Wednesday, October 6, 2010

3. Bats at the Ballgame

Written and illustrated by Brian Lies
$16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages

Anxious fans are hanging from stands in Lies's delightful followup to the best-selling Bats at the Library and Bats at the Beach.

Award-winning Lies reprises his wildly popular storyline about the escapades of bats who sneak into popular places after people go to sleep, this time with a tale about bats who swing on the wing.

Furry bats with leathery wings and pointy ears take flight to the ball park for a match against a rival team that's beaten them in every game and try to squeak in a win as the sun edges up the horizon.

As the story opens, some of the bats are waiting on tip-toe in their attic roost, their claws in mitts and caps on heads. They peer over a slat in the roof's vent and wish, just this once, they could push down the sun so night would come faster.

"Restless wings begin to itch -- / excitement's at a fever pitch," Lies writes in perfect rhyme, and at last it's time to soar to the stadium -- some of the bats to play ball, others to hang upside down from a tent's frame.

As the bats swoop under a red-and-white canopy, they're awed by the brightness of the field, as floodlights turn night to day, and they pass over a fence banner touting garlic flies and gnatwurst.

With no darkness to waste, flying vendors dive by fans, selling mothdogs and Cricket Jack candy, while on the field, ground crews roll out field lines with a shaker can of powdered sugar, and rake mounds and runs with forks.

Then silence descends as two bats in red uniforms fly in the U.S. flag. A bat in a fur-trimmed purple vest belts out an anthem song as a tiny long-earred bat to the side missteps and belts out a deafening note from his tuba.

Right away the umpires call, "Play ball," and the stadium takes on a magical feel, as excited bats zip across the field with abandon.

But as one batter after another is struck out, the laughter doesn't last. By the sixth inning, the score board is nothing but zeroes.

Come the seventh, thing seem to pick up, but then the other team slides home and its 0-1. Next, one of their players hits a pop fly off-field and fans' hearts leap. "The batter swings, it's going foul -- / we reach…and catch the ball!"

As the seventh inning stretch arrives, fans hanging from the tent top muster up their support and chatter out their version of the baseball anthem. Under them, bat crew fly by with verses written on banners:

"Ohh…hang me up in the rafters! Hang me up by the toes! Buy me some beenuts and Cricket Jack,…"

As the song ends, the game resumes. A batter swings. But once again the team is getting nowhere. Up in the stands, a grandbat talks to his grandson curled under his wing about better games and heroes past.

Then suddenly his reverie is broken by the crack of a bat. The ball is smacked so hard the cover rips off mid-air. A moment later one of their players flies into home base (a sugar packet), but it's a close one and the umpire rules, "Out!"

Fans are irate, but the game must go on as their team heads into the final out. "It's two bats down and one on first, / and fans are full of doubt. / He swings -- connects -- and bloops to left, / and there the flyers go!"

Oh no, the ball has hit a pole, but wait, it's ricocheting to center field into a hole!

Joyful rhymes and hilarious puns will have readers throwing up their arms in victory and wanting to go back to the beginning to read the game all over again.

You might think by the third book, Lies would be out of clever rhymes, but this one is a delight and will inspire your reader to want to go gung ho about something too.

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