“There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!” Raise your hand if you can name that movie… That’s what I thought! Tons of people know A League of Their Own. Unfortunately, not nearly as many people know much at all about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (aside from what they may have learned from A League of Their Own). Fortunately for me and for my students and children, my wonderful dad (who was my baseball coach when I was little and played baseball with the boys for years…) bought me Players in Pigtails, written by Shana Corey and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, my first year teaching. Fifteen years later, I’m thrilled to say that I still love this book and am so glad to be able to teach my girls about both a time in history when girls weren’t allowed to play baseball AND the strength girls can have to break gender stereotypes and accomplish great things athletically.
Players in Pigtails is a fictionalized story of a girl named Katie who loved baseball, but didn’t love the things girls in the early 1940s were supposed to love, such as cooking, sewing, and ballet. Katie even attempted to try out for her high school’s baseball team, but she was never given a chance to play. That is, until World War II left baseball teams in need of players. The refrain “What good is baseball to a girl?” is repeated throughout this story, and Katie and her baseball-loving girlfriends rise to the challenge, showing America just how good girls can be at baseball! We root for Katie as she overcomes odds and finds a way to do what she loves, and we cheer as the book ends with the story of her first baseball game. Corey includes an “Author’s Note” with information about her inspiration for this book (spoiler alert, it was A League of Their Own) and more information about the history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).
The illustrations and design of this book are also delightful. My copy lost its dust jacket long ago, but the hard cover itself features wonderful images of girls playing baseball. Gibbon’s illustrations, done in watercolor and pencil, are soft and accessible but still colorful and bright. The endpapers include lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Victory Song” (the anthem of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League). And did you notice the copyright page, with the copyright information in the shape of a baseball diamond?
The characters in this book admittedly lack diversity, but the girls in this league reflect the historically accurate lack of diversity in the AAGPBL in 1943 (remembering that Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play professional baseball in the modern era in 1947…). Along with many other historical teaching points found in this story and illustrations (World War II, a draft notice, President Roosevelt, a home economics class, expectations of what girls “should be” and should be interested in, and many many more!), this lack of diversity serves as a great launching point for conversations about racial inclusion in our history. Corey manages to draw readers in with a relatable and enjoyable story, but also invites so many wonderful conversations about history. Young readers will learn so much without realizing it!
Also of note– Corey’s fictional main character is named Katie Casey. Did you know that there are 3 verses total to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game?” And that the one we all know and sing is the second verse. The first and third refer to Katie Casey, a girl who was “baseball mad” and asked her date to take her to a baseball game instead of a movie!
Did you love to play baseball or softball as a girl? Do you have a daughter who loves to hit and throw a ball? Are you a classroom teacher looking to expand your students’ understanding of history, sports, and gender roles in sports? Did you even know that at one point in time, there was a professional baseball league just for women? Players in Pigtails, by Shana Corey and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, may be the perfect addition to your library!
If you liked this, check out:
Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick
Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story by Emily Arnold McCully
PS– Players in Pigtails will definitely be on my “90 Picture Books for 90 Days of Summer” list, which will come to you in just a few short weeks. Stay tuned and get excited!