Monday, January 28, 2008

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow
James Sturm & Rich Tommaso
Hyperion, 2007

First of all, I must confess my ignorance when it comes to graphic novels. I do recognize their importance but I don’t have much experience with them (I hope to change that this year). It has also been almost twenty years since library school and what I don’t remember about analyzing illustrations would fill volumes. That said, I must start somewhere and this book was a wonderful introduction.

I orginally thought this would be a graphic biography of Satchel Paige but it isn’t. It’s more of a period piece, told from the viewipoint of a sharecropper who once got a hit off of Paige in a Negro League baseball game. Injured sliding home, he is forced to return to sharecropping and all of the horrors of the age of segregation. Although he wants better for his son (Emmet Jr), he is eventually forced to put him in the fields picking cotton. He never talks about his baseball career – he is a worn-down man. But when Satchel Paige’s All-Stars come to town to play the Tuckwilla All-Stars, he takes his Emmet Jr. to the game. His landowners, Mr. William and Mr. Wallace are on the Tuckwilla team. Satchel Paige doesn’t show up until the 8th inning, but when he does he shows why he is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and inspires Emmet to share his past with his son and have some hope for the future.

Notice I haven’t said much about the pictures. This is a graphic novel so some comment about the pictures is necessary, but this is where my ignorance comes into play. I liked the pictures. I think they did a great job of illustrating the action. They are vital to understanding the plot. I just don’t know if I know enough about critiquing illustrations to have a valid opinion. I can talk about one illustration that I did particularly like. When Emmet is forced to put his son in the cotton field with him, there is a two-page spread of the two of them surrounded by cotton with no end in sight, in essence drowning in what was just a new form of slavery for many African Americans in the early twentieth century. It’s easy to see how Satchel Paige was such a hero to the African American community in this time of opression.

This book moved me greatly. It is an incredible snapshot of African-American life in the South in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s going to be a wonderful tool for the classroom.

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