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18 January 2012 Richie's Picks: PLUNKED by Michael Northrop, Scholastic Press, March 2012, 256p., ISBN: 978-0-545-29714-1


"But that was just a dream

Try, cry, why, try

That was just a dream

Just a dream, just a dream"

-- REM, "Losing My Religion"


"There's something I would like to say, like, officially: Ooooooooooowwwww!

"I'm lying there at home plate, looking up at all the people standing over me in a circle. Their catcher has his mask pushed up on top of his head. The ump's mask is totally off, and he has this weird look on his face, like he's about to start laughing or crying. Then there's Coach and someone I don't know. And they're all still talking. I know it's about me, but I'm not catching most of it.

"I'm looking up at the sky, and it feels like the whole world is vibrating. I have that feeling you get after you drop something, like you need to bend down and pick it up. Except I'm already down, and the thing I want to pick up might be my head."


As a young person, I was never much for involvement in organized sports. Sure, I loved goofing around shooting basketballs, and participating in games on our street that involved a harmless pink ball. I even survived (barely) a season of freshman wrestling in high school so I'd have it on my transcript. But hard baseballs were...well...really hard, and were something I always avoided. One of those things would really hurt...


Sixth grader Jack Mogens has a bedroom filled with baseball memorabilia -- cards and bobble heads and posters and balls. He has parents who have always been enthusiastic in their encouragement and support of his baseball "career" since back when he played T-Ball as a little kid. Now he's in the Little League Majors and is fighting for the starting left field spot on the team. His team, with all of his long-time friends.


But, having beaten out a teammate for the starting spot, he is accidentally hit in the head by a poorly thrown pitch on Opening Day, during his first at-bat of the season. PLUNKED by Michael Northrop is the story of Jack's dealing with the resulting doubts and bad dreams as he finds himself suddenly afraid of pitches. This is a tale of a boy going through a serious reconsideration of his desire for what has always been his passion.


"'Two thousand six hundred and thirty-two,' I say.

"'Yeah,' says Dad. 'With three thousand one hundred and eighty-four hits and four hundred and thirty-one homers.'

"Most fans don't know those stats, except maybe Orioles fans.

"'Unbelievable,' I say.

"'Believe it,' says Dad. 'I saw a few of them.

"But that's not what I mean. I mean, all those games...

"How many times was he hurt or injured? How many times did he get hit by a pitch, not just off the thigh or butt, but somewhere it hurt? And he never missed a beat.

"Right then, I know two things. One: If Cal Ripken got hit in the head by a pitch, he would pick himself up and head down to first base. There wouldn't be a cloud of people hovering over him and tears in his eyes and a pinch-runner who got thrown out at home. And he definitely wouldn't bail out on inside pitches three days later. Just the thought of it is ridiculous. I mean, please: Inside pitches would bail out on him!

"And so that's the other thing I know. Two: I'm not like Cal Ripken. I'm not a baseball player like him. Now I'm not smiling at all."


There is a lot to like in this sports story for middle grade readers that, in equal parts, takes place on and off of the field. There is Jack's innocent obsession with his team's cracker jack shortstop, pony-tailed Katie Bowe. His coach and his parents are really positive, good-hearted adults. And he has some great true-to-life friends. I like that no one is calling him a pussy. Everyone knows what I knew at that age: a hardball is hard and it makes perfect sense to be nervous -- especially if you have been plunked in the head by one.


A really thoughtful sports tale.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

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