Out of Left Field
Set in 1957—the world of Sputnik and Leave It to Beaver, saddle shoes and "Heartbreak Hotel"—Out of Left Field is both a detailed picture of a fascinating historic period and a timelessly inspiring story about standing up for equality at any age.
Baseball, not softball!
Ten-year-old Katy is a fantastic pitcher, so great that a local Little League coach encourages her to sign up for the team. She does, but of course in 1957, girls aren't allowed to play baseball. Her mother, a university professor of nuclear chemistry, lets her know that it's a battle she can fight, but she probably won't win. The mother was a victim of McCarthy era politics who lost her job, friends, and marriage because she refused to give in to the demands of the communist witch hunt, so she knows that being right doesn't always make life easy. Still, Katy does a lot of difficult research on female baseball players, finds lots of good reasons why girls SHOULD play baseball, and tries to make her point with the Little League authorities. At the same time, her classmates are obsessed with Sputnick, her class gets a homework assignment that is watching a television program, and Katy's older sisters help her navigate life and school.
So many facets of this time period are discussed. While the facts about Sputnick and the overview of racial problems at the time (there is a Japanese-American student in Katy's class who tells about the internment situation during WWII, and mention of the Civil Rights occurrences as well) are tremendously important and interesting, combined with the wealth of information about women in baseball, it is a lot to understand for readers who may have no background knowledge of this time period. The notes on different players at the end of the book were very helpful.
Baseball and softball fans will love this look at a time gone by. Combine this with the nonfiction books Houts' Kammie on first : baseball's Dottie Kamenshek and Green's A strong right arm : the story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson for more in depth information on players, and with the fiction books Butler's Sliding Into Home, Day's No Cream Puffs, and the more recent Alpine's You Throw Like a Girl for those who just like a good baseball story!
Terrific Historical Fiction--and Baseball!
The year is 1957, and Katy Gordon is a fifth grade girl who just wants to play baseball. She's worked her way into being accepted on the field by the boys in her neighborhood thanks to her pitching arm and skill with the bat. With her short hair tucked into a baseball cap, blue jeans, and her favorite San Francisco Seals jersey on, Katy blends in with the other boys to such an extent that she's invited to try out for a local Little League team. Katy--who writes her name as Casey on the information form provided by the coach--shows up at tryouts, makes the team, and is slated to be the starting picture in an upcoming practice game when one of the other player's parents outs her as a girl to the league. Little League baseball has a clear "no girls allowed" rule, and it doesn't matter how good Katy is at the sport, being a girl means she can't play. Period.
Katy is determined to fight back, and after her initial letter to the national office of Little League Baseball gets a response that details why girls can't play on the same level as boys, Katy channels her anger and disappointment into a quest for information. She's determined to prove that girls CAN compete with boys, and her research shows her that girls and women have been playing baseball with and against men--and succeeding--for a very long time.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD by Ellen Klages is rich in historical detail as Katy and her class delve into all of the current events of the time including the US and Soviet Union Space Race, the Little Rock Nine, the Giants moving to San Francisco, and plenty more. Best of all is the deep dive into the history of women in baseball and Katy's efforts to educate herself and others on the topic.
Katy is a great character, and she's surrounded by other amazing women. Her mom is particularly wonderful, and I can only hope that Katy's older sisters (who get mentioned a bit, but are never front-and-center) get their own books at some point. Klages writes history really well: Katy's story is fiction, but the facts surrounding her are interesting, informative, and provide plenty of opportunities for dialogue with young readers on important topics that are relevant today.
I wish my eight-year-old self had been able to read this book. I was a baseball-loving girl who played the game with all of the neighborhood boys, and reading Katy's story and learning about the women who formed the foundation for girls in the sport would have been so inspiring to me at that time--heck, it's inspiring now! The baseball narrative would have been enough to pull me in, but I enjoyed the focus on 1957's current events, too, and Katy's appreciation for and use of the library cemented the deal: I'd love to see this book used in upper elementary classrooms everywhere. What an amazing wide-ranging learning opportunity it provides! And I'll keep my fingers crossed for a movie as well. "The Sandlot" meets "A League of Their Own"?! How perfect would that be?! *sigh*
I absolutely recommend this book, and I offer my thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
Women in sports