Monday, February 10, 2014
A HOME RUN FOR BUNNY
Richard Andersen is an old friend, and a uniquely original novelist whose work I've known since the 1970s. But his latest book, with illustrator Gerald Purnell, is a picture book with only several lines of prose on most of the pages, that tell the true story of a Springfield, Massachusetts, baseball team sponsored by The American legion and happened to have one player who was what then would be called "a Negro."
The team won the New England championship and had a good chance to win the national championship in Chicago. But first they had to win the Eastern regionals in Gastonia, North Carolina, where for the first time in their lives they encounter virulent legal racism, all aimed at their teammate.
They face a difficult choice when it becomes clear their team cannot play with their black teammate, Bunny Taliaferro. The choice they make may not be what you would expect, but their story is a triumphant one that I am sorry to say I had no knowledge of and am happy to see Richard and Gerald bring to life in this totally satisfying reading experience.
One of the elements that makes it so satisfying is the perspective of the narrator, an Italian-American boy who's not even sure he likes Bunny (due seemingly to envy of Bunny's baseball prowess). But it is also the reality that the story told here occurred over a decade before Jackie Robinson triumphed as the first black professional baseball player, making history.
I love, as you probably know if you've read this blog before, creative work that is personally committed and original in form or content or both, in one way or another. A HOME RUN FOR BUNNY is that. This book is nothing like any "picture book" I ever read to my kids when they were small, or encountered when I was, let alone as an adult. It's one of a kind and deserves to be on every family's bookshelf.
[PS: And now that I think of it, it's a perfect book to check out in honor of "Black History Month" because I bet there are very few readers, even historians—"white" or "black"—who even know this compelling piece of "black history."]