Friday, March 20, 2009

Good books and impressionable kids, a Mets fan's choices for March is Reading Month madness

These first-graders could have been Mets fans by time I finished reading -- if I came with the proper book.

I was a celebrity reader at a Grand Rapids elementary school today, which might prompt some to say that they need to raise the bar on who qualifies as a celebrity.

But that’s OK, because I had a wonderful time with the first-graders.

Of course, you can’t just show up and start reading. You have to approach this in the proper fame of mind.

These are young, impressionable students.

They might not have been exposed to Yankee hype.

This was an opportunity to offer them a glimpse of the promised land that is Mets fandom.

Luckily I had two new weapons at my disposal.

First is the "2009 Maple Street Press Mets Annual." It’s not quite a book, but it’s bigger than your basic magazine, with a thicker cover and no ads. That makes it hard to describe, other than to say it's really good to have.

It’s got a little bit of everything to prepare you for the season, from individual player profiles to features on prospects.

I liked the story about the Mets’ new Triple-A team in Buffalo, and there are even schedules for the minor-league teams.

There’s a nice interview with Keith Hernandez, and some trivia concerning Shea Stadium’s firsts and lasts — included designated hitters. Think about how that could happen. The first was in 1974 and the last in 1998 — among the many indignities inflicted on Shea when the Yankees borrowed it.

But the best part is blogger Greg Prince’s contribution, which uses a series of key words to walk us through the wondrous 1969 season — 40 years ago this year, if you can believe that.

I was thinking that would be perfect for the first-graders, enthralling them with tales of Tom Seaver and Gil Hodges, Tommie Agee and Jerry Koosman.

My wife noticed my copy of "Mets Annual" on the dining room table as I prepared to leave the house.

"You’re not going to read that to the kids, are you?"

Usually when she says something like that, the "are you?" on the end is included only to be a polite. It’s a command, dressed up nicely as a question.


Well, I did get another amazing book in mail this week. Speaking of Mr. Prince, it’s his "Faith and Fear in Flushing."

Like the blog he shares with Jason Fry, "FAFIF" isn’t just a collection of stories about the team, or even an autobiography.

Instead it’s a tale of how the team provides a common touchstone for our lives to intersect. Our lives don’t revolve around the Mets, but, like family member, they’re an important part it.

Sometimes we are angry at or hurt by relatives, and they can also provide great comfort and joy. As Mets fans, we know both hurt and joy. Yankees fans just know shame. At least they should.

Alas, Greg’s book is 320 pages of glorious history and memories, and I had only about a half hour with the kids.

My options were to read really, really quickly or just hit the highlights. Option one seemed impractical, and there are probably too many highlights to pick from. Once I started, the kids, now completely absorbed in the glory, would be begging me to keep going, and the teacher would no doubt be cursing "March is Reading Month" and I’d never get invited back.

My caring wife sensed where all this was headed and become involved in the selection process.

We narrowed it down to "Skippyjon Jones in the Dog House" and "Teammates," by Peter Golenbock, which is about the day Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson at Crosley Field.

Robinson is a personal hero, must be a Met in some way since Citi Field has a whole rotunda dedicated to him.

I was greeted at the school door by a new friend, who held a beautiful sign reading "Bienvenido, Mr. Murray" — it’s a bilingual school — and handed me off to another student, who took me to the library where some pre-selected books were on a table.

The librarian said that while she was sure "Teammates" was a fine book, she suggested the first-graders might better like something called "Hippo-not-amus" by Tony and Jan Payne.

The kids indeed laughed at "Portly," the young hippo who looked like Mo Vaughn without the limp and was tired of eating grass and laying around in the water and decided to see what it was like to be other animals.

As you can guess, hilarity ensued and Portly learned he is fine just the way he is. A nice message, to be sure.

We also talked about what reporters do, and how students can become better writers. The class was engaged and well-behaved, which is what I expected.

And I did sneak in a little baseball.


G-Fafif said...

How are these kids ever going to learn about expectations versus reality if you don't read to them about Mike Vail?

Anonymous said...

I would have voted for Skippy Jon Jones!- Sunshine Sis