Batter up! Baseball is in full swing. Isn’t it high time for big, beautiful picture book with a giant helping of Americana? All Star: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever (2010) is written by Jane Yolen and illustrated with Jim Burke’s intensively-researched paintings. The inside flaps are decorated with memorabilia including the Honus Wagner card that sold in 2007 for almost three million dollars.
Yolen is known for her hundreds of books. In this title, Yolen performs a marvelous feat, condensing his life from being born into a poor German immigrant family in Pennsylvania, working in the coal mines, and then making his way into pro baseball, all in just a few hundred words. Yolen’s prose is super-efficient, dense with meaning, like a poem.
Even though he had a big nose and large head, his parents thought their fourth son was gorgeous. His hometown had dark skies from the steel and iron mills. At age 12 Honus was loading two tons of coal a day for seventy-nine cents a day. He worked six days a week, but fortunately he was off on Sunday and could play baseball. We read about his eventual rise into the greatest of shortstops, “with legs like hunting bows”.
Honus Wagner loved kids and didn’t want them using tobacco, so his cards were taken off the market. Ironically the card’s rarity makes it valuable and helps Wagner be remembered.
All Star is a compelling look at this athlete who was at his peak a century ago. But Yolen and Burke make Wagner much more than a face on an ancient baseball card. So dust off your mitt and give old Honus a look.