You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!


In this striking picture book biography, an old-timer tells us what made Sandy Koufax such an amazing baseball player. We learn that the beginning of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was rocky, that he was shy with his teammates, and experienced discrimination as one of the only Jews in the game. We hear that he actually quit, only to return the next season—different—firing one rocket after another over the plate. We watch him refuse to play in the 1965 World Series because it is a Jewish high holy day. And ...

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In this striking picture book biography, an old-timer tells us what made Sandy Koufax such an amazing baseball player. We learn that the beginning of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was rocky, that he was shy with his teammates, and experienced discrimination as one of the only Jews in the game. We hear that he actually quit, only to return the next season—different—firing one rocket after another over the plate. We watch him refuse to play in the 1965 World Series because it is a Jewish high holy day. And we see him in pain because of an overused left arm, eventually retiring at the peak of his career. Finally, we are told that people are still “scratchin’ their heads over Sandy,” who remains a modest hero and a mystery to this day.

Accompanied by sidebars filled with statistics, this Parents Magazine Best Book of the Year and Booklist Top of the List is sure to delight budding baseball fans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Starred Review, Booklist, December 15, 2008:
“Hand this book to kids unconvinced by Koufax’s mind-boggling numbers, or to the ones who know why they’re so mind boggling to begin with.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, January 5, 2009:
"Not just a home run, this book is a grand slam."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, February 2009:
“This striking book deserves a wide audience.”

Abby McGanney Nolan
Just in time for Opening Day—and Passover—comes this gorgeous tribute to the legendary left-handed pitcher…Winter conveys a sense of wonder for his achievements…Andre Carrilho's arresting illustrations bestow grandeur upon Koufax's career in deep Dodger blue, as well as golden browns and grays that recall period black-and-white footage, with sharp accents of red.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The huge lenticular cover image of pitcher Sandy Koufax in action makes this book hard to ignore; Winter's fan-in-the-stands-style prose and Carrilho's high-impact, editorial-style images make it hard to forget. Neither author nor artist "explain" the famously self-contained 1960s Dodgers pitcher ("Just when you were startin' to understand him, he'd haul off and throw you a curve," says the anonymous former teammate who serves as narrator). Instead, they capture what it feels like to be in the presence of an exemplary athlete. The obstacles that Sandy Koufax faced-physical limitations; anti-Semitism ("Some of the guys said some pretty lousy things behind his back-things I can't repeat")-are portrayed with zero sentiment; readers will root for Koufax because he is an engine of pure action. Debut artist Carrilho, offering texturally complex, digitally manipulated pencil drawings, has a bold, arresting aesthetic: while his harsh shadows, distorted perspectives and angular faces speak of a hardboiled reality, the baseball field itself is a storied place, rendered not in green but gold. Koufax becomes a figure of totemic strength, his eyes narrowing to black slits underneath bushy eyebrows, his body twisting as he delivers the perfect pitch. Not just a home run, this book is a grand slam. Ages 4-9. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Koufax was "the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball." In a breezy, conversational style, Winter begins his story with Koufax's youth as "a whiz at every sport he ever played." Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, however, he was supposed to be a doctor or lawyer. Invited to pitch for the Dodgers, Koufax proves himself to be unfortunately unpredictable. The Dodgers move to Los Angeles; Koufax leaves, returns, and finally becomes an ace. From 1961-1966, although his elbow swells painfully, he keeps throwing strikes. He becomes a hero to American Jews when he refuses to pitch on a High Holy Day. Then, he surprises everyone by retiring "at the peak of his game." Winter celebrates Koufax as both a private person and baseball legend. Carrilho uses chiefly black and white colors, accented with some blue and splashes of gold, to illustrate the dramatic events in Koufax's evolution. The not-completely-naturalistic illustrations were created in graphite on paper with color and texture added in Adobe Photoshop are as anecdotal as the text. For example, the single image of a baseball uniform shirt fills the page facing an illustration of Koufax surrounded by microphones as he announced his retirement. Or we are shown a double-page spread resembling a set of "how-he-does-it" illustrations about his style of pitching, using multiple images and lines representing the path of pitched balls. The lenticular cover is created with a plastic sheet using ridges. Three images are digitally sliced and printed on the sheet, with lenses allowing you to see only one at a time, so they move as the cover is manipulated. Additional facts are included in boxes throughout the text. There is also aglossary and a list of online resources. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 1-5

This picture-book biography of a pitching ace is a real treat. Much about this private man has been a mystery, so Winter focuses on how the gifted young athlete went from unpredictable to otherworldly in such a short time. Koufax spent his early years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he was either warming the bench or walking batters. The team moved to Los Angeles in 1957, and it wasn't until 1961 that he learned to control his pitch. He then proceeded to flummox opposing hitters until 1966, when he unexpectedly retired. The unnamed narrator, a teammate who speaks in the vernacular of an old-timer, greatly influences the voice of the book: readers can hear the spit of sunflower seeds between the lines. That Koufax was a Jew playing baseball at a time when the game was still deeply segregated is mentioned and honored, particularly with the anecdote of how he gave up his spot in the World Series rotation to observe a High Holy Day. Carrilho's caricature style is reminiscent of Al Hirschfeld's work, exaggerating everything that is beautiful and unknown about Koufax, from his extraordinarily athletic body to his private mystique. The graphite illustrations, enhanced via Photoshop, are dominated by golds, grays, and, of course, Dodger blue. While the author never offers an explanation for his subject's metamorphosis, that it should be hailed and remembered is never in doubt. This striking book deserves a wide audience.-Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA

Kirkus Reviews
This book promises to be spectacular with its cover-a 3-D lenticular rendering of the great left-hander, from windup to follow-through-and largely delivers. Carrilho uses graphite on paper, with lavish use of burnished gold accents, Dodger blue and a calligraphic red line, to craft breathtakingly dramatic and dynamic pictures. Winter adopts the voice of an old-time Dodgers fan, complete with dropped gs and a liberal helping of ain'ts, to tell Koufax's story: how he was wild at the start, how he had six magnificent years, how he kept to himself, would not play on a Jewish holy day and retired at the peak of his powers before he lost use of his arm entirely. The cadences of the narration are particularly effective in showing the cost of greatness in physical pain and effort. Box-score-type inserts provide relevant stats and anecdotes, and the whole manages to be vibrant without being cluttered. Great baseball stuff, and a visual treat for young fans and their parents and grandparents. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375837388
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 486,119
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonah Winter is the author of Muhammed Ali: Champion of the World, Roberto Clemente, and Dizzy. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

André Carrilho is the illustrator of Porch Lies by Patricia McKissack, which received three starred reviews. This is his first picture book. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 7, 2009

    Great Book About a Terrific Man and Pitcher

    I highly recommend this book to the families of all young baseball fans (who probably haven't heard of Sandy Koufax). In an age of steroid scandals and "it's-all-about-me" players, Sandy Koufax stands out as a superstar who shunned the limelight, retired at the top of his game to protect the health of that famous left arm, and was a hero both to Dodger fans and to the Jewish community. The text is conversational and easy to read while still being full of details, and the illustrations are delightful; I was reminded of the work of Al Hirschfeld. I especially liked the addition of the small fact boxes on many pages that helped to put Sandy Koufax into true historical perspective: arguably the greatest lefty pitcher of all time. A great read and important book for baseball fans of all ages.

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