All thirteen-year old Joe Stoshack needs to travel through time is a baseball card. Each trip dumps him close to the player on the card, in the year the card was printed. Joe usually travels to answer a question from baseball history, or to warn a player about a tragic event in the future. In Mickey & Me, Joe wants to help baseball legend Mickey Mantle avoid a devastating injury. But, this trip doesn’t go quite as planned. Instead, Joe is transported to 1944, where he meets the Milwaukee Chicks of the World War II–era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Yes, there really was a professional women’s baseball league in the 1940’s and 50’s. (You may remember the movie, A League of Their Own.) A last-minute switch of the baseball card transports a confused Joe to a baseball field in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a long way from Yankee Stadium. As the story develops, Joe gains an appreciation of the Chicks players’ skills, their knowledge of the game, and their perseverance in the face of professional demands and personal tragedy.
There are a dozen books in this series, and each typically deals with an underlying theme (racism, war, duty, service, integrity.) The topic of Mickey & Me appears to be puberty. Joe understands that his body is changing, and he has a healthy interest in girls. Unfortunately, Gutman depicts that interest in a way that many teachers and parents will find inappropriate.
Joe realizes that he’s traveled to the wrong time and location as he’s sitting in the stadium’s darkened locker room. No problem – just pull out a modern-day baseball card and go back home. He delays the return trip when he hears female voices. It’s the women of the baseball team emerging from the showers, “naked as the day they were born.” And Joe doesn’t turn away. He doesn’t hide his eyes. He’s not the least bit embarrassed. He stares.
“There were tall ones, short ones, blondes, and brunettes. There must have been about ten or more. I didn’t want to stop to count. How come you never have a camera with you when you need one?
“Silently, I slipped the (baseball) cards back in my pocket. I didn’t breathe. A sneeze or cough at this moment would be disastrous. I refused to blink or I would miss a millisecond…”
So there it is. Joe’s reaction isn’t vulgar or rude or overly descriptive. And it’s probably the typical reaction that you’d expect from a 13-year old boy. But, as this book has a reading level of 4.3 (about 9 years old,) you have to ask yourself if it’s appropriate for your readers.
Authors will tell you that they don’t really worry about reading levels – they just write books. The fact that the main character is a middle schooler should be our first clue that this isn’t a book for little kids. But in reality, Gutman is a popular author in elementary schools, where book selection is often based on reading level and student interest – in that order. An advanced third grader interested in sports would likely select this book, and the parent probably wouldn’t like it! (Don’t believe me? See the Amazon reviews.)
Otherwise, the story is pretty good, and Gutman is an excellent tween writer. Joe works a game as the Chicks’ mascot (a chicken) and even dresses as a team member (yes, a girl) to run the bases in place of an injured player. Along the way, Joe learns to respect the players’ ability and dedication, long before “female” and “team sports” were frequently used in the same sentence. Alas, this well-earned respect doesn’t last long.
“The game was over, the Chicks had won, and everybody was happy. As we piled triumphantly into the dugout, I had one thing on my mind – there was an excellent chance that I would get to see the Chicks naked again.”
Of course, it’s troubling that these episodes are included when they serve no useful purpose in the book. The plot’s not furthered, and all we learn is that a 13-year old boy is interested in female anatomy. That hardly warrants a few paragraphs that will exclude this book from younger audiences. Mickey & Me presents a great opportunity for students to learn about a little-known era in sports history. However, the female athletes are often portrayed as merely the objects of adolescent fantasy.
Forewarned is forearmed. Although I've enjoyed many of Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures, I can't recommend Mickey & Me. Girls who would otherwise be inspired by reading this story of pioneering female athletes are once again subject to sexual, objectifying references, and that’s just too bad. And it shows that as a culture, we still have a long way to go when recognizing female athletes for their abilities and accomplishments.