Beating the Odds

Lipman Pike: America’s First Homerun King
By Richard Michelson
Illustrated by Zachary Pullen
(Sleeping Bear Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2011, $16.95)

Before professional baseball leagues formed in 1871, there were little boys who loved the game. One was Lipman Pike, the son of Dutch Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. At thirteen, he began playing with a neighborhood league; at twenty-one, in 1866, the Philadelphia Athletics hired Pike at $20 per week. One of the first paid ballplayers, Pike became known for his fast running and heavy hitting abilities. He even awed crowds by beating a racehorse in a hundred-yard dash. When he retired from baseball, he opened a haberdashery in Brooklyn, much like the one his father had operated.

In Lipman Pike, Richard Michelson and illustrator Zachary Pullen tell Pike’s remarkable story. The picture-book biography opens in the Pike family’s shop, where Lipman and his brother enjoy dashing around to fill customers’ orders. Young Lip’s joy in movement soon blossoms into a passion for baseball. Despite his mother’s objections – she would have liked him to focus on his education – and the anti-Semitism he encounters outside New York, Lipman pursues the game seriously.

Although Lipman Pike is a picture book, it should also appeal to middle-grade readers. Older children will appreciate Michelson’s vivid, natural dialogue , which evokes nineteenth-century Brooklyn. Although Pullen’s figures are far from idealized –a pink nose here, a gaping mouth there – they make Pike’s eventual triumph all the more poignant. On the last double-page spread, surprise flickers in Pike’s eyes after he hits a homerun and before he takes off for first base. All he ever wanted is in that split second. Together, Michelson and Pullen capture the joy of overcoming obstacles to pursue a goal – a familiar theme that will never grow old as long as there are people who dream.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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