Tag Archives: Middle Grade

A Words Look: KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park


Last September, I was lucky enough to host a special Twitter chat on #mglitchat about the three middle reader books selected for the 2017 Global Read Aloud program. The three books are spectacular and I highly recommend all of them. The books were FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria Coe, THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown, and A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park. We were fortunate to also have Jim Averbeck, who did the original illustrations for A LONG WALK TO WATER, join us.The chat was so much fun and could have easily gone twice the allotted time of one hour. These creators, besides being immensely talented, are just great human beings. It was a highlight of my 2017, that is for sure.

About a week after the chat, a package arrived in the mail from New York. It was from Linda Sue Park. I anxiously ripped open the package and found a copy of her book, KEEPING SCORE! I was cartwheeling-across-the-dining-room floor happy. I knew Linda Sue was a baseball fan from our interactions on Twitter and in correspondences prior to the chat. In particular, I knew she was a New York Mets fan (a team which, I may remind everyone, was nobly defeated in the 2015 World Series by my team, the Kansas City Royals!).

I finally had an opening in research reading to squeeze in KEEPING SCORE over the holiday. It’s a great baseball book for young readers! Set in 1950’s New York City, she weaves a great story from the threads of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the rabid local fandoms for “Dem Bums”, the Giants, and the Yankees, scoring a baseball game, and the Korean War. If you have a young baseball fan in your life, you might set this title in front of them, or try one from this list I compiled at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors blog.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It’s when the Maggie, the young Dodgers fan, is learning to score a baseball game from the new guy—and Giants fan—Jim, down at the local firehouse.

From KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park, 2008, Clarion Books.

          By the end of the game, Maggie knew how the defense was numbered. Not their uniform numbers, but their position numbers. Jim tore a sheet out of the back of the notebook so she could write it down to study at home.

3-first base
4-second base
5-third base
7-left field
8-center field
9-right field

          Jim also showed her what the numbers in the little squares meant. They told what each batter had done. “4-3” written in the square opposite the batter’s name meant that a ground ball had been hit to the second baseman (4) who had thrown it to the first baseman (3) for the out.          

          Jim could look at his score sheet and see exactly what had happened in any inning. Which was way better than just keeping it in your head, because when you were trying to remember what happened in a game, only the big exciting plays came to mind. But Maggie knew that baseball was often a game of little things—the pitcher falling behind in the count, the good throw to keep a runner from advancing, the slide to break up a double play—and those were hard to keep track of. Jim’s score sheet didn’t have every single thing written down, but the things that were there could really help you remember.

Great stuff, hey? With baseball season just around the corner, how about filling the dark days of winter with baseball reads?

…nothing but skin and bones.

One of my new projects is a middle grade historical fiction about a group of boys in the Memphis area and their adventures set around the Sultana disaster. The research has been fascinating. The steamship Sultana sank just north of Memphis, TN in April of 1865 and resulted in the death of 1547 people. More people die died in this tragedy than in the Titanic disaster.

Unfortunately, most of the passenger on the Sultana were Union Army soldiers returning home after the end of the Civil War. Pouring salt in the wound of the tragedy; the majority of these poor passengers were Union soldiers recently released from the horrors of the Andersonville and Cahaba Confederate prison camps. Below is an first hand account by E. J. Hecker of his release and the inhumanity of the Andersonville prison.

“It was one of the most pitiful sights I ever beheld, and I doubt very much if Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones excelled it. Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones ; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and the sea had given up their dead.
They waited patiently for the train, but when it finally arrived there was a wild scramble to get on board, every man for himself, as if in terror lest he be left behind. But there were some like the one at the Pool of Siloam, who were unable to help themselves, and had to be lifted on as little children. But, in wretched plight as we were, it was a great pleasure to meet the boys of my company after our weeks of separation—at least those that were left, for some had died in prison.
And there were others who barely escaped it, for there was hardly a station on the road where we did not leave the remains of some poor fellow to be buried by strangers. How hard to die in the morning of their deliverance, with all the bright hopes of meeting father, mother, wife or children ! It is not strange that those whose memories go back to such scenes should find it hard to restrain a feeling of bitterness toward those who caused the war, with all its sacrifice and suffering.”
-excerpt from: The Sultana disaster by E.J. Hecker, Indianapolis, 1913.



Again, the leader spoke. “Last time. With your son’s life in the balance, do you confess to being the notorious murdering scoundrel, Butcher Bryant?”

Pa looked at me again. He bowed his head, not in defeat but rather in prayer. After a few moments, he again raised his eyes to meet mine. “Son, I am sorry you have to hear this. But you must remember I will always love you and your ma.” He sat up tall and proud in the saddle, and said to the leader, “Sir, I am indeed…”


A shotgun blast broke the tension, and everyone jumped. Sophie started forward but settled as she felt the tension from Pa’s noose. Ma strode out of the barn. She cracked open the double barrel shotgun, kicked out the spent shell with her index finger, grabbed a new shell from her dress pocket and reloaded. She snapped the gun back together and aimed it right at the leader’s chest. Ma walked within ten feet of him. “Let them go and get out of here.”

She turned to me being held by the bearded man. “You okay, son?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered.

“You,” she said to the scraggly man. “Untie that noose and get my husband down from there.”

The scraggly man looked to his leader, who nodded for him to do it.

“What are you going to do, shoot us all?” mocked the leader.

“No. Just you,” Ma answered.

The leader took a step toward Ma. “You ain’t got the nerve, lady.”

Another step… “Shooting people at this close of range.”

Another step… “Especially with a shotgun…”

One more step closer… “Ain’t a very pretty sight or a very easy thing to do.”

Ma toughened her resolve, but the man took one slow step after another toward her. She leaned her weight into the shouldered shotgun, ready to pull the trigger.

“Don’t, Mary,” yelled Pa. “It’s not worth it!”

The leader stopped in his tracks about two steps from the barrel of the shotgun, which began to tremble in Ma’s hands.

“They’ll lynch you for sure, Bill.” Ma said. “God forbid I stand around and watch them without a fight.”

She turned her head toward Pa. With her attention momentarily down, the leader sprang forward. He grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and pushed it toward the night sky. Ma pulled the trigger. Confusion broke. The bearded man, with me still trapped in the crook of his arm, backed up until he was within arms reach of Sophie. The scraggly man sprang into action and grabbed Ma’s arms from behind. The leader jerked the shotgun from her grasp. He held the shotgun by the barrel, and with an evil grin on his face, he stared at Pa. Then, the leader, apparently in full control of the situation again, made the most horrific mistake of his life. He wound up and swung the shotgun by the barrel in an arc upward toward Ma. The stock caught Ma across the side of the face. She immediately went limp and crumpled to the dirt.

AUTHOR: Mike Hays
PUBLISHER: MuseItUp Publishing
MuseItUp Bookstore
Amazon Link

Special Delivery!

How about this delivery which arrived in the mail the other day?

All is good in the world. It is going to be a good, cold and rainy early December weekend. College football championships and new books!

I will tell you later how it goes.