Let Them Play
Let Them Play. Margot Theis Raven; Sleeping Bear Press, 2005
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN & Cost: 1-58536-260-3, $16.95
Synopsis: Set in South Carolina in 1955, this is the story of the Cannon Street All-Stars, a Little League baseball team made up of all black players who face discrimination when the white teams withdraw from their league, leaving them with no teams to play. They are league champions by default, but the lack of competition makes it impossible for the Cannon Street team to qualify to play in the Little League World Series. The team is allowed to travel to the tournament and warm up on the field, and they dream of the day when they will be treated as equals—both on the baseball field and anywhere else they choose to go.
General Review: Although the book’s fluency falters in places, this story is the perfect way to introduce the concept of racial discrimination and injustice to children. It does not depict violence, and its effective discussion of the phrase “separate but equal” on a page picturing separate “white” and “colored” drinking fountains makes the concept of segregation accessible to young audiences. The sports theme will pique children’s interest in the book, paving the way for a valuable history lesson. Through the author’s descriptions of how the entire black community invested in this team was bitterly disappointed, kids can readily understand how blacks were affected by discrimination. A moving epilogue describes how the boys of the Cannon Street team overcame obstacles and grew into productive citizens but still carried the scars of racism. Beautiful illustrations add to the effectiveness of the story.
Themes: Segregation; discrimination in sports; little league baseball.
Author Biography from Sleeping Bear Press
Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)
1. Explain what “separate but equal” means. How did that rule affect the lives of the Cannon Street community and other black people?
2. What obstacles did the Cannon Street All-Stars face? How did they deal with their problems?
3. Describe how the people of Cannon Street supported the baseball team. What does this show about their community?
4. When the boys stayed in the college dorm, the author says they had a pillow fight to “tamp down lots of feelings.” What does this mean?
5. Why did it mean so much for the boys to hear the crowd shout, “Let them play!”?
6. Why do you think the author included the epilogue? How does it add to the story?
1. The story mentions Jackie Robinson several times. He is best known for “breaking the color barrier.” What does that mean? Research this man. There are some excellent periodical articles about him available through SIRS Discoverer (available FREE to all schools in Kansas). (Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 2, Benchmark 4)
2. Ruby Bridges is a well-known figure in the fight against segregation. Learn about her courage through her autobiography, Through My Eyes, and a biography by Robert Coles called The Story of Ruby Bridges. What is the difference between a biography and autobiography? How could Ruby Bridge’s actions affect the people of Cannon Street? (Standard 3, Benchmark 2; Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 5, Benchmark 1)
3. Rehearse and perform the baseball poem “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer. Aaron Shepard has a reader’s theater version that can be downloaded free at http://www.aaronshep.com/rt/RTE23.html. This would be a great vocabulary and fluency lesson. (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)
4. Invite students to wear baseball caps to a baseball themed story time. Sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Visit this Web site for the complete lyrics, plus “karaoke style” musical accompaniment for your sing along: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/lyrics/ballgame.htm. (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)
5. Write a persuasive letter to the white Little League teams in the story asking them to rejoin the league, or to the Little League World Series officials asking them to allow the Cannon Street All-Stars to compete in the tournament. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
6. Research some statistics or record holders in baseball (a great chance to use an almanac). Choose some interesting facts and create a chart or graph to illustrate the statistics. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)
Similar Books for Further Reading
- Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack (fiction picture book)
- The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (fiction picture book)
- Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey (historical fiction picture book)
- Mighty Jackie: the Strike Out Queen by Marissa Moss (biography picture book)
- Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (autobiography picture book)
- The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (biography picture book)
- First in the Field: Baseball Hero Jackie Robinson by Derek T. Dingle (biography)
- Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer, illustrated by Christopher Bing (poetry with outstanding Caldecott Honor Medial illustrations)
- Teammates by Peter Golenbock (nonfiction)
- In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord (historical fiction novel)
- Jackie and Me by Dan Gutman (historical fiction novel)
- January 2007 issue of Kids Discover magazine features Jackie Robinson