Thursday, December 24, 2009

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

This piece of historical fiction begins in 1929 when Emmet Wilson decides to leave his young family at 18 years of age to make money as a professional baseball player. His career choice takes him away from home for a long period of time but he makes a larger amount of money in the Negro Leagues than he would otherwise make working at his farm. In his first game as a pro, he faces Satchel Paige, one of the legendary pitchers of the league. And perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time. Emmet's debut is very memorable, but injury cuts his career short.

The rest of the story involves Emmet living a different life with his family in the fictional town Tuckwilla, Alabama over a period of years. He farms, picks cotton, and follows the exploits of Satchel Paige in news stories. Paige, while not allowed to play in the Major Leagues, makes a lot of money barnstorming. Finally, Emmet and his son attend a baseball game where Paige's All Star team faces off with the local ball club, which is all white. The Tuckwilla All Stars have some ex-baseball players on their team as well but most of them do not respect the African-American players as equals. The climax of the book involves Paige's unique manner of confronting this racial discrimination.

James Sturm and Rich Tommaso created this book, a publication of The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. Sturm has created many works of historical fiction, mostly published through Drawn & Quarterly, and he is the founder and director of the Center. Tommaso is a prolific cartoonist in his own right, and he has a great variety of works available for preview at his official website.

This book was very well researched for historical accuracy. Although it is a fictionalized account, it draws upon many facts to create the story. These facts are highlighted at the end of the book, through a series of panel examinations. Additionally there are a few other sources listed, for those interested in further reading. The story, for all this research is simultaneously spare and affecting. Sturm and Tommaso get a lot of mileage from simple images and their pacing creates great drama during the game sequences. This would be a great resource for those interested in Jim Crow laws, civil rights in the US, the Negro Leagues, the Great Depression era, or just baseball in general.

Reviews of this book are pretty positive, such as this one from Alison Morris. Some, such as Elizabeth Bird, point out that this book should not replace a true biography of Satchel Paige. Andrew Wheeler also enjoyed the book, but worries it will be relegated to the oft-neglected biography shelf in school libraries. He would also like to have seen a true biography of Paige, a man who lived an extraordinary life.

The book's official webpage has a wealth of resources, including an interview with the authors, preview pages, teacher resources, and thumbnail sketches used to plan the book.

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