Archive for April 24, 2012

Celebrating 4 Years of Bloggy Goodness: Fathers & Sons & Baseball

I posted this back on July 10, 2008 — before I knew how to insert photos.


Fathers and sons and baseball. You can almost hear the violins, the sap rising from the roots. It’s a tired cliche, of course, but that doesn’t render the dynamic meaningless.

My father, ten years before I came along, with Neal or Billy.

My father wasn’t a sports guy; I can’t remember him ever turning on the television to watch a game of any sort. Hey, I can’t remember having catch with him. But I had four older brothers, and my baseball-loving mom, and a dozen kids on the block for that. Dad was Old School. I think of him as more CEO/CFO in Charge of Household as opposed to today’s helicopter-style parent, forever hovering, eager to bond and share and become best buddies. That wasn’t my father’s way.

So, basically, I played Little League and my father did other things. And I want to make this clear: It was perfectly okay. But one year, when I was ten years old and playing for the Cardinals — astonishingly vivid memories of those games — somehow my father got roped in as a coach. He didn’t know a blessed thing about baseball. Didn’t care to know. The manager, hard-nosed Larry Bassett, taught my father how to keep the scorebook and I’m fairly certain that was the full extent of his usefulness.

I found it embarrassing. Not horribly so, but it felt odd to see my father on the ballfield, clueless and unathletic. What did the other boys think? It was 1971 and my dad was painfully uncool. I loved baseball deeply, passionately. In that sense, we lived on separate planets. Of course now, years later, I see it from a different perspective. And it boils down to this: He was there. As a parent, isn’t that 98% of the job? Just showing up, day after day. Being there. My father is gone now, died almost two years ago, fell on the front lawn and never got back up. Maybe that makes you (me) appreciate those times, those presences, all the more. For he will never “be there” again.

He never read Six Innings, either. If he did, I would have told my father that I loosely modeled a character after him, Mr. Lionni, Alex’s dad, right down to the thick-framed glasses and questionable attire, the black socks, brown loafers and shorts. There’s a scene when Mr. Lionni takes his baseball-loving son, Alex, for extra batting practice. That scene sprang directly from my childhood; I remember the one and only time my father pitched batting practice to me — awkwardly, poorly, like he was hurling foreign objects. But I was struggling with the bat, the same as Alex in my book, and that man, the father, tried to help the best he could.

In Six Innings, it’s a minor scene (pp. 56-58), just a little backstory about one of the boys on the team. But for me, it resonates across the years, like an echo across a vast canyon. My dad and baseball. Our moments together on the diamond, a burnished memory, glowing like hot coals almost forty years hence. He was there. I didn’t appreciate it then, though I certainly recognized the uniqueness of the event; I was just a boy. But that’s what writing gives us, the opportunity to revisit, revalue, remember in the root meaning of the word — to re-member, to make whole again, to bring those disparate things together. Me and Dad and baseball.

Postscript: Oh, yeah, about the name Lionni. That’s another tribute to a great children’s book author by the name of Leo. Someday I should put together a full roster. I see James Marshall manning the Hot Corner, nimble and loose; Maurice Sendak on the hill, strong-armed and determined; maybe sure-handed Bernard Waber over at second base . . .

Old Posts Revisited: A Celebration of Four Full Years of Bloggy Goodness

I’ve been so overwhelmed lately, visiting far-flung schools, working hard on my “Shivers” project, all while fighting “flu-like symptoms” for the past ten days.

Anyway, part of my blogging experience has always been one of talking to myself in the dark. I’m never sure that anyone much cares. But, okay, so be it. Now that this blog is nearing the completion of its fourth full year, I thought I’d give myself a break by reposting a few of old favorites that newer readers might have missed.

It’s not abject laziness, it’s a celebration, people!

This one is from November, 2008 . . .


Found this quote by Katherine Paterson, mentioned on the blog Revision Notes, by Darcy Pattison:

I was writing — learning and growing along with the children — until eventually I was writing fiction worthy of publication. It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

I remember reading Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Great book, and a fascinating look into the glory days of Old School children’s publishing, comprised of remarkable letters to Sendak, Wilder, Steptoe, Krauss, Brown, and many more.

Nordstrom was the editorial director of Harper’s “Department of Books for Boys and Girls,” 1940 to 1973, and her fingerprints are on such books as Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web, The Giving Tree, William’s DollThe Carrot Seed, and Harriet the Spy.

Anyway, one of the things I remember from that book is that she advised her writers against having children! Too distracting! The little ones would get in the way of the work. And, yes, Nordstrom, without children of her own, was absolutely right — and utterly wrong.

I think to write — and write well — is to go deep into yourself. It requires commitment. Time, energy, space (physical and mental). But like Patterson says, isn’t it nice when real life intervenes? Somebody scrapes a knee, competes in a swim meet, maybe needs a talking-to or a lift to a friend’s. That joyful noise pulls you away from the work, a distraction and an interruption, and yet feeds it, sustains it, motivates it, makes it all worthwhle. Every minute.

Again, that beautiful line:

I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

Caine’s Arcade: Worth Ten Minutes of Your Life

There’s no getting around it. This film is nearly eleven minutes long.

And in web surfing time, that’s like three years.

But, but, but.

This short film is brilliant and beautiful, artfully done, and it will hit you right in the heart, while restoring some of your faith in humanity. For ten minutes of your time, I vote YES.

“I got a fun pass.”

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Fan Mail Wednesday #148: Wake Me In Spring

Hello James,

I was wondering if you have a sequel to Wake Me In Spring. I think it would be a great book idea! I teach preschool to children with autism and they love this book. They ask me to read it everyday. It’s Spring, I think Bear needs to wake up!!! LOL.



I replied:


I totally agree with you. I tried, really tried, to sell that idea to my publisher at that time, Scholastic. My editor was not at all interested in a sequel, however. The book sold more than one million copies, but she just didn’t want to see a follow-up. I wrote a couple of stories that I liked, but it was a losing battle. Those old manuscripts are lost somewhere, I suppose.

It’s a crazy business, endlessly disappointing, and I don’t claim to understand it. I just hope they keep the book in print.

Thanks for your kind words. I’m very proud of that little story — I think it has heart — and young readers still enjoy hearing it aloud on school visits. And I still love to share it with them.


Happy Easter . . . I Think

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