Tuesday, October 4, 2011

REVIEW: Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (It's like a better sequel to Love That Dog than Hate That Cat was! Yay sports + poetry!)

Koertge, R.  (2003).  Shakespeare Bats Cleanup.  Cambridge, MA:  Candlewick Press.

116 pages.

Appetizer:  14-year-old Kevin Boland wants nothing more than to play baseball.  But after he is diagnosed with mono, there's no way he'll be able to play ball or go back to school for a looooooooong time.  Stuck in his room and bored, Kevin is anything but excited when his dad (a writer) gives him a blank notebook.  His dad notes:
"You're gonna have a lot of time on your hands.  Maybe you'll feel like writingsomething down" (p. 1).
And from that, a novel in verse is born.

While stuck in bed and later as he starts to attend baseball games again, Kevin works on writing various forms of poetry; from haiku, to blank verse, to elegies, to sonnets.  What's more, he goes back and revises his poems, showing his process and the importance of revision.  (Yay!  Can I hear a cheer for revision!  Wat Wat!)

Also, as Kevin battles mono and misses playing baseball, both he and his dad are dealing with a much larger loss; that of Kevin's mom.  But as they deal with their grief, Kevin begins to see the possibility of another type of joy:  His first real girlfriend.  A girl named Mira notices that Kevin writes poetry.  Torn between wanting to tell her the truth about what he's writing and not wanting to seem like one of those "sensitive" guys, Kevin tries to figure out how to get to know Mira better.

I'll admit, during the first half of the story, I wasn't too crazy about Shakespeare Bats Cleanup.  Kevin was hung-up on missing baseball and he had rigid ideas about masculinity that didn't exactly rock my world.  Then Mira was introduced.  And I loved her character.  She added a lot of humor and brought out a fun dynamic between Kevin and his father as they start to date.  As Kevin and his dad prepare to pick up Mira to go to a poetry reading, Kevin writes:

Dad comes downstairs in shorts  
and Pumas.  I ask him to change.  On the way
to Mira's he says, "Now I'm nervous."  (p. 82) 

Plus, Mira and her family added a multicultural dimension to the story.  Kevin, who is white, begins to entertain thoughts of learning Spanish to better communicate with Mira's extended family, some baseball players and to be able to translate poetry by Octavio Paz.

Overall, I felt like Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is a slightly older version of Love That Dog, that will specifically appeal to boys who *still* aren't completely convinced of the awesomeness of poetry.

Apparently there's a sequel, called Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs.  I'll read it...but I'll probably wait for the paperback version, which should be available by mid-March.

Dinner Conversation:

"Then Dad comes in and says, "The doctor
called.  Your tests came back.  You've got
"So I can't play ball."
He pats my knee.  "You can't even go to
school, Kevin.  You need to take it real easy."
He hands me a journal, one of those marbly
black-and-white ones he likes.
"You're gonna have a lot of time on your
hands.  Maybe you'll feel like writing
something down."  (p. 1)

"Why am I writing down the middle
of the page?
It kind of looks like poetry, but no way
is it poetry.  It's just stuff." (p. 5)

"I'm just going to fool around a little,
see what's what poetry-wise" (p. 5).

"My name is Kevin Boland.
I live in Los Angeles (a suburb, actually).
I'm fourteen years old, I love baseball,
and I haven't got a girlfriend.
I'm just writing because I'm bored.
Thank God nobody's going to read it."  (p. 12)

"That book I've been reading
is big on revision, which means, by
the way, not just doing something over
but seeing it again.  That's kind of cool." (p. 23)

"'I'm a writer.'"  That's a cool thing to say.
I don't mean I am, but I'm not a baseball
player either.
Not anymore."  (p. 28)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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