Little League Heroes, by Curtis Bishop
Five out of five stars
Joel Carroll is an African-American boy that is trying out for the West Austin Little League. He is one of eighteen boys that are vying for only two open positions, for this is a league where there are more boys than can be placed on a team, so only the best will be selected. He manages to impress the coach/manager by his hitting and bunting abilities, for he is very poor at judging fly balls. His natural position is catcher, but his team has the best catcher in the league.
After his selection, Joel experiences some racial prejudice from the other boys, but the main source is from the parents. One man in particular withdraws funding for maintaining the field, forcing the use of volunteers. His father Marty drills the rules of “colored behavior circa 1960” into Joel, meaning that he is not to react to racial slurs or fight back when provoked. He is the first African-American player to play in the league, so within his neighboring circle, he is playing the role of Jackie Robinson.
There are two tracks to this story, the action of Joel’s team as it competes for the title and Joel’s experiences in being a racial pioneer. His father keeps him grounded in reality and he gains a very valuable white friend that helps him when he is in serious difficulties. There is a big game at the end, yet it is handled in a far different way than in other books. Joel is a hero, but it is a total experience and not just a consequence of one action on the field.
From receiving some of the milder racial slurs, to having parents pull their children and finding from the league rather than allow them to play with a “colored” child to unwarranted police suspicion, many of the problems that African-Americans face are a part of Joel’s experiences. Yet, there are white heroes in this book, specifically the league officials that will not deviate from the rules that allow boys like Joel to play no matter what the threat.