Document 60837

Author Interview - John H. Ritter
:_:——=•: c- Carrie Pauling, Brodart Books & Automation
Accountants calculate
hometown. Most are trying to establish their
numbers and nurses,
place in the world.
hushed, listen to the
Ritter's breakout novel, Choosing Up
cadence of heartbeats
Sides (1998) found immediate success—
with stethoscopes.
winning an ALA Best Books notation,
Rock stars jam on
1999 International Reading Association's
guitars; painters wield
Book Award, and a 1999 Blue
brushes; writers form
Ribbon Book citation from The Bulletin of
sentences with a 26the
Center for Children's Books. Pieces
word alphabet. People
from Ritter's unique background—^Allare defined by what
Star shortstop and MVP of his high school
they do, no matter
baseball team, the influence of his sportswhat they do. To some, this may seem
father and musical mother (though
inhibiting, type-casting. For John H. Ritter,
she died of breast cancer when he was only
award-winning novelist, being a self-titled
he remembers her singing) laid the
baseball novelist offers
foundation for a number
him freedom. "It might
of follow-up, celebrated
be hard to understand,"
"I fill my books
novels, including The
he says. True—a writer
with moral
Who Saved Baseball
can string together lines
questions—from the
(Penquin Group, 2003) and
of prose. But narrow that
most recent Under the
genesis of bigotry
writer to, specifically,
Baseball Moon (Penquin
sports writer, and suddenly
to the definition of
Group, 2006).
his opportunities for free
association close in, right?
Soul-searching questions
these are things we
Not necessarily for him,
are not lost on young
says Ritter.
need to think about,
readers—Ritter actually
as children
"I slip under the radar of an
awful lot of people because
of that title," says Ritter,
now a notable author of
sports fiction for young adult readers. Writing
under the cover of baseball "allows me to
reach an audience who would most likely
never pick up a book about religious-based
bigotry or the cowardice of war, or demising
anti-environmentalists, and so on."
Ritter's coming-of-age stories include players
of the all-American game, true. But they also
include characters with whom just about any
young person (and any adult who remembers
what it's like to be a kid) can identify. Some
have unquenchable dreams of stardom;
some merely want to save a piece of their
believes a young audience
is the perfect sponge to
soak up his ponderable
spills. Young benchwarmer
Tom Gallagher puts a
question in Doc Altenheimer's mind in The
Boy Who Saved Baseball: "Is it new facilities
that would help this town the most, or a
new spirit?" He's referring to the run-down
baseball diamond on his land—shoot, the
same one Doc had a hand in building,
but that he's decided to sell to developers
to help revitalize the town. Young Tom,
desperate to save the diamond, finds himself
in a pickle. Doc will save the field—but only
if Tom's rag-tag team can beat the All-Stars
in the next town—opponents with a sparkly
new chain-link fence and impressive field.
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If they lose, he'll sell. The team embarks
on a mission that is helped along by their
mysterious peer, Cruz de la Cruz, who rides in
on horseback to help the team, baseball bat
slung like a rifle, and crazy ex-pro Dante del
Goto who was once a baseball hero, living as
a hermit in the hills outside Dillontown.
and musical skills are
weaved together and
nearly unraveled again
at the appearance of
an eccentric man in
black who promises
Andy success, but at an
unforeseen cost.
It's the question that lingers beyond baseball
action: "should we take this drastic action or
should we work on rebuilding our spirit?" Ritter
equates it with the state of the world as he
saw it in 2003, teetering on war with Iraq, a
mostly supportive nation backing the President.
"I fill my books with moral questions—from
the genesis of bigotry to the definition of
success—because these are things we need
to think about, as children and adults," says
Ritter, who feels that "we're not teaching [our
kids] to think critically about vital questions of
our time. That is, we've chosen 'facilities' over
Reader's reviews have
scored Baseball Moon
as one of the favorites—and Ritter admits it's
his favorite of his novels, too. He was able
to capture Andy's passion for music and
aspirations from his own dreams as a 15year-old. Though he was a gifted baseball
player, he says, "I chose to hang my hopes
on music, poetry, and song. I saw that road
as having a better chance of changing the
world—or as Andy says, 'moving the stars
Book by book, Ritter seems to be making an
impact. He draws attention to issues he feels
are unjust—like forcing a lefty to be righthanded—but in a manner that appeals to
readers; as a Booklist review said, "never
The Boy Who Saved
Baseball won the "Notable
Children's Book" Award
by the Children's Book
Council, Child Magazine's
Best Book of 2003 Award,
and was named to both the
New York Public Library's
"Best Books for the Teen
Age" list and Texas State
Lone Star List for 2004.
"The gentle game of baseball allows me
to pioneer literary ground no one has ever
worked in before," says Ritter. "I'm going to
continue writing my socio-political fiction for
that basically non-political audience—and
their parents—because it's a lot of fun. I feel
like I'm a secret agent."
Remaining faithful to his chosen genre, Ritter
includes ballplayers in his most recent Under
the Baseball Moon, as well as the "fringe
people" who add dimension to the story and
help Ritter "express his wild side." Baseball
Moon explores the dreams of two 15-yearolds: Andy Ramos, skateboarder and aspiring
musician who formulates a new sound—a
fusion of Latin jazz, hip-hop, salsa, and
rock—and softball pitcher Glory Martinez who
dreams of the Olympics. The pair's athletic
And if he ever decides to break out? "I will. As
Dylan once wrote, 'And but for the sky, there
are no fences facin'.'"
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