Booklist starred (September 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 1))
Grades 2-4. Winter follows up You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (2009), a Booklist Top of the List—Youth Nonfiction winner, with an ebullient look at another groundbreaking baseballer. Winter’s squirming-in-his-seat excitement gives this abbreviated bio the feel of a baseball card–wielding kid slapping his forehead in disbelief: “You never heard of Willie Mays?! THE Willie Mays?! Oh, geez, where to begin?” How about here: Mays is a gangly lad in Alabama who idolizes Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, even though blacks aren’t allowed to play in Joe’s league—“craziest rule there ever was.” Mimicking Joe’s techniques, Willie joins the recently integrated New York Giants at 20, lifting the floundering club to new heights before a nation that must finally admit that baseball’s best player is black. Text boxes offer up mind-numbing stats and fearless conclusions (“Yep, they were better,” Winter writes when comparing the Negro League to the pros), but Winter’s forte is describing impossible-to-describe plays: “It was hit too far, too hard, and Willie has his back to it—lookin’ like he might run smack into the WALL!” Meanwhile, Widener’s lumpy, blurry-edged, off-kilter acrylics are perfect for rendering the alternately joyful and fierce Mays as larger than life. The Say Hey Kid had style to spare, and so does this irrepressible book.