Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fly the W for Lennie Merullo, the last 1945 Chicago Cub!

Lennie Merullo, Shortstop, Chicago Cubs, 1941-1947
About fifteen years ago, I was doing some research for my book, Oliver’s Game, when I came across a familiar name: Lennie Merullo. This Lennie Merullo played shortstop for the 1945 Chicago Cubs, the last time the Cubs made it to the World Series. But the Lennie Merullo I knew was my elementary school gym teacher.

So I tracked down my old gym teacher, and he confirmed that the Chicago Cub Lennie Merullo was, in fact, his uncle. Not only that, but he was still around, and lived a couple towns over from me. Lennie Merullo, the gym teacher, even gave me his uncle's phone number.

So I called Lennie Merullo, the shortstop, hoping he might agree to meet with me to answer a few questions. He was very nice, and offered to stop by my apartment for a visit, which was perfect, because I hoped that if the interview went well, he might be willing to pose for me as one of the main characters in the book, Grandpa Hall. I had built a fake baseball card store in my basement to use as the setting for my story (Grandpa Hall ran a store called Hall's Nostalgia). Having an actual member of the 1945 Cubs pose in the baseball card store I had created sounded too good to be true!

I had some questions prepared, but as soon as Lennie walked in and saw all the old memorabilia, especially the 1942 Cubs jersey, he just started talking. He told amazing, vivid stories about his playing days, stuff I would never have thought to ask about. I don’t think I even ended up asking any questions. I just listened.

Lennie Merullo talking to Cord, who posed as the grandson in Oliver's Game

He had met Babe Ruth and come up to bat against Satchel Paige. He had once committed 4 errors in the same inning, but he had a good excuse: he had just learned that his wife had given birth to their first child.

He brought an old gym bag filled with all kinds of things, including an authentic Wrigley Field “W” flag, which came with a funny story I don’t completely remember about a goofy teammate who thought the "W" stood for “weather”. I remember Lennie cracking up, saying, “He thought it meant ‘Weather Flag!”.

He was happy to pose as Grandpa Hall (though he was mildly offended when I asked him to use a cane as a prop). I realized quickly that I didn’t even have to explain who this character was. Grandpa Hall was a man who loved baseball to his core, even years after his ability to play the game had been taken away from him. Grandpa Hall said that every item in his shop had a story to tell. I didn't need to describe the character to Lennie Merullo because he was the character. It was magical.

Another picture of Lennie Merullo telling stories
When Oliver's Game was published, Lennie and his wife came to the book release party. He even signed some books, if I remember correctly. Over the years he surprised me at a few other book events. It was always great to see him, and he never got tired of talking about baseball.

When Lennie passed away last year at the age of 98, he was the last remaining member of the 1945 Chicago Cubs World Series team. I wish he could have stuck around one more year. I’ll be thinking of him tonight, when the Cubs play in game 7 of the World Series.

Go Cubs!

Fly the Weather Flag!

Grandpa Hall and Oliver, from Oliver's Game, Candlewick Press, 2004

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Matt Tavares @ G. WIllikers!

Signed Matt Tavares books from G. WIllikers!

I'm very excited about my new partnership with my friends at G. Willikers, a family-owned and operated book and toy store in the heart of downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Now when you purchase signed books through my website, you'll be getting way better customer service than I could ever provide, and you'll be supporting an awesome local business.

To buy signed books, you can shop online or just give Bob and Jody a call and they'll be happy to help you out. They are super nice and they'll make sure you find just what you're looking for.

Call G. Willikers at (603) 436-7746 or order online.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

52 Great Reads, 2016

Every year, each state's Center for the Book selects one book to represent their state at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington D.C. The call it "52 Great Reads", with books from each of the 50 states plus Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I'm thrilled to share the news that this year, the Massachusetts Center for the Book chose my book, Growing Up Pedro!

So if you happen to be at the National Book Festival this weekend, stop by the Pavilion of the States and say hi to the nice folks in the Massachusetts booth, and tell them I say thanks (since I won't be there to thank them in person)!

And while you're there, check out my friends' books who were chosen by other states- Kara LaReau's The Infamous Ratsos, representing Rhode Island; Loren Long's Little Tree, representing Ohio; and Nathan Hale's One Dead Spy, representing Utah. Congrats all around!

Here's the full list of books.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Growing Up Pedro Boston Public Library Tour, 2016

Just want to spread the word about a bunch of fun events I have coming up later this month in Boston. I'll be visiting 14 branches of the Boston Public Library over 5 days- my own literary version of the Boston Marathon! I did this last summer (9 libraries over 3 days) and it was a blast.

Each event will include a presentation about my book, Growing Up Pedro, followed by a fun art project for kids. And here's the best part:

Every participating child will get a free hardcover copy of Growing Up Pedro! 

Seriously! The Boston Public Library bought 375 copies of Growing Up Pedro, and I get to give them all away. How great is that!

This is all part of the Boston Public Library's excellent Read Your Way to Fenway program, which I am honored to involved with. Registration is required, and space is limited. Contact your local branch for details.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Crossing Niagara comes out TODAY!

My new book, Crossing Niagara, comes out today! Look for it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at an independent bookstore near you.

This is the seventeenth book I've illustrated, and the eighth book I've written. This one was a lot of fun to work on. As part of my research, I took a trip to Niagara Falls with my family. It was awe-inspiring to see it up close, to stand next right to the falls. We got drenched on the Maid of the Mist...

... and ventured out to the end of the observation platform at Prospect Point. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like for the Great Blondin to be right near that very spot, unthinkably high above the raging river, walking on a rope just three inches wide. (It was scary enough standing on a twenty-foot-wide platform!)

I really enjoyed working on this book. I hope you enjoy reading it!

Here is a free Crossing Niagara teachers' guide Candlewick Press put together.

I have a bunch of events in the works for the spring and summer. Here are some of the places I'll be reading and signing Crossing Niagara:

April 12 3:00-5:00 pm, Winchester Town Hall in Winchester, MA, part of Authorfest 2016.

April 23 2:30 pm, Niagara Falls Public Library in Niagara Falls, NY.

May 14 (time TBA) G. Willikers in Portsmouth, NH

June 4 (time TBA)  Book Ends in Winchester, MA.

June 4 (time TBA) The Boston Book Festival presents "Hubbub". I'll be doing a book signing and a hands-on illustration workshop as part of this fun all-day family festival.

And here's a full list of events.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fun Story from Red Sox Winter Weekend

Here's a snippet from an email that made my day, from the mom of a young reader named Matthew:

... Had to share this photo with you. We went to Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods, this past weekend.  Matthew carried your book around all weekend, hoping to get Pedro to sign it.  Matthew even used your book at a panel discussion, where he got up in front of a packed room (probably 300 people) by himself, and stepped to the microphone, asking Pedro how he went from "throwing rocks at mango trees to being one of the greatest pitchers of all time?".....not bad for an 8 year old! 

Anyway, we came close to getting the book signed twice, and missed.  However, upon checkout yesterday, who was also waiting for the valet to get a car for him??? Yup, Pedro!  Matthew took the book over, and he very sweetly, signed the book.  Was so nice!  Way to end our weekend!!!!

And here's the photo of Matthew with his copy of Growing Up Pedro, signed on the opening endpapers, "Pedro Martinez, HOF 2015". So cool! Recognize the guy in the background? (hint: IT'S PEDRO MARTINEZ!!)

I also love this picture from earlier in the weekend, showing Matthew pulling off a brilliant Growing Up Pedro photobomb, right behind Pedro himself! Well done sir!

Thanks Matthew! Glad you had a fun weekend, and I'm so happy you finally got to meet Pedro.