You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! – by Jonah Winter, Illustrated by Andre Carrilho

Children’s book are always fun for me to read – partially because they give my brain a needed rest, but more importantly because we need to keep the younger generations connected to the game to make sure they’re made aware of what a great game baseball is and will be fans for life.

Hitting stores this past Tuesday is You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Andre Carrilho, a book that I’m told is geared towards children ages 4-9.

One of the ways I try and judge children’s books is by how good they sound out loud, and that’s where I started to sense that I might not like this one.

First, the text of the book seems a bit advanced for 4-9 year olds. Now I know that kids are getting smarter and smarter all the time – I know 5 year olds that can text message for crying out loud – but this seems like it would be lost on a lot of kids.

To get a different opinion on the matter, I asked my girlfriend to read the book – she works with kids of all ages at a local tutoring center, and she concurred that the book would be geared to a bit older of an audience, maybe 9-11 year olds.

If anything, I consider that a credit to Jonah Winter, who has authored several other children’s books, including three other baseball-related titles. The book doesn’t read particularly well in my opinion, which isn’t a bad thing – it just means it’s not necessarily geared to the younger set.

Told from the position of someone within the Dodger organization, although that person is never named, the story is a basic look at Koufax’s early life and his yearswith the Dodgers, including his wild period before he became dominant, eventually moving onto his peak years and early retirement. Something that got a significant amount of attention in the book, to the point I think its worth mentioning is that Koufax was Jewish. Koufax was certainly known for being Jewish, even missing a start in the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holy day on which work was prohibited. While I certainly welcome religion into the discussion, I do wonder if it’s something that most children would appreciate.

The book also brings in a good amount of statistics, which makes me think the target demo should be a bit older. When a children’s book credits, as well as providing a glossary of baseball terms, I’m inclined to think that its readers should be a smidge older than 4-9.

The illustrations by Andre Carrilho are absolutely stunning – it made me think immediately of Kadir Nelson’s We Are The Ship, which I reviewed a while back and found to be absolutely amazing, and one of my favorite books of 2008.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! would make a good book for most adolescent baseball fans, probably in the 9-12 age range, and could be a great tool to foster discussion about some of baseball’s greatest players. It’s not quite as strong as I thought it might be, but it does have some good things going for it, including gorgeous illustrations and the ability to help transition younger fans into more knowledgable students of the game.

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