Screaming at the Ump

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Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey’s dream, however, is to be a reporter—objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, ...

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Screaming at the Ump

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Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey’s dream, however, is to be a reporter—objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Casey Snowden, 12, loves life at Behind the Plate, the third best (out of three) U.S. academy devoted to training baseball umpires. He lives there with his father, grandfather, and (often) best friend Zeke, whose absent parents have a busy dental practice. Also absent is Casey's mother, who hated living on the retooled grounds of a former reform school, and left with Bob the Baker, the bread delivery guy. As sixth grade starts, another session of umpiring school begins, and this one includes a student who goes by one name but bears an uncanny resemblance to a former major league pitcher who disappeared following a steroids scandal. Could they be one and same, and can Casey make a splash in the school newspaper if he uncovers the truth? Multiple threads come together in a well-crafted way when Casey realizes the same skills an umpire needs—being objective and fair, knowing the rules, and being in the right spot to make the call—also apply to becoming a good journalist and healing his broken relationship with his mother. Ages 10–14. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
In a decided departure for baseball-themed novels, a middle schooler figures out that the game's values are not always reliable guidelines for real life. Casey is delighted when his dad, who runs a New Jersey camp for aspiring umpires, puts him in charge of You Suck, Ump! Day—a training exercise in which everyone in town is invited to fill the stands and harangue the students while they try to call a game. On the other hand, his mom is definitely benched in his mind for getting a divorce, and he's disgusted to discover that sixth-graders at his new school aren't permitted to write for the paper. But then a truly publication-worthy scoop drops into his lap: It seems that one of the trainees is a former major leaguer who quit under a cloud of drug-use suspicion. Vernick laces her tale with humor, plus credible insights into the truly difficult art and techniques of umpiring, as she leads her aspiring journalist to make some good choices in the wake of a realization that people (parents included) should have more than one chance to get their calls right. (As major league umpires' calls will be challengeable in 2014, the metaphor isn't as strong as it might be...but that's not the author's fault, and young readers will still see her point.) Not a heavy hitter but worthy of a spot in the starting lineup. (Fiction. 10-12)
From the Publisher
a JLG selection
"A strike is a strike, a ball is a ball. But what happens when the rules aren't so clear? You may scream at umpires, but you'll cheer and whoop for a kiddo who's trying with all his heart and guts to find a right way." —Gary Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award Finalist
"Screaming at the Ump will make kids cheer! Baseball fans will love these funny, heart-warming characters, and the unique view of the game from behind the plate."
—Tim Green, New York Times bestselling author of Baseball Great and Best of the Best
"This novel is a true original. If you’ve never read about umpire’s school before (and, seriously, who has?) you’re going to enjoy this book. Vernick’s writing is funny, poignant, and especially wise when it comes to dispelling the preconceived notions we sometimes cling to." 
—Todd Strasser, internationally bestselling author of The Wave, Fallout, and other titles
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
Casey is a sixth grader who wants a life bordered by clear rules, just like a baseball game, but lives in one bordered by different shades of gray. Living at home with his dad, Casey is estranged from his mother and refuses to have anything to do with her. Casey’s father runs a baseball umpire training school in their New Jersey hometown, which admittedly is a good one but still the third best of three such national programs. Casey loves his dad, baseball, and being part of the umpire school. But now, as he begins middle school, Casey faces some very real transitions in his life, and none of them seem be governed by clear rules. Then, Casey and his friend Zeke make a discovery. One of the new students at the umpire school might be a disgraced former major league player accused of being at the core of the steroids scandal that has swept through Casey’s favorite sport. Couple this potential discovery with changing ground rules in his family, Zeke’s constant odd video projects, family pressures, and frustrations at school and you have a recipe for disaster in Casey’s life. However, in facing each of these situations Casey discovers a great deal about life, himself, and the grayness that keeps people from seeing everything as black or white. Screaming at the Ump is a thoughtful book that handles themes such as divorce, disillusionment, false certainty, forgiveness, and resilience in ways that will cause readers to give pause and reflect. Vernick’s book also will entertain while simultaneously causing the readers to feel the growing pains of the characters. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Most kids who are baseball-obsessed do not focus their obsession on umpiring. But since Casey's father and grandfather run the third best umpire school in the country, Casey's passion is understandable. He also wants to become a sports journalist. When one of his father's students is revealed as a former major league baseball player who disappeared after a steroid scandal, Casey thinks he has stumbled onto the scoop of the year. But after learning about journalistic objectivity, dealing with his parent's divorce, and helping keep his wacky best friend out of trouble, nothing is going Casey's way. Vernick has written a truly realistic 12-year-old boy in Casey. He is all kid; smart but impetuous, with a good heart. His yearning to be a reporter and get published without doing much work rings true, as does his eventual realization that big dreams do not happen without effort. The umpire school is an intriguing angle to use as a hook to the story. There is enough baseball to keep fans interested, and yet not so much that it might turn off non-sports lovers. The book includes discussions of major league drug use, the aftereffects of divorce, and a bit of parental neglect, but everything is balanced; it all feeds the story, nothing seems thrown in for sensationalism. A solid choice for middle-grade readers.—Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544252080
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 447,885
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 750L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Audrey Vernick

Audrey Vernick is author of the picture book biography Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, as well several picture books and novels. She lives with her family near the ocean in New Jersey. Learn more about her at

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Read an Excerpt

Right Off the Bat

People always assumed I was going to be an umpire when I got older, like my dad and his dad. or teach at their umpire school, Behind the Plate. But the thing about umpires is, if they do their job well, they aren’t part of the story at all.
   Not that I wanted to be part of the story. I never wanted to be a player. Or one of those statistics-obsessed fans.
   I wanted to write about baseball, to report on it, to show how every game is unique, its own unpredictable story.
   And now I could finally get started.
   It would all begin today.

Three eighth-graders I didn’t know were shoving their way to the back of the bus. I ducked out of their way, sat down near the front, and looked out the window.
   Middle school meant a school newspaper! I wasn’t too excited about the other back-to-school stuff, but I’d always known this was when my life as a reporter would begin. I could finally write for a newspaper! I wondered what my first article would be, what headline would be over my first byline: by Casey Snowden.
   When the bus reached Zeke’s stop, he found me and practically sat on top of me as the bus lurched forward. I had kind of hoped he might take this opportunity—starting a new school—to make some changes. Like maybe remembering to brush his hair before he left the house. It always looked like a big pile of brown—not straight, not exactly curly, just big. I probably hadn’t remembered to brush mine either—but that’s easier to get away with when you have just plain straight hair.
   Without even a quick hello, he started rambling on about some epic episode of That’sPETacular, where a kitten got stuck on a roof, and it was so hilarious, because there was a squirrel or something. It was one of those things that most people would realize wasn’t going to be funny when you tried to tell it, but Zeke wasn’t most people.
   “And then at the end they made this announcement—I can’t believe no one thought of it before—but it is so cool, and I am so going to win.”
   I was half listening as he rambled on about some new contest, called Your Show Here, where regular people submitted ideas for their own reality TV show. “Is that, like, an idea just made for me or what?” he said.
   I couldn’t even imagine where his brain would lead him. Zeke had always been obsessed with reality TV. Or, to be more accurate, somehow being part of reality TV. And he had a kind of overactive and maybe a tiny bit insane imagination. it was entertaining, being his best friend, without a doubt. It was never boring.
   When we were nine, he was absolutely convinced that our mailman was really the first host of That’sPETacular, Joey Collins. I’m guessing you’re ahead of me on this one—you probably already figured out that our mailman was not, in fact, Joey Collins. over time, I’d figured out that I shouldn’t believe everything Zeke said. But still, he was fun. And loyal. And we always found the same things funny (we were often the only ones laughing in a movie theater at any given time). Ninety-two percent of the time, I was glad he was my best friend.
   We got off the bus, and when the school doors opened, we walked, with what felt like tens of thousands of other kids, inside. I pulled the orientation info out of my backpack—room 219. My homeroom.
   As soon as the teacher had taken attendance, she let us go out to our lockers. I found mine, opened it, and hung my backpack up, after getting out the notebook I’d nabbed from the supply room at Behind the Plate last night. I closed the locker door and was about to head back to 219 when I noticed all the other kids were still turning their combination locks, some kicking at the locker or asking the kid next to them to help.
    I guess most of them didn’t live on a campus with lockers all over the place. I helped some kid I didn’t know and these two girls, leah and Marley, who were in my class last year. They all acted like I was some kind of genius for knowing how to open a locker.
   The whole first day was all about learning to use our lockers and finding our way through the halls and meeting our teachers and writing down the supplies we’d need and blah blah blahing. lunch was cool, I guess—it was good to see my friends again. But we got through the whole day without anyone even saying the word newspaper a single time.
   On the afternoon bus, I was thinking about everything I’d missed by not being home today. I wasn’t there when the staff arrived for our annual five-week Umpire academy, and I felt like if this bus didn’t begin moving faster, I was going to jump off and start running.
   Umpire academy started tomorrow. It was as close as I came to anything like a family reunion. I never thought much about being an only child, because every september, it felt like I had about a dozen big brothers. A lot of the staff had been working at BTP since before I could remember. Some had regular names—Joe Girardo, Lorenzo Watkins, Hank Lorsan—and some everyone knew by their nicknames—Soupcan, Steamboat, Bobbybo.
   During the rest of the year, BTP hosted all sorts of different clinics and classes for umpires to improve their skills, but there was nothing like academy. It was the big one.
   I couldn’t wait to see those guys.
   The bus was way too hot. And smelly. At the first stop, it took FOREVER for three kids to grab their backpacks and get off the bus, then one kid realized he’d forgotten his jacket—who needed a jacket on a sunny, eighty-degree day?—so he got back on and off again. Everything was like that—slow motion.
   Zeke and I jumped up when the bus got near my stop. The driver yelled, “Siddown! No standing till the bus is at a complete stop.” I tripped over Zeke and heard some snickers as we stumbled back to our seats like a pair of sixth-grade clowns.
   When we finally got off the bus and rounded the corner, we jogged to the front gate, which was now left open, since academy was in session. We walked down the long driveway, all the brick buildings laid out ahead of us like a small college campus. There weren’t as many cars in the parking lot as there should have been. I didn’t see one with rhode island plates—steamboat must be running late.
   We walked past the cafeteria and through the main building until we got to Mrs. G. (her last name had something like eleven syllables, and I wasn’t even sure she could pronounce it), who ran the front office. She kept her dyed-some-unnameable-shade-of-orange hair knotted up on top of her head and often stuck pencils, pens, and I’m not sure what else in there, too. She called all the students Honey, and she called me Baby, and she called Zeke Zeke. Today there was some little girl with her. She was young, maybe eight. Really pale, with long black hair.
   “Baby,” Mrs. G. said, “this is my granddaughter, Sylvia.”
   “Sly,” the girl said, embarrassed.
   “Most people don’t call me Baby,” I said, embarrassed too. “I’m Casey.”
   On Mrs. G.’s desk there had always been this picture with the name Sylvia written vertically on the page, each letter starting a different word. I always got a kick out of the first two:
   Yes, excellent.
   (Y is a hard letter.)
   I did the same project in first grade, but mine’s not hanging anywhere.
   “And this is Zeke,” I said.
   “Sly? Are you, like, a fox or a raccoon or something? What kind of name is Sly?” Zeke asked. I was thinking that someone whose real name was Ezekiel should probably not have been speaking at that time.
   She nodded. “It’s better than Sylvia, isn’t it?”
   I had to agree. I wished my name had a cool nickname. or at least a nickname that would keep people from assuming I was a girl.
   “How old are you?” Sylvia asked.
   “We’re eleven,” Zeke said. “Which is quite old.”
   “I’m twelve,” I reminded him. Like a lot of kids in Clay Coves with summer birthdays, my parents signed me up for an extra year of preschool, and now I’m one of the older kids in the grade. I like to hold that over Zeke whenever possible. “How old are you?” I asked.
   “Eight,” she said.
   And then we made a quick exit because I did not want to be spending this day hanging out with Mrs. G. and her granddaughter. I had waited all year for this! I was dying to see everyone.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2014



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  • Posted September 12, 2014

    You could call this book a cool kind of sideways look at basebal

    You could call this book a cool kind of sideways look at baseball from Casey whose father owns a school for umpires. It's sort of a hard book to describe but you should definitely read it if you like funny books even though it's way more than just funny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014




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