Becoming Joe DiMaggio


"With ineffable tenderness and absolute clarity, Testa tells a tale in blank verse. . . . Powerfully moving as it braids together baseball, family, and the Italian-American experience." —BOOKLIST (starred review)

It's 1936, and the Yankees have just hired a star center fielder whose name sounds like music. What could be a better time for Papa-Angelo's grandson to be born? Christened after the legendary ballplayer, young Joseph Paul learns much at his Italian grandfather's knee —...

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"With ineffable tenderness and absolute clarity, Testa tells a tale in blank verse. . . . Powerfully moving as it braids together baseball, family, and the Italian-American experience." —BOOKLIST (starred review)

It's 1936, and the Yankees have just hired a star center fielder whose name sounds like music. What could be a better time for Papa-Angelo's grandson to be born? Christened after the legendary ballplayer, young Joseph Paul learns much at his Italian grandfather's knee — about holding your breath in front of the radio during a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and having the audacity to dream big dreams. "Each poem is a perfect, gripping chapter," says KIRKUS RIVIEWS in a starred review of this novel in verse, which honors the timeless bond between a grandson and his immigrant grandfather — and the process of finding one's own place in a brave new world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"BECOMING JOE DIMAGGIO is wondrous in its heartfelt, sparse, home-run, free verse tribute to both a family's love of baseball and one of the game's greatest players, "Joltin' Joe." Readers will long remember Testa's words long after the book has been read, long after games have been played."—award-winning poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins
— Lee Bennett Hopkins
Publishers Weekly
The author's 24 vignettes, in verse, introduce a young baseball player born in 1936. PW wrote, "The boy's melodic narrative tightly braids together strands integral to his life: family, baseball and the ways in which the exploding world affects him and those close to him." Ages 10-14. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Maria Testa's Becoming Joe DiMaggio is a deceptive book. This fifty-one page novella, apparently simple in form and style, has a complexity that requires a sophisticated reader. Joltin' Joe is the book's central image, but it is really the story of young Joseph Paul and Papa-Angelo, the grandfather who has nurtured him from birth. Joseph Paul is born the year Joe DiMaggio joins the Yankees. This center fielder "whose name sounded like music" becomes a hero and a connection for the grandfather and grandson who listen to the games and finally, "Papa-Angelo had dreams/to go with his nightmares." This, the last line of the first poem, typifies Testa's expert use of contrast. Throughout the novel, she buries painful lines and truths in tender images, haunting readers who eventually come to understand how these oppositional expressions symbolize Joseph Paul's complex life. His grandfather's warmth and their shared baseball passion provide the stability and balance Joseph Paul needs as his family struggles to recover again and again from poverty and shame. Papa's character (Joseph Paul's father) is immediately clear when he remarks, "You'll never forget this Christmas! Just before his fist/crashed/into someone's face." When Joe DiMaggio puts on a different uniform to help his country during WW II, the boy's father walks down "Busy streets/with his head held high,/faking a limp/for the war effort." Again, Testa uses conflicting images to describe the horrors of WW II. The first summer Joe DiMaggio doesn't play baseball, Joseph Paul compares roaring crowds with the blast of V-J Day and can't imagine "anyone cheering/in Hiroshima." In just over twenty short poems, Testa animates the young boy'sadmiration for two heroes who support him from birth to college. Young Joseph Paul dreams of being a baseball great. As a pre-med student, he stands with his grandfather on a college campus, "knowing who we are,/who we have become. /Look how we have made/our broken hearts soar." 2002, Candlewick Press, $13.99. Ages 9 to 14. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Growing up in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s, Joseph Paul, an Italian boy, finds solace from a difficult life by listening to baseball games with his beloved grandfather. This powerful story, told in 24 poems, describes their relationship and their love of listening to another Italian, Joe DiMaggio, achieve success. The influence of Papa-Angelo and the ballplayer help the boy escape from the realities of having an abusive and criminal father. He learns to dream and finds that he can "soar" in his own way. The beauty and the charm of the poetry-its concise language, its flow and descriptive power-add to the intensity of the experiences described. Hunt's charcoal-and-pastel spot illustrations are scattered throughout. Some knowledge of the times and culture may enrich the reading experience, but it is not required for children to understand or appreciate this poetic narrative.-Janice C. Hayes, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Joseph Paul, named for the wondrous new rookie centerfielder of the 1936 New York Yankees, has big dreams and a long hard road to travel in order to achieve them. Papa-Angelo, his grandfather, teaches him baseball, honor, compassion, courage, perseverance, and so much more. His very existence is a special gift to the old man, for he gives him "dreams to go with his nightmares." His father is in jail during much of his childhood, but in spite of the shame and the broken promises, these two love him. The son of poor Italian immigrants, Joe DiMaggio is a guiding star for both of them. In 1941, when most of the world is already engulfed in war, DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak postpones for a while the dread of what is to come. "Hits were the same as hope that summer, filling our hearts in the face of the truth that the president had been wrong: there really was something to fear after all." Joseph matures during the war, watching his grandfather's sadness intensify, and accepting that his father will never become a hero. At war's end, DiMaggio returns from the army, hitting a homerun in his first game, bringing forth "a sigh of relief so pure and loud you would have thought the whole world had finally remembered how to breathe." Joseph identifies with DiMaggio and everything he stands for in reality and in his imagination. He wants to become Joe DiMaggio, but he is reminded "that someone else already is." So Joseph chooses his own path and becomes someone truly wonderful and unique. Testa tells the entire story in verse. Each poem is a perfect, gripping chapter in Joseph's story. Words are carefully selected and images are beautifully crafted. Strong emotions are evoked, but there is nosentimental manipulation. When the author states in an endnote that Joseph was her father, it serves to validate the reader's instant recognition of his humanity. A powerful, glowing, unforgettable achievement. (Poetry. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763624446
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 787,641
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Maria Testa received a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Work-in-Progress Grant for BECOMING JOE DIMAGGIO, a poetic novel inspired by family stories. She has written three picture books for children and a collection of short stories for young adults. She is also the author of another novel about baseball, SOME KIND OF PRIDE, which was awarded the Marguerite De Angeli Prize for a first middle-grade novel. Maria Testa grew up in Rhode Island and now lives on the coast of Maine with her family.
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