The Aurora County All-Stars -- Deborah Wiles
Twelve-year-old House Jackson is the Aurora County All-Stars' star pitcher. He's also their only pitcher. So when Frances Schotz broke his elbow before the big -- and only -- game last year, it was a big deal. Not just for him, but for the whole team.
This year is going to be different. His elbow is healed, and he's ready. The team is ready.
Except for one thing. The Aurora County 200th anniversary pageant is scheduled for the same day, and all of the Mamas in town are hell-bent on seeing their kids perform in it, whether the kids want to or not. The be-sequined and be-glittered Finesse has been given the job of directing it:
"Who is she?" whispered Melba's little sister Violet.
Ruby* popped her gum. "She used to be Frances Schotz." The bubble collapsed on Ruby's nose. "She went off to boarding school last year, took too much French and drama, and turned into Marie Antoinette. Where's the guillotine?"
"I think she's amazing," sighed Melba.
"You would," said Ruby. She rubbed pink off her nose.
Remember back when I said "Except for one thing" all ominous-like? Yeah. Actually, there's another thing. For the last year, while his elbow healed, House Jackson had been secretly visiting the elderly Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd -- the man that the other kids in town are convinced is a baby-eater, the man that they all call Mean-Man Boyd.
On page one, Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd dies.
In The Aurora County All-Stars, we get stories about Sandy Koufax and Pee-Wee Reese, as well as a plethora of baseball quotes and a good amount of poetry by Walt Whitman. We're introduced to a dog named Eudora Welty and characters named Parting Schotz and Wilkie Collins. And it all works. In someone else's hands, it probably wouldn't have, but Deborah Wiles has done it again, folks. It's seamless. Baseball and Walt Whitman and friendship and family and history and yes, it made me cry. Not in a full-on sobbing-so-much-it-hurts** way, but in a pleasant, I-love-baseball-stories and I-love-the-people-in-Aurora-County sort of way.
House Jackson is most definitely a young man worth not just meeting, but getting to know.
Oh, and I'd like to commend Harcourt for doing something that other publishers seem to have a hard time doing -- for finding the right person to do the cover art, and for sticking with that same artist for the whole series***. Marla Frazee is such a fantastically perfect fit for the Aurora County stories that it makes me almost delirious when I look at the three books sitting together on the shelf.
*That's right, Ruby Lavender fans -- Ruby's in this one, and she plays a significant role. (Comfort Snowberger makes an appearance, too.)
**Unlike Each Little Bird, which, A YEAR AFTER READING IT, had me in tears again, because I made the mistake of describing it to a friend. Yes, I have problems.
***In hardback format, anyway. I'm not sure what's up with the paperbacks.