Wednesday, January 26, 2011

5. The Boys

Written and Illustrated by Jeff Newman
$15.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

A new boy in town longs to join a game of baseball, but is too guarded to ask if he can play until four old guys coax him out of his shell.

Wordless except for days of the week announced every few pages, this hilarious story is about wanting to fit in, but not knowing how.

As the story begins, it's Tuesday and the little boy in a red cap has just moved into his house and is eager to find a game of baseball.

He's got his glove, bat, even a ball. Now he just needs a field of kids.

But when he gets to the neighborhood park and sees a game underway, he freezes up, feeling too self-conscious to ask if he can join in.

With his cap low over his face and his bat dragging behind, the boy slumps off to a park bench, where four old guys are whiling away the day.

One man sits with his hands crossed, another holds a book in his lap, and one particularly gruff-looking one, tosses bread crumbs to pigeons.

Though not a "hello" is spoken, the boy returns to the bench the next day.

He's now donned regular clothes and he carries a loaf of bread for the pigeons.

The old guys look stumped as the steal sidelong glances at him. One points at the boy nonchalantly, another shrugs his shoulders and the grumpy one grimaces.

On Thursday, the boy is back again, but now his hair is slicked back with pomade, and he's wearing plaid pink pants and a red bow tie.

But the old guys aren't so happy with what they see.

Two of them exchange uneasy glances. One in big black glasses just stares and the grumpy one gives the boy a scowl, as he rests his head heavily in his hands.

When Friday comes along, the boy is back, this time hobbling in with a cane and with wire glasses low on his nose. On his head is a big brown derby hat.

But the bench is bare.

You can almost hear the boy sigh as he plops down on the bench and drops his chin in his hand, as if to say to himself that even the old folks don't want him.

As the boy is stewing about, a nut clocks him on the head. He turns to see who threw it and sees the old guys ripping around the playground.

The little man in black glasses is bounding back and forth on a spring-held seahorse, another is flying down the slide and one is hanging from monkey bars.

The grumpy man still doesn't join in, but he stares at the boy, as if daring him to join in. Instead, the boy just looks at them, his mouth gaping with surprise.

On Saturday when he gets to the bench, the boy finds a bicycle waiting for him and soon the old guys are whipping past him on scooters and bikes.

But the boy is stubborn and shakes a stick at them for disturbing his peace.

By Sunday, the boy is beside himself. He feels like the old guys have abandoned him. But why have they left a bat and helmet on the bench beside him?

Clever and funny, yet striking a chord, the story shows how painful it is being on the outside looking in, and how important it is to reach out to others.

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