Recently, Harley at Bat, a Batman leveled reader I wrote, was published by Penguin Random House. It was illustrated by Fabio Laguna, Marco Lesko, and Beverly Johnson.
I knew NOTHING about baseball when I got the assignment to write Harley at Bat. The story was supposed to be about Harley Quinn stealing a white diamond roughly the size of a baseball and Batman pursuing her. And at some point in the story, Harley and the Joker play baseball, using the diamond as the ball. Those were the rough parameters I was given by my editor. And within those parameters, I would flesh out the plot and figure out why Harley was doing all of this, how Batman figures out what’s going on, how Batman captures Harley, etc. Then I would write the manuscript, based on that fleshed-out plot.
But you see, when I was a child, my father signed me up for little league three years in a row and I absolutely hated it. As a result, I’ve scrubbed all baseball knowledge from my brain. But now I had a paying gig writing a Batman children’s book where baseball was central to the plot. How would I work baseball terminology into the manuscript when I don’t KNOW any baseball terminology? How could I become baseball-literate in time to meet my deadline for this book? How indeed…
There was a strict word count for Harley at Bat. I had to use a certain number of words – and a certain number of lines – on every page of this book. This made me feel like I was writing poetry. Like a haiku or a sonnet. So then I thought, “Why don’t I just read some poems about baseball? Maybe that will teach me how to write ABOUT baseball, and specifically, how to do so in a concise way.” So I googled “poems about baseball.” Know what? It really helped! Here are just some of the baseball-themed poems I read while writing this book:
* Kidding! It was written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. But you already knew that.
I also watched a bunch of YouTube clips of people playing baseball. The clips didn’t just show me what actually happens during a baseball game, they also showed me how the announcers talk about what’s happening. How do they describe, deconstruct, demystify, and unpack what’s just happened for the people in the stadium and for the viewers at home? In baseball, much of the language is really colorful and expressive. Like, “Neil Walker clobbers a home run.” Or “Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits an absolute monster home run.” Or “Tiki Broward takes that home run into a dark alley, beats it senseless, steals its wallet, and stomps on its phone so it can’t call 911.” Okay, I made that last one up. I also made up Tiki Broward, who is not a real person as far as I know.
The things the announcers say in baseball games often sound like the stage directions in a screenplay for an action movie. Superhero movies (and by extension, superhero children’s books) are a lot like action movies. And baseball players (like superheroes) wear colorful costumes. So this was very appropriate.
I had a ton of fun re-educating myself about baseball while writing this book. And I hope that that comes through when you (or your kids) read it.