Knuckleball Ned is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Knuckleball Ned by R.A. Dickey with Michael Karounos and illustrated by Tim Bowers, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014.

What do you get when a Cy Young award-winning pitcher, best-selling author, father of four, and children’s literacy advocate teams up with a seasoned illustrator? A home run!

Knuckleball Ned by R.A. Dickey with Michael Karounos and illustrated by Tim Bowers (Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 3-5), tackles the always timely, tough subjects of bullying and self-acceptance in a way that preschoolers will relate to and understand. Bower’s colorful illustrations done in acrylic paint, opaque washes, and finished off with airbrushing achieve the rounded heads of the characters and lend humor to a serious subject.

The first day of school is about to start and Ned is nervous about making friends. You see, Ned has wobbled “for as long as he could remember.” He’s off to a bumpy start as he jiggle-joggles down the aisle of the bus, knocking into all the other balls. Sammy the Softball, by far the largest ball, offers Ned a seat and the two become fast friends.

When The Foul Ball Gang, a trio of rough and tumble bullies, cause nothing but trouble for Ned and his friends, Mrs. Pitch, their teacher, has her hands full juggling all the different types of balls in her classroom. Everyone seems to know what kind of ball they are, except for Ned. Besides Sammy, there are Fletcher and Fiona Fastball, Connie Curveball, and Ned, who has been cruelly dubbed a knucklehead by The Foul Ball Gang. When The Foul Ball Gang steals Connie’s shoes and tosses them high into a tree, all her friends attempt to help get the shoes down – unsuccessfully. All but Ned, that is. Sammy launches Ned off a seesaw and he sails seamlessly through the branches where he retrieves Connie’s shoes.

“Ned! I know about balls like you,” cried Connie. “You’re a knuckleball!”

Ned decides he loves being a knuckleball, especially when it allows him to save the day and be a hero.

This Tee Ball and Baseball season, why not pick up a copy of Knuckleball Ned? You’ll certainly score points with your little ones who perhaps will be entering school for the first time in the fall, discovering who they are and where they’ll fit in.

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