By Courtney Runn
One of the best ways to engage children in reading is to share books about topics they’re interested in. When kids are excited to cheer on their favorite players or love to play sports themselves, books by and about athletes are ideal to capture their attention.
Like all sports, baseball offers countless life lessons about teamwork, discipline, perseverance, and having fun. Plus, its history will spark important conversations with your kids about racism and equity in sports. There’s no need to wait for Opening Day to read up on baseball’s heroes and legendary moments. We’ve curated 20 picture books that are sure to score a home run for the little baseball fans in your life all year long.
This Kirkus-starred book follows the story of Pumpsie Green, the first black player for the Boston Red Sox, through the eyes of one of his young fans. It’s 1959 and Bernard doesn’t understand why his favorite team won’t hire a black player—12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in baseball. He keeps going to game after game with his family, hoping the Sox will bring in Green, and witnesses history when they finally do. With beautiful illustrations by the award-winning London Ladd, this story explores the slow racial integration of baseball and introduces young readers to an important figure in the history of the sport.
Before Jackie Robinson was a barrier-breaking baseball legend, he was a successful college athlete and soldier in WWII. In The United States v. Jackie Robinson, learn about the lesser-known history of Robinson and the discrimination he faced in the army that would later shape his historic baseball career.
Related: For a sweet book about persevering even when you strike out—literally and figuratively—check out Luke Goes to Bat by Rachel Isadora. Luke never gets picked to play by the neighborhood boys, but he’s inspired to keep practicing after watching his hero Jackie Robinson hit a homerun at Ebbets Field.
Introduce your little ones to the extraordinary true story of Effa Manley, who proved that women very much have a place in pro baseball. In 1935, she and her husband started a Negro National League team. As the Major Leagues started recruiting black players, Manley took on the role of activist in addition to team owner, ensuring that black leagues got paid for their players and convincing the National Baseball Hall of Fame to include Negro League players. In 2006, she posthumously became the first—and only—woman inducted into the hall of fame for her civil rights work and love for the game.
Related: To learn about another game-changing woman in baseball, don’t miss Audrey Vernick’s picture book, The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton.
Winner of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Author Award and the 2009 Sibert Medal, We Are the Ship is a powerful celebration of the Negro Major Leagues, formed in the late 1800s when black players were not allowed to play in the all-white Major Leagues. Paired with gorgeous oil paintings, this story explores the history of these leagues and their eventual end when the major leagues integrated. At 96 pages, this book is best suited for older readers or as a slower read over multiple sittings with younger children.
When the sun goes down, the bats come out to play! This creative, rhyming story follows a team of baseball-playing bats. Instead of cracker jacks, fans munch on cricket jacks and watch the game hanging from their toes upside-down. Your kids will love singing along with the bats, Oh hang me up in the rafters, hang me up by my toes! to the tune of the beloved “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Willie dreams of being a baseball player, but in 1942 in Chicago, he doesn’t see anyone that looks like him playing in the Major Leagues. He’s discouraged to learn black players aren’t allowed to play, until he witnesses an exhibition game between the Negro League and the Major League All-Stars at Wrigley Field. The Kirkus-starred story is beautifully illustrated and offers a hopeful, victorious tale for young readers.
The William Hoy Story shares the moving story of one of baseball’s lesser-known stars from the late 1800s. Deaf from a young age, William Hoy was rejected from his high school baseball team but kept practicing on his own. He eventually was recruited to play in the Major Leagues, where he broke records, won over the hearts of stadiums full of fans, and fought against discrimination. This powerful story is a great way to discuss following your dreams and the importance of treating people with kindness.
This charming picture book explores the differences between American and Japanese baseball. Follow a little boy as he eats stadium hot dogs and peanuts with his American “pop pop,” then cheers on his favorite Japanese team while snacking on soba noodles and edamame with his “ji ji” at the local baseball dome. Each page mirrors the other, letting readers see the cultural differences between the two countries and their shared passion for baseball.
In this love letter to the game of baseball, the sport embodies the best qualities of America. With the repeated phrase, “Baseball is…,” Louise Borden takes her readers on a patriotic journey through the greatest players and moments of baseball history, as well as a lesson on all lingo and rules of the game. Aspiring baseball players—and their parents!—will enjoy returning to the vibrant illustrations and poetic verses.
Growing up on the Penobscot reservation, Louis Sockalexis dreamed of playing in the Major Leagues, but in the 1880s, only white players were able to play. Though facing racism from fans and pressure from his own family at home, Sockalexis achieved his goals when he joined the Cleveland Spiders in 1897. He’s believed to be one of the first Native American professional baseball players and a significant figure in breaking baseball barriers.
In another historical baseball read from Audrey Vernick, The Funniest Man in Baseball follows the true story of Max Patkin, a pitcher-turned-baseball-clown. After getting injured, Patkin could no longer fulfill his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Instead, he was recruited to perform comedic routines where he mimicked players and entertained the crowds. He went on to perform at more than 4,000 games over the span of five decades, witnessing some of the greatest baseball moments of the 20th century. While lighthearted and silly, this book also shares the important message that sometimes dreams change or don’t work out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful new dream!
Even the most reluctant reader will enjoy practicing their ABCs with this book. From “At bat” to “Zone,” sports fans will appreciate this thorough listing of the must-know terms and players in baseball. Each letter includes multiple words, making it a longer read to slowly work through with younger readers.
This award-winning picture book shares the powerful story of baseball in Japanese American internment camps during WWII. To cope with the brutal treatment and conditions of internment, families created their own baseball uniforms, field, and team. This moving story is an age-appropriate way to discuss the U.S. government’s treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor with your kids and introduce them to a lesser-known baseball story.
Related: Learn more about the man responsible for this creative makeshift baseball team, Kenichi Zenimura, in Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss. Before he was incarcerated during the war, Zenimura played in Japanese American baseball leagues and is known as “The Father of Japanese American Baseball.”
Joy for the game of baseball shines through this history of Ted Williams, one of the most accomplished players of his time. From his quick rise to fame to his two stints with the Air Force during WWII and the Korean War, the book recounts the great successes and big sacrifices Williams made throughout his life. In the author’s note in the back, Matt Tavares also highlights the less praiseworthy aspects of Williams, like his contentious relationship with the press and his quick temper, offering an important lesson on acknowledging faults and strengths.
Learn about the legendary Yogi Berra in this picture-book biography of the player’s life. The book highlights the bullying Berra faced about his appearance and his persevering attitude, which provides a great opportunity to talk to your kids both about not judging others and about how to respond to bullies.
Follow Huey as he searches for his lost ticket to see the hometown Seattle Rainiers play. He crisscrosses town, checking all the local shops he’d visited that week: the Italian bakery, the Japanese fish market, the neighborhood barber shop. This charming book celebrates cheering on your home team and the value of community.
Brother and Sister Bear decide to branch out from their neighborhood baseball games to try out for a local league. They practice and practice and practice for tryouts, then have to wait for the results. They both end up making the team, but along the way they learn the importance of trying new things, practicing hard, and being patient. Parents can also learn a thing or two from Papa and Mama Bear about not getting overly competitive!
Do you have any science lovers in your home? They’ll adore this inventive story that combines baseball and science. Told in a playful rhyme scheme, this story shares the tale of Randy Riley, a little boy who’s not so good at baseball but has a creative imagination and lots of questions about outer space. When a fireball is on track to hit his town, Randy saves the day with his baseball-playing robot.
Read more: If your kids are inspired by reading about athletes, try our list of books by and about Olympians for more fun reads.
What are your favorite sports reads for kids?
Courtney Runn is a writer based in Austin, Texas.