the New York Giants signed him on.  The Giants were only an OK teams until they got Willie.

Over time, Willie played baseball just like his hero, Joe DiMaggio and did indeed became a legend - not just for his skills playing baseball but for leading the way for other black players who also aspired to become part of major league baseball and forever changing who could play the game.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! is a wonderful biographical picture book for older readers.  Written as a narrative in a voice that reminded me of the ways kids talked in old 1940s movies - snappy, slangy and personal.  At the center of the this book the story of Willie's life and his achievements, but it is also packed with baseball information and statistics on almost all the pages,  lots of it for budding baseball fans and players alike, and just the kinds of things kids like to know about their heroes and what they can do:

Jonah Winter is not stranger to writing about baseball's great players - he also wrote You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! about another great player who also changed who plays the game.

The realistic full page illustrations, acrylic on chipboard, done by Terry Widener really capture not only the movement of the game, but also the joy of playing a game he loves.

One word about the cover - fabulous.  It is a lenticular picture, which means that when you move it, you can see the famous Willie Mays at bat hitting the ball. It is somewhat like a hologram and will definitely please young readers (and older ones, for that matter).

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! is an exciting, informative book for anyone who loves baseball history, the game and the players.  And even if baseball isn't your thing, it is still a wonderful biography of a great African American who helped to change history.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Biblio Links

This is book 6 of my 2012 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. We have Widener's biography of Sandy Kofax, and we've ordered this one for our library, as well. Totally agree about the covers--they're make a great side-by-side display. Thanks for the post!

    1. Your welcome! I also liked the book about Sandy Kofax and yes, these two books would look great in a side by side display and very tempting to readers.

  2. Wow, you got to meet Willie Mays? Impressive! I can see why that would make this book special.

    Thanks for describing the cover, because I had seen images of this book and didn't realize it could move. Sounds very kid-friendly.

    1. Yes, I did meet him, but I wish I could have appreciated as much then as I did when I was older.
      The cover is really fun and cleverly done. Kids love it and if it gets them to read the book, even better. It is a very kid-friendly book.

  3. Wow, this book sounds awesome and how wonderful to have met a legend!

    1. Yes, this is an awesome book and WM is a great baseball legend, right up there with the best of them. Kids should really like this book.


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