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'Oliver's Game'     Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 6, 2004]  "Oliver's Game" by Matt Tavares, Candlewick Press, 2004, 23 pages, ages 7 and up.

Review by Linda Harmon

Oliver Hall loves baseball and he loves helping at his grandfather's baseball memorabilia store, Hall's Nostalgia. He loves to hear his grandfather's stories about the "Golden Age of the Game." Grandfather told Oliver about the last time the Cubs played in the World Series and about great players from the past.

Oliver thought he knew most everything about his grandfather, also named Oliver Hall, until the day a customer came into the store asking for a copy of the 1945 World Series program.

Grandfather Hall sent Oliver to the closet to look for the program. He had looked through several cartons when he spied a wooden box behind them. When he opened the box, he found a Cubs uniform inside. He asked his grandfather who the uniform belonged to, and his grandfather said it was his.

He told Oliver that he had wanted to tell him about it for a long time, but not until Oliver was ready. Grandfather told him it was a special story but not always a happy one. Oliver said he was ready and pleaded with his grandfather to tell him.

The story began in September of 1941. Eighteen-year-old Oliver Hall was playing stickball with his friends one Saturday morning in front of his house. In the ballpark across the street, the Cubs were getting ready to play the Cardinals. Oliver hit a home run that went way beyond Clark Street. The Cubs' manager, Jimmy Wilson, noticed and invited him to come and practice with the team. Of course his answer was, "Wow, I'd love to!"

Oliver was given a uniform and walked onto the field to the cheers of his friends watching from the rooftop across the street. Mr. Wilson told him to go to left field and "shag some flies." He tripped and missed the first fly ball but redeemed himself when he hit a ball out of the stadium. When the game was over, Mr. Wilson said, "Keep the uniform, rookie. You may need it next season!"

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It all seemed too good to be true until two months later, on Dec. 7, when everything changed. America was at war. Oliver tried to imagine playing ball while others were fighting a war. He couldn't do it, so on Dec. 11 he joined the Marines.

In August of 1942 Oliver was injured at Guadalcanal. He felt fortunate to be alive, but the doctors said he would never play ball again. He returned to Chicago and tried sitting in the dugout with the players, but it made him sad.

A few years later he realized that there was much more to baseball than playing the game, so he opened a baseball store in the house he grew up in, across the street from Wrigley Field.

This is a great story for baseball lovers of all ages, especially Chicago Cubs fans, but it so much more. It is an intergenerational story of dreams, disappointments, commitment and perseverance when things don't turn out like you had hoped they would.

The illustrations are wonderful, realistic and very reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's art. The sepia color does not take away from, but rather enhances, the feeling of light and shadow and movement in the illustrations. The facial expressions of the characters tell as much of the story as the text. Even though it is classified as a picture book, it is also a very well-written story.

[Linda Harmon, Lincoln Public Library District


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