Sturm, J. & Tommaso, R. (2007). Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow. New York: Hyperion/Jump at the Sun.
Age/Grade Level: Grades 5-8
Category: graphic novel; comic book; Sports – baseball
My Annotation: The fascinating story of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, an African-American baseball player who, despite being segregated due to Jim Crow laws, rose to fame as a superior athlete and one of Major League Baseball’s best pitchers.
My Review: Presented by The Center for Cartoon Studies, this enlightening sports biography in graphic novel form is told from the point-of-view of a black sharecropper named Emmet Wilson. Quite the ballplayer himself, Wilson is fortunate enough, and very proud of the fact, to have gotten a hit off of one of the fastest and toughest pitchers ever to play the game, Satchel Paige. Unfortuately, Wilson gets a career-ending injury while sliding into home plate. Paige’s story, as well as life in the segregated South in the 1940s, is beautifully, accurately (and perhaps shockingly) explained to the reader through artwork of great detail, sending powerful messages about the history of race relations. For example, the black, white, and pale greenish-brown colored illustrations evoke a period of time when life moved at a slower pace and, during the dog days of summer, America’s Favorite Pasttime was the only escape from the heat and oppression. Of course, not everyone “escaped” in the same manner, and Sturm and Tommaso’s incredible depictions of beatings and lynchings, name calling and prejudice forces the reader to acknowledge the harsh and cruel customs of the times.
During the sequence of plays of the baseball games, the authors make great use of simile to portray the heightened emotions of various players and events. For example, when Wilson comes up to bat to face Paige, he describes the pitch of the baseball: “Looks like an aspirin tablet streakin’ across the plate”. After getting on base, the next batter bunts to bring Wilson around. As he rounds third base, intending to slide into home to score a run, he claims, “Home plate is callin’ me like a swollen holler”. Wilson also describes the catcher blocking the plate as “Perkins, thick and heavy as a plow mule, holdin’ that ball tight”.
The themes of the story, particularly discrimation and racism, lend themselves to in-depth discussions for students of all ages. In the back of the book, the authors include commentaries about specific panels for further reflection. From the history of the Golden Age of the railroad to baseball rituals to the role of the church, this entertaining, yet thought-provoking novel can be a useful tool to aid in a Social Studies or History curriculum.
Author/Illustrator Website: http://www.cartoonstudies.org/index.php/2005/09/01/james-sturm/