Thursday, June 03, 2010

Dan Gutman and Me

Gutman, Dan. Ray and Me.
In this ninth book of the Baseball Card Adventures series, Joey gets hit in the head while pitching at a baseball game and is in a coma for two weeks, when he wakes up, his coach tells him about Ray Chapman, the only pro ballplayer to be killed while batting. Batting helmets were unheard of in the 1920s, so Joey sets off to save the life of Chapman, and the career of Carl Mays, who threw the killer pitch and was haunted by it for the rest of his life. Things are different during this time-- Joey meets Babe Ruth (again) at a speakeasy, finds out that women have just gotten the right to vote, and comes up against complications in getting Chapman to avoid being hit. When his first attempt fails, he returns with a doctor to try to bring 21st century medicine to heal the brain injury. I love how Gutman weaves in the history and illustrates with period photos.

Gutman, Dan. Roberto and Me.
Joey finds out that his Spanish teacher (whose class is his weak spot) met Roberto Clemente as a child when she was suffering from a disease that eventually crippled her. Clemente, an active humanitarian, had promised to revisit her and bring medicine that would have helped-- but he was in a fatal plane crash while on a mission to help victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Joey plans to go back to warn Clemente about not getting on planes, but ends up in Woodstock, where he meets Sunrise, a girl his age who has run away from home. Hitching a ride back to her town of Cincinnati, where Clemente is playing, he manages to meet the ballplayer and tells him the perils he faces, but Clemente is determined to continue to help people. I loved that Sunrise asked Joey if they had jet packs and flying cars in the future, and how Joey starts to realize that hippies were not just cartoonish people in Halloween costumes, but people who had a very intense social and political agenda. Joey also is visited by his great great grandson, who has inherited his ability to time travel, and finds that even in 2080 there aren't jet packs, mainly because the present's dependence on oil has contributed to global warming that makes the future look more like 1910.

While the global warming message in the last book was slightly heavy handed, I was once again impressed by how easy Gutman makes writing look! Series that last more than 8 books make me start to wonder how adept the writer is (I was traumatized by my children's love for the Animorphs series, which could only be obtained at the thrift store. I think they had 52 of the 54 titles, and they refuse to part with them!), and the My Weird School series is too young for me, but Gutman is a great writer. He balances the elements that students want in books very well, has good pacing, a humorous touch, and writes exceptionally amusing books that are fun to read. Not that I don't like those things, but I would love to see a more "serious" book from Mr. Gutman, because he would write one that would make teachers AND students happy.

Renovation note: Have everything but fiction packed up, and figure there are about 300 boxes of that to do. Then it's moving everything to the cafeteria. It's going well.


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