In 1934, a group of high school athletes from Springfield, Massachusetts stood up against segregation. When the American Legion All-Star baseball team traveled to North Carolina to play in a regional event, the boys experienced the ugliness of racism firsthand: Ernest “Bunny” Taliafero, the team’s most talented – and only black –player, was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as his teammates. During practice, spectators taunted him. Teams from other southern states threatened to withdraw from the tournament if Bunny played. The Springfield players had a choice: they could play if Bunny did not participate in the games, or they could forfeit the championships and return to Massachusetts together. Bunny’s teammates chose unity, and when they arrived in Springfield, the community accorded them a hero’s welcome.
In A Home Run for Bunny, Richard Andersen and illustrator Gerald Purnell celebrate Bunny’s achievements and the sportsmanship he and his team showed. The text derives much of its strength from Andersen’s unnamed first-person narrator, a former teammate who reminisces about Bunny, their childhood rivalry, and their time in North Carolina. Readers and listeners will feel as though they are listening to an elderly relative muse about an old friend. Purnell’s mixed media illustrations also suggest memory, the impressions people retain of each other at certain moments. In one spread, three images depict Bunny, a three-letter athlete, playing baseball, football, and basketball. In another, he leaps out of a black and white newspaper photo, in color and bearing a football. When the team travels south, the illustrations become starker and more realistic: they confer with their coach in a grey, grainy hotel room. On the train home to Massachusetts, the boys’ faces are soft and radiant in the moonlight that streams through a window.
A Home Run for Bunny is a moving story about loyalty and fairness. It is a reminder that ordinary people, even children, can choose inclusion over exclusion, unity over personal advancement.
-Dorothy A. Dahm