When Willard Met Babe Ruth
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Ages 7 to 10
Harcourt, 1996, 0-15-202477-8
Its 1917 and Willard Babson and his father Sheridan are getting the farm ready for the winter. The twelve-year-old boy and his father have to do the farm work on their own and it is hard work with long hours. As they work Willard and his father can share their love of baseball. In the summer, in the middle of the harvesting season, Willard's father had pitched at the annual baseball game during the Fourth of July celebration.
One day, as Willard and Sheridan are bringing the "dumb sheep" to the sheep barn, a car comes roaring down the road, screeches to a stop and slides into a ditch. It is with astonishment that Willard realizes that the driver of the car is none other than the phenomenal young baseball player of the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth. Sheridan sets about getting Babe's car back on the road and Willard finds himself defending the baseball player's wife from their bad-tempered gander, Felix. As a thank you and in the generous way that was typical of him, Babe Ruth gives Willard his baseball glove before he drives off.
When we next see Willard and his father it is 1918 and America is now sending soldiers to fight in World War I. The papers are full of talk about the war but Willard is more interested in baseball and most of all he loves his glove, the Babe's glove. He takes it everywhere with him, including to his bed.
Then something wonderful happens. Sheridan has to go to Boston for a Liberty Bond Rally and it just so happens that the Red Sox are playing a doubleheader with the St. Louise Browns on the same day. Willard's parents decide that he and his father should go to the game before the Rally and it turns into the kind of afternoon that a baseball loving boy dreams of.
The author of this fascinating book has skillfully weaved together several different stories. We follow the career of one of baseball's greatest players and certainly the hero of countless children. We also get an interesting feel for what the times were like, what it would have been like to live in America during the Babe Ruth years; there were many political and economic upheavals taking place at this time. Tying all these stories together is the story of Willard, or Will as he came to be called, as he grows up and becomes a man and a father. Several times in his life he gets to meet his hero, Babe Ruth, and always the Babe remembers the episode with the gander, or the "big duck" as the baseball player calls him.
Donald Hall's meticulous use of detail shows us what the period described in his book was like. We know what movies people went to, what cars they drove, even what kind of radios they bought. We get a wonderful feeling of coming full circle when Will's daughter Ruthie (named after Babe Ruth) becomes a big baseball fan and starts being able to recite "Casey at the Bat" just as her father used to do when he was a boy.
Beautifully crafted, this is a moving and sincere tribute to Babe Ruth and to the game of baseball as it used to be. Throughout the book Barry Moser's wonderful full color illustrations show us Willard's and Babe Ruth's world.
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