CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006
The latest book in the KCP Poetry “Visions in Poetry” series is Thayer’s classic baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat.” The story of the struggling Mudville Nine is generally well known. They find themselves in the predicament of being down two-four, with two outs. Fortunately, they have a runner at second base and another at third. Everything rests upon the shoulders of Casey—Mighty Casey—who, with one powerful swing, can steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Casey at the Bat is the fourth book in the “Visions in Poetry” series. Jabberwocky, The Highwayman, and The Lady of Shalott were all superbly presented, but with Casey at the Bat, Kids Can Press has achieved an even higher standard. Joe Morse’s oil and acrylic illustrations bring a gritty, hard-edged, realism to the otherwise playful, light-hearted tale. Previously, the best of the illustrated versions of Casey at the Bat was Christopher Bing’s 2001 Caldecott honour book. Like most illustrated versions of the poem, however, Bing retained the traditional 19th Century feel of the poem—after all, it is subtitled, A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888. By painting illustrations that situate events in a 21st Century urban setting, Morse provides an avenue of access for a new audience for the poem. The multi-racial, inner city combatants, contesting at the feet of graffiti-stained high-rise apartment buildings, will attract many adolescent readers, many of whom might otherwise scorn century-old poetry.
Morse has created characters with whom today’s young readers can identify. One of the most interested spectators cheering for the Mudville Nine is a young woman in tight tank top and jeans, her midriff showing. Her tattooed arm bears the initials “KC.” We might safely assume that her heart beats for Casey in ways even more intense than most of the passionate crowd of on-lookers.
The sombre, proud, muscular figure of Casey, clan in jeans and t-shirt and with baseball cap turned backwards, is a hero-figure for the new century. Not for him the pin stripes and hoop socks of the baseball players of yesteryear—not to mention a forward facing peaked cap!
Kids Can Press is to be applauded for what they have achieved thus far. They are breathing new life into traditional poems and sharing those poems with a completely new audience. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
Congratulations on a wonderful job. Unlike Mighty Casey, this book is guaranteed not to strike out.
Gregory Bryan specializes in literacy education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.