Plunked by Michael Northrop – Youth Baseball, Self-Confidence, and Elementary School Age Challenges
Jack Mogens is a sixth grade student at Tall Pines Elementary School. It is in late March that he begins his sixth season playing minor league baseball for the Tall Pines Braves.
Jack takes a “hit” to the side of his head while hitting on Opening Day. The punch shakes his confidence to the point where he is now afraid of inside pitches.
Compounding Jack’s challenge is the “revenge throw” he performs during the team’s next practice. His nemesis, Kurt “Malfoy” Beacham, overheard him speak ill of him at school; and throws a pitch, hitting him in the ribs.
Nightmares haunt Jack, where a faceless pitcher throws balls at him, while he is glued to the batter’s box. His anxiety increases, forcing him to fake an injury to avoid playing in next weekend’s game.
“Family Emergency” is Jack’s excuse for why he missed Saturday’s competition. His colleagues and friends are not buying it in the cafeteria on Monday morning. Jack finds his deceptions increasingly difficult to hide.
Depressed, Jack unexpectedly coins the phrase “open to mopin” when Andy Rossiter, (his best friend since second grade) questions his attitude.
Andy helps Jack save face with his friends after missing Saturday’s game. Their final connection occurs at the Tall Pines Family Pharmacy while flipping through the comics.
In an awkward moment of silence and avoiding eye contact, Jack knows he owes Andy an explanation for why he missed Saturday’s game. When Andy asks, he becomes emotionally exposed and admits his fear of being hit by the ball. Andy reaffirms his feelings by replying, “Everybody is a little scared of the ball sometimes.” It is a moving display of emotions between two boys; it is not often encouraged in today’s society.
Northrop has a talent for crafting relatable narratives with high school-age kids: “But don’t even pretend you’ve never pretended to have a fever or blamed the cat for breaking something or something like that.” He also talks about doing homework and riding the school bus: “At the right time, the bus stops and its doors open. Shut up and get in, he says.”
Jack enjoys a loving relationship with his parents. They attend all their games; and watch Major League Baseball together at home.
Even so, he sometimes worries about his parental control. Regarding his access to the computer: “Mom and Dad have so many filters on this thing, it’s a wonder that everything can happen. As if Saint Paul the Apostle could send me a personal email telling me to study hard, and it would end in the junk mail. folder “.
Collecting major league cards with their father is one of the duo’s favorite pastimes. Seeing his father’s most awarded rookie card, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jack realizes that Ripken Jr. will never fear inside pitches or let his team down. Baseball heads, a row of baseballs, and a large Baseball Hall of Fame poster in Jack’s bedroom also give him an a-ha moment.
Jack’s emerging sexuality is evident in his awareness of team shortstop Katie Bowes: “She looks up and I look down quickly. I don’t think she saw it.”
What child does not have a favorite pet that is part of him? Jack has his on Nax, a black labrador retriever. Nax sleeps at the foot of Jack’s bed; and he knows when he is happy or upset.
Baseball Language Plugins Plunked, including “ducks in the pond” (two men on base with two outs).
Well-written literature transcends time. The launch of Plunked however, this March complements the start of the minor leagues and major leagues, making it an ideal read for any sports-minded kid.
If you are an educator looking to assign or suggest a book for your high school age children, Plunked It is. If you are a parent who is anticipating your child’s summer reading homework, or supporting reading in your children (especially children), you will be successful with Plunked.
To view excellent literature, written for elementary school children and young adults, including interviews with the authors and giveaways, visit: http://www.scholastic.com/kids/stacks/?lnkid=stacks/nav/home/main.