For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘children’s literature

Dan Gutman, Ted & Me (Baseball Card Adventures), HarperCollins, 2012, 208 pp.

Ted & meMy son just celebrated his seventh birthday. He is an avid reader (and consequently an advanced one). He loves history, but he is obsessed with sports. For sports, he has devoured whatever he can find by Matt Christopher, Ronde & Tiki Barber, Jake Maddox–along with countless non-fiction accounts of Superbowls, team propaganda and history. For history, he read all the Magic Tree House volumes last year, and regularly checks out biographies and fact books about presidents.

Enter Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures series. It’s like he wrote it just for my son. These books are about Joe Stoshack, a boy who can travel through time. When he touches a baseball card, he is transported back to that player’s era, and returns home via an unopened pack of new cards. Joe is even from Louisville, where we live. The series includes encounters with Honus Wagner, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Chapman, Abner Doubleday, Satchel Page, and more. My son couldn’t stop talking about the stories. As he described the way that they didn’t just talk about famous events in baseball history, but in American history, I grew more and more curious. When he brought home Ted & Me, this Red Sox fan couldn’t resist. Let me tell you, this was a great book for kids, and an enjoyable read for adults too.

Joe is asked by the FBI to go back to meet Ted Williams, and to get him to warn the president about Pearl Harbor. The first time around, they give him the wrong card and he ends up with Ted in Korea, as his plane is going down. When he gets back to 1941, Joe finds Ted at the end of the season, debating whether to play out the last few games and risk losing his .400 batting average. When the season is over and Ted’s legacy is made, they go together to Washington, DC, where they stumble into an isolationist anti-war protest led by Charles Lindbergh.

I was surprised and impressed by the rich complexity Gutman offered in the telling of history. Like a true historian, Gutman presented 1941 as a year full of conflict and uncertainty–rather than a time when war (and victory in war) seem inevitable. In the same way, Gutman’s portrayal of Ted Williams also moves beyond caricature. Gutman’s Williams uses plenty of salty language (how could any reasonable portrayal not?), but replaced everywhere with the “#$%&!” trope to keep it G-rated. Williams is tough and gruff, but engages in private kindnesses. He is brave and dedicated to the craft of hitting in every way.

I can’t say enough good things about this whole series. While this the only one I’ve read all the way through, I’ve skimmed the others and might read them if they weren’t always in use by my son. The books are aimed at baseball fans ages 9-12, so my son probably missed some of the subtlety. Although it was a stretch for his reading level, he was eager to push through because he loved the stories so much. These are books he will likely read again in a few years and reach a new and deeper understanding. If there is a young baseball fan in your life, Dan Gutman’s books will make them fall in love with reading.

I am always both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the prospect of preaching during Advent. Overwhelmed by the powerful prophetic promises and the desire to speak to the deepest human longing and darkness. And the fact that I always have to preach short sermons, because of all the extra things happening during worship in the season. Underwhelmed by my own reflections on Advent, which seem to pale in comparison to the centuries of reflections on the same themes, and by all the ideas that seem too trite or too tired. It always feels like a challenge to transform those big ideas of Advent into something intimate and connected in the sermon.

This year, during my fourth reading of “Merry Christmas, Curious George!” it dawned on me–children’s literature as an entry into the Advent message. There is a lot of crappy, sappy children’s literature out there at Christmas, but there are also some wonderful, meaningful, fresh stories to be shared. Within a few minutes, I had scanned our small pile of Christmas picture books (both sacred and secular) and come up with enough books and sermon topics to last for three more Advents. My plan is to read the book for the children’s sermon, with some brief explanation, then unpack the story on a deeper level during the sermon.

Today, I started with “Merry Christmas, Curious George.” The story follows the classic Curious George paradigm: George tries to be good, but his curiosity gets the best of him and he ends up making a mess of things. As the story unfolds, the mess turns out to be all for the best, and everyone praises George for it. In the Christmas one, George is in a children’s hospital and decorates a Christmas tree with stuff he finds around the ward: crutches, x-rays, toilet paper, tongue depressors, charts. The adults in the story are horrified that George would do this, that the tree would remind the children of their illnesses. But the children are delighted–because the things that once made them different, broken, disabled have now become things of beauty. George takes the brokenness and turns it into something beautiful. It’s not just that the broken parts are covered up for a season, it’s that they are redeemed and transformed.

What an Advent message that is. God takes the brokenness of our lives and doesn’t just heal it, God redeems it and makes it into a sign and symbol of God’s grace.

You can listen to the full sermon on my sermon blog: http://sermonblog.stlukes.cc/2009/12/06/advent-with-curious-george–december-6-2009.aspx

Next week: “Once Upon a Christmas Tree”


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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