Warrior on the Mound

Holiday House. Mar. 2024. 272p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823453788.
Gr 5-8–In Poplar Springs, NC, 12-year-old Cato aspires to play in the Negro Baseball Leagues, just like his dad and brother. A swirl of mystery surrounds the sudden death of his father, Daddy Mo, four years ago, but the pain remains just as strong. It’s 1939 in the South, and the odds seem stacked against Cato with rampant racism and Jim Crow laws in place. While he and his friends get plenty of practice on their makeshift baseball field, the big talk is the new field built for the white boys. Cutting school and sneaking onto the new field gets Cato and his teammates into a pickle with the white team. In order to settle things, it is suggested that they compete in a series of games on the new field. While this sits very well with Cato and his team, the white players are not fond of the idea at all. The racial tension seeps from the field into every aspect of Cato’s life, adding even more weight to each game and putting people in danger. Told in the first person, this engaging novel tackles themes of bullying, racism, segregation, strength, and forgiveness. Helpful back matter roots Cato’s story in its historical context with an author’s note, time line, bibliography, and biographies of the real Negro League players after which characters are named.
VERDICT A home run of a book that is brave enough to speak the hard truths, this is a first purchase for all libraries.

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