Henry Aaron’s Dream
By Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press,Boston, 2010, $16.99)
Behind every great athlete – behind any success – is a dream. Without that yearning, the shoes and statistics mean nothing. In Henry Aaron’s Dream, writer and illustrator Matt Tavares explores baseball legend Hank Aaron’s path to the big leagues. Growing up African American inAlabama in the 1930s and 40s, Aaron faced poverty and segregation. His family couldn’t afford a baseball or bat, so the young batter improvised with broom handles and tin cans. But that didn’t daunt Aaron. He practiced diligently, progressing from the sandlot to the Negro Leagues to the minors and, finally, the majors.
Although Aaron won accolades and set records in the big leagues, Henry Aaron’s Dream focuses on his rise to the majors and the obstacles he faced. Tavares doesn’t shield readers from the nastiness of bigotry: he enumerates the abuse Aaron and other black players endured at the hands of white fans and fellow athletes. And although the book chronicles an individual’s career, Tavares discusses Aaron’s rise within the context of other African-Americans’ experiences. Of Aaron’s teammates in the Negro Leagues, Tavares writes, “Back when they were Henry’s age, they used to dream of making it to the major leagues, but…it was already too late for them. Big-league teams just weren’t looking for thirty-five-year-old rookies from the Negro Leagues.” Aaron’s triumph becomes all the more remarkable – and poignant.
Tavares’ illustrations play with perspective, adding dimension and nuance to the text. To show how Aaron tried to ignore the racism he encountered and focus on the game, Tavares provides a close-up of Aaron hitting the ball: the edge of the bat is out of the frame. In the background, the spectators’ faces are blurred. Readers can almost hear the crack of the bat. When segregation confines Aaron and two minor league teammates in a restaurant kitchen while the rest of the team enjoys a celebratory dinner, Tavares shows the three athletes joking with the kitchen staff. Circumstances were far from ideal, but Aaron made the best of them.
Henry Aaron’s Dream explores the hurt prejudice inflicts even while it invites kids to hold fast to the dreams. The biography also reminds readers that sports are not about records or salaries or outsize personalities, but boys and girls and their aspirations.
Dorothy A. Dahm