by Matt Tavares
Inside Jacket: Before becoming the Babe, George Herman Ruth is just a boy who lives in Baltimore and gets into a lot of trouble. But when he turns seven, his father brings him to the gates of Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and his life is changed forever. At Saint Mary’s, George is expected to follow a lot of rules—and he gets to play baseball almost every day. Under the watchful eye of Brother Matthias, George evolves as a player and as a man. When he sets off into the wild world of big-league baseball, his family back at Saint Mary’s is never far from his heart. Matt Tavare’s striking homage offers a rare view into Babe Ruth’s formative years in “the house that built Ruth” and conveys an important message about honoring the place from which you came.
Opening: Baltimore, 1902. George Ruth lives with his parents a his baby sister in a tiny apartment above a saloon. Most day, he skips school and roams the streets
What I Thought: There is no doubt in most people’s mind that Babe Ruth—homerun records aside—is the King of Baseball. There have always been big stories about Babe, most notably the game he pointed to the outfield, signaling he would hit a homerun, and then did just that. The hit was supposedly for a sick child Babe met in the hospital while touring and greeting patients. That story is absent from Becoming Babe Ruth. I am glad all the lore is gone, true or not. Mr. Tavares sticks to the facts of George Herman Ruth’s life, from his childhood at the Boy’s Industrial Home—generally for orphans and troublemaker boys, in lieu of jail—to his meteoric rise to baseball fame. It was a time when parents could bow out of childcare and give their child to the state. If this had not happened, would there have been a Babe Ruth?
At age seven, George was a handful. Regularly skipping school, he stole money and plastered horse-drawn wagons with ripe tomatoes. George begged his father to change his mind, but luckily, for George, he refused. George had to straighten up, and he did. He met Brother Matthias, who loved baseball and entertained the boys by hitting a baseball out of the diamond and over a fence. He taught George to do the same. Soon, George became Babe Ruth, one of the scout’s “new babes” on his Baltimore Oriole’s team. I had not known how he got his baseball name, so one hit for the author.
The book has newspaper clippings and illustrations that look authentic as if drawn on the scene. As the illustrator, Mr. Tavares does a superb job bringing the images of Babe Ruth to life for all who pick up this remarkable book. You will not see tons of statistics, though Babe’s hitting and pitching records are in the back. This is a story about the boy and the man, not the legend.
Throughout his fame and good fortune, Babe Ruth never forgot about St Mary’s, from whence he came. After a fire destroyed most of the Saint Mary’s, Babe hosted Brother Matthias and several boys. They toured with Babe and his team for two weeks, collecting donations to rebuild Saint Mary’s at each game. Babe also returned to Saint Mary’s, hitting baseballs out of the ballpark, just as Brother Matthias had done when Babe Ruth was seven-year-old George Herman Ruth.
I like how Babe Ruth’s life is an example of the resilience of children and the ability we have to redefine ourselves. George went from a thug-in-training to Babe Ruth, the best baseball player in the history of the game. His story is a great example of changing your life, even after hitting the bottom—, which might have felt like that for Babe when his father sent him away.
As author/illustrator, Matt Tavares does a wonderful job presenting the facts in a way that kids can understand Babe Ruth’s somewhat complicated life. In an author’s note, he explains life in 1920s America. Sportcenter was non-existent, as was television. News came from newspapers and highlight reels. Radio broadcasted baseball games, as it still does today. I really like the way Mr. Tavares handled Babe Ruth’s life. He calls Babe Ruth a true American fairy tale. Kids will probably know of Babe Ruth for ages to come. I think the man is baseball.
Kids and adults will enjoy Becoming Babe Ruth. One does not need to be a fan of baseball to enjoy the story of Babe’s life. The man never forgot his own history or Saint Mary’s, and he honored his roots. Not sure Babe Ruth was a man who overindulged in everything and broke all the rules—at times he did both—or a good man with a powerful bat? Reading Becoming Babe Ruth will give you a new perspective on baseball’s greatest player.
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AWARDS: 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection; 2013 Oppenheim Gold Seal Award; Booklist starred review
Ages: 6 and up
© 2013 by Candlewick Press, used with permission
Text & Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press is associated with Walker Books Group
DONATED TO A LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY OR SCHOOL
- Ghost of the Babe Helps Lift Boy’s Spirits (fantasticalnews.com)
- 99 Cool Facts About Babe Ruth (presurfer.blogspot.com)
- How Babe Ruth Changed the Yankees and Baseball Forever (ustravel.answers.com)
- Photos: On this Day, August 16, 1948 – Babe Ruth dies (photos.denverpost.com)
- Babe Ruth Facts (mademan.com)
- Babe Ruth Quotes (mademan.com)