Throwing Smoke

Throwing Smoke

4.6 3
by Bruce Brooks

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The members of Whizs beloved baseball team — the Breadhurst Newts — need help in a bad way. They're losing to the worst teams in the league! But then Whiz has an idea at his after-school printing job: What if he prints baseball cards with imaginary star players for his team? And what if they come to life?

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The members of Whizs beloved baseball team — the Breadhurst Newts — need help in a bad way. They're losing to the worst teams in the league! But then Whiz has an idea at his after-school printing job: What if he prints baseball cards with imaginary star players for his team? And what if they come to life?

About the Author

Bruce Brooks was born in Virginia and began writing fiction at age ten. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and from the University Of Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1980. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, newsletter editor, movie critic, teacher and lecturer.

Bruce Brooks has twice received the Newbery Honor, first in 1985 for Moves Make the Man, and again in 1992 for What Hearts. He is also the author of Everywhere, Midnight Hour Encores, Asylum for Nightface, Vanishing, and Throwing Smoke. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
[This novel] really hits home.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Baseball fans may appreciate the message of Brooks's latest, but the author's followers may be disappointed at the sketchy characterizations here. As the novel opens, pitcher Vincent Cary--aka "Whiz"--and his shortstop pal Eddie "E6" Marchant take the baseball field to practice before the opening game for the Breadhurst Newts, after last season's 0-10 record. While E6 is satisfied with the team's original goal of getting together to simply play ball (all but two players had been cut from other teams), Whiz fantasizes about a winning season. After practice, Whiz heads to his part-time job at a printing shop to make baseball cards with each teammate's statistics, and Brooks foreshadows the connection between Whiz's vocation and avocation: "Sometimes, when Whiz encountered one of the players in the flesh soon after reading his or her card, he let himself feel for a moment that the words had created a player to match them." As the urge to win gradually overtakes Whiz, he begins printing up baseball cards for fictional players with dream stats--and they begin to materialize, bringing with them a winning streak for the team. Brooks convincingly demonstrates the fallout when players become more focused on winning than on loving the game for its own sake. However, aside from the relationship between E6 and Whiz, the dynamics between individual players--even twin sisters Phoebe and Wren--are not developed. The immediacy and involvement that goes along with team sports, conveyed so compellingly in Brooks's Wolfbay Wings series goes missing here. Ages 9-up. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Publishers Weekly
As the urge to win gradually overtakes pitcher Whiz, he begins printing up baseball cards for fictional players with dream stats and they begin to materialize, bringing with them a winning streak for his team. "Baseball fans may appreciate the message of Brooks's latest," wrote PW, "but the author's followers may be disappointed at the sketchy characterizations here." Ages 10-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Whiz is concerned about his baseball team, the winless Breadhurst Newts. He recognizes that each player possesses at least one skill, but even taken together, these skills are not enough to fill the holes in the team's overall ability. Frustrated by continuing losses, he secretly goes to the print shop where he works after school to develop a truly fantastic idea. Creating a baseball card for each member of the team, he decides to produce an extra card for a new player with the pitching skills the team needs. The next day, Ace, a pitcher with great control and speed, shows up. Still stymied by the lack of hitting and fielding, Whiz soon adds more cards, and three more players with the requisite skills appear. His old teammates more readily recognize that the new players lack heart and team spirit, and that playing is no longer fun. It takes a while for Whiz to realize that winning is not everything. Brooks focuses mostly on playing the game of baseball and the emotions involved. Totally young-person driven—the characters are eleven years old—there are no adults in the book. The dialogue is sharp, fast moving, and intelligent. For such a short book, the characters are well delineated, and the baseball cards for each player that are scattered throughout the book add to the reader's growing knowledge of each character. The book is perfect for booktalking and group discussion of its message, the characters' lives outside of baseball, and the several meanings of the title. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, HarperCollins, 136p, $15.95. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: SusanH. Levine

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
The Breadhurst Newts had a miserable debut baseball season, and this year's prospects don't look much better. Each player is good at one aspect of the game, but that skill is outweighed by glaring fundamental weaknesses. Whiz has great control but no velocity; his pitches get socked out of the park with regularity. E6 has a wicked bat but can't handle a ground ball at shortstop. Dragon can't do much of anything on the field but he keeps the team in stitches with his great sense of humor. Whiz, who works at a printer's shop, decides to create some baseball cards that feature the sort of players he would have on his team. Things get really wild when his made-up players begin showing up on the practice field. Suddenly the Newts go on a winning streak. The only problem is, the fun seems to have gone out of the game. The Newts learn the hard way that winning isn't everything, and that friendships last a lot longer than a baseball season. 2000, Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, Ages 9 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Christopher Moning—Children's Literature
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-With poor facilities, no coaching, and little talent, the Breadhurst Newts, who attend a small private school, find themselves slaughtered in every game they play in their "town's otherwise snazzy Little League." Yet, they bring to their games a certain joie de vivre. Then Whiz, one of the cocaptains, finds a way to have a winning team. He helps out at a print shop after school and entertains himself by creating personalized baseball cards for each of his teammates. Late one night, he sneaks into the shop and prints a card for an ideal pitcher. The next day, a boy fitting the description magically appears as the Newts' new hurler. As the season progresses, Whiz creates a girl who is a powerhouse hitter and a pair of ace fielding brothers to shore up the team's infield. Soon, the Newts are contending for the league championship, but before the season's finale, Whiz recognizes that his ringers have taken the fun out of the game. Afraid to destroy the cards, he rewrites them, trading the players to teams in faraway places. The novel ends with the Newts taking the field, ready to do battle and have fun at the same time. Brooks obviously had fun himself, creating the dead-on parodies of the language of baseball cards and using obscure words of the printing trade such as brayer, platen, and quoins. It adds up to a lighthearted blend of sports and magic.-Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
The cerebral Brooks (Vanishing, 1999, etc.) puts a characteristic spin on this Matt Christopherstyle tale of a ragtag Little League team that gets some unexpected help. Coming off a 010 debut season, the Breadhurst Newts face a new spring still eager to play, even though, as infielder "E6" Marchant puts it, "up the middle we have severe limitations, and down the lines we are inconsistent but mostly pretty weak." Having found that working alone in a local print shop eases his frustration, pitcher Whiz Cary absentmindedly prints up a baseball card one night describing awesome madeup fireballer "Ace Jones"—who appears on the mound in the flesh at the next practice. Whiz tries it again, creating cards for powerhitting outfielder "Diane Fuller," then infield wizards "MaX and Marty Rico." Suddenly enhanced, the Newts begin not only taking leads but also actually winning. It's far from a dream team, though, as the new players barely notice the original ones, and stroll arrogantly off the field together after each game. Whiz and his buddies discover that victory doesn't have quite the expected savor. In the end, he sends the "Gang of Four" back where it came from (wherever that is—Brooks doesn't offer a suggestion), leaving readers to ponder the difference between winning at any cost and taking pleasure just in playing the game. Pushy parents and coaches might find food for thought here, too. (Fiction. 1012)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.71(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range:
9 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The bumpy, tufty patch of ground where the Breadhurst Newts played was defined as a baseball field only because someone at the small school, many years ago, had built a rickety backstop at one corner. Even calling the backstop's place a "corner" implied too much geometry. The field covered an irregular oval space with wavy edges. Barney, the Newts' center fielder, had once observed that the shape was exactly what you might get when you cracked an egg onto a hot skillet.

Two boys came over a hummock in what would be deepest right field. One was fairly tall, with hair that looked like pine shavings. He swept the field quickly with green eyes and drew his brows together with a frown.

"Where is everybody?" he asked. "I don't like this."

"Well, at least the field's still here," said the other boy. He was short, thickly built, with long dark hair and black-framed spectacles. He too looked the field over, but his cheerful expression did not change. "Don't sweat it, Whiz. The team will show."

The boy called Whiz seemed to relax a bit, but the worry didn't leave his face. He sighed. "They've got plenty of reasons not to come back for another season."

"And only one reason to come. Fortunately, that one reason is baseball."

The stocky boy–called E6–grinned and pointed; over the far hill that bordered the first-base line, four more kids moved into view.

Whiz narrowed his eyes. "Are they trudging, E? I do believe they are trudging."

E6 squinted, shading his eyes with one hand."No way, Captain. In fact, I see evidence of a certain, well, dignity in their strides, an assured kind of pace–"

"I wonder where they bought the dignity," said Whiz. "They sure didn't get it from our performance last year."

E6 maintained a respectful, funereal silence, fixing his eyes on an especially nasty clump of dry, hard bumps in short center field. The joke around the league was that this field, with all its scruffy irregularities, was exactly suited to the play of last year's woeful debut of the Breadhurst Newts. The Newts had managed to pull together four girls and eight boys to form a new team in the town's otherwise snazzy Little League, with an indifferent geography teacher listed as the manager. The kids had banded together with a common spirit of rebellion: All but two of them had been cut from other teams and denied the chance to play the game they loved. Then Whiz had gotten the bright idea that they could "represent" their small private school and wedge their way into the league as a unit.

It did not take long, during that first season, for the Newts to discover that loving the game was not the same as playing it. By the time they had stacked up their fourth loss in a row by more than ten runs (with their "manager" long gone in disgust), they admitted to themselves that perhaps the coaches who had cut them had been pretty wise. The trouble was, each Newt was capable of doing one thing very well, too well to be easily tossed away. Barney could run down long drives to the alleys and glove them backhand in full stride, but he got only three singles all season. E6 played shortstop because he had no fear facing hard-bounding grounders; however, he handled those grounders miserably, and racked up a record thirty-three errors in eighteen games. At the same time, he batted over .450 and led the team in RBI. As for Whiz–he was the pitcher, because he alone had the gift of being able to throw the ball into the strike zone every pitch. Too bad he threw it relatively slow, and perfectly straight, so that opposing batters drooled waiting for his pitches to arrive, then whacked them to the far horizons.

Phoebe, a tall girl at first base, could catch even the most errant throw from her infielders but bobbled everything that came off a bat. Dragon, in right field, lost sight of any ball hit into the sky but told excellent jokes that made all the losing less painful inning by inning. So it went with all of them–one talent, many holes in fundamental technique. For the most part, they had woven a pretty strong web of friendship from the strands of talent, leaving the gaps in silence.

The final record of the first-year Breadhurst Newts: 0—10. In the round-robin playoffs: 0—2 and out. All the players had secretly uttered thanks that their parents and siblings lived many miles away and had never seen them play.

Now, Whiz thought with a shudder, the second season's start was just two weeks away. True, he and E6, the unofficial captains, had talked with all ten Newts to make certain they were coming back for more, beginning with today's practice. But Whiz still felt uneasy counting on the turnout. Losing twelve games, by an average margin of about nine runs, had a way of making you go out for the track team.

"That's the spirit!" said E6. One of the players with a bat and ball had lifted an easy fly to Dragon in short right. Before the ball landed forty feet behind him, Dragon shouted something that made the others double up in laughter as he ran to retrieve the ball.

"Well, at least we seem to still be funny," Whiz said sarcastically.

"There are worse things to be when you lose a lot," said E6.

"Name two."

"Illiterate and hungry."

Whiz was silent.

The players hollered greetings as if they had not all been together in school two hours before but, rather, had not seen each other since the last game of the previous season. In addition to Dragon, Phoebe and her twin sister, Wren (third base), had come, along with a large, visibly earnest boy named Josiah. Josiah insisted he was a catcher, though in a full season he had never quite mastered the art of putting on all his equipment correctly. He couldn't hit much, either. But he had a great arm.

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