Step Up the the Plate, Maria Singh
Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls team forming in Yuba City, California. It s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria s teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls League to start a girls softball team at their school. Meanwhile, Maria s parents Papi from India and Mama from Mexico can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world. In this fascinating middle grade novel, award-winning author Uma Krishnaswami sheds light on a little-known chapter of American history set in a community whose families made multicultural choices before the word had been invented."
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This was a great example of what makes great historical fiction-- vivid descriptions of details of daily life during a different time, an unusual twist to the history, and sports. If all historical fiction included sports, it would be helpful! I had never heard of the Mexican-Hindu community in California, and the brief glimpse into Indian history was fascinating, since the book put it into context against US history that younger readers might know a bit better. I am always glad to see books that show the difficulties that girls had playing sports before Title IX as well.
Maria is a great character, and her reactions to situations are flawed but charming. She is supposed to watch her brother, but this interferes with practice. The solution? Clearly, bribe her brother! She lies to her mother about things, but feels guilty. She appreciates her parents' culture, but also doesn't feel it's completely her own.
There were two details about this time period that I found particularly interesting-- the Beckers, both Elizabeth and her father, were shown as pure meanness at the beginning of the book, but Maria does start to understand their motivations more. There are few treatments of German-Americans at this time, so it's a nice touch to include this. The other thing that was interesting was the fact that Maria's father couldn't own land, but his children, being born in the US, could.
Baseball might be the most "American" sport, but perhaps that is because so many different ethnic groups embrace it. Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh is a great addition to a list of multicultural basenall books that include Lorenzi's A Long Way Home (Pakistani), Volponi's Game Seven (Cuban), Lynch's. Gold Dust (Caribbean), Shang's The Way Home Looks Now (Chinese), Ritter's Fewnay Fever (Italian), Tooke's King of the Mound Mound: My Summer with Satchel Paige (African American) and any number of books set during WWII that feature Japanese-Americans and baseball!
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