Monday, July 7, 2014

Growing Up Pedro, first proofs

Looking over first proofs for Growing Up Pedro (Candlewick, 2015)!

For more regular updates leading up to the publication date, find me on facebook and twitter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Last Visit of the School Year

Yesterday I wrapped up my school year, with one last presentation at Thoreau School in Concord, Massachusetts. By my count, this was my busiest year of school visits yet- I did 115 presentations at 38 schools, from Birmingham, Alabama, to Bellevue, Washington, to Benton, Maine...

I've gotten so much great feedback from teachers, librarians, parents, and students. And I just wanted to use this space to say a great big THANK YOU to all the people who made this such a great school year for me. I know it takes a lot of work form a lot of people to make a successful school visit- from the parent volunteers who organize the book orders, to the librarians who read my books to the kids leading up to the big day, and all the teachers who follow up my presentations with fun writing and art projects.

When I set out to be a children's book author-illustrator, I had no idea I'd end up spending so much time talking in front of large groups of people. And as someone who used to dread getting up in front of the class to speak, I never imagined how much I would enjoy it.

So thanks! Looking forward to another great school year in 2014-15. But first... SUMMER!

bulletin board in Middlebury, CT, with awesome student artwork based on my books

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Becoming Babe Ruth Giveaway!

It's been a very busy spring (traveling around for lots of school visits, finishing up my Pedro Martinez book, helping out with my daughters' little league teams...), so I haven't been keeping up with my "monthly" book giveaway on my facebook page. But here it is!

I'm giving away this signed copy of Becoming Babe Ruth, with an original ink drawing of Wade Boggs inside. To enter, just visit my facebook page and like, share, or comment on this post to enter. I'll set a deadline of midnight on Friday, June 6, 2014, and I'll announce the winner on Saturday morning. If you're not on facebook, you can enter by leaving a comment on this post.

Boggs, like Ruth, was a star for the Red Sox and the Yankees. He was also one of my favorite Red Sox players when I was a kid, and I remember what a bummer it was when I heard he signed with the Yankees. He was part of the first Red Sox team I really knew (Boggs, Barrett, Rice, Clemens...) and even though he spent those years with the Yankees, I'd like to see his number 26 retired at Fenway someday.

 Here are some pictures of the book:

Becoming Babe Ruth, with original pen drawing of Wade Boggs on page 1

And here's a picture I drew of Wade Boggs when I was a kid:

Find Becoming Babe Ruth at an independent bookstore near you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Red Sox Reading Game 2014!

I'm happy to be teaming up again with my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, my pal Wally, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and this year's new spokesperson, World Series champion Craig Breslow, on the 2014 MTA Red Sox Reading Game.

In the coming weeks, 15,000 posters and 500,000 entry forms will be distributed in schools around the state. This year's materials feature Craig Breslow and Wally reading my book, Zachary's Ball, at Fenway Park!

So teachers, librarians and Massachusetts students in grades K through 8 should be on the lookout for the posters and entry forms. In the meantime, you can visit to download an entry form and print a free poster.

To enter, students simply need to list nine books they pledge to read over the summer, for a chance to win two free tickets to a Red Sox game in September! 100 students will win tickets, so it's definitely worth entering!

Good luck, happy reading, and GO RED SOX!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring 2014 Events

With Chris Van Dusen on the 207 show back in 2012. CHris and I have a couple fun events coming up in April!

I've been busy trying to finish up my Pedro Martinez book, so I haven't been leaving my studio (or updating my web site) much lately. But I do have some fun events planned for this spring, so I wanted to make sure I took a few minutes and posted them here. Here's where I'll be...

March 30 UPDATE: This event has been postponed until April 6, 12:00-1:00. Celebrate Opening Day! I'll be teaming up with my friends at the Wells Public Library and the Wells-Ogunquit Little League for a fun baseball event at the Wells High School gym. I'll be reading a couple of my baseball books and doing a drawing demonstration, followed by a fun baseball clinic with Wells-Ogunquit Little league coaches. All ages and skill levels welcome. Bring your glove!
April 5 10:30 am. I'll be reading and signing books with my good friend (and one of my favorite author-illustrators),the amazing Chris Van Dusen, at Letterpress Books in Portland, Maine. Very excited to welcome Maine's newest independent book store! Chris will be introducing his brand new book, President Taft is Stuck in the Bath, written by Mac Barnett, and I'll have my new book, Jubilee!, written by Alicia Potter.
April 26
Time TBD. Another awesome event with Chris Van Dusen, at The Children's Book Cellar in Waterville, ME.
May 17
2:00 pm. Indies First Storytime Day! I'll be reading some of my favorite picture books at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, alongside my friends and fellow author-illustrators Joe McKendry, Jarrett Krosoczka, and Jef Czekaj.

School visits
March 3
Cutler School, South Hamilton, MA
March 12
South Memorial School, Peabody, MA
March 14
Centre School, Hampton, NH
March 26
H.O. Smith School, Hudson, NH
March 27
Hills Garrison School, Hudson, NH
March 28
Mill Pond Elementary School, Westborough, MA
April 1
Windham Center School, Windham, NH
April 2
Tenacre Country Day School, Wellesley, MA
April 3
Acton Elementary School, Acton, ME
April 9
Worcester Public Schools, Worcester, MA
April 10
East School & Foster School, Hingham, MA
April 11
Hall School, Waterville, ME
April 14
Maude H. Trefethen Elementary School, New Castle, NH
April 15
Winchester Authorfest, Winchester, MA
April 16
CK Burns School, Saco, ME
April 17
Holderness Central School, Holderness, NH
April 29
Pomperaug School, Southbury, CT
April 30
Gainfield Elementary School, Southbury, CT
May 1
Long Meadow Elementary School, Middlebury, CT
May 2
Middlebury Elementary School, MIddlebury, CT
May 20
Wheelock School, Medfield, MA
May 29
Bennett Elementary School, Bellevue, WA
May 30
Eastgate Elementary School, Bellevue, WA
June 2
Benton Elementary School, Benton, ME
June 3
Beaver Brook Elementary School, Abington, MA
June 9
Varnum Brook Elementary School, Pepperell, MA

Monday, January 6, 2014

Next up: Pedro Martinez!

I'm thrilled to announce the subject of my next picture book biography: the greatest baseball player I've ever seen in person, and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Pedro Martinez.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, so many of my fondest baseball memories are of watching Pedro pitch. Once I even spent the whole night outside Fenway Park, in hopes of getting tickets to see him pitch in game 3 of the 1999 American League Championship Series. (I got tickets, and it was worth it!)

Back then, I didn't know much about Pedro beyond what I saw on the field and what I heard in his always-entertaining post-game interviews.  But when I started researching his life, I learned that there was so much more to Pedro's story.

I don't want to give away too much, but I can tell you the title: Growing Up Pedro. It's a story about overcoming obstacles, the power of brotherhood, and of course, baseball.

Here's a sneak peek at one of the illustrations:

Growing Up Pedro will be published by Candlewick, and will hit bookstores in February of 2015. I'm about halfway done with the illustrations, so time to get back to work!

Thursday, December 5, 2013


During a recent panel discussion about picture book biographies at the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) National Conference, I talked about uncovering a little bit of baseball history when I was doing research for my book, Henry Aaron's Dream. I've gotten lots of great feedback about that part of the presentation, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here, so librarians and teachers can share it with their students. And I think hardcore baseball fans might find it interesting too. Here goes...
According to just about every book written about Henry Aaron, here's how he first broke into the Braves' starting lineup:

He was a 20-year-old minor leaguer, traveling with the big-league Braves during spring training in 1954, playing the last few innings of each game. Then on March 13, the Braves' starting left-fielder, Bobby Thomson, broke his ankle during a spring training game. The very next day, on March 14, the Braves played the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota, and Henry Aaron was the new starting left-fielder for the Braves. He hit a home run that day, and the sound of his bat hitting the ball was so spectacular that the great Red Sox superstar Ted Williams came running out from the clubhouse to see who had hit that ball.

As the story goes, if Bobby Thomson hadn't broken his ankle, Henry Aaron might not have gotten his chance to prove himself in 1954.

This was a major moment in Henry Aaron's journey to the big leagues, and it's a wonderful story, especially the part about the great Ted Williams simply hearing the home run, and knowing that this 20-year-old kid was something special. So of course I wanted to write about it in Henry Aaron's Dream.

Researching this moment was pretty straightforward, because I found several sources which all told basically the same story, including Henry Aaron's excellent autobiography, I Had a Hammer. I even found an article written by Ted Williams himself where he tells the story. Check any timeline of Henry Aaron's life, and you'll read about the home run he hit against the Red Sox in Sarasota on March 14, 1954. No doubt about it, that's what happened.

The problem came when I tried to illustrate it. I decided to show Henry in the dugout, seeing his name in a major-league starting lineup for the very first time. For this picture to work, his name needed to be legible, which meant that all the other names on the lineup chart also needed to be legible, which meant that I somehow had to find the lineups from the March 14, 1954 spring training game between the Milwaukee Braves and the Boston Red Sox. 
I found digitized archives of a couple Wisconsin newspapers that covered the Milwaukee Braves 1954 spring training games. Here's the March 14, 1954 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, featuring the bold headline, "Ankle Injury May Shelve Thomson Until June 15". 

So far, so good. Now I just needed to find the box score from the Red Sox- Braves game in the next day's paper and I'd be done.

And this is where the whole story started to unravel. Here are the recaps from the spring training games played on March 14, 1954, the day of Henry Aaron's legendary home run against the Red Sox in Sarasota. Notice anything strange?

According to this newspaper, the Braves did not play the Red Sox in Sarasota on March 14, 1954! They played the Cincinnati Redlegs in Tampa, while the Red Sox were in Miami playing the Dodgers.

Could every book I had read about Hank Aaron have gotten this wrong? Apparently, according to the newspapers from 1954... yes.
I searched through all the Braves-Red Sox games in the schedule, and couldn't find any home runs hit by Hank Aaron. Then finally I found it. The Braves and Red Sox played a make-up game in Sarasota on March 10:

Henry Aaron's name was in the starting lineup for the very first time on March 10, 1954, in a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota, three days before Bobby Thomson broke his ankle. Here's a close-up of the box score. Aaron is batting leadoff and playing right field (he wouldn't take over the left field job until March 29) and Bobby Thomson is batting cleanup, starting in left field:

Henry Aaron hit a home run that day, and his name remained in the starting lineup for most of the next twenty-three seasons. This was certainly a big day in young Henry Aaron's life. But it didn't happen quite the same way as everyone says it happened.

By the time Bobby Thomson broke his ankle on March 13, Henry Aaron had already cracked the starting lineup, partly because he was hitting .400 after the first few games of the spring, and party because of injuries to two other outfielders, Bill Bruton and Walter Peterson, on March 7 and 8, respectively.

And there's one other little problem I discovered. Check the box score again. Looking through the Red Sox lineup, you'll notice that Ted Williams's name is nowhere to be found.

I did a little more research in the Boston newspapers and found that Ted Williams broke his collarbone on March 1, 1954. He underwent surgery in Boston on March 9, one day before this game. This is what Ted Williams looked like on March 10, 1954:

He was not released from the hospital until the following week. Ted Williams certainly may have remembered hearing Hank Aaron hit a home run, but he wasn't there for this particular home run on March 10, 1954.

If there were no illustrations in Henry Aaron's Dream, I probably never would have stumbled upon this little piece of history. If I hadn't decided to draw a picture of the lineup chart, I might never have looked at the old newspapers. But I'm glad I did. There was something incredibly exciting about this process of digging through old newspapers, finding out what really happened. And that excitement is part of what I love about making nonfiction books. There's a detective-work aspect to it, and oftentimes my research takes me to places I did not expect to go.

But this example also shows how difficult illustrating a non-fiction book can be. It's one thing to find a few sources that tell how something really happened. But when you actually try to draw a picture of what it looked like while it was happening, you might run into a whole other set of problems.

In the end, I included this moment in Henry Aaron's Dream, because whether it was March 10 or March 14, it was a major moment in Henry Aaron's life- even if Ted Williams wasn't there. I relied mostly on the actual box scores and articles from the 1954 newspapers.

I'm sure some serious baseball fans will notice the discrepancy between my book and other books about Hank Aaron, but maybe they'll end up reading this article and hopefully they'll find the whole thing just as fascinating as I did.

images copyright 2010 by Matt Tavares. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press

Note: A few months after Henry Aaron's Dream came out, Howard Bryant's excellent biography, The Last Hero: The Life of Henry Aaron was released- the first book I've found that accurately told this part of Hank Aaron's story.