Beagles and Books is excited to share a review for Waiting for Pumpsie written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by London Ladd. Special thanks to Charlesbridge Publishing and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
“Change is coming real soon.”
In 1959 the Boston Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate. But when they call Elijah “Pumpsie” Green up from the minors, Bernard is overjoyed to see a black player on his beloved home team. And, when Pumpsie’s first home game is scheduled, Bernard and his family head to Fenway Park. Bernard is proud of Pumpsie and hopeful that this historic event is the start of great change in America.
This fictionalized account captures the true story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s rise to the major leagues. The story is a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement and a great discussion starter about the state of race relations in the United States today.
Since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier as the first American African Major League baseball player in 1947, I assumed that all other teams followed their lead soon after. Barry Wittenstein’s fictional account, Waiting for Pumpsie taught me differently.
It’s 1959. Bernard is a huge Boston Red Sox fan but he cannot understand why his beloved team still doesn’t have any African-American players on their roster. Jackie Robinson is already retired from the Dodgers for two years so why are the Red Sox dragging their feet? Through Bernard’s narration, Wittenstein shares that while many baseball teams and fans were ready for integration, it was clear that the Boston Red Sox did not share the same sentiment. As the Red Sox plummet to last place in the standings, Bernard patiently waits and finally on a hot July day, Bernard’s prayers are answered. Pumpsie Green is called up from the minors! Aware of this historic day in Boston baseball history, Bernard’s father buys tickets for Pumpsie’s first home game. Although the Sox did not win the game, Wittenstein’s text and Ladd’s illustrations on the last few pages beautifully convey Bernard’s sheer excitement for being a part of that unforgettable day not only in Boston Red Sox history but also in his own life.
Finding age appropriate text to teach elementary students about the history of race relations can be challenging. Wittenstein’s account is perfect because it provides an accurate and accessible account of the history of racial segregation and fight for integration for this age group. Because it is written from Bernard’s point of view, children can easily relate to his disappointment as well as his hope and enthusiasm. Ladd’s acrylic and colored pencil artwork truly transports readers to Fenway Park in the 1950’s.
I highly recommend Waiting for Pumpsie as a read aloud and with the Wittenstein’s author note, I am grateful to learn even more about “Pumpsie” Green and his role in fully integrating all Major League Baseball teams.