________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008


Swinging for the Fences: Hank Aaron and Me.

Mike Leonetti. Illustrated by David Kim.
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
ISBN 978-0-8118-5662-1.

Subject Headings:
Aaron, Hank, 1934- -Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

***½ /4


In his first at bat of the season, Hank cranked out a three-run homer. He had tied the Babe's record! I hoped Hank wouldn't hit another home run until the Braves were back home Monday night. Dad and I had tickets to that game, and I wanted to see him break the Babe's record in person.


On August 7th, 2007, baseball slugger Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time career home run record. Amongst the wild celebrations that ensued at the breaking of the record that Aaron had held for over 30 years, one of the most poignant moments came when officials at the game played a videotaped message of congratulations from Aaron to Bonds. "It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity, and determination," Aaron said. Although Bonds is now the home run king, Aaron's humble and magnanimous congratulations served as a reminded of why, for many, Hank Aaron will always remain a king of baseball, a king of sport and, indeed, a king of class.

     It is that sense of Aaron's class, or refinement, that most shines through in Mike Leonetti and David Kim's new picture book, Swinging for the Fences: Hank Aaron and Me. Although the contextual setting for the book is Hank Aaron's own run to break Babe Ruth's home run record, the story focuses as much on portraying Aaron's human qualities as it does on his baseball excellence. Told in the first person from the perspective of pre-teen boy, Mark, Swinging for the Fences builds to the April 8th, 1974, climax when Mark and his father are fortunate enough to be in the stands when Aaron clears the fence for home run #715. Prior to Aaron's breaking the record, Mark has been fortunate enough to meet him. The baseball champion's advice to the young fan is that Mark should listen to his coach and remember to play for the benefit of the team, rather than dream only of hitting spectacular home runs.

     Illustrated with acrylic on illustration board, the heavily textured paintings prove a wonderful complement to the Leonetti text. As with the text, Kim's illustrations are detailed and dramatic. The facial features of the illustrated characters reflect the range of emotions spawned by sport contests and sporting heroes. Note the bashful excitement evident on Mark's face when he gets to meet his hero, the excitement Mark feels when he receives a letter from Aaron, the awe with which Mark gazes upon Aaron's baseball trading card, and Mark's despair at striking out playing for his local Little League team. Sport does so much for us but also so much to us. Kim's artwork captures the emotional gamut that we experience in playing and following sport.

internal art

     The book's paintings also provide an interesting contrast between the packed Major League stadiums and the sparsely populated bleachers of Mark's junior league. Despite the difference in spectator drawing power, Leonetti's skilful writing helps the reader to recognise that, for Mark, success against Little League pitchers is every bit as important as was success for Hank Aaron against the best opponents of the Major League.

     For those eager to know more about Hank Aaron, at book's end, two pages of additional text provide details about Aaron's life and baseball career. A further two pages provide a list of resources and references for those keen to learn even more about one of baseball's all-time greats. These additional pages add to the educative value of the book. The extra pages will make for an ideal starting point for young sports enthusiasts required to complete a school biography writing assignment.

     Swinging for the Fences: Hank Aaron and Me provides an interesting blend of sport, historical fiction and biography. Baseball fans are sure to enjoy this skillfully written, well-illustrated book.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he teaches children's literature at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.