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Book Review: THE BASEBALL PLAYER AND THE WALRUS by Ben Loory and Illustrated by Alex Latimer

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th_0803739516As a baseball mom and animal lover, I jumped at the chance to get a sneak peek at Ben Loory’s new children’s picture book THE BASEBALL PLAYER AND THE WALRUS (Penguin Random House, 2015), due to hit retail shelves on February 24. As well, I’m a fan of Loory’s short-story work. His short story collection STORIES FOR THE NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY (Penguin, 2011) is a unique must-read.  Checking out Loory’s dive into children’s picture books was a no brainer.

The story is about a baseball player who has all the fame and fortune of playing in the major leagues, but still feels unhappy, until one day he meets a new friend, a walrus at the zoo.  Soon the baseball player has to deal with caring for and spending time with his new friend and balancing the demands of a career that takes him far away from his special friend, the Walrus. Issues about money, life’s passion, friendship, love, and the real important things in life are at the heart of this story.

Illustrating the story is Alexander Latimer, whose artwork is clean and goes well with the story, giving a sense of  compatibility to this odd couple of professional athlete and marine animal. His artwork lends to curious questions and lots of thought-provoking pointing to early readers. I did wish, as the reader, that some the images were larger for reading to a group of more than two kids. It just makes this a good book for snuggling together on the big, comfy couch and reading it side-by-side.

Speaking of early readers, I wanted to share this story with a group of children and see if their reaction mirrored my admiration of the story.  The group was ages 5 to 11, both boys and girls. I thought the 11-year-old might get bored, but like me, she loves baseball and animals. She was also very keen on how the baseball player worked to save the relationship between himself and the walrus.  Obviously 11 years old wasn’t too old. The rest of the group was prime audience for it – even pulling in a very fidgety first grader. When the baseball player combs the walrus’ mustache, all of the kids giggled, as I did in my very first read. Many of the commentary during story time were regarding what animal they would bring home from the zoo. None thought a Walrus, and therefore, were riveted to find out how The Baseball Player was going to do it. Last comments from my reader’s circle included wanting to know if life at the end of the book might be explored further in a new book that included the other zoo animals. I suppose that’s up to Mr. Loory and Mr. Latimer, I told them. Regardless, this book was a homerun with them.

If you’ve got a young animal lover, aspiring athlete, or just a young school-aged child that loves to be read a story, this is a great book to add to your collection. Discussions about balancing the demands and responsibilities of life are ripe within this book.  But, most of all, it’s a fun, fantastical story. Good Luck to Mr. Loory and Mr. Latimer. THE BASEBALL PLAYER AND THE WALRUS, I believe, is going to have a fantastic rookie year.

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