cover image MUDBALL


Matt Tavares, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2387-6

Tavares (Zachary's Ball ; Oliver's Game ) takes another triumphant trip to the baseball field in this stirring story of an unlikely hero set in 1903. The tale opens as Little Andy Oyler, the shortest player on the Minneapolis Millers team—in fact in the whole league—steps up to the plate; heavy rain falls, and Oyler tries to ignore the heckling St. Paul Saints fans. The Millers, trailing by three runs, have loaded the bases and are down to their last out. Three spreads show a kind of time-lapse: a wide-angle view of the field, the wet ball slipping as it leaves the pitcher's hand, then the ball headed right for Oyler's head, yet somehow his bat makes contact. The ball seemingly disappears as Oyler heads for first base. After he makes his way home, the ball is recovered from the mud ("only a few feet in front of home plate") and declared a "fair ball" by the ump. Tavares's subtly hued, stylized watercolors effectively evoke the era as well as the tale's highly charged action and emotion. With his expert use of close-up and full-diamond views, he creates a visual pacing that adds to the suspense. A concluding note offers the caveat that documentation on the "shortest home run in baseball history" is, well muddy, and that this may well be a baseball tall tale. Whether fact or fiction, it is a refreshing and rousing story, with illustrations that will sweep up young spectators. Ages 6-10. (Mar.)