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The Kid from Tomkinsville ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels (65)

John R.Tunis is pretty universally recognized as the greatest author of boys' books this side of Horatio Alger.  Like Alger (see Orrin's review of Ragged Dick), this is largely a function of the fact that the books do not condescend to children, teach without preaching and are, therefore, quite enjoyable for adults too.

His best known series centers on Roy "the Kid" Tucker, a Brooklyn Dodger phenom from Tomkinsville, CT.  In this novel, the first in the series, the Kid attends his first Spring Training, makes the pitching starved major league club and then, after a brilliant start to his career, suffers an elbow injury.  Unable to pitch, he works his way back to the majors as an outfielder.  Along the way, he learns valuable lessons about being a man, a ballplayer and a teammate.  Veteran catcher Dave Leonard teaches him the most, becoming a mentor on issues of baseball and life in general.  At one point, when Roy is struggling, Leonard tells him:

    Son, an old umpire once give me some dope when I was breaking in like you.  Oh, yeah, I thought
    I was hot stuff, but they soon showed me I didn't have an idea what it was all about.  Just when I
    got convinced I was a flop and waiting for that pink slip in the mail box, this old fella took me
    aside in the lobby of the hotel one night.  Old George Connors, I never forgot.  so I pass it along to
    you and don't you forget it either.  'Courage.' says this old-timer, 'courage is all life.  Courage is all
    baseball.  And baseball is all life; that's why it gets under your skin.'

The Kid draws on this lesson under ironic conditions.  He has come to rely heavily on Leonard's expertise, but the club has been told that the cagey veteran will be released soon.  In his last start with Leonard behind the plate, Roy throws a no-hitter, which everyone realizes was only made possible by Dave's guidance.  The Kid wonders if this will possibly convince manager Gabby Spencer to reconsider, but realizes:

    No, Gabby wouldn't change his mind.  Because that was life, baseball was, and life was like that.
    One minute you were unknown and the next minute you were up in front; one minute you were a
    fixture on the club and then the next out of a job.  Before his locker, Dave was pulling off a wet
    shirt with the words DODGERS on it.  For the last time.

This is not only more clear eyed than most kids' fiction of the day was, it is more realistic than most sports stories for adults were up until books like The Long Season, A False Spring and Ball Four  came along.

This one is recommended for all ages.

Other recommended books by John R. Tunis:
    -World Series
    -Rookie of the Year
    -The Kid Comes Back


Grade: (A+)


Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY: BRING BACK THAT OLD SANDLOT NOVEL (Mark Harris, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: THE ALL-STAR TEAM (Daniel Okrent, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature (George Plimpton,  NY Times Book Review)
    -Children's baseball stories (USA Today)
    -ARTICLE: Governors Recall Books of Their Youth (The Associated Press)
    -The Bibliography Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research:  Baseball Literature Reviews A collection of reviews of current and past books on the American national game