Sunday, July 19, 2020





This baseball league that was made up of African American players and run by African American owners ushered in the biggest change in the history of baseball.

In America during the early twentieth century, no part was safe from segregation, not even the country's national pastime, baseball. Despite their exodus from the Major Leagues because of the color of their skin, African American men still found a way to participate in the sport they loved. Author Varian Johnson shines a spotlight on the players, coaches, owners, and teams that dominated the Negro Leagues during the 1930s and 40s. Readers will learn about how phenomenal players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and of course, Jackie Robinson greatly changed the sport of baseball.


Varian Johnson is the author of nine novels, including The Parker Inheritance, which was named a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book among other accolades. His middle grade caper novel, The Great Greene Heist, has been named to over twenty-five state reading and best-of lists. In addition, Varian has written for the Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts middle-grade fantasy series as well as novels and short stories for YA audiences.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is honored to now be a member of the faculty. Varian lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.


Stephen Marchesi is an artist who lives in New York. He has created illustrations for textbooks, magazines, and children's books.

As a child, Marchesi drew his own comics. While a student at High School of Art and Design, he worked for Warren Publications. In 1973 he graduated from Pratt Institute. Afterward he spent half a year working as an assistant art director for an ad agency, and then began his career as a freelance illustrator. Marchesi cited his primary influences as being the cover illustrations and interior artwork created by Newell Convers Wyeth for novels published by Charles Scribner's Sons, and movie posters of the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1978 Marchesi was hired by Random House to create new cover art for 12 of the paperback editions of its Three Investigators series. Of the nearly 500 book covers that Marchesi has illustrated, he said that he had more freedom while doing these 12 than for any others that he has ever done. These covers were also the last time that he used watercolor - he later switched to acrylic and oil.

I have enjoyed reading many books in this WHOHQ Series from Penguin Workshop. This one is no exception!

I have been a baseball fan for many decades. We like to listen to baseball on the radio during the spring, summer, and autumn; and this extraordinary year without baseball has been, well--strange.

When I recently learned that 2020 is the centennial of the Negro baseball leagues I wondered if our library had any middle-grade books which I could read and review. Our library reopened a couple of weeks ago for curbside pickup, so I'm back in business as far as accessing library materials. Yay! This book came up in the catalog under 'in-processing'. I put a hold on it and was able to pick it up late last week.

In 1845 in the United States 'standardized' baseball began. Written rules were written for the New York Knickerbocks baseball team. "In 1969, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first baseball club to pay its members for playing." (page 8)

Black people were not allowed to play in leagues with whites. Here the author discusses segregation and the reasons why white players did not want to play with black players at this time.

There was one exception to this rule noted by the author. In 1878, John 'Bud' Fowler became a professional player on a white team. Bud Fowler was a great fielder and batter. He was also an innovator in the field of baseball equipment. He was prompted to make himself some shin guards using some wooden slats to protect himself from the many white players who were "intentionally spiking his legs with their spiked shoes". (page 10)

The narrative follows the journey of black players and teams through the end of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century.

In February, 1920, the Negro National League (NNL) was formed with Rube Foster as its first president. The league was made up of "seven black-owned teams and one white-owned team". (page 38) Over the next few years attendance at the NNL games increased, and "the Negro National league became one of the most successful black-owned business in the country". (page 44)

The author documents the growth of the Negro Leagues inthe 1920s along with the decline of the NNL in 1931, due, in part, to the Great Depression. The second Negro National League was founded in 1933 by Gus Greenlee.

In 1937 a new Negro American League, NAL, was formed. In 1945 one the NAL teams, the Monarchs, hired Jackie Robinson.  ". . . he would change the course of both Major League Baseball and Negro League Baseball forever". (page 70)

Several of the ending chapters are devoted to the biography of Jackie Robinson and details of his historic breaking of the color barrier in baseball in 1947 when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in the major leagues.

One of my favorite features of this book was the set of twenty-four historical black and white photos of many of the key figures in Negro league baseball. There are photos of such greats as Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James 'Cool Papa' Bell, and many more. These photos brought these men to life for me, and I know young readers will enjoy seeing them too.

The Back Matter, as always in this series, is awesome. There is a section entitled, 'Diversity in Baseball', a list of Negro League Hall of Famers who have been inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, timelines of the Negro Leagues and the World, and a Bibliography.

This is another educational, inspiring, and excellent installment in this series. Highly-recommended for baseball fans of all ages, fans of diverse non-fiction, American history, sports history, and fans of cultural history.


Find the links to read more great Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts from middle-grade authors and bloggers at Greg Pattridge's 'Always in the Middle' Blog.


Find the links to more great 'It's Monday! What Are You Reading?' (#IMWAYR) posts for children's and Young Adult books over at the Unleashing Readers website.







  1. I'm not really a baseball fan, but this book sounds good. And I just heard about the Negro leagues in the news, probably because of the anniversary date. They really went through a lot to play baseball.

  2. I didn't realize that Black people created their own baseball league to play the sport they love—that's a fascinating story (although obviously, it would have been better if major league baseball wasn't segregated at all)! This book sounds like it chronicles the story of this league quite well! Thanks for the great review!

  3. I will need to get this book soon to fill in the gap until baseball returns. Great timing as always featuring this edition during the centennial. Thanks for including it in our MMGM lineup today.

  4. What a gem for baseball fans. I was vaguely aware that there were Negro leagues, but not being a baseball fan, I really didn't know the history. It's great that this fabulous resource is available in time for the anniversary. Great book for school libraries. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I really enjoyed Great Greene Heist, so I found it interesting that Varian Johnson is also the author of this book as well. Kids love nonfiction, and I'm sure this will appeal to baseball fans and be useful in the classroom, especially for teaching about segregation.

  6. This sounds like a fascinating read!

  7. I'm a HUGE baseball fan. So glad to see a couple games this week even with cardboard cutouts in the stands. This book sounds terrific. Thanks for the heads up.


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