Anybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball by Heather Lang is a terrific new nonfiction baseball picture book and a great way to celebrate the upcoming baseball season.
“Girls don’t play baseball” is the book’s opening line, announced to twelve-year-old Kathryn by her brother Tom. Right away, readers get a sense of Kathryn’s spunk when she answers, “Why not? I’m better than you.” And she’s right. Kathryn is the best player around, but when Little League teams form in the spring of 1950, she is excluded because she’s a girl. Then, with her parents’ support and ingenuity, Kathryn makes the team and becomes not only the first female Little League player, but also the best all-around player on the King’s Dairy Little League team.
Anybody’s Game is irresistible because of Kathryn’s persistence and because both the text and the artwork get the baseball right. Kathryn’s upper cut swing and pitch delivery would be the envy of any player, and her willingness to slide headfirst says a lot about her approach to baseball and life. Heather Lang’s engaging narrative voice delivers Kathryn’s story in text rich with dialogue and lively sentence constructions. Cecilia Puglesi’s artwork effectively evokes the 1950s with attention to authentic period details while the characters’ large, stylized eyes convey an impressive range of facial expressions.
Young readers will relate to Anybody’s Game because the heroine is a kid. Picture book biographies frequently include the childhood of a resilient person who grows up to do something amazing. In this book, it’s a kid who does something amazing. Although Kathryn’s love of the game motivates her to do whatever it takes to play, her defiance of expectations imposed by her gender blazed a trail for today’s determined female members of their schools’ football and wrestling teams.
The useful back matter is framed by Heather Lang’s reflections as a baseball fan and includes photos of Kathryn Johnston along with details about how she has stayed involved in the game, as well as a clear “Women and Girls in Baseball” timeline.
Heather Lang’s Anybody’s Game is an excellent addition to classroom or home libraries. Its important lessons will stick with readers as the new baseball season slides headfirst into summer.