Written by Kelly Bennett
Illustrated by Susanna Covelli
(Familius; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
I may be a little late to the game, but since baseball season is in full swing, it’s still a great time to review The House That Ruth Built written by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Susanna Covelli. Did you know that this past April 18 marked the 100-year anniversary of the inaugural game at New York’s brand-new Yankee Stadium? I’m a former New Yorker and I didn’t so I’m glad I had the opportunity to read and review this new picture book packed with fascinating facts and excellent illustrations.
Open the pages of The House That Ruth Built and step back in time (courtesy of Covelli’s lovely cinematic, sometimes sepia-toned art) to visit the Yankee’s first official home ballpark. You’ll instantly hear the crowds cheering, and taste the hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks. A century ago the New York Yankees went up against the Boston Red Sox with more than 70,000 fans in attendance! Imagine just how many hot dogs were sold that day!
In the lineup that day are names you may recognize and others you’ll learn about including “future Hall of Famers” Babe Ruth, Waite Hoyt, Bob Shawkey, and Miller Higgins. Also on hand were supporters including Eddie Bennett, the legendary Yankee batboy, Jack Lenz, the stadium’s first public announcer, and five-year-old Little Ray Kelly, Babe Ruth’s lucky charm. And check out those red socks below. That was an easy way to figure out which team was which.
I loved getting the inside scoop about how the scoreboard operated (two scorekeepers were perched inside the massive board to manually update the scores), how way back then telegraph operators used Morse code to report info about the games to fans nationwide, and even how bleachers got their name. Okay, I’ll tell you how. Stands were constructed from wood which over time bleached out in the sun. Readers will find out when The Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem, began being played at games, the story behind the “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat, the Negro Leagues (and the Cuban League I had never heard about), the important role of the catcher, and even the myriad nicknames for Babe Ruth who, I found out, had been with the Boston Red Sox before joining the Yankees for the 1920 season. And which team do you think won that opener? Bennett builds up that tension with a cumulative tale that complements the sidebars full of info. I barely scratched the surface about the stadium, the team, the game, or the interesting era during which all this happened so you’ll just have to get the book to read more.
I’d be remiss not to mention a printing error in the Cracker Jack section which many may not notice and does not affect the overall enriching experience that reading this book has to offer. It’s just I’m a mega Cracker Jack fan having collected the prizes for years as a child. Bennett ends the book with more details about Yankee Stadium, and its many storied players, and she includes resources for avid readers. It’s sad to think of that original stadium, gone since 2009. I admired that landmark for decades when my family drove by it on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, the actual borough where it was located. Not only would this book make a wonderful gift for your Little Leaguer, but any sports fan who appreciates the history of the game or is eager to learn about it.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel