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.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

AASL Conference

Hey school librarians! I'll be signing and presenting at the AASL National Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, this Saturday, November 16.

Here's my schedule:
9:15-9:45 AM, signing with Doreen Rappaport at the Mackin booth #401

10:15-11:30 AM, speaking on "Biographies Through Picture Books: A Focus on the Common Core", a panel discussion with Melissa Sweet, Jennifer Bryant, Doreen Rappaport and Andrea Davis Pinkney.

11:30-1:00 signing books in "Authors Alley"

The panel discussion should be great. But if you can't make it to that, come to one of my signings and say hi!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Zachary's Ball Giveaway, World Series Edition!

The Red Sox made it to the World Series!! And it starts tomorrow!!! To celebrate, I'm giving away this autographed copy of Zachary's Ball, with an original pen drawing inside, of Shane Victorino hitting his amazing game-winning grand slam in game 6 of the ALCS.

To enter, just leave a comment with your prediction for the World Series (you know, Sox in 4, Sox in 6, Sox in 7, etc...). I'll just pick a winner randomly. I'm thinking I might do a few more of these during the series, especially if a lot of people enter to win this one.

Here's the drawing of Victorino on the title page:

This copy is a Fenway Centennial Edition of Zachary's Ball, which came out in 2012. Here's the cover:

And even if you don't win, if you're looking for a good Red Sox bedtime story to read to your kids during the final days of this magical season, you can buy signed first edition copies of Zachary's Ball through my web site, or unsigned copies at all the usual places.


Monday, September 23, 2013

We Art Boston

Just wanted to spread the word about a great program I am honored to be involved with: We Art Boston, a fundraising event and auction featuring original artwork and books by over 40 beloved contemporary children's book illustrators, including Mo Willems, Barbara McClintock, Oliver Jeffers, David Macaulay, Melissa Sweet, Joe McKendry... the list goes on! All proceeds will benefit the Emergency and Trauma Fund at Boston's Children's Hospital.

I donated this illustration, from my book, There Goes Ted Williams:

As part of the We Art Boston fundraiser, I will be involved with two fun events: first I'll be joining my friends, award-winning illustrators Barbara McClintock and Joe McKendry, for a Stuffed Animal Portrait Party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA on October 5. Bring your favorite stuffed animal, and we'll draw a portrait of it!

Then I'll be at the big event at the Rose Kennedy Greenway on October 20. There will be lots of fun family activities, bookmaking, book signings, live music, and all the artwork will be on display. I hope to see lots of people there!

Even if you aren't anywhere near Boston, you can still take part in the online auction, which kicks off on October 10.

Please spread the word!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Open Studios" Video

Candlewick Press is in the midst of a yearlong celebration of picture books, during which they're posting a new video every day, on their We Believe in Picture Books website. Today's video shows me in my studio. It's a clip from a DVD Candlewick produced a few years ago, called "Open Studios". Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remembering Bernard Waber

Bernard Waber passed away on Thursday. He was most famous for his Lyle the Crocodile books, but when I was a kid, I knew him mostly because he was the author-illustrator of one of my favorite books, Ira Sleeps Over.

One of my greatest thrills early in my career came in September of 2000, when I got to sign books with Mr. Waber at an event at FAO Schwartz in New York City. I had done a few book signings before, but nothing quite like this. It was very exciting and surreal to be sitting there signing books right in the same room as James Howe and Judy Blume, and right next to Bernard Waber. I got to tell him how much I loved Ira Sleeps Over when I was a kid, and he signed my copy for me.

I just dug through my old photos and found a few from that day...

Bernard Waber and me, at FAO Schwartz in New York City, 2000

I got to watch Mr. Waber read and draw for a group of kids.

my signed copy of Ira Sleeps Over. He wrote: "For Matt, Good Luck! Bernard Waber, 9-24-00 Pleasure signing next to you."

Here's a nice remembrance of Bernard Waber in The New York Times.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Amazing Day at Fenway!

Thanks to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, I had an amazing day at Fenway Park on Saturday. I've been involved with the MTA's Red Sox Reading Game for several years. As a thank you, they honored me as a "Most Valuable Educator" during a pregame on-field ceremony. It's an honor I don't think I really deserve, but I wasn't about to turn it down!

After the pregame ceremony and a brief rain delay, my whole family got to enjoy the game from the grandstand right behind home plate. Even though the Sox came up a bit short with their late rally and lost 3-2, it really was a magical day. My kids even lasted all nine innings!

The Fenway photographer is going to send us some pictures of the ceremony. But for now, here are a few we got:

My daughter was so excited to be standing on the field at Fenway, she even took a picture of the dirt.

And so did I.

My name up on the screen, during the ceremony

The view from our seats. Pretty awesome.

Thank you, Massachusetts Teachers Association!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thank you, Jackie Robinson!

On April 15, 1947, when Henry was thirteen,
Jackie Robinson played his first game 
for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Finally, there was a black ballplayer
in the big leagues.

Henry's whole world changed.

-excerpt from Henry Aaron's Dream

Illustration from Henry Aaron's Dream, copyright 2010 by Matt Tavares, reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fenway Park Photo Shoot

The Massachusetts Teachers Association asked me to do a photo shoot at Fenway Park on Saturday, to promote their 2013 Red Sox Reading Game. I said yes, because it's an awesome program that promotes literacy at every school in Massachusetts- and because any time anyone invites me to Fenway, I'm there! It's pretty amazing to be inside the park when almost nobody is there.

Renowned photographer Rick Friedman was kind enough to shoot a few author photos for me after the MTA shoot was done.  I'll post those once I have them, and I'll post details about the Red Sox Reading Game once it's up and running. For now, here are a few snapshots from the photo shoot...

And there was this cool moment- I heard them rehearsing Jackie Bradley Jr.'s first-ever Fenway Park introduction. I'm sure this moment will get some loud applause this afternoon:

Happy Opening Day! Play ball!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Ends Event on Sunday!

Just wanted to spread the word that I'll be reading and signing my new book, Becoming Babe Ruth, at Book Ends in Winchester, Massachusetts on Sunday, March 24, at 2:00 pm.

Winchester is my hometown, and Book Ends has supported me and my books from the very beginning, so its always a lot of fun going back there. Play ball!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fifteen Years Ago Today...

Fifteen years ago today, on February 13, 1998, I walked into the old Candlewick Press office, on Mass Ave in Cambridge, for the very first time. This was the day I found out that Candlewick wanted to publish my book, Sebastian's Ball, which I had written and illustrated as my senior thesis at Bates College. This was the day my dream of being a children's book author-illustrator came true.

There were a few milestones in the months leading up to February 13, 1998, like when I met my agent, Rosemary Stimola, in June of 1997. Or when Rosemary emailed me in early February saying that "something was happening" with Candlewick, but she "still had a bit to go".  But fifteen years later, I think of that meeting at Candlewick on February 13, 1998, as the day my career as an author-illustrator began.

I realize this anniversary probably means way more to me than it does to anyone reading this. But I just wanted to use this semi-public forum to say a great big THANK YOU to all the great people at Candlewick who I've had the pleasure of working with during these past fifteen years.

And hey, look at all these books we made together!

Zachary's Ball, 2000

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, 2002

Oliver's Game, 2004

Mudball, 2005

Jack and the Beanstalk, 2006

Iron Hans, 2007

Lady Liberty: A Biography, 2008

The Gingerbread Pirates, 2009

Henry Aaron's Dream, 2010

Over the River and Through the Wood, 2011

There Goes Ted Williams, 2012

Becoming Babe Ruth, 2013

I won't ramble on any longer, because I'm busy working on my next Candlewick book RIGHT NOW!

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Stars for Young Stars event tomorrow!

At New Stars for Young Stars 2012, with Pedro Martinez. PEDRO MARTINEZ!!

Spring Training is still a month away, but you can get your Red Sox fix at an amazing event taking place at Jillian's in Boston tomorrow, Saturday, January 19, 11:00 am to 1:30 pm. It's an autograph signing event called "New Stars for Young Stars", a unique chance to meet up-and-coming Red Sox players like Ryan Kalish and Anthony Ranaudo, as well as 2-time World Series Champion, Doug Mirabelli, and many more. All proceeds from the event will benefit The Jimmy Fund.

I signed books at this event last year, and I'm truly honored to be a part of it again. Everyone in attendance will receive a copy of my book, There Goes Ted Williams, and I'll be there to sign them. Ted Williams was involved with The Jimmy Fund from the very beginning, and he was the single most influential person in helping to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

In addition to autograph signings there is a buffet lunch, sports memorabilia sale, opportunity drawing, silent auction, and a bowling contest to help strike out cancer.  It's a wonderful event for a great cause.

Tickets start at $89 and VIP tickets are $250. All proceeds from the 2013 event will benefit The Jimmy Fund.

Visit the Jimmy Fund website to order tickets. 

You can check out my recap of last year's event here, or visit the Jimmy Fund web site for more info.

New Stars for Young Stars, 2012

Friday, January 11, 2013

Award News for HELEN'S BIG WORLD!

I just got some very exciting news- Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller made the Charlotte Zolotow Award Highly Commended list!

The Charlotte Zolotow Award is given annually for outstanding writing in a picture book published in the United States in the preceding year. Up to five honor books and up to ten highly commended titles may also be named each year.

The award is for writing, so really this honor belongs to my esteemed collaborator, Doreen Rappaport. So I'm just along for the ride, but I'll still celebrate!

Here's an article in School Library Journal announcing all the winners