Friday, February 20, 2015

Where in the world is Growing Up Pedro?!

Crazy story about Growing Up Pedro... apparently several thousand copies were stuck on a ship off the coast of Los Angeles for over a month, unable to dock due to an ongoing labor dispute at the port. Candlewick is on top of the situation, and I've been told that the books finally did make it to shore, and are currently traveling by train to the warehouse in Indiana. Once they're there, they will be immediately (hopefully) shipped out to stores.

So for those of you who have been asking why you can't seem to find a copy anywhere even though the book came out last week, that's why. I had no idea about this until after the release date. It's frustrating, and it's a bummer that the books weren't here on time, but the good news is they will be here soon. 

Should be any day now...

Growing Up Pedro, behind the scenes in the Dominican Republic

Last year, when I was working on Growing Up Pedro, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to do some research (it was also a family vacation). It was amazing to be able to go out into the countryside and visit places that still look they way they did when Pedro Martinez was a kid. Here are some of the pictures I took during that trip.

We drove up into the mountains, and I snapped pictures of everything- houses, palm trees, mango trees, all the scenery.

We stopped a a little colmado (store) to get some water in the village of El Cupey, and saw some kids playing outside.
When this guy heard I was working on a book about Pedro Martinez, he immediately showed me his batting stance.

This family was so nice, and even invited us right into their home, where their mother was cooking dinner. That's my daughter walking in, exploring a different world. This house is a lot like the one Pedro Martinez lived in when he was growing up.
Mango trees play an important role in Growing Up Pedro, so I spent a lot of time searching for The Perfect Mango Tree. When I saw this one, I knew I had found it.

This is Dani, who did an amazing job posing for me as a young Pedro Martinez.

We enjoyed the trip so much, we decided to go back this year (just for vacation this time). A few days ago, on our last day there, I finally tracked down Dani, the kid who posed as a young Pedro Martinez. Here he is, seeing the book for the first time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Growing Up Pedro comes out TODAY!

Growing Up Pedro, my picture book biography of newly elected Baseball Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, is officially available today!

This is the seventh book I've written, and the sixteenth I've illustrated. And of all the books I've worked on, this one was my favorite. From re-watching some of Pedro's greatest games and reliving some of my favorite baseball memories, to traveling to the Dominican Republic to learn what life was like for Pedro as a kid, to spending countless hours reading and re-reading interviews and articles about Pedro's remarkable journey, I truly loved every minute of the process. I hope that shines through in the final product.

Here are a few links, if you'd like to order a copy (thanks in advance, if you do):

Barnes & Noble:

And here's the trailer:

I've got a few events coming up. More are in the works, but here's what's confirmed so far:

February 27, 7:00 pm, launch event at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA
March 8,  2:00 pm launch event at Book Ends in Winchester, MA
March 14, 1:00 pm, signing at Barnes and Noble in Newington, NH
April 14, 3:00-5:00 pm, "Authorfest" book signing at the town hall in Winchester, MA

And if you happen to be in New England, check out this awesome promotion Candlewick has put together. Good reason to head down to your local independent bookstore!

And one more bit of good news: pitchers and catchers report to spring training in ten days! Baseball season is just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Win a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Fenway Park!

I recently stopped by the Candlewick office and signed a stack of these posters, which will soon be popping up at independent bookstores around New England.

My publisher, Candlewick Press, is teaming up with the some of my favorite independent bookstores around New England for an awesome promotion that I am really excited about. Starting February 10, (the day Growing Up Pedro comes out!) anyone who purchases any of my baseball books at a participating store can enter to win two tickets to a behind-the-scenes tour of Fenway Park, with me.

We'll go inside the dugouts, down onto the field, we'll make diving catches up against the green monster... aw man, I am so excitied for this.

Here's a list of participating stores (all in Massachusetts, unless noted):

Porter Square Books in Cambridge
Buttonwood Books in Cohasset
Eight Cousins in Falmouth
Book Ends in Winchester
Wellesley Books in Wellesley
Nonesuch Books in Portland, Maine and Biddeford, Maine
Brookline Booksmith in Brookline
Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire
Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire

One more reason to look forward to baseball season! The contest runs until Opening Day. See you at Fenway!

Growing Up Pedro, available February 10

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Pedro Martinez was just elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame! To celebrate, I'm giving away a signed copy of Growing Up Pedro on my facebook page.

I'm really excited to share the story of baseball's newest Hall of Famer with kids who never got to watch him pitch. Here's the new trailer for Growing Up Pedro. Hope you like it!

Growing Up Pedro will be available in bookstores on February 10.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books Week and Henry Aaron's Dream

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event during which the entire book community- booksellers, librarians, publishers, authors- celebrates the freedom to read. I believe that everyone should have access to whatever books they want to read, so I'm all for Banned Books Week and everything it stands for. I don't think any of my books have ever been banned, but I do have one that's been challenged quite a bit- my picture book biography of Hank Aaron, Henry Aaron's Dream.

When Henry Aaron's Dream was released in March of 2010, the overall response was really great. It got a couple starred reviews, some good newspaper coverage, and even ended up making some "best books" lists and winning a few awards.

But not everyone was pleased. Early on, I started hearing from readers who were deeply offended by my book. Some of these comments came in letters and emails to me. Some came in online customer reviews (which I know I should never read but I always do anyway). It was even formally challenged in one library (that I'm aware of), though in the end the committee decided not to ban it from the library.

The problem wasn't the story or the art, but the fact that I had included the n-word in a book for children. The most common concern was that kids would read the word, then decide to start using the word themselves. 

I received an email from a man who is, among other things, the coordinator of Cultural Diversity for the Springfield Public School System in Springfield, Missouri. In his email, he wrote:

"I believe that [your use of the word “nigger” in your book] is really quite inappropriate, especially for young children.  I am guessing by using this word with young minds that you are trying to empower them to use this word in their classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, and with their friends.  I really believe that you could have told this story without using “nigger” in your book.

I know that my email will not mean much to you but children of this generation deserve much better."

I'm quoting this email not only because it articulates the concerns most people seemed to have, but also because it clearly shows that the people who were challenging my book weren't closed-minded, book-banning wackadoos. For the most part, they seemed like good people who were genuinely concerned about their kids, or the kids they worked with.

Still, I felt like I needed to defend my book and I didn’t agree with the presumption he made that my aim was to empower children to use the word. My aim was to be as honest as possible in telling the story of what Henry Aaron overcame.

Below is my response to this particular email.

Thank you for your message. I can tell you care deeply about the kids you work with. I don't expect to change your mind about this, but please let me try to explain why that word is in this book.

I considered replacing the word with “bad names” or “terrible names”, but any other way I tried to write those two sentences sounded softer and gentler than what really happened. And in trying to describe what Jackie Robinson endured in 1947 in just a few lines of text, and what Henry Aaron endured when he broke the color barrier in the South Atlantic League in 1953, I didn't want to minimize it or sugar-coat it by making it sound not quite as bad.

There is no doubt that it is one of the most vile words in the English language. I’m even uncomfortable reading that part of Henry Aaron’s Dream aloud and hearing the word come out of my mouth. But in writing this book about a young man who grew up in the deep south in the 1930’s and 40’s and faced unspeakable racism and hatred as he pursued his childhood dream of becoming a big-league baseball player, I wanted to tell his story in the most honest, straightforward way I could. And that word, I felt, was a terrible but necessary part of the story.

The fact is, when Henry Aaron was a 19-year-old kid trying to pursue his dream of being a baseball player, he was subjected to hearing that word, that most vile word in the English language, shouted at him on a daily basis. They didn’t just call him “bad names”, or “terrible names”. They called him the worst name of all. And I believe that fact helps illustrate the incredible courage that this young man showed just by taking the field each day and following his dream. And that’s why I chose to include the word in my book.

You're wrong about your email not meaning much to me. It means a lot, especially coming from someone who clearly cares about children and works with kids in tough situations who must face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These are the kids I had in mind when I wrote this book. Believe me, my goal was not to empower them to use the n-word in school and on the playground as you suggest, but to empower them to feel like they can overcome anything, just like Henry Aaron did.

For what it's worth, Henry Aaron's Dream has been out for over a year and I have yet to hear of any case where a kid read the book and then used the n-word in the cafeteria, playground, or anywhere. And you can bet I'd hear about it if it happened (As you know, I'm easy to find). I have great respect for the intelligence of my readers, and I believe that if someone is mature enough to learn about the civil rights movement, racism, and some of the uglier aspects of our nation's history, then they're mature enough to read that word in context and understand that the racist baseball fans of the 1940's and 1950's are not to be admired or emulated. If anyone reads Henry Aaron's Dream and comes away from the experience wanting to call somebody a nigger, then I have failed miserably at my job. But I think it's clear to the kids reading my book that Henry Aaron and Jackie Robinson are the heroes of this story.

I think that most kids in grades 3 and up can read Henry Aaron's Dream and appreciate the fact that I'm telling them the truth, and not some baby version of history. I agree that this book probably isn't for young children. A few people have told me that they read Henry Aaron’s Dream aloud to young children but chose to replace the word with “bad names” or “terrible names”, which seems like a fine solution for parents, teachers and librarians who want to share the story with children but worry that their kids might be too young to have a conversation about the historical connotations of the word.

Again, I appreciate your message and I respect your opinion. I've heard from a couple other people who share your opinion, and I've lost plenty of sleep over this. The last thing I ever wanted was for this book to have a negative impact on any child. I hope you're still able to share the book with some of the kids you work with, and I hope it can have a positive impact on them.


Matt Tavares

A couple years have passed since I wrote that email. I've gotten a few similar messages since then, and provided similar responses where appropriate (I know better than to respond to customer reviews online).

But slowly, I have come to realize something: he was right.

Not about my intentions, he was way off on that: honestly, the last thing I ever wanted was for any kid to feel empowered to use the n-word on the playground because of what I had written. But he was right about the fact that I really could have told this story without using that word.

Including the word may have made the book stronger and more authentic, but a good picture book, especially a good non-fiction picture book, needs to be more than that. It needs to be shared in classrooms, and read aloud during story time. It needs to be given as a birthday gift to a kid who might not be crazy about reading but is crazy about baseball. And if the presence of that word made countless teachers, librarians and parents unwilling to share it with children, then what was the point? I've tried replacing the word with "terrible names" while reading it aloud, and I've found that the story reads fine. In fact, it's better. Because afterward, all the discussion can be about the amazing, inspiring story of Henry Aaron, instead of about why the author decided to use a bad word.

In February, Candlewick will publish a new edition of Henry Aaron's Dream, as part of their Candlewick Biographies series, geared toward schools. After much thought, I asked my editor if we could remove the n-word from this new edition. I told her my reasons, and she agreed.

I stand by my reasons for including the word in the first edition of my book, but I've come to believe that the word is preventing the story from getting into the hands of its audience; it creates a situation where teachers don't want to read it aloud in class, and librarians don't want to check it out to kids, because they know parents will be upset. And then the worst thing of all happens: kids who might otherwise benefit from Henry Aaron's story never end up hearing it. I believe changing the text for this particular edition is the right thing to do.

I think of this edit to the new edition of Henry Aaron's Dream as a revision that gets a worthy story a wider audience in the world and puts the focus where it belongs—not on whatever hate-filled slurs spewed from the mouths of bigots more than sixty years ago, but on the awesome achievements of a living legend whose life and work can inspire a whole new generation.