cover image Waiting for Pumpsie

Waiting for Pumpsie

Barry Wittenstein, illus. by London Ladd. Charlesbridge, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-545-3

Even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, other hurdles remained for black professional baseball players. It’s something that Bernard, the young African-American narrator of Wittenstein’s first picture book, is acutely aware of. “How come the Giants got Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson retired from the Dodgers, but we still don’t have a Negro player?” Bernard, a devoted Red Sox fan, asks his father. A promising minor leaguer, Pumpsie Green, finally gets a shot to play, but it’s no easy road; the Red Sox, Wittenstein explains, were the last major league team to integrate, in 1959. The racism that Green was up against is evident in both Wittenstein’s story and in Ladd’s (Frederick’s Journey) expressive, dramatically framed acrylics; at Fenway, Bernard and his family are told to “Sit down and shut up” by a white fan and then scolded by a policeman. Bernard’s conversational narration creates a warm bond with readers from the get-go, and although Wittenstein and Ladd never sugarcoat instances of racial prejudice, the story’s moments of triumph sound the loudest notes. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Feb.)