This started out as “Jen’s Summer Reading,” a would-be companion to Harriet’s Summer Reading post. But I didn’t get past my first book.
I’m not sure I can be as succinct as Harriet, but I’ll have another go next time. Meanwhile, here’s one of the first books I read and loved this summer.
Plunked, by Michael Northrop
I actually read this middle-grade, baseball book. You know, hard cover, paper, letters on the pages. (As opposed to listening to an audio version, which would make way-yonder more sense if this were the post it was originally meant to be.) I need to add it to the list of baseball books here on the Stitch N’ Pitch page. I highly recommend it as a companion gift with a hand-stitched baseball bookmark.
One of the things I love about this book is that Michael understands colons and isn’t afraid to use them. With so many punctuation rules and tools being demoted to style choices these days and the trend toward minimal punctuation, I reveled in the ease of reading and clarity that good, confident punctuation provides. Best of all, this smartly-punctuated story is targeted to middle-grade boys, traditionally a reluctant reading group, where well-meaning story providers may be tempted to back off complex punctuation so as not to scare the readership. Way to trust and respect those readers: They’re smart enough to handle colons.
Having said that, another thing I love is the consistent use of spot-on middle-grade-boy-isms. “Jerk-butt” comes to mind—though I don’t have the book in front of me to confirm that—as in “The guy is a total jerk-butt for calling me names.” If you follow Michael on Facebook or read blog posts he writes, you might suspect he doesn’t have to reach far for such things. I think he’s in close touch with his middle-grade self.
And Michael knows sports, perhaps baseball in particular, as well as he knows middle-grade boys. The descriptions of practices, games, pitches, and standing in the batter’s box put you there, right beside Jack, the main character. You can smell the leather of a glove and feel the stinging vibration of a poorly-hit ball. I played softball, and I coached T-ball. He nails that experience. (You’re disappointed I didn’t say “knocked it out of the park, aren’t you? Aren’t you?! Uh-huh. I thought so. Just keeping you on your toes.)
Of course Michael knows baseball: For many years, he was a writer and editor at Sports Illustrated for Kids. In fact, while he was planning, creating, and editing high-profile, exciting and important, front-page news, he was also editing my always-entertaining and challenging back-page puzzles. I had a lot of editors there, and Michael was definitely one of my faves. He was funny (he even laughed at one of my jokes!), sharp, and clever. And if the answers ever got separated from the puzzles in the office, he didn’t e-mail me asking for the answer to a puzzle. No, I’m pretty sure that if he lost the answer page, he’d just, you know, solve the puzzle.
Finally, there’s one more thing I’d like to mention about Michael Northrop. He also wrote Gentlemen which I was initially (needlessly) scared to read. In this, he brings an under-represented population of boys into the spotlight. I really like the kinds of kids he’s writing about and for. I think he strengthens a weak spot in kidlit.
Well done, Michael. Well done.